TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: The edition from which this etext was taken lacks contractions, so it reads dont for don't and Ill for I'll, for example. The play has been reproduced exactly as printed.
The forenoon of the first of April, 1911.
General Mitchener is at his writing table in the War Office, opening letters. On his left is the fireplace, with a fire burning. On his right, against the opposite wall is a standing desk with an office stool. The door is in the wall behind him, half way between the table and the desk. The table is not quite in the middle of the room: it is nearer to the hearthrug than to the desk. There is a chair at each end of it for persons having business with the general. There is a telephone on the table. Long silence.
A VOICE OUTSIDE. Votes for Women!
The General starts convulsively; snatches a revolver from a drawer, and listens in an agony of apprehension. Nothing happens. He puts the revolver back, ashamed; wipes his brow; and resumes his work. He is startled afresh by the entry of an Orderly. This Orderly is an unsoldierly, slovenly, discontented young man.
MITCHENER. Oh, it's only you. Well?
THE ORDERLY. Another one, sir. Shes chained herself.
MITCHENER. Chained herself? How? To what? Weve taken away the railings and everything that a chain can be passed through.
THE ORDERLY. We forgot the doorscraper, sir. She laid down on the flags and got the chain through before she started hollerin. Shes lying there now; and she says that youve got the key of the padlock in a letter in a buff envelope, and that you will see her when you open it.
MITCHENER. Shes mad. Have the scraper dug up and let her go home with it hanging round her neck.
THE ORDERLY. Theres a buff envelope there, sir.
MITCHENER. Youre all afraid of these women (picking the letter up). It does seem to have a key in it. (He opens the letter, and takes out a key and a note.) "Dear Mitch"—Well, I'm dashed!
THE ORDERLY. Yes Sir.
MITCHENER. What do you mean by Yes Sir?
THE ORDERLY. Well, you said you was dashed, Sir; and you did look if youll excuse my saying it, Sir—well, you looked it.
MITCHENER (who has been reading the letter, and is too astonished to attend to the Orderlys reply). This is a letter from the Prime Minister asking me to release the woman with this key if she padlocks herself, and to have her shown up and see her at once.
THE ORDERLY (tremulously). Dont do it, governor.
MITCHENER (angrily). How often have I ordered you not to address me as governor. Remember that you are a soldier and not a vulgar civilian. Remember also that when a man enters the army he leaves fear behind him. Heres the key. Unlock her and show her up.
THE ORDERLY. Me unlock her! I dursent. Lord knows what she'd do to me.
MITCHENER (pepperily, rising). Obey your orders instantly, Sir, and dont presume to argue. Even if she kills you, it is your duty to die for your country. Right about face. March. (The Orderly goes out, trembling.)
THE VOICE OUTSIDE. Votes for Women! Votes for Women! Votes for Women!
MITCHENER (mimicking her). Votes for Women! Votes for Women! Votes for Women! (in his natural voice) Votes for children! Votes for babies! Votes for monkeys! (He posts himself on the hearthrug, and awaits the enemy.)
THE ORDERLY (outside). In you go. (He pushes a panting Suffraget into the room.) The person sir. (He withdraws.)
The Suffraget takes off her tailor made skirt and reveals a pair of fashionable trousers.
MITCHENER (horrified). Stop, madam. What are you doing? You must not undress in my presence. I protest. Not even your letter from the Prime Minister—
THE SUFFRAGET. My dear Mitchener: I AM the Prime Minister. (He tears off his hat and cloak; throws them on the desk; and confronts the General in the ordinary costume of a Cabinet minister.)
MITCHENER. Good heavens! Balsquith!
BALSQUITH (throwing himself into Mitchener's chair). Yes: it is indeed Balsquith. It has come to this: that the only way that the Prime Minister of England can get from Downing Street to the War Office is by assuming this disguise; shrieking "VOTES for Women"; and chaining himself to your doorscraper. They were at the corner in force. They cheered me. Bellachristina herself was there. She shook my hand and told me to say I was a vegetarian, as the diet was better in Holloway for vegetarians.
MITCHENER. Why didnt you telephone?
BALSQUITH. They tap the telephone. Every switchboard in London is in their hands or in those of their young men.
MITCHENER. Where on Earth did you get that dress?
BALSQUITH. I stole it from a little Exhibition got up by my wife in Downing Street.
MITCHENER. You dont mean to say its a French dress?
BALSQUITH. Great Heavens, no. My wife isnt allowed even to put on her gloves with French chalk. Everything labelled Made in Camberwell. She advised me to come to you. And what I have to say must be said here to you personally, in the most intimate confidence, with the most urgent persuasion. Mitchener: Sandstone has resigned.
MITCHENER (amazed). Old Red resigned!
MITCHENER. But how? Why? Oh, impossible! the proclamation of martial law last Tuesday made Sandstone virtually Dictator in the metropolis, and to resign now is flat desertion.
BALSQUITH. Yes, yes, my dear Mitchener; I know all that as well as you do: I argued with him until I was black in the face and he so red about the neck that if I had gone on he would have burst. He is furious because we have abandoned his plan.
MITCHENER. But you accepted it unconditionally.
BALSQUITH. Yes, before we knew what it was. It was unworkable, you know.
MITCHENER. I dont know. Why is it unworkable?
BALSQUITH. I mean the part about drawing a cordon round Westminster at a distance of two miles; and turning all women out of it.
MITCHENER. A masterpiece of strategy. Let me explain. The Suffragets are a very small body; but they are numerous enough to be troublesome—even dangerous—when they are all concentrated in one place—say in Parliament Square. But by making a two-mile radius and pushing them beyond it, you scatter their attack over a circular line twelve miles long. A superb piece of tactics. Just what Wellington would have done.
BALSQUITH. But the women wont go.
MITCHENER. Nonsense: they must go.
BALSQUITH. They wont.
MITCHENER. What does Sandstone say?
BALSQUITH. He says: Shoot them down.
MITCHENER. Of course.
BALSQUITH. Youre not serious?
MITCHENER. Im perfectly serious.
BALSQUITH. But you cant shoot them down! Women, you know!
MITCHENER (straddling confidently). Yes you can. Strange as it may seem to you as a civilian, Balsquith, if you point a rifle at a woman and fire it, she will drop exactly as a man drops.
BALSQUITH. But suppose your own daughters—Helen and Georgina.
MITCHENER. My daughters would not dream of disobeying the proclamation. (As an after thought.) At least Helen wouldnt.
BALSQUITH. But Georgina?
