The sight of the table, when at length we filed into the dining room, sent a chill through me. It was a meal for the very young or the very hungry. The uncompromising coldness and solidity of the viands was enough to appall a man conscious that his digestion needed humouring.
A huge cheese faced us in almost a swashbuckling way. I do not know how else to describe it. It wore a blatant, rakish, nemo-me-impune-lacessit air, and I noticed that the professor shivered slightly as he saw it. Sardines, looking more oily and uninviting than anything I had ever seen, appeared in their native tin beyond the loaf of bread. There was a ham, in its third quarter, and a chicken which had suffered heavily during a previous visit to the table. Finally, a black bottle of whisky stood grimly beside Ukridge’s plate. The professor looked the sort of man who drank claret of a special year, or nothing.
We got through the meal somehow, and did our best to delude ourselves into the idea that it was all great fun; but it was a shallow pretence. The professor was very silent by the time we had finished. Ukridge had been terrible.
The professor had forced himself to be genial. He had tried to talk. He had told stories. And when he began one—his stories would have been the better for a little more briskness and condensation—Ukridge almost invariably interrupted him, before he had got half way through, without a word of apology, and started on some anecdote of his own. He furthermore disagreed with nearly every opinion the professor expressed.
It is true that he did it all in such a perfectly friendly way, and was obviously so innocent of any intention of giving offence, that another man—or the same man at a better meal—might have overlooked the matter. But the professor, robbed of his good dinner, was at the stage when he had to attack somebody. Every moment I had been expecting the storm to burst.
It burst after dinner.