Oranges And Lemons by A. A. Milne

I. THE INVITATION

“Dear Myra,” wrote Simpson at the beginning of the year–“I have an important suggestion to make to you both, and I am coming round to-morrow night after dinner about nine o’clock. As time is so short I have asked Dahlia and Archie to meet me there, and if by any chance you have gone out we shall wait till you come back.

“Yours ever,

“SAMUEL

“P.S.–I have asked Thomas too.”

* * * * *

“Well?” said Myra eagerly, as I gave her back the letter.

In deep thought I buttered a piece of toast.

“We could stop Thomas,” I said. “We might ring up the Admiralty and ask them to give him something to do this evening. I don’t know about Archie. Is he–“

“Oh, what do you think it is? Aren’t you excited?” She sighed and added, “Of course I know what Samuel is.”

“Yes. Probably he wants us all to go to the Zoo together … or he’s discovered a new way of putting, or–I say, I didn’t know Archie and Dahlia were in town.”

“They aren’t. But I expect Samuel telegraphed to them to meet him under the clock at Charing Cross disguised, when they would hear of something to their advantage. Oh, I wonder what it is. It must be something real this time.”

Since the day when Simpson woke me up at six o’clock in the morning to show me his stance-for-a-full-wooden-club shot I have distrusted his enthusiasms; but Myra loves him as a mother; and I–I couldn’t do without him; and when a man like that invites a whole crowd of people to come to your flat just about the time when you are wondering what has happened to the sardines on toast–well, it isn’t polite to put the chain on the door and explain through the letter-box that you have gone away for a week.

“We’d better have dinner a bit earlier to be on the safe side,” I said, as Myra gave me a parting brush down in the hall. “If any further developments occur in the course of the day, ring me up at the office. By the way, Simpson doesn’t seem to have invited Peter. I wonder why not. He’s nearly two, and he ought to be in it. Myra, I’m sure I’m tidy now.”

“Pipe, tobacco, matches, keys, money?”

“Everything,” I said. “Bless you. Goodbye.”

“Good-bye,” said Myra lingeringly. “What do you think he meant by ‘as time is so short’?”

“I don’t know. At least,” I added, looking at my watch, “I do know. I shall be horribly late. Good-bye.”

I fled down the stairs into the street, waved to Myra at the window … and then came cautiously up again for my pipe. Life is very difficult on the mornings when you are in a hurry.

At dinner that night Myra could hardly eat for excitement.

“You’ll be sorry afterwards,” I warned her, “when it turns out to be nothing more than that he has had his hair cut.”

“But even if it is, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be excited at seeing my only brother again–not to mention sister-in-law.”

“Then let’s move,” I said. “They’ll be here directly.”

Archie and Dahlia came first. We besieged them with questions as soon as they appeared.

“Haven’t an idea,” said Archie, “I wanted to bring a revolver in case it was anything really desperate, but Dahlia wouldn’t let me.”

“It would have been useful too,” I said, “if it turned out to be something merely futile.”

“You’re not going to hurt my Samuel, however futile it is,” said Myra. “Dahlia, how’s Peter, and will you have some coffee?”

“Peter’s lovely. You’ve had coffee, haven’t you, Archie?”

“Better have some more,” I suggested, “in case Simpson is merely soporific. We anticipate a slumbering audience, and Samuel explaining a new kind of googlie he’s invented.”

Entered Thomas lazily.

“Hallo,” he said in his slow voice. “What’s it all about?”

“It’s a raid on the Begum’s palace,” explained Archie rapidly. “Dahlia decoys the Chief Mucilage; you, Thomas, drive the submarine; Myra has charge of the clockwork mouse, and we others hang about and sing. To say more at this stage would be to bring about a European conflict.”

“Coffee, Thomas?” said Myra.

“I bet he’s having us on,” said Thomas gloomily, as he stirred his coffee.

There was a hurricane in the hall. Chairs were swept over; coats and hats fell to the ground; a high voice offered continuous apologies–and Simpson came in.

“Hallo, Myra!” he said eagerly. “Hallo, old chap! Hallo, Dahlia! Hallo, Archie! Hallo, Thomas, old boy!” He fixed his spectacles firmly on his nose and beamed round the room.

“We’re all here–thanking you very much for inviting us,” I said. “Have a cigar–if you’ve brought any with you.”

Fortunately he had brought several with him.

“Now then, I’ll give any of you three guesses what it’s all about.”

“No, you don’t. We’re all waiting, and you can begin your apology right away.”

Simpson took a deep breath and began.

“I’ve been lent a villa,” he said.

There was a moment’s silence … and then Archie got up.

