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Alice Sit-By-The-Fire by J. M. Barrie

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THE PLAYS OF J. M. BARRIE

ALICE SIT-BY-THE-FIRE

I

One would like to peep covertly into Amy's diary (octavo, with the
word 'Amy' in gold letters wandering across the soft brown leather
covers, as if it was a long word and, in Amy's opinion, rather a
dear). To take such a liberty, and allow the reader to look over our
shoulders, as they often invite you to do in novels (which, however,
are much more coquettish things than plays) would be very helpful to
us; we should learn at once what sort of girl Amy is, and why to-day
finds her washing her hair. We should also get proof or otherwise,
that we are interpreting her aright; for it is our desire not to
record our feelings about Amy, but merely Amy's feelings about
herself; not to tell what we think happened, but what Amy thought
happened. The book, to be sure, is padlocked, but we happen to know
where it is kept. (In the lower drawer of that hand-painted
escritoire.) Sometimes in the night Amy, waking up, wonders whether
she did lock her diary, and steals downstairs in white to make sure.
On these occasions she undoubtedly lingers among the pages, re-reading
the peculiarly delightful bit she wrote yesterday; so we could peep
over her shoulder, while the reader peeps over ours. Then why don't we
do it? Is it because this would be a form of eavesdropping, and that
we cannot be sure our hands are clean enough to turn the pages of a
young girl's thoughts? It cannot be that, because the novelists do it.
It is because in a play we must tell nothing that is not revealed by
the spoken words; you must find out all you want to know from them;
there is no weather even in plays nowadays except in melodrama; the
novelist can have sixteen chapters about the hero's grandparents, but
we cannot even say he had any unless he says it himself. There can be
no rummaging in the past for us to show what sort of people our
characters are; we are allowed only to present them as they toe the
mark; then the handkerchief falls, and off they go.

So now we know why we must not spy into Amy's diary. Perhaps we have
not always been such sticklers for the etiquette of the thing; but we
are always sticklers on Thursdays, and this is a Thursday.

As you are to be shown Amy's room, we are permitted to describe it,
though not to tell (which would be much more interesting) why a girl
of seventeen has, as her very own, the chief room of a house. The
moment you open the door of this room (and please, you are not to look
consciously at the escritoire as if you knew the diary was in it) you
are aware, though Amy may not be visible, that there is an uncommonly
clever girl in the house. The door does not always open easily,
because attached thereto is a curtain which frequently catches in it,
and this curtain is hand-sewn (extinct animals); indeed a gifted
woman's touch is everywhere; if you are not hand-sewn you are almost
certainly hand-painted, but incompletely, for Amy in her pursuit of
the arts has often to drop one in order to keep pace with another.
Some of the chairs have escaped as yet, but their time will come. The
table-cover and the curtains are of a lovely pink, perforated
ingeniously with many tiny holes, which when you consider them against
a dark background, gradually assume the appearance of something
pictorial, such as a basket of odd flowers. The fender stool is in
brown velvet, and there are words on it that invite you to sit down.
Some of the letters of this message have been burned away. There are
artistic white bookshelves hanging lopsidedly here and there, and they
also have pink curtains, no larger than a doll's garments. These
little curtains are for covering the parts where there are no books as
yet. The pictures on the walls are mostly studies done at school, and
include the well-known windmill, and the equally popular old lady by
the shore. Their frames are of fir-cones, glued together, or of straws
which have gone limp, and droop like streaks of macaroni. There is a
cosy corner; also a milking-stool, but no cow. The lampshades have had
ribbons added to them, and from a distance look like ladies of the
ballet. The flower-pot also is in a skirt. Near the door is a large
screen, such as people hide behind in the more ordinary sort of play;
it will be interesting to see whether we can resist the temptation to
hide some one behind it.

A few common weeds rear their profane heads in this innocent garden;
for instance a cruet-stand, a basket of cutlery, and a triangular dish
of the kind in which the correct confine cheese. They have not strayed
here, they live here; indeed this is among other things the dining-
room of a modest little house in Brompton made beautiful, or nearly
so, by a girl, who has a soul above food and conceals its accessories
as far as possible from view, in drawers, even in the waste-paper
basket. Not a dish, not a spoon, not a fork, is hand-painted, a
sufficient indication of her contempt for them.

Amy is present, but is not seen to the best advantage, for she hasbeen
washing her hair, and is now drying it by the fire. Notable among
her garments are a dressing-jacket and a towel, and her head is bent
so far back over the fire that we see her face nearly upside-down.
This is no position in which we can do justice to her undoubted facial
charm. Seated near her is her brother Cosmo, a boy of thirteen, in
naval uniform. Cosmo is a cadet at Osborne, and properly proud of his
station, but just now he looks proud of nothing. He is plunged in
gloom. The cause of his woe is a telegram, which he is regarding from
all points of the compass, as if in hopes of making it send him better
news. At last he gives expression to his feelings. 'All I can say,' he
sums up in the first words of the play, 'is that if father tries to
kiss me, I shall kick him.'

If Amy makes any reply the words arrive upside-down and are
unintelligible. The maid announces Miss Dunbar. Then Amy rises, brings
her head to the position in which they are usually carried; and she
and Ginevra look into each other's eyes. They always do this when they
meet, though they meet several times a day, and it is worth doing, for
what they see in those pellucid pools is love eternal. Thus they loved
at school (in their last two terms), and thus they will love till the
grave encloses them. These thoughts, and others even more beautiful,
are in their minds as they gaze at each other now. No man will ever be
able to say 'Amy,' or to say 'Ginevra,' with such a trill as they are
saying it.

'Ginevra, my beloved.'

'My Amy, my better self.'

'My other me.'

There is something almost painful in love like this.

'Are you well, Ginevra?'

'Quite well, Amy.'

Heavens, the joy of Amy because Ginevra is quite well.

'How did my Amy sleep?'

'I had a good night.'

How happy is Ginevra because Amy has had a good night. All this time
they have been slowly approaching each other, drawn by a power
stronger than themselves. Their intention is to kiss. They do so.
Cosmo snorts, and betakes himself to some other room, his bedroom
probably, where a man may be alone with mannish things, his razor, for
instance. The maidens do not resent his rudeness. They know that poor
Cosmo's time will come, and they are glad to be alone, for they have
much to say that is for no other mortal ears. Some of it is sure to go
into the diary; indeed if we were to put our ear to the drawer where
the diary is we could probably hear its little heart ticking in unison
with theirs.

It is Ginevra who speaks first. She is indeed the bolder of the two.
She grips Amy's hand and says quite firmly, 'Amy, shall we go to
_another_ to-night?' This does not puzzle Amy, she is prepared for it,
her honest grey eyes even tell that she has wanted it, but now that it
is come she quails a little. 'Another theatre?' she murmurs.
'Ginevra, that would be five in one week.'

Ginevra does not blanch. 'Yes,' she says recklessly, 'but it is also
only eight in seventeen years.'

'Isn't it,' says Amy, comforted. 'And they have taught us so much,
haven't they? Until Monday, dear, when we went to our first real play
we didn't know what Life is.'

'We were two raw, unbleached school-girls, Amy--absolutely
unbleached.'

It is such a phrase as this that gives Ginevra the moral ascendancy in
their discussions.

'Of course,' Amy ventures, looking perhaps a little unbleached even
now, 'of course I had my diary, dear, and I do think that, even before
Monday, there were things in it of a not wholly ordinary kind.'

'Nothing,' persists Ginevra cruelly, 'that necessitated your keeping
it locked.'

'No, I suppose not,' sadly enough. 'You are quite right, Ginevra. But
we have made up for lost time. Every night since Monday, including the
matinee, has been a revelation.'

She closes her eyes so that she may see the revelations more clearly.
So does Ginevra.

'Amy, that heart-gripping scene when the love-maddened woman visited
the _man_ in his _chambers_.'

'She wasn't absolutely love-maddened, Ginevra; she really loved her
husband best all the time.'

'Not till the last act, darling.'

'Please don't say it, Ginevra. She was most foolish, especially in the
crepe de chine, but _we_ know that she only went to the man's chambers
to get back her letters. How I trembled for her then.'

'I was strangely calm,' says Ginevra the stony hearted.

'Oh, Ginevra, I had such a presentiment that the husband would call at
those chambers while she was there. And he did. Ginevra, you remember
his knock upon the door. Surely you trembled then?'

Ginevra knits her lips triumphantly.

'Not even then, Amy. Somehow I felt sure that in the nick of time her
lady friend would step out from somewhere and say that the letters
were _hers_.'

'Nobly compromising herself, Ginevra.'

'Amy, how I love that bit where she says so unexpectedly, with noble
self-renunciation, "He is my affianced husband."'

