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Title: Evening Dress - Farce
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Page 4

"WELL, THEN, I SHALL HAVE TO TRUST YOU"]



EVENING DRESS

_Farce_

BY

W. D. HOWELLS

ILLUSTRATED

[Illustration]

NEW YORK AND LONDON

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS



Black and White Series

Illustrated. 32mo, Cloth, 50 cents each.


MY YEAR IN A LOG CABIN. By William Dean Howells.

THE WORK OF WASHINGTON IRVING. By Charles Dudley Warner.

EDWIN BOOTH. By Laurence Hutton.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT. By Brander Matthews.

PHILLIPS BROOKS. By the Rev. Arthur Brooks, D.D.

GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS. By John White Chadwick.

THE RIVALS. By François Coppée.

SLAVERY AND THE SLAVE TRADE IN AFRICA. By Henry M. Stanley.

THE JAPANESE BRIDE. By Naomi Tamura.

GILES COREY, YEOMAN. By Mary E. Wilkins.

WHITTIER. By Mrs. James T. Fields.

SEEN FROM THE SADDLE. By Isa Carrington Cabell.

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL. An Address. By George William Curtis.

COFFEE AND REPARTEE. By John Kendrick Bangs.

THREE WEEKS IN POLITICS. By John Kendrick Bangs.

A FAMILY CANOE TRIP. By Florence Watters Snedeker.

A LITTLE SWISS SOJOURN. By William Dean Howells.

IN THE VESTIBULE LIMITED. By Brander Matthews.

THIS PICTURE AND THAT. By Brander Matthews.

TRAVELS IN AMERICA 100 YEARS AGO. By Thomas Twining.

THE UNEXPECTED GUESTS.--A LETTER OF INTRODUCTION.--THE ALBANY
DEPOT.--EVENING DRESS.--A LIKELY STORY.--THE MOUSE-TRAP.--THE
GARROTERS.--FIVE O'CLOCK TEA. Farces. Each complete in one volume. By
William Dean Howells.

HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK AND LONDON.

Copyright, 1893, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._



ILLUSTRATIONS


"WELL, THEN, I SHALL HAVE TO TRUST YOU"    _Frontispiece_

"THE SLEEVES ARE A TRIFLE SHORT, MAYBE"     _Faces p. 42_

THAT LITTLE SUPPER                             "      56



EVENING DRESS

FARCE



I


Mrs. Edward Roberts: "Now, my dear, Amy and I will get there early, so
as to make up for your coming a little late, but you _must_ be there for
the last half, at least. I would excuse you altogether if I could, for I
know you must be dead tired, up all night, that way, on the train, but
Mrs. Miller is one of those people who never _can_ listen to reason, and
she would take deadly offence if you missed her musicale, and wouldn't
forgive us the longest day she lived. So you see?" Mrs. Roberts
addresses herself to her husband in the library of their apartment in
Hotel Bellingham, at Boston, as she stands before the fire pulling on a
long glove and looking at him across his desk, where he has sunk into a
weary heap in his swivel chair. "You _are_ dreadfully used up, Edward,
and I think it's cruel to make you go out; but what can I do? If it was
anybody but Mrs. Miller I wouldn't _think_ of having you go; I'm sure I
never want to have her about, anyway. But that's just the kind of people
that you're a perfect slave to! Now, dear, I've let the two girls go
out, and you must remember that you're in the place alone with the
children; but you needn't be troubled, because nobody will come after
this hour till Willis does, and the girls will be back before that.
Willis is to come and get you on his way to the Millers', and it's all
been arranged for you, and you needn't think of a thing till Willis
comes. You'll have to dress, of course; but you needn't begin that at
once, and you can just sit here in your chair and rest." Mr. Roberts
stretches his arms wildly abroad, and, throwing back his head, permits
himself a yawn that eclipses his whole face. Mrs. Roberts lets both her
arms fall at her side in token of extreme despair. "Edward! If you
_should_ go to sleep!"

_Roberts_, pulling himself together, with a gigantic effort: "No, no!
You needn't be afraid, my dear. But, oh! what _wouldn't_ I give for a
chance to!"

_Mrs. Roberts_, who sinks into a chair and regards the unhappy man with
a look of tender compassion: "You poor thing, I've almost a mind to
_let_ you!"

_Roberts_, heroically: "No, it wouldn't do, Agnes. I must--ow, ugh,
ow--go. Ugh, ow, ugh!" He abandons himself to a succession of abysmal
yawns, in which the sequence of his ideas is altogether lost.

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Well, then, I shall have to trust you." She gathers her
train up for departure, and moves slowly towards the door. "I don't
think I've forgotten anything. Let me see: fan, handkerchief, both
gloves; pins, because you're never sure that they've put enough, and you
don't know where you'll come apart; head scarf, yes, I've got that _on_;
fur boots, I've got _them_ on. I really believe I'm all here. But I
shouldn't be, Edward, if it were not for the system I put into
everything; and I do wish, dear, that you'd try it once, just to please
me!"

