Published in Lady's Realm, November 1903
Collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991)
Approx. 3,100 words
(First read 13/05/1992)
As with others of EFB's 'special interest' stories¹, you don't absolutely have to be an expert or at least an initiate ~ but it would certainly help. All it is is a game ('rubber') of bridge in dialogue form. There's a bit of the usual epigrammatic banter between Lady Witham, the fiend of the title, and her pal Mrs Spencer at the beginning, and the interplay between the four players ~ the two men turn out to be far more vapid and distracting chatterboxes than the ladies ~ is vaguely amusing, but if you happen not to know how to play bridge², about 80% of it will go over the top of your head. It is at least fairly brief.
¹ The ones I can think of off-hand are George's Secret (1894: fishing) and The Valkyries (1903: cretinous operas).
² I tried teaching myself once but had to give it up due to a lack of: (1) three other people to play with; (2) an ability to absorb anything in How To Play Bridge; and (3) an overwhelming sense of tedium. Yes, I've always felt at something of a disadvantage when reading E. F. Benson, where the game often features pretty highly.
After dinner and before they sit down to their game, the bridge fiend and friend comment on the trials of house-party life. The fiend speaks thusly:
Really, I think that to join in a flow of polite conversation is the most fatiguing thing that can happen to one ~ so enfeebling to the intellect, too, especially sitting in the open air. I have been flowing, leaking rather, for the last hour and a half. Well, a rubber will restore us, I hope.