ITH something of the air of a dog at the mouth of a rabbit hole, Billy Rayner stood on the porch of Mrs. Rastall-Retford’s country home, waiting for Eve Hendrie. It was the first morning of his visit. Eve had disappeared after breakfast in the company of his hostess. But it seemed probable that on a crisp and exhilarating morning like this she would sooner or later feel the need for fresh air; so he waited patiently for her to emerge. There was a rapt look on his face as he stood there. He sighed once or twice.
It would be well at this juncture to go back and build up the narrative from its beginning.
Billy Rayner was a young man of a cheerful and amiable disposition, large, independent means and only one near relative, his married sister, a Mrs. Elphinstone. It was while paying a visit to the home of this lady that he had first met Eve Hendrie. Eve was governess to Mrs. Elphinstone’s child, Joseph, aged six. And Billy, the instant he saw her, fell in love.
There is a type of man who, when he falls in love, comports himself with about the same reserve and secrecy as a cowboy shooting up a Wild West saloon. To this class Billy belonged. If at the end of the first day there was any one in the house who was not aware of his state of mind, it was only Joseph. And Joseph must have had his suspicions. Mrs. Elphinstone, who had definite matrimonial views with regard to her brother, in which penniless governesses did not figure, was among the first to become aware of it. Having observed Billy’s hurricane wooing, frostily silent and gimlet-like as to the eye, for two days, she proceeded to eliminate Eve. In the course of the parting interview she expressed herself a good deal less guardedly than was either just or considerate, and Eve left that afternoon, flushed and at war with the whole race of Rayners, Billy included.
Of these facts Billy was not aware. His sister vouchsafed no explanation of Eve’s disappearance, beyond the curt statement that she had been obliged to leave. And there followed for Billy a period of blank grayness. Finally, after a considerable amount of detective work, he discovered that Eve had taken a situation with a Mrs. Rastall-Retford.
Billy had a good deal of what he called enterprise, and his friends, gall. He remembered that he had been at college with a man named Rastall-Retford. Indeed the man belonged to one of his clubs in New York and they still met occasionally, when Billy did not see him first. It could not be that the world was full of Rastall-Retfords. This one must have some connection with Eve’s new employer. On investigation, he proved to be the lady’s son, and from the moment when Billy discovered this, he courted him assiduously. Mr. Rastall-Retford was a tall, thin, nervous young man, perpetually clearing his throat and fiddling with a pair of gold rimmed eye-glasses. He was plainly embarrassed when Billy tracked him down at the club and began to talk about the dear old college days. His only clear recollection of the dear old college days as linking Billy and himself was of a certain night when sundry of the festive, led and inspired by Billy, had completely wrecked his room and shaved off half of a growing moustache. But, listening to his conversation, he got the impression that they had shared each other’s joys, sorrows and tobacco, and generally had made Damon and Pythias look like a pair of cross-talk, slap-stick artists at one of the rowdier vaudeville houses. Not to invite him to stay at his home, in the face of his broad hints that an invitation would be well received, would have been inconceivably ingracious. Mr. Rastall-Retford invited him.
The Rastall-Retford ménage consisted, besides Eve, of the eye-glass juggler, his mother and Ferdie. Ferdie was Mrs. Rastall-Retford’s grandson, a wizened, precocious child of eight, and the only member of the household to whom his grandmother was civil. Mrs. Rastall-Retford was a massive old lady with hair of a curious greenish tint, a bulging, shiny forehead, a long upper lip, some half dozen chins and a manner, to all save Ferdie, which would have been resented in a second mate by the crew of a western ocean tramp. Towards Ferdie she was uniformly affectionate. She spoiled him in every way. If he wanted anything he cried for it and got it. And he seemed to want nearly everything.