“Good-bye,” he said to Myra, holding out his hand. “Thanks for a very jolly evening. Come along Dahlia.”

“But I say, old chap,” protested Simpson.

“I’m sorry, Simpson, but the fact that you’re moving from the Temple to Cricklewood, or wherever it is, and that somebody else is paying the thirty pounds a year, is jolly interesting, but it wasn’t good enough to drag us up from the country to tell us about it. You could have written. However, thank you for the cigar.”

“My dear fellow, it isn’t Cricklewood. It’s the Riviera!”

Archie sat down again.

“Samuel!” cried Myra. “How she must love you!”

“I should never lend Simpson a villa of mine,” I said. “He’d only lose it.”

“They’re some very old friends who live there, and they’re going away for a month, and the servants are staying on, and they suggested that if I was going abroad again this year–“

“How did the servants know you’d been abroad last year?” asked Archie.

“Don’t interrupt, dear,” said Dahlia. “I see what he means. How very jolly for you, Samuel.”

“For all of us, Dahlia!”

“You aren’t suggesting we shall all crowd in?” growled Thomas.

“Of course, my dear old chap! I told them, and they’re delighted. We can share housekeeping expenses, and it will be as cheap as anything.”

“But to go into a stranger’s house,” said Dahlia anxiously.

“It’s my house, Dahlia, for the time. I invite you!” He threw out his hands in a large gesture of welcome and knocked his coffee-cup on to the carpet; begged Myra’s pardon several times; and then sat down again and wiped his spectacles vigorously.

Archie looked doubtfully at Thomas.

“Duty, Thomas, duty,” he said, thumping his chest. “You can’t desert the Navy at this moment of crisis.”

“Might,” said Thomas, puffing at his pipe.

Archie looked at me. I looked hopefully at Myra.

“Oh-h-h!” said Myra, entranced.

Archie looked at Dahlia. Dahlia frowned.

“It isn’t till February,” said Simpson eagerly.

“It’s very kind of you, Samuel,” said Dahlia, “but I don’t think–“

Archie nodded to Simpson.

“You leave this to me,” he said confidentially. “We’re going.”

II. ON THE WAY

“Toulon,” announced Archie, as the train came to a stop and gave out its plaintive, dying whistle. “Naval port of our dear allies, the French. This would interest Thomas.”

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“If he weren’t asleep,” I said.

“He’ll be here directly,” said Simpson from the little table for two on the other side of the gangway. “I’m afraid he had a bad night. Here, garcon–er–donnez-moi du cafe et–er-” But the waiter had slipped past him again–the fifth time.

“Have some of ours,” said Myra kindly, holding out the pot.

“Thanks very much, Myra, but I may as well wait for Thomas, and–garcon, du cafe pour–I don’t think he’ll be–deux cafes, garcon, s’il vous–it’s going to be a lovely day.”

Thomas came in quietly, sat down opposite Simpson, and ordered breakfast.

“Samuel wants some too,” said Myra.

Thomas looked surprised, grunted and ordered another breakfast.

“You see how easy it is,” said Archie. “Thomas, we’re at Toulon, where the ententes cordiales come from. You ought to have been up long ago taking notes for the Admiralty.”

“I had a rotten night,” said Thomas. “Simpson fell out of bed in the middle of it.”

“Oh, poor Samuel!”

“You don’t mean to say you gave him the top berth?” I asked in surprise. “You must have known he’d fall out.”

“But, Thomas dear, surely Samuel’s just falling-out-of-bed noise wouldn’t wake you up,” said Myra. “I always thought you slept so well.”

“He tried to get back into my bed.”

“I was a little dazed,” explained Simpson hastily, “and I hadn’t got my spectacles.”

“Still you ought to have been able to see Thomas there.”

“Of course I did see him as soon as I got in, and then I remembered I was up above. So I climbed up.”

“It must be rather difficult climbing up at night,” thought Dahlia.

“Not if you get a good take-off, Dahlia,” said Simpson earnestly.

“Simpson got a good one off my face,” explained Thomas.

“My dear old chap, I was frightfully sorry. I did come down at once and tell you how sorry I was, didn’t I?”

“You stepped back on to it,” said Thomas shortly, and he turned his attention to the coffee.

Our table had finished breakfast. Dahlia and Myra got up slowly, and Archie and I filled our pipes and followed them out.

“Well, we’ll leave you to it,” said Archie to the other table. “Personally, I think it’s Thomas’s turn to step on Simpson. But don’t be long, because there’s a good view coming.”