'Isn't it glorious. Strange, Ginevra, that it happened in each play.'

'That was because we always went to the thinking theatres, Amy. Real
plays are always about a lady and two men; and alas, only one of them
is her husband. That is Life, you know. It is called the odd, odd
triangle.'

'Yes, I know.' Appealingly, 'Ginevra, I hope it wasn't wrong of me to
go. A month ago I was only a school-girl.'

'We both were.' 'Yes, but you are now an art student, in lodgings,
with a latchkey of your own; you have no one dependent on you, while I
have a brother and sister to--to form.'

'You must leave it to the Navy, dear, to form Cosmo, if it can; and as
the sister is only a baby, time enough to form her when she can exit
from her pram.'

'I am in a mother's place for the time being, Ginevra.'

'Even mothers go to thinking theatres.'

'Whether mine does, Ginevra, I don't even know. This is a very strange
position I am in, awaiting the return from India of parents I have not
seen since I was twelve years old. I don't even know if they will like
the house. The rent is what they told me to give, but perhaps my
scheme of decoration won't appeal to them; they may think my
housekeeping has been defective, and may not make allowance for my
being so new to it.'

Ginevra takes Amy in her arms. 'My ownest Amy, if they are not both on
their knees to you for the noble way in which you have striven to
prepare this house for them--'

'Darling Ginevra, all I ask is to be allowed to do my duty.'

'Listen, then, Amy: your duty is to be able to help your parents in
every way when they return. Your mother having been so long in India
can know little about Life; how sweet, then, for you to be able to
place your knowledge at her feet.'

'I had thought of that, dearest.'

'Then Amy, it would be simply wrong of us not to go to another theatre
to-night. I have three and ninepence, so that if you can scrape
together one and threepence--'

'Generous girl, it can't be.'

'Why not, Amy?'

The return of Cosmo handling the telegram more pugnaciously than ever
provides the answer.

'Cosmo, show Miss Dunbar the telegram.'

Miss Dunbar reads: 'Boat arrived Southampton this morning.'

'A day earlier than they expected,' Amy explains.

'It's the other bit I am worrying about,' Cosmo says darkly. The other
bit proves to be 'Hope to reach our pets this afternoon. Kisses from
both to all. Deliriously excited. Mummy and Dad.'

Now we see why Cosmo has been in distress.

'Pets, kisses,' he cries. 'What can the telegraph people think.'

'Surely,' Amy says, 'you want to kiss your mother.'

'I'm going to kiss her,' he replies stoutly. 'I mean to do it. It's
father I am worrying about; with his "kisses to _both_ from _all_." All
I can say is that, if father comes slobbering over me, I'll surprise
him.'

Here the outer door slams, and the three start to their feet as if
Philippi had dawned. To Cosmo the slam sounds uncommonly like a
father's kiss. He immediately begins to rehearse the greeting which is
meant to ward off the fatal blow. 'How are you, father? I'm glad to
see you, father; it's a long journey from India; won't you sit down?'

Amy is the first to recover. 'How silly of us,' she says; 'it is only
nurse with baby.'

Presumably what we hear is a perambulator backing into its stall in
the passage. Then nurse is distinctly heard in the adjoining room, and
we may gather that this is for the nonce the nursery of the house,
though to most occupants it would be the back dining-room. There is a
door between the two rooms, and Cosmo, peeping through a chink in it,
sounds to his fellow-conspirators the All's Well.

'Poor nurse,' Amy says with a kind sigh, 'I suppose I had better show
her the telegram. She is sure to cry. She looks upon mother as a thief
who has come to steal baby from her.'

Ginevra wags her head to indicate that this is another slice of Life;
and nurse being called in is confronted with the telegram. She runs a
gamut of emotion without words, implies that she is nobody and must
submit, nods humbly, sets her teeth, is both indignant and servile,
and finally bursts into tears. Amy tries to comfort her, but gets this
terrible answer: 'They'll be bringing a black woman to nurse her--a
yah-yah they call them.'

Amy signs to Ginevra, and Ginevra signs to Amy. These two souls
perfectly understand each other, and the telegraphy means that it will
be better for dear Ginevra to retire for a time to dear Amy's sweet
little bedroom. Amy slips the diary into the hand of Ginevra, who pops
upstairs with it to read the latest instalment. Nurse rambles on. 'I
have had her for seventeen months. She was just two months old, the
angel, when they sent her to England, and she has been mine ever
since. The most of them has one look for their mammas and one look for
their nurse, but she knew no better than to have both looks for me.'
She returns to the nursery, wailing 'My reign is over.'

'Do you think Molly _will_ chuck nurse for mother?' asks Cosmo, to whom
this is a new thought.

'It is the way of children,' the more experienced Amy tells him.

'Shabby little beasts,' the man says.

'You mustn't say that, Cosmo; but still it is hard on nurse. Of
course,' with swimming eyes, 'in a sense it's hard on all of us--I
mean to be expecting parents in these circumstances. There must be
almost the same feeling of strangeness in the house as when it is a
baby that is expected.'

'I suppose it is a bit like that,' Cosmo says gloomily. He goes to her
as the awfulness of this sinks into him: 'Great Scott, Amy, it can't
be quite so bad as that.'

Amy, who is of a very affectionate nature, is glad to have the comfort
of his hand.

'What do we really know about mother, Cosmo?' she says darkly.

They are perhaps a touching pair.

'There are her letters, Amy.'

'Can one know a person by letters? Does she know you, Cosmo, by your
letters to her, saying that your motto is "Something attempted,
something done to earn a night's repose," and so on.'

'Well, I thought that would please her.'

'Perhaps in her letters she says things just to please us.'

Cosmo wriggles.

'This is pretty low of you, damping a fellow when he was trying to
make the best of it.'

'All I want you to feel,' Amy says, getting closer to him, 'is that as
brother and sister, we are allies, you know--against the unknown.'

'Yes, Amy,' Cosmo says, and gets closer to her.

This so encourages her that she hastens to call him 'dear.'

'I want to say, dear, that I'm very sorry I used to shirk bowling to
you.'

'That's nothing. I know what girls are. Amy, it's all right, I really
am fond of you.'

'I have tried to be a sort of mother to you, Cosmo.'

'My socks and things--I know.' Returning anxiously to the greater
question, 'Amy, do we know anything of them at all?'

'We know some cold facts, of course. We know that father is much older
than mother.'

'I can't understand why such an old chap should be so keen to kiss
me.'

'Mother is forty,' Amy says in a low voice.

'I thought she was almost more than forty,' Cosmo says in a still
lower voice.

Amy shudders. 'Don't be so ungenerous, Cosmo.' But she has to add. 'Of
course we must be prepared to see her look older.'

'Why?'

'She will be rather yellow, coming from India, you know. They will
both be a little yellow.'

They exchange forlorn glances, but Cosmo says manfully, 'We shan't be
any the less fond of them for that, Amy.'

'No, indeed.'

They clasp hands on it, and Cosmo has an inspiration.

'Do you think we should have these yellow flowers in the room? They
might feel--eh?' 'How thoughtful of you, dear. I shall remove them at
once. After all, Cosmo, we seem to know a good deal about them; and
then we know some other things by heredity.'

'Heredity? That's drink, isn't it?'

She who has been to so many theatres smiles at him. 'No, you boy! It's
something in a play. It means that if we know ourselves well, we know
our parents also. From thinking of myself, Cosmo, I know mother. In
her youth she was one who did not love easily; but when she loved once
it was for aye. A nature very difficult to understand, but profoundly
interesting. I can feel her _within me_, as she was when she walked down
the aisle on that strong arm, to honour and obey him henceforth for aye.
What cared they that they had to leave their native land, they were
together for aye. And so--' Her face is flushed. Cosmo interrupts
selfishly.

'What about father?'

'Very nice, unless you mention rupees to him. You see the pensions of
all Indian officers are paid in rupees, which means that for every 2s.
due to them they get only 1s. 4d. If you mention rupees to any one of
them he flares up like a burning paper.'

'I know. I shall take care. But what would you say he was like by
heredity?'

'Quiet, unassuming, yet of an intensely proud nature. One who if he
was deceived would never face his fellow-creatures, but would bow his
head before the wind and die. A strong man.'

'Do you mean, Amy, that he takes all that from me?'

'I mean that is the sort of man _my_ mother would love.'

Cosmo nods. 'Yes, but he is just as likely to kiss me as ever.'

The return of Ginevra makes him feel that this room is no place for
him.

