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The curtain rises on the hall, obviously used as the common-room of a country house. On the right (of the audience) is the outer door and a staircase that runs down from an upper landing towards the middle of the room, half hiding what has once been a separate smaller room with a baize door at the back. In the corner a French window opens on to a snowbound garden. On the left, facing the entrance, a log fire is blazing. Staircase, pictures, grandfather clock, etc., are wreathed with holly and mistletoe. At the breakfast table, which is laid for three and littered with paper and string, sit Miss Hester Fairfield andMargaret Fairfield, her niece by marriage. The third chair has two or three parcels piled up on it.
Hester Fairfield is one of those twitching, high-minded, elderly ladies in black, who keep a grievance as they might keep a pet dog—as soon as it dies they replace it by another. The grievance of the moment seems to be the empty third chair, andMargaret Fairfield is, as usual, on the defensive. Such a little, pretty, helpless-looking woman as Margaret has generally half a dozen big sons and a husband to bully; but Margaret has only a daughter, and her way of looking at even the chair on which that daughter ought to be sitting, is the way of a child whose doll has suddenly come to life. For the rest, she is so youthfully anxious and simple and charming that the streak of grey in her hair puzzles you. You wonder what trouble has fingered it. It does not occur to you that she is quite thirty-five.