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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Little Warrior By P. G. Wodehouse Characters: 6586

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The front-door closed softly behind the theatre-party. Dinner was over, and Parker had just been assisting the expedition out of the place. Sensitive to atmosphere, he had found his share in the dinner a little trying. It had been a strained meal, and what he liked was a clatter of conversation and everybody having a good time and enjoying themselves.

"Ellen!" called Parker, as he proceeded down the passage to the empty dining-room. "Ellen!"

Mrs Parker appeared out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. Her work for the evening, like her husband's, was over. Presently what is technically called a "useful girl" would come in to wash the dishes, leaving the evening free for social intercourse. Mrs Parker had done well by her patrons that night, and now she wanted a quiet chat with Parker over a glass of Freddie Rooke's port.

"Have they gone, Horace?" she asked, following him into the dining-room.

Parker selected a cigar from Freddie's humidor, crackled it against his ear, smelt it, clipped off the end, and lit it. He took the decanter and filled his wife's glass, then mixed himself a whisky-and-soda.

"Happy days!" said Parker. "Yes, they've gone!"

"I didn't see her ladyship."

"You didn't miss much! A nasty, dangerous specimen, she is! 'Always merry and bright', I don't think. I wish you'd have had my job of waiting on 'em, Ellen, and me been the one to stay in the kitchen safe out of it all. That's all I say! It's no treat to me to 'and the dishes when the atmosphere's what you might call electric. I didn't envy them that vol-au-vent of yours, Ellen, good as it smelt. Better a dinner of 'erbs where love is than a stalled ox and 'atred therewith," said Parker, helping himself to a walnut.

"Did they have words?"

Parker shook his head impatiently.

"That sort don't have words, Ellen. They just sit and goggle."

"How did her ladyship seem to hit it off with Miss Mariner, Horace?"

Parker uttered a dry laugh.

"Ever seen a couple of strange dogs watching each other sort of wary? That was them! Not that Miss Mariner wasn't all that was pleasant and nice-spoken. She's all right, Miss Mariner is. She's a little queen! It wasn't her fault the dinner you'd took so much trouble over was more like an evening in the Morgue than a Christian dinner-party. She tried to help things along best she could. But what with Sir Derek chewing his lip 'alf the time and his mother acting about as matey as a pennorth of ice-cream, she didn't have a chance. As for the guv'nor,-well, I wish you could have seen him, that's all. You know, Ellen, sometimes I'm not altogether easy in my mind about the guv'nor's mental balance. He knows how to buy cigars, and you tell me his port is good-I never touch it myself-but sometimes he seems to me to go right off his onion. Just sat there, he did, all through dinner, looking as if he expected the good food to rise up and bite him in the face, and jumping nervous when I spoke to him. It's not my fault," said Parker, aggrieved. "I can't give gentlemen warning before I ask 'em if they'll have sherry or hock. I can't ring a bell or toot a horn to show 'em I'm coming. It's my place to bend over and whisper in their ear, and they've no right to leap about in their seats and make me spill good wine. (You'

ll see the spot close by where you're sitting, Ellen. Jogged my wrist, he did!) I'd like to know why people in the spear of life which these people are in can't behave themselves rational, same as we do. When we were walking out and I took you to have tea with my mother, it was one of the pleasantest meals I ever ate. Talk about 'armony! It was a love-feast!"

"Your ma and I took to each other right from the start, Horace," said Mrs Parker softly-"That's the difference."

"Well, any woman with any sense would take to Miss Mariner. If I told you how near I came to spilling the sauce-boat accidentally over that old fossil's head, you'd be surprised, Ellen. She just sat there brooding like an old eagle. If you ask my opinion, Miss Mariner's a long sight too good for her precious son!"

"Oh, but Horace! Sir Derek's a baronet!"

"What of it? Kind 'earts are more than coronets and simple faith than Norman blood, aren't they?"

"You're talking Socialism, Horace."

"No, I'm not. I'm talking sense. I don't know who Miss Mariner's parents may have been-I never enquired-but anyone can see she's a lady born and bred. But do you suppose the path of true love is going to run smooth, for all that? Not it! She's got a 'ard time ahead of her, that poor girl."

"Horace!" Mrs Parker's gentle heart was wrung. The situation hinted at by her husband was no new one-indeed, it formed the basis of at least fifty per cent of the stories in the True Heart Novelette Series, of which she was a determined reader-but it had never failed to touch her. "Do you think her ladyship means to come between them and wreck their romance?"

"I think she means to have a jolly good try."

"But Sir Derek has his own money, hasn't he? I mean, it's not like when Sir Courtenay Travers fell in love with the milk-maid and was dependent on his mother, the Countess, for everything. Sir Derek can afford to do what he pleases, can't he?"

Parker shook his head tolerantly. The excellence of the cigar and the soothing qualities of the whisky-and-soda had worked upon him, and he was feeling less ruffled.

"You don't understand these things," he said. "Women like her ladyship can talk a man into anything and out of anything. I wouldn't care, only you can see the poor girl is mad over the feller. What she finds attractive in him, I can't say, but that's her own affair."

"He's very handsome, Horace, with those flashing eyes and that stern mouth," argued Mrs Parker.

Parker sniffed.

"Have it your own way," he said. "It's no treat to me to see his eyes flash, and if he'd put that stern mouth of his to some better use than advising the guv'nor to lock up the cigars and trouser the key, I'd be better pleased. If there's one thing I can't stand," said Parker, "it's not to be trusted!" He lifted his cigar and looked at it censoriously. "I thought so! Burning all down one side. They will do that if you light 'em careless. Oh, well," he continued, rising and going to the humidor, "there's plenty more where that came from. Out of evil cometh good," said Parker philosophically. "If the guv'nor hadn't been in such a overwrought state tonight, he'd have remembered not to leave the key in the key-hole. Help yourself to another glass of port, Ellen, and let's enjoy ourselves!"

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