J. M. Barrie
THE BLUE AND WHITE ROOM
The scene is the blue and white room in the house of the Misses Susan
and Phoebe Throssel in Quality Street; and in this little country town
there is a satisfaction about living in Quality Street which even
religion cannot give. Through the bowed window at the back we have a
glimpse of the street. It is pleasantly broad and grass-grown, and is
linked to the outer world by one demure shop, whose door rings a bell
every time it opens and shuts. Thus by merely peeping, every one in
Quality Street can know at once who has been buying a Whimsy cake, and
usually why. This bell is the most familiar sound of Quality Street.
Now and again ladies pass in their pattens, a maid perhaps protecting
them with an umbrella, for flakes of snow are falling discreetly.
Gentlemen in the street are an event; but, see, just as we raise the
curtain, there goes the recruiting sergeant to remind us that we are in
the period of the Napoleonic wars. If he were to look in at the window
of the blue and white room all the ladies there assembled would draw
themselves up; they know him for a rude fellow who smiles at the
approach of maiden ladies and continues to smile after they have
passed. However, he lowers his head to-day so that they shall not see
him, his present design being converse with the Misses Throssel's maid.
The room is one seldom profaned by the foot of man, and everything in
it is white or blue. Miss Phoebe is not present, but here are Miss
Susan, Miss Willoughby and her sister Miss Fanny, and Miss Henrietta
Turnbull. Miss Susan and Miss Willoughby, alas, already wear caps; but
all the four are dear ladies, so refined that we ought not to be
discussing them without a more formal introduction. There seems no
sufficient reason why we should choose Miss Phoebe as our heroine
rather than any one of the others, except, perhaps, that we like her
name best. But we gave her the name, so we must support our choice and
say that she is slightly the nicest, unless, indeed, Miss Susan is
Miss Fanny is reading aloud from a library book while the others sew
or knit. They are making garments for our brave soldiers now far away
fighting the Corsican Ogre.
MISS FANNY. '... And so the day passed and evening came, black,
mysterious, and ghost-like. The wind moaned unceasingly like a
shivering spirit, and the vegetation rustled uneasily as if something
weird and terrifying were about to happen. Suddenly out of the
darkness there emerged a Man.
(She says the last word tremulously but without looking up. The
listeners knit more quickly.)
The unhappy Camilla was standing lost in reverie when, without pausing
to advertise her of his intentions, he took both her hands in his.
(By this time the knitting has stopped, and all are listening as if
Slowly he gathered her in his arms----
(MISS SUSAN gives an excited little cry.)
MISS FANNY. And rained hot, burning----'
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Sister!
MISS FANNY (greedily). 'On eyes, mouth----'
MISS WILLOUGHBY (sternly). Stop. Miss Susan, I am indeed surprised
you should bring such an amazing, indelicate tale from the library.
MISS SUSAN (with a slight shudder). I deeply regret, Miss
Willoughby---- (Sees MISS FANNY reading quickly to herself.) Oh,
Fanny! If you please, my dear.
(Takes the book gently from her.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. I thank you.
(She knits severely.)
MISS FANNY (a little rebel). Miss Susan is looking at the end.
(MISS SUSAN closes the book guiltily.)
MISS SUSAN (apologetically). Forgive my partiality for romance,
Mary. I fear 'tis the mark of an old maid.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Susan, that word!
MISS SUSAN (sweetly). 'Tis what I am. And you also, Mary, my dear.
MISS FANNY (defending her sister). Miss Susan, I protest.
MISS WILLOUGHBY (sternly truthful). Nay, sister, 'tis true. We are
known everywhere now, Susan, you and I, as the old maids of Quality
Street. (General discomfort.)
MISS SUSAN. I am happy Phoebe will not be an old maid.
MISS HENRIETTA (wistfully). Do you refer, Miss Susan, to V. B.?
(MISS SUSAN smiles happily to herself.)
MISS SUSAN. Miss Phoebe of the ringlets as he has called her.
MISS FANNY. Other females besides Miss Phoebe have ringlets.
MISS SUSAN. But you and Miss Henrietta have to employ papers, my dear.
(Proudly) Phoebe, never.
MISS WILLOUGHBY (in defence of FANNY). I do not approve of Miss
Phoebe at all.
MISS SUSAN (flushing). Mary, had Phoebe been dying you would have
called her an angel, but that is ever the way. 'Tis all jealousy to
the bride and good wishes to the corpse. (Her guests rise, hurt.)
My love, I beg your pardon.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. With your permission, Miss Susan, I shall put on my
(MISS SUSAN gives permission almost haughtily, and the ladies retire
to the bedroom, MISS FANNY remaining behind a moment to ask a
MISS FANNY. A bride? Miss Susan, do you mean that V. B. has declared?
MISS SUSAN. Fanny, I expect it hourly.
(MISS SUSAN, left alone, is agitated by the terrible scene with MISS
(Enter PHOEBE in her bonnet, and we see at once that she really is
the nicest. She is so flushed with delightful news that she almost
forgets to take off her pattens before crossing the blue and white
MISS SUSAN. You seem strangely excited, Phoebe.
PHOEBE. Susan, I have met a certain individual.
MISS SUSAN. V. B.? (PHOEBE nods several times, and her gleaming eyes
tell MISS SUSAN as much as if they were a romance from the library.)
My dear, you are trembling.
PHOEBE (bravely). No--oh no.
MISS SUSAN. You put your hand to your heart.
PHOEBE. Did I?
MISS SUSAN (in a whisper). My love, has he offered?
PHOEBE (appalled). Oh, Susan.
(Enter MISS WILLOUGHBY, partly cloaked.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. How do you do, Miss Phoebe. (Portentously) Susan,
I have no wish to alarm you, but I am of opinion that there is a man in
the house. I suddenly felt it while putting on my pattens.
MISS SUSAN. You mean--a follower--in the kitchen? (She courageously
rings the bell, but her voice falters.) I am just a little afraid of
(Enter PATTY, a buxom young woman, who loves her mistresses and
smiles at them, and knows how to terrorise them.)
Patty, I hope we may not hurt your feelings, but--
PATTY (sternly). Are you implicating, ma'am, that I have a follower?
MISS SUSAN. Oh no, Patty.
PATTY. So be it.
MISS SUSAN (ashamed). Patty, come back, (Humbly) I told a
falsehood just now; I am ashamed of myself.
PATTY (severely). As well you might be, ma'am.
PHOEBE (so roused that she would look heroic if she did not spoil the
effect by wagging her finger at PATTY). How dare you. There is a man
in the kitchen. To the door with him.
PATTY. A glorious soldier to be so treated!
PHOEBE. The door.
PATTY. And if he refuses?
(They looked perplexed.)
MISS SUSAN. Oh dear!
PHOEBE. If he refuses send him here to me.
MISS SUSAN. Lion-hearted Phoebe.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. A soldier? (Nervously) I wish it may not be that
impertinent recruiting sergeant. I passed him in the street to-day.
He closed one of his eyes at me and then quickly opened it. I knew
what he meant.
PHOEBE. He does not come.
MISS SUSAN. I think I hear their voices in dispute.
(She is listening through the floor. They all stoop or go on their
knees to listen, and when they are in this position the RECRUITING
SERGEANT enters unobserved. He chuckles aloud. In a moment PHOEBE
is alone with him.)
SERGEANT (with an Irish accent). Your servant, ma'am.
PHOEBE (advancing sternly on him). Sir-- (She is perplexed, as he
seems undismayed.) Sergeant-- (She sees mud from his boots on the
carpet.) Oh! oh! (Brushes carpet.) Sergeant, I am wishful to scold
you, but would you be so obliging as to stand on this paper while I do
SERGEANT. With all the pleasure in life, ma'am.
PHOEBE (forgetting to be angry). Sergeant, have you killed people?
SERGEANT. Dozens, ma'am, dozens.
PHOEBE. How terrible. Oh, sir, I pray every night that the Lord in
His loving-kindness will root the enemy up. Is it true that the
Corsican Ogre eats babies?
SERGEANT. I have spoken with them as have seen him do it, ma'am.
PHOEBE. The Man of Sin. Have you ever seen a vivandiere, sir?
(Wistfully) I have sometimes wished there were vivandieres in the
British Army. (For a moment she sees herself as one.) Oh, Sergeant,
a shudder goes through me when I see you in the streets enticing those
poor young men.
SERGEANT. If you were one of them, ma'am, and death or glory was the
call, you would take the shilling, ma'am.
PHOEBE. Oh, not for that.
SERGEANT. For King and Country, ma'am?
PHOEBE (grandly). Yes, yes, for that.
SERGEANT (candidly). Not that it is all fighting. The sack of
captured towns--the loot.
PHOEBE (proudly). An English soldier never sacks nor loots.
SERGEANT. No, ma'am. And then--the girls.
PHOEBE. What girls?
SERGEANT. In the towns that--that we don't sack.
PHOEBE. How they must hate the haughty conqueror.
SERGEANT. We are not so haughty as all that.
PHOEBE (sadly). I think I understand. I am afraid, Sergeant, you do
not tell those poor young men the noble things I thought you told them.
SERGEANT. Ma'am, I must e'en tell them what they are wishful to hear.
There ha' been five, ma'am, all this week, listening to me and then
showing me their heels, but by a grand stroke of luck I have them at
(MISS SUSAN opens door slightly and listens.)
SERGEANT. The luck, ma'am, is that a gentleman of the town has
enlisted. That gave them the push forward.
(MISS SUSAN is excited.)
PHOEBE. A gentleman of this town enlisted? (Eagerly) Sergeant, who?
SERGEANT. Nay, ma'am, I think it be a secret as yet.
PHOEBE. But a gentleman! 'Tis the most amazing, exciting thing.
Sergeant, be so obliging.
SERGEANT. Nay, ma'am, I can't.
MISS SUSAN (at door, carried away by excitement). But you must, you
SERGEANT (turning to the door). You see, ma'am--
(The door is hurriedly closed.)
PHOEBE (ashamed). Sergeant, I have not been saying the things I
meant to say to you. Will you please excuse my turning you out of the
house somewhat violently.
SERGEANT. I am used to it, ma'am.
PHOEBE. I won't really hurt you.
SERGEANT. Thank you kindly, ma'am.
PHOEBE (observing the bedroom door opening a little, and speaking in a
loud voice). I protest, sir; we shall permit no followers in this
house. Should I discover you in my kitchen again I shall pitch you
out--neck and crop. Begone, sir.
(The SERGEANT retires affably. All the ladies except MISS
HENRIETTA come out, admiring PHOEBE. The WILLOUGHBYS are attired
for their journey across the street.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Miss Phoebe, we could not but admire you.
(PHOEBE, alas, knows that she is not admirable.)
PHOEBE. But the gentleman recruit?
MISS SUSAN. Perhaps they will know who he is at the woollen-drapers.
MISS FANNY. Let us inquire.
(But before they go MISS WILLOUGHBY has a duty to perform.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. I wish to apologise. Miss Phoebe, you are a dear,
good girl. If I have made remarks about her ringlets, Susan, it was
jealousy. (PHOEBE and MISS SUSAN wish to embrace her, but she is
not in the mood for it.) Come, sister.
MISS FANNY (the dear woman that she is). Phoebe, dear, I wish you
(PHOEBE presses her hand.)
MISS HENRIETTA (entering, and not to be outdone). Miss Phoebe, I
give you joy.
(The three ladies go, the two younger ones a little tearfully, and we
see them pass the window.)
PHOEBE (pained). Susan, you have been talking to them about V. B.
MISS SUSAN. I could not help it. (Eagerly) Now, Phoebe, what is it
you have to tell me?
PHOEBE (in a low voice). Dear, I think it is too holy to speak of.
MISS SUSAN. To your sister?
PHOEBE. Susan, as you know, I was sitting with an unhappy woman whose
husband has fallen in the war. When I came out of the cottage he was
MISS SUSAN. Yes?
PHOEBE. He offered me his escort. At first he was very silent--as he
has often been of late.
MISS SUSAN. We know why.
PHOEBE. Please not to say that I know why. Suddenly he stopped and
swung his cane. You know how gallantly he swings his cane.
MISS SUSAN. Yes, indeed.
PHOEBE. He said: 'I have something I am wishful to tell you, Miss
Phoebe; perhaps you can guess what it is.'
MISS SUSAN. Go on!
PHOEBE. To say I could guess, sister, would have been unladylike. I
said: 'Please not to tell me in the public thoroughfare'; to which he
instantly replied: 'Then I shall call and tell you this afternoon.'
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe!
(They are interrupted by the entrance of PATTY with tea. They see
that she has brought three cups, and know that this is her impertinent
way of implying that mistresses, as well as maids, may have a
'follower.' When she has gone they smile at the daring of the woman,
and sit down to tea.)
PHOEBE. Susan, to think that it has all happened in a single year.
MISS SUSAN. Such a genteel competency as he can offer; such a
PHOEBE. I had no thought of that, dear. I was recalling our first
meeting at Mrs. Fotheringay's quadrille party.
MISS SUSAN. We had quite forgotten that our respected local physician
was growing elderly.
PHOEBE. Until he said: 'Allow me to present my new partner, Mr.
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, do you remember how at the tea-table he
facetiously passed the cake-basket with nothing in it!
PHOEBE. He was so amusing from the first. I am thankful, Susan, that
I too have a sense of humour. I am exceedingly funny at times; am I
MISS SUSAN. Yes, indeed. But he sees humour in the most unexpected
things. I say something so ordinary about loving, for instance, to
have everything either blue or white in this room, and I know not why
he laughs, but it makes me feel quite witty.
PHOEBE (a little anxiously). I hope he sees nothing odd or quaint
MISS SUSAN. My dear, I am sure he cannot.
PHOEBE. Susan, the picnics.
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, the day when he first drank tea in this house.
PHOEBE. He invited himself.
MISS SUSAN. He merely laughed when I said it would cause such talk.
PHOEBE. He is absolutely fearless. Susan, he has smoked his pipe in
(They are both a little scared.)
MISS SUSAN. Smoking is indeed a dreadful habit.
PHOEBE. But there is something so dashing about it.
MISS SUSAN (with melancholy). And now I am to be left alone.
MISS SUSAN. My dear, I could not leave this room. My lovely blue and
white room. It is my husband.
PHOEBE (who has become agitated). Susan, you must make my house your
home. I have something distressing to tell you.
MISS SUSAN. You alarm me.
