I said that in the gossip column I came before all dukes who were not relatives of the king. Therefore I should go first on this occasion. The question couldn’t be settled, of course, no matter how much we argued about it – and we did argue. So we all went back to the drawing-room again and ate lunch – for lunch you get a plate of sardines and a strawberry, and you stand together and eat that.
For lunch the question of who goes first is not so difficult. The two most important people toss a coin. The one that wins is the first to start eating his strawberry, and the loser gets the shilling. The next two toss a coin, then the next two, and so on. After lunch, card tables were brought out, and we all played cribbage. We bet sixpence a game. The English never play any game for amusement. They won’t play if they can’t win something or lose something, but they don’t care if they win or lose.
We had a lovely time. Certainly two of us had a lovely time – and those two were Miss Langham and I. I was so bewitched by her that I couldn’tkeep score if the points went too high. When I won a game I never noticed and just started again. I would have lost every game, only the girl was the same. You see she was in just as bewitched as I. So neither of us ever completed a game. But we didn’t bother to wonder why we didn’t; we just knew we were happy, and didn’t want to know anything else, and didn’t want to be interrupted.
And I told her – I did, indeed – told her I loved her. Well, she blushed until her hair turned red. But she liked it; she said she did. Oh, there was never such an evening! Every time I marked the score I added a little message; every time she scored she replied to it. I couldn’t even say ‘Two for this’ without adding, ‘My, how sweet you do look!’ and she would say, ‘Two, four, and a pair are eight – oh, do you think so?’. Then she would peep at me from under her eyelashes, you know, and try to look all sweet. Oh, it was just too wonderful!
Well, I was perfectly honest and I told her everything. I said that I hadn’t any money at all. All I had was the million-pound note she’d heard so much about, and that note didn’t belong to me. That made her curious. Talking quietly I told her the whole story right from the start. It nearly killed her with laughing. I couldn’t see what made her laugh, but there it was. Every half-minute some new detail would make her laugh again, and I would have to stop for as much as a minute and a half to give her a chance to stop laughing. She laughed so much she could hardly stand – yes, she did; I never saw anything like it.
I never before saw a painful story – a story of a person’s troubles and worries and fears – make someone laugh like that. So I loved her even more, seeing she could be so cheerful when there wasn’t anything to be cheerful about. I joked that I might soon need that kind of wife the way my future looked. I told her that of course, we should have to wait a couple of years, till I could pay off my debts with my salary. She joked back that she didn’t mind that, only she hoped I would be as careful as possible with the money. I must try not to spend any of our third year’s pay.
Then she began to get a little worried, and wondered if we were making a mistake. So she decided my salary for the first year should be higher than before. This was good sense, though it made me feel a little less sure than I had been that everything would work as we planned. However it gave me a good business idea, and told it to her without trying to hide anything.
‘Portia, dear, would you mind going with me on the day when I confrontthose old gentlemen?’
She looked a little worried about this, but said ‘N-o; if my being with you would make you happier. But – do you think that it would be good manners for me to come?’
‘No, I don’t think that it would – in fact, I’m afraid it wouldn’t. But, you see, it’s just so very important that-‘
‘Then I’ll go anyway, whether it’s good manners or not’ she said, with a beautiful and generous enthusiasm. ‘Oh, I shall be so happy to think I’m helping you!’
‘You won;t just be helping – you’ll be doing it all. You’re beautiful and so lovely that no-one can argue with you. With you there I can increase our salary till I break those good old fellows, and they’ll never have the heart to struggle.’
Oh! You should have seen the blush on her face, and the shine in her happy eyes!
She said ‘It is wicked to say nice things that you know are not true! What you say is wrong, but I’ll still go with you. Maybe then you will see that other people don’t see things the way you do. That will teach you a lesson’
Was I less worried after that? Did I think that everyting would go well? You may judge by this fact: right then and there I decided that I would ask for a salary of twelve hundred pounds for the first year. But I didn’t tell her; I saved it for a surprise. All the way home I was so happy I couldn’t think properly. I heard Hastings talking, but did not hear a word. When he and I entered my parlor, he brought me down to earth. He was amazed by my many comforts and luxuries.
‘Let me just stand here for a little while and look at everything. Dear me! it’s a palace – it’s just a palace! And in it everything anybody could want, including a warm coal fire and supper standing ready. Henry, it doesn’t just make me realize how rich you are; it makes me realize, it makes me completely understand, how poor I am – how poor, and how miserable, how defeated and crushed!’
This language really upset me. It scared me right out of my dreams. Again I remembered that I was standing on a half-inch crust, and there was a volcano underneath.
Go to Part 7 here.