MoboReader> Literature > Alice Sit-By-The-Fire

   Chapter 2 No.2

Alice Sit-By-The-Fire By J. M. Barrie Characters: 45131

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


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?'

RICHARDSON. '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 on from home?'

COLONEL. 'Yes, that's it.' He stretches out his legs. 'Steve, home is the best club in the world. Such jolly fellows all the members!'

STEVE. 'You haven't come here to talk about your confounded baby again, have you?'

COLONEL, apologetically, 'If you don't mind.'

STEVE. 'I do mind.'

COLONEL. 'But if you feel you can stand it.'

STEVE. 'You are my guest, so go ahead.'

COLONEL. 'She fell asleep, Steve, holding my finger.'

STEVE. 'Which finger?'

COLONEL. 'This one. As Alice would say, Soldiering done, baby begun.'

STEVE. 'Poor old chap.'

COLONEL. 'I have been through a good deal in my time, Steve, but that is the biggest thing I have ever done.'

STEVE. 'Have a cigar?'

COLONEL. 'Brute! Thanks.'

Here Amy, who cannot hear when the door is closed, opens it slightly. The Colonel is presently aware that Steve is silently smiling to himself. The Colonel makes a happy guess. 'Thinking of the ladies, Steve?'

STEVE, blandly, 'To tell the truth, I was thinking of one.'

COLONEL. 'She seems to be a nice girl.'

STEVE. 'She is not exactly a girl.'

COLONEL, twinkling, 'Very fond of you, Steve?'

STEVE. 'I have the best of reasons for knowing that she is.' We may conceive Amy's feelings though we cannot see her. 'On my soul, Colonel, I think it is the most romantic affair I ever heard of. I have waited long for a romance to come into my life, but by Javers, it has come at last.'

COLONEL. 'Graters, Steve. Does her family like it?'

STEVE, cheerily, 'No, they are furious.'

COLONEL. 'But why?'

STEVE, judiciously, 'A woman's secret, Colonel.'

COLONEL. 'Ah, the plot thickens. Do I know her?'

STEVE. 'Not you.'

COLONEL. 'I mustn't ask her name?'

STEVE, with presence of mind, 'I have a very good reason for not telling you her name.'

COLONEL. 'So? And she is not exactly young? Twice your age, Steve?'

STEVE, with excusable heat, 'Not at all. But she is of the age when a woman knows her own mind-which makes the whole affair extraordinarily flattering.' With undoubtedly a shudder of disgust Amy closes the cupboard door. Steve continues to behave in the most gallant manner. 'You must not quiz me, Colonel, for her circumstances are such that her partiality for me puts her in a dangerous position, and I would go to the stake rather than give her away.'

COLONEL. 'Quite so.' He makes obeisance to the beauty of the sentiment, and then proceeds to an examination of the hearthrug.

STEVE. 'What are you doing?'

COLONEL. 'Trying to find out for myself whether she comes here.'

STEVE. 'How can you find that out by crawling about my carpet?'

COLONEL. 'I am looking for hair-pins-triumphantly holding up a lady's glove-'and I have found one!'

They have been too engrossed to hear the bell ring, but now voices are audible.

STEVE. 'There is some one coming up.'

COLONEL. 'Perhaps it is she, Steve! No, that is Alice's voice. Catch, you scoundrel,' and he tosses him the glove. Alice is shown in, and is warmly acclaimed. She would not feel so much at ease if she knew who, hand on heart, has recognised her through the pantry key-hole.

STEVE, as he makes Alice comfortable by the fire, 'How did you leave them at home?'

ALICE, relapsing into gloom, 'All hating me.'

STEVE. 'This man says that home is the most delightful club in the world.'

ALICE. 'I am not a member; I have been blackballed by my own baby. Robert, I dined in state with Cosmo, and he was so sulky that he ate his fish without salt rather than ask me to pass it.'

COLONEL. 'Where was Amy?'

ALICE. 'Amy said she had a headache and went to bed. I spoke to her through the door before I came out, but she wouldn't answer.'

COLONEL. 'Why didn't you go in, memsahib?'

ALICE. 'I did venture to think

of it, but she had locked the door. Robert, I really am worried about Amy. She seems to me to behave oddly. There can't be anything wrong?'

COLONEL. 'Of course not, Alice-eh, Steve?'

STEVE. 'Bless you, no.'

ALICE, smiling, 'It's much Steve knows about women.'