'I think,' he says, 'I'll go and walk up and down outside, and have a
look at them as they're getting out of the cab. My plan, you see, is
first to kiss mother. Then I've made up four things to say to father,
and it's after I've said them that the awkward time will come. So then
I say, "I wonder what is in the evening papers"; and out I slip, and
when I come back you will all have settled down to ordinary life, same
as other people. That's my plan.' He goes off, not without hope, and
Ginevra shrugs her shoulders forgivingly.

'How strange boys are,' she reflects. 'Have you any "plan," Amy?'

'Only this, dear Ginevra, to leap into my mother's arms.'

Ginevra lifts what can only be called a trouser leg, because that is
what it is, though they are very seldom seen alone. 'What is this my
busy bee is making?'

'It's a gentleman's leg,' Amy explains, not without a sweet blush.
'You hand-sew them and stretch them over a tin cylinder, and they are
then used as umbrella stands. _Art in the Home_ says they are all
the rage.'

'Oh, Amy, _Boudoir Gossip_ says they have quite gone out.'

'Again! Every art decoration I try goes out before I have time to
finish it.'

She remembers the diary.

'Did my Ginevra like my new page?'

'Dearest, that is what I came down to speak about. You forgot to give
me the key.'

'Ginevra, can you ever forgive me? Let us go up and read it together.'

With arms locked they seek the seclusion of Amy's bedroom. Cosmo
rushes in to tell them that there is a suspicious-looking cab coming
down the street, but finding the room empty he departs again to
reconnoitre. A cab draws up, a bell rings, and soon we hear the voice
of Colonel Grey. He can talk coherently to Fanny, he can lend a hand
in dumping down his luggage in the passage, he can select from a
handful of silver wherewith to pay his cabman: all impossible deeds to
his Alice, who would drop the luggage on your toes and cast all the
silver at your face rather than be kept another minute from her
darlings. 'Where are they?' she has evidently cried just before we see
her, and Fanny has made a heartless response, for it is a dejected
Alice that appears in the doorway of the room.

'_All_ out!' she echoes wofully, 'even--even baby?'

'Yes, ma'am.'

The poor mother, who had entered the house like a whirlwind, subsides
into a chair. Her arms fall empty by her side: a moment ago she had
six of them, a pair for each child. She cries a little, and when Alice
cries, which is not often for she is more given to laughter, her face
screws up like Molly's rather than like Amy's. She is very unlike the
sketch of her lately made by the united fancies of her son and
daughter; and she will dance them round the room many times before
they know her better. Amy will never be so pretty as her mother, Cosmo
will never be so gay, and it will be years before either of them is as
young. But it is quite a minute before we suspect this; we must look
the other way while the Colonel dries her tears. He is quite a
grizzled veteran, and is trying hard to pretend that having done
without his children for so many years, a few minutes more is no great
matter. His adorable Alice is this man's one joke. Some of those
furrows in his brow have come from trying to understand her, he owes
the agility of his mind to trying to keep up with her; the humorous
twist in his mouth is the result of chuckling over her.

She flutters across the room. 'Robert,' she says, thrilling. 'I
daresay my Amy painted that table.'

'Yes, ma'am, she did,' says Fanny.

'Robert, Amy's table.'

'Yes, but keep cool, memsahib.'

'I suppose, ma'am, I'm to take my orders from you now,' the
hard-hearted Fanny inquires.

'I suppose so,' Alice says, so timidly that Fanny is encouraged to be
bold.

'The poor miss, it will be a bit trying for her just at first.'

Alice is taken aback.

'I hadn't thought of that, Robert.'

Robert thinks it time to take command.

'Fiddle-de-dee. Bring your mistress a cup of tea, my girl.'

'Yes, sir. Here is the tea-caddy, ma'am. I can't take the
responsibility; but this is the key.'

'Robert,' Alice says falteringly. 'I daren't break into Amy's caddy.
She mightn't like it. I can wait.'

'Rubbish. Give me the key.' Even Fanny cannot but admire the Colonel
as he breaks into the caddy.

'That makes me feel I'm master of my own house already. Don't stare at
me, girl, as if I was a housebreaker.'

'I feel that is just what we both are,' his wife says; but as soon as
they are alone she cries, 'It's home, home! India done, home begun.'

He is as glad as she.

'Home, memsahib. And we Ve never had a real one before. Thank God, I'm
able to give it you at last.'

She darts impulsively from one object in the room to another.

'Look, these pictures. I'm sure they are all Amy's work. They are
splendid.' With perhaps a moment's misgiving, 'Aren't they?'

'_I_ couldn't have done them,' the Colonel says guardedly. He
considers the hand-painted curtains. 'She seems to have stopped
everything in the middle. Still I couldn't have done them. I expect
this is what is called a cosy corner.'

But Alice has found something more precious. She utters little cries
of rapture.

'What is it?'

'Oh, Robert, a baby's shoe. My baby.' She presses it to her as if it
were a dove. Then she is appalled. 'Robert, if I had met my baby
coming along the street I shouldn't have known her from other people's
babies.'

'Yes, you would,' the Colonel says hurriedly. 'Don't break down
_now_. Just think, Alice; after to-day, you will know your baby
anywhere.'

'Oh joy, joy, joy.'

Then the expression of her face changes to 'Oh woe, woe, woe.'

'What is it now, Alice?'

'Perhaps she won't like me.' 'Impossible.'

'Perhaps none of them will like me.'

'My dear Alice, children always love their mother, whether they see
much of her or not. It's an instinct.'

'Who told you that?'

'You goose. It was yourself.'

'I've lost faith in it.'

He thinks it wise to sound a warning note. 'Of course you must give
them a little time.'

'Robert, Robert. Not another minute. That's not the way people ever
love me. They mustn't think me over first or anything of that sort. If
they do I'm lost; they must love me at once.'

'A good many have done that,' Robert says, surveying her quizzically
as if she were one of Amy's incompleted works.

'You are not implying, Robert, that I ever--. If I ever did I always
told you about it afterwards, didn't I? And I _certainly_ never
did it until I was sure you were comfortable.'

'You always wrapped me up first,' he admits.

'They were only boys, Robert--poor lonely boys. What are you looking
so solemn about, Robert?'

'I was trying to picture you as you will be when you settle down.'

She is properly abashed. 'Not settled down yet--with a girl nearly
grown up. And yet it's true; it's the tragedy of Alice Grey.' She
pulls his hair. 'Oh, husband, when shall I settle down?'

'I can tell you exactly--in a year from to-day. Alice, when I took you
away to that humdrummy Indian station I was already quite a middle-aged
bloke. I chuckled over your gaiety, but it gave me lumbago to try to
be gay with you. Poor old girl, you were like an only child who has
to play alone. When for one month in the twelve we went to--to--where
the boys were, it was like turning you loose in a sweet-stuff shop.'

'Robert, darling, what nonsense you do talk.'

He makes rather a wry face. 'I didn't always like it, memsahib. But I
knew my dear, and could trust her; and I often swore to myself when I
was shaving, "I won't ask her to settle down until I have given her a
year in England." A year from to-day, you harum-scarum. By that time
your daughter will be almost grown-up herself; and it wouldn't do to
let her pass you.'

'Robert, here is an idea; she and I shall come of age together. I
promise; or I shall try to keep one day in front of her, like the
school-mistresses when they are teaching boys Latin. Dearest, you
haven't been disappointed in me as a whole, have you? I haven't paid
you for all your dear kindnesses to me--in rupees, have I?'

His answer is of no consequence, for at this moment there arrives a
direct message from heaven. It comes by way of the nursery, and is a
child's cry. The heart of Alice Grey stops beating for several
seconds. Then it says, 'My Molly!' The nurse appears, starts, and is
at once on the defensive.

NURSE. 'Is it--Mrs. Grey?'

ALICE hastily, 'Yes. Is my--child in there?'

NURSE. 'Yes, ma'am.'

COLONEL, ready to catch her if she falls, 'Alice, be calm.'

ALICE, falteringly, 'May I go in, nurse?'

NURSE, cold-heartedly, 'She's sleeping, ma'am, and I have made it a
rule to let her wake up naturally. But I daresay it's a bad rule.'

ALICE, her hands on her heart, 'I'm sure it's a good rule. I shan't
wake her, nurse.'

COLONEL, showing the stuff he is made of, 'Gad, _I_ will. It's
the least she can do to let herself be wakened.'

ALICE, admiring the effrontery of the man, 'Don't interfere, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'Sleeping? Why, she cried just now.'

NURSE. 'That is why I came out--to see who was making so much noise.'

An implacable woman this, and yet when she is alone with Molly a very
bundle of delight.

'I'm vexed when she cries--I daresay it's old-fashioned of me. Not
being a yah-yah I'm at a disadvantage.'

ALICE, swelling, 'After all, she is _my_ child.'

COLONEL, firmly, 'Come along. Alice,'

ALICE. 'I would prefer to go alone, dear.'

