A man who worked as a bookkeeper in a hardware store discovered his talent for humor when he made a speech at his boss's birthday party. His witty remarks and jokes were well-received, and he soon became known as a local humorist. He began to write humorous articles for various publications, eventually receiving an offer to write a weekly column for a well-known magazine. He decided to quit his job at the hardware store and pursue a career as a professional humorist.
Over time, the man found it increasingly difficult to come up with fresh material for his articles. He began to eavesdrop on his friends and family, hoping to find inspiration in their conversations. He even went so far as to hide in the bushes to listen to his children's playful banter. His obsession with finding new material alienated him from his loved ones, and he became a pariah in his community. The narrator describes his desperation for humorous material, comparing himself to a cunning fox trying to steal wit from his friends.
I was a lugubrious fox praising the singing of my friends, the crow’s, that they might drop from their beaks the morsels of wit that I coveted.
One day, the man stumbled upon an undertaking establishment owned by a man named Peter Heffelbower. He found solace in the somber atmosphere of the funeral home and the dull, uninspired conversation of its owner. He began to spend more and more time there, finding it a welcome escape from the pressures of his humor-writing career.
The narrator expresses his guilt for using his wife's personal thoughts and experiences as material for his humor writing.
A literary Judas, I kissed her and betrayed her. For pieces of silver I dressed her sweet confidences in the pantalettes and frills of folly and made them dance in the market place.
Eventually, the man's work began to suffer, and his articles were rejected by various publications. The editor of the magazine he wrote for decided not to renew his contract, citing a decline in the quality of his humor. Desperate for a change, the man decided to invest his savings in Peter's undertaking business and become a partner.
With his new career, the man was able to rediscover his love for humor and once again became a well-liked, jovial figure in his community. He was able to enjoy his family's company without the pressure of finding material for his articles, and his business with Peter thrived.