STEVE. 'I'm not so unattractive to women, Alice, as you think.'

ALICE. 'Listen to him, Robert!'

COLONEL. 'What he means, my dear, is that you should see him with elderly ladies.'

ALICE. 'Steve, this to people who know you.' Here something happens to Amy's skirt. She has opened the door to hear, then in alarm shut it, leaving a fragment of skirt caught in the door. There, unseen, it bides its time.

STEVE, darkly, 'Don't be so sure you know me, Alice.'

COLONEL, enjoying himself, 'Let us tell her, Steve! I am dying to tell her.'

STEVE, grandly, 'No, no.'

COLONEL. 'We mustn't tell you, Alice, because it is a woman's secret-a poor little fond elderly woman. Our friend is very proud of his conquest. See how he is ruffling his feathers. I shouldn't wonder you know, though you and I are in the way to-night.'

But Alice's attention is directed in another direction: to a little white object struggling in the clutches of a closed door at the back of the room. Steve turns to see what she is looking at, and at the same moment the door opens sufficiently to allow a pretty hand to obtrude, seize the kitten, or whatever it was, and softly reclose the door. For one second Alice did think it might be a kitten, but she knows now that it is part of a woman's dress. As for Steve thus suddenly acquainted with his recent visitor's whereabouts, his mouth opens wider than the door. He appeals mutely to Alice not to betray his strange secret to the Colonel.

ALICE, with dancing eyes, 'May I look about me, Steve? I have been neglecting your room shamefully.'

STEVE, alarmed, for he knows the woman, 'Don't get up, Alice; there is really nothing to see.' But she is already making the journey of the room, and drawing nearer to the door.

ALICE, playing with him, 'I like your clock.'

STEVE. 'It is my landlady's. Nearly all the things are hers. Do come back to the fire.'

ALICE. 'Don't mind me. What does this door lead into?'

STEVE. 'Only a cupboard.'

ALICE. 'What do you keep in it?'

STEVE. 'Merely crockery-that sort of thing.'

ALICE. 'I should like to see your crockery, Steve. Not one little bit of china? May I peep in?'

COLONEL, who is placidly smoking, with his back to the scene of the drama, 'Don't mind her, Steve; she never could see a door without itching to open it.'

Alice opens the door, and sees Amy standing there with her finger to her lips, just as they stood in all the five plays. Ginevra could not have posed her better.

'Well, have you found anything, memsahib?'

It has been the great shock of Alice's life, and she sways. But she shuts the door before answering him.

ALICE, with a terrible look at Steve, 'Just a dark little cupboard.'

Steve, not aware that it is her daughter who is in there, wonders why the lighter aspect of the incident has ceased so suddenly to strike her. She returns to the fire, but not to her chair. She puts her arms round the neck of her husband; a great grief for him is welling up in her breast.

COLONEL, so long used to her dear impulsive ways, 'Hullo! We mustn't let on that we are fond of each other before company.'

STEVE, meaning well, though he had better have held his tongue, 'I don't count; I am such an old friend.'

ALICE, slowly, 'Such an old friend!' Her husband sees that she is struggling with some emotion.

COLONEL. 'Worrying about the children still, Alice?'

ALICE, glad to break down openly, 'Yes, yes, I can't help it, Robert.'

COLONEL, petting her, 'There, there, you foolish woman. Joy will come in the morning; I never was surer of anything. Would you like me to take you home now?'

ALICE. 'Home. But, yes, I-let us go home.'

COLONEL. 'Can we have a cab, Steve?'

STEVE. 'I'll go down and whistle one. Alice, I'm awfully sorry that you-that I-'

ALICE. 'Please, a cab.'

But though she is alone with her husband now she does not know what she wants to say to him. She has a passionate desire that he should not learn who is behind that door.

COLONEL, pulling her toward him, 'I think it is about Amy that you worry most.'

ALICE. 'Why should I, Robert?'

COLONEL. 'Not a jot of reason.'

ALICE. 'Say again, Robert, that everything is sure to come right just as we planned it would.'

COLONEL. 'Of course it will.'

ALICE. 'Robert, there is something I want to tell you. You know how dear my children are to me, but Amy is the dearest of all. She is dearer to me, Robert, than you yourself.'

COLONEL. 'Very well, memsahib.'