COLONEL. 'All right. But break it to her that I'm kicking my heels
outside.'

Alice gets as far as the door. The nurse discharges a last duty.

NURSE. 'You won't touch her, ma'am; she doesn't like to be touched by
strangers.'

ALICE. 'Strangers!'

COLONEL. 'Really, nurse.'

ALICE. 'It's quite true.'

NURSE. 'She's an angel if you have the right way with her.'

ALICE. 'Robert, if I shouldn't have the right way with her.'

COLONEL. 'You.'

But the woman has scored again.

ALICE, willing to go on her knees, 'Nurse, what sort of a way does she
like from strangers?'

NURSE. 'She's not fond of a canoodlin' way.'

ALICE, faintly, 'Is she not?'

She departs to face her child, and the natural enemy follows her,
after giving Colonel Grey a moment in which to discharge her if he
dares, that is if he wishes to see his baby wither and die. One may as
well say here that nurse weathered this and many another gale, and
remained in the house for many years to be its comfort and its curse.

Fanny, with the tea-tray, comes and goes without the Colonel's being
aware of her presence. He merely knows that he has waved someone away.
The fact is that the Colonel is engrossed in a rather undignified
pursuit. He is listening avidly at the nursery door, and is thus
discovered by another member of his family who has entered cautiously.
This is Master Cosmo, who, observing the tea-tray, has the happy
notion of interposing it between himself and his father's possible
osculatory intentions. He lifts the tray, and thus armed introduces
himself.

COSMO. 'Hullo, father.'

His father leaves the door and strides to him.

COLONEL. 'Is it--it's Cosmo.'

COSMO, with the tray well to the fore, 'I'm awfully glad to see
you--it's a long way from India.'

COLONEL. 'Put that down, my boy, and let me get hold of you.'

COSMO, ingratiatingly, 'Have some tea, father.'

COLONEL. 'Put it down.'

Cosmo does so, and prepares for the worst. The Colonel takes both his
hands.

'Let's have a look at you. So this is you.'

He waggles his head, well-pleased, while Cosmo backs in a gentlemanly
manner.

COSMO, implying that this first meeting is now an affair of the past,
'Has Mother gone to lie down?'

COLONEL. 'Lie down? She's in there.'

Cosmo steals to the nursery door and softly closes it.

'Why do you do that?'

COSMO. 'I don't know. I thought it would be--best.' In a burst of
candour, 'This is not the way I planned it, you see.'

COLONEL. 'Our meeting? So you've been planning it. My dear fellow, I
was planning it too, and my plan--' He is certainly coming closer.

COSMO, hurriedly, 'Yes, I know. Now that's over--our first meeting, I
mean; now we settle down.'

COLONEL. 'Not yet. Come here, my boy.'

He draws him to a chair; he evidently thinks that a father and his boy
of thirteen can sit in the same chair. Cosmo is burning to be nice to
him, but of course there are limits.

COSMO. 'Look here, father. Of course, you see--ways change. I daresay
they did it, when you were a boy, but it isn't done now.'

COLONEL. 'What isn't done, you dear fellow?'

COSMO. 'Oh--well!--and then taking both hands and saying 'Dear
fellow'--'It's gone out, you know.'

The Colonel chuckles and forbears. 'I'm uncommon glad you told me,
Cosmo. Not having been a father for so long, you see, I'm rather raw
at it.'

COSMO, relieved, 'That's all right. You'll soon get the hang of it.'

COLONEL. 'If you could give me any other tips?'

COSMO, becoming confidential, 'Well, there's my beastly name. Of
course you didn't mean any harm when you christened me Cosmo, but--I
always sign myself "C. Grey"--to make the fellows think I'm Charles.'

COLONEL. 'Do they call you that?'

COSMO. 'Lord, no, they call me Grey.'

COLONEL. 'And do you want me to call you Grey?'

COSMO, magnanimously, 'No, I don't expect that. But I thought that
before people, you know, you needn't call me anything. If you want to
attract my attention you could just say "Hst!"--like that.'

COLONEL. 'Right you are. But you won't make your mother call you Hst.'

COSMO, sagaciously, 'Oh no--of course women are different.'

COLONEL. 'You'll be very nice to her, Cosmo? She had to pinch and save
more than I should have allowed--to be able to send you into the navy.
We are poor people, you know.'

COSMO. 'I've been planning how to be nice to her.'

COLONEL. 'Good lad. Good lad.'

Cosmo remembers his conversation with Amy, and thoughtfully hides the
'yellow flowers' behind a photograph. This may be called one of his
plans for being nice to mother.

COSMO. 'You don't have your medals here, father?'

COLONEL. 'No, I don't carry them about. But your mother does, the
goose. They are not very grand ones, Cosmo.'

COSMO, true blue, 'Yes, they are.'

An awkward silence falls. The Colonel has so much to say that he can
only look it. He looks it so eloquently that Cosmo's fears return. He
summons the plan to his help.

'I wonder what is in the evening papers. If you don't mind, I'll cut
out and get one.'

Before he can cut out, however, Alice is in the room, the picture of
distress. No wonder, for even we can hear the baby howling.

ALICE, tragically, 'My baby. Robert, listen; that is how I affect
her.'

Cosmo cowers unseen.

COLONEL. 'No, no, darling, it isn't you who have made her cry. She--she
is teething. It's her teeth, isn't it?' he barks at the nurse, who
emerges looking not altogether woeful. 'Say it's her teeth, woman.'

NURSE, taking this as a reflection on her charge. 'She had her teeth
long ago.'

ALICE, the forlorn, 'The better to bite me with.'

NURSE, complacently, 'I don't understand it. She is usually the
best-tempered lamb--as you may see for yourself, sir.'

It is an imitation that the Colonel is eager to accept, but after one
step toward the nursery he is true to Alice.

COLONEL. 'I _decline_ to see her. I refuse to have anything to do with
her till she comes to a more reasonable frame of mind.'

The nurse retires, to convey possibly this ultimatum to her charge.

ALICE, in the noblest spirit of self-abnegation, 'Go, Robert. Perhaps
she--will like you better.'

COLONEL. 'She's a contemptible child.'

But that nursery door does draw him strongly. He finds himself getting
nearer and nearer to it. 'I'll show her,' with a happy pretence that
his object is merely to enforce discipline. The forgotten Cosmo pops
up again; the Colonel introduces him with a gesture and darts off to
his baby.

ALICE, entranced, 'My son!'

COSMO, forgetting all plans, 'Mother!' She envelops him in her arms,
worshipping him, and he likes it.

ALICE. 'Oh, Cosmo--how splendid you are.'

COSMO, soothingly, 'That's all right, mother.'

ALICE. 'Say it again.'

COSMO. 'That's all right.'

ALICE. 'No, the other word.'

COSMO. 'Mother.'

ALICE. 'Again.'

COSMO. 'Mother--mother--' When she has come to: 'Are you better now?'

ALICE. 'He is my son, and he is in uniform.'

COSMO, aware that allowances must be made, 'Yes, I know.'

ALICE. 'Are you glad to see your mother, Cosmo?''

COSMO. 'Rather! Will you have some tea?'

ALICE. 'No, no, I feel I can do nothing for the rest of my life but
hug my glorious boy.'

COSMO. 'Of course, I have my work.'

ALICE. 'His work! Do the officers love you, Cosmo?'

COSMO, degraded, 'Love me! I should think not.'

ALICE, 'I should like to ask them all to come and stay with us.'

COSMO, appalled, 'Great Scott, mother, you can't do things like that.'

ALICE. 'Can't I? Are you very studious, Cosmo?'

COSMO, neatly, 'My favourite authors are William Shakespeare and
William Milton. They are grand, don't you think?'

ALICE. 'I'm only a woman, you see; and I'm afraid they sometimes boreme,
especially William Milton.'

COSMO, with relief, 'Do they? Me, too.'

ALICE, on the verge of tears again, 'But not half so much as I bore my
baby.'

COSMO, anxious to help her, 'What did you do to her?'

ALICE, appealingly, 'I couldn't help wanting to hold her in my arms,
could I, Cosmo?'

COSMO, full of consideration, 'No, of course you couldn't.' He
reflects. 'How did you take hold of her?'

ALICE. 'I suppose in some clumsy way.'

COSMO. 'Not like this, was it?'

ALICE, gloomily, 'I dare say.'

COSMO. 'You should have done it this way.'

He very kindly shows her how to carry a baby.

ALICE, with becoming humility, 'Thank you, Cosmo.'

He does not observe the gleam in her eye, and is in the high good
humour that comes to any man when any woman asks him to show her how
to do anything.

