FIVE LITTLE PLAYS
FIVE LITTLE PLAYS
BY ALFRED SUTRO
BRENTANO NEW YORK 1922
Printed in Great Britain by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh
THE MAN IN THE STALLS
A MARRIAGE HAS BEEN ARRANGED....
THE MAN ON THE KERB
THE OPEN DOOR
THE MAN IN THE STALLS
A PLAY IN ONE ACT
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
HECTOR ALLEN ELIZABETH ALLEN (BETTY) WALTER COZENS
This play was produced at the Palace Theatre on October 6, 1911
THE MAN IN THE STALLS
The sitting-room of a little flat in Shaftesbury Avenue. At back is a door leading to the dining-room—it is open, and the dinner-table is in full view of the audience. To the extreme right is another door, leading to the hall.
The place is pleasantly and prettily, though quite inexpensively, furnished. To the left, at angles with the distempered wall, is a baby-grand piano; the fireplace, in which a fire is burning merrily, is on the same side, full centre. To the right of the door leading to the dining-room is a small side-table, on which there is a tray with decanter and glasses; in front of this, a card-table, open, with two packs of cards on it, and chairs on each side. Another table, a round one, is in the centre of the room—to right and to left of it are comfortable armchairs. Against the right wall is a long sofa; above it hang a few good, water-colours and engravings; on the piano and the table there are flowers. A general appearance of refinement and comfort pervades the room; no luxury, but evidence everywhere of good taste, and the countless feminine touches that make a room homelike and pleasant.
When the curtain rises, HECTOR ALLEN, a youngish man of forty, with an attractive intellectual face, is seen standing by the dining-table in the inner room, draining his liqueur-glass, with WALTER COZENS to the right of him, lighting a cigarette. WALTER is a few years younger than his friend, moderately good-looking, with fine, curly brown hair and a splendid silky moustache. His morning-clothes are conspicuously well-cut—he is evidently something of a dandy; HECTOR wears a rather shabby dress-suit, his boots are awkward, and his tie ready-made. BETTY, a handsome woman of thirty, wearing a very pretty tea-gown, is talking to the maid at the back of the dining-room.
HECTOR puts down his glass and comes into the sitting-room, followed by WALTER. HECTOR is puffing at a short, stumpy little black cigar.
HECTOR [Talking as he comes through, continuing the conversation—he walks to the fireplace and stands with his back to it.] I tell you, if I'd known what it meant, I'd never have taken the job! Sounded so fine, to be reader of plays for the Duke's Theatre—adviser to the great Mr. Honeyswill! And then—when the old man said I was to go to all the first nights—why, I just chortled! "It's the first nights that show you the grip of the thing—that teach you most"—he said. Teach you! As though there were anything to learn! Oh my stars! I tell you, it's a dog's life!
WALTER. [Sitting to left of the round table.] I'd change places with you, sonny.
HECTOR. You would, eh? That's what they all say! Four new plays this week, my lad—one yesterday, one to-day—another to-morrow, and the night after! All day long I'm reading plays—and I spend my nights seeing 'em! D'you know I read about two thousand a year? Divide two thousand by three hundred and sixty five. A dog's life—that's what it is!
WALTER. Better than being a stockbroker's clerk—you believe me!
HECTOR. Is it? I wish you could have a turn at it, my bonny boy! Your hair'd go grey, like mine! And look here—what are the plays to-day? They're either so chock-full of intellect that they send you to sleep—or they reek of sentiment till you yearn for the smell of a cabbage!
WALTER. Well, you've the change, at any rate.
HECTOR. [Snorting.] Change? By Jove, give me a Punch and Judy show on the sands—or performing dogs! Plays—I'm sick of 'em! And look here—the one I'm off to to-night. It's adapted from the French—well, we know what that means. Husband, wife and mistress. Or wife, husband, lover. That's what a French play means. And you make it English, and pass the Censor, by putting the lady in a mackintosh, and dumping in a curate!
BETTY. [Coming in, and closing the door leading to the dining-room.] You ought to be going, Hector.
[She, stands listening for a moment, then goes through the other door into the hall.
HECTOR. [Disregarding her, too intent on his theme.] And I tell you, of the two, I prefer the home-made stodge. I'm sick of the eternal triangle. They always do the same thing. Husband strikes attitudes—sometimes he strikes the lover. The lover never stands up to him—why shouldn't he? He would—in real life. [BETTY comes back, with his overcoat and muffler—she proceeds affectionately to wrap this round his neck, and helps him on with his coat, he talking all the time.] He'd say, look here, you go to Hell. That's what he'd say—well, there you'd have a situation. But not one of the playwriting chaps dares do it. Why not, I ask you? There you'd have truth, something big. But no—they're afraid—think the public won't like it. The husband's got to down the lover—like a big tom-cat with a mouse—or the author'd have to sell one of his motor-cars! That's just the fact of it!
BETTY. [Looking at the clock on the mantelpiece.] Twenty-five past, Hector.
HECTOR. [Cheerily.] All right, my lass, I'm off. By-bye, Walter—keep the old woman company for a bit. Good-bye, sweetheart. [He kisses her.] Don't wait up. Now for the drama. Oh, the dog's life!
[He goes. BETTY waits till the hall door has banged, then she sits on the elbow of WALTER'S chair, and rests her head on his shoulder.
BETTY. [Softly.] Poor Hector!
WALTER. [Uncomfortably.] ... Yes ...
BETTY. Doesn't it make you feel dreadful when he talks like that? [She kisses him; then puts her arms round his neck, draws his face to her, and kisses him again, on the cheek.] Doesn't it?
[She nestles contentedly closer to him.
WALTER. [Trying to edge away.] Well, it does. Yes.
BETTY. [Dreamily.] I—like it.
BETTY. Yes, I like it. I don't know why. I suppose I'm frightfully wicked. Or the danger perhaps—I don't know.
WALTER. [Making a futile effort to get up.] Betty—
BETTY. [Tightening her arms around him.] Stop there, and don't move. How smooth your chin is—his scrapes. Why don't husbands shave better? Or is it that the forbidden chin is always smoother? Poor old Hector! If he could see us! He hasn't a suspicion. I think it's lovely—really, I do. He leaves us here together, night after night, and imagines you're teaching me bridge.
WALTER. [Restlessly.] So I am. Where are the cards?
BETTY. [Caressing him.] Silly, have you forgotten that this is Tuesday—Maggie's night out? She's gone—I told her she needn't wait to clear away. We've arranged master's supper. Master! You're my master, aren't you?
WALTER. ... I don't know what I am ...
BETTY. Oh yes you do—you're my boy. Whom I love. There. [She kisses him again, full on the lips.] That was a nice one, wasn't it? Poor old Hector, sitting in his stall—thinks he's so wonderful, knows such a lot! Yes, Maggie's out—with her young man, I suppose. The world's full of women, with their young men—and husbands sitting in the stalls.... And I suppose that's how it always has been, and always will be.
WALTER. [Shifting uneasily.] Don't, Betty—I don't like it. I mean, he has such confidence in us.
BETTY. Of course he has. And quite rightly. Aren't you his oldest friend?
WALTER. [With something of a groan.] I've known him since I was seven.
BETTY. The first man he introduced me to—his best man at the wedding—do you remember coming to see us during the honeymoon? I liked you then.
WALTER. [Really shocked.] Betty!
BETTY. I did. You had a way of squeezing my hand.... And then when we came back here. You know it didn't take me long to discover—
WALTER. [Protesting.] I scarcely saw you the first two or three years!
BETTY. No—you were afraid. Oh I thought you so silly! [He suddenly contrives to release himself—gets up, and moves to the card-table.] Why, what's the matter?
WALTER. [At the table, with his back to her.] I hate hearing you talk like this.
BETTY. Silly boy! [She rises, and goes to him; he has taken a cigarette out of the box on the table, and stands there, with his head bent, tapping the cigarette against his hand.] Women only talk "like this," as you call it, to their lovers. They talk "like that" to their husbands—and that's why the husbands never know. That's why the husbands are always sitting in the stalls, looking on. [She puts her arms round him again.] Looking and not seeing.
[She approaches her lips to his—he almost fretfully unclasps her arms.
WALTER. Betty—I want to say a—serious word ...
BETTY. [Looking fondly at him.] Well, isn't what I'm saying serious?
WALTER. I'm thirty-eight.
BETTY. Yes. I'm only thirty. But I'm not complaining.
WALTER. Has it ever occurred to you—
[WALTER looks at her—tries to speak, but cannot—then he breaks away, goes across the room to the fireplace and stands for a moment looking into the fire. She has remained where she was, her eyes following him wonderingly. Suddenly he stamps his foot violently.
WALTER. Damn it! DAMN it!
BETTY. [Moving towards him in alarm.] What's the matter?
WALTER. [With a swift turn towards her.] I'm going to get married.
BETTY. [Stonily, stopping by the round table.] You ...
WALTER. [Savagely.] Going to get married, yes. Married, married!
[She stands there and doesn't stir—doesn't speak or try to speak; merely stands there, and looks at him, giving no sign. Her silence irritates him; he becomes more and more violent, as though to give himself courage.
WALTER. You're wonderful, you women—you really are. Always contrive to make us seem brutes, or cowards! I've wanted to tell you this a dozen times—I've not had the pluck. Well, to-day I must. Must, do you hear that?... Oh, for Heaven's sake, say something.
BETTY. [Still staring helplessly at him.] You ...
WALTER. [Feverishly.] Yes, I, I! Now it's out, at least—it's spoken! I mean to get married, like other men—fooled, too, I dare say, like the others—at least I deserve it! But I'm tired, I tell you—tired—
BETTY. Of me?
WALTER. Tired of the life I lead—the beastly, empty rooms—the meals at the Club. And I'm thirty-eight—it's now or never.
BETTY. [Slowly.] And how about—me?
BETTY. [Passionately.] Yes. Me. Me!
WALTER. You didn't think this would last for ever?
BETTY. [Nodding her head.] I did—yes—I did. Why shouldn't it?
WALTER. [Working himself into a fury again.] Why? You ask that? Why? Oh yes, it's all right for you—you've your home and your husband—I'm there as an—annexe. To be telephoned to, when I'm wanted, at your beck and call, throw over everything, come when you whistle. And it's not only that—I tell you it makes me feel—horrid. After all, he's my—friend.
BETTY. He has been that always. You didn't feel—horrid—before.... Who is she?
WALTER. [Shortly, as he turns back to the fire.] That doesn't matter.
BETTY. Yes, it does. Who?
WALTER. [Fretfully.] Oh, why should we—
BETTY. I want to know—I'm entitled to know.
WALTER. [Still with his back to her.] Mary Gillingham.
BETTY. Mary Gillingham!