ALICE. 'Robert dear, Amy has come to a time in her life when she is neither quite a girl nor quite a woman. There are dark places before us at that age through which we have to pick our way without much help. I can conceive dead mothers haunting those places to watch how their child is to fare in them. Very frightened ghosts, Robert. I have thought so long of how I was to be within hail of my girl at this time, holding her hand-my Amy, my child.'

COLONEL. 'That is just how it is all to turn out, my Alice.'

ALICE, shivering, 'Yes, isn't it, isn't it?'

COLONEL. 'You dear excitable, of course it is.'

ALICE, like one defying him, 'But even though it were not, though I had come back too late, though my daughter had become a woman without a mother's guidance, though she were a bad woman-'

COLONEL. 'Alice.'

ALICE. 'Though some cur of a man-Robert, it wouldn't affect my love for her, I should love her more than ever. If all others turned from her, if you turned from her, Robert-how I should love her then.'

COLONEL. 'Alice, don't talk of such things.'

But she continues to talk of them, for she sees that the door is ajar, and what she says now is really to comfort Amy. Every word of it is a kiss for Amy.

ALICE, smiling through her fears, 'I was only telling you that nothing could make any difference in my love for Amy. That was all; and, of course, if she has ever been a little foolish, light-headed-at that age one often is-why, a mother would soon put all that right; she would just take her girl in her arms and they would talk it over, and the poor child's troubles would vanish.' Still for Amy's comfort, 'And do you think I should repeat any of Amy's confidences to you, Robert?' Gaily, 'Not a word, sir! She might be sure of that.'

COLONEL. 'A pretty way to treat a father. But you will never persuade me that there is any serious flaw in Amy.'

ALICE. 'I'll never try, dear.'

COLONEL. 'As for this little tantrum of locking herself into her room, however, we must have it out with her.'

ALICE. 'The first thing to-morrow.'

COLONEL. 'Not a bit of it. The first thing the moment we get home.'

ALICE, now up against a new danger, 'You forget, dear, that she has gone to bed.'

COLONEL. 'We'll soon rout her out of bed.'

ALICE. 'Robert! You forget that she has locked the door.'

COLONEL. 'Sulky little darling. I daresay she is crying her eyes out for you already. But if she doesn't open that door pretty smartly I'll force it.'

ALICE. 'You wouldn't do that?'

COLONEL. 'Wouldn't I? Oh yes, I would.'

Thus Alice has another problem to meet when Steve returns from his successful quest for a cab.

'Thank you, Steve, you will excuse us running off, I know. Alice is all nerves to-night. Come along, dear.'

ALICE, signing to the puzzled Steve that he must somehow get the lady out of the house at once, 'There is no such dreadful hurry, is there?' She is suddenly interested in some photographs on the wall. 'Are you in this group, Steve?'

STEVE. 'Yes, it is an old school eleven.'

ALICE. 'Let us see if we can pick Steve out, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'Here he is, the one with the ball.'

ALICE. 'Oh no, that can't be Steve, surely. Isn't this one more like him? Come over here under the light.'

Steve has his moment at the door, but it is evident from his face that the hidden one scorns his blandishments. So he signs to Alice.

COLONEL. 'This is you, isn't it, Steve?'

STEVE. 'Yes, the one with the ball.'

COLONEL. 'I found you at once. Now, Alice, your cloak.'

ALICE. 'I feel so comfy where I am. One does hate to leave a fire, doesn't one.' She hums gaily a snatch of a song.

COLONEL. 'The woman doesn't know her own mind.'

ALICE. 'You remember we danced to that once on my birthday at Simla.'

She shows him how they danced at Simla.

COLONEL, to Steve, who is indeed the more bewildered of the two, 'And a few minutes ago I assure you she was weeping on my shoulder!'

ALICE. 'You were so nice to me that evening, Robert-I gave you a dance.' She whirls him gaily round.

COLONEL. 'You flibberty jibbet, you make me dizzy.'

ALICE. 'Shall we sit out the rest of the dance?'

COLONEL. 'Not I. Come along, you unreasonable thing.'

ALICE. 'Unreasonable. Robert, I have a reason. I want to see whether Amy will come.'

COLONEL. 'Come?'

STEVE. 'Come here?'

ALICE. 'I didn't tell you before, Robert, because I had so little hope; but I called to her through the door that I was coming here to meet you, and I said, "I don't believe you have a headache, Amy; I believe you have locked yourself in there because you hate the poor mother who loves you," and I begged her to come with me. I said, "If you won't come now, come after me and make me happy."'

COLONEL. 'But what an odd message, Alice; so unlike you.'

