I always think that visitors are charming “interruptions.” They are delightful when they arrive; they are equally delightful–perhaps more so–when they go. Only on the third day of their visit are they tiresome, and their qualities distinctly below the par we expected. Almost anybody can put up with almost anybody for three days. There is the delight of showing him over the house, bringing out all our treasures and listening the while our visitor shows us his envy (or his hypocrisy) by his compliments; there is the pleasure of taking him round the garden and pointing out our own pet plants and bulbs. Even the servants can keep smiling through three days of extra work. But the second night begins to see us becoming exhausted. We have said everything we wanted to say. We have taken him up to the attic and to the farthest ends of the pig sty, we have laid down the law concerning our own pet enthusiasms and tolerated him while he told us about his own. But a sense of boredom begins to creep into our hearts at the end of the second evening, which, if there were not the pleasure of bidding him “Good-bye” on the morrow to keep our spirits up, would end in exasperation to be fought down and a yawn to be suppressed. The man who invented “long visits” ought to be made to spend them for the rest of his life as a punishment. There is only one thing longer–though it sounds rather like a paradox to say so–and that is a “long day.” To “spend a long day” with anyone sees both you and your hostess “sold up” long before the evening. Happily, that infliction is a country form of entertainment, and is reserved principally for relations and family friends who might otherwise expect us to ask them for a month.
You see, most of us are creatures possessing habits as well as a liver. Visitors are a fearful strain on both–after forty-eight hours. The strain of appearing at our most hospitable and best–from the breakfast egg in the morning to the “nightcap” at night–is one which only those who are given a bed-sitting-room and a door with a key in it can come through triumphantly. Visitors usually have nothing to do, while we have our own work–and the two can rarely mate for long. Of course, there are visitors who seem born with a gift for visiting; they give us of their brightest and best for forty-eight hours and have “letters to write” up in their bedroom during most of the subsequent days of their sojourn. Also there are hostesses who seem born with the “smile of cordiality” fixed on to their mouths. They also give of their best and brightest for forty-eight hours and then, metaphorically, give their guests a latch-key and a time-table of meals, and wash their hands of them until they meet again on the door-step of “farewell.” But the majority of visitors seem incapable of leading their own lives in any house except their own. They follow you about and wait for you at odd corners, until you are either driven to committing murder or going out to the post-office to send a telegram to yourself killing off a great aunt and giving an early date for her funeral. Also there are some hostesses who cannot let their guests alone; who must always be asking them “What are they going to do to-day,” or telling them not to forget that Lady Sploshykins is coming to tea especially to meet them! Frantic for our entertainment, they invite all the dull people of the neighbourhood to meals, and drag us along with them to the dull people’s houses on the exchange visit. They are always terrified that we are “feeling it dull,” whereas the dulness really comes of our not being allowed to stupefy in peace.
“Never outstay your welcome” is one of the social adages I would impress upon all young people; and “Be extremely modest concerning the length to which that welcome would be likely to extend” is an addenda to it. Failing any other calculation, forty-eight hours of being a “fixture” and twelve hours of packing up are generally the safe limit. Following that advice, you will generally enjoy the dullest visit and will want to come again; following that advice, also, your hostess will enjoy seeing you and hope you will. Not to follow it is to risk losing a friend. Everybody hates the visitor who comes whenever he is asked and stays far too long when he arrives.