"There was a theory about the planets, wasn't there?" asked Ridley.
"A screw loose somewhere, no doubt of it," said Mr. Pepper, shaking his head.
Now a tremor ran through the table, and a light outside swerved. At the same time an electric bell rang sharply again and again.
"We're off," said Ridley.
A slight but perceptible wave seemed to roll beneath the floor; then it sank; then another came, more perceptible. Lights slid right across the uncurtained window. The ship gave a loud melancholy moan.
"We're off!" said Mr. Pepper. Other ships, as sad as she, answered her outside on the river. The chuckling and hissing of water could be plainly heard, and the ship heaved so that the steward bringing plates had to balance himself as he drew the curtain. There was a pause.
"Jenkinson of Cats—d'you still keep up with him?" asked Ambrose.
"As much as one ever does," said Mr. Pepper. "We meet annually. This year he has had the misfortune to lose his wife, which made it painful, of course."
"Very painful," Ridley agreed.
"There's an unmarried daughter who keeps house for him, I believe, but it's never the same, not at his age."
Both gentlemen nodded sagely as they carved their apples.
"There was a book, wasn't there?" Ridley enquired.
"There was a book, but there never will be a book," said Mr. Pepper with such fierceness that both ladies looked up at him.
"There never will be a book, because some one else has written it for him," said Mr. Pepper with considerable acidity. "That's what comes of putting things off, and collecting fossils, and sticking Norman arches on one's pigsties."
"I confess I sympathise," said Ridley with a melancholy sigh. "I have a weakness for people who can't begin."
"…The accumulations of a lifetime wasted," continued Mr. Pepper. "He had accumulations enough to fill a barn."