The good view came, and then another and another, and they merged together and became one long, moving panorama of beauty. We stood in the corridor and drank it in … and at intervals we said “Oh-h!” and “Oh, I say!” and “Oh, I say, really!” And there was one particular spot I wish I could remember where, so that it might be marked by a suitable tablet–at the sight of which Simpson was overheard to say, “Mon Dieu!” for (probably) the first time in his life.

“You know, all these are olive trees, you chaps,” he said every five minutes. “I wonder if there are any olives growing on them?”

“Too early,” said Archie. “It’s the sardine season now.”

It was at Cannes that we saw the first oranges.

“That does it,” I said to Myra. “We’re really here. And look, there’s a lemon tree. Give me the oranges and lemons, and you can have all the palms and the cactuses and the olives.”

“Like polar bears in the arctic regions,” said Myra.

I thought for a moment. Superficially there is very little resemblance between an orange and a polar bear.

“Like polar bears,” I said hopefully.

“I mean,” luckily she went on, “polar bears do it for you in the polar regions. You really know you’re there then. Give me the polar bears, I always say, and you can keep the seals and the walruses and the penguins. It’s the hallmark.”

“Right. I knew you meant something. In London,” I went on, “it is raining. Looking out of my window I see a lamp-post (not in flower) beneath a low, grey sky. Here we see oranges against a blue sky a million miles deep. What a blend! Myra, let’s go to a fancy-dress ball when we get back. You go as an orange and I’ll go as a very blue, blue sky, and you shall lean against me.”

“And we’ll dance the tangerine,” said Myra.

But now observe us approaching Monte Carlo. For an hour past Simpson has been collecting his belongings. Two bags, two coats, a camera, a rug, Thomas, golf-clubs, books–his compartment is full of things which have to be kept under his eye lest they should evade him at the last moment. As the train leaves Monaco his excitement is intense.

“I think, old chap,” he says to Thomas, “I’ll wear the coats after all.”

“And the bags,” says Thomas, “and then you’ll have a suit.”

Simpson puts on the two coats and appears very big and hot.

“I’d better have my hands free,” he says, and straps the camera and the golf-clubs on to himself. “Then if you nip out and get a porter I can hand the bags out to him through the window.”

“All right,” says Thomas. He is deep in his book and looks as if he were settled in his corner of the carriage for the day.

The train stops. There is bustle, noise, confusion. Thomas in some magical way has disappeared. A porter appears at the open window and speaks voluble French to Simpson. Simpson looks round wildly for Thomas. “Thomas!” he cries. “Un moment,” he says to the porter. “Thomas! Mon ami, it n’est pas–I say, Thomas, old chap, where are you? Attendez un moment. Mon ami–er–reviendra–” He is very hot. He is wearing, in addition to what one doesn’t mention, an ordinary waistcoat, a woolly waistcoat for steamer use, a tweed coat, an aquascutum, an ulster, a camera and a bag of golfclubs. The porter, with many gesticulations, is still hurling French at him.

It is too much for Simpson. He puts his head out of the window and, observing in the distance a figure of such immense dignity that it can only belong to the station-master, utters to him across the hurly-burly a wild call for help.

Ou est Cooks’s homme?” he cries.

III. SETTLING DOWN

The villa was high up on the hill, having (as Simpson was to point out several times later) Mentone on its left hand and Monte Carlo on its right. A long winding path led up through its garden of olives to the front door, and through the mimosa trees which flanked this door we could see already a flutter of white aprons. The staff was on the loggia waiting to greet us.

We halted a moment out of sight of the ladies above and considered ourselves. It came to us with a sudden shock that we were a very large party.

“I suppose,” said Archie to Simpson, “they do expect all of us and not only you? You told them that about half London was coming?”

“We’re only six,” said Myra, “because I’ve just counted again, but we seem about twenty.”

“It’s quite all right,” said Simpson cheerfully. “I said we’d be six.”

“But six in a letter is much smaller than six of us like this; and when they see our luggage–“

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“Let’s go back,” I suggested, suddenly nervous. To be five guests of the guest of a man you have never met is delicate work.

At this critical moment Archie assumed command. He is a Captain in the Yeomanry and has tackled bigger jobs than this in his time.

“We must get ourselves into proper order,” he said. “Simpson, the villa has been lent to you; you must go first. Dahlia and I come next. When we arrive you will introduce us as your friends, Mr. and Mrs. Mannering. Then turning to Myra you say, ‘Mr. Mannering’s sister; and this,’ you add, ‘is her husband.’ Then–er–Thomas–“

“It will be difficult to account for Thomas,” I said. “Thomas comes at the end. He hangs back a little at first; and then if he sees that there is going to be any awkwardness about him, he can pretend he’s come on the wrong night, and apologize and go home again.”

“If Thomas goes, I go,” said Myra dramatically.

