Chapter 4




BEING THE CONTRIBUTION OF MR. BEDFORD PARKE


THE OVERCOAT
A FARCE. IN TWO SCENES


SCENE FIRST

Time: Morning at Boston


Mrs. Robert Edwards. “I think it will rain to-day, but there is no need to worry about that. Robert has his umbrella and his mackintosh, and I don’t think he is idiotic enough to lend both of them. If he does, he’ll get wet, that’s all.” Mrs. Edwards is speaking to herself in the sewing-room of the apartment occupied by herself and her husband in the Hotel Hammingbell at Boston. It is not a large room, but cosey. A frieze one foot deep runs about the ceiling, and there is a carpet on the floor. Three pins are seen scattered about the room, in one corner of which is a cane-bottomed chair holding across its back two black vests and a cutaway coat. Mrs. Edwards sits before a Wilcox & Wilson sewing-machine sewing a button on a light spring overcoat. The overcoat has one outside and three inside pockets, and is single-breasted. “It is curious,” Mrs. Edwards continues, “what men will do with umbrellas and mackintoshes on a rainy day. They lend them here and there, and the worst part of it is they never remember where.” A knock is heard at the door. “Who’s there?”

COME IN “‘COME IN’”

Voice (without). “Me.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards (with a nervous shudder). “Come in.” Enter Mary the house-maid. She is becomingly attired in blue alpaca, with green ribbons and puffed sleeves. She holds a feather duster in her right hand, and in her left is a jar of Royal Worcester. “Mary,” Mrs. Edwards says, severely, “where are we at?”

Mary (meekly). “Boston, ma’am.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “South Boston or Boston proper?”

Mary. “Boston proper, ma’am.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “Then when I say ‘Who’s there?’ don’t say ‘Me.’ That manner of speaking may do at New York, Brooklyn, South Boston, or Congress, but at Boston proper it is extremely gauche. ‘I’ is the word.”

Mary. “Yes, ma’am; but you know, ma’am, I don’t pretend to be literary, ma’am, and so these little points baffles I very often.” Mrs. Edwards sighs, and, walking over to the window, looks out upon the trolley-cars for ten minutes; then, picking up one of the pins from the floor and putting it in a pink silk pin-cushion which stands next to an alarm-clock on the mantel-piece, a marble affair with plain caryatids and a brass fender around the hearth, she resumes her seat before the sewing-machine, and threads a needle. Then—

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “Well, Mary, what do you want?”

Mary. “Please, Mrs. Edwards, the butcher is came, and he says they have some very fine perairie-chickens to-day.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “We don’t want any prairie-chickens. The prairies are so very vulgar. Tell him never to suggest such a thing again. Have we any potatoes in the house?”

Mary. “There’s three left, ma’am, and two slices of cold roast beef.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “Then tell him to bring five more potatoes, a steak, and—Was all the pickled salmon eaten?”

Mary. “All but the can, ma’am.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “Well—Mr. Edwards is very fond of fish. Tell him to bring two boxes of sardines and a bottle of anchovy paste.”

MARY MARY

Mary. “Very well, Mrs. Edwards.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “And—ah—Mary, tell him to bring some Brussels sprouts for breakfast. What are you doing with that Worcester vase?”

Mary. “I was takin’ it to cook, ma’am. Sure she broke the bean-pot this mornin’, and she wanted somethin’ to cook the beans in.”

Mrs. Robert Edwards. “Oh, I see. Well, take good care of it, Mary. It’s a rare piece. In fact, I think you’d better leave that here and remove the rubber plant from the jardinière, and let Nora cook the beans in that. Times are a little too hard to cook beans in Royal Worcester.”