WALTER. [Firmly, swinging round to her.] Yes.
BETTY. That child, that chit of a girl!
WALTER. She's twenty-three.
BETTY. Whom I introduced you to—my own friend?
WALTER. [Grumbling.] What has that to do with it? And besides ... [He suddenly changes his tone, noticing how calm she has become—he takes a step towards her, and stands by her side, at the back of the table, his voice becomes gentle and affectionate.] But I say, really, you're taking it awfully well—pluckily. I knew you would—I knew I was an ass to be so—afraid.... And look here, we'll always be pals—the very best of pals. I'll ... never forget—never. You may be quite sure ... of that. I want to get married—I do—have a home of my own, and so forth—but you'll still be—just the one woman I really have loved—the one woman in my life—to whom I owe—everything.
BETTY. [With a mirthless laugh.] Do you tell all that—to Mary Gillingham?
WALTER. [Pettishly, as he moves away.] Do I—don't be so absurd.
BETTY. You tell her she is the only girl you have loved.
WALTER. [Moving back to the fire, with his back to her.] I tell her—I tell her—what does it matter what I tell her? And one girl or another—she or someone else—
BETTY. But you haven't answered my question—what's to become of me?
WALTER. [Angrily, facing her.] Become of you! Don't talk such nonsense. Because it is—really it is. You'll be as you were. And Hector's a splendid chap—and after all we've been frightfully wrong—treating him infernally badly—despicably. Oh yes, we have—and you know it. Lord, there've been nights when I have—but never mind that—that's all over! In future we can look him in the face without feeling guilty—we can—
BETTY. [Quietly.] You can.
WALTER. What do you mean?
BETTY. You can, because of this girl. Oh, I know, of course! You'll come here three or four times—then you'll drop off—you'll feel I'm not quite the woman you want your wife to know.
WALTER. [With genuine feeling, as he impulsively steps towards her.] Betty, Betty, what sort of cad do you take me for? What sort of cad, or bounder? Haven't I told you I'd never forget—never? And you think you'll pass out of my life—that I want you to? Why, good Heaven, I'll be your best friend as long as I live. Friend—yes—what I always should have been—meant to be! And Hector. Why, Betty, I tell you, merely talking to-night, as I've done, has made me feel—different—sort of—lifted—a load. Because I've always had it—somewhere deep down in me—when I've thought of—him.
BETTY. [Calmly.] Liar.
WALTER. [Falling back.] Betty!
BETTY. Liar—yes. Why these stupid, silly lies? "Always, deep down in me!" Where was it, this beautiful feeling, when you got me to go to your rooms?
WALTER. [Harshly.] We needn't—
BETTY. I liked you—I've said that—I liked you from the first. But I was straight enough. Liked you, of course—but I had no idea, not the slightest.... Thought it fun to play the fool, flirt just a bit. But it was you, you, you who—
WALTER. [Breaking in sulkily and stamping his foot.] Never mind about who it was.
BETTY. [Passionately.] Never mind! You dare!
WALTER. [Doggedly.] Yes—I dare. And look here—since you force me to it—that's all rot—yes, it is—just rot. Just as you like it now, hearing Hector ask me to stop with you, and kissing me the moment his back is turned—so you met me halfway, and more than halfway.
BETTY. You cur!
WALTER. That's what a woman always says, when a man speaks the truth. Because it is the truth—and you know it. "The way I squeezed your hand!" D'you think I meant to squeeze it—in a way! Why, as there's a Heaven above me, you were as sacred to me—as my own sister!
BETTY. [Quietly, as she sits, to right of the table.] What I'm wondering is—you see, you're the only lover I've had—what I wonder is, when a man breaks off, tells a woman he's tired of her, wants to get married—does he always abuse the woman—
WALTER. [Sulkily.] I haven't—
BETTY. Degrade, and throw mud on, the love she has had for him?
WALTER. [With a bitter shrug.] Love—
BETTY. [Passionately, as she springs to her feet.] Love, love, yes, you—cruel man! Love, what else? I adore you, don't you know that? Live for you! would give up everything in the world—everything, everything! And Walter, Walter! If it's only that—that you want a home—well, let's go off together. He'll divorce us—we can get married. Don't go away, and leave me here, alone with him! I couldn't stand it—Walter, I couldn't, I couldn't!
[She goes eagerly to him, flings her arms round his neck, and a dry sob bursts from her.
WALTER. [Very gently.] Betty, Betty, you've been so brave ... Betty, dear, the horrid things I've said were only to make you angry, to make you feel what a brute I was, how well you're rid of me. Oh, I'm not proud of myself! But look here, we must be sensible—we must, really.... You know, if you were divorced—if I were the co-respondent in a divorce case—I'd lose my berth, get the sack—
BETTY. [Clinging to him.] We could go to Australia—anywhere—
WALTER. I've no money.
BETTY. [With a sudden movement, raising her head and leaving him.] And Mary Gillingham has lots?
WALTER. It's not for her money that I—
BETTY. [With a start.] You love her?
WALTER. [Dropping his head, and speaking under his breath.] Yes.
BETTY. [Wringing her hands.] You do, you do?
WALTER. Yes, that's the truth—I do. Oh, Betty I'm so frightfully sorry—
BETTY. [With a groan.] Then you don't love me any more ...
WALTER. It's not that. But you see—
BETTY. [Moaning.] You don't, you don't!
[She stands there, crushed, overwhelmed, dry-eyed, broken moans escaping from her; suddenly she hears a key turning in the lock of the hall-door outside, and rushes to the card-table.
BETTY. Hector! Quick, quick—the cards!
[WALTER flies to the table, and sits by her side. He seizes one pack and proceeds to shuffle it, she is dealing with the other. All this takes only a second. HECTOR comes in—they both spring up.
BETTY. Hector! You're not ill?
HECTOR. [Kissing her.] Play postponed, my child—bit of luck! When I got to the theatre I found that the actor-manager's car had collided with a cab outside the stage-door—he was thrown through the window—there's a magnificent exit for you! and has been cut about a bit. Nothing serious. But the play's postponed for a week. Bit of luck!
WALTER. [Sitting.] Not for him.
HECTOR. Oh he has had luck enough—tons of it! I'll get into a jacket—then we'll have some bridge. See what progress you've made, Betty!
[He hurries out, and closes the door.
BETTY. [Producing a little mirror from her bag, looking into it, touching her hair.] We were only just in time.
WALTER. [Eagerly, as he bends across the table.] You're splendid—you are—splendid!
BETTY. Yes. All very nice and comfortable for you—isn't it? [She puts the mirror back into the bag.]
WALTER. [Coaxingly.] Betty.
BETTY. To-morrow you'll go to her—or to-night perhaps—
WALTER. To-night—ridiculous! At this hour!
BETTY. She's a deceitful little cat. I saw her last week—she never told me—
WALTER. I don't think she knew. I only proposed to-day.
BETTY. [Flinging herself back in her chair, and opening wide eyes.] You—proposed—to-day!
WALTER. [Very embarrassed.] Yes—I mean—
BETTY. You—proposed—to-day! And waited till she had accepted you—to tell me—
WALTER. [Eagerly.] Don't be so silly—come, come, he'll be back in a minute.... And, believe me, I'm not worth making a fuss about!
BETTY. [Looking contemptuously at him.] That's true.
WALTER. Yes, it is, worse luck! I deserve all you've said to me. And you'll be ... much better ... without me.
WALTER. Yes, better, better—any way you choose to put it! I'm a—but never mind that!—Look here—you'd like me to stop?
BETTY. He wants to play bridge.
WALTER. Don't you think that I—
BETTY.[Hearing HECTOR coming.] Sh.
[HECTOR comes in—she is idly tossing the cards about. HECTOR has put on a smoking-jacket—he comes in, very jolly, fussing around, rubbing his hands, so glad to be home. He sits, to the right of BETTY.
HECTOR. Now for a game!
[He seizes a pack, and spreads out the cards.
BETTY. [Leaning back.] Not sure that I want to play.
HECTOR. Don't be disagreeable, Betty! Why?
BETTY. [Listlessly, as she rises and moves across the room.] No fun, being three.
HECTOR. Good practice for you. Come on.
BETTY. [Leaning against the other table, and turning and facing them.] Besides, he has something to tell you.
HECTOR. [Looking inquiringly at WALTER.] To tell me? What is it?
BETTY. That he's engaged.
HECTOR. [Shouting, as he leans across the table.] Never! Walter! Engaged? You?
WALTER. [Nervously.] Yes.
HECTOR. [Noisily and affectionately.] You old scoundrel! You rascal and villain! Engaged—and you don't come and tell me first! Well I—am—damned!
WALTER. [Trying to take it gaily.] I knew you'd chaff me about it.
HECTOR. Chaff you! Silly old coon! why I'm glad! Of course we shall miss you—but marriage—it's the only thing, my boy—the only thing! Who is she? Do I know her?
WALTER. [Mumbling, as he fingers the cards.] A friend of Betty's—I fancy you've met her—
BETTY. Mary Gillingham. We're the first to know—he only proposed to-day.
HECTOR. Gillingham, Gillingham.... Oh yes, I've seen her, just seen her, but I don't remember.... I say, not the daughter of the sealing-wax man?
HECTOR. Then there's lots of tin! Fine! Oh you artful old dodger! Is she pretty?
BETTY. [Still leaning against the table, and looking at them both.] She's excessively pretty. She has yellow hair and blue eyes.
HECTOR. [Chuckling.] And she has caught old Wallie. The cynical old Wallie who sniffed at women! Though perhaps it's the money—
BETTY. No. He's in love with her.
HECTOR. That's good. I'm glad. And I congratulate you—heartily, my boy. [He seizes WALTER'S hand, and wrings it.] We must drink to it! [He gets up, goes to the side-table, and pours some whiskey into a tumbler.] Charge your glass, Walter! [WALTER rises and goes to the side-table.] Ladies and gentlemen. I give you the bride and bridegroom! [He fills the glass from the syphon and passes it to WALTER, then proceeds to fill his own.] Betty, you must join us.
BETTY. [Quietly.] No.
HECTOR. You can't toast him in water, of course. Has she cleared away yet? I'll get you some Hock.
[He puts his glass down and moves to the door at back.
BETTY. Don't be so silly. I won't drink at all.
HECTOR. [Amazed.] Not to old Walter?
BETTY. [Steadily.] No.
BETTY. [Almost jeeringly.] Because—old Walter—has been my lover.
HECTOR. [Stopping, and staring at her.] What?
BETTY. [Calmly, looking full at him.] My lover ... these last two years.