PHOEBE. You know Mr. Brown advised us how to invest half of our money.
MISS SUSAN. I know it gives us eight per cent., though why it should
do so I cannot understand, but very obliging, I am sure.
PHOEBE. Susan, all that money is lost; I had the letter several days
MISS SUSAN. Lost?
PHOEBE. Something burst, dear, and then they absconded.
MISS SUSAN. But Mr. Brown--
PHOEBE. I have not advertised him of it yet, for he will think it was
his fault. But I shall tell him to-day.
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, how much have we left?
PHOEBE. Only sixty pounds a year, so you see you must live with us,
MISS SUSAN. But Mr. Brown--he----
PHOEBE (grandly). He is a man of means, and if he is not proud to
have my Susan I shall say at once: 'Mr. Brown--the door.'
(She presses her cheek to MISS SUSAN'S.)
MISS SUSAN (softly). Phoebe, I have a wedding gift for you.
PHOEBE. Not yet?
MISS SUSAN. It has been ready for a long time. I began it when you
were not ten years old and I was a young woman. I meant it for myself,
Phoebe. I had hoped that he--his name was William--but I think I must
have been too unattractive, my love.
MISS SUSAN. I always associate it with a sprigged poplin I was wearing
that summer, with a breadth of coloured silk in it, being a naval
officer; but something happened, a Miss Cicely Pemberton, and they are
quite big boys now. So long ago, Phoebe--he was very tall, with brown
hair--it was most foolish of me, but I was always so fond of
sewing--with long straight legs and such a pleasant expression.
PHOEBE. Susan, what was it?
MISS SUSAN. It was a wedding-gown, my dear. Even plain women, Phoebe,
we can't help it; when we are young we have romantic ideas just as if
we were pretty. And so the wedding-gown was never used. Long before
it was finished I knew he would not offer, but I finished it, and then
I put it away. I have always hidden it from you, Phoebe, but of late I
have brought it out again, and altered it.
(She goes to ottoman and unlocks it.)
PHOEBE. Susan, I could not wear it. (MISS SUSAN brings the
wedding-gown.) Oh! how sweet, how beautiful!
MISS SUSAN. You will wear it, my love, won't you? And the tears it
was sewn with long ago will all turn into smiles on my Phoebe's
(They are tearfully happy when a knock is heard on the street door.)
PHOEBE. That knock.
MISS SUSAN. So dashing.
PHOEBE. So imperious. (She is suddenly panic-stricken.) Susan, I
think he kissed me once.
MISS SUSAN (startled). You think?
PHOEBE. I know he did. That evening--a week ago, when he was squiring
me home from the concert. It was raining, and my face was wet; he said
that was why he did it.
MISS SUSAN. Because your face was wet?
PHOEBE. It does not seem a sufficient excuse now.
MISS SUSAN (appalled). O Phoebe, before he had offered.
PHOEBE (in distress). I fear me it was most unladylike.
(VALENTINE BROWN is shown in. He is a frank, genial young man of
twenty-five who honestly admires the ladies, though he is amused by
their quaintness. He is modestly aware that it is in the blue and
white room alone that he is esteemed a wit.)
BROWN. Miss Susan, how do you do, ma'am? Nay, Miss Phoebe, though we
have met to-day already I insist on shaking hands with you again.
MISS SUSAN. Always so dashing.
(VALENTINE laughs and the ladies exchange delighted smiles.)
VALENTINE (to MISS SUSAN). And my other friends, I hope I find them
in health? The spinet, ma'am, seems quite herself to-day; I trust the
ottoman passed a good night?
MISS SUSAN (beaming). We are all quite well, sir.
VALENTINE. May I sit on this chair, Miss Phoebe? I know Miss Susan
likes me to break her chairs.
MISS SUSAN. Indeed, sir, I do not. Phoebe, how strange that he should
PHOEBE (instantly). The remark was humorous, was it not?
VALENTINE. How you see through me, Miss Phoebe.
(The sisters again exchange delighted smiles. VALENTINE is about to
take a seat.)
MISS SUSAN (thinking aloud). Oh dear, I feel sure he is going to
roll the coverlet into a ball and then sit on it.
(VALENTINE, who has been on the point of doing so, abstains and sits
VALENTINE. So I am dashing, Miss Susan? Am I dashing, Miss Phoebe?
PHOEBE. A--little, I think.
VALENTINE. Well, but I have something to tell you to-day which I
really think is rather dashing. (MISS SUSAN gathers her knitting,
looks at PHOEBE, and is preparing to go.) You are not going, ma'am,
before you know what it is?
MISS SUSAN. I--I--indeed--to be sure--I--I know, Mr. Brown.
MISS SUSAN. I mean I do not know. I mean I can guess--I mean----
Phoebe, my love, explain. (She goes out.)
VALENTINE (rather disappointed). The explanation being, I suppose,
that you both know, and I had flattered myself 'twas such a secret. Am
I then to understand that you had foreseen it all, Miss Phoebe?
PHOEBE. Nay, sir, you must not ask that.
VALENTINE. I believe in any case 'twas you who first put it into my
PHOEBE (aghast). Oh, I hope not.
VALENTINE. Your demure eyes flashed so every time the war was
mentioned; the little Quaker suddenly looked like a gallant boy in
(A dread comes over PHOEBE, but it is in her heart alone; it shows
neither in face nor voice.)
PHOEBE. Mr. Brown, what is it you have to tell us?
VALENTINE. That I have enlisted, Miss Phoebe. Did you surmise it was
PHOEBE. You are going to the wars? Mr. Brown, is it a jest?
VALENTINE. It would be a sorry jest, ma'am. I thought you knew. I
concluded that the recruiting sergeant had talked.
PHOEBE. The recruiting sergeant? I see.
VALENTINE. These stirring times, Miss Phoebe--he is but half a man who
stays at home. I have chafed for months. I want to see whether I have
any courage, and as to be an army surgeon does not appeal to me, it was
enlist or remain behind. To-day I found that there were five waverers.
I asked them would they take the shilling if I took it, and they
assented. Miss Phoebe, it is not one man I give to the King, but six.
PHOEBE (brightly). I think you have done bravely.
VALENTINE. We leave shortly for the Petersburgh barracks, and I go to
London tomorrow; so this is good-bye.
PHOEBE. I shall pray that you may be preserved in battle, Mr. Brown.
VALENTINE. And you and Miss Susan will write to me when occasion
PHOEBE. If you wish it.
VALENTINE (smiling). With all the stirring news of Quality Street.
PHOEBE. It seems stirring to us; it must have been merely laughable to
you, who came here from a great city.
VALENTINE. Dear Quality Street--that thought me dashing! But I made
friends in it, Miss Phoebe, of two very sweet ladies.
PHOEBE (timidly). Mr. Brown, I wonder why you have been so kind to
my sister and me?
VALENTINE. The kindness was yours. If at first Miss Susan amused me--
(Chuckling.) To see her on her knees decorating the little legs of
the couch with frills as if it were a child! But it was her sterling
qualities that impressed me presently.
PHOEBE. And did--did I amuse you also?
VALENTINE. Prodigiously, Miss Phoebe. Those other ladies, they were
always scolding you, your youthfulness shocked them. I believe they
thought you dashing.
PHOEBE (nervously). I have sometimes feared that I was perhaps too
VALENTINE (laughing at this). You delicious Miss Phoebe. You were
too quiet. I felt sorry that one so sweet and young should live so
grey a life. I wondered whether I could put any little pleasures into
PHOEBE. The picnics? It was very good of you.
VALENTINE. That was only how it began, for soon I knew that it was I
who got the pleasures and you who gave them. You have been to me, Miss
Phoebe, like a quiet, old-fashioned garden full of the flowers that
Englishmen love best because they have known them longest: the daisy,
that stands for innocence, and the hyacinth for constancy, and the
modest violet and the rose. When I am far away, ma'am, I shall often
think of Miss Phoebe's pretty soul, which is her garden, and shut my
eyes and walk in it.
(She is smiling gallantly through her pain when MISS SUSAN returns.)
MISS SUSAN. Have you--is it--you seem so calm, Phoebe.
PHOEBE (pressing her sister's hand warningly and imploringly).
Susan, what Mr. Brown is so obliging as to inform us of is not what we
expected--not that at all. My dear, he is the gentleman who has
enlisted, and he came to tell us that and to say good-bye.
MISS SUSAN. Going away?
PHOEBE. Yes, dear.
VALENTINE. Am I not the ideal recruit, ma'am: a man without a wife or
a mother or a sweetheart?
MISS SUSAN. No sweetheart?
VALENTINE. Have you one for me, Miss Susan?
PHOEBE (hastily, lest her sister's face should betray the truth).
Susan, we shall have to tell him now. You dreadful man, you will laugh
and say it is just like Quality Street. But indeed since I met you
to-day and you told me you had something to communicate we have been
puzzling what it could be, and we concluded that you were going to be
VALENTINE. Ha! ha! ha! Was that it.
PHOEBE. So like women, you know. We thought we perhaps knew her.
(Glancing at the wedding-gown.) We were even discussing what we
should wear at the wedding.
VALENTINE. Ha! ha! I shall often think of this. I wonder who would
have me, Miss Susan. (Rising.) But I must be off; and God bless you
MISS SUSAN (forlorn). You are going!
VALENTINE. No more mud on your carpet, Miss Susan; no more coverlets
rolled into balls. A good riddance. Miss Phoebe, a last look at the
(Taking her hand and looking into her face.)
PHOEBE. We shall miss you very much, Mr. Brown.
VALENTINE. There is one little matter. That investment I advised you
to make, I am happy it has turned out so well.
PHOEBE (checking MISS SUSAN, who is about to tell of the loss of the
money). It was good of you to take all that trouble, sir. Accept our
VALENTINE. Indeed I am glad that you are so comfortably left; I am
your big brother. Good-bye again. (Looks round.) This little blue
and white room and its dear inmates, may they be unchanged when I come
(He goes. MISS SUSAN looks forlornly at PHOEBE, who smiles
PHOEBE. A misunderstanding; just a mistake. (She shudders, lifts the
wedding-gown and puts it back in the ottoman. MISS SUSAN sinks
sobbing into a chair.) Don't, dear, don't--we can live it down.
MISS SUSAN (fiercely). He is a fiend in human form.
PHOEBE. Nay, you hurt me, sister. He is a brave gentleman.
MISS SUSAN. The money; why did you not let me tell him?
PHOEBE (flushing). So that he might offer to me out of pity, Susan?
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, how are we to live with the quartern loaf at one
PHOEBE. Brother James----
MISS SUSAN. You know very well that brother James will do nothing for
PHOEBE. I think, Susan, we could keep a little school--for genteel
children only, of course. I would do most of the teaching.
MISS SUSAN. You a schoolmistress--Phoebe of the ringlets; every one
PHOEBE. I shall hide the ringlets away in a cap like yours, Susan, and
people will soon forget them. And I shall try to look staid and to
grow old quickly. It will not be so hard to me as you think, dear.
MISS SUSAN. There were other gentlemen who were attracted by you,
Phoebe, and you turned from them.
PHOEBE. I did not want them.
MISS SUSAN. They will come again, and others.
PHOEBE. No, dear; never speak of that to me any more. (In woe.) I
let him kiss me.
MISS SUSAN. You could not prevent him.
PHOEBE. Yes, I could. I know I could now. I wanted him to do it.
Oh, never speak to me of others after that. Perhaps he saw I wanted it
and did it to please me. But I meant--indeed I did--that I gave it to
him with all my love. Sister, I could bear all the rest; but I have
(The curtain falls, and we do not see the sisters again for ten
End of Act I.
Ten years later. It is the blue and white room still, but many of
Miss Susan's beautiful things have gone, some of them never to return;
others are stored upstairs. Their place is taken by grim scholastic
furniture: forms, a desk, a globe, a blackboard, heartless maps. It is
here that Miss Phoebe keeps school. Miss Susan teaches in the room
opening off it, once the spare bedroom, where there is a smaller
blackboard (for easier sums) but no globe, as Miss Susan is easily
alarmed. Here are the younger pupils unless they have grown defiant,
when they are promoted to the blue and white room to be under Miss
Phoebe's braver rule. They really frighten Miss Phoebe also, but she
does not let her sister know this.
It is noon on a day in August, and through the window we can see that
Quality Street is decorated with flags. We also hear at times martial
music from another street. Miss Phoebe is giving a dancing lesson to
half a dozen pupils, and is doing her very best; now she is at the
spinet while they dance, and again she is showing them the new step.
We know it is Miss Phoebe because some of her pretty airs and graces
still cling to her in a forlorn way, but she is much changed. Her
curls are out of sight under a cap, her manner is prim, the light has
gone from her eyes and buoyancy from her figure; she looks not ten
years older but twenty, and not an easy twenty. When the children are
not looking at her we know that she has the headache.
PHOEBE (who is sometimes at the spinet and sometimes dancing). Toes
out. So. Chest out. Georgy. Point your toes, Miss Beveridge--so.
So--keep in line; and young ladies, remember your toes. (GEORGY in
his desire to please has protruded the wrong part of his person. She
writes a C on his chest with chalk.) C stands for chest, Georgy.
This is S.
(MISS SUSAN darts out of the other room. She is less worn than MISS
MISS SUSAN (whispering so that the pupils may not hear). Phoebe, how
many are fourteen and seventeen?
PHOEBE (almost instantly). Thirty-one.
MISS SUSAN. I thank you. (She darts off.)
PHOEBE. That will do, ladies and gentlemen. You may go.
(They bow or curtsy, and retire to MISS SUSAN'S room, with the
exception of ARTHUR WELLESLEY TOMSON, who is standing in disgrace in
a corner with the cap of shame on his head, and ISABELLA, a
forbidding-looking, learned little girl. ISABELLA holds up her hand
for permission to speak.)
ISABELLA. Please, ma'am, father wishes me to acquire algebra.
PHOEBE (with a sinking). Algebra! It--it is not a very ladylike
ISABELLA. Father says, will you or won't you?
PHOEBE. And you are thin. It will make you thinner, my dear.
ISABELLA. Father says I am thin but wiry.
PHOEBE. Yes, you are. (With feeling.) You are very wiry, Isabella.
ISABELLA. Father says, either I acquire algebra or I go to Miss
PHOEBE. Very well, I--I will do my best. You may go.
(ISABELLA goes and PHOEBE sits wearily.)
ARTHUR (fingering his cap). Please, ma'am, may I take it off now?
