The Doves' Nest and Other Stories
" I've a run of three twice, ducky," said Ma, " a pair of queens make eight, and one for his nob makes nine."
With an awful hollow groan Alexander, curling his little finger high, pegged nine for Ma. And " Wait now, wait now," said she, and her quick short little hands snatched at the other cards. " My crib, young man! " She spread them out, leaned back, twitched her shawl, put her head on one side. " H'm, not so bad ! A flush of four and a pair ! "
" Betrayed ! Betrayed ! " moaned Alexander, bowing his dark head over the cribbage page 175 board, " and by a woo-man." He sighed deeply, shuffled the cards and said to Ma, " Cut for me, my love ! "
Although of course he was only having his joke like all professional young gentlemen, something in the tone in which he said " my love! " gave Ma quite a turn. Her lips trembled as she cut the cards, she felt a sudden pang as she watched those long slim fingers dealing.
Ma and Alexander were playing cribbage in the basement kitchen of number 9 Bolton Street. It was late, it was on eleven, and Sunday night, too—shocking! They sat at the kitchen table that was covered with a worn art serge cloth spotted with candle grease. On one corner of it stood three glasses, three spoons, a saucer of sugar lumps and a bottle of gin. The stove was still alight, and the lid of the kettle had just begun to lift, cautiously, stealthily, as though there was someone inside who wanted to have a peep and pop back again. On the horse-hair sofa against the wall by the door, the owner of the third glass lay asleep, gently snoring. Perhaps because he had his back to them, perhaps because his feet poked out from the short overcoat covering him, he looked forlorn, pathetic, and the long fair hair covering his collar looked forlorn and pathetic, too.
" Well, well," said Ma, sighing as she put page 176 out two cards and arranged the others in a fan, " such is life. I little thought when I saw the last of you this morning that we'd be playing a game together to-night."
" The caprice of destiny," murmured Alexander. But, as a matter of fact, it was no joking matter. By some infernal mischance that morning he and Rinaldo had missed the train that all the company travelled by. That was bad enough. But being Sunday, there was no other train until midnight, and as they had a full rehearsal at 10 o'clock on Monday it meant going by that, or getting what the company called the beetroot. But God ! what a day it had been. They had left the luggage at the station and come back to Ma's, back to Alexander's frowsy bedroom with the bed unmade and water standing about. Rinaldo had spent the whole day sitting on the side of the bed swinging his leg, dropping ash on the floor and saying, " I wonder what made us lose that train. Strange we should have lost it. I bet the others are wondering what made us lose it, too." And Alexander had stayed by the window gazing into the small garden that was so black with grime even the old lean cat who came and scraped seemed revolted by it, too. It was only after Ma had seen the last of her Sunday visitors. . .