The Infant Phenomenon  (1896) 
by W. Pett Ridge
Extracted from the Idler magazine, vol. 9, 1896; pp. 582-586. Accompanying illustrations by Hal Hurst omitted.



(Evening entertainment at West End picture gallery by Miss Lillie Vicke, Talented Child Performer, "At liberty for At Homes and Soirées." Fair audience, with few men; applause is furnished by complimentary tickets in quaint evening dress at back. Lads in Eton suits sell programmes with portrait of pig-tailed Miss Lillie Vicke, and punch each other furtively.)

Assiduous Damsel (flitting about reserved seats). So sweet of you to come, Miss Mayfield. Mamma takes such an interest in this child, and you know how enthusiastic she gets over everything. (Hopefully.) Doesn't last long, thank goodness. (To youth.) Ah, Mr. Lennox.

Miss Mayfield. What was the last complaint?

Assiduous. Thought-reading woman. Told Ma's age one evening, and that spoilt her little game. Sure you are quite comfortable there? Wouldn't you rather come nearer lo the platform and sit next to my eldest brother? He's just home from——

Miss Mayfield (definitely). No, thanks. This will do. Good-bye till presently. (Aside to companion.) Do you see that, Mr. Lennox? Wants to sit here herself. Tell me now what you really think of her. The truth, mind!

He (surveying Assiduous Damsel afar with critical air). Good girl, but—er—thin.

Miss Mayfield (with great delight). Oh, that's excellent. That's really excellent. I must try and remember that. Do you mind holding my fan, Mr. Lennox? It's such a horrid weight to carry on one's wrist.

He (spreading fan languidly). What's this fan language nonsense they talk about? Can never get the hang of it.

Miss Mayfield. Why, let me explain it to you. If you want to say, "I shall love you always," you hold it like this, and if you want to ask—let me see. I must try to think or else I shall tell you wrongly, and then I shall look a perfect—

Audience (reprovingly). Hush!

(Miss Lillie Vicke, self-possessed infant girl, steps on platform and eyes room severely until there is perfect silence. Then jerks pig-tail, with scarlet bow, from shoulder.)

Miss Lillie Vicke (shrilly). My first selection will be an American poem entitled "Bill Danks's Bowie Knife, or the Romance of Goahead Flat."

(Coughs, frowns, and assumes nasal tones.)

"Bill Danks was my pard; a good un was Bill,
A dead sort when there was a fight.
At Copping's bar, jest up (here on the hill,
They'd a list of the pals he'd (she winks) put right.
A Colt or a knife, he was 'andy at both,
Ontil little Bess Lowrie came there.
A sweet little golden 'aired mite of a girl
Whose uncle was Murphy Maclear.
Murphy Maclear, whose sister was dead,

(Miss Vicke points reverently to an incandescent lamp!)

"——to the regions above,
Where angels hed welcomed——"

(Describes regions above. Two matrons whisper confidentially behind programmes.)

First Matron. Charming little dear, isn't she? Well connected, too, I believe. Won't she be dreadfully clever when she grows up?

Second Matron (sniffing). Should say she was grown up already, I really don't care to see children so smart. Neither of my two are in the least like that

First Matron. Oh, but I think it's so clever for children to be—to be—what is the word?—clever. Quite too quaint for anything, really. I expect it's to a great extent hereditary.

Second Matron (severely). I expect it's stupidity. If I had a child who could get up before a lot of people and recite away like this I should feel inclined to punish her and send her off to bed at once. (Shivers with rectitude.) There's nothing like nipping that sort of thing in the bud. I think a child should be a child, and not an old woman, and a good shaking will always take the nonsense out of them. At least (hedging) so I've always found.

First Matron (excusingly). Ah, well! children will be children, I suppose. One must give and take with the dear little things. Nice lads, the programme boys, aren't they. I always think those large, white collars look so very (vaguely) large and white.

(Nice programme boys outside doorway play furtive games with copper coins.)

First Programme Boy, Lovely woman.

Second Programme Boy. It's a man, clever; and now let's reckon up, and see just how we stand. Three ha'pence you owe me, mind. You called "woman" twice when it was a man, and before that it was a ha'penny.

