THE MATCH-MAKER

The grill-room clock struck eleven with the respectful

unobtrusiveness of one whose mission in life is to be

ignored. When the flight of time should really have

rendered abstinence and migration imperative the lighting

apparatus would signal the fact in the usual way.

Six minutes later Clovis approached the supper-table, in

the blessed expectancy of one who has dined sketchily and

long ago.

“I’m starving,” he announced, making an effort to sit

down gracefully and read the menu at the same time.

“So I gathered,” said his host, “from the fact that you

were nearly punctual. I ought to have told you that I’m a

Food Reformer. I’ve ordered two bowls of bread-and-milk and

some health biscuits. I hope you don’t mind.”

Clovis pretended afterwards that he didn’t go white above

the collar-line for the fraction of a second.

“All the same,” he said, “you ought not to joke about

such things. There really are such people. I’ve known

people who’ve met them. To think of all the adorable things

there are to eat in the world, and then to go through life

munching sawdust and being proud of it.”

“They’re like the Flagellants of the Middle Ages, who

went about mortifying themselves.”

“They had some excuse,” said Clovis. “They did it to

save their immortal souls, didn’t they? You needn’t tell me

that a man who doesn’t love oysters and asparagus and good

wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He’s simply got

the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.”

Clovis relapsed for a few golden moments into tender

intimacies with a succession of rapidly disappearing

oysters.

“I think oysters are more beautiful than any religion,”

he resumed presently. “They not only forgive our

unkindness to them; they justify it, they incite us to go on

being perfectly horrid to them. Once they arrive at the

supper-table they seem to enter thoroughly into the spirit

of the thing. There’s nothing in Christianity or Buddhism

that quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an

oyster. Do you like my new waistcoat? I’m wearing it for

the first time tonight.”

“It looks like a great many others you’ve had lately,

only worse. New dinner waistcoats are becoming a habit with

you.”

“They say one always pays for the excesses of one’s

youth; mercifully that isn’t true about one’s clothes. My

mother is thinking of getting married.”

“Again!”

“It’s the first time.”

“Of course, you ought to know. I was under the

impression that she’d been married once or twice at least.”

“Three times, to be mathematically exact. I meant that

it was the first time she’d thought about getting married;

the other times she did it without thinking. As a matter of

fact, it’s really I who am doing the thinking for her in

this case. You see, it’s quite two years since her last

husband died.”

“You evidently think that brevity is the soul of

widowhood.”

“Well, it struck me that she was getting moped, and

beginning to settle down, which wouldn’t suit her a bit.

The first symptom that I noticed was when she began to

complain that we were living beyond our income. All decent

people live beyond their incomes nowadays, and those who

aren’t respectable live beyond other people’s. A few gifted

individuals manage to do both.”

“It’s hardly so much a gift as an industry.”

“The crisis came,” returned Clovis, “when she suddenly

started the theory that late hours were bad for one, and

wanted me to be in by one o’clock every night. Imagine that

sort of thing for me, who was eighteen on my last

birthday.”

“On your last two birthdays, to be mathematically

exact.”

“Oh, well, that’s not my fault. I’m not going to arrive

at nineteen as long as my mother remains at thirty-seven.

One must have some regard for appearances.”

“Perhaps your mother would age a little in the process of

settling down.”

“That’s the last thing she’d think of. Feminine

reformations always start in on the failings of other

people. That’s why I was so keen on the husband idea.”

“Did you go as far as to select the gentleman, or did you

merely throw out a general idea, and trust to the force of

suggestion?”

“If one wants a thing done in a hurry one must see to it

oneself. I found a military Johnny hanging round on a loose

end at the club, and took him home to lunch once or twice.

He’d spent most of his life on the Indian frontier, building

roads, and relieving famines and minimizing earthquakes, and

all that sort of thing that one does do on frontiers. He

could talk sense to a peevish cobra in fifteen native

languages, and probably knew what to do if you found a rogue

elephant on your croquet-lawn; but he was shy and diffident

with women. I told my mother privately that he was an

absolute woman-hater; so, of course, she laid herself out to

flirt all she knew, which isn’t a little.”

“And was the gentleman responsive?”

“I hear he told some one at the club that he was looking

out for a Colonial job, with plenty of hard work, for a

young friend of his, so I gather that he has some idea of

marrying into the family.”

“You seem destined to be the victim of the reformation,

after all.”

Clovis wiped the trace of Turkish coffee and the beginnings

of a smile from his lips, and slowly lowered his dexter

eyelid. Which, being interpreted, probably meant, “I don’t

think!”