_Roberts_, very drowsily: "Try what, Agnes?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Why, getting what you have to do by heart, and
repeating it over. If you could _only_ bring yourself to say: _Both
girls out; me alone with the children; Willis at ten; mustn't go to
sleep; last half, anyway; Mrs. Miller awfully angry._ There! If you
could say that after me, I could go feeling so _much_ easier! Won't you
do it, Edward? I know it has a ridiculous sound, but--"

_Roberts_, yawning: "How am I to dress?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Edward! Well, I always _will_ say that you're perfectly
inspired! To think of my forgetting the most important thing, after all!
Oh, I do believe there _is_ an overruling Providence, I don't _care_
what the agnostics pretend. Why, it's to be evening dress for the men,
of course! Mrs. Miller would do it to be different from Mrs. Curwen, who
let you come in your cutaways, even if it wasn't the regular thing; and
she's gone around ever since saying it was the most rowdy, Bohemian
thing she ever heard of, and she might as well have had beer, at once."

_Roberts:_ "Who?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Why, Mrs. Miller."

_Roberts:_ "Mrs. Miller going to have beer?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, Edward, I don't see how you _can_ be so--But there!
I won't blame you, dearest. I know you're just literally expiring for
want of sleep, and it seems to me I must be the cruellest thing in the
world to make you go. And if you'll say the word, I'll smash off a note
now at the eleventh hour--though it's two hours of eleven yet!--and just
_tell_ Mrs. Miller that you've got home down sick, and I've had to stay
and take care of you. Will you?"

_Roberts:_ "Oh no, Agnes. It wouldn't be the truth."

_Mrs. Roberts_, in a rapture of admiration and affection: "Oh, who
_cares_ for the truth in such a cause, you poor heroic angel, you? Well,
if you insist upon going, I suppose we must; and now the only way is for
you to keep everything clearly in mind. You'd better say it over
backward, now, and begin with evening dress, because that's the most
important. Now! _Evening dress; Mrs. Miller awfully angry; last half,
anyway; mustn't go to sleep; Willis at ten; me alone with the children;
both girls out._ Now, do you think--Ow--e--e--e!" A ring at the door
extorts a shriek from Mrs. Roberts, who simultaneously gathers her robes
about her, in order to fall with decency in the event of burglars or
fire, while her husband rises and goes to open the apartment door. "Who
can it be, at this hour? Oh! Amy!"

_Mrs. Willis Campbell_, in the doorway: "Oh, Amy, indeed! How d' y' do,
Edward! Glad to see you back alive, and just in time for Agnes to kill
you with Mrs. Miller's musicale. May I ask, Agnes, how long you expected
me to freeze to death down in that coupé before you came?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, Amy, dear, you must forgive me! I was just staying
to give Edward his charges--you know he's so terribly forgetful--and I
forgot all about you!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Then I wish, the next time, he'd give _you_ some
charges, my dear. But come, now, do! We shall be rather late, anyway,
and that simpleton will be perfectly furious."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Yes, that's just what I was saying to Edward. She'll
never forgive you. If it was anybody else, I shouldn't think of dragging
him out to-night."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "The worst of a bore like her is that she's sure to
come to all _your_ things, and you can't get off from _one_ of hers.
Willis declares he's going to strike, and I couldn't have got him out
to-night if I hadn't told him you were going to make Edward go."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, isn't it perfectly wicked, Amy! I know he's just
going to have the grippe. See how drowsy he is! That's one of the first
symptoms."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "It's one of the symptoms of having passed the night on
a sleeping-car, too."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "That's true, and thank you, Amy. I forgot all about
that. But now, Edward, dear, you _will_ remember, won't you? If I could
only stay with you----"

_Roberts_, who has been drowsily drooping in his chair during the
exchange of these ideas between the ladies: "Oh, I'm all right, Agnes.
Or--ow, ugh, ow!--I should be if I had a cup of tea."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "There! I _knew_ it. If I had been worth anything at all
as a wife I should have had you a cup of tea long ago. Oh, how
heartless! And I've let both the girls go, and the fire's all out in the
range, anyway. But I'll go and start it with my own hands--"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "In those gloves! You're crazy, Agnes! Edward, I'll
tell you what Willis does, when he's out of sorts a little: he takes a
taste of whiskey-and-water. He says nothing freshens him up like it."

_Roberts_: "That's a good idea."

_Mrs. Roberts_, bustling into the dining-room and reappearing with a
tumbler and a decanter: "The very thing, Amy! And thank you _so_ much.
Trying to make Edward remember seems to put everything out of my head! I
might have thought of _whiskey_, though! If it's only loss of sleep, it
will wake him up, and if it's grippe, it's the most nourishing thing in
the world."

_Roberts:_ "I'm not going to have the grippe, Agnes."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Edward! Don't boast! You may be stricken down in an
instant. I heard of one person who was taken so suddenly she hadn't time
to get her things off, and tumbled right on the bed. You must put some
water in it, of course; and hot water is very soothing. You can use some
out of the pipes; it's perfectly good."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Agnes, are you _never_ coming?"

