Poor Dear Mamma
The wild hawk to the wind-swept sky,
The deer to the wholesome wold,
And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid,
As it was in the days of old.
SCENE.–_Interior of_ MISS MINNIE THREEGAN’S _bedroom at Simla._ MISS THREEGAN, _in window-seat, turning over a drawerful of things._ MISS EMMA DEERCOURT, _bosom-friend, who has come to spend the day, sitting on the bed, manipulating the bodice of a ballroom frock and a bunch of artificial lilies of the valley_. _Time,_ 5.30 P. M. _on a hot May afternoon._
MISS DEERCOURT. And _he_ said: ‘I shall _never_ forget this dance,’ and, of course, I said: ‘Oh! how _can_ you be so silly!’ Do you think he meant anything, dear?
MISS THREEGAN. (Extracting long lavender silk stocking from the rubbish.) You know him better than _I_ do.
MISS D. Oh, _do_ be sympathetic, Minnie! I’m _sure_ he does. At least I _would_ be sure if he wasn’t always riding with that odious Mrs. Hagan.
MISS T. I suppose so. How _does_ one manage to dance through one’s heels first? Look at this–isn’t it shameful? (Spreads stocking-heel on open hand for inspection)
MISS D. Never mind that! You can’t mend it. Help me with this hateful bodice, I’ve run the string _so_, and I’ve run the string _so_, and I can’t make the fulness come right. Where would you put this? (Waves lilies of the valley.)
MISS T. As high up on the shoulder as possible.
MISS D. Am I quite tall enough? I know it makes May Olger look lop-sided.
MISS T. Yes, but May hasn’t your shoulders. Hers are like a hock-bottle.
BEARER. (Rapping at door.) Captain Sahib _aya._
MISS D. (Jumping up wildly, and hunting for body, which she has discarded owing to the heat of the day.) Captain Sahib! What Captain Sahib? Oh, good gracious, and I’m only half dressed! Well, I shan’t bother.
MISS T. (Calmly.) You needn’t. It isn’t for us. That’s Captain Gadsby. He is going for a ride with Mamma. He generally comes five days out of the seven.
AGONISED VOICE. (From an inner apartment.) Minnie, run out and give Captain Gadsby some tea, and tell him I shall be ready in ten minutes; and, O Minnie, come to me an instant, there’s a dear girl!
MISS T. Oh, bother! (Aloud.) Very well, Mamma.
_Exit, and reappears, after five minutes, flushed, and rubbing her fingers._
MISS D. You look pink. What has happened?
MISS T. (In a stage whisper.) A twenty-four-inch waist, and she won’t let it out. Where _are_ my bangles? (Rummages on the toilet-table, and dabs at her hair with a brush in the interval.)
MISS D. Who is this Captain Gadsby? I don’t think I’ve met him.
MISS T. You _must_ have. He belongs to the Harrar set. I’ve danced with him, but I’ve never talked to him. He’s a big yellow man, just like a newly-hatched chicken, with an e-normous moustache. He walks like this (imitates Cavalry swagger), and he goes ‘Ha-Hmmm!’ deep down in his throat when he can’t think of anything to say. Mamma likes him. I don’t.
MISS D. (Abstractedly) Does he wax his moustache?
MISS T. (Busy with powder-puff_.} Yes, I think so. Why?
MISS D. (Bending oner the bodice and sewing furiously) Oh, nothing–only–
MISS T. (Sternly) Only what? Out with it, Emma.
MISS D. Well, May Olger–she’s engaged to Mr. Charteris, you know–said–Promise you won’t repeat this?
MISS T. Yes, I promise. What did she say?
MISS D. That–that being kissed (with a rush) by a man who _didn’t_ wax his moustache was–like eating an egg without salt.
MISS T. (At her full height, with crushing scorn) May Olger is a horrid, nasty _Thing_, and you can tell her I said so. I’m glad she doesn’t belong to my set–I must go and feed this _man!_ Do I look presentable?
MISS D. Yes, perfectly. Be quick and hand him over to your Mother, and then we can talk. _I_ shall listen at the door to hear what you say to him.
MISS T. ‘Sure I don’t care. _I’m_ not afraid of Captain Gadsby.
_In proof of this swings into drawing-room with a mannish stride followed by two short steps, which produces the effect of a restive horse entering. Misses CAPTAIN GADSBY, who is sitting in the shadow of the window-curtain, and gazes round helplessly._
CAPTAIN GADSBY. (Aside) The filly, by Jove! ‘Must ha’ picked up that action from the sire. (Aloud, rising) Good evening, Miss Threegan.