PHOEBE. Certainly not. Unhappy boy---- (ARTHUR grins.) Come here.
Are you ashamed of yourself?
ARTHUR (blithely). No, ma'am.
PHOEBE (in a terrible voice). Arthur Wellesley Tomson, fetch me the
implement. (ARTHUR goes briskly for the cane, and she hits the desk
with it.) Arthur, surely that terrifies you?
ARTHUR. No, ma'am.
PHOEBE. Arthur, why did you fight with that street boy?
ARTHUR. 'Cos he said that when you caned you did not draw blood.
PHOEBE. But I don't, do I?
ARTHUR. No, ma'am.
PHOEBE. Then why fight him? (Remembering how strange boys are.)
Was it for the honour of the school?
ARTHUR. Yes, ma'am.
PHOEBE. Say you are sorry, Arthur, and I won't punish you.
(He bursts into tears.)
ARTHUR. You promised to cane me, and now you are not going to do it.
PHOEBE (incredulous). Do you wish to be caned?
ARTHUR (holding out his hand eagerly). If you please, Miss Phoebe.
PHOEBE. Unnatural boy. (She canes him in a very unprofessional
manner.) Poor dear boy.
(She kisses the hand.)
ARTHUR (gloomily). Oh, ma'am, you will never be able to cane if you
hold it like that. You should hold it like this, Miss Phoebe, and give
it a wriggle like that.
(She is too soft-hearted to follow his instructions.)
PHOEBE (almost in tears). Go away.
ARTHUR (remembering that women are strange). Don't cry, ma'am; I
love you, Miss Phoebe.
(She seats him on her knee, and he thinks of a way to please her.)
If any boy says you can't cane I will blood him, Miss Phoebe.
(PHOEBE shudders, and MISS SUSAN again darts in. She signs to
PHOEBE to send ARTHUR away.)
MISS SUSAN (as soon as ARTHUR has gone). Phoebe, if a herring and
a half cost three ha'pence, how many for elevenpence?
PHOEBE (instantly). Eleven.
MISS SUSAN. William Smith says it is fifteen; and he is such a big
boy, do you think I ought to contradict him? May I say there are
differences of opinion about it? No one can be really sure, Phoebe.
PHOEBE. It is eleven. I once worked it out with real herrings.
(Stoutly.) Susan, we must never let the big boys know that we are
afraid of them. To awe them, stamp with the foot, speak in a ferocious
voice, and look them unflinchingly in the face. (Then she pales.)
Oh, Susan, Isabella's father insists on her acquiring algebra.
MISS SUSAN. What is algebra exactly; is it those three cornered things?
PHOEBE. It is x minus y equals z plus y and things like that.
And all the time you are saying they are equal, you feel in your heart,
why should they be.
(The music of the band swells here, and both ladies put their hands to
It is the band for to-night's ball. We must not grudge their
rejoicings, Susan. It is not every year that there is a Waterloo to
MISS SUSAN. I was not thinking of that. I was thinking that he is to
be at the ball to-night; and we have not seen him for ten years.
PHOEBE (calmly). Yes, ten years. We shall be glad to welcome our
old friend back, Susan. I am going in to your room now to take the
(A soldier with a girl passes--a yokel follows angrily.)
MISS SUSAN. Oh, that weary Latin, I wish I had the whipping of the man
who invented it.
(She returns to her room, and the sound of the music dies away. MISS
PHOEBE, who is not a very accomplished classical scholar, is taking a
final peep at the declensions when MISS SUSAN reappears excitedly.)
PHOEBE. What is it?
MISS SUSAN (tragically). William Smith! Phoebe, I tried to look
ferocious, indeed I did, but he saw I was afraid, and before the whole
school he put out his tongue at me.
(She is lion-hearted; she remembers ARTHUR'S instructions, and
practises with the cane.)
MISS SUSAN (frightened). Phoebe, he is much too big. Let it pass.
PHOEBE. If I let it pass I am a stumbling-block in the way of true
MISS SUSAN. Sister.
PHOEBE (grandly). Susan, stand aside.
(Giving the cane ARTHUR'S most telling flick, she marches into the
other room. Then, while MISS SUSAN is listening nervously, CAPTAIN
VALENTINE BROWN is ushered in by PATTY. He is bronzed and
soldierly. He wears the whiskers of the period, and is in uniform. He
has lost his left hand, but this is not at first noticeable.)
PATTY. Miss Susan, 'tis Captain Brown!
MISS SUSAN. Captain Brown!
VALENTINE (greeting her warmly). Reports himself at home again.
MISS SUSAN (gratified). You call this home?
VALENTINE. When the other men talked of their homes, Miss Susan, I
thought of this room. (Looking about him.) Maps--desks--heigho!
But still it is the same dear room. I have often dreamt, Miss Susan,
that I came back to it in muddy shoes. (Seeing her alarm.) I have
not, you know! Miss Susan, I rejoice to find no change in you; and
Miss Phoebe--Miss Phoebe of the ringlets--I hope there be as little
change in her?
MISS SUSAN (painfully). Phoebe of the ringlets! Ah, Captain Brown,
you need not expect to see her.
VALENTINE. She is not here? I vow it spoils all my home-coming.
(At this moment the door of the other room is filing open and PHOEBE
rushes out, followed by WILLIAM SMITH who is brandishing the cane.
VALENTINE takes in the situation, and without looking at PHOEBE
seizes WILLIAM by the collar and marches him out of the school.)
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, did you see who it is?
PHOEBE. I saw. (In a sudden tremor.) Susan, I have lost all my
(The pupils are crowding in from MISS SUSAN'S room and she orders
them back and goes with them. VALENTINE returns, and speaks as he
enters, not recognising PHOEBE, whose back is to him.)
VALENTINE. A young reprobate, madam, but I have deposited him on the
causeway. I fear--
(He stops, puzzled because the lady has covered her face with her
PHOEBE. Captain Brown.
VALENTINE. Miss Phoebe, it is you?
(He goes to her, but he cannot help showing that her appearance is a
shock to him.)
PHOEBE (without bitterness). Yes, I have changed very much, I have
not worn well, Captain Brown.
VALENTINE (awkwardly). We--we are both older, Miss Phoebe.
(He holds out his hand warmly, with affected high spirits.)
PHOEBE (smiling reproachfully). It was both hands when you went
away. (He has to show that his left hand is gone; she is overcome.)
I did not know. (She presses the empty sleeve in remorse.) You
never mentioned it in your letters.
VALENTINE (now grown rather stern). Miss Phoebe, what did you omit
from your letters that you had such young blackguards as that to
PHOEBE. He is the only one. Most of them are dear children; and this
is the last day of the term.
VALENTINE. Ah, ma'am, if only you had invested all your money as you
laid out part by my advice. What a monstrous pity you did not.
PHOEBE. We never thought of it.
VALENTINE. You look so tired.
PHOEBE. I have the headache to-day.
VALENTINE. You did not use to have the headache. Curse those dear
PHOEBE (bravely). Nay, do not distress yourself about me. Tell me
of yourself. We are so proud of the way in which you won your
commission. Will you leave the army now?
VALENTINE. Yes; and I have some intention of pursuing again the old
life in Quality Street. (He is not a man who has reflected much. He
has come back thinking that all the adventures have been his, and that
the old life in Quality Street has waited, as in a sleep, to be resumed
on the day of his return.) I came here in such high spirits, Miss
PHOEBE (with a wry smile). The change in me depresses you.
VALENTINE. I was in hopes that you and Miss Susan would be going to
the ball. I had brought cards for you with me to make sure.
(She is pleased and means to accept. He sighs, and she understands
that he thinks her too old.)
PHOEBE. But now you see that my dancing days are done.
VALENTINE (uncomfortably). Ah, no.
PHOEBE (taking care he shall not see that he has hurt her). But you
will find many charming partners. Some of them have been my pupils.
There was even a pupil of mine who fought at Waterloo.
VALENTINE. Young Blades; I have heard him on it. (She puts her hand
wearily to her head). Miss Phoebe--what a dull grey world it is!
(She turns away to hide her emotion, and MISS SUSAN comes in.)
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, I have said that you will not take the Latin class
to-day, and I am dismissing them.
PHOEBE (rather defiantly). I am proud to teach it. (Breaking
down.) Susan--his arm--have you seen?
(MISS SUSAN also is overcome, but recovers as the children crowd in.)
MISS SUSAN. Hats off, gentlemen salute, ladies curtsy--to the brave
(CAPTAIN BROWN salutes them awkwardly, and they cheer him, to his
great discomfort, as they pass out.)
VALENTINE (when they have gone). A terrible ordeal, ma'am.
(The old friends look at each other, and there is a silence.
VALENTINE feels that all the fine tales and merry jests he has brought
back for the ladies have turned into dead things. He wants to go away
PHOEBE. I wish you very happy at the ball.
VALENTINE (sighing). Miss Susan, cannot we turn all these maps and
horrors out till the vacation is over?
MISS SUSAN. Indeed, sir, we always do. By to-morrow this will be my
dear blue and white room again, and that my sweet spare bedroom.
PHOEBE. For five weeks!
VALENTINE (making vain belief). And then--the--the dashing Mr. Brown
will drop in as of old, and, behold, Miss Susan on her knees once more
putting tucks into my little friend the ottoman, and Miss Phoebe---Miss
PHOEBE. Phoebe of the ringlets!
(She goes out quietly.)
VALENTINE (miserably). Miss Susan, what a shame it is.
MISS SUSAN (hotly). Yes, it is a shame.
VALENTINE (suddenly become more of a man). The brave Captain Brown!
Good God, ma'am, how much more brave are the ladies who keep a school.
(PATTY shows in two visitors, MISS CHARLOTTE PARRATT and ENSIGN
BLADES. CHARLOTTE is a pretty minx who we are glad to say does not
reside in Quality Street, and BLADES is a callow youth, inviting
CHARLOTTE (as they salute). But I did not know you had company, Miss
MISS SUSAN. 'Tis Captain Brown--Miss Charlotte Parratt.
CHARLOTTE (gushing). The heroic Brown?
VALENTINE. Alas, no, ma'am, the other one.
CHARLOTTE. Miss Susan, do you see who accompanies me?
MISS SUSAN. I cannot quite recall----
BLADES. A few years ago, ma'am, there sat in this room a scrubby, inky
little boy--I was that boy.
MISS SUSAN. Can it be our old pupil--Ensign Blades?
(She thinks him very fine, and he bows, well pleased.)
BLADES. Once a little boy and now your most obedient, ma'am.
MISS SUSAN. You have come to recall old memories?
BLADES. Not precisely; I--Charlotte, explain.
CHARLOTTE. Ensign Blades wishes me to say that it must seem highly
romantic to you to have had a pupil who has fought at Waterloo.
MISS SUSAN. Not exactly romantic. I trust, sir, that when you speak
of having been our pupil you are also so obliging as to mention that it
was during our first year. Otherwise it makes us seem so elderly.
(He bows again, in what he believes to be a quizzical manner.)
CHARLOTTE. Ensign Blades would be pleased to hear, Miss Susan, what
you think of him as a whole.
MISS SUSAN. Indeed, sir, I think you are monstrous fine.
(Innocently.) It quite awes me to remember that we used to whip him.
VALENTINE (delighted). Whipped him, Miss Susan! (In solemn
burlesque of CHARLOTTE.) Ensign Blades wishes to indicate that it was
more than Buonaparte could do. We shall meet again, bright boy.
(He makes his adieux and goes.)
BLADES. Do you think he was quizzing me?
MISS SUSAN (simply). I cannot think so.
BLADES. He said 'bright boy,' ma'am.
MISS SUSAN. I am sure, sir, he did not mean it.
PHOEBE. Charlotte, I am happy to see you. You look delicious, my
dear--so young and fresh.
CHARLOTTE. La! Do you think so, Miss Phoebe?
BLADES. Miss Phoebe, your obedient.
PHOEBE. It is Ensign Blades! But how kind of you, sir, to revisit the
old school. Please to sit down.
CHARLOTTE. Ensign Blades has a favour to ask of you, Miss Phoebe.
BLADES. I learn, ma'am, that Captain Brown has obtained a card for you
for the ball, and I am here to solicit for the honour of standing up
(For the moment PHOEBE is flattered. Here, she believes, is some
one who does not think her too old for the dance. Then she perceives a
meaning smile pass between CHARLOTTE and the ENSIGN.)
PHOEBE (paling). Is it that you desire to make sport of me?
BLADES (honestly distressed). Oh no, ma'am, I vow--but I--I am such
a quiz, ma'am.
MISS SUSAN. Sister!
PHOEBE. I am sorry, sir, to have to deprive you of some entertainment,
but I am not going to the ball.
MISS SUSAN (haughtily). Ensign Blades, I bid you my adieux.
BLADES (ashamed). If I have hurt Miss Phoebe's feelings I beg to
MISS SUSAN. If you have hurt them. Oh, sir, how is it possible for
any one to be as silly as you seem to be.
BLADES (who cannot find the answer). Charlotte--explain.
(But CHARLOTTE considers that their visit has not been sufficiently
esteemed and departs with a cold curtsy, taking him with her.)
(MISS SUSAN turns sympathetically to PHOEBE, but PHOEBE, fighting
with her pain, sits down at the spinet and plays at first excitedly a
gay tune, then slowly, then comes to a stop with her head bowed. Soon
she jumps up courageously, brushes away her distress, gets an algebra
book from the desk and sits down to study it. MISS SUSAN is at the
window, where ladies and gentlemen are now seen passing in ball
MISS SUSAN. What book is it, Phoebe?
PHOEBE. It is an algebra.
MISS SUSAN. They are going by to the ball. (In anger.) My Phoebe
should be going to the ball, too.
PHOEBE. You jest, Susan. (MISS SUSAN watches her read. PHOEBE has
to wipe away a tear; soon she rises and gives way to the emotion she
has been suppressing ever since the entrance of VALENTINE.) Susan, I
hate him. Oh, Susan, I could hate him if it were not for his poor hand.
MISS SUSAN. My dear.
PHOEBE. He thought I was old, because I am weary, and he should not
have forgotten. I am only thirty. Susan, why does thirty seem so much
more than twenty-nine? (As if VALENTINE were present.) Oh, sir,
how dare you look so pityingly at me? Because I have had to work so
hard,--is it a crime when a woman works? Because I have tried to be
courageous--have I been courageous, Susan?
MISS SUSAN. God knows you have.