Eve’s position in the household was officially that of Ferdie’s governess; but it did not take Billy long to see that that was only a branch of her duties. She acted also, apparently, as a companion to Mrs. Rastall-Retford, and Billy’s heart bled for her. To handle Ferdie was the work of one girl—and more. Nobody could combine the posts of governess and companion in that household and retain her sanity for long. Billy’s mind was made up. Eve must be taken away from here, and at once.
This had been the thought uppermost in his mind since his arrival, and it still occupied him now as he waited on the porch.
Suddenly, as he stood there, from inside the house came the sound of footsteps. Billy started and stiffened. The next moment Eve appeared. Her face was pink and mutinous. She looked at him coldly. Not unnaturally perhaps Eve objected to Billy’s presence in the house. She still felt unspeakably humiliated when she recalled that last interview with Mrs. Elphinstone, and for that humiliation Billy had been responsible. She told herself that she hated him and hated him the more for having followed her here. That his advent was no accidental coincidence he had made plain on the previous evening. He had showed no surprise at finding her there. She could still see the look on his face as he turned to her after shaking hands with his hostess. It was the look of the cowboy who, his weary ride over, sees through the dusk the friendly gleam of the saloon windows and with a happy sigh reaches for his pistol. There could be no two meanings to that look. It had said, as clearly as if he had shouted it, that he had tracked her down and proposed to resume matters at the point where they had left off. And Eve naturally resented this strenuously.
She eyed him therefore as she approached in a manner that might have chilled a timid man. Billy, however, was not timid. He beamed upon her as one who meets a soul mate.
“I was hoping you would come out soon,” he said. “Will you come for a stroll?”
“Mrs. Rastall-Retford,” said Eve coldly, “has told me to take you to the golf links.”
“Are you commissioned to club me if I resist?”
“Of course if you object—”
“I don’t object. I’ll go anywhere so long as you go, too.” He looked fondly at her. “It’s great meeting you again.”
“We turn to the left,” said Eve.
They walked on, Eve silent, Billy crooning joyously in an undertone.
“Say, it’s great meeting you again,” he observed suddenly.
“So you said before.”
“Do you know it cost me about a million dollars to find out your address?”
“I wonder you took the trouble.”
He stopped and looked at her with honest astonishment. “What! Trouble? Great Scott!” he cried. “Surely you know I worship the ground you tread on? You’re the only girl I ever— And say, I do think you might have left word where you were going when you went away from my sister’s. Well, I’ve found you now and I’ve got to take you out of this benighted place and away from that kid. He’s the limit. And as for the old woman, I don’t think I ever took such a dislike to any one at first sight before. When she was talking to you at dinner last night, it was all that I could do— But it won’t last long now. You must come away at once. We’ll be married after Christmas, and in the meantime you can go and live with my sister.”
Eve listened speechlessly. She had allowed him to talk on because she had so much to say that the difficulty of selection rendered her dumb.
“When can you start? I mean do you have to give a month’s notice or anything?”
Eve found speech. “Do you imagine,” she said, “that I intend to marry you? Do you suppose, for one moment—” Words failed her again. She stamped. “I hate you!” she cried.
He looked at her, amazed. “You can’t,” he said simply. “It isn’t natural. If we weren’t made for each other, how could I feel as I do about you?”
“I wish you would go away from here.”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t,” he said. “I’ll do anything you ask me to, except that.”
It was a long time before Eve spoke again. When she did, her voice had a certain sinister calm. “I think you’ll find that you can go away,” she said.
“I don’t,” said Billy with conviction.
“We shall see,” said she, and remained resolutely dumb till the conclusion of the walk.
