“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.