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ALBERT DORRINGTON

A BIT OF COMEDY

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A published in
Punch, Melbourne, Victoria, 27 December 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-21
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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WHEN William Cotter unloaded 30,000 worth of gold from the White Span mine, Kalgoorlie, he put most of the money in the bank and married a young lady whose parents had once occupied a leading position in Perth society.

Her father had suffered from the financial blights which swept over the fortunes of many Westralian magnates. Rosalind Marcombe had been educated at a private school in England. She admired Bach and Wagner, sang in a pretty contralto voice, and finally married William Cotter, with his bowyangs and sun-blistered face, for the sake of the home he could give her. Her elegance of manner, her daintily chosen words abashed Bill Cotter. When she sat opposite him at table, surrounded by silver and chinaware, he felt unhappy. He would have preferred eating his food in the kitchen, where he could have taken his pipe from the mantelshelf and smoked undisturbed. Even his expensive clothes and clean- shaved face failed to give him a genteel appearance. Whenever his wife's friends glanced at him across the table Bill became nervous, and dropped things on the floor.

Rosalind Cotter was far from despising the man she had married. She pitied his clumsiness, and often tried to coach him into the ways and manners of good society.

But Bill Cotter grew angrier each day; his wife's charm of manner, her genteel behaviour seemed to illuminate his own ignorance and shortcomings. The monotonous refinement of the frequent dinner parties jarred on his patience. The sound of Rosalind's voice often awoke him from his sullen broodings at table. She was always tactfully apologising for his gruffness of manner, always trying to prevent him eating peas with his knife.

One day, after being lectured for drinking tea out of a saucer, Bill collected his large dignity, and fairly shook with wrath. "Rosie... I'm as good as you, and better than your father, with his sneers an' his advice. I could wipe the floor with both your brothers—the two flannelled understrappers who play tennis with girls. If they had salt in 'em they'd chuck up tennis an' bun-parties an' hit out for the gold-fields an' do somethin' for their fambily."

"William," answered Rosalind, quietly, "behave yourself."

"Never troubled about my haitches," went on Bill, savagely; "but I reckon my people are as good as yours. I've seen your mother"—Bill looked his wife between the eyes—"an' I 'ope you'll 'ave the pleasure of seein' mine some day, Mrs. Cotter."

Rosalind gasped, and retired in tears to her room. Bill strolled cityward, and played billiards with the marker at the Southern Cross Hotel.


FOUR month later William Cotter decided that a trip to Sydney would be desirable for many reasons. His wife accompanied him cheerfully, and a pretty villa was rented at Coogee. The little Westralian girl enjoyed her first week by the sea without misgivings or regrets.

About a fortnight after their arrival Bill bought a theatrical journal in the city, and ran his eye over the list of actors and actresses who were resting or open to engagements. A card bearing the inscription, "Muriel Cotter, Comedy Actress. 'Elvira.' Manly," arrested his attention.

That night, with the lady's address in his pocket, Bill journeyed to Manly, and within an hour was standing at the door of "Elvira House." He was admitted to the front room by a pale- faced girl attendant, and told to wait. In a few minutes a tall, middle-aged lady of aristocratic appearance swept in, and bowed slightly to her visitor.

Bill regarded her admiringly, and in a husky voice asked if Miss Cotter was at home. "I am Miss Cotter."

She glanced at him enquiringly, and sat on the opposite chair. Bill was silent for many, seconds, then, with a strange lump in his throat, he began his story.

"Y'see, Miss Cotter. I made a bit o' money out West, an' married a toney girl, who looks upon me sideways, so to speak. She's a good little woman, you understand, but I can't fight her frills an' pride as I'd like to. Her fambily look on me as a rich larrikin, an' I want ter correct that impression."

"Tragic, quite tragic, and very difficult to remedy," answered Miss Cotter, thoughtfully.

"Me bein' used to pick and shovel," continued Bill, "I'm supposed to 'ave sprung from low-borned people with corns on their 'ands. Now ma'am,"—Bill faced her with great suddenness—"if a lady like yourself was ter call on me in a carriage an' say yer was my mother—only pertend, yer know—it wud give me a lift in her estimation, an' I'd have more pull with her people when it come to a question of hancestors."

