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A short story by A. A. Milne

"Miss Prendergast"

Title:     "Miss Prendergast"
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by 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 man's name?

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) "Jas. Bootle!"

[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 you say?

Jane (rather pleased with herself). Well, really--I--this is--Mr Bootle! Fancy!

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 furniture.

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!

Enter Alice.

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.

Alice. Jane--we--I--

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!


[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: "miss Prendergast"