MISS T. (Conscious that she is flushing) Good evening, Captain Gadsby. Mamma told me to say that she will be ready in a few minutes. Won’t you have some tea? (Aside) I hope Mamma will be quick. What _am_ I to say to the creature? (Aloud and abruptly) Milk and sugar?
CAPT. G. No sugar, tha-anks, and very little milk. Ha-Hmmm.
MISS T. (Aside) If he’s going to do that, I’m lost. I shall laugh. I _know_ I shall!
CAPT. G. (Pulling at his moustache and watching it sideways down his nose) Ha-Hmmm. (Aside) ‘Wonder what the little beast can talk about. ‘Must make a shot at it.
MISS T. (Aside) Oh, this is agonising. I _must_ say something.
BOTH TOGETHER. Have you been—
CAPT. G. I beg your pardon. You were going to say—
MISS T. (Who has been watching the moustache with awed fascination) Won’t you have some eggs?
CAPT. G. (Looking bewilderedly at the tea-table) Eggs! (A side) O Hades! She must have a nursery-tea at this hour. S’pose they’ve wiped her mouth and sent her to me while the Mother is getting on her duds. (Aloud) No, thanks.
MISS T. (Crimson with confusion) Oh! I didn’t mean that. I wasn’t thinking of mou–eggs for an instant. I mean _salt_. Won’t you have some sa— sweets? (Aside) He’ll think me a raving lunatic. I wish Mamma would come.
CAPT. G. (Aside) It _was_ a nursery-tea and she’s ashamed of it. By Jove! She doesn’t look half bad when she colours up like that. (Aloud, helping himself from the dish) Have you seen those new chocolates at Peliti’s?
MISS T. No, I made these myself. What are they like?
CAPT. G. These! _De_-licious. (Aside) And that’s a fact.
MISS T. (Aside) Oh, bother! he’ll think I’m fishing for compliments. (Aloud) No, Peliti’s of course.
CAPT. G. (Enthusiastically) Not to compare with these. How d’you make them? I can’t get my _khansamah_ to understand the simplest thing beyond mutton and fowl.
MISS T. Yes? I’m not a _khansamah_, you know. Perhaps you frighten him. You should never frighten a servant. He loses his head. It’s very bad policy.
CAPT. G. He’s so awf’ly stupid.
MISS T. (Folding her hands in her lap) You should call him quietly and say: ‘O _khansamah jee!_’
CAPT. G. (Getting interested) Yes? (Aside) Fancy that little featherweight saying, ‘O _khansamah jee_’ to my bloodthirsty Mir Khan!
MISS T. Then you should explain the dinner, dish by dish.
CAPT. G. But I can’t speak the vernacular.
MISS T. (Patronizingly) You should pass the Higher Standard and try.
CAPT. G. I have, but I don’t seem to be any the wiser. Are you?
MISS T. I never passed the Higher Standard. But the _khansamah_ is very patient with me. He doesn’t get angry when I talk about sheep’s _topees_, or order _maunds_ of grain when I mean _seers_.
CAPT. G. (Aside, with intense indignation) I’d like to see Mir Khan being rude to that girl! Hullo! Steady the Buffs! (Aloud) And do you understand about horses, too?
MISS T. A little–not very much. I can’t doctor them, but I know what they ought to eat, and I am in charge of our stable.
CAPT. G. Indeed! You might help me then. What ought a man to give his _sais_ in the Hills? My ruffian says eight rupees, because everything is so dear.
MISS T. Six rupees a month, and one rupee Simla allowance–neither more nor less. And a grass-cut gets six rupees. That’s better than buying grass in the bazar.
CAPT. G. (Admiringly) How do you know?
MISS T. I have tried both ways.
CAPT. G. Do you ride much, then? I’ve never seen you on the Mall.
MISS T. (Aside) I haven’t passed him _more_ than fifty times. (Aloud) Nearly every day.
CAPT. G. By Jove! I didn’t know that. Ha-Hmmm! (Pulls at his moustache and is silent for forty seconds)
MISS T. (Desperately, and wondering what will happen next.) It looks beautiful. I shouldn’t touch it if I were you. (Aside) It’s all Mamma’s fault for not coming before. I _will_ be rude!
CAPT. G. (Bronzing under the tan and bringing down his hand very quickly) Eh! Wha-at! Oh, yes! Ha! Ha! (Laughs uneasily) (Aside) Well, of _all_ the dashed cheek! I never had a woman say that to me yet. She must be a cool hand or else–Ah! that nursery-tea!
