From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume IV, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 749-752.
AS GOOD AS A PLAY
BY HORACE E. SCUDDER
There was quite a row of them on the mantel-piece. They were all facing front, and it looked as if they had come out of the wall behind, and were on their little stage facing the audience. There was the bronze monk reading a book by the light of a candle, who had a private opening under his girdle, so that sometimes his head was thrown violently back, and one looked down into him and found him full of brimstone matches. Then the little boy leaning against a greyhound; he was made of Parian, very fine Parian, too, so that one would expect to find a glass cover over him: but no, the glass cover stood over a cat and a cat made of worsted, too: still it was a very old cat, fifty years old in fact. There was another young person there, young like the boy leaning on a greyhound, and she, too, was of Parian: she was very fair in front, but behind — ah, that is a secret which is not quite time yet to tell. One other stood there, at least she seemed to stand, but nobody could see her feet, for her dress was so very wide and so finely flounced. She was the china girl that rose out of a pen-wiper.
The fire in the grate below was of soft coal, and flashed up and down, throwing little jets of flame up that made very pretty foot-lights. So here was a stage, and here were the actors, but where was the audience? Oh, the Audience was in the arm-chair in front. He had a 750 special seat; he was a critic, and could get up when he wanted to, when the play became tiresome, and go out.
“It is painful to say such things out loud,” said the Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound, with a trembling voice, “but we have been together so long, and these people round us never will go away. Dear girl, will you? — you know.” It was the Parian girl that he spoke to, but he did not look at her; he could not, he was leaning against the greyhound; he only looked at the Audience.
“I am not quite sure,” she coughed. “If, now, you were under a glass case.”
“I am under a glass case,” spoke up the Cat-made-of-worsted. “Marry me. I am fifty years old. Marry me, and live under a glass case.”
“Shocking!” said she. “How can you? Fifty years old, too! That would indeed be a match!”
“Marry!” muttered the bronze Monk-reading-a-book. “A match! I am full of matches, but I don’t marry. Folly!”
“You stand up very straight, neighbor,” said the Cat-made-of-worsted.
“I never bend,” said the bronze Monk-reading-a-book. “Life is earnest. I read a book by candle. I am never idle.”
The Cat-made-of-worsted grinned to himself.
“You’ve got a hinge in your back,” said he, “they open you in the middle; your head flies back. How the blood must run down. And then you’re full of brimstone matches. He! he!” and the Cat-made-of-worsted grinned out loud. The Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound spoke again, and sighed:
“I am of Parian, you know, and there is no one else here of Parian except yourself.”
“And the greyhound,” said the Parian girl.751
“Yes, and the greyhound,” said he eagerly. “He belongs to me. Come, a glass case is nothing to it. We could roam; oh, we could roam!”
“I don’t like roaming.”
“Then we could stay at home, and lean against the greyhound.”
“No,” said the Parian girl, “I don’t like that.”
“I have private reasons.”
“I know,” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “I saw her behind. She’s hollow. She’s stuffed with lamp-lighters. He! he!” and the Cat-made-of-worsted grinned again.
“I love you just as much,” said the steadfast Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound, “and I don’t believe the Cat.”
“Go away,” said the Parian girl, angrily. “You’re all hateful. I won’t have you.”
“Ah!” sighed the Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound.
“Ah!” came another sigh — it was from the China-girl-rising-out-of-a-pen-wiper — “how I pity you!”
“Do you?” said he eagerly. “do you? Then I love you. Will you marry me?”
“Ah!” said she; “but —”
“She can’t!” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “She can’t come to you. She hasn’t any legs. I know it. I’m fifty years old. I never saw them.”
“Never mind the Cat,” said the Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound.
“But I do mind the Cat,” said she, weeping. “I haven’t. It’s all pen-wiper.”
“Do I care?” said he.
“She has thoughts,” said the bronze Monk-reading-a-book. “that lasts longer than beauty. And she is solid behind.”752
“And she has no hinge in her back,” grinned the Cat-made-of-worsted. “Come, neighbors, let us congratulate them. You begin.”
“Keep out of disagreeable company,” said the bronze Monk-reading-a-book.
“That is not congratulation; that is advice,” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “Never mind, go on, my dear,” — to the Parian girl. “What! nothing to say? Then I’ll say it for you. ‘Friends, may your love last as long as your courtship.’ Now I’ll congratulate you.”
But before he could speak, the Audience got up.
“You shall not say a word. It must end happily.”
He went to the mantel-piece and took up the China-girl-rising-out-of-a-pen-wiper.
“Why, she has legs after all,” said he.
“They’re false,” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “They’re false. I know it. I’m fifty years old. I never saw true ones on her.”
The Audience paid no attention, but took up the Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound.
“Ha!” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “Come. I like this. He’s hollow. They’re all hollow. He! he! Neighbor Monk, you’re hollow. He! he!” and the Cat-made-of-worsted never stopped grinning. The Audience lifted the glass case from him and set it over the Boy-leaning-against-a-greyhound and the China-girl-rising-out-of-a-pen-wiper.
“Be happy!” said he.
“Happy!” said the Cat-made-of-worsted. “Happy!”
Still they were happy.