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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Missing Card

Title:     The Missing Card
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

What I say is this: A man has his own work to do. He slaves at the office all day, earning a living for those dependent on him, and when he comes home he may reasonably expect not to be bothered with domestic business. I am sure you will agree with me. And you would go on to say, would you not, that, anyhow, the insuring of his servants might safely be left to his wife? Of course you would! Thank you very much.

I first spoke to Celia about the insuring of the staff some weeks ago. Our staff consists of Jane Parsons the cook, the first parlourmaid (Jane) and Parsons the upper housemaid. We call them collectively Jane.

"By the way," I said to Celia, "I suppose Jane is insured all right?"

"I was going to see about it to-morrow," said Celia.

I looked at her in surprise. It was just the sort of thing I might have said myself.

"I hope she won't be unkind about it," I went on. "If she objects to paying her share, tell her I am related to a solicitor. If she still objects, er--tell her we'll pay it ourselves."

"I think it will be all right. Fortunately, she has no head for figures."

This is true. Jane is an excellent cook, and well worth the L75 a year or whatever it is we pay her; but arithmetic gives her a headache. When Celia has finished dividing L75 by twelve, Jane is in a state of complete nervous exhaustion, and is only too thankful to take the nine-and-sixpence that Celia hands over to her, without asking any questions. Indeed, _anything_ that the Government wished deducted from Jane's wages we could deduct with a minimum of friction--from income-tax to a dog-licence. A threepenny insurance would be child's play.

Three weeks later I said to Celia--

"Has an inspector been to see Jane's card yet?"

"Jane's card?" she asked blankly.

"The insurance card with the pretty stamps on."

"No.... No.... Luckily."

"You mean----"

"I was going to see about it to-morrow," said Celia.

I got up and paced the floor. "Really," I murmured, "really." I tried the various chairs in the room, and finally went and stood with my back to the fire-place. In short, I behaved like a justly incensed master-of-the-house.

"You know what happens," I said, when I was calm again, "if we neglect this duty which Parliament has laid upon us?"


"We go to prison. At least, one of us does. I'm not quite sure which."

"I hope it's you," said Celia.

"As a matter of fact I believe it is. However, we shall know when the inspector comes round."

"If it's you," she went on, "I shall send you in a file, with which you can cut through your chains and escape. It will be concealed in a loaf of bread, so that your gaolers shan't suspect."

"Probably I shouldn't suspect either, until I had bitten on it suddenly. Perhaps you'd better not bother. It would be simpler if you got Jane's card to-morrow instead."

"But of course I will. That is to say, I'll tell Jane to get it herself. It's her cinema evening out."

Once a week Jane leaves us and goes to a cinema. Her life is full of variety.

Ten days elapsed, and then one evening I said---- At least I didn't. Before I could get it out Celia interrupted:

"No, not yet. You see, there's been a hitch."

I curbed my anger and spoke calmly.

"What sort of a hitch?"

"Well, Jane forgot last Wednesday, and I forgot to remind her this Wednesday. But _next_ Wednesday----"

"Why don't you do it yourself?"

"Well, if you'll tell me what to do I'll do it."

"Well--er--you just--you--I mean--well, they'll tell you at the post-office."

"That's exactly how I keep explaining it to Jane," said Celia.

I looked at her mournfully.

"What shall we do?" I asked. "I feel quite hopeless about it. It seems too late now to do anything with Jane. Let's get a new staff and begin again properly."

"Lose Jane?" cried Celia. "I'd sooner go to prison--I mean I'd sooner _you_ went to prison. Why can't you be a man and do something?"

Celia doesn't seem to realize that I married her with the sole idea of getting free of all this sort of bother. As it is, I nearly die once a year in the attempt to fill up my income-tax form. Any traffic in insurance cards would, my doctor says, be absolutely fatal.

However, something had to be done. Last week I went into a neighbouring post-office in order to send a telegram. The post-office is an annexe of the grocer's where the sardines come from on Jane's cinema evening. Having sent the telegram, I took a sudden desperate resolve. I--I myself--would do something.

"I want," I said bravely, "an insurance stamp."

"Sixpenny or sevenpenny?" said the girl, trying to put me off my balance at the very beginning.

"What's the difference?" I asked. "You needn't say a penny, because that is obvious."

However, she had no wish to be funny.

"Sevenpenny for men-servants, sixpenny for women," she explained.

I wasn't going to give away our domestic arrangements to so near a neighbour.

"Three sixpenny and four sevenpenny," I said casually, flicking the dust off my shoes with a handkerchief. "Tut, tut, I was forgetting Thomas," I added. "Five sevenpenny."

I took the stamps home and showered them on Celia.

"You see," I said, "it's not really difficult."

"Oh, you angel! What do I do with them?"

"Stick them on Jane," I said grandly. "Dot them about the house. Stamp your letters with them--I can always get you plenty more."

"Didn't you get a card too?"

"N-no. No, I didn't. The fact is, it's your turn now, Celia. _You_ get the card."

"Oh, all right. I--er--suppose you just ask for a--a card?"

"I suppose so. And--er--choose a doctor, and--er--decide on an approved society, and--er--explain why it is you hadn't got a card before, and--er---- Well, anyhow, it's your turn now, Celia."

"It's really still Jane's turn," said Celia, "only she's so stupid about it."

But she turned out to be not so stupid as we thought. For yesterday there came a ring at the bell. Feeling instinctively that it was the inspector, Celia and I got behind the sofa ... and emerged some minutes later to find Jane alone in the room.

"Somebody come to see about an insurance card or something," she said. "I said you were both out, and would he come to-morrow."

Technically I suppose we _were_ both out. That is, we were not receiving.

"Thank you, Jane," I said stiffly. I turned to Celia. "There you are," I said. "To-morrow something _must_ be done."

"I always said I'd do it to-morrow," said Celia.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Missing Card