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A short story by A. A. Milne


Title:     Disappointment
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

My young friend Bobby (now in the early thirteens) has been making his plans for the Christmas holidays. He communicated them to me in a letter from school:--

"I am going to write an opera in the holidays with a boy called Short, a very great and confident friend of mine here. I am doing the words and Short is doing the music. We have already got the title; it is called 'Disappointment.'"

Last week, on his return to town, he came to see me at my club, and when the waiter had brought in drinks, and Bobby had refused a cigar, I lighted up and prepared to talk shop. His recent discovery that I write too leads him to treat me with more respect than formerly.

"Now then," I said, "tell me about it. How's it going on?"

"Oo, I haven't done much yet," said Bobby. "But I've got the plot."

"Let's have it."

Bobby unfolded it rapidly.

"Well, you see, there's a chap called Tommy--he's the hero--and he's just come back from Oxford, and he's awfully good-looking and decent and all that, and he's in love with Felicia, you see, and there's another chap called Reynolds, and, you see, Felicia's really the same as Phyllis, who's going to marry Samuel, and that's the disappointment, because Tommy wants to marry her, you see."

"I see. That ought to be all right. You could almost get two operas out of that."

"Oo, do you think so?"

"Well, it depends how much Reynolds comes in. You didn't tell me what happened to him. Does he marry anybody?"

"Oo, no. He comes in because I want somebody to tell the audience about Tommy when Tommy isn't there."

(How well Bobby has caught the dramatic idea.)

"I see. He ought to be very useful."

"You see, the First Act's in a very grand restaurant, and Tommy comes in to have dinner, and he explains to Reynolds how he met Felicia on a boat, and she'd lost her umbrella, and he said, 'Is this your umbrella?' and it was, and they began to talk to each other, and then he was in love with her. And then he goes out, and then Reynolds tells the audience what an awfully decent chap Tommy is."

"Why does he go out?"

"Well, you see, Reynolds couldn't tell everybody what an awfully decent chap Tommy is if Tommy was there."

(Of course he couldn't.)

"And where's Felicia all this time?"

"Oo, she doesn't come on: She's in the country with Samuel. You see, the Second Act is a grand country wedding, and Samuel and Phyllis are married, and Tommy is one of the guests, and he's very unhappy, but he tries not to show it, and he shoots himself."

"Reynolds is there too, I suppose?"

"Oo, I don't know yet."

(He'll have to be, of course. He'll be wanted to tell the audience how unhappy Tommy is.)

"And how does it end?" I asked.

"Well, you see, when the wedding's over, Tommy sings a song about Felicia, and it ends up, 'Felicia, Felicia, Felicia,' getting higher each time--Short has to do that part, of course, but I've told him about it--and then the curtain comes down."

"I see. And has Short written any of the music yet?"

"He's got some of the notes. You see, I've only just got the plot, and I've written about two pages. I'm writing it in an exercise-book."

A shadow passed suddenly across the author's brow.

"And the sickening thing," he said, as he leant back in his chair and sipped his ginger-beer, "is that on the cover of it I've spelt Disappointment with two 's's.'"

(The troubles of this literary life!)

"Sickening," I agreed.

. . . . .

If there is one form of theft utterly unforgivable it is the theft by a writer of another writer's undeveloped ideas. Borrow the plot of Sir J. M. Barrie's last play, and you do him no harm; you only write yourself down a plagiarist. But listen to the scenario of his next play (if he is kind enough to read it to you) and write it up before he has time to develop it himself, and you do him a grievous wrong; for you fix the charge of plagiarism on _him_. Surely, you say, no author could sink so low as this.

And yet, when I got home, the plot of "Disappointment" (with one "s") so took hold of me that I did the unforgivable thing; I went to my desk and wrote the opera. I make no excuses for myself. I only point out that Bobby's opera, as performed at Covent Garden in Italian, with Short's music conducted by Richter, is not likely to be belittled by anything that I may write here. I have only written in order that I may get the scenario--which had begun to haunt me--off my chest. Bobby, I know, will understand and forgive; Short I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, but I believe he is smaller than Bobby.


SCENE--_A grand restaurant. Enter Tommy, a very handsome man, just back from Oxford._

_Tommy sings:_

Felicia, I love you,
By all the stars above you
I swear you shall be mine!--
And now I'm going to dine.

[He sits down and orders a bottle of ginger-beer and some meringues.]

_Waiter._ Your dinner, Sir.

_Tommy._ Thank you. And would you ask Mr. Reynolds to come in, if you see him? (_To the audience_) A week ago I was crossing the Channel--(_enter Reynolds_)--Oh, here you are, Reynolds! I was just saying that a week ago I was crossing the Channel when I saw the most beautiful girl I have ever seen who had lost her umbrella. I said, "Excuse me, but is this your umbrella?" She said, "Yes." Reynolds, I sat down and fell in love with her. Her name was Felicia. And now I must go and see about something. [_Exit._

_Reynolds._ Poor Tommy! An awfully decent chap if ever there was one. But he will never marry Felicia, because I happen to know her real name is Phyllis, and she is engaged to Samuel.


She is engaged to Samuel. Poor Tommy,
He does not know she's fond of Samuel.
He _will_ be disappointed when he knows.



SCENE--_A beautiful country wedding._

_Tommy_ (_in pew nearest door, to_ Reynolds). Who's the bride?

_Reynolds._ Phyllis. She's marrying Samuel.

_Enter Bride_.

_Tommy._ Heavens, it's Felicia!

_Reynolds_ (_to audience_). Poor Tommy! How disappointed he must be! (_Aloud_) Yes, Felicia and Phyllis are really the same girl. She's engaged to Samuel.

_Tommy._ Then I cannot marry her!

_Reynolds._ No.

_Tommy sings:_

Good-bye, Felicia, good-bye,
I'm awfully disappointed, I
Am now, in fact, about to die,
Felicia, Felicia, Felicia!

[Shoots himself.]


. . . . .

That is how I see it. But no doubt Bobby and Short, when they really get to work, will make something better of it. It is an engaging theme, but, of course, the title wants to be spelt properly.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Disappointment