PHOEBE. But it has given me the headache, it has tired my eyes. Alas,
Miss Phoebe, all your charm has gone, for you have the headache, and
your eyes are tired. He is dancing with Charlotte Parratt now, Susan.
'I vow, Miss Charlotte, you are selfish and silly, but you are sweet
eighteen.' 'Oh la, Captain Brown, what a quiz you are.' That delights
him, Susan; see how he waggles his silly head.
MISS SUSAN. Charlotte Parratt is a goose.
PHOEBE. 'Tis what gentlemen prefer. If there were a sufficient number
of geese to go round, Susan, no woman of sense would ever get a
husband. 'Charming Miss Charlotte, you are like a garden; Miss Phoebe
was like a garden once, but 'tis a faded garden now.'
MISS SUSAN. If to be ladylike----
PHOEBE. Susan, I am tired of being ladylike. I am a young woman
still, and to be ladylike is not enough. I wish to be bright and
thoughtless and merry. It is every woman's birthright to be petted and
admired; I wish to be petted and admired. Was I born to be confined
within these four walls? Are they the world, Susan, or is there
anything beyond them? I want to know. My eyes are tired because for
ten years they have seen nothing but maps and desks. Ten years! Ten
years ago I went to bed a young girl and I woke with this cap on my
head. It is not fair. This is not me, Susan, this is some other
person, I want to be myself.
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, Phoebe, you who have always been so patient!
PHOEBE. Oh no, not always. If you only knew how I have rebelled at
times, you would turn from me in horror. Susan, I have a picture of
myself as I used to be; I sometimes look at it. I sometimes kiss it,
and say, 'Poor girl, they have all forgotten you. But I remember.'
MISS SUSAN. I cannot recall it.
PHOEBE. I keep it locked away in my room. Would you like to see it?
I shall bring it down. My room! Oh, Susan, it is there that the
Phoebe you think so patient has the hardest fight with herself, for
there I have seemed to hear and see the Phoebe of whom this (looking
at herself) is but an image in a distorted glass. I have heard her
singing as if she thought she was still a girl. I have heard her
weeping; perhaps it was only I who was weeping; but she seemed to cry
to me, 'Let me out of this prison, give me back the years you have
taken from me. Oh, where are my pretty curls?' she cried. 'Where is
my youth, my youth.'
(She goes out, leaving MISS SUSAN woeful. Presently SUSAN takes
up the algebra book and reads.)
MISS SUSAN. 'A stroke B multiplied by B stroke C equal AB stroke a
little 2; stroke AC add BC. "Poor Phoebe!" Multiply by C stroke A and
we get-- Poor Phoebe! C a B stroke a little 2 stroke AC little 2 add
BC. "Oh, I cannot believe it!" Stroke a little 2 again, add AB little
2 add a little 2C stroke a BC.' ...
(PATTY comes in with the lamp.)
PATTY. Hurting your poor eyes reading without a lamp. Think shame,
MISS SUSAN (with spirit). Patty, I will not be dictated to. (PATTY
looks out at window.) Draw the curtains at once. I cannot allow you
to stand gazing at the foolish creatures who crowd to a ball.
PATTY (closing curtains). I am not gazing at them, ma'am; I am
gazing at my sweetheart.
MISS SUSAN. Your sweetheart? (Softly.) I did not know you had one.
PATTY. Nor have I, ma'am, as yet. But I looks out, and thinks I to
myself, at any moment he may turn the corner. I ha' been looking out
at windows waiting for him to oblige by turning the corner this fifteen
MISS SUSAN. Fifteen years, and still you are hopeful?
PATTY. There is not a more hopeful woman in all the king's dominions.
MISS SUSAN. You who are so much older than Miss Phoebe.
PATTY. Yes, ma'am, I ha' the advantage of her by ten years.
MISS SUSAN. It would be idle to pretend that you are specially comely.
PATTY. That may be, but my face is my own, and the more I see it in
the glass the more it pleases me. I never look at it but I say to
myself, 'Who is to be the lucky man?'
MISS SUSAN. 'Tis wonderful.
PATTY. This will be a great year for females, ma'am. Think how many
of the men that marched away strutting to the wars have come back
limping. Who is to take off their wooden legs of an evening, Miss
Susan? You, ma'am, or me?
MISS SUSAN. Patty!
PATTY (doggedly). Or Miss Phoebe? (With feeling.) The pretty
thing that she was, Miss Susan.
MISS SUSAN. Do you remember, Patty? I think there is no other person
who remembers unless it be the Misses Willoughby and Miss Henrietta.
PATTY (eagerly). Give her a chance, ma'am, and take her to the
balls. There be three of them this week, and the last ball will be the
best, for 'tis to be at the barracks, and you will need a carriage to
take you there, and there will be the packing of you into it by gallant
squires and the unpacking of you out, and other devilries.
MISS SUSAN. Patty!
PATTY. If Miss Phoebe were to dress young again and put candles in her
eyes that used to be so bright, and coax back her curls--
(PHOEBE returns, and a great change has come over her. She is young
and pretty again. She is wearing the wedding-gown of ACT I., her
ringlets are glorious, her figure youthful, her face flushed and
animated. PATTY is the first to see her, and is astonished. PHOEBE
signs to her to go.)
PHOEBE (when PATTY has gone). Susan. (MISS SUSAN sees and is
speechless.) Susan, this is the picture of my old self that I keep
locked away in my room, and sometimes take out of its box to look at.
This is the girl who kisses herself in the glass and sings and dances
with glee until I put her away frightened lest you should hear her.
MISS SUSAN. How marvellous! Oh, Phoebe.
PHOEBE. Perhaps I should not do it, but it is so easy. I have but to
put on the old wedding-gown and tumble my curls out of the cap.
(Passionately.) Sister, am I as changed as he says I am?
MISS SUSAN. You almost frighten me.
(The band is heard.)
PHOEBE. The music is calling to us. Susan, I will celebrate Waterloo
in a little ball of my own. See, my curls have begun to dance, they
are so anxious to dance. One dance, Susan, to Phoebe of the ringlets,
and then I will put her away in her box and never look at her again.
Ma'am, may I have the honour? Nay, then I shall dance alone. (She
dances.) Oh, Susan, I almost wish I were a goose.
(Presently PATTY returns. She gazes at MISS PHOEBE dancing.)
PATTY. Miss Phoebe!
PHOEBE (still dancing). Not Miss Phoebe, Patty. I am not myself
to-night, I am--let me see, I am my niece.
PATTY (in a whisper to SUSAN). But Miss Susan, 'tis Captain Brown.
MISS SUSAN. Oh, stop, Phoebe, stop!
PATTY. Nay, let him see her!
(MISS SUSAN hurries scandalised into the other room as VALENTINE
VALENTINE. I ventured to come back because---- (PHOEBE turns to
him--he stops abruptly, bewildered.) I beg your pardon, madam, I
thought it was Miss Susan or Miss Phoebe.
(His mistake surprises her, but she is in a wild mood and curtsies,
then turns away and smiles. He stares as if half-convinced.)
PATTY (with an inspiration). 'Tis my mistresses' niece, sir; she is
on a visit here.
(He is deceived. He bows gallantly, then remembers the object of his
visit. He produces a bottle of medicine.)
VALENTINE. Patty, I obtained this at the apothecary's for Miss
Phoebe's headache. It should be taken at once.
PATTY. Miss Phoebe is lying down, sir.
VALENTINE. Is she asleep?
PATTY (demurely). No, sir, I think she be wide awake.
VALENTINE. It may soothe her.
PHOEBE. Patty, take it to Aunt Phoebe at once.
(PATTY goes out sedately with the medicine.)
VALENTINE (after a little awkwardness, which PHOEBE enjoys).
Perhaps I may venture to present myself, Miss--Miss----?
PHOEBE. Miss--Livvy, sir.
VALENTINE. I am Captain Brown, Miss Livvy, an old friend of both your
PHOEBE (curtsying). I have heard them speak of a dashing Mr. Brown.
But I think it cannot be the same.
VALENTINE (a little chagrined). Why not, ma'am?
PHOEBE. I ask your pardon, sir.
VALENTINE, I was sure you must be related. Indeed, for a moment the
likeness--even the voice----
PHOEBE (pouting). La, sir, you mean I am like Aunt Phoebe. Every
one says so--and indeed 'tis no compliment.
VALENTINE. 'Twould have been a compliment once. You must be a
daughter of the excellent Mr. James Throssel who used to reside at
PHOEBE. He is still there.
VALENTINE. A tedious twenty miles from here, as I remember.
PHOEBE. La! I have found the journey a monstrous quick one, sir.
(The band is again heard. She runs to the window to peep between the
curtains, and his eyes follow her admiringly.)
VALENTINE (eagerly). Miss Livvy, you go to the ball?
PHOEBE. Alas, sir, I have no card.
VALENTINE. I have two cards for your aunts. As Miss Phoebe has the
headache, your Aunt Susan must take you to the ball.
PHOEBE. Oh, oh! (Her feet move to the music.) Sir, I cannot
control my feet.
VALENTINE. They are already at the ball, ma'am; you must follow them.
PHOEBE (with all the pent-up mischief of ten years). Oh, sir, do you
think some pretty gentleman might be partial to me at the ball?
VALENTINE. If that is your wish----
PHOEBE. I should love, sir, to inspire frenzy in the breast of the
male. (With sudden collapse.) I dare not go--I dare not.
VALENTINE. Miss Livvy, I vow----
(He turns eagerly to MISS SUSAN, who enters.)
I have ventured, Miss Susan, to introduce myself to your charming niece.
(MISS SUSAN would like to run away again, but the wicked MISS PHOEBE
is determined to have her help.)
PHOEBE. Aunt Susan, do not be angry with your Livvy--your Livvy, Aunt
Susan. This gentleman says he is the dashing Mr. Brown, he has cards
for us for the ball, Auntie. Of course we cannot go--we dare not go.
Oh, Auntie, hasten into your bombazine.
MISS SUSAN (staggered). Phoebe----
PHOEBE. Aunt Phoebe wants me to go. If I say she does you know she
MISS SUSAN. But my dear, my dear.
PHOEBE. Oh, Auntie, why do you talk so much. Come, come.
VALENTINE. I shall see to it, Miss Susan, that your niece has a
PHOEBE. He means he will find me sweet partners.
VALENTINE. Nay, ma'am, I mean I shall be your partner.
PHOEBE (who is not an angel). Aunt Susan, he still dances!
VALENTINE. Still, ma'am?
PHOEBE. Oh, sir, you are indeed dashing. Nay, sir, please not to
scowl, I could not avoid noticing them.
VALENTINE. Noticing what, Miss Livvy?
PHOEBE. The grey hairs, sir.
VALENTINE. I vow, ma'am, there is not one in my head.
PHOEBE. He is such a quiz. I so love a quiz.
VALENTINE. Then, ma'am, I shall do nothing but quiz you at the ball.
Miss Susan, I beg you--
MISS SUSAN. Oh, sir, dissuade her.
VALENTINE. Nay, I entreat.
MISS SUSAN. Think, my dear, think, we dare not.
PHOEBE (shuddering). No, we dare not, I cannot go.
VALENTINE. Indeed, ma'am.
PHOEBE. 'Tis impossible.
(She really means it, and had not the music here taken an unfair
advantage of her it is certain that MISS PHOEBE would never have gone
to the ball. In after years she and MISS SUSAN would have talked
together of the monstrous evening when she nearly lost her head, but
regained it before it could fall off. But suddenly the music swells so
alluringly that it is a thousand fingers beckoning her to all the balls
she has missed, and in a transport she whirls MISS SUSAN from the
blue and white room to the bed-chamber where is the bombazine.
VALENTINE awaits their return like a conqueror, until MISS LIVVY'S
words about his hair return to trouble him. He is stooping, gazing
intently into a small mirror, extracting the grey hairs one by one,
when PATTY ushers in the sisters WILLOUGHBY and MISS HENRIETTA.
MISS HENRIETTA is wearing the new veil, which opens or closes like
curtains when she pulls a string. She opens it now to see what he is
doing, and the slight sound brings him to his feet.)
MISS HENRIETTA. 'Tis but the new veil, sir; there is no cause for
(They have already learned from PATTY, we may be sure, that he is in
the house, but they express genteel surprise.)
MISS FANNY. Mary, surely we are addressing the gallant Captain Brown!
VALENTINE. It is the Misses Willoughby and Miss Henrietta. 'Tis
indeed a gratification to renew acquaintance with such elegant and
(The greetings are elaborate.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. You have seen Miss Phoebe, sir?
VALENTINE. I have had the honour. Miss Phoebe, I regret to say, is
now lying down with the headache. (The ladies are too delicately
minded to exchange glances before a man, but they are privately of
opinion that this meeting after ten years with the dazzling BROWN has
laid MISS PHOEBE low. They are in a twitter of sympathy with her,
and yearning to see MISS SUSAN alone, so that they may draw from her
an account of the exciting meeting.) You do not favour the ball
MISS FANNY. I confess balls are distasteful to me.
MISS HENRIETTA. 'Twill be a mixed assembly. I am credibly informed
that the woollen draper's daughter has obtained a card.
VALENTINE (gravely). Good God, ma'am, is it possible?
MISS WILLOUGHBY. We shall probably spend the evening here with Miss
Susan at the card table.
VALENTINE. But Miss Susan goes with me to the ball, ma'am.
(This is scarcely less exciting to them than the overthrow of the
VALENTINE. Nay, I hope there be no impropriety. Miss Livvy will
MISS WILLOUGHBY (bewildered). Miss Livvy?
VALENTINE. Their charming niece.
(The ladies repeat the word in a daze.)
MISS FANNY. They had not apprised us that they have a visitor.
(They think this reticence unfriendly, and are wondering whether they
ought not to retire hurt, when MISS SUSAN enters in her bombazine,
wraps, and bonnet. She starts at sight of them, and has the bearing of
a guilty person.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY (stiffly). We have but now been advertised of your
intention for this evening, Susan.
MISS HENRIETTA. We deeply regret our intrusion.
MISS SUSAN (wistfully). Please not to be piqued, Mary. 'Twas
MISS WILLOUGHBY. I cannot remember, Susan, that your estimable brother
had a daughter. I thought all the three were sons.
MISS SUSAN (with deplorable readiness). Three sons and a daughter.
Surely you remember little Livvy, Mary?
MISS WILLOUGHBY (bluntly). No, Susan, I do not.
