Section I: Discussion of the text The Cook by John Millington Ward
1.1Reading the text
by John Millington Ward
Peter Merrill stood at the door of the passenger-reception building of Rome Airport and watched the rapid approach of the Comet IV1that was carrying his wife.
Susan and he had been married three weeks before. A few days after their wedding she had had a telegram from home saying that her mother was ill. She had flown at once to London. He had been unable to go with her, for he was a teacher at the Parker Institute and it was the middle of the summer term2. So he had stayed alone, spending most of his spare time at his club because the emptiness of their bed-sitting room home at the Anconi Hotel depressed him.
He stood up now, as the passengers of the Comet began to come into the reception room. When Susan appeared he walked quickly to her and gave her a mighty hug.
“Hello, darling,” she said breathlessly, as he released her. “How are you?”
“Fine – now. You?”
“Yes. And very happy to be back.”
They took their place in the queue for the police and customs inspection.
She said: “Has anything exciting happened while I’ve been away?”
“My contract has been extended for another year.”
“That’s very good news. I wanted to stay on here for a bit. Anything else?”
“I’ve had a new suit made. A light one for summer.”
“Good. You needed one. Anything else?”
He glanced at her quickly. “I’ve taken a furnished flat for us.”
Her eyes opened wide. “A flat? Good heavens! Where?”
“In the Via Margutta3. Just round the corner from the hotel.”
“Oh!” She frowned a little.
He looked at her again. “I hope I haven’t done the wrong thing. If we were going to be here only for the rest of this term, we could have stayed on in the hotel. But another full year there…I don’t think we could’ve stood it – in spite of the marvelous restaurant.”
She squeezed his arm. “Of course. You’re quite right. It’s only that – oh, wait a minute, it’s my turn now.” She moved forward and gave her passport to the police official.
When she had finished with the formalities, Peter picked up her two suitcases. They went out of the building and walked towards their car.
He said: “What were you going to say about the flat? You don’t seem very happy about it.”
“Oh, darling,” she said at once, “of course I’m happy about it. It’s just that I’m a bit frightened.”
He stared at her. “Frightened? Whatever of?”
“The cooking. I wasn’t brought up very well. I can’t cook.”
He laughed. “Is that all? I know you can’t. You told me, when we got engaged. It doesn’t matter at all. I’ll teach you.”
“You? Can you cook?”
“Oh yes,” he said grandly. “I can cook.”
“Well, well,” she said. “We don’t know very much about each other yet, do we? All right, I’ll try to be a quick pupil. You mustn’t spend your time in the kitchen.”
He said: “We haven’t got to eat all the time at home. We’ll always have the Anconi Restaurant up our sleeve4. We can go there whenever we want a change.”
“We can,” she said, “but with a flat of our own we oughtn’t to do that very often. When do we move in?”
“We’re already in,” he said. “We’re going there now. And I’ll cook lunch. We’re going to have rissoles.”
“Well, well,” she said again. “Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?”
It took them an hour to get from the airport to the Via Margutta. Peter parked the car outside a block of flats. They ascended in the lift to their new home.
“You have a look around,” said Peter, as he put the suitcases down in the hall. “Lunch’ll be ready in no time.” He went into the kitchen and shut the door. Then he took a frying-pan from its hook and put it on a table. He opened the refrigerator and took out a packet of butter and the plate with the raw rissoles that he had rolled into shape before leaving for the airport. He tipped the rissoles into the pan. He opened the packet of butter and dug out a large spoonful.
Susan ran into the kitchen. “Darling, it’s a wonderful flat! And a lovely surprise. Thank you.” She looked at the rissoles in the frying-pan. “Those look as though they’re going to be very nice. But you shouldn’t be cooking without an apron or something. You’ll ruin your suit.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve nearly finished.” He dropped the spoonful of butter among the raw rissoles.
“Good heavens!” she said.
He looked up. “What is it?”
“Is that how you do it? You needn’t melt the butter first, then? I always thought that you mustn’t start frying anything till the pan is hot.”
“Don’t you believe it,” he said airily. He took the pan to the electric stove and put it on the large ring. He turned the switch to ‘HIGH’. “There,” he said, stepping back and rubbing his hands. “That’s all there is to it. Logic and common sense. It’ll cook itself now. We can go and have a beer5 in the living-room. What’s the sense in standing over it?”
She regarded the frying-pan thoughtfully. Then she looked at him and smiled. “It must be so, if you say so. You’re the cook.” She went out of the kitchen. He took two bottles of beer from the refrigerator and followed her into the living-room. They sat down and began to exchange news again.
Twenty minutes passed. Susan looked at her watch. “As your pupil,” she said shyly, “I shouldn’t be so impudent as to say this – but don’t you think those rissoles may burn?”
“Help!6” said Peter, and jumped out of his chair. “I’d forgotten them.” He ran into the kitchen.
Susan lit a cigarette and waited for a moment or two. Then she went slowly into the kitchen.
He was standing at the stove, frowning down at the frying-pan. “Something’s gone wrong with them,” he said, as he heard her step. “They’ve lost their shape.”
“They have, rather,” she said, looking at the pan. The rounded rissoles had integrated into a sickly-looking, gluey mess that covered the whole of the bottom of the pan.
“I can’t think what’s gone wrong,” he said ruefully. “Nothing’s burned, but why did they crumble?”
“How many eggs did you use?”
“None. You don’t have to put eggs into rissoles, do you?”
She smiled gently. “Darling, have you ever cooked rissoles before?”
He looked at her sheepishly. “Well, as a matter of fact, I haven’t. But they’re easy, aren’t they? You just get some minced meat and breadcrumbs and chopped onions, mix everything up together, roll it into balls, chuck7 the balls into a frying-pan, and there you are8.” He regarded the mess in the pan again, and turned slowly back to her, red in the face. “At least, that’s what I thought.”
She began to shake with laughter. “And the other things you cook? Do you use the same principle of logic and common sense?”
He went even redder. He nodded his head guiltily.
She went up to him and put her arms on his shoulders. “I love you so much,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go. As you said a little while ago, we have the Anconi Restaurant up our sleeve.”
¨ Explanatory Notes
1. the Comet IV – a jet passenger plane
2. the summer term – a course of lectures, especially at a university, during the summer term. Schools divide their year into three terms: autumn, spring and summer. Universities do the same, but tend to call them the Michaelmas ['miklməs] or Hilary term, the Lent term, the summer term.
3. the Via Margutta – a street in Rome
4. up our sleeve – in reserve, in an emergency
5. to have a beer – to have a bottle (a glass) of beer
6. Help! – a call for help; (here an excl.) Êàðàóë!