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Soup Disaster at Keeb

(Max Beerbohm's "Maltby and Braxton")

In this wicked comedy of manners, Beerbohm describes the fall from grace of epicene author Maltby struggling to squelch his rugged competition Braxton--then, with victory within his grasp at THE British society weekend of the year, Maltby lets his bad conscience haunt him into obscurity.

"...I don't know how late I was. Dinner was in full swing. some servant piloted me to my place. I sat down unobserved. The woman on either side of me was talking to her other neighbour. I was near the Duchess' end of the table. Soup was served to me--that dark-red soup that you pour cream into--Bortsch. I felt it would steady me. I raised the first spoonful to my lips, and--my hand gave a sudden jerk.

"I was aware of two separate horrors--a horror that had been, a horror that was. Braxton had vanished. Not for more than an instant had he stood scowling at me from behind the opposite diners. Not for more than the fraction of an instant. But he had left his mark on me. I gazed down with a frozen stare at my shirtfront, at my white waistcoat, both dark with Bortsch. I rubbed them with a napkin. I made them worse.

"I looked at my glass of champagne. I raised it carefully and drained it at one draught. It nerved me. But behind that shirtfront was a broken heart.

"The woman on my left was Lady Thisbe Crowborough. I don't know who was the woman on my right. She was the first to turn and see me. I thought it best to say something about my shirtfront at once. I said it to her sideways, without showing my left cheek [which he'd slashed into a Z while shaving]. Her handsome eyes rested on the splashes. She said, after a moment's thought, that they looked 'rather gay.' She said she thought the eternal black and white of men's evening clothes was 'so very dreary.' She did her best...."

Following one indignity after another in this high society, Maltby finally steals away "quickly and cravenly away, up the marble staircase."

"...I don't know which was the greater, the relief or the humiliation of finding myself in my bedroom. Perhaps the humiliation was the greater. There, on a chair, was my grand new smoking-suit, laid out for me--what a mockery! Once I had foreseen myself wearing it in the smoking-room at a late hour--the centre of a group of eminent men entranced by the brilliancy of my conversation. And now----! I was nothing but a small, dull, soup-stained, sticking-plastered, nerve-racked recluse...."