Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 829
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 road he has come to see. The woman points it out to him from the doorway. When he returns to report that it is only grass, Ted remarks, “No beer and no Romans,” at which the woman says that there are seldom Romans in the neighborhood. When the laughter stops, Sid explains that she means gypsies and tells the woman to take no notice of the men’s laughter. After her retreat to the kitchen, Bert and Ted say that she is “dippy,” but Sid asks them to speak quietly.
While the men are eating their bread and butter, the child comes in with a written message from her mother, and after the girl’s departure Sid remarks that he thinks he has seen the woman before. That, say the young men, is Sid’s trouble: He has seen too many girls before.
When Sid goes to the kitchen to pay for the teas, he finds the woman sitting drably at a table covered with unwashed plates and the remains of a meal. The chairs are festooned with dirty clothes and a man’s waistcoat. In the ensuing dialogue, Sid learns that she has been in this tavern only three years, although it seems to her longer, that she has been very ill, that her husband has given up his job to bring her here on doctor’s orders, and that she is better now but lonely. Sid agrees that a woman wants company. Then he feels the child’s hand touching the ring on his finger. Sid laughs and says, “You saw that before.” He takes off the ring and, putting it in the palm of his hand, bends down so that his head nearly brushes the woman’s arm. Saying that the ring is lucky, he slips it on the child’s little finger and declares that it keeps him out of mischief. Then he takes the ring back, telling the child that her mother wants it and winking at the woman. “She’s got hers on the wrong finger. Little one luck, big one trouble.” With shining eyes the woman laughs and blushes. When he moves toward the door, she pouts and then, taking the child by the hand, hurries over as if both of them would cling to him. Avidly they follow him to the other room.
As the four men zip up their jackets, Harry gives the child a sixpence. The woman and the child, hand in hand, standing in the middle of the road, wave for a long time. Sid is in the lead with the ring shining on his finger as the men head for a real pub.
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