“I have another idea,” I said. “Thomas hides here for a bit. We introduce ourselves and settle in, and have lunch; and after lunch we take a stroll in the garden, and to our great surprise discover Thomas. ‘Thomas,’ we say, ‘you here? Dear old chap, we thought you were in England. How splendid! Where are you staying? Oh, but you must stop with us; we can easily have a bed put up for you in the garage.’ And then–“

“Not after lunch,” said Thomas; “before lunch.”

“Don’t all be so silly,” smiled Dahlia. “They’ll wonder what has happened to us if we wait any longer. Besides, the men will be here with the luggage directly. Come along.”

“Samuel,” said Archie, “forward.”

In our new formation we marched up, Simpson excited and rehearsing to himself the words of introduction, we others outwardly calm. At a range of ten yards he opened fire. “How do you do?” he beamed. “Here we all are! Isn’t it a lovely–“

The cook-housekeeper, majestic but kindly, came forward with outstretched hand and welcomed him volubly–in French. The other three ladies added their French to hers. There was only one English body on the loggia. It belonged to a bull-dog. The bull-dog barked loudly at Simpson in English.

There was no “Cook’s homme” to save Simpson this time. But he rose to the occasion nobly. The scent of the mimosa inspired him.

Merci,”he said, “merci. Oui, n’est ce pas! Delightful. Er–these are–ces sont mes amis. Er–Dahlia, come along–er, Monsieur et Madame Mannering–er–Myra, la soeur de Monsieur–er–where are you, old chap?–le mari de la soeur de Monsieur. Er–Thomas–er–” (he was carried away by memories of his schoolboy French), “le frere du jardinier–er–” He wheeled round and saw me; introduced me again; introduced Myra as my wife, Archie as her brother, and Dahlia as Archie’s wife; and then with a sudden inspiration presented Thomas grandly as “le beau-pere du petit fils de mes amis Monsieur et Madame Mannering.” Thomas seemed more assured of his place as Peter’s godfather than as the brother of the gardener.

There were four ladies; we shook hands with all of them. It took us a long time, and I doubt if we got it all in even so, for twice I found myself shaking hands with Simpson. But these may have been additional ones thrown in. It was over at last, and we followed the staff indoors.

And then we had another surprise. It was broken to us by Dahlia, who, at Simpson’s urgent request, took up the position of lady of the house, and forthwith received the flowing confidences of the housekeeper.

“Two of us have to sleep outside,” she said.

“Where?” we all asked blankly.

We went on to the loggia again, and she pointed to a little house almost hidden by olive-trees in a corner of the garden below us.

“Oh, well, that’s all right,” said Archie. “It’s on the estate. Thomas, you and Simpson won’t mind that a bit, will you?”

“We can’t turn Samuel out of his own house,” said Myra indignantly.

“We aren’t turning him; he wants to go. But, of course, if you and your young man would like to live there instead–“

Myra looked at me eagerly.

“It would be rather fun,” she said. “We’d have another little honeymoon all to ourselves.”

“It wouldn’t really be a honeymoon,” I objected. “We should always be knocking up against trippers in the garden, Archies and Samuels and Thomases and what not. They’d be all over the place.”

Dahlia explained the domestic arrangements. The honeymooners had their little breakfast in their own little house, and then joined the others for the day at about ten.

“Or eleven,” said Thomas.

“It would be rather lovely,” said Myra thoughtfully.

“Yes,” I agreed; “but have you considered that–Come over this way a moment, where Thomas and Simpson can’t hear, while I tell you some of the disadvantages.”

I led her into a quiet corner and suggested a few things to her which I hoped would not occur to the other two.

Item: That if it was raining hard at night, it would be beastly. Item: That if you suddenly found you’d left your pipe behind, it would be rotten. Item: That if, as was probable, there wasn’t a proper bathroom in the little house, it would be sickening. Item: That if she had to walk on muddy paths in her evening shoes, it would be–

At this point Myra suddenly caught the thread of the argument. We went back to the others.

“We think,” said Myra, “it would be perfectly heavenly in the little house; but–” She hesitated.

“But at the same time,” I said, “we think it’s up to Simpson and Thomas to be English gentlemen. Samuel, it’s your honour.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“Come along,” said Thomas to Simpson, “let’s go and look at it.”

* * * * *

After lunch, clean and well-fed and happy, we lay in deck-chairs on the loggia and looked lazily down at the Mediterranean.

“Thank you, Samuel, for bringing us,” said Dahlia gently. “Your friends must be very fond of you to have lent you this lovely place.”

“Not fonder than we are,” said Myra, smiling at him.

IV. BEFORE LUNCH

I found Myra in the hammock at the end of the loggia.