MITCHENER. Georgina would if she knew shed be shot if she didnt. Thats how the thing would work. Military methods are really the most merciful in the end. You keep sending these misguided women to Holloway and killing them slowly and inhumanely by ruining their health; and it does no good: they go on worse than ever. Shoot a few, promptly and humanely; and there will be an end at once of all resistance and of all the suffering that resistance entails.
BALSQUITH. But public opinion would never stand it.
MITCHENER (walking about and laying down the law). Theres no such thing as public opinion.
BALSQUITH. No such thing as public opinion!!
MITCHENER. Absolutely no such thing as public opinion. There are certain persons who entertain certain opinions. Well, shoot them down. When you have shot them down, there are no longer any persons entertaining those opinions alive: consequently there is no longer any more of the public opinion you are so much afraid of. Grasp that fact, my dear Balsquith; and you have grasped the secret of government. Public opinion is mind. Mind is inseparable from matter. Shoot down the matter and you kill the mind.
BALSQUITH. But hang it all—
MITCHENER (intolerantly). No I wont hang it all. It's no use coming to me and talking about public opinion. You have put yourself into the hands of the army; and you are committed to military methods. And the basis of all military methods is that when people wont do what they are told to do, you shoot them down.
BALSQUITH. Oh, yes; it's all jolly fine for you and Old Red. You dont depend on votes for your places. What do you suppose will happen at the next election?
MITCHENER. Have no next election. Bring in a Bill at once repealing all the reform Acts and vesting the Government in a properly trained magistracy responsible only to a Council of War. It answers perfectly in India. If anyone objects, shoot him down.
BALSQUITH. But none of the members of my party would be on the Council of War. Neither should I. Do you expect us to vote for making ourselves nobodies?
MITCHENER. You'll have to, sooner or later, or the Socialists will make nobodies of the lot of you by collaring every penny you possess. Do you suppose this damned democracy can be allowed to go on now that the mob is beginning to take it seriously and using its power to lay hands on property? Parliament must abolish itself. The Irish parliament voted for its own extinction. The English parliament will do the same if the same means are taken to persuade it.
BALSQUITH. That would cost a lot of money.
MITCHENER. Not money necessarily. Bribe them with titles.
BALSQUITH. Do you think we dare?
MITCHENER (scornfully). Dare! Dare! What is life but daring, man? "To dare, to dare, and again to dare"—
WOMAN'S VOICE OUTSIDE. Votes for Women!
Mitchener, revolver in hand, rushes to the door and locks it. Balsquith hides under the table.
A shot is heard.
BALSQUITH (emerging in the greatest alarm). Good heavens, you havent given orders to fire on them have you?
MITCHENER. No; but its a sentinel's duty to fire on anyone who persists in attempting to pass without giving the word.
BALSQUITH (wiping his brow). This military business is really awful.
MITCHENER. Be calm, Balsquith. These things must happen; they save bloodshed in the long run, believe me. Ive seen plenty of it; and I know.
BALSQUITH. I havent; and I dont know. I wish those guns didnt make such a devil of a noise. We must adopt Maxim's Silencer for the army rifles if we are going to shoot women. I really couldnt stand hearing it.
Some one outside tries to open the door and then knocks.
MITCHENER and BALSQUITH. Whats that?
MITCHENER. Whos there?
THE ORDERLY. It's only me, governor. Its all right.
MITCHENER (unlocking the door and admitting the Orderly, who comes between them). What was it?
THE ORDERLY. Suffraget, Sir.
BALSQUITH. Did the sentry shoot her?
THE ORDERLY. No, Sir: she shot the sentry.
BALSQUITH (relieved). Oh: is that all?
MITCHENER (most indignantly). All? A civilian shoots down one of His Majesty's soldiers on duty; and the Prime Minister of England asks Is that all? Have you no regard for the sanctity of human life?
BALSQUITH (much relieved). Well, getting shot is what a soldier is for. Besides, he doesnt vote.
MITCHENER. Neither do the Suffragets.
BALSQUITH. Their husbands do. (To the Orderly.) By the way, did she kill him?
THE ORDERLY. No, Sir. He got a stinger on his trousers, Sir; but it didnt penetrate. He lost his temper a bit and put down his gun and clouted her head for her. So she said he was no gentleman; and we let her go, thinking she'd had enough, Sir.
MITCHENER (groaning). Clouted her head! These women are making the army as lawless as themselves. Clouted her head indeed! A purely civil procedure.
THE ORDERLY. Any orders, Sir?
MITCHENER. No. Yes. No. Yes: send everybody who took part in this disgraceful scene to the guardroom. No. Ill address the men on the subject after lunch. Parade them for that purpose—full kit. Don't grin at me, Sir. Right about face. March. (The Orderly obeys and goes out.)
BALSQUITH (taking Mitchener affectionately by the arm and walking him persuasively to and fro). And now, Mitchener, will you come to the rescue of the Government and take the command that Old Red has thrown up?
MITCHENER. How can I? You know that the people are devoted heart and soul to Sandstone. He is only bringing you "on the knee," as we say in the army. Could any other living man have persuaded the British nation to accept universal compulsory military service as he did last year? Why, even the Church refused exemption. He is supreme—omnipotent.
BALSQUITH. He WAS, a year ago. But ever since your book of reminiscences went into two more editions than his, and the rush for it led to the wrecking of the Times Book Club, you have become to all intents and purposes his senior. He lost ground by saying that the wrecking was got up by the booksellers. It showed jealousy: and the public felt it.
MITCHENER. But I cracked him up in my book—you see I could do no less after the handsome way he cracked me up in his—and I cant go back on it now. (Breaking loose from Balsquith.) No: its no use, Balsquith: he can dictate his terms to you.
BALSQUITH. Not a bit of it. That affair of the curate—
MITCHENER (impatiently). Oh, damn that curate. Ive heard of nothing but that wretched mutineer for a fortnight past. He is not a curate: whilst he is serving in the army he is a private soldier and nothing else. I really havent time to discuss him further. Im busy. Good morning. (He sits down at his table and takes up his letters.)
BALSQUITH (near the door). I am sorry you take that tone, Mitchener. Since you do take it, let me tell you frankly that I think Lieutenant Chubbs-Jenkinson showed a great want of consideration for the Government in giving an unreasonable and unpopular order, and bringing compulsory military service into disrepute. When the leader of the Labor Party appealed to me and to the House last year not to throw away all the liberties of Englishmen by accepting universal Compulsory military service without insisting on full civil rights for the soldier—
BALSQUITH. —I said that no British officer would be capable of abusing the authority with which it was absolutely necessary to invest him.