HECTOR. [Staring stupidly at her.] He has been—
BETTY. [Impatiently, as she taps the floor with her foot.] Yes, yes. How often must I tell you? My lover—don't you know what that means? Why do you stare at me with those fat goggle-eyes of yours? He has been my lover—and now he has fallen in love with this girl and means to marry her. That's all.
HECTOR. [Turning towards WALTER, who hasn't stirred from the side-table.] What? You?
[WALTER remains motionless and silent.
HECTOR. [In muffled tones, scarcely able to speak.] You! It's true what this woman says?
BETTY. [Contemptuously.] This woman! Don't be so melodramatic! Have you forgotten my name?
HECTOR. [Turning fiercely to her, roaring madly.] Silence, Jezebel! [She shrinks back, in alarm, towards the fire.] Your name! Wait a bit, I'll tell you! [He takes a step towards her—she crouches in terror against the wall.] You shall hear what your name is! Just now I'm dealing with him. [He swings round to WALTER.] You there, you skunk and thief! You, you lying hound! I was your best friend. So you've taken my wife, have you? And now mean to go off and marry this girl. That's it? Oh, it's so simple! Here—come here—sit down. Sit down, I tell you. Here, in this chair. Shall I have to drag you to it? I want to keep my hands off you. Here. [WALTER has moved slowly towards him. HECTOR has banged down a chair behind the centre table, WALTER sits in it—HECTOR speaks over his shoulder to BETTY.] And you—fetch pen and ink and paper—
BETTY. [In abject panic.] Hector—
HECTOR. [Turning fiercely and scowling at her.] If you speak to me I'll brain you too. Just you go in there and fetch the things. D'you hear? Go. [She moves into the other room. HECTOR swings round to WALTER.] As for you, you're a scoundrel. A rogue, a thief, a liar, a traitor. Of the very worst kind, the blackest. Not an ordinary case of a husband and wife—I trusted you—you were my best friend. You spawn, you thing of the gutter, you foul-hearted, damnable slug!
[BETTY comes back, dragging her feet, carrying paper and envelopes and a stylograph—she puts them on the table.
HECTOR. Not that stylograph—that's mine—his dirty hands shan't touch it—I could never use it again. Fetch your pen—yours—you belong to him, don't you? Go in and fetch it. D'you hear?
[BETTY goes into the inner room again.
HECTOR. My wife. And you the man I've done more for than for any one else in the world. The man I cared for, you low dog. Used my house—came here because it was dull at the Club—and took my wife? I don't know why I don't kill you. I've the right. But I won't. You shall pay for it, my fine fellow—you are going to pay—now.
[BETTY brings a pen and an inkstand; she places them on the table; HECTOR seizes them and pushes them in front of WALTER. BETTY slinks to the other side of the room, and stands by the sofa.
HECTOR. [To WALTER.] Now you write. You hear? You write what I dictate. Word for word. What's the old brute's name?
HECTOR. Whose! Her father, the sealing-wax man, old Gillingham?
WALTER. [Staring.] Gillingham?
HECTOR. Gillingham. Yes. What is it?
WALTER. You want me to write to him?
HECTOR. [Nodding.] To him. Who else? A confession? I've had that. His name?
WALTER. [Dropping the pen and half rising.] I won't—
HECTOR. [Springing upon him in a mad fury, and forcing him back into the chair.] You won't, you dog! You dare say that—to me! By Heaven, you will! You'll lick the dust off this floor, if I tell you! You'll go on your hands and knees, and crawl! Sit down, you! Sit down and take up your filthy pen. So. [Thoroughly cowed, WALTER has taken up the pen again.] And now—his name. Don't make me ask you again, I tell you, don't. What is it?
HECTOR. Very well, Richard. So write that down. To Richard Gillingham. I have to-day proposed to your daughter, and she has accepted me. Got that? She has accepted me. But I can't marry her—can't marry her—because I have seduced the wife of my friend Hector Allen—
WALTER. [Appealingly, dropping his pen.] Hector!
HECTOR. [Frantically gripping WALTER by the throat, till he takes up his pen again.] The wife of my friend Hector Allen—write it—and plainly, you hound, plainly—so—and because I am taking the woman away with me to-night.
BETTY. [With a loud cry.] Hector!
HECTOR. [Over his shoulder, watching WALTER write.] Silence, over there, you! Hold your tongue! Go into your room and put on your things—we've done with you here! Take what you want—I don't care—you don't show your face here again. And you—[he taps his clenched hand against WALTER'S arm] write. What are you stopping for? How far have you got? [He peers over WALTER'S shoulder.] Because—I—am—taking— the—woman—away—with—me—to-night.
BETTY. [Beside herself, wringing her hands.] Hector, Hector—
HECTOR. [Savagely, as he makes a half-turn towards her.] You still there? Wait a bit. I'll come to you, when I've finished with him. If you haven't gone and put on your things, you shall go off without them. Into the street. You'll find other women there like you. [He turns back to WALTER.] Here, you, have you written? [He looks over WALTER'S shoulder.] Go on—I'm getting impatient. Go on, I tell you. I—am—taking—the—
[WALTER is slowly writing down the words, HECTOR standing over him; BETTY suddenly bursts into a peal of wild, uproarious laughter, and lets herself fall into a chair to the left of the card-table.
HECTOR. [Madly.] You!
[He leaves WALTER, and almost springs at her.
BETTY. [Brimming with merriment.] Oh, you old donkey! How we have pulled your leg!
HECTOR. [Staring at her, stopping dead short.] You—
BETTY. [Through her laughter, choking.] Hector, Hector! Conventional situations! The usual stodge! The lover and husband! You goose, you wonderful old goose!
[WALTER, with a mighty effort, has pulled himself together, and roars with laughter too. He jumps up. HECTOR is standing there blinking, paralysed.
WALTER. [Merrily, to BETTY.] Oh really, you shouldn't. You've given it away too soon!
BETTY. Too soon! He'd have strangled us. Did you ever see such a tiger?
WALTER. [Chuckling hugely.] He didn't give the lover much chance to stand up to him, did he?
BETTY. And wasn't he original! Dog, hound, villain, traitor!
WALTER. To say nothing of Jezebel! Though, between ourselves, I think he meant Messalina!
BETTY. And I was to go into the street. But he did let me fill my bag!
WALTER. I think the playwrights come out on top, I do indeed. [He goes to HECTOR, and stands to left of him.] Hector, old chap, here's the letter!
BETTY. [Going to the other side of HECTOR, and dropping a low curtsey.] And please, Mr. Husband, was it to be a big bag, or a small bag, and might I have taken the silver teapot?
[HECTOR has been standing there stupid, dazed, dumbfounded, too bewildered for his mind to act or thoughts to come to him; he suddenly bursts into a roar of Titanic, overwhelming laughter. He laughs, and laughs, staggers to the sofa, falls on it, rocks and roars till the tears roll down his cheeks. He sways from side to side, unable to control himself—his laughter is so colossal that the infection catches the others; theirs becomes genuine too.
BETTY. [With difficulty, trying to control herself.] The letter! Old Gillingham! "His name, scoundrel, his name!"
WALTER. [Gurgling.] With his hand at my throat! Sit there, villain, and write!
BETTY. "I'll deal with you presently! Wait till I've finished with him!"
WALTER. "Into the street!" At least, they do usually say "into the night!"
HECTOR. [Rubbing his eyes and panting for breath.] Oh, you pair of blackguards! Too bad—no, really too bad! It was! I fell in, I did! Oh, Lord, oh, Lord, what a nightmare! But it wasn't right, really it wasn't—no really! My Lord, how I floundered—head and shoulders— swallowed it all! Comes of reading that muck every day—never stopped to think! I didn't! Walter, old chap! [He holds out his hand.] Betty! My poor Betty! [He draws her towards him.] The things I said to you!
BETTY. [Carelessly eluding the caress.] At least admit that you're rather hard on the playwriting people!
HECTOR. [Getting up and shaking himself.] Oh, they be blowed! Well, you have had a game with me! [He shakes himself again.] Brrrrr! Oh, my Lord! What I went through!
BETTY. It was a lark! you should have seen yourself! Your eyes starting out of your head! You looked like a murderer!
HECTOR. By Jove, and I felt it! For two pins I'd have—
BETTY. And Mary Gillingham! That's the funniest part! That you could have thought he was engaged—to her!
[Involuntarily the smile dies away on WALTER'S face; he turns and stares at her; she goes on calmly.
BETTY. When she happens to be the one girl in this world he can't stand!
WALTER. [With a movement that he can't control.] Betty!
BETTY. [Turning smilingly to him.] No harm in my telling Hector—he scarcely knows her! [She swings round to HECTOR again.] Why, Walter simply loathes the poor girl! That's what made it so funny! [At the mere thought of it she bursts out laughing again, and goes on speaking through her laughter.] And I tell you—if you ever hear he's engaged to her—why, you can believe the rest of the story too!
HECTOR. [Laughing heartily as he pats WALTER on the shoulder.] Poor old Walter! And, d'you know, I was quite pleased at the thought of his getting married! I was! [He turns to him.] But it's better, old chap, for us—we'd have missed you—terribly! [With another pat on WALTER'S shoulder, he goes to the fire, and drops in the letter.] Mustn't leave that lying about! [He turns.] Well, by Jove, if any one had told me.... And drinking to him, and all!
BETTY. If you'll fetch me that glass of Hock now, I will drink to him, Hector. To Walter, the Bachelor!
HECTOR. [Beaming.] So we will! Good. I'll get it.
[He bustles into the dining-room.
BETTY. [Moving swiftly to WALTER.] Well, now's your time. One thing or the other.
WALTER. [Savagely.] You fiend!
BETTY. I'll go and see her to-morrow—see her constantly—
WALTER. Why are you doing this?
BETTY. You've ruined my life and his. At least, you shan't be happy.
WALTER. And you imagine I'll come back to you—that we'll go on, you and I?
BETTY. [Scornfully.] No—don't be afraid! You've shown yourself to me to-day. That's all done with—finished. His friend now—with the load off you—but never her husband. Never!
[HECTOR comes bustling back, with the bottle of Hock, and a wine-glass that he gives to BETTY—she holds it, and he fills it from the bottle.
HECTOR. Here you are, my girl—and now, where's my whiskey? [He trots round to the side table, finds his glass, and WALTER'S—hands one to WALTER.] Here, Wallie—yours must be the one that's begun—I didn't have time to touch mine! Here. [WALTER takes it.] And forgive me, old man, for thinking, even one minute—[He wrings him by the hand.] Here's to you, old friend. And Betty, to you! Oh, Lord, I just want this drink!
BETTY. [In cold, clear tones, as she holds up her glass.] To Walter, the Bachelor!
[She drains her glass; WALTER has his moment's hesitation; he drinks, and with tremendous effort succeeds in composing his face.
