by A. A. Milne
As the curtain goes up two ladies are discovered in the
morning-room of Honeysuckle Lodge engaged in work of a feminine
nature. Miss Alice Prendergast is doing something delicate with a
crochet-hook, but it is obvious that her thoughts are far away. She
sighs at intervals, and occasionally lays down her work and presses
both hands to her heart. A sympathetic audience will have no
difficulty in guessing that she is in love. On the other hand, her
elder sister, Miss Prendergast, is completely wrapped up in a sock for
one of the poorer classes, over which she frowns formidably. The sock,
however, has no real bearing upon the plot, and she must not make too
much of it.
Alice (hiding her emotions). Did you have a pleasant dinner-party
last night, Jane?
Jane (to herself). Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. (Looking
up.) Very pleasant indeed, Alice. The Blizzards were there, and the
Podbys, and the Slumphs. (These people are not important and should
not be over-emphasized.) Mrs Podby's maid has given notice.
Alice. Who took you in?
Jane (brightening up). Such an interesting man, my dear. He talked
most agreeably about Art during dinner, and we renewed the
conversation in the drawing-room. We found that we agreed upon all
the main principles of Art, considered as such.
Alice (with a look in her eyes which shows that she is recalling a
tender memory). When I was in Shropshire last week—What was your
Jane (with a warning glance at the audience). You know how
difficult it is to catch names when one is introduced. I am certain he
never heard mine. (As the plot depends partly upon this, she pauses
for it to sink in.) But I inquired about him afterwards, and I find
that he is a Mr—
Enter Mary, the Parlour-maid.
Mary (handing letter). A letter for you, miss.
Jane (taking it). Thank you, Mary. (Exit Mary to work up her next
line.) A letter! I wonder who it is from! (Reading the envelope.)
"Miss Prendergast, Honeysuckle Lodge." (She opens it with the air of
one who has often received letters before, but feels that this one
may play an important part in her life.) "Dear Miss Prendergast, I
hope you will pardon the presumption of what I am about to write to
you, but whether you pardon me or not, I ask you to listen to me. I
know of no woman for whose talents I have a greater admiration, or
for whose qualities I have a more sincere affection than yourself.
Since I have known you, you have been the lodestar of my existence,
the fountain of my inspiration. I feel that, were your life joined to
mine, the joint path upon which we trod would be the path to
happiness, such as I have as yet hardly dared to dream of. In short,
dear Miss Prendergast, I ask you to marry me, and I will come in
person for my answer. Yours truly—" (In a voice of intense surprise)
[At the word "Bootle," a wave of warm colour rushes over Alice and
dyes her from neck to brow. If she is not an actress of sufficient
calibre to ensure this, she must do the best she can by starting
abruptly and putting her hand to her throat.
Alice (aside, in a choking voice). Mr Bootle! In love with Jane!
Jane. My dear! The man who took me down to dinner! Well!
Alice (picking up her work again and trying to be calm). What will
Jane (rather pleased with herself). Well, really—I—this is—Mr
Alice (starting up). Was that a ring? (She frowns at the prompter
and a bell is heard to ring.) It is Mr Bootle! I know his ring, I
mean I know—Dear, I think I will go and lie down. I have a headache.
[She looks miserably at the audience, closes her eyes, and goes off
with her handkerchief to her mouth, taking care not to fall over the
Enter Mary, followed by James Bootle.
Mary. Mr Bootle. (Exit finally.)
Jane. Good-morning, Mr Bootle!
Bootle. I beg—I thought—Why, of course! It's Miss—er-h'm,
yes—How do you do? Did you get back safely last night?
Jane. Yes, thank you, (Coyly.) I got your letter.
Bootle. My letter? (Sees his letter on the table. Furiously.) You
opened my letter!
Jane (mistaking his fury for passion). Yes—James. And (looking
down on the ground) the answer is "Yes."
Bootle (realizing the situation). By George!
(Aside.) I have proposed to the wrong lady! Tchck!
Jane. You may kiss me, James.
Bootle. Have you a sister?
Jane (missing the connection). Yes, I have a younger sister, Alice.
(Coldly.) But I hardly see—
Bootle (beginning to understand how he made the mistake). A younger
sister! Then you are Miss Prendergast? And my letter—Ah!
Alice. You are wanted, Jane, a moment.
Jane. Will you excuse me, Mr Bootle? [Exit.
Bootle (to Alice, as she follows her sister out). Don't go!
Alice (wanly—if she knows how). Am I to stay and congratulate you?
Bootle. Alice! (They approach the footlights, while Jane, having
finished her business, comes in unobserved and watches from the
back.) It is all a mistake! I didn't know your Christian name—I
didn't know you had a sister. The letter I addressed to Miss
Prendergast I meant for Miss Alice Prendergast.
Alice. James! My love! But what can we do?
Bootle (gloomily). Nothing. As a man of honour I cannot withdraw.
So two lives are ruined!
Alice. You are right, James. Jane must never know. Good-bye!
[They give each other a farewell embrace.
Jane (aside). They love. (Fiercely.) But he is mine; I will hold
him to his promise! (Picking up a photograph of Alice as a small child
from an occasional table.) Little Alice! And I promised to take care
of her—to protect her from the cruel world Baby Alice! (She puts her
handkerchief to her eyes.) No! I will not spoil two lives! (Aloud.)
Why "Good-bye," Alice?
[Bootle and Alice, who have been embracing all this time—unless
they can think of something else to do—break away in surprise.
Jane (calmly). Dear Alice! I understand perfectly. Mr Bootle said
in his letter to you that he was coming for his answer, and I see what
answer you have given him. (To Bootle.) You remember I told you it
would be "Yes." I know my little sister, you see.
Bootle (tactlessly). But—you told me I could kiss you!
Jane (smiling). And I tell you again now. I believe it is usual for
men to kiss their sisters-in-law? (She offers her cheek. Bootle,
whose day it is, salutes her respectfully.) And now (gaily) perhaps I
had better leave you young people alone!
[Exit, with a backward look at the audience expressive of the fact
that she has been wearing the mask.
Bootle. Alice, then you are mine, after all.
Alice. James! (They k—No, perhaps better not. There has been quite
enough for one evening.) And to think that she knew all the time! Now
I am quite, quite happy. And James—you WILL remember in future that I
am Miss ALICE Prendergast?
Bootle (gaily). My dear, I shall only be able to remember that you
are The Future Mrs Bootle!