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Ch. 1: 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. Gypsy Song.

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 any-thing, 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 Older look
lopsided.

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 bodice, 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 sha'n'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.

AGONIZED VOICE. (Prom 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? (Rummager 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 enormous 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 that moustache?

Miss T. (Busy with Powder-puff.) Yes, I think so. Why?

Miss D. (Bending over 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) with 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 the 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-Hamm. (Aside.) 'Wonder what the little beast
can talk about. 'Must make a shot at it.

Miss T. (Aside.) Oh, this is agonizing. 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! (Aside.)
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 colors 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 Zap.) 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-Hamm (Pulls at his
mousache 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! What-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 PROM 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 he 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 par
don. 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 afterward. 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 I

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
afterward.

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. J 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 color in the sunshine
before. (Aloud.) It's like one of Dicksee's pictures.

Miss T. Yes I 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 j 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 wished 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 bates 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 even stone forever. 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 oat 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 cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

(AN INTERVAL OF THREE WEEKS.)

GILDED YOUTH. (Sitting on railings opposite Town Hall.)
Hullo, Gandy! 'Been trotting out the Gorgonzola! We all thought it
was the Gorgan 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 THREECAN 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 'I'. (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
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.
(Porte.) Chalo ghar ko jaldi, jhampani! (Go home, jhampani.)

Rudyard Kipling

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