HECTOR. [Gaily.] To Walter, the Bachelor! [He drinks his glass to the dregs and puts it down.] And now—for a game.
WALTER. I think I—
HECTOR. [Coaxingly.] Sit down, laddie—just one rubber. It's quite early. Do. There's a good chap. [They all sit: HECTOR at back, BETTY to the left of him, WALTER to the right—he spreads out the cards—they draw for partners.] As we are—you and Betty—I've got the dummy. [He shuffles the cards—BETTY cuts—he begins to deal.] That's how I like it—one on each side of me. Also I like having dummy. Now, Betty, play up. Oh, Lord, how good it is, how good! A nightmare, I tell you—terrible! And really you must forgive me for being such an ass. But the way you played up, both of you! My little Betty—a Duse, that's what she is—a real Duse! [He gathers up his cards.] And the gods are kind to me—I've got a hand, I tell you! I call NO TRUMPS!
[He beams at them—they are placidly sorting their cards. He puts his hand down and proceeds to look at his dummy, as the curtain falls.
A MARRIAGE HAS BEEN ARRANGED....
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
MR. HARRISON CROCKSTEAD LADY ALINE DE VAUX
Produced at the Garrick Theatre on March 27, 1904
A MARRIAGE HAS BEEN ARRANGED....
SCENE The conservatory of No. 300 Grosvenor Square. Hour, close on midnight. A ball is in progress, and dreamy waltz music is heard in the distance.
LADY ALINE DE VAUX enters, leaning on the arm of MR. HARRISON CROCKSTEAD.
LADY ALINE is a tall, exquisitely-gowned girl, of the conventional and much-admired type of beauty. Put her in any drawing-room in the world, and she would at once be recognised as a highborn Englishwoman. She has in her, in embryo, all those excellent qualities that go to make a great lady: the icy stare, the haughty movement of the shoulder, the disdainful arch of the lip; she has also, but only an experienced observer would notice it, something of wistfulness, something that speaks of a sore and wounded heart—though it is sufficiently evident that this organ is kept under admirable control. A girl who has been placed in a position of life where artificiality rules, who has been taught to be artificial and has thoroughly learned her lesson; yet one who would unhesitatingly know the proper thing to do did a camel bolt with her in the desert, or an eastern potentate invite her to become his two hundred and fifty-seventh wife. In a word, a lady of complete self-possession and magnificent control. MR. CROCKSTEAD is a big, burly man of forty or so, and of the kind to whom the ordinary West End butler would consider himself perfectly justified in declaring that her ladyship was not at home. And yet his evening clothes sit well on him; and there is a certain air of command about the man that would have made the butler uncomfortable. That functionary would have excused himself by declaring that MR. CROCKSTEAD didn't look a gentleman. And perhaps he doesn't. His walk is rather a slouch; he has a way of keeping his hands in his pockets, and of jerking out his sentences; a way, above all, of seeming perfectly indifferent to the comfort of the people he happens to be addressing. The impression he gives is one of power, not of refinement; and the massive face, with its heavy lines, and eyes that are usually veiled, seems to give no clue whatever to the character of the man within.
The couple break apart when they enter the room; LADY ALINE is the least bit nervous, though she shows no trace of it; MR. CROCKSTEAD absolutely imperturbable and undisturbed.
CROCKSTEAD. [Looking around.] Ah—this is the place—very quiet, retired, romantic—et cetera. Music in the distance—all very appropriate and sentimental.
[She leaves him, and sits, quietly fanning herself; he stands, looking at her.] You seem perfectly calm, Lady Aline?
ALINE. [Sitting.] Conservatories are not unusual appendages to a ball-room, Mr. Crockstead; nor is this conservatory unlike other conservatories.
CROCKSTEAD [Turning to her.] I wonder why women are always so evasive?
ALINE. With your permission we will not discuss the sex. You and I are too old to be cynical, and too young to be appreciative. And besides, it is a rule of mine, whenever I sit out a dance, that my partner shall avoid the subjects of women—and golf.
CROCKSTEAD. You limit the area of conversation. But then, in this particular instance, I take it, we have not come here to talk?
ALINE. [Coldly.] I beg your pardon!
CROCKSTEAD. [Sitting beside her.] Lady Aline, they are dancing a cotillon in there, so we have half an hour before us. We shall not be disturbed, for the Duchess, your aunt, has considerately stationed her aged companion in the corridor, with instructions to ward off intruders.
ALINE. [Very surprised.] Mr. Crockstead!
CROCKSTEAD. [Looking hard at her.] Didn't you know? [ALINE turns aside, embarrassed.] That's right—of course you did. Don't you know why I have brought you here? That's right; of course you do. The Duchess, your aunt, and the Marchioness, your mother—observe how fondly my tongue trips out the titles—smiled sweetly on us as we left the ball-room. There will be a notice in the Morning Post to-morrow: "A Marriage Has Been Arranged Between—"
ALINE. [Bewildered and offended.] Mr. Crockstead! This—this is—
CROCKSTEAD. [Always in the same quiet tone.] Because I have not yet proposed, you mean? Of course I intend to, Lady Aline. Only as I know that you will accept me—
ALINE. [In icy tones, as she rises.] Let us go back to the ball-room.
CROCKSTEAD. [Quite undisturbed.] Oh, please! That won't help us, you know. Do sit down. I assure you I have never proposed before, so that naturally I am a trifle nervous. Of course I know that we are only supers really, without much of a speaking part; but the spirit moves me to gag, in the absence of the stage-manager, who is, let us say, the Duchess—
ALINE. I have heard of the New Humour, Mr. Crockstead, though I confess I have never understood it. This may be an exquisite example—
CROCKSTEAD. By no means. I am merely trying to do the right thing, though perhaps not the conventional one. Before making you the formal offer of my hand and fortune, which amounts to a little over three millions—
ALINE. [Fanning herself.] How people exaggerate! Between six and seven, I heard.
CROCKSTEAD. Only three at present, but we must be patient. Before throwing myself at your feet, metaphorically, I am anxious that you should know something of the man whom you are about to marry.
ALINE. That is really most considerate!
CROCKSTEAD. I have the advantage of you, you see, inasmuch as you have many dear friends, who have told me all about you.
ALINE. [With growing exasperation, but keeping very cool.] Indeed?
CROCKSTEAD. I am aware, for instance, that this is your ninth season—
ALINE. [Snapping her fan.] You are remarkably well-informed.
CROCKSTEAD. I have been told that again to-night, three times, by charming young women who vowed that they loved you. Now, as I have no dearest friends, it is unlikely that you will have heard anything equally definite concerning myself. I propose to enlighten you.
ALINE. [Satirically.] The story of your life—how thrilling!
CROCKSTEAD. I trust you may find it so. [He sits, and pauses for a moment, then begins, very quietly.] Lady Aline, I am a self-made man, as the foolish phrase has it—a man whose early years were spent in savage and desolate places, where the devil had much to say; a man in whom whatever there once had been of natural kindness was very soon kicked out. I was poor, and lonely, for thirty-two years: I have been rich, and lonely, for ten. My millions have been made honestly enough; but poverty and wretchedness had left their mark on me, and you will find very few men with a good word to say for Harrison Crockstead. I have no polish, or culture, or tastes. Art wearies me, literature sends me to sleep—
ALINE. When you come to the chapter of your personal deficiencies, Mr. Crockstead, please remember that they are sufficiently evident for me to have already observed them.
CROCKSTEAD. [Without a trace of annoyance.] That is true. I will pass, then, to more intimate matters. In a little township in Australia—a horrible place where there was gold—I met a woman whom I loved. She was what is technically known as a bad woman. She ran away with another man. I tracked them to Texas, and in a mining camp there I shot the man. I wanted to take the woman back, but she refused. That has been my solitary love affair; and I shall never love any woman again as I loved her. I think that is all that I have to tell you. And now—will you marry me, Lady Aline?
ALINE. [Very steadily, facing him.] Not if you were the last man in this world, Mr. Crockstead.
CROCKSTEAD. [With a pleasant smile.] At least that is emphatic.
ALINE. See, I will give you confidence for confidence. This is, as you suggest, my ninth season. Living in an absurd milieu where marriage with a wealthy man is regarded as the one aim in life, I have, during the past few weeks, done all that lay in my power to wring a proposal from you.
CROCKSTEAD. I appreciate your sincerity.
ALINE. Perhaps the knowledge that other women were doing the same lent a little zest to the pursuit, which otherwise would have been very dreary; for I confess that your personality did not—especially appeal to me.
CROCKSTEAD. [Cheerfully.] Thank you very much.
ALINE. Not at all. Indeed, this room being the Palace of Truth, I will admit that it was only by thinking hard of your three millions that I have been able to conceal the weariness I have felt in your society. And now will you marry me, Mr. Crockstead?
CROCKSTEAD. [Serenely.] I fancy that's what we're here for, isn't it?
ALINE. [Stamping her foot.] I have, of course, been debarred from the disreputable amours on which you linger so fondly; but I loved a soldier cousin of mine, and would have run away with him had my mother not packed me off in time. He went to India, and I stayed here; but he is the only man I have loved or ever shall love. Further, let me tell you I am twenty-eight; I have always been poor—I hate poverty, and it has soured me no less than you. Dress is the thing in life I care for most, vulgarity my chief abomination. And to be frank, I consider you the most vulgar person I have ever met. Will you still marry me, Mr. Crockstead?
CROCKSTEAD. [With undiminished cheerfulness.] Why not?
ALINE. This is an outrage. Am I a horse, do you think, or a ballet-dancer? Do you imagine I will sell myself to you for your three millions?
CROCKSTEAD. Logic, my dear Lady Aline, is evidently not one of your more special possessions. For, had it not been for my—somewhat eccentric preliminaries—you would have accepted me, would you not?
ALINE. [Embarrassed.] I—I—
CROCKSTEAD. If I had said to you, timidly: "Lady Aline, I love you: I am a simple, unsophisticated person; will you marry me?" You would have answered, "Yes, Harrison, I will."
ALINE. It is a mercy to have escaped marrying a man with such a Christian name as Harrison.
CROCKSTEAD. It has been in the family for generations, you know; but it is a strange thing that I am always called Harrison, and that no one ever adopts the diminutive.
ALINE. That does not surprise me: we have no pet name for the East wind.
CROCKSTEAD. The possession of millions, you see, Lady Aline, puts you into eternal quarantine. It is a kind of yellow fever, with the difference that people are perpetually anxious to catch your complaint. But we digress. To return to the question of our marriage—
ALINE. I beg your pardon.
CROCKSTEAD. I presume that it is—arranged?
ALINE. [Haughtily.] Mr. Crockstead, let me remind you that frankness has its limits: exceeding these, it is apt to degenerate into impertinence. Be good enough to conduct me to the ball-room.
