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A Slight Misunderstanding by A. A. Milne

 

The scene is a drawing-room (in which the men are allowed to smoke—or a smoking-room in which the women are allowed to draw—it doesn't much matter) in the house of somebody or other in the country. George Turnbull and his old College friend, Henry Peterson, are confiding in each other, as old friends will, over their whiskies and cigars. It is about three o'clock in the afternoon.

George (dreamily helping himself to a stiff soda). Henry, do you remember that evening at Christ Church College, Oxford, five years ago, when we opened our hearts to each other...

Henry (lighting a cigar and hiding it in a fern-pot). That moonlight evening on the Backs, George, when I had failed in my Matriculation examination?

George. Yes; and we promised that when either of us fell in love the other should be the first to hear of it? (Rising solemnly.) Henry, the moment has come. (With shining eyes.) I am in love.

Henry (jumping up and grasping him by both hands). George! My dear old George! (In a voice broken with emotion.) Bless you, George!

[He pats him thoughtfully on the back three times, nods his own head twice, gives him a final grip of the hand, and returns to his chair.

George (more moved by this than he cares to show). Thank you, Henry. (Hoarsely.) You're a good fellow.

Henry (airily, with a typically British desire to conceal his emotion). Who is the lucky little lady?

George (taking out a picture postcard of the British Museum and kissing it passionately). Isobel Barley!

[If Henry is not careful he will probably give a start of surprise here, with the idea of suggesting to the audience that he (1) knows something about the lady's past, or (2) is in love with her himself. He is, however, thinking of a different play. We shall come to that one in a moment.

Henry (in a slightly dashing manner). Little Isobel? Lucky dog!

George. I wish I could think so. (Sighs.) But I have yet to approach her, and she may be another's. (Fiercely.) Heavens, Henry, if she should be another's!

Enter Isobel.

Isobel (brightly). So I've run you to earth at last. Now, what have you got to say for yourselves?

Henry (like a man). By Jove! (looking at his watch)—I had no idea—is it really—poor old Joe—waiting—

[Dashes out tactfully in a state of incoherence.

George (rising and leading Isobel to the front of the stage). Miss Barley, now that we are alone, I have something I want to say to you.

Isobel (looking at her watch). Well, you must be quick. Because I'm engaged—

[George drops her hand and staggers away from her.

Isobel. Why, what's the matter?

George (to the audience, in a voice expressing the very deeps of emotion). Engaged! She is engaged! I am too late!

[He sinks into a chair and covers his face with his hands.

Isobel (surprised). Mr Turnbull! What has happened?

George (waving her away with one hand). Go! Leave me! I can bear this best alone. (Exit Isobel.) Merciful heavens, she is plighted to another!

Enter Henry.

Henry (eagerly). Well, old man?

George (raising a face white with misery—that is to say, if he has remembered to put the French chalk in the palms of his hands). Henry, I am too late! She is another's!

Henry (in surprise). Whose?

George (with dignity). I did not ask her. It is nothing to me. Good-bye, Henry. Be kind to her.

Henry. Why, where are you going?

George (firmly). To the Rocky Mountains. I shall shoot some bears. Grizzly ones. It may be that thus I shall forget my grief.

Henry (after a pause). Perhaps you are right, George. What shall I tell—her?

George. Tell her—nothing. But should anything (feeling casually in his pockets) happen to me—if (going over them again quickly) I do not come back, then (searching them all, including the waistcoat ones, in desperate haste), give her—give her—give her (triumphantly bringing his handkerchief out of the last pocket) this, and say that my last thought was of her. Good-bye, my old friend. Good-bye.

[Exit to Rocky Mountains.

Enter Isobel.

Isabel. Why, where's Mr Turnbull?

Henry (sadly). He's gone.

Isabel. Gone? Where?

Henry. To the Rocky Mountains—to shoot bears. (Feeling that some further explanation is needed.) Grizzly ones.

Isobel. But he was HERE a moment ago.

Henry. Yes, he's only JUST gone.

Isobel. Why didn't he say good-bye? (Eagerly.) But perhaps he left a message for me? (Henry shakes his head.) Nothing? (Henry bows silently and leaves the room.) Oh! (She gives a cry and throws herself on the sofa.) And I loved him! George, George, why didn't you speak?

Enter George hurriedly. He is fully dressed for a shooting expedition in the Rocky Mountains, and carries a rifle under his arm.

George (to the audience). I have just come back for my pocket-handkerchief. I must have dropped it in here somewhere. (He begins to search for it, and in the ordinary course of things comes upon Isobel on the sofa. He puts his rifle down carefully on a table, with the muzzle pointing at the prompter rather than at the audience, and staggers back.) Merciful heavens! Isobel! Dead! (He falls on his knees beside the sofa.) My love, speak to me!

Isobel (softly). George!

George. She is alive! Isobel!

Isobel. Don't go, George!

George. My dear, I love you! But when I heard that you were another's, honour compelled me—

Isobel (sitting up quickly). What do you mean by another's?

George. You said you were engaged!

Isobel (suddenly realizing how the dreadful misunderstanding arose which nearly wrecked two lives). But I only meant I was engaged to play tennis with Lady Carbrook!

George. What a fool I have been! (He hurries on before the audience can assent.) Then, Isobel, you WILL be mine?

Isobel. Yes, George. And you won't go and shoot nasty bears, will you, dear? Not even grizzly ones?

George (taking her in his arms). Never, darling. That was only (turning to the audience with the air of one who is making his best point) A Slight Misunderstanding.

CURTAIN.

 
 
 

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