_Roberts:_ "Yes, go along, Agnes, do! I shall get on quite well, now.
You needn't wait."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, if I could only stay and think _for_ you, dearest!
But I can't, and you must do the best you can. Do keep repeating it all
over! It's the only way--"

_Mrs. Campbell_, from the door: "Agnes!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Amy, I'm coming instantly."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "I declare I shall go without you!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "And I shouldn't blame you a bit, Amy! And _if_ it turns
out to be the grippe, Edward, don't lose an instant. Send for the doctor
as fast as the district messenger can fly; give him his car fare, and
let one come for me; and jump into bed and cover up warm, and keep up
the nourishment with the whiskey; there's another bottle in the
sideboard; and perhaps you'd better break a raw egg in it. I heard of
one person that they gave three dozen raw eggs a day to in typhoid
fever, and even _then_ he died; so you must nourish yourself all you
can. And--"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Agnes! I'm going!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "I'm coming! Edward!"

_Roberts:_ "Well?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "There is something else, very important. And I can't
think of it!"

_Roberts:_ "Liebig's extract of beef?"

_Mrs. Roberts_, distractedly: "No, no! And it wasn't oysters, either,
though they're very nourishing, too. Oh, dear! What--"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Going, Agnes!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Coming, Amy! Try to think of something else that I
ought to remember, Edward!"

_Roberts:_ "Some word to the girls when they come in?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "No!"

_Roberts:_ "About the children, something?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "No, no!"

_Roberts:_ "Willis, then; what Amy wants him to do?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, no, no! I shall surely die if I can't think of it!"

_Mrs. Campbell_, at the door of the apartment: "Gone!"

_Mrs. Roberts_, flying after her, as the door closes with a bang: "Oh,
Amy! how can you be so heartless? She's driven it quite out of my
head!"



II


_Mr. Willis Campbell:_ "Hello, hello, hello! _Oh_, hello, hello, hello!
Wake up, in there! Roberts, wake up! Sound the loud timbrel! Fire,
murder, and sudden death! _Wake_ up! Monday morning, you know; here's
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, all gone and nothing
done! Come, arouse thee, my merry Swiss boy! Take thy pail and to labor
away! All aboard! Train for Newton, West Newton, Newtonville,
Auburndale, Riverside, and Newton Lower Falls, on track No. 5. Express
to Newton. Wake up, Roberts! Here's McIlheny, out here, wants to know
why you took his wife for a cook. Hurry up! he can't wait. Wake up, you
old seven-by-nine sleeper, you, or Mrs. Miller's musicale will just
simply expire on the spot. Come! It's after ten o'clock now, or it will
be in about five minutes. Hurry up! Hello, hello, hello!" Campbell
accompanies his appeals with a tempest of knocks, thumps, and bangs on
the outside of Roberts's chamber door. Within, Roberts is discovered, at
first stretched on his bed in profound repose, which becomes less and
less perfect as Campbell's blows and cries penetrate to his
consciousness. He moves, groans, drops back into slumber, groans again,
coughs, sits up on the bed, where he has thrown himself with all his
clothes on, and listens. "I say, aren't you going to Mrs. Miller's? If
you are, you'd better get out of bed some time before the last call for
breakfast. Now ready in the dining-car!"

_Roberts_, leaping out of bed and flinging open the door: "Why, I've
_been_ to Mrs. Miller's!"

_Campbell_, entering with his hat on, and his overcoat on his arm; "Oh
no, you haven't, you poor, suffering creature! That was a heavenly
dream! Why, good gracious, man, you're not dressed!" Campbell is himself
in perfectly appointed evening-dress, and he stares in dismay at the
travelling-suit which Roberts still wears. "You can't go in that figure,
you know. You might to Mrs. Curwen's, but you'd give Mrs. Miller deadly
offence; she'd think the Curwen had put you up to it. Didn't Agnes tell
you I'd be here at ten for you? What have you been doing with yourself?
I supposed I should find you walking up and down here, fuming with
impatience."

_Roberts:_ "I was dead tired, and after Agnes went, I just threw myself
down here for a moment's rest, and I was off before I knew it--"

_Campbell:_ "Well, then, hustle! There's no time to lose. We shall be
late, but I guess we can get there in time to save Agnes's life if we
hump ourselves. Are you shaved?"

_Roberts:_ "Yes, I thought I'd better shave before I lay down--"

_Campbell:_ "Well, then, that's half the battle, and you ought to be
into your dress-suit in five minutes; but you're an intellectual man,
and your fingers are all thumbs, and so I'll give you ten minutes.
Hello! What's this?" In speaking of shaving, Campbell has mechanically
cast his eye towards the bureau, and has gradually become aware of the
half-tumbler of water and the decanter of whiskey which Roberts has left
standing there. He pounces upon the decanter, pulls out the stopple, and
applies his nose to the mouth. "Ah, ha! _This_ is the milk in the
cocoanut, is it? No wonder you slept soundly, and had sweet dreams?
Well, Roberts!"

_Roberts:_ "No, no, Willis! I solemnly assure you I haven't touched a
drop of it!"

_Campbell:_ "Oh yes! I know! That's what they always say!"

_Roberts:_ "But I tell you, Willis--"

_Campbell:_ "Oh, all right, my boy! I don't blame you! You have never
fallen before, probably, but you're down this time, old man. You have
every appearance of being grossly intoxicated, as the reporters say, at
this instant. Look how red your eyes are!"