[She moves to the door.
CROCKSTEAD. You have five sisters, I believe, Lady Aline? [ALINE stops short.] All younger than yourself, all marriageable, and all unmarried?
[ALINE hangs her head and is silent.
CROCKSTEAD. Your father—
ALINE. [Fiercely.] Not a word of my father!
CROCKSTEAD. Your father is a gentleman. The breed is rare, and very fine when you get it. But he is exceedingly poor. People marry for money nowadays; and your mother will be very unhappy if this marriage of ours falls through.
ALINE. [Moving a step towards him.] Is it to oblige my mother, then, that you desire to marry me?
CROCKSTEAD. Well, no. But you see I must marry some one, in mere self-defence; and honestly, I think you will do at least as well as any one else. [ALINE bursts out laughing.] That strikes you as funny?
ALINE. If you had the least grain of chivalrous feeling, you would realise that the man who could speak to a woman as you have spoken to me—
ALINE. I leave you to finish the sentence.
CROCKSTEAD. Thank you. I will finish it my own way. I will say that when a woman deliberately tries to wring an offer of marriage from a man whom she does not love, she deserves to be spoken to as I have spoken to you, Lady Aline.
ALINE. [Scornfully.] Love! What has love to do with marriage?
CROCKSTEAD. That remark rings hollow. You have been good enough to tell me of your cousin, whom you did love—
CROCKSTEAD. And with whom you would have eloped, had your mother not prevented you.
ALINE. I most certainly should.
CROCKSTEAD. So you see that at one period of your life you thought differently.—You were very fond of him?
ALINE. I have told you.
CROCKSTEAD. [Meditatively.] If I had been he, mother or no mother, money or no money, I would have carried you off. I fancy it must be pleasant to be loved by you, Lady Aline.
ALINE. [Dropping a mock curtsey, as she sits on the sofa.] You do me too much honour.
CROCKSTEAD. [Still thoughtful, moving about the room.] Next to being king, it is good to be maker of kings. Where is this cousin now?
ALINE. In America. But might I suggest that we have exhausted the subject?
CROCKSTEAD. Do you remember your "Arabian Nights," Lady Aline?
CROCKSTEAD. You have at least not forgotten that sublime Caliph, Haroun Al-Raschid?
ALINE. Oh, no—but why?
CROCKSTEAD. We millionaires are the Caliphs to-day; and we command more faithful than ever bowed to them. And, like that old scoundrel Haroun, we may at times permit ourselves a respectable impulse. What is your cousin's address?
ALINE. Again I ask—why?
CROCKSTEAD. I will put him in a position to marry you.
ALINE. [In extreme surprise.] What! [She rises.
CROCKSTEAD. Oh, don't be alarmed, I'll manage it pleasantly. I'll give him tips, shares, speculate for him, make him a director of one or two of my companies. He shall have an income of four thousand a year. You can live on that.
ALINE. You are not serious?
CROCKSTEAD. Oh yes; and though men may not like me, they always trust my word. You may.
ALINE. And why will you do this thing?
CROCKSTEAD. Call it caprice—call it a mere vulgar desire to let my magnificence dazzle you—call it the less vulgar desire to know that my money has made you happy with the man you love.
ALINE. That is generous.
CROCKSTEAD. I remember an old poem I learnt at school—which told how Frederick the Great coveted a mill that adjoined a favourite estate of his; but the miller refused to sell. Frederick could have turned him out, of course—there was not very much public opinion in those days—but he respected the miller's firmness, and left him in solid possession. And mark that, at that very same time, he annexed—in other words stole—the province of Silesia.
CROCKSTEAD. [Moving to the fireplace.]
"Ce sont la jeux de Princes: Ils respectent un meunier, Ils volent une province."
[The music stops.
ALINE. You speak French?
CROCKSTEAD. I am fond of it. It is the true and native language of insincerity.
ALINE. And yet you seem sincere.
CROCKSTEAD. I am permitting myself that luxury to-night. I am uncorking, let us say, the one bottle of '47 port left in my cellar.
ALINE. You are not quite fair to yourself, perhaps.
CROCKSTEAD. Do not let this action of mine cause you too suddenly to alter your opinion. The verdict you pronounced before was, on the whole, just.
ALINE. What verdict?
CROCKSTEAD. I was the most unpleasant person you ever had met.
ALINE. That was an exaggeration.
CROCKSTEAD. The most repulsive—
ALINE. [Quickly.] I did not say that.
CROCKSTEAD. And who prided himself on his repulsiveness. Very true, in the main, and yet consider! My wealth dates back ten years; till then I had known hunger, and every kind of sorrow and despair. I had stretched out longing arms to the world, but not a heart opened to me. And suddenly, when the taste of men's cruelty was bitter in my mouth, capricious fortune snatched me from abject poverty and gave me delirious wealth. I was ploughing a barren field, and flung up a nugget. From that moment gold dogged my footsteps. I enriched the few friends I had—they turned howlingly from me because I did not give them more. I showered money on whoever sought it of me—they cursed me because it was mine to give. In my poverty there had been the bond of common sorrow between me and my fellows: in my wealth I stand alone, a modern Ishmael, with every man's hand against me.
ALINE. [Gently.] Why do you tell me this?
CROCKSTEAD. Because I am no longer asking you to marry me. Because you are the first person in all these years who has been truthful and frank with me. And because, perhaps, in the happiness that will, I trust, be yours, I want you to think kindly of me. [She puts out her hand, he takes it.] And now, shall we return to the ball-room? The music has stopped; they must be going to supper.
ALINE. What shall I say to the Marchioness, my mother, and the Duchess, my aunt?
CROCKSTEAD. You will acquaint those noble ladies with the fact of your having refused me.
[They have both risen, and move up the room together.
ALINE. I shall be a nine days' wonder. And how do you propose to carry out your little scheme?
CROCKSTEAD. I will take Saturday's boat—you will give me a line to your cousin. I had better state the case plainly to him, perhaps?
ALINE. That demands consideration.
CROCKSTEAD. And I will tell you what you shall do for me in return. Find me a wife!
CROCKSTEAD. You. I beg it on my knees. I give you carte blanche. I undertake to propose, with my eyes shut, to the woman you shall select.
ALINE. And will you treat her to the—little preliminaries—with which you have favoured me?
CROCKSTEAD. No. I said those things to you because I liked you.
ALINE. And you don't intend to like the other one?
CROCKSTEAD. I will marry her, I can trust you to find me a loyal and intelligent woman.
ALINE. In Society?
CROCKSTEAD. For preference. She will be better versed in spending money than a governess, or country parson's daughter.
ALINE. But why this voracity for marriage?
CROCKSTEAD. Lady Aline, I am hunted, pestered, worried, persecuted. I have settled two breach of promise actions already, though Heaven knows I did no more than remark it was a fine day, or enquire after the lady's health. If you do not help me, some energetic woman will capture me—I feel it—and bully me for the rest of my days. I raise a despairing cry to you—Find me a wife!
ALINE. Do you desire the lady to have any—special qualifications?
CROCKSTEAD. No—the home-grown article will do. One thing, though—I should like her to be—merciful.
ALINE. I don't understand.
CROCKSTEAD. I have a vague desire to do something with my money: my wife might help me. I should like her to have pity.
CROCKSTEAD. In the midst of her wealth I should wish her to be sorry for those who are poor.
ALINE. Yes. And, as regards the rest—
CROCKSTEAD. The rest I leave to you, with absolute confidence. You will help me?
ALINE. I will try. My choice is to be final?
ALINE. I have an intimate friend—I wonder whether she would do?
CROCKSTEAD. Tell me about her.
ALINE. She and I made our debut the same season. Like myself she has hitherto been her mother's despair.
CROCKSTEAD. Because she has not yet—
ALINE. Married—yes. Oh, if men knew how hard the lot is of the portionless girl, who has to sit, and smile, and wait, with a very desolate heart—they would think less unkindly of her, perhaps—[She smiles.] But I am digressing, too.
CROCKSTEAD. Tell me more of your friend.
ALINE. She is outwardly hard, and a trifle bitter, but I fancy sunshine would thaw her. There has not been much happiness in her life.
CROCKSTEAD. Would she marry a man she did not love?
ALINE. If she did you would not respect her?
CROCKSTEAD. I don't say that. She will be your choice; and therefore deserving of confidence. Is she handsome?
CROCKSTEAD. [With a quick glance at her.] That's a pity. But we can't have everything.
ALINE. No. There is one episode in her life that I feel she would like you to know—
CROCKSTEAD. If you are not betraying a confidence—
ALINE. [Looking down.] No. She loved a man, years ago, very dearly. They were too poor to marry, but they vowed to wait. Within six months she learned that he was engaged.
ALINE. To a fat and wealthy widow—
CROCKSTEAD. The old story.
ALINE. Who was touring through India, and had been made love to by every unmarried officer in the regiment. She chose him.
CROCKSTEAD. India? [He moves towards her.]
CROCKSTEAD. I have an idea that I shall like your friend. [He takes her hand in his.]
ALINE. I shall be careful to tell her all that you said to me—at the beginning—
CROCKSTEAD. It is quite possible that my remarks may not apply after all.
ALINE. But I believe myself from what I know of you both that—if she marries you—it will not be—altogether—for your money.
CROCKSTEAD. Listen—they're playing "God Save the King." Will you be my wife, Aline?
[He takes her in his arms and kisses her.
THE MAN ON THE KERB
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
JOSEPH MATTHEWS MARY (HIS WIFE)
SCENE—Their home in the West End
Produced at the Aldwych Theatre on March 24, 1908
THE MAN ON THE KERB
SCENE: An underground room, bare of any furniture except two or three broken chairs, a tattered mattress on the stone floor and an old trunk. On a packing-chest are a few pots and pans and a kettle. A few sacks are spread over the floor, close to the empty grate; the walls are discoloured, with plentiful signs of damp oozing through. Close to the door, at back, is a window, looking on to the area; two of the panes are broken and stuffed with paper.
On the mattress a child is sleeping, covered with a tattered old mantle; MARY is bending over her, crooning a song. The woman is still quite young, and must have been very pretty; but her cheeks are hollow and there are great circles round her eyes; her face is very pale and bloodless. Her dress is painfully worn and shabby, but displays pathetic attempts at neatness. The only light in the room comes from the street lamp on the pavement above.
JOE comes down the area steps, and enters. His clothes are of the familiar colourless, shapeless kind one sees at street corners; he would be a pleasant-looking young fellow enough were it not that his face is abnormally lined, and pinched, and weather-beaten. He shambles in, with the intense weariness of a man who has for hours been forcing benumbed limbs to move; he shakes himself, on the threshold, dog-fashion, to get rid of the rain. MARY first makes sure that the child is asleep, then rises eagerly and goes to him. Her face falls as she notes his air of dejection.
