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A short story by A. A. Milne

Physical Culture

Title:     Physical Culture
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

"Why don't you sit up?" said Adela at dinner, suddenly prodding me in the back. Adela is old enough to take a motherly interest in my figure, and young enough to look extremely pretty while doing so.

"I always stoop at meals," I explained; "it helps the circulation. My own idea."

"But it looks so bad. You ought----"

"Don't improve me," I begged.

"No wonder you have----"

"Hush! I haven't. I got a bullet on the liver in the campaign of '03, due to over smoking; and sometimes it hurts me a little in the cold weather. That's all."

"Why don't you try the Hyperion?"

"I will. Where is it?"

"It isn't anywhere; you buy it."

"Oh, I thought you dined at it. What do you buy it for?"

"It's one of those developers with elastics and pulleys and so on. Every morning early, for half an hour before breakfast----"

"You _are_ trying to improve me," I said suspiciously.

"But they are such good things," went on Adela earnestly. "They really do help to make you beautiful----"

"I _am_ beautiful."

"Well, much more beautiful, and strong----"

"Are you being simply as tactful as you can be?"

"--and graceful."

"It isn't as though you were actually a relation," I protested.

Adela continued, full of her idea.

"It would do you so much good, you know. Would you promise me to use it every day if I sent you mine?"

"Why don't you want yours any more? Are you perfect now?"

"You can easily hook it to the wall----"

"I suppose," I reflected, "there is a limit of beauty beyond which it is dangerous to go. After that either the thing would come off its hook, or----"

"Well," said Adela suddenly, "aren't I looking well?"

"You're looking radiant," I said appreciatively; "but it may only be because you're going to marry Billy next month."

She smiled and blushed. "Well, I'll send it to you," she said. "And you try it for a week, and then tell me if you don't feel better. Oh, and don't do all the exercises to begin with; start with three or four of the easy ones."

"Of course," I said.

* * * * *

I undid the wrappings eagerly, took off the lid of the box, and was confronted with (apparently) six pairs of braces. I shook them out of the box and saw I had made a mistake. It was one pair of braces for Magog. I picked it up, and I knew that I was in the presence of the Hyperion. In five minutes I had screwed a hook into the bedroom wall and attached the beautifier. Then I sat on the edge of the bed and looked at it.

There was a tin plate fastened to the top, with the word "LADIES" on it. I got up, removed it with a knife, and sat down again. Everything was very dusty, and I wondered when Adela had last developed herself.

By-and-by I went into the other room to see if I had overlooked anything. I found on the floor a chart of exercises, and returned triumphantly with it.

There were thirty exercises altogether, and the chart gave you:

(1) A detailed explanation of how to do each particular exercise;

(2) A photograph of a lady doing it.

"After all," I reassured myself, after the first bashful glance, "it is Adela who has thrust this upon me; and she must have known." So I studied it.

Nos. 10, 15 and 28 seemed the easiest; I decided to confine myself to them. For the first of these you strap yourself in at the waist, grasp the handles, and fall slowly backwards until your head touches the floor--all the elastic cords being then at full stretch. When I had got very slowly halfway down, an extra piece of elastic which had got hitched somewhere came suddenly into play, and I did the rest of the journey without a stop, finishing up sharply against the towel-horse. The chart had said, "Inhale going down," and I was inhaling hard at the moment that the towel-horse and two damp towels spread themselves over my face.

"So much for Exercise 10," I thought, as I got up. "I'll just get the idea to-night, and then start properly to-morrow. Now for No. 15."

Somehow I felt instinctively that No. 15 would cause trouble. For No. 15 you stand on the right foot, fasten the left foot to one of the cords, and stretch it out as far as you can....

What--officially--you do then, I cannot say....

Some people can stand easily upon the right foot when the left is fastened to the wall ... others cannot.... It is a gift....

Having recovered from my spontaneous rendering of No. 15 I turned to No. 28. This one, I realised, was extremely important. I would do it twelve times.

You begin by lying flat on the floor roped in at the waist, and with your hands (grasping the elastic cords) held straight up in the air. The tension on your waist is then extreme but on your hands only moderate. Then taking a deep breath you pull your arms slowly out until they lie along the floor. The tension becomes terrific, the strain on every part of you is immense. While I lay there, taking a deep breath before relaxing, I said to myself, "The strain will be too much for me." I was wrong. It was too much for the hook. The hook whizzed out, everything flew at me at once, and I remembered no more....

As I limped into bed, I trod heavily upon something sharp. I shrieked and bent down to see what had bitten me. It was a tin plate bearing the word "LADIES."

* * * * *

"Well?" said Adela a week later.

I looked at her for a long time. "When did you last use the Hyperion?" I asked.

"About a year ago."

"Ah!... You don't remember the chart that went with it?"

"Not well. Except, of course, that each exercise was arranged for a particular object, according to what you wanted."

"Exactly. So I discovered yesterday. It was in very small type, and I missed it at first."

"Well, how many did you do?"

"I limited myself to exercises 10, 15 and 28. Do you happen to remember what those are for?"

"Not particularly."

"No. Well, I started with No. 10. No. 10 you may recall is one of the most perilous. I nearly died over No. 10. And when I had been doing it for a week I discovered what its particular object was."


"_'To round the forearm'!_ Yes, madam," I said bitterly, "I have spent a week of agony ... and I have rounded one forearm."

"Why didn't you try another?"

"I did. I tried No. 15. Six times in the pursuit of No. 15 have I been shot up to the ceiling by the left foot ... and what for, Adela? _'To arch the instep'!_ Look at my instep! Why should I _want_ to arch it?"

"I wish I could remember which chart I sent you," said Adela, wrinkling her brow.

"It was the wrong one," I said....

There was a long silence.

"Oh," said Adela suddenly, "you never told me about No. 28."

"Pardon me," I said, "I cannot bear to speak of 28."

"Why, was it even more unsuitable than the other two?"

"I found, when I had done it six times that its object was stated to be, _'To remove double chin.'_ That, however, was not the real effect. And, so I crossed out the false comment and wrote the true one in its place."

"And what is that?" asked Adela.

"_To remove the hook_," I said gloomily.

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