_Roberts:_ "It's loss of sleep. I tell you I haven't tasted the
whiskey."

_Campbell:_ "But it's half gone!" He lifts the decanter and shows.
"Well, I hope Agnes may never know it, and your poor children,
Roberts--"

_Roberts:_ "Nonsense! Agnes knows all about it. She brought me the
decanter herself. She and Amy thought it would freshen me up. But I
distrusted it; I was afraid the effect would be soporific--"

_Campbell:_ "And it seems you were perfectly right. Events have proved
it. But come, now, don't sit there all night, old fellow." Roberts has
sunk upon the edge of the bed. "We've got to be off to this scene of
maddening gayety at Mrs. Miller's. Want a wet towel round your head?
Nothing like it, you know!"

_Roberts_, with dignity: "Thank you, I don't need any wet towel, and
I'll be with you in a few moments, if you'll kindly wait." He moves
towards the door of his dressing-room.

_Campbell_, cheerfully: "Oh, I'll stay by, Roberts; you needn't be
afraid. There's nothing mean about me, and you'll want somebody to pull
you together, now and then, and I know just what to do; I've been
through this kind of thing with lots of fellows in California. I know
the haughty and self-helpful stage. You're all right, Roberts. But don't
lose time. What's the matter now?" Roberts has come back from his
dressing-room and is staring vacantly at Campbell.

_Roberts:_ "I was trying to think where I'd put my dress-suit."

_Campbell_, triumphantly: "Exactly! And _now_ do you expect me to
believe you haven't been at that decanter? Where do you suppose you put
it?"

_Roberts:_ "Where I always do on a hook in my closet."

_Campbell:_ "You hang up your dress-suit? Why, it must look like a
butler's! You ought to fold your clothes and lay them in a bureau
drawer. Don't you know that? Very likely Agnes has got onto that while
you've been away, and put them in here." He looks towards the bureau,
and Roberts tries to pull open one drawer after another.

_Roberts:_ "This seems locked. I never lock my drawers."

_Campbell:_ "Then that's proof positive that your dress-suit is in
there. Agnes has put it in, and locked it up, so as to keep it nice and
fresh for you. Where's your key?"

_Roberts:_ "I don't know. I always leave it in the key-hole of one of
the drawers. Haven't you got a key-ring, Willis?"

_Campbell:_ "I've got a key-ring, but I haven't got it about me, as
Artemus Ward said of his gift for public speaking. It's in my other
trousers pockets. Haven't you got a collection of keys? Amy has a
half-bushel, and she keeps them in a hand-bag in the bath-room closet.
She says Agnes does."

_Roberts:_ "So she does! I'll just look." While he is gone, Campbell
lays down his hat and overcoat, and tries the bureau drawers. Roberts
returns to find him at this work. "No; she must have put them somewhere
else. I know she always used to put them there."

_Campbell:_ "Well, then we've got to pick the locks. Have you got a
boot-buttoner? There's nothing like a boot-buttoner to pick locks. Or,
hold on a minute! We've got to go about this thing systematically. Now,
I don't think you can tell in your condition whether your dress-coat's
in your closet or not, Roberts. We must bring your clothes all out here
and lay them on the bed, and see. That dress-suit may turn up yet. You
probably thought it was something like an ulster. I know how a man's
ideas get mixed, after a little too much freshening up."

_Roberts_, unmindful of his joke: "You're right, Willis. I may have
overlooked it. I'll bring out everything." He disappears, and reappears
with a business-suit of black diagonal, which he throws on the bed.
"That isn't it."

_Campbell_, inspecting it: "No; but it isn't so far off. Some of the
young chaps have their dress-coats made of diagonal. Try again, Roberts:
you'll fetch it yet." Roberts disappears, and reappears with a
frock-coat of blue and checked trousers. "Oh, _that_ won't do, Roberts.
Don't give way like that. Who ever saw a man in evening-dress with check
trousers on? Now, what have we next?" As Roberts goes and comes,
Campbell receives his burdens and verifies them. "A velvet jacket won't
do, either, unless you're a travelling Englishman. Three pairs of summer
pantaloons are all very well in their way; but they're out of season,
and stripes are not the thing for evening wear any more. Beautiful bath
gown, but more adapted for amateur dramatics than for a musicale. Two
waistcoats and a Norfolk jacket mean well, but are not adapted to the
purpose. Exemplary light overcoat, but still not quite the thing.
Double-breasted reefer and Canada homespun trousers; admirably fitted
for a sea-voyage and camping out. Armload of semi-detached waistcoats
and pantaloons; very suggestive, but not instantly available. Pajamas
not at all the thing. Elderly pair of doeskin trousers and low-cut
waistcoat--Why, hello, Roberts! here's part of your dress-suit now!
Where's the coat?"

_Roberts_, dropping into a chair and wiping his forehead, while he
surveys the tangled heap of garments on the bed: "Given away. Got too
small for me, three years ago. Agnes kept the waistcoat and trousers for
the sake of association, because I told her I wore them at the party
where we first met. They won't go half round me now."