MARY. [Wistfully.] Nothing, Joe?
JOE. Nothing. Not a farthing. Nothing.
[MARY turns away and checks a moan.
JOE. Nothing at all. Same as yesterday—worse than yesterday—I did bring home a few coppers—And you?
MARY. A lady gave Minnie some food—
JOE. [Heartily.] Bless her for that!
MARY. Took her into the pastrycook's, Joe—
JOE. And the kiddie had a tuck-out? Thank God! And you?
MARY. Minnie managed to hide a great big bun for me.
JOE. The lady didn't give you anything?
MARY. Only a lecture, Joe, for bringing the child out on so bitter a day.
JOE. [With a sour laugh, as he sits on a chair.] Ho, ho! Always so ready with their lectures, aren't they? "Shouldn't beg, my man! Never give to beggars in the street!"—Look at me, I said to one of them. Feel my arm. Tap my chest. I tell you I'm starving, and they're starving at home.—"Never give to beggars in the street."
MARY. [Laying a hand on his arm.] Oh, Joe, you're wet!
JOE. It's been raining hard the last three hours—pouring. My stars, it's cold. Couldn't we raise a bit of fire, Mary?
MARY. With what, Joe?
JOE. [After a look round, suddenly getting up, seizing a ricketty chair by the wall, breaking off the legs.] With this! Wonderful fine furniture they give you on the Hire System—so solid and substantial—as advertised. [He breaks the flimsy thing up, as he speaks.] And to think we paid for this muck, in the days we were human beings—paid about three times its value! And to think of the poor devils, poor devils like us, who sweated their life-blood out to make it—and of the blood-sucking devils who sold it and got fat on it—and now back it goes to the devil it came from, and we can at least get warm for a minute. [He crams the wood into the grate.] Got any paper, Mary?
MARY. [Taking an old newspaper from the trunk.] Here, Joe.
JOE. That will help to build up a fire. [He glances at it, then lays it carefully underneath the wood. MARY gets lamp from table.] The Daily Something or other—that tells the world what a happy people we are—how proud of belonging to an Empire on which the sun never sets. And I'd sell Gibraltar to-night for a sausage with mashed potatoes; and let Russia take India if some one would give me a clerkship at a pound a week.—There, in you go! A match, Mary?
MARY. [Standing above JOE, handing him one.] Ok Joe, be careful—we've only two left!
JOE. I'll be careful. Wait, though—I'll see whether there's a bit of tobacco still in my pipe. [He fishes the pipe out of his pocket.] A policeman who warned me away from the kerb gave me some tobacco. "Mustn't beg," he said. "Got a pipe? Well, here's some tobacco." I believe he'd have given me money. But it was the first kind word I had heard all day, and it choked me.—There's just a bit left at the bottom. [He bustles.] Now, first the fire. [He puts the match to the paper—it kindles.] And then my pipe. [The fire burns up; he throws himself in front of it.] Boo-o-oh, I'm sizzling.... I got so wet that I felt the water running into my lungs—my feet didn't seem to belong to me—and as for my head and nose! [Yawns.] Well, smoke's good—by the powers, I'm getting warm—come closer to it, Mary. It's a little after midnight now—and I left home, this fine, luxurious British home, just as soon as it was light. And I've tramped the streets all day. Net result, a policeman gave me a pipeful of tobacco, I lunched off a bit of bread that I saw floating down the gutter—and I dined off the kitchen smell of the Cafe Royal. That's my day.
MARY. [Stroking his hand.] Poor boy, poor boy!
JOE. I stood for an hour in Leicester Square when the theatres emptied, thinking I might earn a copper, calling a cab, or something. There they were, all streaming out, happy and clean and warm—broughams and motor-cars—supper at the Savoy and the Carlton—and a hundred or two of us others in the gutter, hungry—looking at them. They went off to their supper—it was pouring, and I got soaked—and there I stood, dodging the policemen, dodging the horses' heads and the motors—and it was always—get away, you loafer, get away—get away—get away—
MARY. We've done nothing to deserve it, Joe—
JOE. [With sudden fury.] Deserve it! What have I ever done wrong! Wasn't my fault the firm went bankrupt and I couldn't get another job. I've a first-rate character—I'm respectable—what's the use? I want to work—they won't let me!
MARY. That illness of mine ate up all our savings. O Joe, I wish I had died!
JOE. And left me alone? That's not kind of you, Mary. How about Mrs. Willis? Is she worrying about the rent?
MARY. Well, she'd like to have it, of course—they're so dreadfully poor themselves—but she says she won't turn us out. And I'm going to-morrow to her daughter's upstairs—she makes matchboxes, you know—and I don't see why I shouldn't try—I could earn nearly a shilling a day.
JOE. A shilling a day! Princely! [His pipe goes out. He takes a last puff at it, squints into it to make sure all the tobacco is gone, then lays it down with a sigh.] I reckon I'll try making 'em too. I went to the Vestry again, this morning, to see whether they'd take me as sweeper—but they've thirty names down, ahead of me. I've tried chopping wood, but I can't—I begin to cough the third stroke—there's something wrong with me inside, somewhere. I've tried every Institution on God's earth—and there are others before me, and there is no vacancy, and I mustn't beg, and I mustn't worry the gentlemen. A shilling a day—can one earn as much as that! Why, Mary, that will be fourteen shillings a week—an income! We'll do it!
MARY. It's not quite a shilling, Joe—you have to find your own paste and odds and ends. And of course it takes a few weeks to learn, before you begin to make any money.
JOE. [Crestfallen.] Does it though? And what are we going to do, those few weeks? I thought there was a catch in it, somewhere. [He gets up and stretches himself.] Well, here's a free-born Englishman, able to conduct correspondence in three languages, bookkeeping by double entry, twelve years' experience—and all he's allowed to do is to starve. [He stretches himself again.]
But in spite of all temptations To belong to other nations—
[With sudden passion.] God! I wish I were a Zulu!
MARY. [Edging to him.] Joe—
JOE. [Turning.] Well?
MARY. Joe, Joe, we've tried very hard, haven't we?
JOE. Tried! Is there a job in this world we'd refuse? Is there anything we'd turn up our nose at? Is there any chance we've neglected?
MARY. [Stealing nervously to him and laying a hand on his arm.] Joe—
JOE. [Raising his head and looking at her.] Yes—what is it? [She stands timidly with downcast eyes.] Well? Out with it, Mary!
MARY. [Suddenly.] It's this, Joe.
[She goes feverishly to the mattress, and from underneath it she pulls out a big, fat purse which she hands him.
JOE. [Staring.] A purse!
MARY. [Nodding.] Yes.
MARY. Found it.
JOE. [Looking at her.] Found?
MARY. [Awkwardly.] In a way I did—yes.
MARY. It came on to rain, Joe—and I went into a Tube Station—and was standing by a bookstall, showing Minnie the illustrated papers—and an old lady bought one—and she took out her purse—this purse—and paid for it—and laid the purse on the board while she fumbled to pick up her skirts—and then some one spoke to her—a friend, I suppose—and—there were lots of people standing about—I don't know how it was—I was out in the street, with Minnie—
JOE. You had the purse?
JOE. No one followed you?
MARY. No one. I couldn't run, as I had to carry Minnie.
JOE. What made you do it?
MARY. I don't know—something in me did it—She put the purse down just by the side of my hand—my fingers clutched it before I knew—and I was out in the street.
JOE. How much is there in it?
MARY. I haven't looked, Joe.
JOE. [Wondering.] You haven't looked?
MARY. No; I didn't dare.
JOE. [Sorrowfully.] I didn't think we'd come to this, Mary.
MARY. [Desperately.] We've got to do something. Before we can earn any money at making matchboxes we'll have to spend some weeks learning. And you've not had a decent meal for a month—nor have I. If there's money inside this purse you can get some clothes—and for me too—I need them! It's not as though the old lady would miss it—she's rich enough—her cloak was real sable—and no one can find us out—they can't tell one piece of money from the other. It's heavy, Joe—I think there's a lot inside.
JOE. [Weighing it mechanically.] Yes—it's heavy—
MARY. [Eagerly.] Open it, Joe.
JOE. [Turning to her again.] Why didn't you?
MARY. I just thought I'd wait—I'd an idea something might have happened; that some one might have stopped you in the street, some one with a heart—and that he'd have come in with you to-night—and seen us—seen Minnie—and said—"Well, here's money—I'll put you on your legs again"—And then we'd have given the purse back, Joe.
JOE. [As he still mechanically balances it in his hand.] Yes.
MARY. Can't go on like this, can we? You'll cough all night again, as you did yesterday—and the stuff they gave you at the Dispensary's no good. If you had clothes, you might get some sort of a job perhaps—you know you had to give up trying because you were so shabby.
JOE. They laugh at me.
MARY. [With a glance at herself.] And I'm really ashamed to walk through the streets—
JOE. I know—though I'm getting used to it. Besides, there's the kiddie. Let's have a look at her.
MARY. Be careful you don't wake her, Joe!
JOE. There's a fire.
MARY. She'll be hungry.
JOE. You said that she had some food?
MARY. That was at three o'clock. And little things aren't like us—they want their regular meals. Night after night she has been hungry, and I've had nothing to give her. That's why I took the purse.
JOE. [Still holding it mechanically and staring at it.] Yes. And, after all, why not?
MARY. We can get the poor little thing some warm clothes, some good food—
JOE. [Under his breath.] A thief's daughter.
[Covers his face with his hands.
JOE. Not nice, is it? Can't be helped, of course. And who cares? For three months this game has gone on—we getting shabbier, wretcheder, hungrier—no one bothers—all they say is "keep off the pavement." Let's see what's in the purse.
MARY. [Eagerly.] Yes, yes!
JOE. [Lifting his head as he is on the point of opening the purse.] That's the policeman passing.
MARY. [Impatiently.] Never mind that—
JOE. [Turning to the purse again.] First time in my life I've been afraid when I heard the policeman.
[He has his finger on the catch of the purse when he pauses for a moment—then acting on a sudden impulse, makes a dart for the door, opens it, and is out, and up the area steps.
MARY. [With a despairing cry.] Joe!
[She flings herself on the mattress, and sobs silently, so as not to awaken, the child. JOE returns, hanging his head, dragging one foot before the other.
MARY. [Still sobbing, but trying to control herself.] Why did you do that?
JOE. [Humbly.] I don't know—
MARY. You gave it to the policeman?
MARY. What did you tell him?
JOE. That you had found it.
JOE. In a Tube Station. Picked it up because we were starving. That we hadn't opened it. And that we lived here, in this cellar.
