The Philosopher's Joke
by Jerome K. Jerome

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*** Project Gutenberg etext of The Philosopher's Joke ***
By Jerome K. Jerome

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THE PHILOSOPHER'S JOKE
By JEROME K. JEROME

Author of "Paul Kelver," "Three Men in a Boat," etc., etc.

NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
1909


COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY JEROME K. JEROME
COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
Published, September, 1908


THE PHILOSOPHER'S JOKE

Myself, I do not believe this story. Six persons are persuaded of its
truth; and the hope of these six is to convince themselves it was an
hallucination. Their difficulty is there are six of them. Each one
alone perceives clearly that it never could have been. Unfortunately,
they are close friends, and cannot get away from one another; and when
they meet and look into each other's eyes the thing takes shape again.

The one who told it to me, and who immediately wished he had not, was
Armitage. He told it to me one night when he and I were the only
occupants of the Club smoking-room. His telling me--as he explained
afterwards--was an impulse of the moment. Sense of the thing had been
pressing upon him all that day with unusual persistence; and the idea
had occurred to him, on my entering the room, that the flippant
scepticism with which an essentially commonplace mind like my own--he
used the words in no offensive sense--would be sure to regard the
affair might help to direct his own attention to its more absurd
aspect. I am inclined to think it did. He thanked me for dismissing
his entire narrative as the delusion of a disordered brain, and begged
me not to mention the matter to another living soul. I promised; and
I may as well here observe that I do not call this mentioning the
matter. Armitage is not the man's real name; it does not even begin
with an A. You might read this story and dine next to him the same
evening: you would know nothing.

Also, of course, I did not consider myself debarred from speaking
about it, discreetly, to Mrs. Armitage, a charming woman. She burst
into tears at the first mention of the thing. It took me all I knew
to tranquillize her. She said that when she did not think about the
thing she could be happy. She and Armitage never spoke of it to one
another; and left to themselves her opinion was that eventually they
might put remembrance behind them. She wished they were not quite so
friendly with the Everetts. Mr. and Mrs. Everett had both dreamt
precisely the same dream; that is, assuming it was a dream. Mr.
Everett was not the sort of person that a clergyman ought, perhaps, to
know; but as Armitage would always argue: for a teacher of
Christianity to withdraw his friendship from a man because that man
was somewhat of a sinner would be inconsistent. Rather should he
remain his friend and seek to influence him. They dined with the
Everetts regularly on Tuesdays, and sitting opposite the Everetts, it
seemed impossible to accept as a fact that all four of them at the
same time and in the same manner had fallen victims to the same
illusion. I think I succeeded in leaving her more hopeful. She
acknowledged that the story, looked at from the point of common sense,
did sound ridiculous; and threatened me that if I ever breathed a word
of it to anyone, she never would speak to me again. She is a charming
woman, as I have already mentioned.

By a curious coincidence I happened at the time to be one of Everett's
directors on a Company he had just promoted for taking over and
developing the Red Sea Coasting trade. I lunched with him the
following Sunday. He is an interesting talker, and curiosity to
discover how so shrewd a man would account for his connection with so
insane--so impossible a fancy, prompted me to hint my knowledge of the
story. The manner both of him and of his wife changed suddenly. They
wanted to know who it was had told me. I refused the information,
because it was evident they would have been angry with him. Everett's
theory was that one of them had dreamt it--probably Camelford--and by
hypnotic suggestion had conveyed to the rest of them the impression
that they had dreamt it also. He added that but for one slight
incident he should have ridiculed from the very beginning the argument
that it could have been anything else than a dream. But what that
incident was he would not tell me. His object, as he explained, was
not to dwell upon the business, but to try and forget it. Speaking as
a friend, he advised me, likewise, not to cackle about the matter any
more than I could help, lest trouble should arise with regard to my
director's fees. His way of putting things is occasionally blunt.