MISS SUSAN. I--I must go. I hear Livvy calling.
MISS FANNY (tartly). I hear nothing but the band. We are not to see
MISS SUSAN. Another time--to-morrow. Pray rest a little before you
depart, Mary. I--I--Phoebe Livvy--the headache----
(But before she can go another lady enters gaily.)
VALENTINE. Ah, here is Miss Livvy.
(The true culprit is more cunning than MISS SUSAN, and before they
can see her she quickly pulls the strings of her bonnet, which is like
MISS HENRIETTA'S, and it obscures her face.)
MISS SUSAN. This--this is my niece, Livvy--Miss Willoughby, Miss
Henrietta, Miss Fanny Willoughby.
VALENTINE. Ladies, excuse my impatience, but--
MISS WILLOUGHBY. One moment, sir. May I ask, Miss Livvy, how many
brothers you have.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. I thank you.
(She looks strangely at MISS SUSAN, and MISS PHOEBE knows that she
PHOEBE (at a venture). Excluding the unhappy Thomas.
MISS SUSAN (clever for the only moment in her life). We never
(They are swept away on the arms of the impatient CAPTAIN.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY, MISS HENRIETTA, AND MISS FANNY. What has Thomas
(They have no suspicion as yet of what MISS PHOEBE has done; but
they believe there is a scandal in the Throssel family, and they will
not sleep happily until they know what it is.)
End of Act II.
A ball, but not the one to which we have seen Miss Susan and Miss
Phoebe rush forth upon their career of crime. This is the third of the
series, the one of which Patty has foretold with horrid relish that it
promises to be specially given over to devilries. The scene is a
canvas pavilion, used as a retiring room and for card play, and through
an opening in the back we have glimpses of gay uniforms and fair ladies
intermingled in the bravery of the dance. There is coming and going
through this opening, and also through slits in the canvas. The
pavilion is fantastically decorated in various tastes, and is lit with
lanterns. A good-natured moon, nevertheless, shines into it benignly.
Some of the card tables are neglected, but at one a game of quadrille
is in progress. There is much movement and hilarity, but none from one
side of the tent, where sit several young ladies, all pretty, all
appealing and all woeful, for no gallant comes to ask them if he may
have the felicity. The nervous woman chaperoning them, and afraid to
meet their gaze lest they scowl or weep in reply, is no other than Miss
Susan, the most unhappy Miss Susan we have yet seen; she sits there
gripping her composure in both hands. Far less susceptible to shame is
the brazen Phoebe, who may be seen passing the opening on the arm of a
cavalier, and flinging her trembling sister a mischievous kiss. The
younger ladies note the incident; alas, they are probably meant to
notice it, and they cower, as under a blow.
HARRIET (a sad-eyed, large girl, who we hope found a romance at her
next ball). Are we so disagreeable that no one will dance with us?
Miss Susan, 'tis infamous; they have eyes for no one but your niece.
CHARLOTTE. Miss Livvy has taken Ensign Blades from me.
HARRIET. If Miss Phoebe were here, I am sure she would not allow her
old pupils to be so neglected.
(The only possible reply for MISS SUSAN is to make herself look as
small as possible. A lieutenant comes to them, once a scorner of
woman, but now SPICER the bewitched. HARRIET has a moment's hope.)
How do you do, sir?
SPICER (with dreadful indifference, though she is his dear cousin).
Nay, ma'am, how do you do? (Wistfully.) May I stand beside you,
(He is a most melancholic young man, and he fidgets her.)
MISS SUSAN (with spirit). You have been standing beside me, sir,
nearly all the evening. SPICER (humbly. It is strange to think that
he had been favourably mentioned in despatches). Indeed, I cannot but
be cognisant of the sufferings I cause by attaching myself to you in
this unseemly manner. Accept my assurances, ma'am, that you have my
MISS SUSAN. Then why do you do it?
SPICER. Because you are her aunt, ma'am. It is a scheme of mine by
which I am in hopes to soften her heart. Her affection for you, ma'am,
is beautiful to observe, and if she could be persuaded that I seek her
hand from a passionate desire to have you for my Aunt Susan--do you
perceive anything hopeful in my scheme, ma'am?
MISS SUSAN. No, sir, I do not.
(SPICER wanders away gloomily, takes too much to drink, and ultimately
becomes a general. ENSIGN BLADES appears, frowning, and CHARLOTTE
ventures to touch his sleeve.)
CHARLOTTE. Ensign Blades, I have not danced with you once this evening.
BLADES (with the cold brutality of a lover to another she). Nor I
with you, Charlotte. (To SUSAN.) May I solicit of you, Miss Susan,
is Captain Brown Miss Livvy's guardian; is he affianced to her?
MISS SUSAN. No, sir.
BLADES. Then by what right, ma'am, does he interfere? Your elegant
niece had consented to accompany me to the shrubbery--to look at the
moon. And now Captain Brown forbids it. 'Tis unendurable.
CHARLOTTE. But you may see the moon from here, sir.
BLADES (glancing at it contemptuously). I believe not, ma'am. (The
moon still shines on.)
MISS SUSAN (primly). I am happy Captain Brown forbade her.
BLADES. Miss Susan, 'twas but because he is to conduct her to the
(He flings out pettishly, and MISS SUSAN looks pityingly at the
MISS SUSAN. My poor Charlotte! May I take you to some very agreeable
CHARLOTTE (tartly). No, you may not. I am going to the shrubbery to
watch Miss Livvy.
MISS SUSAN. Please not to do that.
CHARLOTTE (implying that MISS SUSAN will be responsible for her
early death). My chest is weak. I shall sit among the dew.
MISS SUSAN. Charlotte, you terrify me. At least, please to put this
cloak about your shoulders. Nay, my dear, allow me.
(She puts a cloak around CHARLOTTE, who departs vindictively for the
shrubbery. She will not find LIVVY there, however, for next moment
MISS PHOEBE darts in from the back.)
PHOEBE (in a gay whisper). Susan, another offer [Transcriber's note:
officer?] --Major Linkwater--rotund man, black whiskers, fierce
expression; he has rushed away to destroy himself.
(We have been unable to find any record of the Major's tragic end.)
AN OLD SOLDIER (looking up from a card table, whence he has heard the
raging of BLADES). Miss Livvy, ma'am, what is this about the moon?
(PHOEBE smiles roguishly.)
PHOEBE (looking about her). I want my cloak, Aunt Susan.
MISS SUSAN. I have just lent it to poor Charlotte Parratt.
PHOEBE. Oh, auntie!
OLD SOLDIER. And now Miss Livvy cannot go into the shrubbery to see
the moon; and she is so fond of the moon!
(MISS PHOEBE screws her nose at him merrily, and darts back to the
dance, but she has left a defender behind her.)
A GALLANT (whose name we have not succeeded in discovering). Am I to
understand, sir, that you are intimating disparagement of the moon? If
a certain female has been graciously pleased to signify approval of
that orb, any slight cast upon the moon, sir, I shall regard as a
OLD SOLDIER. Hoity-toity.
(But he rises, and they face each other, as MISS SUSAN feels, for
battle. She is about to rush between their undrawn swords when there
is a commotion outside; a crowd gathers and opens to allow some
officers to assist a fainting woman into the tent. It is MISS PHOEBE,
and MISS SUSAN with a cry goes on her knees beside her. The tent
has filled with the sympathetic and inquisitive, but CAPTAIN BROWN,
as a physician, takes command, and by his order they retire. He finds
difficulty in bringing the sufferer to, and gets little help from MISS
SUSAN, who can only call upon MISS PHOEBE by name.)
VALENTINE. Nay, Miss Susan, 'tis useless calling for Miss Phoebe.
'Tis my fault; I should not have permitted Miss Livvy to dance so
immoderately. Why do they delay with the cordial?
(He goes to the back to close the opening, and while he is doing so
the incomprehensible MISS PHOEBE seizes the opportunity to sit up on
her couch of chairs, waggle her finger at MISS SUSAN, and sign darkly
that she is about to make a genteel recovery.)
PHOEBE. Where am I? Is that you, Aunt Susan? What has happened?
VALENTINE (returning). Nay, you must recline, Miss Livvy. You
fainted. You have over-fatigued yourself.
PHOEBE. I remember.
(BLADES enters with the cordial.)
VALENTINE. You will sip this cordial.
BLADES. By your leave, sir.
(He hands it to PHOEBE himself.)
VALENTINE. She is in restored looks already, Miss Susan.
PHOEBE. I am quite recovered. Perhaps if you were to leave me now
with my excellent aunt----
VALENTINE. Be off with you, apple cheeks.
BLADES. Sir, I will suffer no reference to my complexion; and, if I
mistake not, this charming lady was addressing you.
PHOEBE. If you please, both of you. (They retire together, and no
sooner have they gone than MISS PHOEBE leaps from the couch, her eyes
sparkling. She presses the cordial on MISS SUSAN.) Nay, drink it,
Susan. I left it for you on purpose. I have such awful information to
impart. Drink. (MISS SUSAN drinks tremblingly and then the bolt is
fired.) Susan, Miss Henrietta and Miss Fanny are here!
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe!
PHOEBE. Suddenly my eyes lighted on them. At once I slipped to the
MISS SUSAN. You think they did not see you?
PHOEBE. I am sure of it. They talked for a moment to Ensign Blades,
and then turned and seemed to be going towards the shrubbery.
MISS SUSAN. He had heard that you were there with Captain Brown. He
must have told them.
PHOEBE. I was not. But oh, sister, I am sure they suspect, else why
should they be here? They never frequent balls.
MISS SUSAN. They have suspected for a week, ever since they saw you in
your veil, Phoebe, on the night of the first dance. How could they but
suspect, when they have visited us every day since then and we have
always pretended that Livvy was gone out.
PHOEBE. Should they see my face it will be idle to attempt to deceive
MISS SUSAN. Idle indeed; Phoebe, the scandal! You--a schoolmistress!
PHOEBE. That is it, sister. A little happiness has gone to my head
like strong waters.
(She is very restless and troubled.)
MISS SUSAN. My dear, stand still, and think.
PHOEBE. I dare not, I cannot. Oh, Susan, if they see me we need not
open school again.
MISS SUSAN. We shall starve.
PHOEBE (passionately). This horrid, forward, flirting, heartless,
hateful little toad of a Livvy.
MISS SUSAN. Brother James's daughter, as we call her!
PHOEBE. 'Tis all James's fault.
MISS SUSAN. Sister, when you know that James has no daughter!
PHOEBE. If he had really had one, think you I could have been so
wicked as to personate her? Susan, I know not what I am saying, but
you know who it is that has turned me into this wild creature.
MISS SUSAN. Oh, Valentine Brown, how could you?
PHOEBE. To weary of Phoebe--patient, lady-like Phoebe--the Phoebe whom
I have lost--to turn from her with a 'Bah, you make me old,' and become
enamoured in a night of a thing like this!
MISS SUSAN. Yes, yes, indeed; yet he has been kind to us also. He has
been to visit us several times.
PHOEBE. In the hope to see her. Was he not most silent and gloomy
when we said she was gone out?
MISS SUSAN. He is infatuate---- (She hesitates.) Sister, you are
not partial to him still?
PHOEBE. No, Susan, no. I did love him all those years, though I never
spoke of it to you. I put hope aside at once, I folded it up and
kissed it and put it away like a pretty garment I could never wear
again, I but loved to think of him as a noble man. But he is not a
noble man, and Livvy found it out in an hour. The gallant! I flirted
that I might enjoy his fury. Susan, there has been a declaration in
his eyes all to-night, and when he cries 'Adorable Miss Livvy, be
mine,' I mean to answer with an 'Oh, la, how ridiculous you are. You
are much too old--I have been but quizzing you, sir.'
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, how can you be so cruel?
PHOEBE. Because he has taken from me the one great glory that is in a
woman's life. Not a man's love--she can do without that--but her own
dear sweet love for him. He is unworthy of my love; that is why I can
be so cruel.
MISS SUSAN. Oh, dear.
PHOEBE. And now my triumph is to be denied me, for we must steal away
home before Henrietta and Fanny see us.
MISS SUSAN. Yes, yes.
PHOEBE (dispirited). And to-morrow we must say that Livvy has gone
back to her father, for I dare keep up this deception no longer.
Susan, let us go.
(They are going dejectedly, but are arrested by the apparition of
MISS HENRIETTA and MISS FANNY peeping into the tent. PHOEBE has
just time to signify to her sister that she will confess all and beg
for mercy, when the intruders speak.)
Miss HENRIETTA (not triumphant but astounded). You, Miss Phoebe?
PHOEBE (with bowed head). Yes.
MISS FANNY. How amazing! You do not deny, ma'am, that you are Miss
PHOEBE (making confession). Yes, Fanny, I am Miss Phoebe.
(To her bewilderment HENRIETTA and FANNY exchange ashamed
MISS HENRIETTA. Miss Phoebe, we have done you a cruel wrong.
MISS FANNY. Phoebe, we apologise.
MISS HENRIETTA. To think how excitedly we have been following her
about in the shrubbery.
MISS FANNY. She is wearing your cloak.
MISS HENRIETTA. Ensign Blades told us she was gone to the shrubbery.
MISS FANNY. And we were convinced there was no such person.
MISS HENRIETTA. So of course we thought it must be you.
MISS FANNY (who has looked out). I can discern her in the shrubbery
still. She is decidedly taller than Phoebe.
MISS HENRIETTA. I thought she looked taller. I meant to say so.
Phoebe, 'twas the cloak deceived us. We could not see her face.
PHOEBE (beginning to understand). Cloak? You mean, Henrietta--you
MISS FANNY. 'Twas wicked of us, my dear, but we--we thought that you
and Miss Livvy were the same person. (They have evidently been
stalking CHARLOTTE in MISS PHOEBE'S cloak. MISS SUSAN shudders,
but MISS PHOEBE utters a cry of reproach, and it is some time before
they can persuade her to forgive them. It is of course also some time
before we can forgive MISS PHOEBE.) Phoebe, you look so pretty. Are
they paying you no attentions, my dear?
(PHOEBE is unable to resist these delightful openings. The imploring
looks MISS SUSAN gives her but add to her enjoyment. It is as if the
sense of fun she had caged a moment ago were broke loose again.)
PHOEBE. Alas, they think of none but Livvy. They come to me merely to
say that they adore her.
MISS HENRIETTA. Surely not Captain Brown?
PHOEBE. He is infatuate about her.