COSMO. 'If you like I'll show you with a cushion. You see this'--scoops
it up--'is wrong; but this'--he does a little sleight of hand--'is
right. Another way is this, with their head hanging over your shoulder,
and you holding on firmly to their legs. You wouldn't think it was
comfortable, but they like it.'

ALICE, adoring him. 'I see, Cosmo.' She practises diligently with the
cushion. 'First this way--then this.'

COSMO. 'That's first-class. It's just a knack. You'll soon pick it
up.'

ALICE, practising on him instead of the cushion, 'You darling boy!'

COSMO. 'I think I hear a boy calling the evening papers.'

ALICE, clinging to him, 'Don't go. There can be nothing in the evening
papers about what my boy thinks of his mother.'

COSMO. 'Good lord, no.' He thinks quickly. 'You haven't seen Amy yet.
It isn't fair of Amy. She should have been here to take some of it off
me.'

ALICE. 'Cosmo, you don't mean that I bore you too!'

He is pained. It is now he who boldly encircles her. But his words,
though well meant, are not so happy as his action. 'I love you,
mother; and _I_ don't think you're so yellow.'

ALICE, the belle of many stations, 'Yellow?' Her brain reels. 'Cosmo,
do you think me plain?'

COSMO, gallantly, 'No, I don't. I'm not one of the kind who judge
people by their looks. The soul, you know, is what I judge them by.'

ALICE. 'Plain? Me.'

COSMO, the comforter, 'Of course it's all right for girls to bother
about being pretty.' He lures her away from the subject. 'I can tell
you a funny thing about that. We had theatricals at Osborne one night,
and we played a thing called "The Royal Boots."'

ALICE, clapping her hands, '_I_ played in that, too, last year.'

COSMO. 'You?'

ALICE. 'Yes. Why shouldn't I?'

COSMO. 'But we did it for fun.'

ALICE. 'So did we.'

COSMO, his views on the universe crumbling, 'You still like fun?'

ALICE. 'Take care, Cosmo.'

COSMO. 'But you're our mother.'

ALICE. 'Mustn't mothers have fun?

COSMO, heavily, 'Must they? I see. You had played the dowager.

ALICE. 'No, I didn't. I played the girl in the Wellington boots.'

COSMO, blinking, 'Mother, _I_ played the girl in the Wellington boots.'

ALICE, happily, 'My son--this ought to bring us closer together.'

COSMO, who has not yet learned to leave well alone, 'But the reason I
did it was that we were all boys. Were there no young ladies where you
did it, mother?'

ALICE. 'Cosmo.' She is not a tamed mother yet, and in sudden wrath she
flips his face with her hand. He accepts it as a smack. The Colonel
foolishly chooses this moment to make his return. He is in high
good-humour, and does not observe that two of his nearest relatives are
glaring at each other.

COLONEL, purring offensively, 'It's all right now, Alice; she took to
me at once.'

ALICE, tartly, 'Oh, did she!'

COLONEL. 'Gurgled at me--pulled my moustache.'

ALICE. 'I hope you got on with our dear son as well.'

COLONEL. 'Isn't he a fine fellow.'

ALICE. '_I_ have just been smacking his face,' She sits down and weeps,
while her son stands haughtily at attention.

COLONEL, with a groan, 'Hst, I think you had better go and get that
evening paper.'

Cosmo departs with his flag flying, and the bewildered husband seeks
enlightenment.

'Smacked his face. But why, Alice?'

ALICE. 'He infuriated me.'

COLONEL. 'He seems such a good boy.'

ALICE, the lowly, 'No doubt he is. It must be very trying to have me
for a mother.'

COLONEL. 'Perhaps you were too demonstrative?'

ALICE. 'I daresay. A woman he doesn't know! No wonder I disgusted
him.'

COLONEL. 'I can't make it out.'

ALICE, abjectly, 'It's quite simple. He saw through me at once; so did
baby.'

The Colonel flings up his hands. He hears whisperings outside the
door. He peeps and returns excitedly.

COLONEL. 'Alice, there's a girl there with Cosmo.'

ALICE, on her feet, with a cry, 'Amy.'

COLONEL, trembling, 'I suppose so.'

ALICE, gripping him, 'Robert, if _she_ doesn't love me I shall die.'

COLONEL. 'She will, she will.' But he has grown nervous. 'Don't be too
demonstrative, dearest.'

ALICE. 'I shall try to be cold. Oh, Amy, love me.'

Amy comes, her hair up, and is at once in her father's arms. Then she
wants to leap into the arms of the mother who craves for her. But
Alice is afraid of being too demonstrative, and restrains herself. She
presses Amy's hands only.

ALICE. 'It is you, Amy. How are you, dear?' She ventures at last to
kiss her. 'It is a great pleasure to your father and me to see you
again.'

AMY, damped, 'Thank you, mother----Of course I have been looking
forward to this meeting very much also.'

ALICE, shuddering, 'It is very sweet of you to say so.'

'Oh how cold,' they are both thinking, while the Colonel regards them
uncomfortably. Amy turns to him. She knows already that there is safe
harbourage there.

AMY. 'Would you have known me, father?'

COLONEL. 'I wonder. She's not like you, Alice?'

ALICE. 'No. _I_ used to be demonstrative, Amy----'

AMY, eagerly, 'Were you?'

ALICE, hurriedly, 'Oh, I grew out of it long ago.'

AMY, disappointed but sympathetic, 'The wear and tear of life.'

ALICE, wincing, 'No doubt.'

AMY, making conversation, 'You have seen Cosmo?'

ALICE. 'Yes.'

AMY, with pardonable curiosity, 'What did you think of him?'

ALICE. 'He--seemed a nice boy----'

AMY, hurt, 'And baby?'

ALICE. 'Yes--oh yes.'

AMY. 'Isn't she fat?'

ALICE. 'Is she?'

The nurse's head intrudes.

NURSE. 'If you please, sir--I think baby wants _you_ again.'

The Colonel's face exudes complacency, but he has the grace to falter.

COLONEL. 'What do you think, Alice?'

ALICE, broken under the blow, 'By all means go.'

COLONEL. 'Won't you come also? Perhaps if I am with you--'

ALICE, after giving him an annihilating look, 'No, I-I had quite a
long time with her.'

The Colonel tiptoes off to his babe with a countenance of foolish
rapture; and mother and daughter are alone.

AMY, wishing her father would come back, 'You can't have been very
long with baby, mother.'

ALICE. 'Quite long enough.'

AMY. 'Oh.' Some seconds elapse before she can speak again. 'You will
have some tea, won't you?'

ALICE. 'Thank you, dear.' They sit down to a chilly meal.

AMY, merely a hostess, 'Both milk and sugar.'

ALICE, merely a guest, 'No sugar.'

AMY. 'I hope you will like the house, mother.'

ALICE. 'I am sure you have chosen wisely. I see you are artistic.'

AMY. 'The decoration isn't finished. I haven't quite decided what this
room is to be like yet.'

ALICE. 'One never can tell.'

AMY, making conversation, 'Did you notice that there is a circular
drive to the house?'

ALICE. 'No, I didn't notice.'

AMY. 'That would be because the cab filled it; but you can see it if
you are walking.'

ALICE. 'I shall look out for it.' Grown desperate, 'Amy, have you
nothing more important to say to me?'

AMY, faltering, 'You mean--the keys? Here they are; all with labels on
them. And here are the tradesmen's books. They are all paid up to
Wednesday.' She sadly lets them go. They lie disregarded in her
mother's lap.

ALICE. 'Is there nothing else?'

AMY, with a flash of pride. 'Perhaps you have noticed that my hair is
up?'

ALICE. 'It so took me aback, Amy, when you came into the room. How
long have you had it up?'

AMY, with large eyes, 'Not very long. I--I began only to-day.'

ALICE, imploringly, 'Dear, put it down again. You are not grown up.'

AMY, almost sternly, 'I feel I am a woman now.'

ALICE, abject, 'A woman--you? Am I never to know my daughter as a
girl!

AMY. 'You were married before you were eighteen.'

ALICE. 'Ah, but I had no mother. And even at that age I knew the
world.'

AMY, smiling sadly, 'Oh, mother, not so well as I know it.'

ALICE, sharply, 'What can you know of the world?'

AMY, shuddering, 'More I hope, mother, than you will ever know.'

ALICE, alarmed, 'My child!' Seizing her: 'Amy, tell me what you know.'

AMY. 'Don't ask me, please. I have sworn not to talk of it.'

ALICE. 'Sworn? To whom?'

AMY. 'To another.'

Alice, with a sinking, pounces on her daughter's engagement finger;
but it is unadorned.

ALICE. 'Tell me, Amy, who is that other?'

AMY, bravely, 'It is our secret.'