ALICE. 'Was it? I don't know. I always find it so hard, Robert, to be like myself.'

COLONEL. 'But, my dear, a young girl.'

ALICE. 'She could have taken a cab; I gave her the address. Don't be so hard, Robert, I am teaching you to dance.' She is off with him again.

COLONEL. 'Steve, the madcap.'

He falls into a chair, but sees the room still going round. It is Alice's chance; she pounces upon Amy's hand, whirls her out of the hiding place, and seems to greet her at the other door.

ALICE. 'Amy!'

COLONEL, jumping up, 'Not really? Hallo! I never for a moment-It was true, then. Amy, you are a good little girl to come.'

AMY, to whom this is a not unexpected step in the game, 'Dear father.'

STEVE, to whom it is a very unexpected step indeed, 'Amy! Is this-your daughter, Alice?'

ALICE, wondering at the perfidy of the creature, 'I forgot that you don't know her, Steve.'

STEVE. 'But if-if this is your daughter-you are the mother.'

ALICE. 'The mother?'

COLONEL, jovially, 'Well thought out, Steve. He is a master mind, Alice.'

STEVE. 'But-but--'

Mercifully Amy has not lost her head. She is here to save them all.

AMY. 'Introduce me, father.'

COLONEL. 'He is astounded at our having such a big girl.'

STEVE, thankfully, 'Yes, that's it.'

COLONEL. 'Amy, my old friend, Steve Rollo-Steve, this is our rosebud.'

STEVE, blinking, 'How do you do?'

AMY, sternly, 'How do you do?'

COLONEL. 'But, bless me, Amy, you are a swell.'

AMY, flushing, 'It is only evening dress.'

COLONEL. 'I bet she didn't dress for us, Alice; it was all done for Steve.'

ALICE. 'Yes, for Steve.'

COLONEL. 'But don't hang in me, chicken, hang in your mother. Steve, why are you staring at Alice?'

We know why he is staring at Alice, but of course he is too gallant a gentleman to tell. Besides his astonishment has dazed him.

STEVE. 'Was I?'

ALICE, with her arms extended, 'Amy, don't be afraid of me.'

AMY, going into them contemptuously, 'I'm not.'

COLONEL, badgered, 'Then kiss and make it up.'

Amy bestows a cold kiss upon her mother. Alice weeps. 'This is too much. Just wait till I get you home. Are you both ready?'

It is then that Amy makes her first mistake. The glove that the Colonel has tossed to Steve is lying on a chair, and she innocently begins to put it on. Her father stares at her; his wife does not know why.

ALICE. 'We are ready, Robert. Why don't you come? Robert, what is it?'

COLONEL, darkening, 'Steve knows what it is; Amy doesn't as yet. The simple soul has given herself away so innocently that it is almost a shame to take notice of it. But I must, Steve. Come, man, it can't be difficult to explain.'

In this Steve evidently differs from him.

ALICE. 'Robert, you frighten me.'

COLONEL. 'Still tongue-tied, Steve. Before you came here, Alice, I found a lady's glove on the floor.'

ALICE, quickly, 'That isn't our affair, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'Yes; I'll tell you why. Amy has just put on that glove.'

ALICE. 'It isn't hers, dear.'

COLONEL. 'Do you deny that it is yours, Amy?' Amy has no answer to this. 'Is it unreasonable, Steve, to ask you when my daughter, with whom you profess to be unacquainted, gave you that token of her esteem?'

STEVE, helpless, 'Alice.'

COLONEL. 'What has Alice to do with it?'

AMY, to the rescue, 'Nothing, nothing, I swear.'

COLONEL. 'Has there been something going on that I don't understand? Are you in it, Alice, as well as they? Why has Steve been staring at you so?'

AMY, knowing so well that she alone can put this matter right, 'Mother, don't answer.'

STEVE. 'If I could see Alice alone for a moment, Colonel-'

ALICE. 'Yes.'

COLONEL. 'No. Good heavens, what are you all concealing? Is Amy-my Amy-your elderly lady, Steve? Was that some tasteful little joke you were playing on your old friend, her father?'

STEVE. 'Colonel, I-'

AMY, preparing for the great sacrifice, 'I forbid him to speak.'

COLONEL. 'You forbid him.'

ALICE. 'Robert, Robert, let me explain. Steve-'

AMY. 'Mother, you must not, you dare not.'