MITCHENER. Quite right.
BALSQUITH. That carried the House and carried the country—
BALSQUITH. —And the feeling was that the Labor Party were soulless cads.
MITCHENER. So they are.
BALSQUITH. And now comes this unmannerly young whelp Chubbs-Jenkinson, the only son of what they call a soda king, and orders a curate to lick his boots. And when the curate punches his head, you first sentence him to be shot; and then make a great show of clemency by commuting it to a flogging. What did you expect the curate to do?
MITCHENER (throwing down his pen and his letters and jumping up to confront Balsquith). His duty was perfectly simple. He should have obeyed the order; and then laid his complaint against the officer in proper form. He would have received the fullest satisfaction.
BALSQUITH. What satisfaction?
MITCHENER. Chubbs-Jenkinson would have been reprimanded. In fact, he WAS reprimanded. Besides, the man was thoroughly insubordinate. You cant deny that the very first thing he did when they took him down after flogging him was to walk up to Chubbs-Jenkinson and break his jaw. That showed there was no use flogging him; so now he will get two years hard labor; and serve him right.
BALSQUITH. I bet you a guinea he wont get even a week. I bet you another that Chubbs-Jenkinson apologizes abjectly. You evidently havent heard the news.
MITCHENER. What news?
BALSQUITH. It turns out that the curate is well connected. (Mitchener staggers at the shock. Speechless he contemplates Balsquith with a wild and ghastly stare; then reels into his chair and buries his face in his hands over the blotter. Balsquith continues remorselessly, stooping over him to rub it in.) He has three aunts in the peerage; and Lady Richmond's one of them; (Mitchener utters a heartrending groan) and they all adore him. The invitations for six garden parties and fourteen dances have been cancelled for all the subalterns in Chubbs's regiment. Is it possible you havent heard of it?
MITCHENER. Not a word.
BALSQUITH (shaking his head). I suppose nobody dared to tell you. (He sits down carelessly on Mitchener's right.)
MITCHENER. What an infernal young fool Chubbs-Jenkinson is, not to know the standing of his man better! Why didnt he know? It was his business to know. He ought to be flogged.
BALSQUITH. Probably he will be, by the other subalterns.
MITCHENER. I hope so. Anyhow, out he goes! Out of the army! He or I.
BALSQUITH. His father has subscribed a million to the party funds. We owe him a peerage.
MITCHENER. I dont care.
BALSQUITH. I do. How do you think parties are kept up? Not by the subscriptions of the local associations, I hope. They dont pay for the gas at the meetings.
MITCHENER. Man; can you not be serious? Here are we, face to face with Lady Richmond's grave displeasure; and you talk to me about gas and subscriptions. Her own nephew.
BALSQUITH (gloomily). Its unfortunate. He was at Oxford with Bobby Bassborough.
MITCHENER. Worse and worse. What shall we do?
Balsquith shakes his head. They contemplate one another in miserable silence.
A VOICE WITHOUT. Votes for Women! Votes for Women!
A terrific explosion shakes the building—they take no notice.
MITCHENER (breaking down). You dont know what this means to me, Balsquith. I love the army. I love my country.
BALSQUITH. It certainly is rather awkward.
The Orderly comes in.
MITCHENER (angrily). What is it? How dare you interrupt us like this?
THE ORDERLY. Didnt you hear the explosion, Sir?
MITCHENER. Explosion. What explosion? No: I heard no explosion: I have something more serious to attend to than explosions. Great Heavens: Lady Richmond's nephew has been treated like any common laborer; and while England is reeling under the shock a private comes in and asks me if I heard an explosion.
BALSQUITH. By the way, what was the explosion?
THE ORDERLY. Only a sort of bombshell, Sir.
THE ORDERLY. A pasteboard one, Sir. Full of papers with Votes for Women in red letters. Fired into the yard from the roof of the Alliance Office.
MITCHENER. Pooh! Go away. Go away.
The Orderly, bewildered, goes out.
BALSQUITH. Mitchener: you can save the country yet. Put on your full-dress uniform and your medals and orders and so forth. Get a guard of honor—something showy—horse guards or something of that sort; and call on the old girl—
MITCHENER. The old girl?
BALSQUITH. Well, Lady Richmond. Apologize to her. Ask her leave to accept the command. Tell her that youve made the curate your adjutant or your aide-de-camp or whatever is the proper thing. By the way, what can you make him?
MITCHENER. I might make him my chaplain. I dont see why I shouldnt have a chaplain on my staff. He showed a very proper spirit in punching that young cub's head. I should have done the same myself.
BALSQUITH. Then Ive your promise to take command if Lady Richmond consents?
MITCHENER. On condition that I have a free hand. No nonsense about public opinion or democracy.
BALSQUITH. As far as possible, I think I may say yes.
MITCHENER (rising intolerantly and going to the hearthrug). That wont do for me. Dont be weak-kneed, Balsquith. You know perfectly well that the real government of this country is and always must be the government of the masses by the classes. You know that democracy is damned nonsense, and that no class stands less of it than the working class. You know that we are already discussing the steps that will have to be taken if the country should ever be face to face with the possibility of a Labor majority in parliament. You know that in that case we should disfranchise the mob, and, if they made a fuss, shoot them down. You know that if we need public opinion to support us, we can get any quantity of it manufactured in our papers by poor devils of journalists who will sell their souls for five shillings. You know—
BALSQUITH. Stop. Stop, I say. I dont know. That is the difference between your job and mine, Mitchener. After twenty years in the army a man thinks he knows everything. After twenty months in the Cabinet he knows that he knows nothing.
MITCHENER. We learn from history—
BALSQUITH. We learn from history that men never learn anything from history. Thats not my own: its Hegel.
MITCHENER. Whos Hegel?
BALSQUITH. Dead. A German philosopher. (He half rises, but recollects something and sits down again.) Oh confound it: that reminds me. The Germans have laid down four more Dreadnoughts.
MITCHENER. Then you must lay down twelve.
BALSQUITH. Oh yes: its easy to say that: but think of what theyll cost.
MITCHENER. Think of what it would cost to be invaded by Germany and forced to pay an indemnity of five hundred millions.
BALSQUITH. But you said that if you got compulsory military service there would be an end of the danger of invasion.
MITCHENER. On the contrary, my dear fellow, it increases the danger tenfold, because it increases German jealousy of our military supremacy.