VOICE FROM THE UNKNOWN. Tchk! Tchk! Tchk!
CAPT. G. Good Gracious! What’s that?
MISS T. The dog, I think. (Aside) Emma _has_ been listening, and I’ll never forgive her!
CAPT. G. (Aside) They don’t keep dogs here. (Aloud) Didn’t sound like a dog, did it?
MISS T. Then it must have been the cat. Let’s go into the veranda. What a lovely evening it is!
_Steps into veranda and looks out across the hills into sunset. The Captain follows._
CAPT. G. (Aside) Superb eyes! I wonder that I never noticed them before! (Aloud) There’s going to be a dance at Viceregal Lodge on Wednesday. Can you spare me one?
MISS T. (Shortly) No! I don’t want any of your charity-dances. You only ask me because Mamma told you to. I hop and I bump. You _know_ I do!
CAPT. G. (Aside) That’s true, but little girls shouldn’t understand these things. (Aloud) _No_, on my word, I don’t. You dance beautifully.
MISS T. Then why do you always stand out after half a dozen turns? I thought officers in the Army didn’t tell fibs.
CAPT. G. It wasn’t a fib, believe me. I really _do_ want the pleasure of a dance with you.
MISS T. (Wickedly) Why? Won’t Mamma dance with you any more?
CAPT. G. (More earnestly than the necessity demands) I wasn’t thinking of your Mother. (Aside) You little vixen!
MISS T. (Still looking out of the window) Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon. I was thinking of something else.
CAPT. G. (Aside) Well! I wonder what she’ll say next. I’ve never known a woman treat _me_ like this before. I might be–Dash it, I might be an Infantry subaltern! (Aloud) Oh, _please_ don’t trouble. I’m not worth thinking about. Isn’t your Mother ready yet?
MISS T. I should think so; but promise me, Captain Gadsby, you won’t take poor dear Mamma twice round Jakko any more. It tires her so.
CAPT. G. She says that no exercise tires her.
MISS T. Yes, but she suffers afterwards. _You_ don’t know what rheumatism is, and you oughtn’t to keep her out so late, when it gets chill in the evenings.
CAPT. G. (Aside) Rheumatism! I _thought_ she came off her horse rather in a bunch. Whew! One lives and learns. (Aloud) I’m sorry to hear that. She hasn’t mentioned it to me.
MISS T. (Flurried) Of course not! Poor dear Mamma never would. And you mustn’t say that I told you either. Promise me that you won’t. Oh, Captain Gadsby, _promise_ me you won’t!
CAPT. G. I am dumb, or–I shall be as soon as you’ve given me that dance, and another–if you can trouble yourself to think about me for a minute.
MISS T. But you won’t like it one little bit. You’ll be awfully sorry afterwards.
CAPT. G. I shall like it above all things, and I shall only be sorry that I didn’t get more. (Aside) Now what in the world am I saying?
MISS T. Very well. You will have only yourself to thank if your toes are trodden on. Shall we say Seven?
CAPT. G. And Eleven. (Aside) She can’t be more than eight stone, but, even then, it’s an absurdly small foot. (Looks at his own riding boots)
MISS T. They’re beautifully shiny. I can almost see my face in them.
CAPT. G. I was thinking whether I should have to go on crutches for the rest of my life if you trod on my toes.
MISS T. Very likely. Why not change Eleven for a square?
CAPT. G. No, _please!_ I want them both waltzes. Won’t you write them down?
MISS T. _I_ don’t get so many dances that I shall confuse them. _You_ will be the offender.
CAPT. G. Wait and see! (Aside) She doesn’t dance perfectly, perhaps, but–
MISS T. Your tea must have got cold by this time. Won’t you have another cup?
CAPT. G. No, thanks. Don’t you think it’s pleasanter out in the veranda? (Aside) I never saw hair take that colour in the sunshine before. (Aloud) It’s like one of Dicksee’s pictures.
MISS T. Yes! It’s a wonderful sunset, isn’t it? (Bluntly) But what do _you_ know about Dicksee’s pictures?
CAPT. G. I go Home occasionally. And I used to know the Galleries. (Nervously) You mustn’t think me only a Philistine with–a moustache.
MISS T. Don’t! _Please_ don’t! I’m _so_ sorry for what I said then. I was _horribly_ rude. It slipped out before I thought. Don’t you know the temptation to say frightful and shocking things just for the mere sake of saying them? I’m afraid I gave way to it.