Grandly, 'Let all fall on me. It is not true, father, that Mr. Rollo and I were strangers when you introduced us.'

ALICE, wailing, 'Amy, Amy.'

AMY, with a touch of the sublime, 'It is my glove, but it had a right to be here. He is my affianced husband.'

Perhaps, but it is an open question, Steve is the one who is most surprised to hear this. He seems to want to say something on the subject, but a look of entreaty from Alice silences him.

COLONEL. 'Alice, did you hear her?'

ALICE. 'Surely you don't mean, Robert, that you are not glad?'

COLONEL, incredulous, 'Is that how you take it?'

ALICE, heart-broken, 'How I take it! I am overjoyed. Don't you see how splendid it is; our old friend Steve.'

COLONEL, glaring at him, 'Our old friend, Steve.'

As for Amy, that pale-faced lily, for the moment she stands disregarded. Never mind; Ginevra will yet do her justice.

ALICE. 'Oh, happy day!' Brazenly she takes Steve's two hands, 'Robert, he is to be our son.'

COLONEL. 'You are very clever, Alice, but do you really think I believe that this is no shock to you? Oh, woman, why has this deception not struck you to the ground?'

ALICE. 'Deception? Amy, Steve, I do believe he thinks that this is as much a surprise to me as it is to him! Why, Robert, I have known about it ever since I saw Amy alone this afternoon. She told me at once. Then in came Steve, and he-'

COLONEL. 'Is it as bad as that!'

ALICE. 'As what, dear?'

COLONEL. 'That my wife must lie to me.'

ALICE. 'Oh, Robert.'

COLONEL. 'I am groping only, but I can see now that you felt there was something wrong from the first. How did you find out?'

ALICE, imploringly, 'Robert, they are engaged to be married; it was foolish of them not to tell you; but, oh, my dear, leave it at that.'

COLONEL. 'Why did you ask Amy to follow us here?'

ALICE. 'So that we could all be together when we broke it to you, dear.'

COLONEL. 'Another lie! My shoulders are broad; why shouldn't I have it to bear as well as you?'

ALICE. 'There is nothing to bear but just a little folly.'

COLONEL. 'Folly! And neither of them able to say a word?'

Indeed they are very cold lovers; Amy's lip is curled at Steve. To make matters worse, the cupboard door, which has so far had the decency to remain quiet, now presumes to have its say. It opens of itself a few inches, creaking guiltily. Three people are so startled that a new suspicion is roused in the fourth.

ALICE, who can read his face so well, 'She wasn't there, Robert, she wasn't.'

COLONEL. 'My God! I understand now; she didn't follow us; she hid there when I came.'

ALICE. 'No, Robert, no.'

He goes into the cupboard and returns with something in his hand, which he gives to Amy.

COLONEL. 'Your other glove, Amy.'

ALICE. 'I can't keep it from you any longer, Robert; I have done my best.' She goes to Amy to protect her. 'But Amy is still my child.'

'What a deceiver' Amy is thinking.

COLONEL. 'Well, sir, still waiting for that interview with my wife before you can say anything?'

STEVE, a desperate fellow, 'Yes.'

ALICE. 'You will have every opportunity of explaining, Steve, many opportunities; but in the meantime-just now, please go, leave us alone.' Stamping her foot: 'Go, please.'

Steve has had such an evening of it that he clings dizzily to the one amazing explanation, that Alice loves him not wisely but too well. Never will he betray her, never.

STEVE, with a meaning that is lost on her but is very evident to the other lady present,

'Anything you ask me to do, Alice, anything. I shall go upstairs only, so that if you want me-'

ALICE. 'Oh, go.' He goes, wondering whether he is a villain or a hero, which is perhaps a pleasurable state of mind.

COLONEL. 'You are wondrous lenient to him; I shall have more to say. As for this girl-look at her standing there, she seems rather proud of herself.'

ALICE. 'It isn't really hardness, Robert. It is because she thinks that you are hard. Robert, dear, I want you to go away too, and leave Amy to me. Go home, Robert; we shall follow soon.'

COLONEL, after a long pause, 'If you wish it.'

ALICE. 'Leave her to her mother.'

When he has gone Amy leans across the top of a chair, sobbing her little heart away. Alice tries to take her-the whole of her-in her arms, but is rebuffed with a shudder.

AMY. 'I wonder you can touch me.'

ALICE. 'The more you ask of your mother the more she has to give. It is my love you need, Amy; and you can draw upon it, and draw upon it.'

