Текст для анализа №9 Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) TEA

by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro)
TEA
James Cushat-Prinkly was a young man who had always had a settled
conviction that one of these days he would marry; up to the age of thirty-
four he had done nothing to justify that conviction.  He liked and
admired a great many women collectively and dispassionately without
singling out one for especial matrimonial consideration, just as one
might admire the Alps without feeling that one wanted any particular peak
as one's own private property.  His lack of initiative in this matter
aroused a certain amount of impatience among the sentimentally-minded
women-folk of his home circle; his mother, his sisters, an
aunt-in-residence, and two or three intimate matronly friends regarded
his dilatory approach to the married state with a disapproval that was
far from being inarticulate.  His most innocent flirtations were watched
with the straining eagerness which a group of unexercised terriers
concentrates on the slightest movements of a human being who may be
reasonably considered likely to take them for a walk.  No decent-souled
mortal can long resist the pleading of several pairs of walk-beseeching
dog-eyes; James Cushat-Prinkly was not sufficiently obstinate or
indifferent to home influences to disregard the obviously expressed wish
of his family that he should become enamoured of some nice marriageable
girl, and when his Uncle Jules departed this life and bequeathed him a
comfortable little legacy it really seemed the correct thing to do to set
about discovering some one to share it with him.  The process of
discovery was carried on more by the force of suggestion and the weight
of public opinion than by any initiative of his own; a clear working
majority of his female relatives and the aforesaid matronly friends had
pitched on Joan Sebastable as the most suitable young woman in his range
of acquaintance to whom he might propose marriage, and James became
gradually accustomed to the idea that he and Joan would go together
through the prescribed stages of congratulations, present-receiving,
Norwegian or Mediterranean hotels, and eventual domesticity.  It was
necessary, however to ask the lady what she thought about the matter; the
family had so far conducted and directed the flirtation with ability and
discretion, but the actual proposal would have to be an individual
effort.

Cushat-Prinkly walked across the Park towards the Sebastable residence in
a frame of mind that was moderately complacent.  As the thing was going
to be done he was glad to feel that he was going to get it settled and
off his mind that afternoon.  Proposing marriage, even to a nice girl
like Joan, was a rather irksome business, but one could not have a
honeymoon in Minorca and a subsequent life of married happiness without
such preliminary.  He wondered what Minorca was really like as a place to
stop in; in his mind's eye it was an island in perpetual half-mourning,
with black or white Minorca hens running all over it.  Probably it would
not be a bit like that when one came to examine it.  People who had been
in Russia had told him that they did not remember having seen any Muscovy
ducks there, so it was possible that there would be no Minorca fowls on
the island.

His Mediterranean musings were interrupted by the sound of a clock
striking the half-hour.  Half-past four.  A frown of dissatisfaction
settled on his face.  He would arrive at the Sebastable mansion just at
the hour of afternoon tea.  Joan would be seated at a low table, spread
with an array of silver kettles and cream-jugs and delicate porcelain tea-
cups, behind which her voice would tinkle pleasantly in a series of
little friendly questions about weak or strong tea, how much, if any,
sugar, milk, cream, and so forth.  "Is it one lump?  I forgot.  You do
take milk, don't you?  Would you like some more hot water, if it's too
strong?"

