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This four-act comedy is an adult fairy tale of sorts, brought to life by Barrie’s charming imagination and ability to weave between reality and fantasy. Pheobe Throssel and Valentine Brown are a young couple separated by the Neopoleonic wars for ten years, only to find themselves the unfortunate victims of time and age upon their reunion. This story of lost love, spinsters, secret disguises, and the complexities of human emotion will enchant readers today as much as it did the audiences of New York and London over a century ago.
The scene is the blue and white room in the house of the Misses Susan and Phoebe Throssel in Quality Street; and in this little country town there is a satisfaction about living in Quality Street which even religion cannot give. Through the bowed window at the back we have a glimpse of the street. It is pleasantly broad and grass-grown, and is linked to the outer world by one demure shop, whose door rings a bell every time it opens and shuts. Thus by merely peeping, every one in Quality Street can know at once who has been buying a Whimsy cake, and usually why. This bell is the most familiar sound of Quality Street. Now and again ladies pass in their pattens, a maid perhaps protecting them with an umbrella, for flakes of snow are falling discreetly. Gentlemen in the street are an event; but, see, just as we raise the curtain, there goes the recruiting sergeant to remind us that we are in the period of the Napoleonic wars. If he were to look in at the window of the blue and white room all the ladies there assembled would draw themselves up; they know him for a rude fellow who smiles at the approach of maiden ladies and continues to smile after they have passed. However, he lowers his head to-day so that they shall not see him, his present design being converse with the Misses Throssel’s maid.
The room is one seldom profaned by the foot of man, and everything in it is white or blue. Miss Phoebe is not present, but here are Miss Susan, Miss Willoughby and her sister Miss Fanny, and Miss Henrietta Turnbull. Miss Susan and Miss Willoughby, alas, already wear caps; but all the four are dear ladies, so refined that we ought not to be discussing them without a more formal introduction. There seems no sufficient reason why we should choose Miss Phoebe as our heroine rather than any one of the others, except, perhaps, that we like her name best. But we gave her the name, so we must support our choice and say that she is slightly the nicest, unless, indeed, Miss Susan is nicer.
Miss Fanny is reading aloud from a library book while the others sew or knit. They are making garments for our brave soldiers now far away fighting the Corsican Ogre.
MISS FANNY. ‘…And so the day passed and evening came, black, mysterious, and ghost-like. The wind moaned unceasingly like a shivering spirit, and the vegetation rustled uneasily as if something weird and terrifying were about to happen. Suddenly out of the darkness there emerged a Man.
(She says the last word tremulously but without looking up. The listeners knit more quickly.)
The unhappy Camilla was standing lost in reverie when, without pausing to advertise her of his intentions, he took both her hands in his.
(By this time the knitting has stopped, and all are listening as if mesmerised.)
Slowly he gathered her in his arms—-
(MISS SUSAN gives an excited little cry.)
MISS FANNY. And rained hot, burning—-‘
MISS WILLOUGHBY. Sister!
MISS FANNY (greedily). ‘On eyes, mouth—-‘
MISS WILLOUGHBY (sternly). Stop. Miss Susan, I am indeed surprised you should bring such an amazing, indelicate tale from the library.
MISS SUSAN (with a slight shudder). I deeply regret, Miss Willoughby—- (Sees MISS FANNY reading quickly to herself.) Oh, Fanny! If you please, my dear.
(Takes the book gently from her.)