Sense of Humour Summary
by V. S. Pritchett

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Sense of Humour Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Arthur Humphrey is a smooth-talking, plausible traveling sales representative in a new territory. He decides to stay in the new town over the weekend, planning to go to church on Sunday—“Presbyterians in the morning, Methodists in the evening”—hoping to impress the locals with his piety and teetotalism, so they will remember him when he solicits orders on Monday. Bored on a rainy Saturday afternoon, he flirts with Muriel MacFarlane, the hotel clerk. In the middle of their chat, Colin Mitchell, Muriel’s boyfriend, pulls up in front of the hotel on a new, loud motorcycle. Colin, a not-very-bright mechanic at the local garage where Arthur keeps his company car, wants Muriel to come for a ride on his new motorcycle, but she is becoming interested in Arthur, who has a white-collar job, a smooth manner, and a real car. That evening, Muriel and Arthur go to the movies. Arthur quickly replaces Colin in Muriel’s affections.

Thereafter, every Sunday, which is Muriel’s day off, the two date. At first, Arthur rubs it in by making Colin pull the car out, fill its gas tank, and check its oil. Then he notices that they always see Colin on the road, roaring along on his motorcycle, cutting in and out of traffic. Arthur confronts Colin, who denies following them, claiming that he only goes to the places they go by accident. Anyway, Colin adds, you took my girlfriend from me.

Colin stops shadowing them until the Bank Holiday, a long weekend holiday at the end of summer. Arthur plans to take Muriel to meet his elderly parents, but Colin tries to ruin their plans by sabotaging his car. Arthur instead takes Muriel by train, furious at Colin’s trickery and the cost of the train tickets.

Shortly after they arrive, Arthur tells his parents that he and Muriel are getting married. The conversation is interrupted by a telephone call for Muriel. Colin, who has followed them, is dead, killed because of his reckless motorcycle driving. Muriel goes to her guest room and lies on the bed, weeping and calling out Colin’s name. Arthur sits by her side to comfort her and then lies down next to her. The two stroke each other’s bodies and make love. The next day, Colin’s body is brought to the house. Arthur and his father, who is semiretired from his undertaking business, fix the details of the funeral. Arthur will drive the hearse, saving Colin’s mother some money. When Muriel hears about the plans, she wants to ride in back with Arthur and the body, partly to do her duty to Colin, partly to have the experience of riding in a hearse. That evening, Arthur goes to Muriel’s room to convince her to return home by train, but she insists on going in the hearse. The two make love again, knowing that Colin’s body is downstairs in the front room.

The next morning, Arthur and Muriel set off in the hearse with Colin’s body. As they drive along in the well-sprung, smooth-running vehicle, its engine purring, passing through village market squares, bystanders raising their hats in respect, little boys running after the hearse, Muriel laughs. She and Arthur feel like royalty.