_Campbell_, scrutinizing them critically as he holds them: "Well, look
here, Roberts, we may have to come to these yet. Stand up, old fellow."
Roberts mechanically stands up, and Campbell tries the top of the
trousers against his waistband. "May need a little slitting down the
back, so as to let them out a third, or two thirds, or so. But I guess
we'll try an ice-pick first." He flings the clothes on the bed, and
touches the electric bell.

_Roberts:_ "Ice-pick?"

_Campbell:_ "Yes; nothing like it for prying open bureau drawers." To
Bella, the maid, who appears at the door in answer to his ring: "The
ice-pick, please."

_Bella:_ "Ice-pick, sir?"

_Campbell:_ "Yes. The--ice--pick--here--quick."

_Bella_, vanishing, with a gesture of wonder at the pile of clothing on
the bed: "All right, sir."

_Roberts:_ "But, Willis! Won't it bruise and deface the bureau? Agnes is
very careful of this bu--"

_Campbell:_ "Not at all. You just set the pick in here over the lock,
and pry. I sha'n't leave a scratch." They stoop down together in front
of the bureau, and Campbell shows him how. "But what are you going to
do? You've got to have your clothes if you're going to the musicale. Ah,
here we are! Thanks," as Bella comes with the ice-pick, which he pushes
in over the lock of the lowest drawer. "We'll begin with the lowest,
because that's where Amy keeps mine, and if Agnes has got onto it
through her, she'll be sure to do exactly the same. Now, then, I just
scratch the bolt down with my knife, and Open, Sesame! What do you say
to bruising your old bureau now?"

_Roberts_, as Campbell pulls out the drawer and sets it on a chair:
"Perfect! Only"--he lifts the things from the drawer, and places them on
another chair--"there don't seem to be anything here but underclothes."

_Campbell:_ "Well, then, we must get the next out. No time to lose.
Come! Keep shoving the pick in, and I'll scratch the bolt down with my
knife. See? It's nothing." They pull the drawer out and set it on the
floor, and Roberts ruefully contemplates it.

_Roberts:_ "Nothing but shirts, collars, cuffs and neckties."

_Campbell:_ "Ah, I don't know that. It's a deep drawer"--he begins
taking the linen out, and laying it on the floor--"and the dress-suit
may be at the bottom. No! Nothing here. You're right, Roberts. Well, now
for the top drawer and the last. If we'd taken that out first, we
needn't have taken out the second; we could have seen it in place. You
ought to have thought of that, Roberts."

_Roberts_, with injury: "You suggested taking out the lowest first,
yourself, Willis. You said Agnes would be sure to have put them there."

_Campbell:_ "Did I? Well, I knew I must have a reason for it. But come
along now, Roberts, and push the ice-pick in." After a season of
experiment with the pick and the penknife: "The bolt won't scratch down.
What are you going to do now, Roberts?"

_Roberts:_ "I don't know."

_Campbell:_ "But you've got to do something, you know. We can't just
give it up. Where are those dress-trousers and waistcoat?" He begins
tumbling the things on the bed, laying some on chairs, letting others
drop to the floor. "Ah, here they are! Now, I'll tell you what,
Roberts, you've got to wear these. Go into your dressing-room there and
put them on, and then we can tell how much they have to be slit up the
back."

_Roberts:_ "But where's the coat, even if I could get the other things
on?"

_Campbell:_ "We'll think about that later. We haven't got any time to
lose in talk. We can pin back the skirts of your frock-coat, as the
travelling Americans used to do when they went to the opera in London.
Hurry up!" He gives Roberts the garments, and pushes him into the door
of his dressing-room, and walks impatiently up and down amidst the chaos
of clothing till Roberts reappears. "Why, that isn't bad!"

_Roberts:_ "Bad? I can't breathe; I feel as if I were being cut in
two!"

_Campbell:_ "Nonsense! That's the way every woman feels when she's
laced. It gives you a beautiful waist, Roberts! Ah, ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha,
ha! O Lord! Oh, mercy! Ah, ha, ha, ha!"

_Roberts:_ "Now, look here, Willis--"

_Campbell_, turning him round, and surveying him from different points:
"No, no! Don't mind _me_! It's just my way, you know. I don't mean
anything by it. I think these things look first-rate on you. There's no
mistake about their giving you a youthful figure; we can just let them
out a few stitches, and you'll be perfectly comfortable. The only thing
now is the coat. I'm afraid that pinning back wouldn't do. We'd better
try something else. I'll tell you! Send down and borrow Merrick's coat!
He's still on the floor below you, I suppose?"

_Roberts:_ "Yes, but he's so thin--"

_Campbell:_ "The very thing! Those thin fellows always have their things
made roomy--"

_Roberts:_ "But he's tall."

_Campbell:_ "That's all right. If you keep these things on you've got to
give in some direction, and you're probably going to stretch." He rings
the bell.

_Roberts:_ "But it's very late. He must be in bed."

_Campbell:_ "I'll fix that." To Bella, as she appears: "Bella, I want
you to go down to the gentleman under here, and ask him if he won't lend
Mr. Roberts his dress-coat. Tell him Mrs. Roberts has gone off to a
party, and Mr. Roberts doesn't know where to find his coat."

_Roberts:_ "Oh, do you think she'd better tell him that, Willis?"