Muriel Cotter, the comedy actress, stared blankly at Bill for a few moments, then coughed dubiously. Bill, in turn, shuffled his feet uneasily and wiped his hot, red face.

"It ain't a compliment to yer, Miss Cotter, askin' yer to be me mother. I'm nigh on thirty years an' yer mightn't be a day older yourself. Still "—he smiled knowingly—"yer cud make up yer part."

"Oh, certainly, certainly," answered the actress "I am not unwilling to enter into the joke providing—" She looked fixedly at Bill. "The wages."

Bill nodded, and winked. "Name yer salary," he said, definitely.

She coughed a little anxiously. "It has always been 20 a week, but times are hard and managers harder. We'll call it 7 a week until you feel justified in terminating the contract."

"Play yer part an' I'll make it a bit over," said Bill steadily. "I don't want you to spare Rosie's feelin's; she never spared mine."

Bill breathed hard when he remembered the peas and knife incidents.

"I suppose you 'ave one or two nice dresses. Miss Cotter?"

The comedy actress smiled, bowed with the grace of a leading lady.

"I have several Paris frocks that I wore in 'Magda.' My wardrobe is excellent."

"Magda. Magda," muttered Bill "It was staged out West. A lady sweeps in an' sez 'Ere I am,' she sez, 'me, mesself. Nobody helped me to do it but mesself. I, me.' That's the part I'd like you to play when you meet Rosie. Turn yer back on her an wave yer arms."

The actress smiled.

"You wish me to overawe your wife a little, I suppose."

She consulted her watch carefully. "I will call on you to- morrow evening at eight, if it is convenient."


BILL was seated in the drawing room when the hansom drew up outside. Rosalind moved half nervously from the piano, and glanced at the open window. A soft booming of surf broke upon them occasionally. The door-bell rang sharply; a moment or two later the servant entered with a card.

"Mrs. Cotter, ma'am," she said, gently.

Rosalind turned a bewildered face to her husband.

"Who is it?" she gasped.

"It's Maw." Bill rolled back on the lounge, a thumb in his waistcoat, a frown on his brow. "Didn't think she'd call on pore me."

The drawing room door opened. Miss Cotter, the comedy actress, entered in tragic haste, a lorgnette in her right hand; her long train of white silk clung with a dazzling radiance about her ankles. For a moment she remained statuesque and silent in the centre of the room until Bill looked up and met her eye. Then, with a glance that seemed to measure worlds, she regarded Rosalind.

"Are you Mrs. Willie Cotter?" she asked, gently.

"It's only Maw," broke in Bill, hoarsely. "Maw, that's Rosie."

Rosalind stood up, quaking in her surprise.

"I never heard..." she began, half audibly.

"Of course, you didn't, my dear." The actress kissed her very tenderly. "Willy was always such a stupid boy. No room in his head for anything except mines, mines, mines."

Bill lay back on the lounge with the air of one who had consumed champagne since boyhood.

"How's things, Maw? Yer lookin' pearly. Yer still to the fore, I 'ope?"

"Oh, you wicked, wicked boy! Why didn't you tell me in your letter, instead of allowing me to find out?" There was a touch of anger and reproach in her voice. She slapped his large red hand reproachfully. "Why didn't you tell me you were married?"

The bleak look in Rosalind's eyes vanished.

"I didn't think Willy had a mother," she said, timorously. "He left us to guess things."

"And you guessed that I was an old apple woman, wearing a large white apron, or a stout, gruffy person who sold ginger- beer."

The comedy actress took Rosalind's hands, and kissed her softly. "Dear little wifey, I'm not going to play the society mother-in-law. I want to see you happy with my big, rough, boorish son."

"He only seems rough," pleaded Rosalind. "He is careless, not unkind."

The comedy queen swept across the room and for a moment regarded the pair with twinkling eves. Then she became serious.

"My dear Rosalind, Willy is backward in many things. Perhaps I am to blame. At ten he ran from home. Instead of school, he chose the life of a gold-hunter. And the life has made him positively unbearable."