MARY. [With a little shake.] I expect he'll keep it himself!
JOE. [Miserably.] Perhaps.
[There is silence for a moment; she has ceased to cry; suddenly she raises herself violently on her elbow.
MARY. You fool! You fool!
JOE. [Pleading.] Mary!
MARY. With your stupid ideas of honesty! What have they done for you, or me?
JOE. [Dropping his head again.] It's the kiddie, you know—her being a thief's daughter—
MARY. Is that worse than being the daughter of a pair of miserable beggars?
JOE. [Under his breath.] I suppose it is, somehow—
MARY. You'd rather she went hungry?
JOE. [Despairingly.] I don't know how it was—hearing his tramp up there—
MARY. You were afraid?
JOE. I don't want you taken to prison.
MARY. [With a wail.] I'll be taken to the graveyard soon, in a pauper's coffin!
JOE. [Starts suddenly.] Suppose we did that?
MARY. [Staring.] The workhouse?
JOE. Why not, after all? That's what it will come to, sooner or later.
MARY. They'd separate us.
JOE. At least you and the kiddie'd have food.
MARY. They'd separate us. And I love you, Joe. My poor, poor Joe! I love you.
[She nestles up to him and takes his hand.
JOE. [Holding her hand in his, and bending over her.] You forgive me for returning the purse?
MARY. [Dropping her head on his shoulder.] Forgive you! You were right. It was the cold and the hunger maddened me. You were right!
JOE. [Springing to his feet, with sudden passion. MARY staggers back.] I wasn't right—I was a coward, a criminal—a vile and wicked fool.
MARY. [Startled.] Joe!
JOE. I had money there—money in my hand—money that you need so badly, you, the woman I love with all my ragged soul—money that would have put food into the body of my little girl—money that was mine, that belonged to me—and I've given it back, because of my rotten honesty! What right have I to be honest? They've made a dog of me—what business had I to remember I was a man?
MARY. [Following him and laying a hand on his arm.] Hush, Joe—you'll wake Minnie.
JOE. [Turning and staring haggardly at her.] I could have got clothes—a job, perhaps—we might have left this cellar. We could have gone out to-morrow and bought things—gone into shops—we might have had food, coal—
MARY. Don't, Joe—what's the use? And who knows—it may prove a blessing to us. You told the policeman where we lived?
JOE. A blessing! I'll get up to-morrow, after having coughed out my lungs all night—and I'll go into the streets and walk there from left to right and from right to left, standing at this corner and at that, peering into men's faces, watching people go to their shops and their offices, people who are warm and comfortable—and so it will go on, till the end comes.
MARY. [Standing very close to him, almost in a whisper.] Why not now, Joe?
JOE. [With a startled glance at her.] The end?
MARY. There's no room for us in this world—
JOE. If I'd taken that money—
MARY. It's too late for that now. And I'm glad you didn't—yes, I am—I'm glad. We'll go before God clean-handed. And we'll say to Him we didn't steal, or do anything He didn't want us too. And we'll tell Him we've died because people wouldn't allow us to live.
JOE. [With a shudder.] No. Not that—we'll wait, Mary. Don't speak of that.
MARY. [Wistfully.] You've thought of it too?
JOE. Thought of it! Don't, Mary, don't! It's bad enough, in the night, when I lie there and think of to-morrow! Something will happen—it must.
MARY. What? We haven't a friend in the world.
JOE. I may meet some one I used to know.
MARY. You've met them before—they always refuse—
JOE. [Passionately.] I've done nothing wrong—I haven't drunk or gambled—I can't help being only a clerk, and unable to do heavy work! I can't help my lungs being weak! I've a wife and a child, like other people—and all we ask is to be allowed to live!
MARY. [Pleading.] Let's give it up, Joe. Go away together, you'd sleep without coughing. Sleep, that's all. And God will be kinder than men.
JOE. [Groaning.] Don't, Mary—don't!
MARY. Joe, I can't stand it any longer—I can't. Not only myself—but Minnie—Joe, it's too much for me! I can't stand Minnie crying, and asking me for her breakfast, as she will in the morning. Joe, dear Joe, let there be no morning!
JOE. [Completely overcome.] Oh, Mary, Mary!
MARY. It's not your fault, dear—you've done what you could. Not your fault they won't let you work—you've tried hard enough. And no woman ever had a better husband than you've been to me. I love you, dear Joe. And let's do it—let's make an end. And take Minnie with us.
JOE. [Springing up.] Mary, I'll steal something to-morrow.
MARY. And they'd send you to prison. Besides, then God would be angry. Now we can go to Him and need not be ashamed. Let us, dear Joe—oh, do let us! I'm so tired!
MARY. [Sorrowfully.] You won't?
JOE. [Doggedly.] No. We'll go to the workhouse.
MARY. You've seen them in there, haven't you?
MARY. You've seen them standing at the window, staring at the world? And they'd take you away from me.
JOE. That's better than—
MARY. [Firmly.] I won't do it, Joe. I've been a good wife to you—I've been a good mother: and I love you, though I'm ragged and have pawned all my clothes; and I'll strangle myself rather than go to the workhouse and be shut away from you.
JOE. [With a loud cry.] No! I'll make them give me something; and if I have to kill, it shan't be my wife and child! To-morrow I'll come home with food and money—to-morrow—
[There is a sudden wail from the child; JOE stops and stares at her; MARY goes quickly to the mattress and soothes the little girl.
MARY. Hush, dear, hush—no it's not morning yet, not time for breakfast. Go to sleep again, dear. Yes, daddy's come back, and things are going to be all right now—No, dear, you can't be hungry, really—remember those beautiful cakes. Go to sleep, Minnie, dear. You're cold? [She takes off her ragged shawl and wraps it round the child.] There, dear, you won't be cold now. Go to sleep, Minnie—
[The child's wail dies away, as MARY soothes her back to sleep.
JOE. [Staggering forward with a sudden cry.] God, O God, give us bread!
THE CURTAIN SLOWLY FALLS
THE OPEN DOOR
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
SIR GEOFFREY TRANSOM LADY TORMINSTER
THE OPEN DOOR
SCENE: The drawing-room of LORD TORMINSTER'S cottage by the sea. It is 2 a.m. of a fine July night; the French windows are open on to the lawn. The room is dark; in an armchair, SIR GEOFFREY TRANSOM, a man of forty, with a frank, pleasant face, is seated, deep in thought. Suddenly the door opens, and LADY TORMINSTER appears and switches on the light. She starts at seeing SIR GEOFFREY.
LADY TORMINSTER. Oh!
SIR GEOFFREY. [Rising.] Hullo! Don't be afraid—it's only I!
LADY TORMINSTER. What a start you gave me Why haven't you gone to bed?
SIR GEOFFREY. I'm tired of going to bed. One always has to get up again, and it becomes monotonous. Why haven't you gone to sleep?
LADY TORMINSTER. I don't know—it's too hot, or something. I've come for a book.
SIR GEOFFREY. Let me choose one for you.
[He goes to the table.
LADY TORMINSTER. Why were you sitting in the dark?
SIR GEOFFREY. Because the light annoyed me. What sort of book will you have? A red one or a green one?
LADY TORMINSTER. Is there a virtue in the colour of the binding?
SIR GEOFFREY. Why not? They're all the same inside. There are three hundred ways, they say, of cooking a potato—there are as many of dressing up a lie, and calling it a novel. But it's always the same old lie. Here take this. [He hands her a book.] Popular Astronomy. That will send you to sleep.
LADY TORMINSTER. The stars frighten me. But I'll try it. Good-night.
SIR GEOFFREY. Good-night.
LADY TORMINSTER. And you really had better go to bed.
SIR GEOFFREY. I move as an amendment that you sit down and talk.
LADY TORMINSTER. At this time of night!
SIR GEOFFREY. Why not? It's day in the Antipodes.
LADY TORMINSTER. And in this attire!
[She glances at her peignoir.
SIR GEOFFREY. Pooh! You are more dressed than you were at dinner. That's awfully rude, isn't it? But then, you see, you're not my hostess now—you're a spirit, walking in the night. One can't be polite to spirits. Sit down, oh shade, and let us converse.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Hesitating.] I don't know—
SIR GEOFFREY. The household have all retired; and we will make this concession to Mrs. Grundy—we will leave the door open. There! [He flings it open.] The Open Door! Centuries ago, when I was alive, I remember paragraphs with that heading.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Laughing.] So you're not alive now?
SIR GEOFFREY. Sir Geoffrey Transom ceased to be when he said good-night to Lady Torminster. Sir Geoffrey is upstairs asleep. So is her ladyship. We are their souls. Let us talk.
LADY TORMINSTER. You are in your whimsical mood.
SIR GEOFFREY. And you in your wrapper—peignoir—tea gown—it don't matter what you call it. You look—jolly. Ridiculous word—I don't mean that at all. You look—you. More you than I've seen you for years. Sh—don't interrupt. Shades never do that. By the way, do you know that the old lumber-room, my owner—my corporeal sheath—means to go away in the morning, before you are up?
LADY TORMINSTER. Sir Geoffrey! What nonsense! You've promised to stay a month!
SIR GEOFFREY. I assure you I have been charged to invent fitting and appropriate lies to account for the ridiculous creature's abrupt departure. The man Transom is a poor liar.
LADY TORMINSTER. You are making me giddy. Would you mind putting on your body? I've not been introduced to your soul.
SIR GEOFFREY. [Springing up with a flourish.] How very remiss of me! Permit me. Gertrude this is Geoffrey. You have often heard me speak of him.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Rising.] I think I'll go to bed.
SIR GEOFFREY. Now that is preposterous. Jack, my dear old friend—the best and only friend I have in the world—is slumbering peacefully upstairs, and Jack's wife is reluctant to talk to Jack's old pal because the sun happens to be hidden on the other side of the globe. Lady Torminster, sit down. If you're good you shall have a cigarette.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Sitting.] Well, just one. And when I've finished it, I'll go.
SIR GEOFFREY. Agreed.
[He hands her the box; she takes a cigarette; he strikes a match and holds it for her; he then takes a cigarette himself, and lights it.
SIR GEOFFREY. And, while smoking it, remember Penelope's web. For I've heaps of things to tell you.
LADY TORMINSTER. They'll keep till to-morrow.
SIR GEOFFREY. That's a fearful delusion. Nothing keeps. There is one law in the universe: NOW.
LADY TORMINSTER. I want to know what you mean by this nonsense about your going.
SIR GEOFFREY. [Puffing out smoke.] Yes—I'm off in the morning. It has occurred to me that I haven't been to China. Now that is a serious omission. How can I face my forefathers, and confess to them that I haven't seen the land where the Yellow Labour comes from?
