(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Four men are cycling up a deserted road in the country, battling a wind from the hidden sea. The youngest, Bert Richards, is dreaming of a mythical, affectionate girl he will meet at the pub that finally comes into view. It is a small, red-brick house with outbuildings and a single chimney giving out smoke. The four men are delighted at the prospect of getting a beer after ten miles of mostly uphill pedaling. They look at the four windows with their four curtains and the varnished door. When Ted, who has walked the last thirty yards, catches up, they read the black sign over the door: Tavern. It is an old-fashioned word, according to Ted.

Harry Newton, contrary to custom, knocks. All are surprised to find a woman waiting behind the door, a frail, drab woman not much past thirty. She shows them into a sitting room with a sign in the window that says “Teas.” When the men order beer and ask for the bar, she admits that despite the sign over the door and the notation on Harry’s map, the house is not a pub. “Many are disappointed,” she says.

Her tiny, frail daughter comes to cling close to her mother, who is happier now, and the men begin to speak more gently. The mother says that the nearest pub is ten miles behind them. There only Ted had wanted to stop. The woman, fearing that they are about to leave, informs them that she serves teas. Sid Blake is sitting on the arm of a chair, and the child is gazing at a gold ring he is wearing on his little finger. After checking with Harry, Sid orders four teas, and the woman is timidly delighted.

The men wait a long time in the cold room with its bare linoleum on the floor and its almost empty china cupboard while the wind blows sand along the empty road and over the rows of cabbages. The woman and child enter from time to time bringing a cup or a saucer; it seems to Ted, the married man, that she does not know how to set a table. Harry, who has planned the route and is keenly interested in old Roman roads, goes down to the gate to check the Roman...

(The entire section is 829 words.)