The significance of her words was not long in making itself clear to Billy. Light broke in upon him two hours later at the luncheon table. Billy was a large and healthy young man, and his walk had left him with a keen appetite. He took his seat at the table with a certain feeling of content. This disappeared abruptly as there was placed before him a dish filled with a curious, saffron colored mess. He eyed it askance. Instinct told him that it consisted of parsnips. He blenched. All great men have their dislikes. Some swoon if confronted with a cat. Others eschew the society of cockroaches. The only thing Billy really loathed in the world was a parsnip.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford spoke in the deep bass voice which was one of the things which made her formidable to her associates. “It was very foolish, Mr. Rayner,” she said in her sepulchral tones, “to break down your principles at dinner last night merely to avoid giving trouble. It will be no trouble. Of course you must have your vegetables.” Billy gaped silently. Her words conveyed no meaning. “Fortunately,” she continued, “Miss Hendrie had met you before and was aware that you are a vegetarian. I consider it very foolish and thoughtless of you, Miss Hendrie, not to have informed me of it last night,” she added, turning to Eve.
Eve’s eyes, sparkling wickedly, met Billy’s across the table. “I thought of it only this morning,” she said.
“That is a parsnip soufflé,” said Mrs. Rastall-Retford. “Miss Hendrie tells me you are fond of parsnips.”
“I hate parsnips, Grandma,” said Ferdie. “I like beans. I like sweet potatoes. I like corn. I like spinach. Can you spell spinach?” he added, to Billy.
Billy did not answer. He looked at Eve as Caesar must have looked at Brutus and helped himself to a small portion of the horror before him. He was thinking deeply.
Towards the middle of the afternoon, moodily pacing the garden, Billy was aware of Eve approaching.
“Well?” she said mischievously, as she sauntered along up the path leading from the house.
Billy shook his head reproachfully.
“You see!” she said. “I told you! Now perhaps you will go?”
“Without you?” asked he stoutly. “No!”
“In New York you will be able to eat all day—anything you like.”
“What is food? Better a dinner of herbs where love is—”
“I’ll tell you what yours will be, if you like. Or would you rather wait and let it be a surprise? Well, for dinner you will have another parsnip soufflé and—”
“I think you might have spared me the parsnips,” he said. “Don’t you think that that was rather raw work? You know how I hate them.”
“Now I think of it,” said Eve nonchalantly, “I do remember your saying at Mrs. Elphinstone’s that parsnips were first by a mile, and that cyanide also ran.”
He looked at her gravely. “It’s tough,” he said; “but I don’t care. A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine—”
“I told her you were a teetotaler as well,” said Eve.
Billy drew a deep breath—the breath of a man who braces himself up and thanks whatever gods there may be for his unconquerable soul.
“The best train,” said Eve, “is the ten-fifty.”
“The best train?”
“For New York.”
“What makes you think I am interested in trains to New York?”
Eve bit her lip. “Why don’t you go away?” she cried. “I wish you would go away.”
“And leave you here? No! I’ve only been here one night, but I’ve seen enough to know that I’ve got to take you away from this place. That kid Ferdie is bad enough; but his grandmother is worse. Do you think I can’t see? You’re scared if that infernal old woman starts to open her mouth. She’s crushing the life out of you. I’m going to stay on here till you say you’ll marry me, or till they throw me out.”
“Well, you’ll have parsnips every day.”
“I shall get to like them. They are an acquired taste, I guess. Perhaps I am, too. Perhaps I am the human parsnip, and you will have to learn to love me.”
HAT night wrath made Eve wakeful. She told herself again and again that she hated Billy. It was abominable that he should pursue her in this way. She tried to dismiss him from her mind; but he stayed there, Macbeth-like, murdering sleep. A cuckoo clock outside the door mocked her at regular intervals. Presently she became aware that she was hungry. The thought that Billy, if he was awake, must be hungrier, brought a momentary consolation; but it soon vanished, and she sat up in bed to face this new trouble. As she did so it came to her that on the sideboard in the dining-room there were crackers.
A moment later she was creeping softly down the stairs. It was dark and ghostly on the stairs. The house was full of noises. She was glad when she reached the dining-room. It would be pleasant to switch on the light. She pushed open the door and uttered a cry. The light was already switched on, and at the table sat Billy, and on the table were half a chicken, a loaf, some cold potatoes, cheese, butter and a bottle of beer.
