(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Her Table Spread” is the account of the events of one evening in an Irish castle. The title suggests the purpose of the lavish dinner party that has been staged by Valeria Cuffe, the young heiress who is also the owner of the Castle. She is twenty-five; it is time that she married. Mr. Alban is aware that he may be a likely candidate. What he discovers only gradually is that he is not the primary prospect for whom the Castle and Valeria are waiting.

As the story begins, the hostess and the guests come down to dinner. With the assurance of a guest of honor and a courted prospective husband, Alban observes the simple Valeria, to whom he is not particularly drawn. Alban’s self-satisfaction diminishes, however, when he discovers that the ladies are hoping for a visit from the officers of a destroyer that is anchored in the estuary, perhaps the same destroyer whose officers, a Mr. Garrett and a Mr. Graves, visited at the Castle previously and were entertained at the Castle by friends living there during the absence of Valeria and her dependents.

After dinner, Alban’s discontent increases. Although he plays the piano, he is ignored. Indeed, Valeria is not even present, but is racing about in the rain, careless of her satin evening dress, hoping to attract the officers, even if she must row out to their ship. Although she considered marrying Alban, she has now decided that her husband must be one of the officers; she assumes that the destroyer is the ship on which Garrett and Graves serve, and she tries to choose between them, remembering her friends’ descriptions.

Fearing that Valeria will come for a boat, Robert Rossiter, an uncle of hers, and Alban guard the boathouse until Alban is frightened out by a bat. On his way back to the Castle, he hears sobbing in the darkness and realizes that it is Valeria. She is certain that it is Garrett, the tall young officer, and she calls joyfully, “Mr. Garrett has landed.” Suddenly Alban is touched by emotion; he feels himself a man desired by women. The next morning the destroyer leaves.