It was a very happy funeral, a great success. Even the sun shone that day for the late Henry Ground. Lying in his coffin, he was probably enjoying himself too. Once more, and for the last time on this earth, he was the centre of attention. Yes, it was a very jolly affair.<注1> People laughed and told each other jokes. Relatives who had not spoken for years smiled at each other and promised to stay in touch. And, of course, everyone had a favourite story to tell about Henry.
'Do you remember the time he dressed up as a gypsy and went from door to door telling people's fortunes?<注2> He actually made￡6 in an afternoon!'
'I was once having dinner with him in a posh restaurant. When the wine-waiter brought the wine, he poured a drop into Henry's glass and waited with a superior expression on his face, as if to say "Taste it, you peasant. It's clear that you know nothing about wine." So Henry, instead of tasting it, the way any normal person would do, dipped his thumb and forefinger into the wine. Then he put his hand to his ear and rolled his forefinger and thumb together as if he were listening to the quality of the wine! Then he nodded to the wine-waiter solemnly, as if to say "Yes, that's fine. You may serve it." You should have seen the wine-waiter's face! And how Henry managed to keep a straight face, I'll never know!'<注3>
'Did you hear about the practical joke he played when he was a student, the one with the road-menders<注4>? Some workmen were digging a hole in the road. First, Henry phoned the police and told them that some students were digging a hole in the road, and that he didn't think it was a very funny thing to do. Then he went to the workmen, and told them that some students had dressed up as policemen and were coming to tell them to stop digging the hole! Well, you can imagine what happened! Total confusion!'
'Yes, old Henry loved to pull people's legs.<注5> Once, when he was invited to an exhibition of some abstract modern painter's latest work, he managed somehow to get in the day before and turn all the paintings upside down. The exhibition ran for four days before anyone noticed!'
'His father, poor man, could never understand why Henry did such crazy things.'
'It's hard to believe that Henry was a Ground when you think how different he was from his brothers.'
Yes, it was difficult to believe that he was a Ground. He was born into an unimportant but well-to-do Midlands family. He was the youngest of five sons. The Grounds were a handsome lot: blue-eyed, fair-haired, clever and ambitious. The four older boys all made a success of their lives. They married beautiful, buxom<注6> girls of good family, and produced children as fair and handsome and clever as themselves. The eldest became a clergyman; the second ended up as the headmaster of a famous public school; the third went into business and became disgustingly rich; the fourth followed in his father's footsteps and became a solicitor.<注7> Which is why everybody was amazed when the youngest Ground, Henry, turned out to be a lazy good-for-nothing.
Unlike his brothers, he had brown eyes and dark hair, but he was every bit as handsome and charming, which made him quite a ladykiller. And, although he never married, there is no doubt at all that Henry Ground loved women. He also loved eating, drinking, laughing, talking and a thousand other activities which don't make money or improve the human condition.
One of his favourite pastimes was doing nothing. His idea of an energetic afternoon when the sun was shining was to sit under a shady tree, with a pretty companion by his side, and all the time in the world to talk of this and that, to count the blades of grass, and to learn the songs of the bees that buzzed around him.
What a worthless fellow! Some people whispered that his real father was not the respectable Mr Ground at all, but a wild gypsy who had come one day to the house and had swept Mrs Ground off her feet<注8> with his dancing black eyes and his wicked country ways. It was a good story, juicy and romantic, but surely untrue. One thing was sure: you couldn't help liking Henry Ground and his talent for making you laugh. Henry Ground was, above all else, a joker.
Anyway, the stories went on even while the coffin was being lowered into the grave. People held handkerchiefs to their eyes, but their tears were tears of laughter, not sadness. Afterwards, there was a funeral breakfast, by invitation only. It was attended by twelve of Henry's closest friends. Henry Ground had asked his brother, Colin, to read out his will during the funeral breakfast. Everyone was curious about Henry Ground's will. Henry had been in debt all his life, hadn't he? What could he possibly have to leave in a will?
Colin cleared his throat. 'Ahem! If you are ready, ladies and gentlemen.' Everyone settled down expectantly. Colin opened the will, and began to read it out in a singsong voice.<注9>
'I, Henry Ground, being of sound mind... last will and testament... do hereby bequeath...'<注10>
The legal phrases rolled on and on, and the audience grew impatient to get to the important part. It came soon enough. When Colin announced that Henry Ground, despite his reputation, as a good-for-nothing, had invested his money very wisely, and was in fact worth at least three-quarters of a million, everyone gasped. But who was going to get it? Eyes narrowed and throats went dry.