_Campbell:_ "Why, certainly! You must account for the request in some
way. It'll appeal to his sympathy, and put him into a good-humor if he
happens to have to get out of bed to oblige you."

_Bella:_ "They're all up yet, sir. I saw their cook on the back stairs
when I came in. They've been giving a dinner--"

_Campbell:_ "Well, run then." To Roberts, as Bella vanishes: "Merrick
can take it right off his back. But whilst she's gone we'll just give
this lock another chance." They work jointly at the bureau drawer. "No,
it won't scrape down. It's probably rusted in. You must get this lock
oiled, Roberts." As Bella returns with a dress-coat in her hand: "Ah,
here we are! That's very nice of Merrick. What did he say?"

_Bella:_ "I didn't see him, sir. The girl brought it."

_Campbell:_ "Well, that's all, Bella." He shakes out the coat as she
goes, and looks down at it. "I suppose it amused Merrick. He's got a
good deal of humor, Merrick has. I hope he won't give it to the press."

_Roberts:_ "Good heavens, Willis! You don't--"

_Campbell:_ "Oh, he wouldn't give real names. Merrick's too much of a
gentleman for that. Come, try it on. We've got to hurry, now." Roberts
backs towards him with extended arms and Campbell slips the coat-sleeves
on them. "Easy, easy! It may be a little narrow for you in the back--No,
sir! It fits you like a glove." He stands off and surveys Roberts, after
smoothing the coat across the shoulders. "Yes, sir, like a glove--a
glove that the pretty shop-girl has put on for you, after she's peppered
it full of that white stuff to make it go on, and told you that you
could easily wear a size smaller." He begins to laugh as he lifts each
of Roberts's limp arms, with the sleeves dangling below his hands, and
touches the skirt, which descends to the calf of his leg. "The most
youthful figure I ever saw! Looks like a boy in his father's coat.
Merrick _is_ a tall fellow. I'd no idea--"

_Roberts_, looking ruefully over his shoulder: "You see it won't do,
Willis."

_Campbell:_ "No, no! I don't say that, quite. But perhaps we'd better
try something else. Who's overhead now?"

_Roberts_, desperately: "Baker. And he's short and fat--"

_Campbell:_ "Short and fat isn't at all bad." Touching the annunciator.
"He's probably had his coat made rather long and snug. It'll be the very
thing for you. We mustn't leave a stone unturned, or a coat untried." To
Bella, appearing at the door, and putting her apron up to control
herself at sight of Mr. Roberts's figure: "Do you know whether Mr.
Baker's people have gone to bed?"

_Bella:_ "No, sir. I heard their second girl saying on the stairs that
Mrs. Baker was up with a bad toothache."

_Campbell:_ "What a piece of luck! Run right up, will you, and borrow
Mr. Baker's dress-coat." To Roberts, on Bella's disappearance: "Baker's
coat will be all right; but still we'd better work away at this bureau
drawer again. Drive the ice-pick in a little farther, now." They
struggle with lock as before, until Bella returns, Roberts
absent-mindedly keeping Merrick's coat on, and from time to time taking
a turn about the room to rest his back.

_Roberts:_ "Let's give it up, Willis. We can't get it open. It's no
use!"

_Campbell_, desisting: "Well, we'll leave that to the last, then. But
I've the liveliest confidence in Baker's coat. Ah, here it is! Saved!
Saved!" He takes the garment from Bella at the threshold. "Now, then,
the great thing is to get Merrick's coat off in one piece. I thought I
heard a ripping sound in the back of it when you were straining at that
drawer. But I guess it was merely fancy. Easy, easy!" He helps Roberts
get the coat off, and examines it.

_Roberts_, anxiously: "Is it all right?"

_Campbell:_ "Yes, it's perfectly sound. You may have started the seams a
little, but it's nothing that Merrick will ever notice. Now for Baker!
There! Goes on like an old shoe!" He retires a few steps and surveys
Roberts's back, which Roberts is craning his neck round to get a view of
in the glass. "_There's_ space! Gives you a mighty fine, portly figure,
Roberts; it looks _grand_ on you, it does indeed! I call that the back
of a leading citizen in very comfortable circumstances. Something
magisterial about it. Perhaps it's a little full; but that's a good
fault; it must set awfully easy. Sleeves are a trifle short, maybe, but
not too much to show your cuff-buttons; I hate a coat that don't do
that. Yes, I should call that a very nice fit."

_Roberts_, tearing off the coat, and flinging it on the bed: "You know
it won't do, Willis. And now I must give the whole thing up. You'd
better hurry off and explain to Agnes why I could not come."

_Campbell:_ "Oh no, I can't leave you in the lurch that way, my dear
fellow. Besides it would break Agnes all up. We must _do_ something. _I_
think either one of those coats would go perfectly well; but if you're
so particular about your personal appearance, there's only one thing
left. We _must_ get this drawer open. Look here. We'll shove the
ice-pick in a little farther, so's to give the bolt the slightest
possible catch, and then we'll both pull, you on one handle, and I on
the other. It won't hurt the bureau. And besides, it's the only chance
left. I suppose these coats _don't_ look as if they were made for you.
What do you say?"