Billy half rose. “See,” he said, “what you have driven me to! I, a man of sensibility and refinement, raiding my hostess’ larder in the small hours. May I cut you a slice of chicken?”
Eve looked at him in helpless anger. He had outflanked her. The brilliant scheme, on which she had so congratulated herself, had come to nothing. She could have cried with vexation.
“What made you come down?” asked Billy. “I suppose you heard a noise and thought it was burglars?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Eve, thankfully accepting the idea. At all costs she must conceal the cracker motive.
“That was very plucky of you. Won’t you sit down?”
“No, I’m going back to bed.”
“Don’t go yet,” he pleaded. “Sit down and cover up those poor little pink ankles or you’ll be catching—”
“I wonder why it is,” he went on, “that large men always fall in love with little women. There are you, a fragile, fairylike, ethereal wisp of a little creature, and here am I—”
“A great, big, greedy pig!” burst out Eve. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I wasn’t going to put it quite like that,” said Billy thoughtfully. “A healthy appetite runs in the family. At the time of the War of Independence the Rayner of the period, who was Lafayette’s right-hand man, would frequently eat despatches to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. He was noted and praised for it by his friends.”
Eve left the room without saying a word.
It is a consoling thought that though Nemesis may not be a John Paul Jones she generally manages to overtake her victim sooner or later. If Billy had wormed his way into the Rastall-Retford home by underhanded means, he was punished for it. Beyond a doubt he got his. He had solved to a certain extent the problem of hunger, but not that of boredom. Until now he had never fully understood what boredom really was. On the first day of his visit he had fancied that, though existence might possibly be a little quiet in the Rastall-Retford home, it would be sweetened by the constant sight of Eve. The fallacy of this idea was speedily brought home to him. Except at meals and for a couple of hours in the drawing-room after dinner, he saw almost nothing of her. Mrs. Rastall-Retford spent nearly all day in her own sitting-room, and Eve, when not instructing Ferdie, sat there with her, performing those mysterious duties which the companions of old ladies do perform.
As for other companionship, excluding Ferdie, there was only that of young Mr. Rastall-Retford, and he, who would have been better than nothing, was a man who enjoyed solitude. He was a confirmed vanisher. He would be present at one moment; the next he would have glided silently away. Moreover even on the rare occasions when he decided not to vanish, he seldom did much more than clear his throat nervously and juggle with his eye-glasses, and Billy required stronger meat in the way of entertainment. For the greater part of the time rain fell. There were no books that you could possibly read. The nearest railroad station was five miles away. There was not even a dog to talk to. Billy, in his boyhood, had once been thrilled by a narrative of a man who got stuck in the Sargasso Sea. He had wondered then how the man had filled in his days. Now the thought of the gay whirl of life in the Sargasso Sea gave him quite a wistful feeling, and as the days went by he abandoned the view, which, like most people, he had always held, that Dante, in his “Inferno,” had spoken the last word on the housing of the criminal classes. He felt that he could have given Dante some pointers, and just at that moment would have enjoyed doing so.
Eve, for her part, had abandoned it some time before. The lot of a governess companion is rarely a happy one, and hers certainly was not. Mrs. Rastall-Retford, even at her best, was no ray of sunshine about the house. And she was seldom at her best. As for Ferdie, he was uniformly objectionable. For the first time in her life, Eve began to be aware that she had nerves. Minor troubles had begun to assume unduly large proportions. Ferdie’s likes and dislikes had become formidable, and Mrs. Rastall-Retford’s moods had taken on a vast importance. By the time Billy and the son of the house arrived, Eve had reached the stage when the sound of her name, spoken abruptly, caused every nerve in her body to leap. A strong nervous system, after all, is largely the result of independence and life in a large community. And now the arrival of the two men, bringing the number of the party up to four, produced what, if she had but known it, was the supreme test of toughness of fiber, beneath which the great majority of those who had preceded her as companion to the old lady had finally succumbed. They began to play bridge in the evenings.