'You are all such dear friends of mine,' Colin went on, reading out Henry Ground's words in a monotone, which, in other circumstances, would have sent everyone to sleep, 'that I cannot decide which of you to leave my money to.' Colin paused. In the silence, you could have heard a pin drop. He resumed. 'So, dear friends, I have set you a little competition. Each of you in turn must tell the funniest joke he or she can think of, and the one who gets the most laughter will inherit my fortune. Colin will be the sole judge of the best joke.'
'So, ladies and gentlemen,' said Colin, putting the will down on the table, 'it's up to you now. Who will go first? May I suggest that you go in alphabeticalsgroupsof surnames?'
The first person stood up and told a very funny joke about an Englishman who fell in love with his umbrella. When he finished, he was in tears of laughter, for he always laughed at his own jokes. The rest of the company<注11> remained absolutely silent. You could tell from their red faces and their screwed-up eyes that they found the joke funny,<注12> but not one of them was prepared to laugh, and give him the chance to win the competition. The second told a story about a three-legged pig, which was so good that, some years later, MGM made a cartoon of it.<注13> When she sat down, the others buried their faces in their handkerchiefs, coughed, pretended to sneeze, dropped pencils under the table anything to cover up their laughter. And so it went on, joke after wonderful joke, the sort of jokes that make your sides ache. And nobody dared to laugh!
You know what it's like when you want to laugh, but cannot. It happens in classrooms all the time. Somebody starts to giggle<注14>, and then tries to stop. Immediately three or four others will want to giggle. The desire to laugh spreads like an infection, and soon the entire class is choking, while the teacher looks round baffled, wondering what all the snuffling noises are.<注15>
Well, by the time the last joke had been told, every one of the twelve was sitting perfectly still, desperately holding in the laughter which was bursting to get out. Their suppressed laughter had built up such a pressure: it was like a volcano ready to erupt.
Silence. Painful silence.
Suddenly, Colin sneezed. A perfectly ordinary sneeze. Atishoo. Then he took out a ridiculously large spotted-red handkerchief and blew his nose.<注16> Bbbrrrrrrppp.
That was enough. Someone burst out laughing, unable to hold it in any longer. That started the others off. In no time, everyone was doubled up, tears streaming from their eyes, their shoulders heaving as wave after wave of laughter erupted like lava from a volcano.<注17> Of course, they were not just laughing at the sneeze, nor even at the twelve jokes. No, they were laughing at themselves as it dawned on<注18> them that Henry Ground had led them into his last, and funniest, practical joke, setting their need to laugh against their greed for money.
When, at long last, the laughter died down, Colin cleared his throat once more. 'Forgive my little piece of theatre,'<注19> he said, his eyes twinkling. 'I have been practising that sneeze for a week or more.' He folded the enormous handkerchief and stuffed it into his pocket. 'Henry's idea, of course,' he added, unnecessarily: all twelve guests realised they had been set up beautifully.<注20>
'Ahem! May I read you the rest of the will now?' Colin asked.
'My friends,' the last paragraph began, 'forgive me, but I couldn't resist playing one last little joke on you. It's good to know that your love of laughter finally overcame your love of money.'
Colin paused, letting the meaning of the words sink in.<注21> Then he read out the final part of the late Henry Ground's last will and testament.
'My friends, thank you for letting me have the last laugh. As for the money: because I love you all, my fortune will be divided equally among you. Enjoy your share, and think of me whenever you hear laughter.'
The company fell silent. For the first time that day, there was a feeling of sadness in the air.
3.真不知亨利怎么能绷着脸忍住不笑的。keep a straight face:板着面孔，不露笑脸。
5.是啊，老亨利就爱捉弄人。pull sb.誷leg: <口>与某人开玩笑，愚弄某人。
7. solicitor: <英>初级律师，诉状律师。
8. sweep sb. off his/her feet:给某人深刻的印象，使某人倾心。
18. dawn (on/upon):被领悟，被想到。
20. 12位客人都明白过来，他们中计了(中了亨利设计巧妙的圈套)。set up: <口>设计(诬陷、冤枉等)。