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- Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 2/19 -
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.'
'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.'
'She will be rather yellow, coming from India, you know. They will both be a little yellow.'
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