The Angel and the Author HTML version

[Fire and the Foreigner.]
They are odd folk, these foreigners. There are moments of despair when I almost give
them up--feel I don't care what becomes of them-- feel as if I could let them muddle on in
their own way--wash my hands of them, so to speak, and attend exclusively to my own
business: we all have our days of feebleness. They will sit outside a cafe on a freezing
night, with an east wind blowing, and play dominoes. They will stand outside a tramcar,
rushing through the icy air at fifteen miles an hour, and refuse to go inside, even to oblige
a lady. Yet in railway carriages, in which you could grill a bloater by the simple process
of laying it underneath the seat, they will insist on the window being closed, light cigars
to keep their noses warm, and sit with the collars of their fur coats buttoned up around
their necks.
In their houses they keep the double windows hermetically sealed for three or four
months at a time: and the hot air quivering about the stoves scorches your face if you
venture nearer to it than a yard. Travel can broaden the mind. It can also suggest to the
Britisher that in some respects his countrymen are nothing near so silly as they are
supposed to be. There was a time when I used to sit with my legs stretched out before the
English coal fire and listen with respectful attention while people who I thought knew all
about it explained to me how wicked and how wasteful were our methods.
All the heat from that fire, they told me, was going up the chimney. I did not like to
answer them that notwithstanding I felt warm and cosy. I feared it might be merely
British stupidity that kept me warm and cosy, not the fire at all. How could it be the fire?
The heat from the fire was going up the chimney. It was the glow of ignorance that was
making my toes tingle. Besides, if by sitting close in front of the fire and looking hard at
it, I did contrive, by hypnotic suggestion, maybe, to fancy myself warm, what should I
feel like at the other end of the room?
It seemed like begging the question to reply that I had no particular use for the other end
of the room, that generally speaking there was room enough about the fire for all the
people I really cared for, that sitting altogether round the fire seemed quite as sensible as
sulking by one's self in a corner the other end of the room, that the fire made a cheerful
and convenient focus for family and friends. They pointed out to me how a stove,
blocking up the centre of the room, with a dingy looking fluepipe wandering round the
ceiling, would enable us to sit ranged round the walls, like patients in a hospital waiting-
room, and use up coke and potato-peelings.
Since then I have had practical experience of the scientific stove. I want the old-
fashioned, unsanitary, wasteful, illogical, open fireplace. I want the heat to go up the
chimney, instead of stopping in the room and giving me a headache, and making
everything go round. When I come in out of the snow I want to see a fire--something that
says to me with a cheerful crackle, "Hallo, old man, cold outside, isn't it? Come and sit