Mary. “Very well, ma’am.” Mary goes out through the door. Mrs. Edwards resumes her sewing. Fifteen minutes elapse, interrupted only by the ticking of the alarm-clock and the occasional ringing of the bell on passing trolley-cars. “If it does rain,” Mrs. Edwards says at last, with an anxious glance through the window, “I suppose Robert won’t care about going to see the pantomime to-night. It will be too bad if we don’t go, for this is the last night of the season, and I’ve been very anxious to renew my acquaintance with ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ It is so very dramatic, and I do so like dramatic things. Even when they happen in my own life I like dramatic things. I’ll never forget how I enjoyed the thrill that came over me, even in my terror, that night last winter when the trolley-car broke down in front of this house; and last summer, too, when the oar-lock broke in our row-boat thirty-three feet from shore; that was a situation that I enjoyed in spite of its peril. How people can say that life is humdrum, I can’t see. Exciting things, real third-act situations, climaxes I might even call them, are always happening in my life, and yet some novelists pretend that life is humdrum just to excuse their books for being humdrum. I’d just like to show these apostles of realism the diary I could have kept if I had wanted to. Beginning with the fall my brother George had from the hay-wagon, back in 1876, running down through my first meeting with Robert, which was romantic enough—he paid my car-fare in from Brookline the day I lost my pocket-book—even to yesterday, when an entire stranger called me up on the telephone, my life has fairly bubbled with dramatic situations that would take the humdrum theory and utterly annihilate it.” As Mrs. Edwards is speaking she is also sewing the button already alluded to on Mr. Edwards’s coat as described. “There,” taking the last stitch in the coat, “that’s done, and now I can go and get ready for luncheon.” She folds up the coat, glances at the clock, and goes out. A half-hour elapses. The silence is broken only by occasional noises from the street, the rattling of the wheels of a herdic over the pavement, the voices of newsboys, and an occasional strawberry-vender’s cry. At the end of the half-hour the alarm-clock goes off and the curtain falls.


SCENE SECOND

Time: Evening at Boston

The scene is laid in the drawing-room of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Edwards. Mrs. Edwards is discovered reading Pendennis, and seems in imminent danger of going to sleep over it. Mr. Edwards is stretched out upon the sofa, quite asleep, with Ivanhoe lying open upon his chest. Twenty-five minutes elapse, when the door-bell rings.

Mr. Edwards (drowsily). “Let me off at the next corner, conductor.”

Mrs. Edwards. “Why, Robert—what nonsense you are talking!”

EDWARDS REBELS EDWARDS REBELS

Mr. Edwards (rubbing his eyes and sitting up). “Eh? What? Nonsense? I talk nonsense? Really, my dear, that is a serious charge to bring against one of the leading characters in a magazine farce. Wit, perhaps, I may indulge in, but nonsense, never!”

Mrs. Edwards. “That is precisely what I complain about. The idea of a well-established personage like yourself lying off on a sofa in his own apartment and asking a conductor to let him off at the next corner! It’s—”

Mr. Edwards. “I didn’t do anything of the sort.”

Mrs. Edwards. “You did, too, Robert Edwards. And I can prove it. If you will read back to the opening lines of this scene you will find that I have spoken the truth—unless you forgot your lines. If you admit that, I have nothing to say, but I will add that if you are going to forget lines that give the key-note of the whole situation, you’ve got no business in a farce. You’ll make the whole thing fall flat some day, and then you will be discharged.”

Mr. Edwards. “Well, I wish I might be discharged; I’m tired of the whole business. Anybody’d take me for an idiot, the way I have to go on. Every bit of fun there is to be had in these farces is based upon some predicament into which my idiocy or yours gets me. Are we idiots? I ask you that. Are we? You may be, but, Mrs. Edwards, I am not. The idea of my falling asleep over Ivanhoe! Would I do that if I had my way? Well, I guess not! Would I even dare to say ‘I guess not’ in a magazine farce? Again, I guess not. I’m going to write to the editor this very night, and resign my situation. I want to be me. I don’t want to be what some author thinks I ought to be. Do you know what I think?”

Mrs. Edwards (warningly). “Take care, Robert. Take care. You aren’t employed to think.”

Mr. Edwards. “Precisely. That’s what makes me so immortally mad. The author doesn’t give me time to think. I could think real thoughts if he’d let me, but then! The curtain wouldn’t stay up half a second if I did that; and where would the farce be? The audience would go home tired, because they wouldn’t get their nap if the curtain was down. It’s hard luck; and as for me, I wouldn’t keep the position a minute if I could get anything else to do. Nobody’d give me work, now that I’ve been made out to be such a confounded jackass. But let’s talk of other things.”