ALICE. 'Amy, I beg you--'

AMY, a heroic figure, 'Dear mother, I am so sorry I must decline.'

ALICE. 'You defy me.' She takes hold of her daughter's shoulders.
'Amy, you drive me frantic. If you don't tell meat once I shall insist
on your father--. Oh, you--'

It is not to be denied that she is shaking Amy when the Colonel once
more intrudes.

COLONEL, aghast, 'Good heavens, Alice, again! Amy, what does this
mean?'

AMY, as she runs, insulted and in tears, from the room, 'It means,
father, that I love _you_ very much.'

COLONEL, badgered, 'Won't you explain, Alice?'

ALICE. 'Robert, I am in terror about Amy.'

COLONEL. 'Why?'

ALICE. 'Don't ask me, dear--not now--not till I have spoken to her
again.' She clings to her husband. 'Robert, there can't be anything in
it?'

COLONEL. 'If you mean anything wrong with our girl, there isn't,
memsahib. What great innocent eyes she has.'

ALICE, eagerly, 'Yes, yes, hasn't she, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'All's well with Amy, dear.'

ALICE. 'Of course it is. It was silly of me--My Amy.'

COLONEL. 'And mine.'

ALICE. 'But she seems to me hard to understand.' With her head on his
breast, 'I begin to feel Robert that I should have come back to my
children long ago--or I shouldn't have come back at all.'

The Colonel is endeavouring to soothe her when Stephen Rollo is shown
in. He is very young--too young to be a villain, too round-faced; but
he is all the villain we can provide for Amy. His entrance is less
ostentatious than it might be if he knew of the role that has been
assigned to him. He thinks indeed (sometimes with a sigh) that he is a
very good young man; and the Colonel and Alice (without the sigh)
think so too. After warm greetings:

STEVE. 'Alice, I daresay you wish me at Jericho; but it's six months
since I saw you, and I couldn't wait till to-morrow.'

ALICE, giving him her cheek, 'I believe there's someone in this house
glad to see me at last; and you may kiss me for that, Steve.'

STEVE, who has found the cheek wet, 'You are not telling me they don't
adore her?'

COLONEL. 'I can't understand it.'

STEVE. 'But by all the little gods of India, you know, everyone has
always adored Alice.'

ALICE, plaintively, 'That's why I take it so ill. Steve.'

STEVE. 'Can I do anything? See here, if the house is upside down and
you would like to get rid of the Colonel for an hour or two, suppose
he dines with me to-night? I'm dying to hear all the news of the
Punjab since I left.'

COLONEL, with an eye on the nursery door, 'No, Steve, I--the fact is--I
have an engagement.'

ALICE, vindictively, 'He means he can't leave the baby.'

STEVE. 'It has taken to _him_?'

COLONEL, swaggering, 'Enormously.'

ALICE, whimpering, 'They all have. He has stolen them from me. He has
taken up his permanent residence in the nursery.'

COLONEL. 'Pooh, fiddlededee. I shall probably come round to-night to
see you after dinner, Steve, and bring memsahib with me. In the
meantime--'

ALICE, whose mind is still misgiving her about Amy, 'In the meantime I
want to have a word with Steve alone, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'Very good.' Stealing towards the nursery, 'Then I shall pop
in here again. How is the tea business prospering in London, Steve?
Glad you left India?'

STEVE. 'I don't have half the salary I had in India, but my health is
better. How are rupees?'

COLONEL. 'Stop it.' He is making a doll of his handkerchief for the
further subjugation of Molly. He sees his happy face in a looking-glass
and is ashamed of it. 'Alice, I wish it was you they loved.'

ALICE, with withering scorn, 'Oh, go back to your baby.'

As soon as the Colonel has gone she turns anxiously to Steve.

'Steve, tell me candidly what you think of my girl.'

STEVE. 'But I have never set eyes on her.'

ALICE. 'Oh, I was hoping you knew her well. She goes sometimes to the
Deans and the Rawlings-all our old Indian friends--'

STEVE. 'So do I, but we never happened to be there at the same time.
They often speak of her though.'

ALICE. 'What do they say?'

STEVE. 'They are enthusiastic--an ideal, sweet girl.'

ALICE, relieved, 'I'm so glad. Now you can go, Steve.'

STEVE. 'It's odd to think of the belle of the Punjab as a mother of a
big girl.'

ALICE. 'Don't; or I shall begin to think it's absurd myself.'

STEVE. 'Surely the boy felt the spell.' She shakes her head. 'But the
boys always did.'

ALICE, wryly, 'They were older boys.'

STEVE. 'I believe I was the only one you never flirted with.'

ALICE, smiling, 'No one could flirt with you, Steve.'

STEVE, pondering, 'I wonder why.' The problem has troubled him
occasionally for years.

ALICE. 'I wonder.'

STEVE. 'I suppose there's some sort of want in me.'

ALICE. 'Perhaps that's it. No, it's because you were always such a
good boy.'

STEVE, wincing, 'I don't know. Sometimes when I saw you all flirting I
wanted to do it too, but I could never think of how to begin.' With a
sigh, 'I feel sure there's something pleasant about it.'

ALICE, 'You're a dear, old donkey, Steve, but I'm glad you came, it
has made the place seem more like home. All these years I was looking
forward to home; and now I feel that perhaps it is the place I have
left behind me.' The joyous gurgling of Molly draws them to the
nursery door; and there they are observed by Amy and Ginevra who enter
from the hall. The screen is close to the two girls, and they have so
often in the last week seen stage figures pop behind screens that,
mechanically as it were, they pop behind this one.

STEVE, who little knows that he is now entering on the gay career,
'Listen to the infant.'

ALICE. 'Isn't it horrid of Robert to get on with her so well. Steve,
say Robert's a brute.'

STEVE, as he bids her good afternoon, 'Of course he is; a selfish
beast.'

ALICE. 'There's another kiss to you for saying so.' The doomed woman
presents her cheek again.

STEVE. 'And you'll come to me after dinner to-night, Alice? Here, I'll
leave my card, I'm not half a mile from this street.'

ALICE. 'I mayn't be able to get away. It will depend on whether my
silly husband wants to stay with his wretch of a baby. I'll see you to
the door. Steve, you're _much_ nicer than Robert.'

With these dreadful words she and the libertine go. Amy and Ginevra
emerge white to the lips; or, at least, they feel as white as that.

AMY, clinging to the screen for support, 'He kissed her.'

GINEVRA, sternly, 'He called her Alice.'

AMY. 'She is going to his house to-night. An assignation.'

GINEVRA. 'They will be chambers, Amy--they are always chambers. And
after dinner, he said--so he's stingy, too. Here is his card: "Mr.
Stephen Rollo.'"

AMY. 'I have heard of him. They said he was a nice man.'

GINEVRA. 'The address is Kensington West. That's the new name for West
Kensington.'

AMY. 'My poor father. It would kill him.'

GINEVRA, the master mind, 'He must never know.'

AMY. 'Ginevra, what's to be done?'

GINEVRA. 'Thank heaven, we know exactly what to do. It rests with you
to save her.'

AMY, trembling, 'You mean I must go--to his chambers?'

GINEVRA, firmly, 'At any cost.'

AMY. 'Evening dress?'

GINEVRA. 'It is always evening dress. And don't be afraid of his Man,
dear; they always have a Man.'

AMY. 'Oh, Ginevra.'

GINEVRA. 'First try fascination. You remember how they fling back
their cloak--like this, dear. If that fails, threaten him. You must
get back the letters. There are always letters.'

AMY. 'If father should suspect and follow? They usually do.'

GINEVRA. 'Then you must sacrifice yourself for her. Does my dearest
falter?'

AMY, pressing Ginevra's hand, 'I will do my duty. Oh, Ginevra, what
things there will be to put in my diary to-night.'

II
Night has fallen, and Amy is probably now in her bedroom, fully arrayed
for her dreadful mission. She says good-bye to her diary--perhaps for
aye. She steals from the house--to a very different scene, which (if one
were sufficiently daring) would represent a Man's Chambers at Midnight.
There is no really valid excuse for shirking this scene, which is so
popular that every theatre has it stowed away in readiness; it is
capable of 'setting' itself should the stage-hands forget to do so.

It should be a handsome, sombre room in oak and dark red, with
sinister easy chairs and couches, great curtains discreetly drawn, a
door to enter by, a door to hide by, a carelessly strewn table on
which to write a letter reluctantly to dictation, another table
exquisitely decorated for supper for two, champagne in an ice-bucket,
many rows of books which on close examination will prove to be painted
wood (the stage Lotharios not being really reading men). The lamps
shed a diffused light, and one of them is slightly odd in
construction, because it is for knocking over presently in order to
let the lady escape unobserved. Through this room moves occasionally
the man's Man, sleek, imperturbable, announcing the lady, the lady's
husband, the woman friend who is to save them; he says little, but is
responsible for all the arrangements going right; before the curtain
rises he may be conceived trying the lamp and making sure that the
lady will not stick in the door.