Bridge can be a pleasant and entertaining game, but it is not invariably so. To a partner not buoyed up by a reckless sense of independence and nerves of steel, Mrs. Rastall-Retford, as a bridge player, was a burden scarcely to be borne. She was one of those players who keep up a running quarrel with Fate during the game, and when she was not abusing Fate she was generally reproaching her partner. They played the game for lima beans at her house, and there were occasions when the loss of a hundred or so of these useful little adjuncts to fun in the home would lash her into a species of frenzy. Eve looked forward with a kind of chill despair to the inevitable moment when she would be the old lady’s partner. For the first two nights she escaped. The luck of the draw gave Mrs. Rastall-Retford first her son, then Billy. Young Mr. Rastall-Retford’s play drew some bitter criticism from his mother, in the course of which he nearly broke his eye-glasses. But with Billy at the helm matters improved. Billy was an excellent player and gave his partner runaway wins in both the rubbers that he played with her, rendering her for the moment almost benevolent. On the third night Eve’s luck deserted her. She not only partnered her employer and played extremely badly, but in the second game she had the misfortune to revoke.
Dignified reticence is not a leading characteristic of the average bridge player’s manner at such a moment, and Mrs. Rastall-Retford did not bear the calamity with gentle resignation. Maddened by the thought of lima beans lost beyond recall, she gave tongue on the instant. Words flowed from her mouth like molten lava. On a similar occasion Miss Jane Fowler, former holder of the post of companion, had had hysterics.
Mutterings of the storm continued through the next two days and had not wholly died away by the end of the third, when Eve, coming into the drawing-room before dinner, found Billy standing in front of the fire. It was the first time they had been together alone since they had met in the small hours of the morning in the dining-room, and Eve was conscious of a certain embarrassment. She was feeling tired and nervous to-night. Her employer had been in one of her more truculent moods that day, and for the first time Eve had the sensation of defeat. Association with Mrs. Rastall-Retford in a subordinate capacity did not encourage a proud and spirited outlook on life, and Eve to-night was feeling that she was near to the breaking point. She dreaded the long hours to bedtime. Billy looked at her curiously. “You’re pale to-night,” he said.
Eve went to the fire and warmed her hands. “I have a headache,” she said.
“How is our hostess? Fair or stormy?”
“As I was passing her door I heard her bullying her maid; so I suppose stormy.”
“That means a bad time for you?” he said sympathetically.
“I suppose so if we play bridge. But she may go to bed.”
On the occasions when her mood was stormy, Mrs. Rastall-Retford sometimes chose rest as a cure, sometimes relaxation. Rest meant that she retired to her room immediately after dinner and expended her venom on her maid. Relaxation meant bridge. The thought that there might be bridge that night made Eve feel physically sick. She tried to keep her voice level; but Billy detected the break.
“Eve, old girl,” he said quickly, “I wish you’d let me take you away from here. Honestly you’ve no business in this sort of game. You’re not tough enough. You’ve got to be loved and made a fuss over and—”
She laughed shakily. “Perhaps you can give me the address of some one who wants a companion to love and make a fuss over?”
“You bet I can,” he said.
She rested an arm on the mantelpiece and stood looking into the blaze, without replying. Before he could speak again, there was a step outside the door and Mrs. Rastall-Retford rustled into the room.
Eve had not misread the storm squalls. Her employer’s mood was still as it had been earlier in the day. Dinner passed in almost complete silence. Mrs. Rastall-Retford sat brooding dumbly. Her eye was cold and menacing. Conversation, what there was of it, was supplied by Ferdie. It was not till they were gathered together in the drawing-room that the old lady came out of her trance. And with her first words she called for the cards. They drew for partners, and the post of danger fell to Eve.
