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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sample Sunday: When A Man Marries

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A scene from Chapter Seven, in which our heroine, wealthy socialite Kit McNair, trapped in a houseful of quarantined high-society dinner guests with no staff to assist them, has drawn kitchen duty and attempts to cook breakfast with the help of the equally clueless yet irresistibly charming Tom Harbison.

I went downstairs despondently, and found that Mr. Harbison had discovered some eggs and was standing helplessly staring at them.

"Omelet—eggs. Eggs—omelet. That's the extent of my knowledge," he said, when I entered.

"You'll have to come to my assistance."

It was then that I saw the cookbook. It was lying on a shelf beside the clock, and while Mr. Harbison had his back turned I got it down. It was quite clear that the domestic type of woman was his ideal, and I did not care to outrage his belief in me. So I took the cookbook into the pantry and read the recipe over three times. When I came back I knew it by heart, although I did not understand it.

"I will tell you how," I said with a great deal of dignity, "and since you want to help, you may make it yourself."

He was delighted.

"Fine!" he said. "Suppose you give me the idea first. Then we'll go over it slowly, bit by bit. We'll make a big fluffy omelet, and if the others aren't around, we'll eat it ourselves."

"Well," I said, trying to remember exactly, "you take two eggs—"

"Two!" he repeated. "Two eggs for ten people!"

"Don't interrupt me," I said irritably. "If—if two isn't enough we can make several omelets, one after the other."

He looked at me with admiration.

"Who else but you would have thought of that!" he remarked. "Well, here are two eggs. What next?"

"Separate them," I said easily. No, I didn't know what it meant. I hoped he would; I said it as casually as I could, and I did not look at him. I knew he was staring at me, puzzled.

"Separate them!" he said. "Why, they aren't fastened together!" Then he laughed. "Oh, yes, of course!" When I looked he had put one at each end of the table. "Afraid they'll quarrel, I suppose," he said. "Well, now they're separated."

"Then beat."

"First separate, then beat!" he repeated. "The author of that cookbook must have had a mean disposition. What's next? Hang them?" He looked up at me with his boyish smile.

"Separate and beat," I repeated. If I lost a word of that recipe I was gone. It was like saying the alphabet; I had to go to the beginning every time mentally.

"Well," he reflected, "you can't beat an egg, no matter how cruel you may be, unless you break it first." He picked up an egg and looked at it. "Separate!" he reflected. "Ah—the white from the—whatever you cooking experts call it—the yellow part."

"Exactly!" I exclaimed, light breaking on me. "Of course. I KNEW you would find it out." Then back to the recipe—"beat until well mixed; then fold in the whites."

"Fold?" he questioned. "It looks pretty thin to fold, doesn't it? I—upon my word, I never heard of folding an egg. Are you—but of course you know. Please come and show me how."

"Just fold them in," I said desperately. "It isn't difficult." And because I was so transparent a fraud and knew he must find me out then, I said something about butter, and went into the pantry. That's the trouble with a lie; somebody asks you to tell one as a favor to somebody else, and the first thing you know, you are having to tell a thousand, and trying to remember the ones you have told so you won't contradict yourself, and the very person you have tried to help turns on you and reproaches you for being untruthful! I leaned my elbows despondently on the shelf of the kitchen pantry, with the feet of a guard visible through the high window over my head, and waited for Mr. Harbison to come in and demand that I fold a raw egg, and discover that I didn't know anything about cooking, and was just as useless as all the others.

He came. He held the bowl out to me and waved a fork in triumph.

"I have solved it," he said. "Or, rather, Flannigan and I have solved it. The mixture awaits the magic touch of the cook."

I honestly thought I could do the rest. It was only to be put in a pan and browned, and then in the oven three minutes. And I did it properly, but for two things: I should have greased the pan (but this was the book's fault; it didn't say) and I should have lighted the oven. The latter, however, was Mr. Harbison's fault as much as mine, and I had wit enough to lay it to absent-mindedness on the part of both of us.

After that, we decided to have boiled eggs.

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When A Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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