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A short story by A. A. Milne

"The Literary Life"

Title:     "The Literary Life"
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

The Scene is the Editor's room in the Office of "The Lark." Two walls of the room are completely hidden from floor to ceiling by magnificently bound books; the third wall at the back is hidden by boxes of immensely expensive cigars. The windows, of course, are in the fourth wall, which, however, need not be described, as it is never quite practicable on the stage. The floor of this apartment is chastely covered with rugs shot by the Editor in his travels, or in the Tottenham Court Road; or, in some cases, presented by admiring readers from abroad. The furniture is both elegant and commodious.

William Smith, Editor, _comes in. He is superbly dressed in a fur coat and an expensive cigar. There is a blue pencil behind his ear, and a sheaf of what we call in the profession "typewritten manuscripts" under his arm. He sits down at his desk and pulls the telephone towards him.

~Smith~ (_at the telephone_). Hallo, is that you, Jones?... Yes, it's me. Just come up a moment. (_Puts down telephone and begins to open his letters._)

[Enter Jones, his favourite sub-editor. He is dressed quite commonly, and is covered with ink. He salutes respectfully as he comes into the room.]

~Jones.~ Good afternoon, chief.

~Smith.~ Good afternoon. Have a cigar?

~Jones.~ Thank you, chief.

~Smith.~ Have you anything to tell me?

~Jones.~ The circulation is still going up, chief. It was three million and eight last week.

~Smith~ (_testily_). How often have I told you not to call me "chief," except when there are ladies present? Why can't you do what you're told?

~Jones.~ Sorry, sir, but the fact is there are ladies present.

~Smith~ (_fingering his moustache_). Show them up. Who are they?

~Jones.~ There is only one. She says she's the lady who has been writing our anonymous "Secrets of the Boudoir" series which has made such a sensation.

~Smith~ (in amazement). I thought you told me _you_ wrote those.

~Jones~ (simply). I did.

~Smith.~ Then why----

~Jones.~ I mean I did tell you. The truth is they came in anonymously, and I thought they were more likely to be accepted if I said I had written them. (_With great emotion._) Forgive me, chief, but it was for the paper's sake. (_In matter-of-fact tones._) There were one or two peculiarities of style I had to alter. She had a way of----

~Smith~ (_sternly_). How many cheques for them have you accepted for the paper's sake?

~Jones.~ Eight. For a thousand pounds each.

~Smith~ (_with tears in his eyes_). If your mother were to hear of this----

~Jones~ (_sadly_). Ah, chief, I never had a mother.

~Smith~ (_slightly put out, but recovering himself quickly_). What would your father say if----

~Jones.~ Alas, I have no relations. I was a foundling.

~Smith~ (_nettled_). In that case I shall certainly tell the master of your workhouse. To think that there should be a thief in this office.

~Jones~ (_with great pathos_). Chief, chief, I am not so vile as that. I have carefully kept all the cheques in an old stocking, and----

~Smith~ (_in surprise_). Do you wear stockings?

~Jones~ When I bicycle. And as soon as the contributor comes forward----

~Smith~ (_stretching out his hand and grasping that of Jones_). My dear boy, forgive me. You have been hasty, perhaps, but zealous. In any case, your honesty is above suspicion. Leave me now. I have much to think of. (_Rests his head on his hands. Then, dreamily._) You have never seen your father; for thirty years _I_ have not seen my wife.... Ah, Arabella!

~Jones.~ Yes, sir. (_Rings bell._)

~Smith.~ She _would_ split her infinitives.... We quarrelled.... She left me.... I have never seen her again.

~Jones.~ (_excitedly_). Did you say she split her infinitives?

~Smith.~ Yes. That was what led to our separation. Why?

~Jones.~ Nothing, only--it's very odd. I wonder----

[Enter Boy.]

~Boy.~ Did you ring, Sir?

~Smith.~ No. But you can show the lady up. (_Exit_ Boy.) You'd better clear out, Jones. I'll explain to her about the money.

~Smith.~ Right you are, Sir. (_Exit._)

(Smith _leans back in his chair and stares in front of him._)

~Smith~ (_to himself_). Arabella!

[Enter Boy, followed by a stylishly dressed lady of middle age.]

~Boy.~ Mrs. Robinson. (_Exit._)

(Mrs. Robinson _stops short in the middle of the room and stares at the Editor; then staggers and drops on to the sofa._)

~Smith~ (_in wonder_). Arabella!

~Mrs. Robinson.~ William!

(_They fall into each other's arms._)

~Arabella.~ I had begun to almost despair. (_Smith winces._) "Almost to despair," I mean, darling.

~Smith~ (_with a great effort_). No, no, dear. You were right.

~Arabella.~ How sweet of you to think so, William.

~Smith.~ Yes, yes, it's the least I can say.... I have been very lonely without you, dear.... And now, what shall we do? Shall we get married again quietly?

~Arabella.~ Wouldn't that be bigamy?

~Smith.~ I think not, but I will ask the printer's reader. He knows everything. You see, there will be such a lot to explain, otherwise.

~Arabella.~ Dear, can you afford to marry?

~Smith.~ Well, my salary as editor is only twenty thousand a year, but I do a little reviewing for other papers.

~Arabella.~ And I have--nothing. How can I come to you without even a trousseau?

~Smith.~ Yes, that's true.... (_Suddenly_) By Jove, though, you _have_ got something! You have eight thousand pounds! We owe you that for your articles. (_With a return to his professional manner._) Did I tell you how greatly we all appreciated them? (_Goes to telephone._) Is that you, Jones? Just come here a moment. (_To_ Arabella) Jones is my sub-editor; he is keeping your money for you.

[Enter Jones.]

~Jones~ (_producing an old stocking_). I've just been round to my rooms to get that money--(_sees_ Arabella)--oh, I beg your pardon.

~Smith~ (_waving an introduction_). Mrs. Smith--my wife. This is our sub-editor, dear--Mr. Jones. (_Arabella puts her hand to her heart and seems about to faint._) Why, what's the matter?

~Arabella~ (_hoarsely_). Where did you get that stocking?

~Smith~ (_pleasantly_). It's one he wears when he goes bicycling.

~Jones.~ No; I misled you this afternoon, chief. This stocking was all the luggage I had when I first entered the Leamington workhouse.

~Arabella~ (_throwing herself into his arms_). My son! This is your father! William--our boy!

~Smith~ (_shaking hands with Jones_). How are you? I say, Arabella, then that was one of _my_ stockings?

~Arabella~ (_to her boy_.) When I saw you on the stairs you seemed to dimly remind me----

~Jones.~ To remind you dimly, mother.

~Smith.~ No, my boy. In future, nothing but split infinitives will appear in our paper. Please remember that.

~Jones~ (_with emotion_). I will endeavour to always remember it, dad.


[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: "the Literary Life"