Mrs. Edwards. “I’d love to, Robert—but we can’t. There are no other things in the farce. The Billises are coming.”

Mr. Edwards. “Hang the Billises! Can’t we ever have an evening to ourselves?”

Mrs. Edwards. “How you do talk! How can we? There’s got to be some action in the farce, and it’s the Billis family that draws out our peculiarities.”

Mr. Edwards. “Well, I’m going out, and you can receive the Billises, and if it’s necessary for me to say anything to give go to the play, you can say it. I make you my proxy.”

Mrs. Edwards. “It can’t be done, Robert. They are here. The bell rang ten minutes ago, and they ought to have got in here five minutes since. You can’t go out without meeting them in the wings—I mean the hallway.”

Mr. Edwards. “Lost!”

Enter Mr. and Mrs. Billis.

Billis. “Ah, Edwards! Howdy do? Knew you were home. Saw light in—”

Mrs. Billis. “Don’t rattle on so, my dear. Speak more slowly, or the farce will be over before nine.”

Billis. “I’ve got to say my lines, and I’m going to say them my way. Ah, Edwards! Howdy do? Knew you were home. Saw light in window. Knew your economical spirit. Said to myself must be home, else why gas? He doesn’t burn gas when he’s out. Wake up—”

Mr. Edwards. “I’m not asleep. Fact is, I am going out.”

Mrs. Billis. “Out?”

Mrs. Edwards. “Robert!”

Mr. Edwards. “That’s what I said—out. O-u-t.

Billis. “Not bad idea. Go with you. Where to?”

Mr. Edwards. “Anywhere—to find a tragedy and take part in it. I’m done farcing, my boy.”

Billis (slapping Edwards on back). “Rah! my position exactly. I’m sick of it too. Come ahead. I know that fellow Whoyt—he’ll take us in and give us a chance.”

Mrs. Billis. “I’ve been afraid of this.”

Mrs. Edwards. “Robert, consider your family.”

Mr. Edwards. “I have; and if I’m to die respected and honored, if my family is to have any regard for my memory, I’ve got to get out of farcing. That’s all. Did you sew the button on my overcoat?”

Mrs. Edwards. “I did. I’ll go get it.”

She goes out. Mrs. Billis throws herself sobbing on sofa. Billis dances a jig. Forty minutes elapse, during which Billis’s dance may be encored. Enter Mrs. Edwards, triumphantly, with overcoat.

Mrs. Edwards. “There’s your overcoat.”

Mr. Edwards. “But—but the button isn’t sewed on. I can’t go out in this.”

Mrs. Edwards. “I knew it, Robert. I sewed the button on the wrong coat.”

Billis and Robert fall in a faint. Mrs. Billis rises and smiles, grasping Mrs. Edwards’s hand fervently.

Mrs. Billis. “Noble woman!”

Mrs. Edwards. “Yes; I’ve saved the farce.”

Mrs. Billis. “You have. For, in spite of these—these strikers—these theatric Debses, you—you got in the point! The button was sewed on the wrong overcoat!

Curtain.


“When the farce was finished,” said Mr. Parke, “and the applause which greeted the fall of the curtain had subsided, I dreamed also the following author’s note: ‘The elapses’ in this farce may seem rather long, but the reader must remember that it is the author’s intention that his farce, if acted, should last throughout a whole evening. If it were not for the elapses the acting time would be scarcely longer than twenty minutes, instead of two hours and a half.”

“I mention this,” Mr. Parke added, “not only in justification of myself, but also as a possible explanation of certain shortcomings in the work of the original master. Sometimes the action may seem to drag a trifle, but that is not the fault of the author, but of life itself. To be real one must be true, and truth is not to be governed by him who holds the pen.”


Mr. Parke’s explanation having been received in a proper and appreciative spirit by his fellow-Dreamers, Mr. Jones announced that Mr. Monty St. Vincent was the holder of the sixth ball, whereupon Mr. St. Vincent arose and delivered himself as follows:



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