It was Billy’s practice, when he played in opposition to his hostess, to allow tact to rule his play to a great extent, and when possible, to arrange it that she should win. It went against the grain to do this, for though lima beans had no intrinsic fascination for him, he had, like most good bridge players, an artistic conscience which made it painful for him even from the best motives to play a deliberately bad game. And he was so far superior to the others that he had found it extremely difficult, even with poor cards, to bring it about that his hostess should always win the odd rubber. To-night, as he examined his hand after the first deal, he had a presentiment that the evening was going to be a trying one. If all his hands were of a similar strength to this one there was disaster ahead. He could not help winning.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford, dealing the first hand, made a most improper diamond declaration. Her son unfilially doubled and, Eve having chicane, a tragedy which her partner evidently seemed to consider could have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary common sense, Billy and his partner, despite Billy’s best efforts, made little slam. Eve sorted her cards listlessly for the next hand. She was feeling curiously tired, and her brain seemed dull. Again matters went all in favor of the two men. They won five tricks in succession. Mrs. Rastall-Retford glowered silently. There was electricity in the air. The son of the house led a club. Eve played a card mechanically.
“Miss Hendrie, have you no clubs?”
Eve started and looked at her hand.
“No,” she said.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford grunted suspiciously, and a sudden, horrible fear seized Eve. She examined her hand once more, and her heart stood still. Peeping coyly out from the midst of a group of spades was the ace of the fatal suit. She had revoked again.
In Westport, Connecticut, a young man named Harold Sperry, a telephone worker, sat boring a hole in the wall of a house not long ago, with a view to passing a wire through it. As he worked, he whistled a cheerful air. How was he to know that he had selected for purposes of perforation the exact spot where there lay, nestling in the brickwork, a large, leaden water pipe? The first intimation he had of that fact was when a jet of water suddenly knocked him fifteen feet into a rose bush. As Harold felt then, so did Eve now. Her face turned quite white. It is never pleasant to revoke at bridge, but to Eve just then it seemed a disaster beyond words. She looked across at her partner. Her imagination pictured the scene there would be ere long, unless—
Panic makes us do strangely futile things. Eve looked round the table. Her partner was frowning over her cards. Young Mr. Rastall-Retford, who had taken the last trick, had gathered it up in the introspective manner of one planning big coups, and was brooding tensely. On a sofa in the background, Ferdie, who had insisted on staying up that night, was immersed in a picture book. She was unobserved. She lowered her cards beneath the edge of the table, removed the ace and dropped it to the floor. But a card is not a lump of lead. It has its own way of falling and this one, caught in some passing draught, skimmed lightly through the air like a bird and finally settled, face upwards, beside Billy’s chair, a silent, damning witness to her crime. She sat back, beaten. She had shot her bolt. Discovery was only a matter of moments now. And then, suddenly, she was aware that Billy had stooped. She leaned forward quickly. He had the card in his hand. Their eyes met. Hers were wide and frightened; but his smiled reassuringly, and one of them closed for a moment in an encouraging wink. With a little gasp in which amazement and relief were blended, she saw him double the card up and slip it into his mouth. It was all the work of an instant. Neither of the others had observed it. He straightened himself up, his elbows on the table. His hands concealed the greater part of his face; but rhythmical jerks showed the struggle going on behind them, Eve stared at him, fascinated.
Eve started violently.
“Miss Hendrie, will you be good enough to play? The king of clubs to beat. I can’t think what’s the matter with you to-night!”
“I’m very sorry,” said Eve and put down the nine of spades.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford glared.
“This is absurd!” she cried. “You must have the ace of clubs! If you have not got it, who has? Look through your hand again. Is it there?”
“Then where can it be?”
And then, cutting through the silence, came clear and distinct, the voice of a little child.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford, intent on the matter in hand, paid no attention.
“I guess it must have been missing from the pack before I dealt,” said young Mr. Rastall-Retford.
“I guess so,” said Billy, swallowing convulsively.
“Well, Ferdie, what is it?”
“Gran’ma, Mr. Rayner ate the card!” shrilled the intelligent infant.
