“Who else is there?” asked Barbara.
“My dear,” said I. “This is a modest country house, not an International Palace Hotel. Including Eileen’s children and their governess and nurse and Doria’s maid, we shall have to find accommodation for fifteen people.”
“Nonsense!” she said. “We can’t do it.”
“Count up,” said I.
I lit a cigar and went out into the winter-stricken garden, and left her reckoning on her fingers, with knitted brow. When I returned she greeted me with a radiantly superior smile.
“Who said it couldn’t be done? I do wish men had some kind of practical sense. It’s as easy as anything.”
She unfolded her scheme. As far as my dazed wits could grasp it, I understood that I should give up my dressing-room, that the maids should sleep eight in a bed, that Franklin, our excellent butler, should perch in a walnut-tree and that planks should be put up in the bath-rooms for as many more guests as we cared to invite.
“That is excellent,” said I, “but do you realise that in this house party there are only three grown men—three ha’porth of grown men” (I couldn’t forbear allusiveness) “to this intolerable quantity of women and children?”
“But who is preventing you from asking men, dear? Who are they?”
I mentioned my old friend Vansittart; also poor John Costello’s son, who would most likely be at a loose end at Christmas, and one or two others.
“Well have them, dear,” said Barbara.
So four unattached men were added to the party. That made nineteen. When I thought of their accommodation my brain reeled. In order to retain my wits I gave up thinking of it, and left the matter to Barbara.
We were going to have a mighty Christmas. The house was filled with preparations. Susan and I went to the village draper’s and bought beautifully coloured cotton stockings to hang up at her little cousins’ bedposts. We stirred the plum pudding. We planned out everything that we should like to do, while Barbara, without much reference to us, settled what was to be done. In that way we divided the labour. Old Jaffery, back from China, came to us on the twentieth of December, and threw himself heart and soul into our side of the work. He took up our life just as though he had left it the day before yesterday—just the same sun-glazed hairy red giant, noisy, laughter-loving and voracious. Susan went about clapping her hands the day he arrived and shouting that Christmas had already begun.