"Maw!" Bill regarded the actress reproachfully. But Miss Cotter paced the room with bowed head, while the beauty of her Paris clothes struck a note of envy in Rosalind's heart. "You are from Perth," she said, addressing Rosalind, gently, "a dreadfully out-of-the-way place, my dear—out of touch with civilisation."

She paced the room with quick, graceful steps, which had only come to her after years of rehearsal. Her swift eyes took in at a glance the drawing room and its appointments.

"My dear Rosalind, you must let me help you in the matter of furnishing your home. Your pictures, for instance, are pretty, your furniture chippy, but not Chippendale."

She touched the carpet with her gloved hand, and sighed commiseratingly. "German rags, my dear." Then she looked tenderly into the young wife's eyes, and laughed, playfully. "It takes a lifetime of culture and experience to make a connoisseur. How few know the difference between a Tintoretto, a Veronese and an oleograph! And your piano—" Without a word she ungloved her hands, and a voice quivering with emotion sang Tosti's "Good- Bye."

Rosalind listened, and in her heart she knew that none of her acquaintances could have sung it with so much beauty and ease as Bill's mother. At 10 p.m. the comedy actress drove away, promising to call again before Rosalind returned to Perth.

Bill became a new man after Miss Cotter's visit. He was never tired of telling Rosalind that her parents ought to have taught her the difference between oleographs and oil paintings. When she responded by saying that no civilised person eats peas from his knife-blade, Bill asked her to supply him with a bit of real Chippendale instead of Chinese boards painted red.


ONE wet evening he returned from a game of billiards later than usual. Entering the house, he saw a light burning in the drawing room. He opened the door softly and peeped in. A sunburnt little woman was seated on the lounge beside Rosalind; she was dressed in old-fashioned, country-made clothes; a large Quakeress hat, with black ribbons attached, rested on chair. She sighed in a glad, nervous way as Bill entered; her eyes were luminous with suppressed excitement.

She ran towards him, and—the great Bill stooped and kissed her heartily. "Why, mother," he said, "how are yer?"

"Willy, Willy, why didn't you say you was in Sydney, lad?"

A big blush leaped into Bill's face. For a moment he glanced sheepishly at Rosalind, but saw something in her eyes that reassured him.

"There ain't no mistake about this mother, Rosalind," he said. "Hugs a feller like a bear; and I ain't worth it."

Rosalind's eyes were full of laughter and tears. "And the lady in the Paris dress, the lady who understood Paul Veronese and Tintoretto?"

"This is my mother." Bill drew the little old woman beside him on the lounge. "And if you ask along the Castlereagh they'll tell you she's a lady."

"I've been listenin' to Rosalind singin', Willy," said the little woman, quietly, "an' I do wish Coonamble could hear her pretty voice. I feel proud, I do," she said, earnestly, "to see my son married to such a dear wife."

"Ask him if he has been a good son," laughed Rosalind. "Ah, dear, he is good. He never forgot his mother—never for a day."

"Did he leave you—poor?" asked Rosalind.

"Him!" Bill's mother turned slowly to the young wife, and fixed upon her two kindly eyes. "Why, the Castlereagh is proud of his name. When you come up, my dear, they'll tell you he has grit and honesty. Deary, we were poor all our lives, father and children alike—bad luck, bush fires an' bad seasons—until Willy here rolled his swag and went West, an' met his reward. He didn't forget his people. His brothers own good farms; his father an' me are comfortable."

Her lips quivered a little. "I do hope, deary, that you will be happy with my son. If you come to Coonamble with him, they will treat you like a queen. You ain't too ashamed to come, deary?"

She regarded her son's wife with tender, wistful eyes.

"No, no." Rosalind stooped and kissed her. "I would like to see his people if he cared for me to go." Her eyes were full of tears.

"I reckon they're worth seein' if you think so, Rosie." He drew her close to him. "How do you like mother this time?" he whispered.

She pulled down his head and pinched his ear.

"Much better than the picture woman with the powder on her cheek," she answered.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.