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A short story by A. A. Milne

Heavy Work

Title:     Heavy Work
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

Every now and then doctors slap me about and ask me if I was always as thin as this.

"As thin as what?" I say with as much dignity as is possible to a man who has had his shirt taken away from him.

"As thin as this," says the doctor, hooking his stethoscope on to one of my ribs, and then going round to the other side to see how I am getting on there.

I am slightly better on the other side, but he runs his pencil up and down me and produces that pleasing noise which small boys get by dragging a stick along railings.

I explain that I was always delicately slender, but that latterly my ribs have been overdoing it.

"You must put on more flesh," he says sternly, running his pencil up and down them again. (He must have been a great nuisance as a small boy.)

"I will," I say fervently, "I will."

Satisfied by my promise he gives me back my shirt.

But it is not only the doctor who complains; Celia is even more upset by it. She says tearfully that I remind her of a herring. Unfortunately she does not like herrings. It is my hope some day to remind her of a turbot and make her happy. She, too, has my promise that I will put on flesh.

We had a fortnight's leave a little while ago, which seemed to give me a good opportunity of putting some on. So we retired to a house in the country where there is a weighing-machine in the bathroom. We felt that the mere sight of this weighing-machine twice daily would stimulate the gaps between my ribs. They would realize that they had been brought down there on business.

The first morning I weighed myself just before stepping into the water. When I got down to breakfast I told Celia the result.

"You _are_ a herring," she said sadly.

"But think what an opportunity it gives me. If I started the right weight, the rest of the fortnight would be practically wasted. By the way, the doctor talks about putting on flesh, but he didn't say how much he wanted. What do you think would be a nice amount?"

"About another stone," said Celia. "You were just a nice size before the War."

"All right. Perhaps I had better tell the weighing-machine. This is a co-operative job; I can't do it all myself."

The next morning I was the same as before, and the next, and the next, and the next.

"Really," said Celia, pathetically, "we might just as well have gone to a house where there wasn't a weighing-machine at all. I don't believe it's trying. Are you sure you stand on it long enough?"

"Long enough for me. It's a bit cold, you know."

"Well, make quite sure to-morrow. I must have you not quite so herringy."

I made quite sure the next morning. I had eight stone and a half on the weight part, and the-little-thing-you-move-up-and-down was on the "4" notch, and the bar balanced midway between the top and the bottom. To have had a crowd in to see would have been quite unnecessary; the whole machine was shouting eight-stone-eleven as loudly as it could.

"I expect it's got used to you," said Celia when I told her the sad state of affairs. "It likes eight-stone-eleven people."

"We will give it," I said, "one more chance."

Next morning the weights were as I had left them, and I stepped on without much hope, expecting that the bar would come slowly up to its midway position of rest. To my immense delight, however, it never hesitated but went straight up to the top. At last I had put on flesh!

Very delicately I moved the-thing-you-move-up-and-down to its next notch. Still the bar stayed at the top. I had put on at least another ounce of flesh!

I continued to put on more ounces. Still the bar remained up! I was eight-stone-thirteen.... Good heavens, I was eight-stone-fourteen!

I pushed the-thing-you-move-up-and-down back to the zero position, and exchanged the half-stone weight for a stone one. Excited but a trifle cold, for it was a fresh morning, and the upper part of the window was wide open, I went up from nine stone ounce by ounce....

At nine-stone-twelve I jumped off for a moment and shut the window....

At eleven-stone-eight I had to get off again in order to attend to the bath, which was in danger of overflowing....

At fifteen-stone-eleven the breakfast gong went....

At nineteen-stone-nine I realized that I had overdone it. However I decided to know the worst. The worst that the machine could tell me was twenty-stone-seven. At twenty-stone-seven I left it.

Celia, who had nearly finished breakfast, looked up eagerly as I came in.

"Well?" she said.

"I am sorry I am late," I apologized, "but I have been putting on flesh."

"Have you really gone up?" she asked excitedly.

"Yes." I began mechanically to help myself to porridge, and then stopped. "No, perhaps not," I said thoughtfully.

"Have you gone up much?"

"Much," I said. "Quite much."

"How much? Quick!"

"Celia," I said sadly, "I am twenty-stone-seven. I may be more; the weighing-machine gave out then."

"Oh, but, darling, that's much too much."

"Still, it's what we came here for," I pointed out. "No, no bacon, thanks; a small piece of dry toast."

"I suppose the machine couldn't have made a mistake?"

"It seemed very decided about it. It didn't hesitate at all."

"Just try again after breakfast to make sure."

"Perhaps I'd better try now," I said, getting up, "because if I turned out to be only twenty-stone-six I might venture on a little porridge after all. I shan't be long."

I went upstairs. I didn't dare face that weighing-machine in my clothes after the way in which I had already strained it without them. I took them off hurriedly and stepped on. To my joy the bar stayed in its downward position. I took off an ounce ... then another ounce. The bar remained down....

At eighteen-stone-two I jumped off for a moment in order to shut the window, which some careless housemaid had opened again....

At twelve-stone-seven I shouted through the door to Celia that I shouldn't be long, and that I should want the porridge after all....

At four-stone-six I said that I had better have an egg or two as well.

At three ounces I stepped off, feeling rather shaken.

* * * * *

I have not used the weighing-machine since; partly because I do not believe it is trustworthy, partly because I spent the rest of my leave in bed with a severe cold. We are now in London again, where I am putting on flesh. At least the doctor who slapped me about yesterday said that I must, and I promised him that I would.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Heavy Work