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- Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 4/19 -


'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.'


Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 4/19

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