MISS FANNY. Poor Phoebe!
(They make much of her, and she purrs naughtily to their stroking,
with lightning peeps at MISS SUSAN. Affronted Providence seeks to
pay her out by sending ENSIGN BLADES into the tent. Then the close
observer may see MISS PHOEBE'S heart sink like a bucket in a well.
MISS SUSAN steals from the tent.)
MISS HENRIETTA. Mr. Blades, I have been saying that if I were a
gentleman I would pay my addresses to Miss Phoebe much rather than to
BLADES. Ma'am, excuse me.
MISS HENRIETTA (indignant that MISS PHOEBE should be slighted so
publicly). Sir, you are a most ungallant and deficient young man.
BLADES. Really, ma'am, I assure you----
MISS HENRIETTA. Not another word, sir.
PHOEBE (in her most old-maidish manner). Miss Fanny, Miss Henrietta,
it is time I spoke plainly to this gentleman. Please leave him to me.
Surely 'twill come best from me.
MISS HENRIETTA. Indeed, yes, if it be not too painful to you.
PHOEBE. I must do my duty.
MISS FANNY (wistfully). If we could remain--
PHOEBE. Would it be seemly, Miss Fanny?
MISS HENRIETTA. Come, Fanny. (To BLADES.) Sir, you bring your
punishment upon yourself.
(They press PHOEBE'S hand, and go. Her heart returns to its usual
BLADES (bewildered). Are you angry with me, Miss Livvy?
PHOEBE. Oh, no.
BLADES. Miss Livvy, I have something to say to you of supreme
importance to me. With regard to my complexion, I am aware, Miss
Livvy, that it has retained a too youthful bloom. My brother officers
comment on it with a certain lack of generosity. (Anxiously.) Might
I inquire, ma'am, whether you regard my complexion as a subject for
PHOEBE. No indeed, sir, I only wish I had it.
BLADES (who has had no intention of offering, but is suddenly carried
off his feet by the excellence of the opportunity, which is no doubt
responsible for many proposals). Miss Livvy, ma'am, you may have it.
(She has a great and humorous longing that she could turn before his
affrighted eyes into the schoolmistress she really is. She would
endure much to be able at this moment to say, 'I have listened to you,
ENSIGN BLADES, with attention, but I am really MISS PHOEBE, and I
must now request you to fetch me the implement.' Under the shock, would
he have surrendered his palm for punishment? It can never be known,
for as she looks at him longingly, LIEUTENANT SPICER enters, and he
mistakes the meaning of that longing look.)
SPICER. 'Tis my dance, ma'am--'tis not Ensign Blades'.
BLADES. Leave us, sir. We have matter of moment to discuss.
SPICER (fearing the worst). His affection, Miss Livvy, is not so
deep as mine. He is a light and shallow nature.
PHOEBE. Pooh! You are both light and shallow natures.
BLADES. Both, ma'am? (But he is not sure that he has not had a
PHOEBE (severely). 'Tis such as you, with your foolish flirting
ways, that confuse the minds of women and make us try to be as silly as
SPICER (crushed). Ma'am.
PHOEBE. I did not mean to hurt you. (She takes a hand of each and
tries to advise them as if her curls were once more hidden under a
cap.) You are so like little boys in a school. Do be good. Sit here
beside me. I know you are very brave--
PHOEBE. And when you come back from the wars it must be so delightful
to you to flirt with the ladies again.
SPICER. Oh, ma'am.
PHOEBE. As soon as you see a lady with a pretty nose you cannot help
saying that you adore her.
BLADES (in an ecstasy). Nay, I swear.
PHOEBE. And you offer to her, not from love, but because you are so
deficient in conversation.
SPICER. Charming, Miss Livvy.
PHOEBE (with sudden irritation). Oh, sir, go away; go away, both of
you, and read improving books.
(They are cast down. She has not been quite fair to these gallants,
for it is not really of them she has grown weary so much as of the lady
they temporarily adore. If MISS PHOEBE were to analyse her feelings
she would find that her remark is addressed to LIVVY, and that it
means, 'I have enjoyed for a little pretending to be you, but I am not
you and I do not wish to be you. Your glitter and the airs of you and
the racket of you tire me, I want to be done with you, and to be back
in quiet Quality Street, of which I am a part; it is really pleasant to
me to know that I shall wake up to-morrow slightly middle-aged.' With
the entrance of CAPTAIN BROWN, however, she is at once a frivol
again. He frowns at sight of her cavaliers.)
VALENTINE. Gentlemen, I instructed this lady to rest, and I am
surprised to find you in attendance. Miss Livvy, you must be weary of
their fatuities, and I have taken the liberty to order your chaise.
PHOEBE. It is indeed a liberty.
BLADES. An outrage.
PHOEBE. I prefer to remain.
PHOEBE. I promised this dance to Ensign Blades.
SPICER. To me, ma'am.
PHOEBE. And the following one to Lieutenant Spicer. Mr. Blades, your
VALENTINE. I forbid any further dancing.
PHOEBE. Forbid. La!
BLADES. Sir, by what right----
VALENTINE. By a right which I hope to make clear to Miss Livvy as soon
as you gentlemen have retired.
(PHOEBE sees that the declaration is coming. She steels herself.)
PHOEBE. I am curious to know what Captain Brown can have to say to me.
In a few minutes, Mr. Blades, Lieutenant Spicer, I shall be at your
VALENTINE. I trust not.
PHOEBE. I give them my word.
(The young gentlemen retire, treading air once more. BROWN surveys
her rather grimly.)
VALENTINE. You are an amazing pretty girl, ma'am, but you are a
VALENTINE. It has somewhat diverted me to watch them go down before
you. But I know you have a kind heart, and that if there be a rapier
in your one hand there is a handkerchief in the other ready to staunch
PHOEBE. I have not observed that they bled much.
VALENTINE. The Blades and the like, no. But one may, perhaps.
PHOEBE (obviously the reference is to himself). Perhaps I may wish
to see him bleed.
VALENTINE (grown stern). For shame, Miss Livvy. (Anger rises in
her, but she wishes him to proceed.) I speak, ma'am, in the interests
of the man to whom I hope to see you affianced.
(No, she does not wish him to proceed. She had esteemed him for so
long, she cannot have him debase himself before her now.)
PHOEBE. Shall we--I have changed my mind, I consent to go home.
Please to say nothing.
PHOEBE. I beg you.
VALENTINE. No. We must have it out.
PHOEBE. Then if you must go on, do so. But remember I begged you to
desist. Who is this happy man?
(His next words are a great shock to her.)
VALENTINE. As to who he is, ma'am, of course I have no notion. Nor, I
am sure, have you, else you would be more guarded in your conduct. But
some day, Miss Livvy, the right man will come. Not to be able to tell
him all, would it not be hard? And how could you acquaint him with
this poor sport? His face would change, ma'am, as you told him of it,
and yours would be a false face until it was told. This is what I have
been so desirous to say to you--by the right of a friend.
PHOEBE (in a low voice but bravely). I see.
VALENTINE (afraid that he has hurt her). It has been hard to say and
I have done it bunglingly. Ah, but believe me, Miss Livvy, it is not
the flaunting flower men love; it is the modest violet.
PHOEBE. The modest violet! You dare to say that.
VALENTINE. Yes, indeed, and when you are acquaint with what love
PHOEBE. Love! What do you know of love?
VALENTINE (a little complacently). Why, ma'am, I know all about it.
I am in love, Miss Livvy.
PHOEBE (with a disdainful inclination of the head). I wish you happy.
VALENTINE. With a lady who was once very like you, ma'am.
(At first PHOEBE does not understand, then a suspicion of his
meaning comes to her.)
PHOEBE. Not--not--oh no.
VALENTINE. I had not meant to speak of it, but why should not I? It
will be a fine lesson to you, Miss Livvy. Ma'am, it is your Aunt
Phoebe whom I love.
PHOEBE (rigid). You do not mean that.
VALENTINE. Most ardently.
PHOEBE. It is not true; how dare you make sport of her.
VALENTINE. Is it sport to wish she may be my wife?
PHOEBE. Your wife!
VALENTINE. If I could win her.
PHOEBE (bewildered). May I solicit, sir, for how long you have been
attached to Miss Phoebe?
VALENTINE. For nine years, I think.
PHOEBE. You think!
VALENTINE. I want to be honest. Never in all that time had I thought
myself in love. Your aunts were my dear friends, and while I was at
the wars we sometimes wrote to each other, but they were only friendly
letters. I presume the affection was too placid to be love.
PHOEBE. I think that would be Aunt Phoebe's opinion.
VALENTINE. Yet I remember, before we went into action for the first
time--I suppose the fear of death was upon me--some of them were making
their wills--I have no near relative--I left everything to these two
PHOEBE (softly). Did you?
(What is it that MISS PHOEBE begins to see as she sits there so
quietly, with her hands pressed together as if upon some treasure? It
is PHOEBE of the ringlets with the stain taken out of her.)
VALENTINE. And when I returned a week ago and saw Miss Phoebe, grown
so tired-looking and so poor----
PHOEBE. The shock made you feel old, I know.
VALENTINE. No, Miss Livvy, but it filled me with a sudden passionate
regret that I had not gone down in that first engagement. They would
have been very comfortably left.
PHOEBE. Oh, sir!
VALENTINE. I am not calling it love.
PHOEBE. It was sweet and kind, but it was not love.
VALENTINE. It is love now.
PHOEBE. No, it is only pity.
VALENTINE. It is love.
PHOEBE (she smiles tremulously). You really mean Phoebe--tired,
unattractive Phoebe, that woman whose girlhood is gone. Nay,
VALENTINE (stoutly). Phoebe of the fascinating playful ways, whose
ringlets were once as pretty as yours, ma'am. I have visited her in
her home several times this week--you were always out--I thank you for
that! I was alone with her, and with fragrant memories of her.
PHOEBE. Memories! Yes, that is the Phoebe you love, the bright girl
of the past--not the schoolmistress in her old-maid's cap.
VALENTINE. There you wrong me, for I have discovered for myself that
the schoolmistress in her old-maid's cap is the noblest Miss Phoebe of
them all. (If only he would go away, and let MISS PHOEBE cry.)
When I enlisted, I remember I compared her to a garden. I have often
thought of that.
PHOEBE. 'Tis an old garden now.
VALENTINE. The paths, ma'am, are better shaded.
PHOEBE. The flowers have grown old-fashioned.
VALENTINE. They smell the sweeter. Miss Livvy, do you think there is
any hope for me?
PHOEBE. There was a man whom Miss Phoebe loved--long ago. He did not
VALENTINE. Now here was a fool!
PHOEBE. He kissed her once.
VALENTINE. If Miss Phoebe suffered him to do that she thought he loved
PHOEBE. Yes, yes. (She has to ask him the ten years old question.)
Do you opinion that this makes her action in allowing it less
reprehensible? It has been such a pain to her ever since.
VALENTINE. How like Miss Phoebe! (Sternly.) But that man was a
PHOEBE. No, he was a good man--only a little--inconsiderate. She
knows now that he has even forgotten that he did it. I suppose men are
VALENTINE. No, Miss Livvy, men are not like that. I am a very average
man, but I thank God I am not like that.
PHOEBE. It was you.
VALENTINE (after a pause). Did Miss Phoebe say that?
VALENTINE. Then it is true.
(He is very grave and quiet.)
PHOEBE. It was raining and her face was wet. You said you did it
because her face was wet.
VALENTINE. I had quite forgotten.
PHOEBE. But she remembers, and how often do you think the shameful
memory has made her face wet since? The face you love, Captain Brown,
you were the first to give it pain. The tired eyes--how much less
tired they might be if they had never known you. You who are torturing
me with every word, what have you done to Miss Phoebe? You who think
you can bring back the bloom to that faded garden, and all the pretty
airs and graces that fluttered round it once like little birds before
the nest is torn down--bring them back to her if you can, sir; it was
you who took them away.
VALENTINE. I vow I shall do my best to bring them back. (MISS PHOEBE
shakes her head.) Miss Livvy, with your help----
PHOEBE. My help! I have not helped. I tried to spoil it all.
VALENTINE (smiling). To spoil it? You mean that you sought to flirt
even with me. Ah, I knew you did. But that is nothing.
PHOEBE. Oh, sir, if you could overlook it.
VALENTINE. I do.
PHOEBE. And forget these hateful balls.
VALENTINE. Hateful! Nay, I shall never call them that. They have
done me too great a service. It was at the balls that I fell in love
with Miss Phoebe.
PHOEBE. What can you mean?
VALENTINE. She who was never at a ball! (Checking himself
humorously.) But I must not tell you, it might hurt you.
PHOEBE. Tell me.
VALENTINE (gaily). Then on your own head be the blame. It is you
who have made me love her, Miss Livvy.
VALENTINE. Yes, it is odd, and yet very simple. You who so resembled
her as she was! for an hour, ma'am, you bewitched me; yes, I confess
it, but 'twas only for an hour. How like, I cried at first, but soon
it was, how unlike. There was almost nothing she would have said that
you said; you did so much that she would have scorned to do. But I
must not say these things to you!
PHOEBE. I ask it of you, Captain Brown.
VALENTINE. Well! Miss Phoebe's 'lady-likeness,' on which she set such
store that I used to make merry of the word--I gradually perceived that
it is a woman's most beautiful garment, and the casket which contains
all the adorable qualities that go to the making of a perfect female.
When Miss Livvy rolled her eyes--ah!
(He stops apologetically.)
PHOEBE. Proceed, sir.
VALENTINE. It but made me the more complacent that never in her life
had Miss Phoebe been guilty of the slightest deviation from the
strictest propriety. (She shudders.) I was always conceiving her in
your place. Oh, it was monstrous unfair to you. I stood looking at
you, Miss Livvy, and seeing in my mind her and the pretty things she
did, and you did not do; why, ma'am, that is how I fell in love with
Miss Phoebe at the balls.
PHOEBE. I thank you.
VALENTINE. Ma'am, tell me, do you think there is any hope for me?
VALENTINE. I shall go to her. 'Miss Phoebe,' I will say--oh, ma'am,
so reverently--'Miss Phoebe, my beautiful, most estimable of women, let
me take care of you for ever more.'
(MISS PHOEBE presses the words to her heart and then drops them.)
PHOEBE. Beautiful. La, Aunt Phoebe!
