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- Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 3/19 -

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.'


Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 3/19

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