The setting for this story is a dinner party at the home of stock broker Mike Schofield. The guests include Schofield and his wife and daughter, the narrator and his wife, and a man called Richard Pratt. Pratt is a famous gourmet and enjoys showing off his knowledge of fine wine and food. He is also a thoroughly unpleasant man. Both times prior that Pratt dined withSchofield, the two men made a curious bet: Schofield bet that Pratt could not identify some special wine
that he had procured for the night. Pratt had always won. On the night this story takes place, Schofield thinks that he will finally win one over on the gourmet. He has a very rare bottle of claret from a tiny chateau in France, and he boasts that Pratt will never be able to guess it. Pratt, whohad been spending the night engrossed in conversation with Schofield's daughter Louise, takes the bet and asks to up the stakes. He offers to bet two of his houses against the hand of
Louise in marriage. Both Louise and her mother are against it, but Schofield manages to convince them to accept. He believes that Pratt has no chance of winning. Pratt then proceeds to smell and taste the wine, andhe slowly begins to narrow down its possible origin. Eventually he gets the correct answer and Schofield sits there horrified. Just as Pratt is starting to get nasty about the bet, the house maid appears at his arm and offers him his spectacles, which he had
misplaced earlier. He takes no notice of her, but she stands her ground and reminds him (rather loudly) that he left them in Mr.Schofield's study on top of the filing cabinet when he went in there that evening... which is just where Pratt, on a previous visit, had advised Schofield to leave his wines to "breathe". In other words, he cheated!
Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat
Some sources refer to this as a "story-within-a-story", but I wouldn't go so far. It's more like a story with a little stitched-on introduction. Criticslike to point to this tale as yet another example of Dahl's misogyny, but it's actually quite different for a husband to win against a wife in his work (see "Lamb to the Slaughter" or "The Way Up to Heaven"). Interesting note: the official Dahl site launched with a typo that referred to the story as "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Cat." Sorta changes things, doesn't it? *grin*
Spoiler Warning! Dahlintroduces the story by commenting on the ruthless practice of American woman marrying men, using them, and divorcing them just for financial gain. He claims that these poor overworked men meet in bars and console themselves with tales in which cuckolded men win one over the evil forces of femininity. The most famous of these stories is "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat", which is about ahard-working dentist and his duplicitous wife. Mrs. Bixby leaves home once a month ostensibly to visit her aunt in Baltimore, but really she spends the time with her lover, the Colonel. On this particular occasion she receives a parting gift from the Colonel, and when she opens it on the train home she is amazed to find an extremely beautiful and valuable mink coat. In a note the Colonel explains thattheir relationship has to end, but Mrs. Bixby is consoled by the thought of her fabulous new possession. Immediately she begins scheming and trying to think of a story she can tell her husband about
where she obtained it. She decides to visit a pawnbroker and borrow $50 against the coat, receiving a blank pawn ticket in return. When she gets home she tells her husband that she found the ticket ina taxicab and he excitedly explains how they go about claiming it. Since she doesn't want to be recognized by the pawnbroker, she lets him go to claim the item after he promises that he'll give whatever it is to her. He calls her from work the next day to let her know that he
has the item, and that she's going to be really surprised and happy. Mrs. Bixby is too eager to wait, so she goes to her...