“Hallo,” I said.

“Hallo.” She looked up from her book and waved her hand. “Mentone on the left, Monte Carlo on the right,” she said, and returned to her book again. Simpson had mentioned the situation so many times that it had become a catch-phrase with us.

“Fancy reading on a lovely morning like this,” I complained.

“But that’s why. It’s a very gloomy play by Ibsen, and whenever it’s simply more than I can bear, I look up and see Mentone on the left, Monte Carlo on the right–I mean, I see all the loveliness round me, and then I know the world isn’t so bad after all.” She put her book down. “Are you alone?”

I gripped her wrist suddenly and put the paper-knife to her throat.

We are alone,” I hissed–or whatever you do to a sentence without any “s’s” in it to make it dramatic. “Your friends cannot save you now. Prepare to–er–come a walk up the hill with me.”

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“Help! Help!” Whispered Myra. She hesitated a moment; then swung herself out of the hammock and went in for her hat.

We climbed up a steep path which led to the rock-village above us. Simpson had told us that we must see the village; still more earnestly he had begged us to see Corsica. The view of Corsica was to be obtained from a point some miles up–too far to go before lunch.

“However, we can always say we saw it,” I reassured Myra. “From this distance you can’t be certain of recognizing an island you don’t know. Any small cloud on the horizon will do.”

“I know it on the map.”

“Yes, but it looks quite different in real life. The great thing is to be able to assure Simpson at lunch that the Corsican question is now closed. When we’re a little higher up, I shall say, ‘Surely that’s Corsica?’ and you’ll say, ‘Not Corsica?‘ as though you’d rather expected the Isle of Wight; and then it’ll be all over. Hallo!”

We had just passed the narrow archway leading into the courtyard of the village and were following the path up the hill. But in that moment of passing we had been observed. Behind us a dozen village children now trailed eagerly.

“Oh, the dears!” cried Myra.

“But I think we made a mistake to bring them,” I said severely. “No one is fonder of our–one, two, three … I make it eleven–our eleven children than I am, but there are times when Father and Mother want to be alone.”

“I’m sorry, dear. I thought you’d be so proud to have them all with you.”

“I am proud of them. To reflect that all the–one, two … I make it thirteen–all these thirteen are ours, is very inspiring. But I don’t like people to think that we cannot afford our youngest, our little Philomene, shoes and stockings. And Giuseppe should have washed his face since last Friday. These are small matters, but they are very trying to a father.”

“Have you any coppers?” asked Myra suddenly. “You forget their pocket-money last week.”

“One, two, three–I cannot possibly afford–one, two, three, four–Myra, I do wish you’d count them definitely and tell me how many we have. One likes to know. I cannot afford pocket-money for more than a dozen.”

“Ten.” She took a franc from me and gave it to the biggest girl. (Anne-Marie, our first, and getting on so nicely with her French.) Rapidly she explained what was to be done with it, Anne-Marie’s look of intense rapture slowly straightening itself to one of ordinary gratitude as the financial standing of the other nine in the business became clear. Then we waved farewell to our family and went on.

High above the village, a thousand feet above the sea, we rested, and looked down upon the silvery olives stretching into the blue … and more particularly upon one red roof which stood up amid the grey-green trees.

“That’s the Cardews’ villa,” I said.

Myra was silent.

When Myra married me she promised to love, honour and write all my thank-you-very-much letters for me, for we agreed before the ceremony that the word “obey” should mean nothing more than that. There are two sorts of T.Y.V.M. letters–the “Thank you very much for asking us, we shall be delighted to come,” and the “Thank you very much for having us, we enjoyed it immensely.” With these off my mind I could really concentrate on my work, or my short mashie shots, or whatever was of importance. But there was now a new kind of letter to write, and one rather outside the terms of our original understanding. A friend of mine had told his friends the Cardews that we were going out to the Riviera and would let them know when we arrived … and we had arrived a week ago.

“It isn’t at all an easy letter to write,” said Myra. “It’s practically asking a stranger for hospitality.”

“Let us say ‘indicating our readiness to accept it.’ It sounds better.”

Myra smiled slowly to herself.

“‘Dear Mrs. Cardew,’” she said, “‘we are ready for lunch when you are. Yours sincerely.’”

“Well, that’s the idea.”

“And then what about the others? If the Cardews are going to be nice we don’t want to leave Dahlia and all of them out of it.”

I thought it over carefully for a little.