Cushat-Prinkly had read of such things in scores of novels, and hundreds
of actual experiences had told him that they were true to life.  Thousands
of women, at this solemn afternoon hour, were sitting behind dainty
porcelain and silver fittings, with their voices tinkling pleasantly in a
cascade of solicitous little questions.  Cushat-Prinkly detested the
whole system of afternoon tea.  According to his theory of life a woman
should lie on a divan or couch, talking with incomparable charm or
looking unutterable thoughts, or merely silent as a thing to be looked
on, and from behind a silken curtain a small Nubian page should silently
bring in a tray with cups and dainties, to be accepted silently, as a
matter of course, without drawn-out chatter about cream and sugar and hot
water.  If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's feet how
could one talk coherently about weakened tea?  Cushat-Prinkly had never
expounded his views on the subject to his mother; all her life she had
been accustomed to tinkle pleasantly at tea-time behind dainty porcelain
and silver, and if he had spoken to her about divans and Nubian pages she
would have urged him to take a week's holiday at the seaside.  Now, as he
passed through a tangle of small streets that led indirectly to the
elegant Mayfair terrace for which he was bound, a horror at the idea of
confronting Joan Sebastable at her tea-table seized on him.  A momentary
deliverance presented itself; on one floor of a narrow little house at
the noisier end of Esquimault Street lived Rhoda Ellam, a sort of remote
cousin, who made a living by creating hats out of costly materials.  The
hats really looked as if they had come from Paris; the cheques she got
for them unfortunately never looked as if they were going to Paris.
However, Rhoda appeared to find life amusing and to have a fairly good
time in spite of her straitened circumstances.  Cushat-Prinkly decided to
climb up to her floor and defer by half-an-hour or so the important
business which lay before him; by spinning out his visit he could
contrive to reach the Sebastable mansion after the last vestiges of
dainty porcelain had been cleared away.

Rhoda welcomed him into a room that seemed to do duty as workshop,
sitting-room, and kitchen combined, and to be wonderfully clean and
comfortable at the same time.

"I'm having a picnic meal," she announced.  "There's caviare in that jar
at your elbow.  Begin on that brown bread-and-butter while I cut some
more.  Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you.  Now tell me about
hundreds of things."

She made no other allusion to food, but talked amusingly and made her
visitor talk amusingly too.  At the same time she cut the
bread-and-butter with a masterly skill and produced red pepper and sliced
lemon, where so many women would merely have produced reasons and regrets
for not having any.  Cushat-Prinkly found that he was enjoying an
excellent tea without having to answer as many questions about it as a
Minister for Agriculture might be called on to reply to during an
outbreak of cattle plague.

"And now tell me why you have come to see me," said Rhoda suddenly.  "You
arouse not merely my curiosity but my business instincts.  I hope you've
come about hats.  I heard that you had come into a legacy the other day,
and, of course, it struck me that it would be a beautiful and desirable
thing for you to celebrate the event by buying brilliantly expensive hats
for all your sisters.  They may not have said anything about it, but I
feel sure the same idea has occurred to them.  Of course, with Goodwood
on us, I am rather rushed just now, but in my business we're accustomed
to that; we live in a series of rushes--like the infant Moses."

"I didn't come about hats," said her visitor.  "In fact, I don't think I
really came about anything.  I was passing and I just thought I'd look in
and see you.  Since I've been sitting talking to you, however, rather
important idea has occurred to me.  If you'll forget Goodwood for a
moment and listen to me, I'll tell you what it is."

Some forty minutes later James Cushat-Prinkly returned to the bosom of
his family, bearing an important piece of news.

"I'm engaged to be married," he announced.

A rapturous outbreak of congratulation and self-applause broke out.

"Ah, we knew!  We saw it coming!  We foretold it weeks ago!"

"I'll bet you didn't," said Cushat-Prinkly.  "If any one had told me at
lunch-time to-day that I was going to ask Rhoda Ellam to marry me and
that she was going to accept me I would have laughed at the idea."

The romantic suddenness of the affair in some measure compensated James's
women-folk for the ruthless negation of all their patient effort and
skilled diplomacy.  It was rather trying to have to deflect their
enthusiasm at a moment's notice from Joan Sebastable to Rhoda Ellam; but,
after all, it was James's wife who was in question, and his tastes had
some claim to be considered.

On a September afternoon of the same year, after the honeymoon in Minorca
had ended, Cushat-Prinkly came into the drawing-room of his new house in
Granchester Square.  Rhoda was seated at a low table, behind a service of
dainty porcelain and gleaming silver.  There was a pleasant tinkling note
in her voice as she handed him a cup.

"You like it weaker than that, don't you?  Shall I put some more hot
water to it?  No?"