A witty, well-read reader with a macabre streak who noted my dislike of Dickens e-mailed me the following excerpt from Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, a favorite book I haven’t revisited for a number of years:
One day, running his thumb through the pages of Bleak House that remained to be read, Tony said, “We still have a lot to get through. I hope I shall be able to finish it before I go.”
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Todd. “Do not disturb yourself about that. You will have time to finish it, my friend.”
For the first time Tony noticed something slightly menacing in his host’s manner. That evening at supper, a brief meal of farine and dried beef, eaten just before sundown, Tony renewed the subject.
“You know, Mr. Todd, the time has come when I must be thinking about getting back to civilization. I have already imposed myself on your hospitality for too long.”
Mr. Todd bent over his plate, crunching mouthfuls of farine, but made no reply.
“How soon do you think I shall be able to get a boat?…I said how soon do you think I shall be able to get a boat? I appreciate all your kindness to me more than I can say but…”
“My friend, any kindness I may have shown is amply repaid by your reading of Dickens. Do not let us mention the subject again.”
“Well I’m very glad you have enjoyed it. I have, too. But I really must be thinking of getting back…”
“Yes,” said Mr. Todd. “The black man was like that. He thought of it all the time. But he died here…”
If you know the book, you know the moral of the story. Terrible things can happen to those who read Dickens! Don’t let them happen to you….