Tales of the Unexpected
was a pause while Pratt looked slowly around the table, first at me, then at the three women, each in turn. He appeared to be reminding us that we were witness to the offer.
‘Mike!’ Mrs Schofield said. ‘Mike, why don’t we stop this nonsense and eat our food. It’s getting cold.’
‘But it isn’t nonsense,’ Pratt told her evenly. ‘We’re making a little bet.’
I noticed the maid standing in the background holding a dish of vegetables, wondering whether to come forward with them or not.
‘All right, then,’ Pratt said. ‘I’ll tell you what I want you to bet.’
‘Come on, then,’ Mike said, rather reckless. ‘I don’t give a damn what it is – you’re on.’
Pratt nodded, and again the little smile moved the corners of his lips, and then, quite slowly, looking at Mike all the time, he said, ‘I want you to bet me the hand of your daughter in marriage.’
Louise Schofield gave a jump. ‘Hey!’ she cried. ‘No! That’s not funny! Look here, Daddy, that’s not funny at all.’
‘No, dear,’ her mother said. ‘They’re only joking.’
‘I’m not joking,’ Richard Pratt said.
‘It’s ridiculous,’ Mike said. He was off balance again now.
‘You said you’d bet anything I liked.’
‘I meant money.’
‘That’s what I meant.’
‘Then it’s a pity you didn’t say it. But anyway, if you wish to go back on your offer, that’s quite all right with me.’
‘It’s not a question of going back on my offer, old man. It’s a no-bet anyway, because you can’t match the stake. You yourself don’t happen to have a daughter to put up against mine in case you lose. And if you had, I wouldn’t want to marry her.’
‘I’m glad of that, dear,’ his wife said.
‘I’ll put up anything you like,’ Pratt announced. ‘My house, for example. How about my house?’
‘Which one?’ Mike asked, joking now.
‘The country one.’
‘Why not the other one as well?’
‘All right then, if you wish it. Both my houses.’
At that point I saw Mike pause. He took a step forward and placed the bottle in its basket gently down on the table. He moved the salt-cellar to one side, then the pepper, and then he picked up his knife, studied the blade thoughtfully for a moment, and put it down again. His daughter, too, had seen him pause.
‘Now, Daddy!’ she cried. ‘Don’t be
silly for words. I refuse to be betted on like this.’
‘Quite right, dear,’ her mother said. ‘Stop it at once, Mike, and sit down and eat your food.’
Mike ignored her. He looked over at his daughter and he smiled, a slow, fatherly, protective smile. But in his eyes, suddenly, there glimmered a little triumph. ‘You know,’ he said, smiling as he spoke. ‘You know, Louise, we ought to think about this a bit.’
‘Now, stop it, Daddy! I refuse even to listen to you! Why, I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life!’
‘No, seriously, my dear. Just wait a moment and hear what I have to say.’
‘But I don’t
to hear it.’
‘Louise! Please! It’s like this. Richard, here, has offered us a serious bet. He is the one who wants to make it, not me. And if he loses, he will have to hand over a considerable amount of property. Now, wait a minute, my dear, don’t interrupt. The point is this.
He cannot possibly win
‘He seems to think he can.’
‘Now listen to me, because I know what I’m talking about. The expert, when tasting a claret – so long as it is not one of the famous great wines like Lafite or Latour – can only get a certain way towards naming the vineyard. He can, of course, tell you the Bordeaux district from which the wine comes, whether it is from St Emilion, Pomerol, Graves, or Médoc. But then each district had several communes, little counties, and each county has many, many small vineyards. It is impossible for a man to differentiate between them all by taste and smell alone. I don’t mind telling you that this one I’ve got here is a wine from a small vineyard that is surrounded by many other small vineyards, and he’ll never get it. It’s impossible.’
‘You can’t be sure of that,’ his daughter said.
‘I’m telling you I can. Though I say it myself, I understand quite a bit about this wine business, you know. And anyway, heavens alive, girl, I’m your father and you don’t think I’d let you in for – for something you didn’t want, do you? I’m trying to make you
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