That is how it ought to be, that is how Amy has seen it several times
in the past week; and now that we come to the grapple we wish we could
give you what you want, for you do want it, you have been used to it,
and you will feel that you are looking at a strange middle act without
it. But Steve cannot have such a room as this, he has only two hundred
and fifty pounds a year, including the legacy from his aunt. Besides,
though he is to be a Lothario (in so far as we can manage it) he is
not at present aware of this, and has made none of the necessary
arrangements; if one of his lamps is knocked over it will certainly
explode; and there cannot be a secret door without its leading into
the adjoining house. (Theatres keep special kinds of architects to
design their rooms.) There is indeed a little cupboard where his
crockery is kept, and if Amy is careful she might be able to squeeze
in there. We cannot even make the hour midnight; it is eight-thirty,
quite late enough for her to be out alone.

Steve has just finished dinner, in his comfortable lodgings. He is not
even in evening dress, but he does wear a lounge jacket, which we
devoutly hope will give him a rakish air to Amy's eyes. He would
undoubtedly have put on evening dress if he had known she was coming.
His man, Richardson, is waiting on him. When we wrote that we
deliberated a long time. It has an air, and with a little low cunning
we could make you think to the very end that Richardson was a male.
But if the play is acted and you go to see it, you would be
disappointed. Steve, the wretched fellow, never had a Man, and
Richardson is only his landlady's slavey, aged about fifteen, and
wistful at sight of food. We introduce her gazing at Steve's platter
as if it were a fairy tale. Steve has often caught her with this rapt
expression on her face, and sometimes, as now, an engaging game
ensues,

RICHARDSON, blinking, 'Are you finished, sir?' To those who know the
game this means, 'Are you to leave the other chop--the one sitting
lonely and lovely beneath the dish-cover?'

STEVE. 'Yes.' In the game this is merely a tantaliser.

RICHARDSON, almost sure that he is in the right mood and sending out a
feeler, 'Then am I to clear?'

STEVE. 'No.' This is intended to puzzle her, but it is a move he has
made so often that she understands its meaning at once.

RICHARDSON, in entranced giggles, 'He, he, he!'

STEVE, vacating his seat, 'Sit down.'

RICHARDSON. 'Again?'

STEVE. 'Sit down, and clear the enemy out of that dish.'

By the enemy he means the other chop: what a name for a chop. Steve
plays the part of butler. He brings her a plate from the little
cupboard.

'Dinner is served, madam.'

RICHARDSON, who will probably be a great duchess some day, 'I don't
mind if I does have a snack.' She places herself at the table after
what she conceives to be the manner of the genteelly gluttonous; then
she quakes a little. 'If Missis was to catch me.' She knows that
Missis is probably sitting downstairs with her arms folded, hopeful of
the chop for herself.

STEVE. 'You tuck in and I'll keep watch.'

He goes to the door to peer over the banisters; it is all part of the
game. Richardson promptly tucks in with horrid relish.

RICHARDSON. 'What makes you so good to me, sir?'

STEVE. 'A gentleman is always good to a lady.'

RICHARDSON, preening, 'A lady? Go on.'

STEVE. 'And when I found that at my dinner hour you were subject to
growing pains I remembered my own youth. Potatoes, madam?'

RICHARDSON, neatly, 'If quite convenient.'

The kindly young man surveys her for some time in silence while she
has various happy adventures.

STEVE. 'Can I smoke, Richardson?'

RICHARDSON. 'Of course you can smoke. I have often seen you smoking.'

STEVE, little aware of what an evening the sex is to give him, 'But
have I your permission?'

RICHARDSON. 'You're at your tricks again.'

STEVE, severely, 'Have you forgotten already how I told you a true
lady would answer?'

RICHARDSON. 'I minds, but it makes me that shy.' She has, however, a
try at it. 'Do smoke, Mr. Rollo, I loves the smell of it.'

Steve lights his pipe; no real villain smokes a pipe.

STEVE. 'Smoking is a blessed companion to a lonely devil like myself.'

RICHARDSON. 'Yes, sir.' Sharply, 'Would you say devil to a real lady,
sir?'

Steve, it may be hoped, is properly confused, but here the little
idyll of the chop is brought to a close by the tinkle of a bell.
Richardson springs to attention.

'That will be the friends you are expecting?'

STEVE. 'I was only half expecting them, but I daresay you are right.
Have you finished, Richardson?'

RICHARDSON. 'Thereabouts. Would a real lady lick the bone--in company
I mean?'

STEVE. 'You know, I hardly think so.'

RICHARDSON. 'Then I'm finished.'

STEVE, disappearing, 'Say I'll be back in a jiffy. I need brushing,
Richardson.'

Richardson, no longer in company, is about to hold a last friendly
communion with the bone when there is a knock at the door, followed by
the entrance of a mysterious lady. You could never guess who the lady
is, so we may admit at once that it is Miss Amy Grey. Amy is in
evening dress--her only evening dress--and over it is the cloak, which
she is presently to fling back with staggering effect. Just now her
pale face is hiding behind the collar of it, for she is quaking
inwardly though strung up to a terrible ordeal. The room is not as she
expected, but she knows that men are cunning.

AMY, frowning, 'Are these Mr. Rollo's chambers? The woman told me to
knock at this door.'

She remembers with a certain satisfaction that the woman had looked at
her suspiciously.

RICHARDSON, the tray in her hand to give her confidence, 'Yes, ma'am.
He will be down in a minute, ma'am. He is expecting you, ma'am.'

Expecting her, is he! Amy smiles the bitter smile of knowledge.

AMY. 'We shall see.' She looks about her. Sharply, 'Where is his man?'

RICHARDSON, with the guilt of the chop on her conscience, 'What man?'

AMY, brushing this subterfuge aside, 'His man. They always have a
man.'

RICHARDSON, with spirit, 'He is a man himself.'

AMY. 'Come, girl; who waits on him?'

RICHARDSON. 'Me.'

AMY, rather daunted, 'No man? Very strange.' Fortunately she sees the
two plates. 'Stop.' Her eyes glisten. 'Two persons have been dining
here!' Richardson begins to tremble. 'Why do you look so scared? Was
the other a gentleman?'

RICHARDSON. 'Oh, ma'am.'

AMY, triumphantly, 'It was not!' But her triumph gives way to
bewilderment, for she knows that when she left the house her mother
was still in it. Then who can the visitor have been? 'Why are you
trying to hide that plate? Was it a lady? Girl, tell me was it a
lady?'

RICHARDSON, at bay, 'He--he calls her a lady.'

AMY, the omniscient, 'But you know better!'

RICHARDSON. 'Of course I know she ain't a real lady.'

AMY. 'Another woman. And not even a lady.' She has no mercy on the
witness. 'Tell me, is this the first time she has dined here?'

RICHARDSON, fixed by Amy's eye, 'No, ma'am--I meant no harm, ma'am.'

AMY. 'I am not blaming _you_. Can you remember how often she has
dined here?'

RICHARDSON. 'Well can I remember. Three times last week.'

AMY. 'Three times in one week, monstrous.'

RICHARDSON, with her gown to her eyes, 'Yes, ma'am; I see it now.'

AMY, considering and pouncing, 'Do you think she is an adventuress?'

RICHARDSON. 'What's that?'

AMY. 'Does she smoke cigarettes?'

RICHARDSON, rather spiritedly, 'No, she don't.'

AMY, taken aback, 'Not an adventuress.'

She wishes Ginevra were here to help her. She draws upon her stock of
knowledge. 'Can she be secretly married to him? A wife of the past
turned up to blackmail him? That's very common.'

RICHARDSON. 'Oh, ma'am, you are terrifying me.'

AMY. 'I wasn't talking to you. You may go. Stop. How long had she been
here before I came?'

RICHARDSON. 'She--Her what you are speaking about--'

AMY. 'Come, I must know.' The terrible admission refuses to pass
Richardson's lips, and of a sudden Amy has a dark suspicion. 'Has she
gone! Is she here now?'

RICHARDSON. 'It was just a chop. What makes you so grudging of a
chop?'

AMY. 'I don't care what they ate. Has she gone?'

RICHARDSON. 'Oh, ma'am.'

