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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Double

Title:     The Double
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

I was having lunch in one of those places where you stand and eat sandwiches until you are tired, and then try to count up how many you have had. As the charm of these sandwiches is that they all taste exactly alike, it is difficult to recall each individual as it went down; one feels, too, after the last sandwich, that one's mind would more willingly dwell upon other matters. Personally I detest the whole business--the place, the sandwiches, the method of scoring--but it is convenient and quick, and I cannot keep away. On this afternoon I was giving the _foie gras_ plate a turn. I know a man who will never touch _foie gras_ because of the cruelty involved in the preparation of it. I excuse myself on the ground that my own sufferings in eating these sandwiches are much greater than those of any goose in providing them.

There was a grey-haired man in the corner who kept looking at me. I seemed to myself to be behaving with sufficient propriety, and there was nothing in my clothes or appearance to invite comment; for in the working quarter of London a high standard of beauty is not insisted upon. On the next occasion when I caught his eye I frowned at him, and a moment later I found myself trying to stare him down. After two minutes it was I who retired in confusion to my glass.

As I prepared to go--for to be watched at meals makes me nervous, and leads me sometimes to eat the card with "Foie Gras" on it in mistake for the sandwich--he came up to me and raised his hat.

"You must excuse me, sir, for staring at you," he said, "but has any one ever told you that you are exactly like A. E. Barrett?"

I drew myself up and rested my left hand lightly on my hip. I thought he said David Garrick.

"The very image of him," he went on, "when first I met him."

Something told me that in spite of his grey hair he was not talking of David Garrick after all.

"Like _who?_" I said in some disappointment.

"A. E. Barrett."

I tried to think of a reply, both graceful and witty. The only one I could think of was, "Oh?"

"It's extraordinary. If your hair were just a little longer the likeness would be perfect."

I thought of offering to go away now and come back in a month's time. Anyway, it would be an excuse for going now.

"I first knew him at Cambridge," he explained. "We were up together in the 'seventies."

"Ah, I was up in the nineteen hundreds," I said. "I just missed you both."

"Well, didn't they ever tell you at Cambridge that you were the image of A. E. Barrett?"

I tried to think. They had told me lots of things at Cambridge, but I couldn't remember any talk about A. E. Barrett.

"I should have thought every one would have noticed it," he said.

I had something graceful for him this time all right.

"Probably," I said, "those who were unfortunate enough to know me had not the honour of knowing A. E. Barrett."

"But everybody knew A. E. Barrett. _You've_ heard of him, of course?"

The dreadful moment had arrived. I knew it would.

"Of course," I said.

"A charming fellow."

"Very brainy," I agreed.

"Well, just ask any of your artist friends if they don't notice the likeness. The nose, the eyes, the expression--wonderful! But I must be going. Perhaps I shall see you here again some day. Good afternoon"; and he raised his hat and left me.

You can understand that I was considerably disturbed. First, why had I never heard of A. E. Barrett? Secondly, what sort of looking fellow was he? Thirdly, with all this talk about A. E. Barrett, however many sandwiches had I eaten? The last question seemed the most impossible to answer, so I said "eight," to be on the safe side, and went back to work.

In the evening I called upon Peter. My acquaintance of the afternoon had assumed too readily that I should allow myself to be on friendly terms with artists; but Peter's wife illustrates books, and they both talk in a disparaging way of our greatest Academicians.

"Who," I began at once, as I shook hands, "did I remind you of as I came in at the door?"

Peter was silent. Mrs. Peter, feeling that some answer was called for, said, "The cat."

"No, no. Now I'll come in again." I went out and returned dramatically. "Now then, tell me frankly, doesn't that remind you of A. E. Barrett entering his studio?"

"Who is A. E. Barrett?"

I was amazed at their ignorance.

"He's the well-known artist. _Surely_ you've heard of him?"

"I seem to know the name," lied Peter. "What did he paint?"

"'Sunrise on the Alps,' 'A Corner of the West,' 'The Long Day Wanes'--_I_ don't know. Something. The usual thing."

"And are you supposed to be like him?"

"I am. Particularly when eating sandwiches."

"Is it worth while getting you some, in order to observe the likeness?" asked Mrs. Peter.

"If you've never seen A. E. Barrett I fear you'd miss the likeness, even in the most favourable circumstances. Anyhow, you must have heard of him--dear old A. E.!"

They were utterly ignorant of him, so I sat down and told them what I knew; which, put shortly, was that he was a very remarkable-looking fellow.

. . . . .

I have not been to the sandwich-place since. Detesting the sandwiches as I do, I find A. E. Barrett a good excuse for keeping away. For, upon the day after that when he came into my life, I had a sudden cold fear that the thing was a plant. How, in what way, I cannot imagine. That I am to be sold a _Guide to Cambridge_ at the next meeting; that an A. E. Barrett hair-restorer is about to be placed on the market; that an offer will be made to enlarge my photograph (or Barrett's) free of charge if I buy the frame--no, I cannot think what it can be.

Yet, after all, why should it be a plant? We Barretts are not the sort of men to be mixed up with fraud. Impetuous the Barrett type may be, obstinate, jealous--so much you see in our features. But dishonest? Never!

Still, as I did honestly detest those last eight sandwiches, I shall stay away.

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