“What you want to do,” I said at last, “is to write a really long letter to Mrs. Cardew, acquainting her with all the facts. Keep nothing back from her. I should begin by dwelling on the personnel of our little company. ‘My husband and I,’ you should say, ‘are not alone. We have also with us Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Mannering, a delightful couple. Mr. A. Mannering is something in the Territorials when he is not looking after his estate. His wife is a great favourite in the county. Next I have to introduce to you Mr. Thomas Todd, an agreeable young bachelor. Mr. Thomas Todd is in the Sucking-a-ruler-and-looking-out-of-the-window Department of the Admiralty, by whose exertions, so long as we preserve the 2 Todds to 1 formula–or, excluding Canadian Todds, 16 to 10–Britannia rules the waves. Lastly, there is Mr. Samuel Simpson. Short of sight but warm of heart, and with (on a bad pitch) a nasty break from the off, Mr. S. Simpson is a litterateur of some eminence but little circulation, combining on the cornet intense wind-power with no execution, and on the golf course an endless enthusiasm with only an occasional contact. This, dear Mrs. Cardew, is our little party. I say nothing of my husband.’”

“Go on,” smiled Myra. “You have still to explain how we invite ourselves to lunch.”

“We don’t; we leave that to her. All we do is to give a list of the meals in which, in the ordinary course, we are wont to indulge, together with a few notes on our relative capacities at each. ‘Perhaps,’ you wind up, ‘it is at luncheon time that as a party we show to the best advantage. Some day, my dear Mrs. Cardew, we must all meet at lunch. You will then see that I have exaggerated neither my husband’s appetite, nor the light conversation of my brother, nor the power of apology, should any little contretemps occur, of Mr. Samuel Simpson. Let us, I say, meet at lunch. Let us–‘” I took out my watch suddenly.

“Come on,” I said, getting up and giving a hand to Myra; “we shall only just be in time for it.”

V. THE GAMESTERS

“It’s about time,” said Simpson one evening, “that we went to the tables and–er–” (he adjusted his spectacles)–“had a little flutter.”

We all looked at him in silent admiration.

“Oh, Samuel,” sighed Myra, “and I promised your aunt that you shouldn’t gamble while you were away.”

“But, my dear Myra, it’s the first thing the fellows at the club ask you when you’ve been to the Riviera–if you’ve had any luck.”

“Well, you’ve had a lot of luck,” said Archie. “Several times when you’ve been standing on the heights and calling attention to the beautiful view below, I’ve said to myself, ‘One push, and he’s a deader,’ but something, some mysterious agency within, has kept me back.”

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“All the fellows at the club–“

Simpson is popularly supposed to belong to a Fleet Street Toilet and Hairdressing Club, where for three guineas a year he gets shaved every day, and has his hair cut whenever Myra insists. On the many occasions when he authorizes a startling story of some well-known statesman with the words: “My dear old chap, I know it for a fact. I heard it at the club to-day from a friend of his,” then we know that once again the barber’s assistant has been gossiping over the lather.

“Do think, Samuel,” I interrupted, “how much more splendid if you could be the only man who had seen Monte Carlo without going inside the rooms. And then when the hairdresser–when your friends at the club ask if you’ve had any luck at the tables, you just say coldly, ‘What tables?’”

“Preferably in Latin,” said Archie. “Quae mensae?

But it was obviously no good arguing with him. Besides, we were all keen enough to go.

“We needn’t lose,” said Myra. “We might win.”

“Good idea,” said Thomas. He lit his pipe and added, “Simpson was telling me about his system last night. At least, he was just beginning when I went to sleep.” He applied another match to his pipe and went on, as if the idea had suddenly struck him, “Perhaps it was only his internal system he meant. I didn’t wait.”

“Samuel, you are quite well inside, aren’t you?”

“Quite, Myra. But, I have invented a sort of system for roulette, which we might–“

“There’s only one system which is any good,” pronounced Archie. “It’s the system by which, when you’ve lost all your own money, you turn to the man next to you and say, ‘Lend me a louis, dear old chap, till Christmas; I’ve forgotten my purse.’”

“No systems,” said Dahlia. “Let’s make a collection and put it all on one number and hope it will win.”

Dahlia had obviously been reading novels about people who break the bank.

“It’s as good a way of losing as any other,” said Archie. “Let’s do it for our first gamble, anyway. Simpson, as our host, shall put the money on. I, as his oldest friend, shall watch him to see that he does it. What’s the number to be?”

We all thought hard for several moments.

“Samuel, what’s your age?” asked Myra, at last.

“Right off the board,” said Thomas.

“You’re not really more than thirty-six?” Myra whispered to him. “Tell me as a secret.”

“Peter’s nearly two,” said Dahlia.

“Do you think you could nearly put our money on ‘two’?” asked Archie.