BALSQUITH. After all, why should the Germans invade us?
MITCHENER. Why shouldnt they? What else has their army to do? What else are they building a navy for?
BALSQUITH. Well, we never think of invading Germany.
MITCHENER. Yes we do. I have thought of nothing else for the last ten years. Say what you will, Balsquith, the Germans have never recognized, and until they get a stern lesson, they never WILL recognize, the plain fact that the interests of the British Empire are paramount, and that the command of the sea belongs by nature to England.
BALSQUITH. But if they wont recognize it, what can I do?
MITCHENER. Shoot them down.
BALSQUITH. I cant shoot them down.
MITCHENER. Yes you can. You dont realize it; but if you fire a rifle into a German he drops just as surely as a rabbit does.
BALSQUITH But dash it all, man, a rabbit hasnt got a rifle and a German has. Suppose he shoots you down.
MITCHENER. Excuse me, Balsquith; but that consideration is what we call cowardice in the army. A soldier always assumes that he is going to shoot, not to be shot.
BALSQUITH (jumping up and walking about sulkily). Oh come! I like to hear you military people talking of cowardice. Why, you spend your lives in an ecstasy of terror of imaginary invasions. I dont believe you ever go to bed without looking under it for a burglar.
MITCHENER (calmly). A very sensible precaution, Balsquith. I always take it. And in consequence Ive never been burgled.
BALSQUITH. Neither have I. Anyhow dont you taunt me with cowardice. (He posts himself on the hearthrug beside Mitchener on his left.) I never look under my bed for a burglar. Im not always looking under the nation's bed for an invader. And if it comes to fighting Im quite willing to fight without being three to one.
MITCHENER. These are the romantic ravings of a Jingo civilian, Balsquith. At least youll not deny that the absolute command of the sea is essential to our security.
BALSQUITH. The absolute command of the sea is essential to the security of the principality of Monaco. But Monaco isnt going to get it.
MITCHENER. And consequently Monaco enjoys no security. What a frightful thing! How do the inhabitants sleep with the possibility of invasion, of bombardment, continually present to their minds? Would you have our English slumbers broken in the same way? Are we also to live without security?
BALSQUITH (dogmatically). Yes. Theres no such thing as security in the world: and there never can be as long as men are mortal. England will be secure when England is dead, just as the streets of London will be safe when there is no longer a man in her streets to be run over, or a vehicle to run over him. When you military chaps ask for security you are crying for the moon.
MITCHENER (very seriously). Let me tell you, Balsquith, that in these days of aeroplanes and Zeppelin airships, the question of the moon is becoming one of the greatest importance. It will be reached at no very distant date. Can you as an Englishman, tamely contemplate the possibility of having to live under a German moon? The British flag must be planted there at all hazards.
BALSQUITH. My dear Mitchener, the moon is outside practical politics. Id swop it for a cooling station tomorrow with Germany or any other Power sufficiently military in its way of thinking to attach any importance to it.
MITCHENER (losing his temper). You are the friend of every country but your own.
BALSQUITH. Say nobodys enemy but my own. It sounds nicer. You really neednt be so horribly afraid of the other countries. Theyre all in the same fix as we are. Im much more interested in the death rate in Lambeth than in the German fleet.
MITCHENER. You darent say that in Lambeth.
BALSQUITH. Ill say it the day after you publish your scheme for invading Germany and repealing all the reform Acts.
The Orderly comes in.
MITCHENER. What do you want?
THE ORDERLY. I dont want anything, Governor, thank you. The secretary and president of the Anti-Suffraget League say they had an appointment with the Prime Minister, and that theyve been sent on here from Downing Street.
BALSQUITH (going to the table). Quite right. I forgot them. (To Mitchener.) Would you mind my seeing them here? I feel extraordinarily grateful to these women for standing by us and facing the suffragets, especially as they are naturally the gentler and timid sort of women. (The Orderly moans.) Did you say anything?
THE ORDERLY. No, Sir.
BALSQUITH. Did you catch their names.
THE ORDERLY. Yes, Sir. The president is Lady Corinthia Fanshawe; and the secretary is Mrs. Banger.
MITCHENER (abruptly). Mrs. what?
THE ORDERLY. Mrs. Banger.
BALSQUITH. Curious that quiet people always seem to have violent names.
THE ORDERLY. Not much quiet about her, sir.
MITCHENER (outraged). Attention. Speak when youre spoken to. Hold your tongue when youre not. Right about face. March. (The Orderly obeys.) Thats the way to keep these chaps up to the mark. (The Orderly returns.) Back again! What do you mean by this mutiny?
THE ORDERLY. What am I to say to the ladies, sir?
BALSQUITH. You dont mind my seeing them somewhere, do you?
MITCHENER. Not at all. Bring them in to see me when youve done with them: I understand that Lady Corinthia is a very fascinating woman. Who is she, by the way?
BALSQUITH. Daughter of Lord Broadstairs, the automatic turbine man. Gave quarter of a million to the party funds. Shes musical and romantic and all that—dont hunt: hates politics: stops in town all the year round: one never sees her anywhere except at the opera and at musical at-homes and so forth.
MITCHENER. What a life! Still, if she wants to see me I dont mind. (To the Orderly.) Where are the ladies?
THE ORDERLY. In No. 17, Sir.
MITCHENER. Show Mr. Balsquith there. And send Mrs. Farrell here.
THE ORDERLY (calling into the corridor). Mrs. Farrell! (To Balsquith.) This way sir. (He goes out with Balsquith.)
Mrs. Farrell, a lean, highly respectable Irish Charwoman of about 50 comes in.
MITCHENER. Mrs. Farrell: Ive a very important visit to pay: I shall want my full dress uniform and all my medals and orders and my presentation sword. There was a time when the British Army contained men capable of discharging these duties for their commanding officer. Those days are over. The compulsorily enlisted soldier runs to a woman for everything. Im therefore reluctantly obliged to trouble you.
MRS FARRELL. Your meddles n ordhers n the crooked sword with the ivory handle n your full dress uniform is in the waxworks in the Chamber o Military Glory over in the place they used to call the Banquetin Hall. I told you youd be sorry for sendin them away; n you told me to mind me own business. Youre wiser now.
MITCHENER. I am. I had not at that time discovered that you were the only person in the whole military establishment of this capital who could be trusted to remember where anything was, or to understand an order and obey it.
MRS. FARRELL. Its no good flattherin me. Im too old.