The little maid, bearing the dishes, backs to the door, opens it with
her foot, and escapes from this terrible visitor. The drawn curtains
attract Amy's eagle eye, and she looks behind them. There is no one
there. She pulls open the door of the cupboard and says firmly, 'Come
out.' No one comes. She peeps into the cupboard and finds it empty. A
cupboard and no one in it. How strange. She sits down almost in tears,
wishing very much for the counsel of Ginevra. Thus Steve finds her
when he returns.

STEVE. 'I'm awfully glad, Alice, that you--'

He stops abruptly at sight of a strange lady. As for Amy, the word
'Alice' brings her to her feet.

AMY. 'Sir.' A short remark but withering.

STEVE. 'I beg your pardon. I thought--the fact is that I expected--You
see you are a stranger to me-my name is Rollo--you are not calling on
me, are you?' Amy inclines her head in a way that Ginevra and she have
practised. Then she flings back her cloak as suddenly as an expert may
open an umbrella. Having done this she awaits results. Steve, however,
has no knowledge of how to play his part; he probably favours musical
comedy. He says lamely: 'I still think there must be some mistake.'

AMY, in italics, 'There is no mistake.'

STEVE. 'Then is there anything I can do for you?'

AMY, ardently, 'You can do so much,'

STEVE. 'Perhaps if you will sit down--'

Amy decides to humour him so far. She would like to sit in the lovely
stage way, when they know so precisely where the chair is that they
can sit without a glance at it. But she dare not, though Ginevra would
have risked it. Steve is emboldened to say: 'By the way, you have not
told me _your_ name.'

AMY, nervously, 'If you please, do you mind my not telling it?'

STEVE. 'Oh, very well.' First he thinks there is something innocent
about her request, and then he wonders if 'innocent' is the right
word. 'Well, your business, please?' he demands, like the man of the
world he hopes some day to be.

AMY. 'Why are you not in evening dress?'

STEVE, taken aback, 'Does that matter?'

AMY, though it still worries her, 'I suppose not.'

STEVE, with growing stiffness, 'Your business, if you will be so
good.'

Amy advances upon him. She has been seated in any case as long as they
ever do sit on the stage on the same chair.

AMY. 'Stephen Rollo, the game is up.'

She likes this; she will be able to go on now.

STEVE, recoiling guiltily or so she will describe it to Ginevra, 'What
on earth--'

AMY, suffering from a determination from the mouth of phrases she has
collected in five theatres, 'A chance discovery, Mr. Stephen Rollo,
has betrayed your secret to me.'

STEVE, awed, 'My secret? What is it?' He rushes rapidly through a
well-spent youth.

AMY, risking a good deal, 'It is this: that woman is your wife.'

STEVE. 'What woman?'

AMY. 'The woman who dined with you here this evening.'

STEVE. 'With me?'

AMY, icily, 'This is useless; as I have already said, the game is up.'

STEVE, glancing in a mirror to make sure he is still the same person,
'You _look_ a nice girl but dash it all. Whom can you be taking
me for? Tell me some more about myself.'

AMY. Please desist. I know everything, and in a way I am sorry for
you. All these years you have kept the marriage a secret, for she is a
horrid sort of woman, and now she has come back to blackmail you.
That, however, is not my affair.'

STEVE, with unexpected power of irony, 'Oh, I wouldn't say that.'

AMY. 'I do say it, Mr. Stephen Rollo. I shall keep your secret--'

STEVE. 'Ought you?'

AMY. '--on one condition, and on one condition only, that you return
me the letters.'

STEVE. 'The letters?'

AMY. 'The letters.'

Steve walks the length of his room, regarding her sideways.

STEVE. 'Look here, honestly I don't know what you are talking about.
You know, I could be angry with you, but I feel sure you are sincere.'

AMY. 'Indeed I am.'

STEVE. 'Well, then, I assure you on my word of honour that no lady was
dining with me this evening, and that I have no wife.'

AMY, blankly, 'No wife! You are sure? Oh, think.'

STEVE. 'I swear it.'

AMY. 'I am very sorry.' She sinks dispiritedly into a chair.

STEVE. 'Sorry I have no wife?' She nods through her tears. 'Don't cry.
How could my having a wife be a boon to you?'

AMY, plaintively, 'It would have put you in the hollow of my hands.'

STEVE, idiotically, 'And they are nice hands, too.'

AMY, with a consciousness that he might once upon a time have been
saved by a good woman, 'I suppose that is how you got round her.'

STEVE, stamping his foot, 'Haven't I told you that she doesn't exist?'

AMY. 'I don't mean her--I mean her--'

He decides that she is a little crazy.

STEVE, soothingly, 'Come now, we won't go into that again. It was just
a mistake; and now that it is all settled and done with, I'll tell you
what we shall do. You will let me get you a cab--' She shakes her
head. 'I promise not to listen to the address; and after you have had
a good night you--you will see things differently.'

AMY, ashamed of her momentary weakness, and deciding not to enter it
in the diary, 'You are very clever, Mr. Stephen Rollo, but I don't
leave this house without the letters.'

STEVE, groaning, 'Are they your letters?'

AMY. 'How dare you! They are the letters written to you, as you well
know, by--'

STEVE, eagerly, 'Yes?'

AMY. '--by a certain lady. Spare me the pain, if you are a gentleman,
of having to mention her name.'

STEVE, sulkily, 'Oh, all right.'

AMY. 'She is to pass out of your life to-night. To-morrow you go
abroad for a long time.'

STEVE, with excusable warmth, 'Oh, do I! Where am I going?'

AMY. 'We thought--'

STEVE. 'We?' AMY. 'A friend and I who have been talking it over. We
thought of Africa--to shoot big game.'

STEVE, humouring her, 'You must be very fond of this lady.'

AMY. 'I would die for her.'

STEVE, feeling that he ought really to stick up a little for himself,
'After all, am I so dreadful? Why shouldn't she love me?'

AMY. 'A married woman!'

STEVE, gratified, 'Married?'

AMY. 'How can you play with me so, sir? She is my mother.'

STEVE. 'Your mother? Fond of me!'

AMY. 'How dare you look pleased.'

STEVE. 'I'm not--I didn't mean to. I say, I wish you would tell me who
you are.'

AMY. 'As if you didn't know.'

STEVE, in a dream, 'Fond of me! I can't believe it.' Rather wistfully:
'How could she be?'

AMY. 'It was all your fault. Such men as you--pitiless men--you made
her love you.'

STEVE, still elated, 'Do you think I am that kind of man?'

AMY. 'Oh, sir, let her go. You are strong and she is weak. Think of
her poor husband, and give me back the letters.'

STEVE. 'On my word of honour--' Here arrives Richardson, so anxious to
come that she is propelled into the room like a ball. 'What is it?'

RICHARDSON. 'A gentleman downstairs, sir, wanting to see you.'

AMY, saying the right thing at once, 'He must not find me here. My
reputation--'

STEVE. 'I can guess who it is. Let me think.' He is really glad of the
interruption. 'See here, I'll keep him downstairs for a moment.
Richardson, take this lady to the upper landing until I have brought
him in. Then show her out.'

RICHARDSON. 'Oh, lor'.'

AMY, rooting herself to the floor, 'The letters!'

STEVE, as he goes, 'Write to me, write to me. I must know more of
this.'

RICHARDSON. 'Come quick, Miss.'

AMY, fixing her, 'You are not deceiving me? You are sure it isn't a
lady?'

RICHARDSON. 'Yes, Miss--he said his name was Colonel Grey.'

Ginevra would have known that it must be the husband, but for the
moment Amy is appalled.

AMY, quivering, 'Can he suspect!'

RICHARDSON, who has her own troubles, 'About the chop?'

AMY. 'If she should come while he is here!'

RICHARDSON. 'Come along, Miss. What's the matter?'

AMY. 'I can't go away. I am not going.'

She darts into the cupboard. It is as if she had heard Ginevra cry,
'Amy, the cupboard.'

RICHARDSON, tugging at the closed door, 'Come out of that. I promised
to put you on the upper landing. You can't go hiding in there, lady.'

AMY, peeping out, 'I can and I will. Let go the door. I came here
expecting to have to hide.'

She closes the door as her father enters with Steve. The Colonel is
chatting, but his host sees that Richardson is in distress.

STEVE, who thinks that the lady has been got rid of, 'What is it?'
RICHABDSON. 'Would you speak with me a minute, sir?'

STEVE, pointedly, 'Go away. You have some work to do on the stair. Go
and do it. I'm sorry, Colonel, that you didn't bring Alice with you.'

COLONEL. 'She is coming on later.'

STEVE. 'Good.'

COLONEL. 'I have come from Pall Mall. Wanted to look in at the club
once more, so I had a chop there.'

RICHARDSON, with the old sinking, 'A chop!' She departs with her worst
suspicions confirmed.

STEVE, as they pull their chairs nearer to the fire, 'Is Alice coming

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