“I once made seventeen,” I said. “On that never-to-be-forgotten day when I went in first with Archie–“

“That settles it. Here’s to the highest score of The Rabbits’ wicket-keeper. To-morrow afternoon we put our money on seventeen. Simpson, you have between now and 3.30 to-morrow to perfect your French delivery of the magic word dix-sept.”

I went to bed a proud but anxious man that night. It was my famous score which had decided the figure that was to bring us fortune … and yet … and yet….

Suppose eighteen turned up? The remorse, the bitterness! “If only,” I should tell myself–“if only we had run three instead of two for that cut to square-leg!” Suppose it were sixteen! “Why, oh why,” I should groan, “did I make the scorer put that bye down as a hit?” Suppose it were thirty-four! But there my responsibility ended. If it were going to be thirty-four, they should have used one of Archie’s scores, and made a good job of it.

At 3.30 next day we were in the fatal building. I should like to pause here and describe my costume to you, which was a quiet grey in the best of taste, but Myra says that if I do this I must describe hers too, a feat beyond me. Sufficient that she looked dazzling, that as a party we were remarkably well-dressed, and that Simpson–murmuring “dix-sept”to himself at intervals–led the way through the rooms till he found a table to his liking.

“Aren’t you excited?” whispered Myra to me.

“Frightfully,” I said, and left my mouth well open. I don’t quite know what picture of the event Myra and I had conjured up in our minds, but I fancy it was one something like this. At the entrance into the rooms of such a large and obviously distinguished party there would be a slight sensation among the crowd, and way would be made for us at the most important table. It would then leak out that Chevalier Simpson–the tall poetical-looking gentleman in the middle, my dear–had brought with him no less a sum than thirty francs with which to break the bank, and that he proposed to do this in one daring coup. At this news the players at the other tables would hastily leave their winnings (or losings) and crowd round us. Chevalier Simpson, pale but controlled, would then place his money on seventeen–“dix-sept,” he would say to the croupier to make it quite clear–and the ball would be spun. As it slowed down, the tension in the crowd would increase. “Mon Dieu!” a woman would cry in a shrill voice; there would be guttural exclamations from Germans; at the edge of the crowd strong men would swoon. At last a sudden shriek … and the croupier’s voice, trembling for the first time for thirty years, “Dix-sept!” Then gold and notes would be pushed at the Chevalier. He would stuff his pockets with them; he would fill his hat with them; we others, we would stuff our pockets too. The bank would send out for more money. There would be loud cheers from all the company (with the exception of one man, who had put five francs on sixteen and had shot himself) and we should be carried–that is to say, we four men–shoulder high to the door, while by the deserted table Myra and Dahlia clung to each other, weeping tears of happiness….

Something like that.

What happened was different. As far as I could follow, it was this. Over the heads of an enormous, badly-dressed and utterly indifferent crowd Simpson handed his thirty francs to the croupier.

Dix-sept,” he said.

The croupier with his rake pushed the money on to seventeen.

Another croupier with his rake pulled it off again … and stuck to it.

The day’s fun was over.

* * * * *

“What did win?” asked Myra some minutes later, when the fact that we should never see our money again had been brought home to her.

“Zero,” said Archie.

I sighed heavily.

“My usual score,” I said, “not my highest.”

VI. THE RECORD OF IT

“I shall be glad to see Peter again,” said Dahlia, as she folded up her letter from home.

Peter’s previous letter, dictated to his nurse-secretary, had, according to Archie, been full of good things. Cross-examination of the proud father, however, had failed to reveal anything more stirring than “I love mummy,” and–er–so on.

We were sitting in the loggia after what I don’t call breakfast–all of us except Simpson, who was busy with a mysterious package. We had not many days left; and I was beginning to feel that, personally, I should not be sorry to see things like porridge again. Each to his taste.

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“The time has passed absurdly quickly,” said Myra. “We don’t seem to have done anything–except enjoy ourselves. I mean anything specially Rivierish. But it’s been heavenly.”

“We’ve done lots of Rivierish things,” I protested. “If you’ll be quiet a moment I’ll tell you some.”

These were some of the things:

(1) We had been to the Riviera. (Nothing could take away from that. We had the labels on our luggage.)

(2) We had lost heavily (thirty francs) at the Tables. (This alone justified the journey.)

(3) Myra had sat next to a Prince at lunch. (Of course she might have done this in London, but so far there has been no great rush of Princes to our little flat. Dukes, Mayors, Companions of St. Michael and St. George, certainly; but, somehow, not Princes.)

(4) Simpson had done the short third hole at Mt. Agel in three. (His first had cleverly dislodged the ball from the piled-up tee; his second, a sudden nick, had set it rolling down the hill to the green; and the third, an accidental putt, had sunk it.)