[Illustration: "THE SLEEVES ARE A TRIFLE SHORT, MAYBE"]

_Roberts_, disconsolately: "Oh, I suppose we'd better try. It can't be
much worse." He casts a hopeless glance around the confused and tumbled
room.

_Campbell_, absently: "Yes. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,
you know. Agnes won't be able to express her feelings anyway when she
sees this room. It looks as if a small cyclone had been joking round
here; but she'll like your devotion in doing your utmost."

_Roberts:_ "Do you think so? I'm not so sure. But we'll try it." He
pushes the ice-pick in with all his strength.

_Campbell:_ "That's it! Now then!" They each grasp a handle of the
drawer and pull. "One, two, three--pull! Once more--pull! Now the third
time--pull! And _out_ she comes!" The bolt suddenly gives and the
drawer drops violently to the floor, scattering its contents in every
direction, while the two men totter backward and cling to each other to
keep their balance. At the same moment the voices of Mrs. Roberts and
Mrs. Campbell make themselves heard without in vague cries of
astonishment, question, and apprehension, mounting into a wild shriek as
the drawer crashes to the floor.



III


_Mrs. Roberts_, without: "Oh, Edward, _is_ it a burglar?"

_Mrs. Campbell_, without: "Is it a mouse, Willis?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Ring for the district telegraph--call for a policeman,
Edward! Press the ratchet down three times!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Don't _kill_ him, Willis; don't you _dare_ to kill
him. Take him up with the tongs and fling him out of the window!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Don't trust him, Edward: get Willis to hold him, and
press the ratchet quick!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Keep him from getting back into his hole, for then
you never can tell whether he's there or not!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Why don't you answer, Edward? Oh, dear, perhaps he's
garroted Edward. I _know_ he has!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Willis, if this is any of your tricks--if it's one of
your miserable practical jokes--"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, I wonder what they're keeping so quiet for! Edward,
are you safe? Do you need _me_? If you do, just speak, and I will--go
for a policeman, myself!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "If you don't answer, Willis--" Whimpering: "Oh, he
just wants to make me take my life in my hand! He wouldn't like anything
better." The two men, during this rapid colloquy, remain silently
aghast, staring at each other and at the scene of confusion around
them.

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Well, then, do it, Amy! You have so much more courage
than I have, and you have no children; and if you'll only go to the door
and peep in I'll stay here, and keep screaming as loud as ever I can.
I'll begin now--"

_Roberts:_ "No, no; don't call out, Agnes. It's all right. We've just
had a little accident with one of the bureau drawers. It's perfectly
safe; but don't come in till we--" He dashes madly about the room,
trying to put it in shape. Both ladies instantly show themselves at the
door.

_Mrs. Roberts_, in dismay at the spectacle: "Why, what in the world has
happened, Edward?"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "It's something Willis has put him up to. I knew it
was from the way he kept so still. Where is he?"

_Campbell_, coming boldly forward out of Roberts's dressing-room, where
he had previously taken refuge: "I've saved Roberts's life. If it hadn't
been for me he couldn't have moved hand or foot. He was dead asleep when
I came here, and I've been helping him look for his dress-suit." At
these words Mrs. Roberts abandons herself to despair in one of the
chairs overflowing with clothes. "Hello! What's the matter with Agnes?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "I never can look any one in the face again! To think of
my doing such a thing when I've always prided myself on being so
thoughtful, and remembering things so perfectly! And here I've been
reproaching Edward and poor Willis the whole evening for not coming to
that horrid musicale, and accusing them of all kinds of things, and all
the time I knew I'd forgotten something and couldn't think what it was!
Oh, dear! I shall simply never forgive myself! But it was all because I
wanted him to look so nice in it, and I got it pressed while he was
away, and I folded it up in the tissue-paper myself, and took the
greatest care of it; and then to have it turn out the way it has!"

_Campbell:_ "What in the world are you talking about?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Why, Edward's dress-suit, of course!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Of course she is. But you always have to have things
put in words of one syllable for you."

_Campbell:_ "No irrelevant insults, Mrs. Campbell, if you please! Now,
Agnes, try to collect yourself. When you had folded his dress-suit in
tissue-paper so nicely, what did you do with it?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Why, I wrapped it in my white Chuddah shawl, and put it
away back on the top shelf in his closet, and I forgot to tell him where
it was." Visible sensation on all sides. "And if Edward were to say now
that he couldn't forgive me, I should just simply fall down and worship
him."

_Campbell:_ "He can forgive you, probably, but he cannot _forget_; we
must leave _that_ to women. And here we were, searching every nook and
corner of the house, and every hole and cranny, for that dress-suit,
which you'd poked away in tissue-paper and Chuddah, while you were
enjoying yourself at Mrs. Miller's."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "We weren't enjoying ourselves. It was the deadliest
thing that ever was, and you were very lucky to escape."

_Campbell:_ "That is all very well; but the credit of that belongs
entirely to a merciful Providence. What I want to know is how Agnes is
going to excuse herself for hiding her husband's clothes, so that if
this musicale had been the most delightful affair of the season he would
have missed it just the same."

_Mrs. Roberts_, regarding her husband's strange figure in the youthful
waistcoat and trousers: "Why, Edward, dear, what in the world have you
got on?"

