The Story of the Gadsbys
To THE ADDRESS OF CAPTAIN J. MAFFLIN,
Duke of Derry’s (Pink) Hussars.
DEAR MAFFLIN, – You will remember that I wrote this story as an Awful Warning. None the less you have seen fit to disregard it and have followed Gadsby’s example – as I betted you would. I acknowledge that you paid the money at once, but you have prejudiced the mind of Mrs. Mafflin against myself, for though I am almost the only respectable friend of your bachelor days, she has been darwaza band to me throughout the season. Further, she caused you to invite me to dinner at the Club, where you called me “a wild ass of the desert,” and went home at half-past ten, after discoursing for twenty minutes on the responsibilities of housekeeping. You now drive a mail-phaeton and sit under a Church of England clergyman. I am not angry, Jack. It is your kismet, as it was Gaddy’s, and his kismet who can avoid? Do not think that I am moved by a spirit of revenge as I write, thus publicly, that you and you alone are responsible for this book. In other and more expansive days, when you could look at a magnum without flushing and at a cheroot without turning white, you supplied me with most of the material. Take it back again – would that I could have preserved your fatherless speech in the telling – take it back, and by your slippered hearth read it to the late Miss Deercourt. She will not be any the more willing to receive my cards, but she will admire you immensely, and you, I feel sure, will love me. You may even invite me to another very bad dinner – at the Club, which, as you and your wife know, is a safe neutral ground for the entertainment of wild asses. Then, my very dear hypocrite, we shall be quits.
P. S. – On second thoughts I should recommend you to keep the book away from Mrs. Mafflin.
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 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 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.