LADY TORMINSTER. China has waited a long time—a month more or less will make no difference. They are a patient race.
SIR GEOFFREY. There is gipsy blood in my veins—I must wander—I'm restless.... Not like Jack—he's untroubled—he can sleep. Jack's a fine sleeper, isn't he?
LADY TORMINSTER. Yes.
SIR GEOFFREY. Calm, serene, untroubled, with the conscience of a babe—one, two, three, he sleeps. He and I have had some rare times together. I've been roped to him on the Andes—he shot a tiger that was about to scrunch me—I rubbed his nose when it was frost-bitten. He saved my life—I saved his nose. I always maintain that the balance of gratitude is on his side—for where would he have been without his nose?
LADY TORMINSTER. You are absurd.
SIR GEOFFREY. Would you have married him without a nose?
LADY TORMINSTER. I might have.
SIR GEOFFREY. Now you know you wouldn't. You'd have been afraid of what people would say. And what would he have done when he became short-sighted, and had to wear glasses?
LADY TORMINSTER. My cigarette has gone out.
SIR GEOFFREY. [Jumping up and handing her the box.] Take another. Never re-light a cigarette—it's like dragging up the past. Here.
LADY TORMINSTER. I said only one.
SIR GEOFFREY. This is not the hour for inflexibility. The Medes and Persians have all gone to bed.
[She takes the cigarette; he lights it for her.
LADY TORMINSTER. Tell me why you mean to leave us. And remember—I shan't let this one go out.
SIR GEOFFREY. My explanation will be handed to you with your cup of tea in the morning.
LADY TORMINSTER. And you will be gone?
SIR GEOFFREY. I shall be gone. There is a train at 7.45—which will be packed with husbands. I shall breakfast in town.
LADY TORMINSTER. Why?
SIR GEOFFREY. Well, one must breakfast somewhere. It's a convention.
LADY TORMINSTER. Sir Geoffrey, I want you to tell me what this means.
SIR GEOFFREY. Give your decision, said the judge to the arbitrator, but never your reasons. I go, because I go. Besides, has one reasons? Why do people die, or get married, or buy umbrellas? Because of typhoid, love, or the rain? Not at all. Isn't that so?
LADY TORMINSTER. I wish you'd be serious.
SIR GEOFFREY. I'm fearfully serious. When Jack shot that tiger he had to go so near the brute that he held his life in his hands. Do you know what was my chief impression as I lay there, with the ugly cat's paw upon my chest, beginning to rip me?
LADY TORMINSTER. [Shuddering.] Horrible! What?
SIR GEOFFREY. I resented his having eaten something that smelt like onions.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Smiling.] A tiger!
SIR GEOFFREY. Onions may have been his undoing. That's the beggar's skin on the floor. But you should have seen me rub Jack's nose!
LADY TORMINSTER. [Warningly.] Sir Geoffrey, there's very little cigarette left—
SIR GEOFFREY. There are lots more in the box—and dawn is a long way off. Hang it, Lady Torminster, don't be in a hurry! Do you hear the sea out there? It's breathing as regularly as old Jack. And don't you think this is fine? Here we are, we two, meeting just as we shall meet on the other side of the Never-Never Land. It's a chance for a man to speak to a woman, and tell her things.
LADY TORMINSTER. What things!
SIR GEOFFREY. That's just it—what things? What have I to say, after all? I am going to-morrow because I am a fantastic, capricious ass. Also because I'm lonely.
LADY TORMINSTER. How will China help you?
SIR GEOFFREY. They colour it green on the map—and there is such a lot of it!
LADY TORMINSTER. You should get married.
SIR GEOFFREY. [With a sudden burst of passion.] You say that—you!
[He starts back, ashamed, and hangs his head. LADY TORMINSTER throws a quick glance at him, then looks ahead of her, puffing quietly at her cigarette.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Quietly.] So that is why you are going?
SIR GEOFFREY. [With a great sigh of relief.] Now, that really is fine of you! Every other woman in the world would have seized that chance for a melodramatic exit. "Good-night, Sir Geoffrey; I must go to my husband." "Good-night, Lady Torminster." A clasp of the hand—a hot tear—mine—on your wrist. But you sit there. Splendid!
LADY TORMINSTER. I ask you again—is that truly why you are going?
SIR GEOFFREY. Well, yes, that's the fact. I apologise humbly—it's so conventional. Isn't it?
LADY TORMINSTER. I suppose it's difficult for human beings to invent new situations.
SIR GEOFFREY. You've known it, of course, all the time; you've known it ever since Jack brought me to you, the day after you were engaged. And that's nine years ago. It's the usual kind of fatality.
LADY TORMINSTER. These things happen.
SIR GEOFFREY. Yes. Well, I thought I was cured. I've been here five days, and I find I am not. So I go. That's best, isn't it?
LADY TORMINSTER. Yes.
SIR GEOFFREY. It's so infernally stupid. You're a beautiful woman, of course; but there are heaps of beautiful women. You've qualities—well, so have other women, too. I'm only forty-one—and, as you say, why don't I marry? Simply because of you. Because you've an uncomfortable knack of intruding between me and the other lady.
LADY TORMINSTER. That is a great misfortune.
SIR GEOFFREY. It's most annoying. So I shall try China. I shall come back in two years—I shall be forty-three then—I shall come back, sound as a bell; and I shall marry some healthy, pink-cheeked young woman, take a house next to yours, and in the fulness of time your eldest son shall fall in love with my daughter.
LADY TORMINSTER. Why not?
SIR GEOFFREY. I shouldn't have told you, of course; but I'm glad that I have. It clears the air. Now what excuse shall I make?
LADY TORMINSTER. A wire from town?
SIR GEOFFREY. Jack knows all about my affairs; in fact, that's why I take the early train, to avoid his questions.
LADY TORMINSTER. You find it impossible to stay out your time here?
SIR GEOFFREY. Quite. There are moments when I am unpleasantly volcanic.
LADY TORMINSTER. Then I tell you the best thing to do. Don't take your trunks; just go up with a bag. Leave a note that you'll come back on Tuesday. Then write from town and say you're prevented.
SIR GEOFFREY. That's a good idea—yes, that's much better.
LADY TORMINSTER. And, if you find that you really cannot come back—
SIR GEOFFREY. Exactly; you'll forward my goods and chattels. And old Jack will ascribe it all to my wayward mood; he'll think I have found it too dull down here. I'm immensely obliged.
LADY TORMINSTER. [With a smile.] Remark that I've not offered to be a sister to you.
SIR GEOFFREY. You've been superb. Oh, the good talk we've had! Do you know, I could almost wish old Jack to have heard what I said. I'm so fond of him, that grand old fellow, that I've been on the point of telling him, myself, more than once. For you know he will have me take you about, and it's painful. Besides, I've felt it almost disloyal to—keep this thing from him. You understand, don't you?
LADY TORMINSTER. Yes.
SIR GEOFFREY. He and I almost are one, you see. It's not British to show any feeling, but really I—love him. And the devil comes along, and, of all women in the world, singles out Jack's wife, and fills my heart with her. That's the devil's sense of humour.
LADY TORMINSTER. Perhaps he has read Bernard Shaw. But you must never let Jack know—never.
SIR GEOFFREY. I suppose not. He's so direct, so single-minded, that the shock would be terrible. But I'm not to blame. How could I help it? Oh, all that cackle about being master of one's fate!
LADY TORMINSTER. Two years in China—
SIR GEOFFREY. We'll hope so. Of course, it didn't matter about my telling you, because you knew already.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Nodding] Yes, I knew. Although—
SIR GEOFFREY. Oh, you've done what you could! I've felt, in a hundred subtle ways, how you almost implored me—not to. Well, there it is. I'll write that note at once.
[He sits at the table and begins to write.
LADY TORMINSTER. I'm sorry you are so lonely.
SIR GEOFFREY. That's my fault, too—the fault of the ridiculous class to which we belong. I don't do anything.
LADY TORMINSTER. Why not?
SIR GEOFFREY. What would you have me do? Go into the House? Thank you, I've been there. You spend your time on the Terrace or in the smoke-room till a muffin-bell rings; then you gravely walk into the lobby, where an energetic gentleman counts you as Polyphemus counted his sheep. Philanthropy! Well, I've tried that, but it's not in my line. I'm quite a respectable landlord, but a fellow can't live all by himself in a great Elizabethan barrack. Town—the Season? Christian mothers invite you to inspect their daughters' shoulders, with a view to purchase. I'm tired of golf and polo; I'm tired of bridge. So I'll try the good sea and the open plains; sleep in a tent and watch the stars twinkle—the stars that make you afraid.
LADY TORMINSTER. Yes, I'm afraid of the stars.
SIR GEOFFREY. Why?
LADY TORMINSTER. You remember the Persian poet? "I too have said to the stars and the wind, I will. But the wind and the stars have mocked me—they have laughed in my face...."
SIR GEOFFREY. [A little uncomfortable.] Persian poets, like all poets, have a funny way of pretending that the stars take an interest in us. To me, it's their chief charm that they're so unconcerned. They are lonely, too.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Suddenly, violently.] Don't say that again—don't—I can't bear it!
SIR GEOFFREY. [Aghast.] Gertrude!!!
LADY TORMINSTER. [In a whisper.] Yes.
[He stares haggardly at her; she does not move, but looks out, through the open window, into the night.
SIR GEOFFREY. [With a deep breath.] Well, I suppose we had better turn in—
LADY TORMINSTER. When do you go to China?
SIR GEOFFREY. I shall take the first boat.
LADY TORMINSTER. And you will come back—?
SIR GEOFFREY. In a year—or two—or three—
LADY TORMINSTER. We shall hear from you?
SIR GEOFFREY. [With an effort of lightness.] Certainly. And I will send you chests of tea—best family Souchong—and jars of ginger. Also little boxes that fit into each other. I am afraid that is all I know at present of Chinese manufactures.
LADY TORMINSTER. [Musing.] You will be away so long?
SIR GEOFFREY. You told me to do something. I shall learn Chinese. I believe there are five hundred letters in the alphabet.
LADY TORMINSTER. As many as that!
SIR GEOFFREY. It is possible that I exaggerate. Well, Lady Torminster, I think I'll say good-night.
[He offers his hand, which she ignores. She smiles, and motions him back to his seat.
LADY TORMINSTER. The sun is still shining in the antipodes, my dear Geoffrey, and you are still Jack's old friend, talking to Jack's wife. Sit down, and don't be foolish. You'll be away for years; it's possible we may never meet again. It's possible, too, that next time we do meet you may be married.
SIR GEOFFREY. [With iron control.] Who knows?
LADY TORMINSTER. Exactly—who knows? So there's no reason why we shouldn't look each other squarely in the face for once, and speak out what's in us.