“What?” cried the old lady.
It is a defect in the conversational attractiveness of youths of the Ferdie type that when they have a fact of interest to impart, they do not simply state it and subside. They polish and elaborate. They make a song of it. Ferdie made a song of it.
“Mr. Rayner ate the card,” he chanted, bumping enthusiastically up and down on his sofa. “Mr. Rayner ate the card. I saw him, Gran’ma. I saw him, Gran’ma. Mr. Rayner ate the card. I saw him, Gran’ma! I saw him pick it up and eat it. (Crescendo) Mr. Rayner ate the card, (f) I saw him, Gran’ma. (ff) Mr. Rayner ate the card. (Con spirito) Mr. Rayner picked up the card and ate it.” Then, summing up, “He’s Mr. Card Eater!”
Mrs. Rastall-Retford turned on Billy, her eyes stony, her chins quivering with suppressed emotion.
“Mr. Rayner,” she said. She stopped. “Mr. Rayner, is this so?”
Billy struggled with an insane desire to laugh.
“I told you, Gran’ma, didn’t I?” observed Ferdie. “He’s Mister Master Card Eater,” he went on lyrically. “He picked it up and ate it!”
“Did you eat the card, Mr. Rayner?” boomed Mrs. Rastall-Retford.
“Why—er—,” said Billy, “why—er—, as a matter of fact—”
Honesty is the best policy, when you are caught with the goods.
“As a matter of fact I did,” he said.
Mrs. Rastall-Retford threw down her cards. For a moment she stared, the stare that blasts and annihilates. Then she rose.
“I shall go to bed,” she said.
ILLY stood before the fire and surveyed Eve as she sat on the sofa. They were alone in the room, Mr. Rastall-Retford having drifted silently away in the wake of his mother, Ferdie with him.
Suddenly Eve began to laugh helplessly.
Billy shook his head at her.
“This is considerably sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” he said. “Do you suppose Lafayette laughed at my ancestor, when he ate the despatches? Well, you win. I don’t seem to see myself staying on here as the pampered guest after this. I guess it’s that best train of yours for mine to-morrow.”
The smile left Eve’s face.
“Mr. Rayner,” she said quickly, “please don’t think I’m ungrateful. I think it was splendid of you. I couldn’t help laughing, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I don’t know what would have happened if she had found out that I had revoked. Really, I’m grateful. I am.” She hesitated. “I’m sorry you’re going away,” she said.
The point of her shoe began to trace an intricate pattern on the carpet.
He sat down beside her on the sofa. “Are you?”
“Couldn’t we both go?” he asked.
* * * * *
Several minutes later Eve spoke.
“I can’t imagine why you don’t loathe me,” she said remorsefully. “You ought to. I can’t think how I can have been so hateful.”
He drew her a little closer to him.
“Nonsense,” he said, “you’ve been all that’s sweet and womanly.”
“And I want to tell you why,” she went on. “Your—your sister—”
“Ah, I thought as much!”
“She—she saw that you seemed to be getting fond of me, and she—said some rather horrid things that—hurt,” said Eve in a low voice.
“About once every six months,” he said, “my sister needs a brotherly talking to, or she gets above herself. One is about due during the next few days.”
He stroked her hand.
“Fasting,” he said thoughtfully, “clears and stimulates the brain. This little spell of abstinence will just have put me in good shape to say some rather special things to her when next we meet.”
Compare this version of the story, reprinted here for the first time in 101 years as far as we know, with the slightly more familiar version from the Strand magazine reprinted in The Uncollected Wodehouse, “The Best Sauce.” It is clearly the same basic story, but the manner in which it is told and resolved is rather more different than the usual transatlantic pairs of magazine versions. This American version is longer, and is complicated by young Ferdie, who doesn’t appear in the British version, in which Peter (not Billy) Rayner gets away with eating the ace of clubs, though in that version Eve feeds it to him in a cheese sandwich.