MITCHENER. Not at all, Mrs. Farrell. How is your daughter?
MRS. FARRELL. Which daughther.
MITCHENER. The one who has made such a gratifying success in the Music Halls.
MRS. FARRELL. Theres no music halls nowadays: theyre Variety Theatres. Shes got an offer of marriage from a young jook.
MITCHENER. Is it possible? What did you do?
MRS. FARRELL. I told his mother on him.
MITCHENER. Oh! what did she say?
MRS. FARRELL. She was as pleased as Punch. Thank Heaven, she says, hes got somebody thatll be able to keep him when the supertax is put up to twenty shillings in the pound.
MITCHENER. But your daughter herself? What did she say?
MRS. FARRELL. Accepted him, of course. What else would a young fool like her do? He inthrojooced her to the Poet Laureate, thinking shed inspire him.
MITCHENER. Did she?
MRS. FARRELL. Faith I dunna. All I know is she walked up to him as bold as brass n said "Write me a sketch, dear." Afther all the trouble I took with that chills manners shes no more notion how to behave herself than a pig. Youll have to wear General Sandstones uniform: its the ony one in the place, because he wont lend it to the shows.
MITCHENER. But Sandstones clothes wont fit me.
MRS. FARRELL (unmoved). Then youll have to fit THEM. Why shouldnt they fitcha as well as they fitted General Blake at the Mansion House?
MITCHENER. They didnt fit him. He looked a frightful guy.
MRS. FARRELL. Well, you must do the best you can with them. You cant exhibit your clothes and wear them too.
MITCHENER. And the public thinks the lot of a commanding officer a happy one! Oh, if they could only see the seamy side of it. (He returns to his table to resume work.)
MRS. FARRELL. If they could only see the seamy side of General Sandstones uniform, where his flask rubs agen the buckle of his braces, theyll tell him he ought to get a new one. Let alone the way he swears at me.
MITCHENER. When a man has risked his life on eight battlefields, Mrs. Farrell, he has given sufficient proof of his self-control to be excused a little strong language.
MRS. FARRELL. Would you put up with bad language from me because Ive risked my life eight times in childbed?
MITCHENER. My dear Mrs. Farrell, you surely would not compare a risk of that harmless domestic kind to the fearful risks of the battlefield?
MRS. FARRELL. I wouldnt compare risks run to bear living people into the world to risks run to blow them out of it. A mother's risk is jooty: a soldier's nothin but divilmint.
MITCHENER (nettled). Let me tell you, Mrs. Farrell, that if the men did not fight, the women would have to fight themselves. We spare you that, at all events.
MRS. FARRELL. You cant help yourselves. If three-quarters of you was killed we could replace you with the help of the other quarter. If three-quarters of us was killed, how many people would there be in England in another generation? If it wasnt for that, the man d put the fightin on us just as they put all the other dhrudgery. What would YOU do if we was all kilt? Would you go to bed and have twins?
MITCHENER. Really, Mrs. Farrell, you must discuss these questions with a medical man. You make me blush, positively.
MRS. FARRELL. A good job too. If I could have made Farrell blush I wouldnt have had to risk me life too often. You n your risks n your bravery n your selfcontrol indeed! "Why don't you conthrol yourself?" I sez to Farrell. "Its agen me religion," he sez.
MITCHENER (plaintively). Mrs. Farrell, youre a woman of very powerful mind. Im not qualified to argue these delicate matters with you. I ask you to spare me, and to be good enough to take these clothes to Mr. Balsquith when the ladies leave.
The Orderly comes in.
THE ORDERLY. Lady Corinthia Fanshawe and Mrs. Banger wish to see you, sir. Mr. Balsquith told me to tell you.
MRS. FARRELL. Theyve come about the vote. I dont know whether its them that want it or them that doesnt want it: anyhow, they're all alike when they get into a state about it. (She goes out, having gathered Balsquith's suffraget disguise from the desk.)
MITCHENER. Is Mr. Balsquith not with them?
THE ORDERLY. No, Sir. Couldnt stand Mrs. Banger, I expect. Fair caution she is. (He chuckles.) Couldnt help larfin when I sor im op it.
MITCHENER. How dare you indulge in this unseemly mirth in the presence of your commanding officer? Have you no sense of a soldier's duty?
THE ORDERLY (sadly). Im afraid I shant ever get the ang of it, sir. You see my father has a tidy little barbers business down off Shoreditch; and I was brought up to be chatty and easy like with everybody. I tell you, when I drew the number in the conscription it gave my old mother the needle and it gev me the ump. I should take it very kind, sir, if youd let me off the drill and let me shave you instead. Youd appreciate my qualities then: you would indeed sir. I shant never do myself justice at soljering, sir: I cant bring myself to think of it as proper work for a man with an active mind, as you might say, sir. Arf of its only ousemaidin; and the other arf is dress-up and make-believe.
MITCHENER. Stuff, Sir. Its the easiest life in the world. Once you learn your drill all you have to do is to hold your tongue and obey your orders.
THE ORDERLY. But I do assure you, sir, arf the time they're the wrong orders; and I get into trouble when I obey them. The sergeants orders is all right; but the officers dont know what theyre talkin about. Why the orses knows better sometimes. "Fours" says Lieutenant Trevor at the gate of Bucknam Palace only this morning when we was on duty for a State visit to the Coal Trust. I was fourth man like in the first file; and when I started the orse eld back; and the sergeant was on to me straight. Threes, you bally fool, he whispers. And he was on to me again about it when we came back, and called me a fathead, he did. What am I to do, I says: the lieutenant's orders was fours, I says. Ill show you whos lieutenant here, e says. In future you attend to my orders and not to iz, e says: what does he know about it? You didnt give me any orders, I says. Couldnt you see for yourself there wasnt room for fours, e says: why cant you THINK? General Mitchener tells me Im not to think but to obey orders, I says. Is Mitchener your sergeant or am I, e says in his bullyin way. You are, I says. Well, he says, youve got to do what your sergeant tells you: thats discipline, he says. What am I to do for the General I says. Youre to let im talk, e says: thats what es for.
MITCHENER (groaning). It is impossible for the human mind to conceive anything more dreadful than this. Youre a disgrace to the service.
THE ORDERLY (deeply wounded). The service is a disgrace to me. When my mother's people pass me in the street with this uniform on, I ardly know which way to look. There never was a soldier in my family before.
MITCHENER. There never was anything else in mine, sir.