VALENTINE. Ah, ma'am, you may laugh at a rough soldier so much
enamoured, but 'tis true. 'Marry me, Miss Phoebe,' I will say, 'and I
will take you back through those years of hardships that have made your
sweet eyes too patient. Instead of growing older you shall grow
younger. We will travel back together to pick up the many little joys
and pleasures you had to pass by when you trod that thorny path alone.'
PHOEBE. Can't be--can't be.
VALENTINE. Nay, Miss Phoebe has loved me. 'Tis you have said it.
PHOEBE. I did not mean to tell you.
VALENTINE. She will be my wife yet.
VALENTINE. You are severe, Miss Livvy. But it is because you are
partial to her, and I am happy of that.
PHOEBE (in growing horror of herself). I partial to her! I am
laughing at both of you. Miss Phoebe. La, that old thing.
VALENTINE (sternly). Silence!
PHOEBE. I hate her and despise her. If you knew what she is----
(He stops her with a gesture.)
VALENTINE. I know what you are.
PHOEBE. That paragon who has never been guilty of the slightest
deviation from the strictest propriety.
PHOEBE. That garden----
VALENTINE. Miss Livvy, for shame.
PHOEBE. Your garden has been destroyed, sir; the weeds have entered
it, and all the flowers are choked.
VALENTINE. You false woman, what do you mean?
PHOEBE. I will tell you. (But his confidence awes her.) What faith
you have in her.
VALENTINE. As in my God. Speak.
PHOEBE. I cannot tell you.
VALENTINE. No, you cannot.
PHOEBE. It is too horrible.
VALENTINE. You are too horrible. Is not that it?
PHOEBE. Yes, that is it.
(MISS SUSAN has entered and caught the last words.)
MISS SUSAN (shrinking as from a coming blow). What is too horrible?
VALENTINE. Ma'am, I leave the telling of it to her, if she dare. And
I devoutly hope those are the last words I shall ever address to this
(He bows and goes out in dudgeon. MISS SUSAN believes all is
discovered and that MISS PHOEBE is for ever shamed.)
MISS SUSAN (taking PHOEBE in her arms). My love, my dear, what
terrible thing has he said to you?
PHOEBE (forgetting everything but that she is loved). Not
terrible--glorious! Susan, 'tis Phoebe he loves, 'tis me, not Livvy!
He loves me, he loves me! Me--Phoebe!
(MISS SUSAN'S bosom swells. It is her great hour as much as
End of Act III.
THE BLUE AND WHITE ROOM
If we could shut our eyes to the two sisters sitting here in woe, this
would be, to the male eye at least, the identical blue and white room
of ten years ago; the same sun shining into it and playing familiarly
with Miss Susan's treasures. But the ladies are changed. It is not
merely that Miss Phoebe has again donned her schoolmistress's gown and
hidden her curls under the cap. To see her thus once more, her real
self, after the escapade of the ball, is not unpleasant, and the cap
and gown do not ill become the quiet room. But she now turns guiltily
from the sun that used to be her intimate, her face is drawn, her form
condensed into the smallest space, and her hands lie trembling in her
lap. It is disquieting to note that any life there is in the room
comes not from her but from Miss Susan. If the house were to go on
fire now it would be she who would have to carry out Miss Phoebe.
Whatever of import has happened since the ball, Patty knows it, and is
enjoying it. We see this as she ushers in Miss Willoughby. Note also,
with concern, that at mention of the visitor's name the eyes of the
sisters turn affrightedly, not to the door by which their old friend
enters, but to the closed door of the spare bed-chamber. Patty also
gives it a meaning glance; then the three look at each other, and two
of them blanch.
MISS WILLOUGHBY (the fourth to look at the door). I am just run
across, Susan, to inquire how Miss Livvy does now.
MISS SUSAN. She is still very poorly, Mary.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. I am so unhappy of that. I conceive it to be a
MISS SUSAN (almost too glibly). Accompanied by trembling,
flutterings, and spasms.
MISS WILLOUGHBY. The excitements of the ball. You have summoned the
apothecary at last, I trust, Phoebe?
(MISS PHOEBE, once so ready of defence, can say nothing.)
MISS SUSAN (to the rescue). It is Livvy's own wish that he should
not be consulted.
Miss WILLOUGHBY (looking longingly at the door). May I go in to see
MISS SUSAN. I fear not, Mary. She is almost asleep, and it is best
not to disturb her. (Peeping into the bedroom.) Lie quite still,
Livvy, my love, quite still.
(Somehow this makes PATTY smile so broadly that she finds it
advisable to retire. MISS WILLOUGHBY sighs, and produces a small
bowl from the folds of her cloak.)
Miss WILLOUGHBY. This is a little arrowroot, of which I hope Miss
Livvy will be so obliging as to partake.
MISS SUSAN (taking the bowl). I thank you, Mary.
PHOEBE (ashamed). Susan, we ought not----
MISS SUSAN (shameless). I will take it to her while it is still warm.
(She goes into the bedroom. MISS WILLOUGHBY gazes at MISS PHOEBE,
who certainly shrinks. It has not escaped the notice of the visitor
that MISS PHOEBE has become the more timid of the sisters, and she
has evolved an explanation.)
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Phoebe, has Captain Brown been apprised of Miss
PHOEBE (uncomfortably). I think not, Miss Willoughby.
MISS WILLOUGHBY (sorry for PHOEBE, and speaking very kindly). Is
this right, Phoebe? You informed Fanny and Henrietta at the ball of
his partiality for Livvy. My dear, it is hard for you, but have you
any right to keep them apart?
PHOEBE (discovering only now what are the suspicions of her friends).
Is that what you think I am doing, Miss Willoughby?
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Such a mysterious illness. (Sweetly) Long ago,
Phoebe, I once caused much unhappiness through foolish jealousy. That
is why I venture to hope that you will not be as I was, my dear.
PHOEBE. I jealous of Livvy!
MISS WILLOUGHBY (with a sigh). I thought as little of the lady I
refer to, but he thought otherwise.
PHOEBE. Indeed, Miss Willoughby, you wrong me.
(But MISS WILLOUGHBY does not entirely believe her, and there is a
pause, so long a pause that unfortunately MISS SUSAN thinks she has
left the house.)
MISS SUSAN (peeping in). Is she gone?
MISS WILLOUGHBY (hurt). No, Susan, but I am going.
MISS SUSAN (distressed). Mary!
(She follows her out, but MISS WILLOUGHBY will not be comforted, and
there is a coldness between them for the rest of the day. MISS SUSAN
is not so abashed as she ought to be. She returns, and partakes with
avidity of the arrowroot.)
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, I am well aware that this is wrong of me, but
Mary's arrowroot is so delicious. The ladies'-fingers and
petticoat-tails those officers sent to Livvy, I ate them also! (Once
on a time this would have amused MISS PHOEBE, but her sense of humour
has gone. She is crying.) Phoebe, if you have such remorse you will
weep yourself to death.
PHOEBE. Oh, sister, were it not for you, how gladly would I go into a
MISS SUSAN (after she has soothed PHOEBE a little). My dear, what
is to be done about her? We cannot have her supposed to be here for
PHOEBE. We had to pretend that she was ill to keep her out of sight;
and now we cannot say she has gone away, for the Miss Willoughby's
windows command our door, and they are always watching.
MISS SUSAN (peeping from the window). I see Fanny watching now. I
feel, Phoebe, as if Livvy really existed.
PHOEBE (mournfully). We shall never be able to esteem ourselves
MISS SUSAN (who has in her the makings of a desperate criminal).
Phoebe, why not marry him? If only we could make him think that Livvy
had gone home. Then he need never know.
PHOEBE. Susan, you pain me. She who marries without telling all--hers
must ever be a false face. They are his own words.
(PATTY enters importantly.)
PATTY. Captain Brown.
PHOEBE (starting up). I wrote to him, begging him not to come.
MISS SUSAN (quickly). Patty, I am sorry we are out.
(But VALENTINE has entered in time to hear her words.)
VALENTINE (not unmindful that this is the room in which he is esteemed
a wit). I regret that they are out, Patty, but I will await their
return. (The astonishing man sits on the ottoman beside MISS SUSAN,
but politely ignores her presence.) It is not my wish to detain you,
(PATTY goes reluctantly, and the sisters think how like him, and how
delightful it would be if they were still the patterns of propriety he
PHOEBE (bravely). Captain Brown.
VALENTINE (rising). You, Miss Phoebe. I hear Miss Livvy is
PHOEBE. She is--very poorly.
VALENTINE. But it is not that unpleasant girl I have come to see, it
MISS SUSAN (meekly). How do you do?
VALENTINE (ignoring her). And I am happy, Miss Phoebe, to find you
MISS SUSAN (appealingly). How do you do, sir?
PHOEBE. You know quite well, sir, that Susan is here.
VALENTINE. Nay, ma'am, excuse me. I heard Miss Susan say she was gone
out. Miss Susan is incapable of prevarication.
MISS SUSAN (rising--helpless). What am I to do?
PHOEBE. Don't go, Susan--'tis what he wants.
VALENTINE. I have her word that she is not present.
MISS SUSAN. Oh dear.
VALENTINE. My faith in Miss Susan is absolute. (At this she retires
into the bedroom, and immediately his manner changes. He takes MISS
PHOEBE'S hands into his own kind ones.) You coward, Miss Phoebe, to
be afraid of Valentine Brown.
PHOEBE. I wrote and begged you not to come.
VALENTINE. You implied as a lover, Miss Phoebe, but surely always as a
PHOEBE. Oh yes, yes.
VALENTINE. You told Miss Livvy that you loved me once. How carefully
you hid it from me!
PHOEBE (more firmly). A woman must never tell. You went away to the
great battles. I was left to fight in a little one. Women have a flag
to fly, Mr. Brown, as well as men, and old maids have a flag as well as
women. I tried to keep mine flying.
VALENTINE. But you ceased to care for me. (Tenderly.) I dare ask
your love no more, but I still ask you to put yourself into my keeping.
Miss Phoebe, let me take care of you.
PHOEBE. It cannot be.
VALENTINE. This weary teaching! Let me close your school.
PHOEBE. Please, sir.
VALENTINE. If not for your own sake, I ask you, Miss Phoebe, to do it
for mine. In memory of the thoughtless recruit who went off laughing
to the wars. They say ladies cannot quite forget the man who has used
them ill; Miss Phoebe, do it for me because I used you ill.
PHOEBE. I beg you--no more.
VALENTINE (manfully). There, it is all ended. Miss Phoebe, here is
my hand on it.
PHOEBE. What will you do now?
VALENTINE. I also must work. I will become a physician again, with
some drab old housekeeper to neglect me and the house. Do you foresee
the cobwebs gathering and gathering, Miss Phoebe?
PHOEBE. Oh, sir!
VALENTINE. You shall yet see me in Quality Street, wearing my stock
PHOEBE. Oh, oh!
VALENTINE. And with snuff upon my sleeve.
PHOEBE. Sir, sir!
VALENTINE. No skulker, ma'am, I hope, but gradually turning into a
grumpy, crusty, bottle-nosed old bachelor.
PHOEBE. Oh, Mr. Brown!
VALENTINE. And all because you will not walk across the street with me.
PHOEBE. Indeed, sir, you must marry--and I hope it may be some one who
is really like a garden.
VALENTINE. I know but one. That reminds me, Miss Phoebe, of something
I had forgot. (He produces a paper from his pocket.) 'Tis a trifle
I have wrote about you. But I fear to trouble you.
(PHOEBE'S hands go out longingly for it.)
PHOEBE (reading). 'Lines to a Certain Lady, who is Modestly unaware
of her Resemblance to a Garden. Wrote by her servant, V. B.'
(The beauty of this makes her falter. She looks up.)
VALENTINE (with a poet's pride). There is more of it, ma'am.
The lilies are her pretty thoughts,
Her shoulders are the may,
Her smiles are all forget-me-nots,
The path 's her gracious way,
The roses that do line it are
Her fancies walking round,
'Tis sweetly smelling lavender
In which my lady's gowned.
(MISS PHOEBE has thought herself strong, but she is not able to read
such exquisite lines without betraying herself to a lover's gaze.)
VALENTINE (excitedly). Miss Phoebe, when did you cease to care for
PHOEBE (retreating from him but clinging to her poem). You promised
not to ask.
VALENTINE. I know not why you should, Miss Phoebe, but I believe you
love me still!
(MISS PHOEBE has the terrified appearance of a detected felon.)
(MISS SUSAN returns.)
MISS SUSAN. You are talking so loudly.
VALENTINE. Miss Susan, does she care for me still?
MISS SUSAN (forgetting her pride of sex). Oh, sir, how could she
VALENTINE. Then by Gad, Miss Phoebe, you shall marry me though I have
to carry you in my arms to the church.
PHOEBE. Sir, how can you!
(But MISS SUSAN gives her a look which means that it must be done if
only to avoid such a scandal. It is at this inopportune moment that
MISS HENRIETTA and MISS FANNY are announced.)
MISS HENRIETTA. I think Miss Willoughby has already popped in.
PHOEBE (with a little spirit). Yes, indeed.
MISS SUSAN (a mistress of sarcasm). How is Mary, Fanny? She has not
been to see us for several minutes.
MISS FANNY (somewhat daunted). Mary is so partial to you, Susan.
VALENTINE. Your servant, Miss Henrietta, Miss Fanny.
MISS FANNY. How do you do, sir?
MISS HENRIETTA (wistfully). And how do you find Miss Livvy, sir?
VALENTINE. I have not seen her, Miss Henrietta.
MISS HENRIETTA. Indeed!
MISS FANNY. Not even you?
VALENTINE. You seem surprised?
MISS FANNY. Nay, sir, you must not say so; but really, Phoebe!
PHOEBE. Fanny, you presume!
VALENTINE (puzzled). If one of you ladies would deign to enlighten
me. To begin with, what is Miss Livvy's malady?
MISS HENRIETTA. He does not know? Oh, Phoebe.
VALENTINE. Ladies, have pity on a dull man, and explain.
MISS FANNY (timidly). Please not to ask us to explain. I fear we
have already said more than was proper. Phoebe, forgive.
(To CAPTAIN BROWN this but adds to the mystery, and he looks to
PHOEBE for enlightenment.)
PHOEBE (desperate). I understand, sir, there is a belief that I keep
Livvy in confinement because of your passion for her.
VALENTINE. My passion for Miss Livvy? Why, Miss Fanny, I cannot abide
her--nor she me. (Looking manfully at MISS PHOEBE.) Furthermore, I
am proud to tell you that this is the lady whom I adore.
