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- Alice Sit-By-The-Fire - 5/19 -

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 bore me, 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 Sit-By-The-Fire - 5/19

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