THE ORDERLY. My mother's second cousin was one of the Parkinsons of Stepney. (Almost in tears.) What do you know of the feelings of a respectable family in the middle station of life? I cant bear to be looked down on as a common soldier. Why cant my father be let buy my discharge? Youve done away with the soldier's right to have his discharge bought for him by his relations. The country didnt know you were going to do that or it would never have stood it. Is an Englishman to be made a mockery like this?
MITCHENER. Silence. Attention. Right about face. March.
THE ORDERLY (retiring to the standing desk and bedewing it with passionate tears). Oh that I should have lived to be spoke to as if I was the lowest of the low. Me! that has shaved a City of London aldermen wiv me own hand.
MITCHENER. Poltroon. Crybaby. Well, better disgrace yourself here than disgrace your country on the field of battle.
THE ORDERLY (angrily coming to the table). Whos going to disgrace his country on the field of battle? Its not fightin I object to: its soljerin. Show me a German and Ill have a go at him as fast as you or any man. But to ave me time wasted like this, an be stuck in a sentry box at a street corner for an ornament to be stared at; and to be told "right about face: march" if I speak as one man to another: that aint pluck: that aint fightin: that aint patriotism: its bein made a bloomin sheep of.
MITCHENER. A sheep has many valuable military qualities. Emulate them: dont disparage them.
THE ORDERLY. Oh, wots the good of talkin to you? If I wasnt a poor soldier I could punch your head for forty shillins for a month. But because youre my commanding officer you deprive me of my right to a magistrate and make a compliment of giving me two years ard sted of shootin me. Why cant you take your chance the same as any civilian does?
MITCHENER (rising majestically). I search the pages of history in vain for a parallel to such a speech made by a Private to a general. But for the coherence of your remarks I should conclude that you were drunk. As it is, you must be mad. You shall be placed under restraint at once. Call the guard.
THE ORDERLY. Call your grandmother. If you take one man off the doors the place'll be full of Suffragets before you can wink.
MITCHENER. Then arrest yourself; and off with you to the guardroom.
THE ORDERLY. What am I to arrest myself for?
MITCHENER. Thats nothing to you. You have your orders: obey them. Do you hear? Right about face. March.
THE ORDERLY. How would you feel yourself if you was told to right-about-face and march as if you was a doormat?
MITCHENER. I should feel as if my country had spoken through the voice of my officer. I should feel proud and honored to be able to serve my country by obeying its commands. No thought of self—no vulgar preoccupation with my own petty vanity could touch my mind at such a moment. To me my officer would not be a mere man: he would be for the moment—whatever his personal frailties—the incarnation of our national destiny.
THE ORDERLY. What Im saying to you is the voice of old England a jolly sight more than all this rot that you get out of books. Id rather be spoke to by a sergeant than by you. He tells me to go to hell when I challenges him to argue it out like a man. It aint polite; but its English. What you say aint anything at all. You dont act on it yourself. You dont believe in it. Youd punch my head if I tried it on you; and serve me right. And look here. Heres another point for you to argue.
MITCHENER (with a shriek of protest). No—
Mrs. Banger comes in, followed by Lady Corinthia Fanshawe.
Mrs. Banger is a masculine woman of forty, with a powerful voice and great physical strength. Lady Corinthia, who is also over thirty, is beautiful and romantic.
MRS. BANGER (throwing the door open decisively and marching straight to Michener). Pray how much longer is the Anti-Suffrage League to be kept waiting? (She passes him contemptuously and sits down with impressive confidence in the chair next the fireplace. Lady Corinthia takes the chair on the opposite side of the table with equal aplomb.)
MITCHENER. Im extremely sorry. You really do not know what I have to put with. This imbecile, incompetent, unsoldierly disgrace to the uniform he should never have been allowed to put on, ought to have shown you in fifteen minutes ago.
THE ORDERLY. All I said was—
MITCHENER. Not another word. Attention. Right about face. March. (The Orderly sits down doggedly.) Get out of the room this instant, you fool, or Ill kick you out.
THE ORDERLY (civilly). I dont mind that, sir. Its human. Its English. Why couldnt you have said it before? (He goes out).
MITCHENER. Take no notice I beg: these scenes are of daily occurrence now that we have compulsory service under the command of the halfpenny papers. Pray sit down.
LADY CORINTHIA AND MRS. BANGER (rising). Thank you. (They sit down again.)
MITCHENER (sitting down with a slight chuckle of satisfaction). And now, ladies, to what am I indebted?
MRS. BANGER. Let me introduce us. I am Rosa Carmina Banger—Mrs. Banger, organizing secretary of the Anti-Suffraget League. This is Lady Corinthia Fanshawe, the president of the League, known in musical circles—I am not myself musical—as the Richmond Park nightingale. A soprano. I am myself said to be almost a baritone; but I do not profess to understand these dis-tinctions.
MITCHENER (murmuring politely). Most happy, Im sure.
MRS. BANGER. We have come to tell you plainly that the Anti-Suffragets are going to fight.
MITCHENER (gallantly). Oh, pray leave that to the men, Mrs. Banger.
LADY CORINTHIA. We can no longer trust the men.
MRS. BANGER. They have shown neither the strength, the courage, nor the determination which are needed to combat women like the Suffragets.
LADY CORINTHIA. Nature is too strong for the combatants.
MRS. BANGER. Physical struggles between persons of opposite sexes are unseemly.
LADY CORINTHIA. Demoralizing.
MRS. BANGER. Insincere.
LADY CORINTHIA. They are merely embraces in disguise.
MRS. BANGER. No such suspicion can attach to combats in which the antagonists are of the same sex.
LADY CORINTHIA. The Anti-Suffragets have resolved to take the field.
MRS. BANGER. They will enforce the order of General Sandstone for the removal of all women from the two mile radius—that is, all women except themselves.
MITCHENER. I am sorry to have to inform you, Madam, that the Government has given up that project, and that General Sandstone has resigned in consequence.
MRS. BANGER. That does not concern us in the least. We approve of the project and will see that it is carried out. We have spent a good deal of money arming ourselves; and we are not going to have that money thrown away through the pusillanimity of a Cabinet of males.
MITCHENER. Arming yourselves! But, my dear ladies, under the latest proclamation women are strictly forbidden to carry chains, padlocks, tracts on the franchise, or weapons of any description.
LADY CORINTHIA (producing an ivory-handled revolver and pointing it at his nose). You little know your countrywomen, General Mitchener.
MITCHENER (without flinching). Madam: it is my duty to take possession of that weapon in accordance with the proclamation. Be good enough to put it down.