CAPT. G. (Watching the girl as she flushes) I _think_ I know the feeling. It would be terrible if we all yielded to it, wouldn’t it? For instance, I might say–
POOR DEAR MAMMA. (Entering, habited, hatted, and booted) Ah, Captain Gadsby! ‘Sorry to keep you waiting. ‘Hope you haven’t been bored. ‘My little girl been talking to you?
MISS T. (Aside) I’m not sorry I spoke about the rheumatism. I’m not! I’m NOT! I only wish I’d mentioned the corns too.
CAPT. G. (Aside) What a shame! I wonder how old she is. It never occurred to me before. (Aloud) We’ve been discussing ‘Shakespeare and the musical glasses’ in the veranda.
MISS T. (Aside.) Nice man! He knows that quotation. He _isn’t_ a Philistine with a moustache. (Aloud.) Good-bye, Captain Gadsby. (Aside.) What a huge hand and _what_ a squeeze! I don’t suppose he meant it, but he has driven the rings into my fingers.
POOR DEAR MAMMA. Has Vermillion come round yet? Oh, yes! Captain Gadsby, don’t you think that the saddle is too far forward? (They pass into the front veranda.)
CAPT. G. (Aside.) How the dickens should I know what she prefers? She told me that she doted on horses. (Aloud.) I think it is.
MISS T. (Coming out into front veranda.) Oh! Bad Buldoo! I must speak to him for this. He has taken up the curb two links, and Vermillion hates that. (Passes out and to horse’s head.)
CAPT. G. Let me do it.
MISS T. No, Vermillion understands me. Don’t you, old man? (Looses curb-chain skilfully, and pats horse on nose and throttle.) Poor Vermillion! _Did_ they want to cut his chin off? There!
CAPTAIN GADSBY _watches the interlude with undisguised admiration._
POOR DEAR MAMMA. (Tartly to_ MISS T.) You’ve forgotten your guest, I think, dear.
MISS T. Good gracious! So I have! Good-bye. (Retreats indoors hastily)
POOR DEAR MAMMA. (Bunching reins in fingers hampered by too tight gauntlets) Captain Gadsby!
CAPTAIN GADSBY _stoops and makes the foot-rest._
POOR DEAR MAMMA _blunders, halts too long, and breaks through it._
CAPT. G. (Aside) Can’t hold up eleven stone for ever. It’s all your rheumatism. (Aloud) Can’t imagine why I was so clumsy. (Aside) Now Little Featherweight would have gone up like a bird.
_They ride out of the garden. The Captain falls back._
CAPT. G. (Aside) How that habit catches her under the arms! Ugh!
POOR DEAR MAMMA. (With the worn smile of sixteen seasons, the worse for exchange) You’re dull this afternoon, Captain Gadsby.
CAPT. G. (Spurring up wearily) Why did you keep me waiting so long?
_Et caetera, et caetera, et caetera._
(AN INTERVAL OF THREE WEEKS.)
GILDED YOUTH. (Sitting on railings opposite Town Hall) Hullo, Gaddy! ‘Been trotting out the Gorgonzola! We all thought it was the Gorgon you’re mashing.
CAPT. G. (With withering emphasis) You young cub! What the —- does it matter to you?
_Proceeds to read GILDED YOUTH a lecture on discretion and deportment, which crumbles latter like a Chinese Lantern. Departs fuming._
(FURTHER INTERVAL OF FIVE WEEKS.)
SCENE.–_Exterior of New Simla Library on a foggy evening_. MISS THREEGAN _and_ MISS DEERCOURT _meet among the ‘rickshaws_. MISS T. _is carrying a bundle of books under her left arm_.
MISS D. (Level intonation) Well?
MISS T. (Ascending intonation) Well?
MISS D. (Capturing her friend’s left arm, taking away all the books, placing books in ‘rickshaw, returning to arm, securing hand by the third finger and investigating) Well! You _bad_ girl! And you _never_ told me.
MISS T. (Demurely) He–he–he only spoke yesterday afternoon.
MISS D. Bless you, dear! And I’m to be bridesmaid, aren’t I? You _know_ you promised _ever_ so long ago.
MISS T. Of course. I’ll tell you all about it to-morrow. (Gets into’rickshaw) O Emma!
MISS D. (With intense interest) Yes, dear?
MISS T. (Piano) It’s quite true–about–the–egg.
MISS D. What egg?
MISS T. (Pianissimo prestissimo) The egg without the salt. (Forte) _Chalo ghar ko jaldi, jhampani!_ (Go home, _jhampani)