(5) Myra and I had seen Corsica. (Question.)

(6) And finally, and best of all, we had sat in the sun, under a blue sky above a blue sea, and watched the oranges and lemons grow.

So, though we had been to but few of the famous beauty spots around, we had had a delightfully lazy time; and as proof that we had not really been at Brighton there were, as I have said, the luggage labels. But we were to be able to show further proof. At this moment Simpson came out of the house, his face beaming with excitement, his hands carefully concealing something behind his back.

“Guess what I’ve got,” he said eagerly.

“The sack,” said Thomas.

“Your new bests,” said Archie.

“Something that will interest us all,” helped Simpson.

“I withdraw my suggestion,” said Archie.

“Something we ought to have brought with us all along.”

“More money,” said Myra.

The tension was extreme. It was obvious that our consuming anxiety would have to be relieved very speedily. To avoid a riot, Thomas went behind Simpson’s back and took his surprise away from him.

“A camera,” he said. “Good idea.”

Simpson was all over himself with bon-hommy.

“I suddenly thought of it the other night,” he said, smiling round at all of us in his happiness, “and I was just going to wake Thomas up to tell him, when I thought I’d keep it a secret. So I wrote to a friend of mine and asked him to send me out one, and some films and things, just as a surprise for you.”

“Samuel, you are a dear,” said Myra, looking at him lovingly.

“You see, I thought, Myra, you’d like to have some records of the place, because they’re so jolly to look back on, and–er, I’m not quite sure how you work it, but I expect some of you know and–er–“

“Come on,” said Myra, “I’ll show you.” She retired with Simpson to a secluded part of the loggia and helped him put the films in.

“Nothing can save us,” said Archie. “We are going to be taken together in a group. Simpson will send it to one of the picture papers, and we shall appear as ‘Another Merry Little Party of Well-known Sun-seekers. Names from left to right: Blank, blank, Mr. Archibald Mannering, blank, blank.’ I’d better go and brush my hair.”

Simpson returned to us, nervous and fully charged with advice.

“Right, Myra, I see. That’ll be all right. Oh, look here, do you–oh yes, I see. Right. Now then–wait a bit–oh yes, I’ve got it. Now then, what shall we have first? A group?”

“Take the house and the garden and the village,” said Thomas. “You’ll see plenty of us afterwards.”

“The first one is bound to be a failure,” I pointed out. “Rather let him fail at us, who are known to be beautiful, than at the garden, which has its reputation yet to make. Afterwards, when he has got the knack, he will be able to do justice to the scenery.”

Archie joined us again, followed by the bull-dog. We grouped ourselves picturesquely.

“That looks ripping,” said Simpson. “Oh, look here, Myra, do you–No, don’t come; you’ll spoil the picture. I suppose you have to–oh, it’s all right, I think I’ve got it.”

“I shan’t try to look handsome this time,” said Archie; “it’s not worth it. I shall just put an ordinary blurred expression on.”

“Now, are you ready? Don’t move. Quite still, please; quite–“

“It’s instantaneous, you know,” said Myra gently.

This so unnerved Simpson that he let the thing off without any further warning, before we had time to get our expressions natural.

“That was all right, Myra, wasn’t it?” he said proudly.

“I’m–I’m afraid you had your hand over the lens, Samuel dear.”

“Our new photographic series: ‘Palms of the Great.’ No. 1, Mr. S. Simpson’s,” murmured Archie.

“It wouldn’t have been a very good one anyhow,” I said encouragingly. “It wasn’t typical. Dahlia should have had an orange in her hand, and Myra might have been resting her cheek against a cactus. Try it again, Simpson, and get a little more colour into it.”

He tried again and got a lot more colour into it.

“Strictly speaking,” said Myra sadly, “you ought to have got it on to a new film.”

Simpson looked in horror at the back of his camera, found that he had forgotten to turn the handle, apologized profusely, and wound up very gingerly till the number “2” approached. “Now then,” he said, looking up … and found himself alone.

* * * * *

As I write this in London I have Simpson’s album in front of me. Should you ever do us the honour of dining with us (as I hope you will), and (which seems impossible) should there ever come a moment when the conversation runs low, and you are revolving in your mind whether it is worth while asking us if we have been to any theatres lately, then I shall produce the album, and you will be left in no doubt that we are just back from the Riviera. You will see oranges and lemons and olives and cactuses and palms; blue sky (if you have enough imagination) and still bluer sea; picturesque villas, curious effects of rocks, distant backgrounds of mountain … and on the last page the clever kindly face of Simpson.

The whole affair will probably bore you to tears.

But with Myra and me the case of course is different. We find these things, as Simpson said, very jolly to look back on.

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