MRS. BANGER (producing an XVIII century horse pistol). Is it your duty to take possession of this also?
MITCHENER. That, madam, is not a weapon; it is a curiosity. If you would be kind enough to place it in some museum instead of pointing it at my head, I should be obliged to you.
MRS. BANGER. This pistol, sir, was carried at Waterloo by my grandmother.
MITCHENER. I presume you mean your grandfather.
MRS. BANGER. You presume unwarrantably.
LADY CORINTHIA. Mrs. Banger's grandmother commanded a canteen at that celebrated battle.
MRS. BANGER. Who my grandfather was is a point that has never been quite clearly settled. I put my trust not in my ancestors, but in my good sword, which is at my lodgings.
MITCHENER. Your sword!
MRS. BANGER. The sword with which I slew five Egyptians with my own hand at Kassassin, where I served as a trooper.
MITCHENER. Lord bless me! But was your sex never discovered?
MRS. BANGER. It was never even suspected. I had a comrade—a gentleman ranker—whom they called Fanny. They never called ME Fanny.
LADY CORINTHIA. The suffragets have turned the whole woman movement on to the wrong track. They ask for a vote.
MRS. BANGER. What use is a vote? Men have the vote.
LADY CORINTHIA. And men are slaves.
MRS. BANGER. What women need is the right to military service. Give me a well-mounted regiment of women with sabres, opposed to a regiment of men with votes. We shall see which will go down before the other. (rises) No: we have had enough of these gentle pretty creatures who merely talk and cross-examine ministers in police courts, and go to prison like sheep, and suffer and sacrifice themselves. This question must be solved by blood and iron, as was well said by Bismarck, whom I have reason to believe was a woman in disguise.
MITCHENER. Bismarck a woman?
MRS. BANGER. All the really strong men of history have been disguised women.
MITCHENER (remonstrating). My dear lady!
MRS. BANGER. How can you tell? You never knew that the hero of the charge at Kassassin was a woman: yet she was: it was I, Rosa Carmina Banger. Would Napoleon have been so brutal to women, think you, had he been a man?
MITCHENER. Oh, come, come! Really! Surely female rulers have often shown all the feminine weaknesses. Queen Elizabeth, for instance. Her vanity, her levity.
MRS. BANGER. Nobody who has studied the history of Queen Elizabeth can doubt for a moment that she was a disguised man.
LADY CORINTHIA (admiring Mrs. Banger). Isnt she splendid?
MRS. BANGER (rising with a large gesture). This very afternoon I shall cast off this hampering skirt for ever; mount my charger; and with my good sabre lead the Anti-Suffragets to victory. (She strides to the other side of the room, snorting.)
MITCHENER. But I cant allow anything of the sort, madam. I shall stand no such ridiculous nonsense. Im perfectly determined to put my foot down.
LADY CORINTHIA. Dont be hysterical, General.
MRS. BANGER. Do you think we are to be stopped by these childish exhibitions of temper. They are useless; and your tears and entreaties—a man's last resource—will avail you just as little. I sweep them away, just as I sweep your plans of campaign "made in Germany—"
MITCHENER (flying into a transport of rage). How dare you repeat that infamous slander? (He rings the bell violently.) If this is the alternative to votes for women, I shall advocate giving every woman in the country six votes.
The Orderly comes in.
Remove that woman. See that she leaves the building at once.
The Orderly forlornly contemplates the iron front presented by Mrs. Banger.
THE ORDERLY (propitiatorily). Would you av the feelin art to step out, madam.
MRS. BANGER. You are a soldier. Obey your orders. Put me out. If I got such an order, I should not hesitate.
THE ORDERLY (To Mitchener). Would you mind lendin me a and, Guvner?
LADY CORINTHIA (raising her revolver). I shall be obliged to shoot you if you stir, General.
MRS. BANGER (To the Orderly). When you are ordered to put a person out you should do it like this. (She hurls him from the room. He is heard falling headlong downstairs and crashing through a glass door.) I shall now wait on General Sandstone. If he shows any sign of weakness, he shall share that poor wretch's fate. (She goes out.)
LADY CORINTHIA. Isnt she magnificent?
MITCHENER. Thank heaven shes gone. And now, my dear lady, is it necessary to keep that loaded pistol to my nose all through our conversation?
LADY CORINTHIA. Its not loaded. Its heavy enough, goodness knows, without putting bullets in it.
MITCHENER (triumphantly snatching his revolver from the drawer). Then I am master of the situation. This IS loaded. Ha, ha!
LADY CORINTHIA. But since we are not really going to shoot one another, what difference can it possibly make?
MITCHENER (putting his pistol down on the table). True. Quite true. I recognize there the practical good sense that has prevented you from falling into the snares of the Suffragets.
LADY CORINTHIA. The Suffragets, General, are the dupes of dowdies. A really attractive and clever woman—
MITCHENER (gallantly). Yourself, for instance.
LADY CORINTHIA (snatching up his revolver). Another step and you are a dead man.
MITCHENER (amazed). My dear lady!
LADY CORINTHIA. I am not your dear lady. You are not the first man who has concluded that because I am devoted to music and can reach F flat with the greatest facility—Patti never got above E flat—I am marked out as the prey of every libertine. You think I am like the thousands of weak women whom you have ruined—
MITCHENER. I solemnly protest—
LADY CORINTHIA. Oh, I know what you officers are. To you a woman's honor is nothing, and the idle pleasure of the moment is everything.
MITCHENER. This is perfectly ridiculous. I never ruined anyone in my life.
LADY CORINTHIA. Never! Are you in earnest?
MITCHENER. Certainly I am in earnest. Most indignantly in earnest.
LADY CORINTHIA (throwing down the pistol contemptuously). Then you have no temperament; you are not an artist. You have no soul for music.
MITCHENER. Ive subscribed to the regimental band all my life. I bought two sarrusophones for it out of my own pocket. When I sang Tosti's Goodbye for Ever at Knightsbridge in 1880, the whole regiment wept. You are too young to remember that.
LADY CORINTHIA. Your advances are useless. I—
MITCHENER. Confound it, madam, can you not receive an innocent compliment without suspecting me of dishonorable intentions?
LADY CORINTHIA. Love—real love—makes all intentions honorable. But YOU could never understand that.
MITCHENER. Ill not submit to the vulgar penny-novelette notion that an officer is less honorable than a civilian in his relations with women. While I live Ill raise my voice—
LADY CORINTHIA. Tush!