MISS FANNY. Phoebe?
VALENTINE. Yes, ma'am.
(The ladies are for a moment bereft of speech, and the uplifted
PHOEBE cannot refrain from a movement which, if completed, would be a
curtsy. Her punishment follows promptly.)
MISS HENRIETTA (from her heart). Phoebe, I am so happy 'tis you.
MISS FANNY. Dear Phoebe, I give you joy. And you also, sir. (MISS
PHOEBE sends her sister a glance of unutterable woe, and escapes from
the room. It is most ill-bred of her.) Miss Susan, I do not
MISS HENRIETTA. Is it that Miss Livvy is an obstacle?
MISS SUSAN (who knows that there is no hope for her but in flight).
I think I hear Phoebe calling me--a sudden indisposition. Pray excuse
me, Henrietta. (She goes.)
MISS HENRIETTA. We know not, sir, whether to offer you our
VALENTINE (cogitating). May I ask, ma'am, what you mean by an
obstacle? Is there some mystery about Miss Livvy?
MISS HENRIETTA. So much so, sir, that we at one time thought she and
Miss Phoebe were the same person.
MISS FANNY. Why will they admit no physician into her presence?
MISS HENRIETTA. The blinds of her room are kept most artfully drawn.
MISS FANNY (plaintively). We have never seen her, sir. Neither Miss
Susan nor Miss Phoebe will present her to us.
VALENTINE (impressed). Indeed.
(MISS HENRIETTA and MISS FANNY, encouraged by his sympathy, draw
nearer the door of the interesting bedchamber. They falter. Any one
who thinks, however, that they would so far forget themselves as to
open the door and peep in, has no understanding of the ladies of
Quality Street. They are, nevertheless, not perfect, for MISS
HENRIETTA knocks on the door.)
MISS HENRIETTA. How do you find yourself, dear Miss Livvy?
(There is no answer. It is our pride to record that they come away
without even touching the handle. They look appealing at CAPTAIN
BROWN, whose face has grown grave.)
VALENTINE. I think, ladies, as a physician--
(He walks into the bedroom. They feel an ignoble drawing to follow
him, but do not yield to it. When he returns his face is inscrutable.)
MISS HENRIETTA. Is she very poorly, sir?
MISS FANNY. We did not hear you address her.
VALENTINE. She is not awake, ma'am.
MISS HENRIETTA. It is provoking.
MISS FANNY (sternly just). They informed Mary that she was nigh
VALENTINE. It is not a serious illness I think, ma'am. With the
permission of Miss Phoebe and Miss Susan I will make myself more
acquaint with her disorder presently. (He is desirous to be alone.)
But we must not talk lest we disturb her.
MISS FANNY. You suggest our retiring, sir?
VALENTINE. Nay, Miss Fanny----
MISS FANNY. You are very obliging; but I think, Henrietta----
MISS HENRIETTA (rising). Yes, Fanny.
(No doubt they are the more ready to depart that they wish to inform
MISS WILLOUGHBY at once of these strange doings. As they go, MISS
SUSAN and MISS PHOEBE return, and the adieux are less elaborate than
usual. Neither visitors nor hostesses quite know what to say. MISS
SUSAN is merely relieved to see them leave, but MISS PHOEBE has read
something in their manner that makes her uneasy.)
PHOEBE. Why have they departed so hurriedly, sir? They--they did not
go in to see Livvy?
(She reads danger in his face.)
PHOEBE. Why do you look at me so strangely?
VALENTINE (somewhat stern). Miss Phoebe, I desire to see Miss Livvy.
VALENTINE. Why impossible? They tell me strange stories about no
one's seeing her. Miss Phoebe, I will not leave this house until I
have seen her.
PHOEBE. You cannot. (But he is very determined, and she is afraid of
him.) Will you excuse me, sir, while I talk with Susan behind the
(The sisters go guiltily into the bedroom, and CAPTAIN BROWN after
some hesitation rings for PATTY.)
VALENTINE. Patty, come here. Why is this trick being played upon me?
PATTY (with all her wits about her). Trick, sir! Who would dare?
VALENTINE. I know, Patty, that Miss Phoebe has been Miss Livvy all the
PATTY. I give in!
VALENTINE. Why has she done this?
PATTY (beseechingly). Are you laughing, sir?
VALENTINE. I am very far from laughing.
PATTY (turning on him). 'Twas you that began it, all by not knowing
her in the white gown.
VALENTINE. Why has this deception been kept up so long?
PATTY. Because you would not see through it. Oh, the wicked
denseness. She thought you were infatuate with Miss Livvy because she
was young and silly.
VALENTINE. It is infamous.
PATTY. I will not have you call her names. 'Twas all playful
innocence at first, and now she is so feared of you she is weeping her
soul to death, and all I do I cannot rouse her. 'I ha' a follower in
the kitchen, ma'am,' says I, to infuriate her. 'Give him a glass of
cowslip wine,' says she, like a gentle lamb. And ill she can afford
it, you having lost their money for them.
VALENTINE. What is that? On the contrary, all the money they have,
Patty, they owe to my having invested it for them.
PATTY. That is the money they lost.
VALENTINE. You are sure of that?
PATTY. I can swear to it.
VALENTINE. Deceived me about that also. Good God; but why?
PATTY. I think she was feared you would offer to her out of pity. She
said something to Miss Susan about keeping a flag flying. What she
meant I know not. (But he knows, and he turns away his face.) Are
you laughing, sir?
VALENTINE. No, Patty, I am not laughing. Why do they not say Miss
Livvy has gone home? It would save them a world of trouble.
PATTY. The Misses Willoughby and Miss Henrietta--they watch the house
all day. They would say she cannot be gone, for we did not see her go.
VALENTINE (enlightened at last). I see!
PATTY. And Miss Phoebe and Miss Susan wring their hands, for they are
feared Miss Livvy is bedridden here for all time. (Now his sense of
humour asserts itself). Thank the Lord, you 're laughing!
(At this he laughs the more, and it is a gay CAPTAIN BROWN on whom
MISS SUSAN opens the bedroom door. This desperate woman is too full
of plot to note the change in him.)
MISS SUSAN. I am happy to inform you, sir, that Livvy finds herself
VALENTINE (bolting). It is joy to me to hear it.
MISS SUSAN. She is coming in to see you.
PATTY (aghast). Oh, ma'am!
VALENTINE (frowning on PATTY). I shall be happy to see the poor
(But MISS SUSAN, believing that so far all is well, has returned to
the bedchamber. CAPTAIN BROWN bestows a quizzical glance upon the
VALENTINE. Go away, Patty. Anon I may claim a service of you, but for
the present, go.
VALENTINE. Retire, woman.
(She has to go, and he prepares his face for the reception of the
invalid. PHOEBE comes in without her cap, the ringlets showing
again. She wears a dressing jacket and is supported by MISS SUSAN.)
VALENTINE (gravely). Your servant, Miss Livvy.
PHOEBE (weakly). How do you do?
VALENTINE. Allow me, Miss Susan.
(He takes MISS SUSAN'S place; but after an exquisite moment MISS
PHOEBE breaks away from him, feeling that she is not worthy of such
PHOEBE. No, no, I--I can walk alone--see.
(She reclines upon the couch.)
MISS SUSAN. How do you think she is looking?
(He makes a professional examination of the patient, and they are very
ashamed to deceive him, but not so ashamed that they must confess.)
What do you think?
VALENTINE (solemnly). She will recover. May I say, ma'am, it
surprises me that any one should see much resemblance between you and
your Aunt Phoebe. Miss Phoebe is decidedly shorter and more thick-set.
PHOEBE (sitting up). No, I am not.
VALENTINE. I said Miss Phoebe, ma'am. (She reclines.) But tell me,
is not Miss Phoebe to join us?
PHOEBE. She hopes you will excuse her, sir.
MISS SUSAN (vaguely). Taking the opportunity of airing the room.
VALENTINE. Ah, of course.
MISS SUSAN (opening bedroom door and catting mendaciously). Captain
Brown will excuse you, Phoebe.
VALENTINE. Certainly, Miss Susan. Well, ma'am, I think I could cure
Miss Livvy if she is put unreservedly into my hands.
MISS SUSAN (with a sigh). I am sure you could.
VALENTINE. Then you are my patient, Miss Livvy.
PHOEBE (nervously). 'Twas but a passing indisposition, I am almost
VALENTINE. Nay, you still require attention. Do you propose making a
long stay in Quality Street, ma'am?
PHOEBE. I--I--I hope not. It--it depends.
MISS SUSAN (forgetting herself). Mary is the worst.
VALENTINE. I ask your pardon?
PHOEBE. Aunt Susan, you are excited.
VALENTINE. But you are quite right, Miss Livvy; home is the place for
PHOEBE. Would that I could go!
VALENTINE. You are going.
VALENTINE. Indeed, I have a delightful surprise for you, Miss Livvy,
you are going to-day.
VALENTINE. Not merely to-day, but now. As it happens, my carriage is
standing idle at your door, and I am to take you in it to your
home--some twenty miles if I remember.
PHOEBE. You are to take me?
VALENTINE. Nay, 'tis no trouble at all, and as your physician my mind
is made up. Some wraps for her, Miss Susan.
MISS SUSAN. But--but----
PHOEBE (in a panic). Sir, I decline to go.
VALENTINE. Come, Miss Livvy, you are in my hands.
PHOEBE. I decline. I am most determined.
VALENTINE. You admit yourself that you are recovered.
PHOEBE. I do not feel so well now. Aunt Susan!
MISS SUSAN. Sir----
VALENTINE. If you wish to consult Miss Phoebe----
MISS SUSAN. Oh, no.
VALENTINE. Then the wraps, Miss Susan.
PHOEBE. Auntie, don't leave me.
VALENTINE. What a refractory patient it is. But reason with her, Miss
Susan, and I shall ask Miss Phoebe for some wraps.
(To their consternation he goes cheerily into the bedroom. MISS
PHOEBE saves herself by instant flight, and nothing but mesmeric
influence keeps MISS SUSAN rooted to the blue and white room. When
he returns he is loaded with wraps, and still cheerfully animated, as
if he had found nothing untoward in LIVVY'S bedchamber.)
VALENTINE. I think these will do admirably, Miss Susan.
MISS SUSAN. But Phoebe----
VALENTINE. If I swathe Miss Livvy in these----
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe----
VALENTINE. She is still busy airing the room. (The extraordinary man
goes to the couch as if unable to perceive that its late occupant has
gone, and MISS SUSAN watches him, fascinated.) Come, Miss Livvy,
put these over you. Allow me--this one over your shoulders, so. Be so
obliging as to lean on me. Be brave, ma'am, you cannot fall--my arm is
round you; gently, gently, Miss Livvy; ah, that is better; we are doing
famously; come, come. Good-bye, Miss Susan, I will take every care of
(He has gone, with the bundle on his arm, but MISS SUSAN does not
wake up. Even the banging of the outer door is unable to rouse her.
It is heard, however, by MISS PHOEBE, who steals back into the room,
her cap upon her head to give her courage.)
PHOEBE. He is gone! (MISS SUSAN'S rapt face alarms her.) Oh,
Susan, was he as dreadful as that?
MISS SUSAN (in tones unnatural to her). Phoebe, he knows all.
PHOEBE. Yes, of course he knows all now. Sister, did his face change?
Oh, Susan, what did he say?
MISS SUSAN. He said 'Good-bye, Miss Susan.' That was almost all he
PHOEBE. Did his eyes flash fire?
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, it was what he did. He--he took Livvy with him.
PHOEBE. Susan, dear, don't say that. You are not distraught, are you?
MISS SUSAN (clinging to facts). He did; he wrapped her up in a shawl.
PHOEBE. Susan! You are Susan Throssel, my love. You remember me,
don't you? Phoebe, your sister. I was Livvy also, you know, Livvy.
MISS SUSAN. He took Livvy with him.
PHOEBE (in woe). Oh, oh! sister, who am I?
MISS SUSAN. You are Phoebe.
PHOEBE. And who was Livvy?
MISS SUSAN. You were.
PHOEBE. Thank heaven.
MISS SUSAN. But he took her away in the carriage.
PHOEBE. Oh, dear! (She has quite forgotten her own troubles now.)
Susan, you will soon be well again. Dear, let us occupy our minds.
Shall we draw up the advertisement for the reopening of the school?
MISS SUSAN. I do so hate the school.
PHOEBE. Come, dear, come, sit down. Write, Susan. (Dictating.)
'The Misses Throssel have the pleasure to announce----'
MISS SUSAN. Pleasure! Oh, Phoebe.
PHOEBE. 'That they will resume school on the 5th of next month.
Music, embroidery, the backboard, and all the elegancies of the mind.
Latin--shall we say algebra?'
MISS SUSAN. I refuse to write algebra.
PHOEBE. --for beginners.
MISS SUSAN. I refuse. There is only one thing I can write; it writes
itself in my head all day. 'Miss Susan Throssel presents her
compliments to the Misses Willoughby and Miss Henrietta Turnbull, and
requests the honour of their presence at the nuptials of her sister
Phoebe and Captain Valentine Brown.'
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe! (A door is heard banging.) He has returned!
PHOEBE. Oh cruel, cruel. Susan, I am so alarmed.
MISS SUSAN. I will face him.
PHOEBE. Nay, if it must be, I will.
(But when he enters he is not very terrible.)
VALENTINE. Miss Phoebe, it is not raining, but your face is wet. I
wish always to kiss you when your face is wet.
VALENTINE. Miss Livvy will never trouble you any more, Miss Susan. I
have sent her home.
MISS SUSAN. Oh, sir, how can you invent such a story for us.
VALENTINE. I did not. I invented it for the Misses Willoughby and
Miss Henrietta, who from their windows watched me put her into my
carriage. Patty accompanies her, and in a few hours Patty will return
MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, he has got rid of Livvy!
PHOEBE. Susan, his face hasn't changed!
VALENTINE. Dear Phoebe Throssel, will you be Phoebe Brown?
PHOEBE (quivering). You know everything? And that I am not a garden?
VALENTINE. I know everything, ma'am--except that.
PHOEBE (so very glad to be prim at the end). Sir, the dictates of my
heart enjoin me to accept your too flattering offer. (He puts her cap
in his pocket. He kisses her. MISS SUSAN is about to steal away.)
Oh, sir, Susan also. (He kisses MISS SUSAN also; and here we bid