_Campbell:_ "She doesn't even remember the dress-suit in which poor
Roberts first met her! Well, Agnes, you're a pretty wife and mother!
Look at that man!" He takes Roberts by the elbow and turns him round.
"Did you ever see devotion like that? He's buttoned in so tight that he
can't draw a full breath to save him, but he would have gone to the
party, if he had expired to slow music after he got there; only he
couldn't find the coat. You'd given that away."

_Mrs. Campbell_, fishing up a garment from the tempestuous sea of
clothes: "Why, here's a dress-coat, now!"

_Campbell:_ "Yes, that's Merrick's. It was rather snug for Roberts."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "And here's another!"

_Campbell:_ "Yes, that's Baker's. It was rather roomy for Roberts."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "But how did you get them?"

_Campbell_, lightly: "Oh, we sent and borrowed them."

_Roberts_, less lightly: "We had to do _something_, Agnes. I knew you
would be terribly anxious if I didn't come--"

_Mrs. Roberts_, with abject contrition: "Oh, don't speak a word, you
poor suffering martyr!"

_Campbell:_ "We should have borrowed every coat in the block if you
hadn't got back."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Yes, and I've no doubt you'd have taken a perfectly
fiendish enjoyment in every failure."

_Campbell_, with a wild, spluttering laugh: "Well, the disappointments
certainly had their compensations. Roberts, just let them see how well
you look in Merrick's coat! Or, no: try Baker's first; I think Baker's
is a little more swell on you, if anything."

_Bella_, at the door: "Supper is served, Mrs. Roberts."

_Campbell:_ "Supper?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, yes! Mrs. Miller never gives you anything but
ice-cream; and I thought we should all need something hot when we got
back, and so I had a few--But I forgot all about the supper!"

_Campbell:_ "I'm glad Bella didn't. Better let Bella put Roberts's
clothes away, after this."

_Mrs. Roberts_, in extreme dejection: "Yes, I think I really had,
Willis. I'm not fit to be Edward's wife, if I behave that way to him."

_Campbell:_ "Well, well, he must have a divorce, then; but not till
after supper."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Yes, never mind now, Agnes. It's all turned out well,
as it is: Edward has been spared a fearful bore, and nobody will ever
be any the wiser about your putting away his evening dress--"

_Campbell:_ "Oh, indeed! _Won't_ they? When Baker and Merrick meet at
the club, and exchange notes about Agnes locking up Roberts's clothes--"

_Mrs. Roberts_, with horror: "Edward! You didn't send that word to
them!"

_Roberts:_ "Why--why--I'm afraid we did, something like it, my dear. We
had to explain our request, somehow--"

_Mrs. Roberts_, relaxing into a chair: "Then I simply never can hold up
my head again." She lets it fall in typical despair.

_Mrs. Campbell_, pressing the annunciator, with the energy of a lioness
at bay: "I don't believe it's as bad as that. It simply can't be. It
would be too abominable." As Bella appears in answer to the bell: "Did
you tell the gentlemen, when you went to borrow the coats for Mr.
Roberts, that Mrs. Roberts had locked up his dress-suit?"

_Bella:_ "Why, that's what Mr. Campbell said to say, ma'am, but I didn't
believe Mrs. Roberts would quite like it, ma'am, and so I said--" She
hesitates, and Mrs. Roberts springs to her feet, with arms outstretched
to her.

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "_What_, Bella?"

_Bella:_ "Why, you know, ma'am, I couldn't help thinking how things fly
about a house like this."

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Yes, yes!"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Go on!"

_Bella:_ "I didn't believe the gentlemen would have sent word like that
themselves, if they'd thought of it; and so--"

[Illustration: "THAT LITTLE SUPPER"]

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "And so?"

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "So?"

_Bella:_ "I know you like to have me always speak the truth, and so I
do, to you, ma'am, and every lady I ever lived with; but I wasn't going
to have that young waitress of Mrs. Baker's and that nasty cook of Mrs.
Merrick's laughing at us."

_Campbell:_ "Well, and what did you do?"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Yes, Bella!"

_Bella:_ "I told Mrs. Merrick's cook that the gentlemen were getting up
some charades; and I told Mr. Baker's second girl that the tailor hadn't
sent Mr. Roberts's coat home."

_Mrs. Campbell:_ "Well, you _were_ inspired, Bella."

_Mrs. Roberts_, to Bella: "Oh, you--angel!"

_Campbell:_ "Well, that isn't quite what they call the father of them.
Who was the father of what? But we won't dispute about terms. The great
thing now is to get at that little supper. Come on, Roberts!"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Yes, Edward, take out Amy--"

_Roberts_, putting himself in evidence: "But don't you see, my dear, I
can't draw a full breath now; and if I were to eat anything--"

_Mrs. Roberts:_ "Oh, well, go and change them at once. We won't wait for
you, dear, but I'll see to keeping it hot for you."

_Campbell_, as he follows the ladies out of one door, while Roberts
vanishes into his dressing-room through the other; "Yes, just slip on
anything that will fit you. It's so near morning now that we won't
insist on evening dress."

THE END





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