The Stake

‘Ronnie is a great trial to me,’ said Mrs Attray plaintively. ‘Only eighteen years old last February and already a confirmed gambler. I am sure I don’t know where he inherits it from; his father never touched cards, and you know how little I play—a game of bridge on Wednesday afternoons in the winter, for threepence a hundred, and even that I shouldn’t do if it wasn’t that Edith always wants a fourth and would be certain to ask that detestable Jenkinham woman if she couldn’t get me. I would much rather sit and talk any day than play bridge; cards are such a waste of time, I think. But as to Ronnie, bridge and baccarat and poker-patience are positively all that he thinks about. Of course I’ve done my best to stop it; I’ve asked the Norridrums not to let him play cards when he’s over there, but you might as well ask the Atlantic Ocean to keep quiet for a crossing as expect them to bother about a mother’s natural anxieties.”

‘Why do you let him go there?’ asked Eleanor Saxelby.

‘My dear,’ said Mrs Attray, ‘I don’t want to offend them. After all, they are my landlords and I have to loot to them for anything I want done about the place; they were very accommodating about the new roof for the orchid house. And they lend me one of their cars when mine is out of order; you known how often it gets out of order.’

‘I don’t know how often,’ said Eleanor, ‘but it must happen very frequently. Whenever I want you to take me anywhere in your car I am always told that there is something wrong with it, or else that the chauffeur has got neuralgia and you don’t like to ask him to go out.’

‘He suffers quite a lot from neuralgia,’ said Mrs Attray hastily. ‘Anyhow,’ she continued, ‘you can understand that I don’t want to offend the Norridrums. Their household is the most rackety one in the county, and I believe no one even knows to an hour or two when any particular meal will appear on the table or what it will consist of when it does appear.’

Eleanor Saxelby shuddered. She liked her meals to be of regular occurrence and assured proportions.

‘Still,’ pursued Mrs Attray, ‘whatever their own home life may be, as landlords and neighbours they are considerate and obliging, so I don’t want to quarrel with them. Besides, if Ronnie didn’t play cards there he’d be playing somewhere else.’

‘Not if you were firm with him,’ said Eleanor; ‘I believe in being firm.’

‘Firm? I am firm,’ exclaimed Mrs Attray; ‘I am more than firm—I am farseeing. I’ve done everything I can think of it to prevent Ronnie from playing for money. I’ve stopped his allowance for the rest of the year, so he can’t even gamble on credit, and I’ve subscribed a lump sum to the church offertory in his name instead of giving him instalments of small silver to put in the bag on Sundays. I wouldn’t even let him have the money to tip the hunt servants with, but sent it by postal order. He was furiously sulky about it, but I reminded him of what happened to the ten shillings that I gave him for the Young Men’s Endeavour League “Self-Denial Week.”’

‘What did happen to it? asked Eleanor.

‘Well, Ronnie did some preliminary endeavouring with it, on his own account, in connection with the Grand National. If it had come off, as he expressed it, he would have given the League twenty-five shillings and netted a comfortable commission for himself; as it was, that ten shillings was one of the things the League had to deny itself. Since then I’ve been careful not to let him have a penny piece in his hands.”

‘He’ll get round that in some way,’ said Eleanor with quiet conviction; ‘he’ll sell things.’

‘My dear, he’s done all that is to be done in that direction already. He’s got rid of his wrist-watch and his hunting flask and both his cigarette cases, and I shouldn’t be surprised if he’s wearing imitation-gold sleeve links instead of those his Aunt Rhoda gave him on his seventeenth birthday. He can’t sell his

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