Another of Ashley Sterne's little Joan and Oswald domestic comedies. It's a trifle but has a few amusing moments at the start.
Punch, v149, p. 234
September 15, 1915
[Note: Sir George Alexander (1858-1918) was a renowned English actor. The quote "turned once more to set a ringlet right" points to Canto 6 in Tennyson's noble elegy In Memorium. The relevant context is as follows:
O somewhere, meek, unconscious dove,
That sittest ranging golden hair;
And glad to find thyself so fair,
Poor child, that waitest for thy love!
For now her father's chimney glows
In expectation of a guest;
And thinking "this will please him best,"
She takes a riband or a rose;
For he will see them on to-night;
And with the thought her colour burns;
And, having left the glass, she turns
Once more to set a ringlet right;
And, even when she turn'd, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown'd in passing thro' the ford,
Or kill'd in falling from his horse.
O what to her shall be the end?
And what to me remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.
The Punch readership, a sophisticated bunch, would have caught the ironic (albeit somewhat unsettling) literary reference.]
I laid the hair-brush down on my dressing-table with a sigh and walked into Joan's room. "Look here," I began, "I've tried that odoriferous decoction of sage leaves you made for me, Aunt Nettie's recipe in last week's Snappy Chat, sulphur lotion, quinine invigorator, and goodness knows what besides, and it's as grey as ever. In desperation I 'm going to — "
"Oh, don't fly to cosmetics ! " cried Joan in alarm. "Just think of the pillow-slips. Besides, you're forty-five, you know; and anyhow," she went on, "grey hair at the temples looks most distingue. I heard Mrs. Middleton say only last Sunday that you reminded her of Sir George Alexander. Aren't you bucked? You couldn't remind her of him unless you were a little teeny bit grey, could you?"
" Of course I could," I replied. "Now I come to consider it, the actual facial resemblance between Sir George and myself is most marked. Mrs. Middleton is a very observant and intelligent woman. Now, where do I find the black lead, the tar, the marking-ink, and the walnut-juice?"
"Not in my bedroom, at all events," said Joan. "Besides, you'd much better drop these chemical experiments. The strain of constantly watching to see if your hair is getting as dark as the man's in the advertisement will eventually make you go bald, and how will you like that?"
"If I am ever destined to become bald," I answered with some bitterness, "I don't care a rap what colour I become bald on. But grey hair which stays in is the hall-mark of advancing age, and age at forty-five has no business to advance. It ought to remain firmly entrenched for another ten years at least — like yours at twenty-eight."
"Then," said Joan, "I should advise you to try — "
She paused, and stepping back from her mirror she "turned once more (and yet once more after that) to set a ringlet right.”
"Go on!" I cried. " Don't keep me on tenterhooks. I'm getting greyer every moment."
"I should advise you to try leaving it alone for a time."
"I shall get a brown wig," I said firmly, as I went back to my own room.
"Oh, do get a curly one!" Joan called out.
"And remind Mrs. Middleton of Gilbert Chesterton," I sung out. "Good idea! I will." Of course this was only an idle threat, for I should never have the face (though I might have the requisite type of skull) to order a wig as a permanent fixture.
* * * * *
As I was walking home from the Club-house that same evening it began to drizzle. I turned up the collar of my jacket and pulled my cap well down on my head. I hadn't gone a hundred yards when, as I passed a recruiting-booth at the side of the road, I suddenly felt a hand placed upon my shoulder, and a gruff but genial voice exclaimed: "Well, my lad, why aren't you in khaki?"
I started in amazement. Nobody had publicly suggested such a course to me before. 'My lad,' too! Could it be that I looked a lad? I turned a saw a burly, beaming Sergeant confronting me. Somewhat to his surprise I seized his hand and shook it warmly. "Sergeant," I said, "do you mean it literally — all of it, especially the 'lad' part? Because, if you do, I've a good mind to hand myself over to you, in spite of the fact that I'm married, forty-five — "
"Forty-five!" gasped the Sergeant. "Why, Sir, you've the looks and bearin' of thirty — not a day more. A man of forty-five's usually gettin' a bit grey, while you, Sir, if I may make so bold as to say, wouldn't know a grey 'air if you 'ad one. Now when I was instructin' the gents of the Bohemian Veterans last month — all men o' forty and upwards, mark you — there wasn't one that could 'ave 'eld a candle to you in the matter o' looks, Sir."
"Look here, Sergeant," I said, "if you say any more I shall cry from sheer joie de vivre. I too am a newly joined Bohemian Veteran, as witness this badge. Believe me, you've paid me the biggest compliment I have ever received." And with youth renewed I proceeded on my way.
"Joan," I called out as we were dressing for dinner, "looking in the glass just now I became of the opinion that I am not so grey as I was this morning."
"Perhaps," Joan called back, "you don't feel so grey as you did this morning?"
"No, I certainly don't," I answered with enthusiasm. "Sergeant, long life to you!"
"Who in the world are you talking to?" cried Joan.