First Boy. So are you a ha'penny! We was even the time before last, and you says, "Now then," you says, "let's start again."

Second Boy (aggressively). You're a liar!

First Boy. You're another.

Second Boy (threateningly). You'll get your head knocked off, that's what'll happen to you. Mark my words.

First Boy (wonderingly). And who's going to do it? (Second boy says that he is.) Ho! And (with great politeness) how many men might you be going to get to help you, may 1 kindly ask?

Second Boy (goaded). Here! Hold my programmes some one. I'll take this little devil down a peg or two. A man like me can put up with a good deal, but there is a limit.

Audience (near doorway). Less noise there, please.

Miss Lillie Vicke (concluding recitation)—

"Bill look little Bess in his arms, and he said,
'God bless you, my child,' and (casually) he died."

And now, if you will give me a few minutes, I shall have pleasure in giving a short sketch, which is, in fact, (with a burst of frankness) a monologue, called "Looking for a Partner."

(Trips off to polite applause. Returns immediately to bow and adjust erratic pigtail, and retires again.)

Talkative Young Person (in shoulder-straps, to quiet young person in white). I tell you candidly, dear, I don't believe in Madame Manteau for a single moment. What I mean to say is, I admit her charges are high, very high indeed. Poor Mark grumbled over her last bill till I really thought he'd forgotten how to leave off; but since she's made a name, you know, she has become most abominably careless.

Quiet. Well, I——

Talkative. And absolutely no style. Ab-so-lutely! Fact of the matter is these creatures get spoilt, you know, by one being pleasant with them; and once they get an idea that you are good-tempered, why (expressive wave of the hands) they simply dress you upside down.

Quiet. I think——

Talkative. My own idea is (confidentially behind fan) that the more one rows with them the better they are. It's hard work at first, I admit, but it soon gets easy. Complain of everything, and, in the name of all that is precious, don't gush. I used to gush, and write warm little notes of thanks, but (flutters fan determinedly) never again.

Quiet. I suppose——

Talkative (interrupting), I know what you are going to say. I've had things from Paris, but they have a nasty trick of sending things contre remboursement, and that is so irritating. Looks so distrustful. Besides, I don't like paying for anything before I get it and fit it on, and ask people's opinion about it.

Quiet (determinedly). What I was going to say was——

Talkative. Ah! there I believe you're quite right; I entirely agree with you. If only a few of us would join together and find out a really good woman, we could keep her going without letting outsiders patronise her (approvingly). There's a very great deal in that idea. But where can I find friends sensible enough to agree with my proposals? As a rule (acutely) you'll find one's women friends have a great deal to say and that's about all. Now (persuasively), you must really leave off talking and listen to this. She is such a dear, sweet little thing.

Quiet. Can't recite very well.

Talkative. No (dubiously), perhaps not But she is so fond of her mother, they tell me.

(Infant Phenomenon re-appears beaming, accompanied by Somebody's Aunt.)

Miss Lillie Vicke (shrilly). A short comedietta entitled, "Looking for a Partner," by Anon, introducing a dance and song. (Rustle of revived attention.) You will kindly understand (pointing to piano) that there is a fancy dress ball going on over there, crowded with couples, and that the orchestra is playing faintly in the distance. (To Somebody's Aunt at piano.) Now then! (Piano plays softly. Miss Vicke adjusts her crimson sash.)

"Sir Loftus has vanished and left me here alone,
'Tis hard to be a wife thus slighted, }}}}
But (archly) I've an idea this youth must sure be shown
Not to neglect one whose troth he's plighted.
But, first of all, I shan't be doing wrong
If I indulge in just one little song."

(Somebody's Aunt takes sheet of music, and plays laborious symphony.)

Miss Lillie Vicke (sings)—

"Oh, Love is such a tiresome game, it gives a lot of worry
To all of us, to all of us.
When girls essay to change their name they're sometimes in a hurry,
Yes, all of us: yes, all of us.
But, if you wish to win a heart——"

(Two verses of arch semi-humorous song. Applause at end from back of room.)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1930, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 92 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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