AMY. 'Pray excuse me.'

ALICE. 'How can you be so hard! My child, I am not saying one harsh word to you. I am asking you only to hide your head upon your mother's breast.'

AMY. 'I decline.'

ALICE. 'Take care, Amy, or I shall begin to believe that your father was right. What do you think would happen if I were to leave you to him!'

AMY. 'Poor father.'

ALICE. 'Poor indeed with such a daughter.'

AMY. 'He has gone, mother; so do you really think you need keep up this pretence before me?'

ALICE. 'Amy, what you need is a whipping.'

AMY. 'You ought to know what I need.'

The agonised mother again tries to envelop her unnatural child.

ALICE. 'Amy, Amy, it was all Steve's fault.'

AMY, struggling as with a boa constrictor, 'You needn't expect me to believe that.'

ALICE. 'No doubt you thought at the beginning that he was a gallant gentleman.'

AMY. 'Not at all; I knew he was depraved from the moment I set eyes on him.'

ALICE. 'My Amy! Then how-how-'

AMY. 'Ginevra knew too.'

ALICE. 'She knew!'

AMY. 'We planned it together-to treat him in the same way as Sir Harry Paskill and Ralph Devereux.'

ALICE. 'Amy, you are not in your senses. You don't mean that there were others?'

AMY. 'There was Major-Major-I forget his name, but he was another.'

ALICE, shaking her, 'Wretched girl.'

AMY. 'Leave go.'

ALICE. 'How did you get to know them?'

AMY. 'To know them? They are characters in plays.'

ALICE, bereft, 'Characters in plays? Plays!'

AMY. 'We went to five last week.'

Wild hopes spring up in Alice's breast.

ALICE. 'Amy, tell me quickly, when did you see Steve for the first time?'

AMY. 'When you were saying good-bye to him this afternoon.'

ALICE. 'Can it be true!'

AMY. 'Perhaps we shouldn't have listened; but they always listen when there is a screen.'

ALICE. 'Listened? What did you hear?'

AMY. 'Everything, mother! We saw him kiss you and heard you make an assignation to meet him here.'

ALICE. 'I shall whip you directly, but go on, darling.'

AMY, childishly, 'You shan't whip me.' Then once more heroic, 'As in a flash Ginevra and I saw that there was only one way to save you. I must go to his chambers, and force him to return the letters.'

ALICE, inspired, 'My letters?'

AMY. 'Of course. He behaved at first as they all do-pretended that he did not know what I was talking about. At that moment, a visitor; I knew at once that it must be the husband; it always is, it was; I hid. Again a visitor. I knew it must be you, it was; oh, the agony to me in there. I was wondering when he would begin to suspect, for I knew the time would come, and I stood ready to emerge and sacrifice myself to save you.'

ALICE. 'As you have done, Amy?'

AMY. 'As I have done.'

Once more the arms go round her.

'I want none of that.'

ALICE. 'Forgive me.' A thought comes to Alice that enthralls her. 'Steve! Does he know what you think-about me?'

AMY. 'I had to be open with him.'

ALICE. 'And Steve believes it? He thinks that I-I-Alice Grey-oh, ecstasy!'

AMY. 'You need not pretend.'

ALICE. 'What is to be done?'

AMY. 'Though I abhor him I must marry him for aye. Ginevra is to be my only bridesmaid. We are both to wear black.'

ALICE, sharply, 'You are sure you don't rather like him, Amy?'

AMY. 'Mother!'

ALICE. 'Amy, weren't you terrified to come alone to the rooms of a man you didn't even know? Some men-'

AMY. 'I was not afraid. I am a soldier's daughter; and Ginevra gave me this.'

She produces a tiny dagger. This is altogether too much for Alice.

ALICE. 'My darling!'

She does have the babe in her arms at last, and now Amy clings to her. This is very sweet to Alice; but she knows that if she tells Amy the truth at once its first effect will be to make the dear one feel ridiculous. How can Alice hurt her Amy so, Amy who has such pride in having saved her? 'You do love me a little, Amy, don't you?'

AMY. 'Yes, yes.'

ALICE. 'You don't think I have been really bad, dear?'

AMY. 'Oh, no, only foolish.'

ALICE. 'Thank you, Amy.'

AMY, nestling still closer, 'What are we to do now, dear dear mother?'

Alice has a happy idea; but that, as the novelists say, deserves a chapter to itself.

* * *

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