MITCHENER. What do you mean by tush?
LADY CORINTHIA. You cant raise your voice above its natural compass. What sort of voice have you?
MITCHENER. A tenor. What sort had you?
LADY CORINTHIA. Had? I have it still. I tell you I am the highest living soprano. (Scornfully.) What was your highest note, pray?
MITCHENER. B flat—once—in 1879. I was drunk at the time.
LADY CORINTHIA (gazing at him almost tenderly). Though you may not believe me, I find you are more interesting when you talk about music than when you are endeavoring to betray a woman who has trusted you by remaining alone with you in your apartment.
MITCHENER (springing up and fuming away to the fireplace). These repeated insults to a man of blameless life are as disgraceful to you as they are undeserved by me, Lady Corinthia. Such suspicions invite the conduct they impute. (She raises the pistol.) You need not be alarmed: I am only going to leave the room.
LADY CORINTHIA. Fish.
MITCHENER. Fish! This is worse than tush. Why fish?
LADY CORINTHIA. Yes, fish: coldblooded fish.
MITCHENER. Dash it all, madam, do you WANT me to make advances to you?
LADY CORINTHIA. I have not the slightest intention of yielding to them; but to make them would be a tribute to romance. What is life without romance?
MITCHENER (making a movement toward her). I tell you—
LADY CORINTHIA. Stop. No nearer. No vulgar sensuousness. If you must adore, adore at a distance.
MITCHENER. This is worse than Mrs. Banger. I shall ask that estimable woman to come back.
LADY CORINTHIA. Poor Mrs. Banger! Do not for a moment suppose, General Mitchener, that Mrs. Banger represents my views on the suffrage question. Mrs. Banger is a man in petticoats. I am every inch a woman; but I find it convenient to work with her.
MITCHENER. Do you find the combination comfortable?
LADY CORINTHIA. I do not wear combinations, General: (with dignity) they are unwomanly.
MITCHENER (throwing himself despairingly into the chair next the hearthrug). I shall go mad. I never for a moment dreamt of alluding to anything of the sort.
LADY CORINTHIA. There is no need to blush and become self-conscious at the mention of underclothing. You are extremely vulgar, General.
MITCHENER. Lady Corinthia: you have my pistol. Will you have the goodness to blow my brains out. I should prefer it to any further effort to follow the gyrations of the weathercock you no doubt call your mind. If you refuse, then I warn you that youll not get another word out of me—not if we sit here until doomsday.
LADY CORINTHIA. I dont want you to talk. I want you to listen. You do not yet understand my views on the question of the Suffrage. (She rises to make a speech.) I must preface my remarks by reminding you that the Suffraget movement is essentially a dowdy movement. The suffragets are not all dowdies; but they are mainly supported by dowdies. Now I am not a dowdy. Oh, no compliments—
MITCHENER. I did not utter a sound.
LADY CORINTHIA (smiling). It is easy to read your thoughts. I am one of those women who are accustomed to rule the world through men. Man is ruled by beauty, by charm. The men who are not have no influence. The Salic Law, which forbade women to occupy a throne, is founded on the fact that when a woman is on the throne the country is ruled by men, and therefore ruled badly; whereas when a man is on the throne, the country is ruled by women, and therefore ruled well. The suffragets would degrade women from being rulers to being voters, mere politicians, the drudges of the caucus and the polling booth. We should lose our influence completely under such a state of affairs. The New Zealand women have the vote. What is the result? No poet ever makes a New Zealand woman his heroine. One might as well be romantic about New Zealand mutton. Look at the suffragets themselves. The only ones who are popular are the pretty ones, who flirt with mobs as ordinary women flirt with officers.
MITCHENER. Then I understand you to hold that the country should be governed by the women after all.
LADY CORINTHIA. Not by all the women. By certain women. I had almost said by one woman. By the women who have charm—who have artistic talent—who wield a legitimate, a refining influence over the men. (She sits down gracefully, smiling, and arranging her draperies with conscious elegance.)
MITCHENER. In short, madam, you think that if you give the vote to the man, you give the power to the women who can get round the man.
LADY CORINTHIA. That is not a very delicate way of putting it; but I suppose that is how you would express what I mean.
MITCHENER. Perhaps youve never had any experience of garrison life. If you had, you'd have noticed that the sort of woman who is clever at getting round men is sometimes rather a bad lot.
LADY CORINTHIA. What do you mean by a bad lot?
MITCHENER. I mean a woman who would play the very devil if the other women didnt keep her in pretty strict order. I dont approve of democracy, because its rot; and Im against giving the vote to women because Im not accustomed to it and therefore am able to see with an unprejudiced eye what infernal nonsense it is. But I tell you plainly, Lady Corinthia, that there is one game that I dislike more than either Democracy or Votes For Women: and that is the game of Antony and Cleopatra. If I must be ruled by women, let me have decent women and not—well, not the other sort.
LADY CORINTHIA. You have a coarse mind, General Mitchener.
MITCHENER. So has Mrs. Banger. And by George! I prefer Mrs. Banger to you!
LADY CORINTHIA (bounding to her feet.) You prefer Mrs. Banger to me!!!
MITCHENER. I do. You said yourself she was splendid.
LADY CORINTHIA. You are no true man. You are one of those unsexed creatures who have no joy in life, no sense of beauty, no high notes.
MITCHENER. No doubt I am, Madam. As a matter of fact, I am not clever at discussing public questions, because, as an English gentleman, I was not brought up to use my brains. But occasionally, after a number of remarks which are perhaps sometimes rather idiotic, I get certain convictions. Thanks to you, I have now got a conviction that this woman question is not a question of lovely and accomplished females, but of dowdies. The average Englishwoman is a dowdy and never has half a chance of becoming anything else. She hasnt any charm; and she has no high notes except when shes giving her husband a piece of her mind, or calling down the street for one of the children.
LADY CORINTHIA. How disgusting!
MITCHENER. Somebody must do the dowdy work! If we had to choose between pitching all the dowdies into the Thames and pitching all the lovely and accomplished women, the lovely ones would have to go.
LADY CORINTHIA. And if you had to do without Wagner's music or do without your breakfast, you would do without Wagner. Pray does that make eggs and bacon more precious than music, or the butcher and baker better than the poet and philosopher? The scullery may be more necessary to our bare existence than the cathedral. Even humbler apartments might make the same claim. But which is the more essential to the higher life?
MITCHENER. Your arguments are so devilishly ingenious that I feel convinced you got them out of some confounded book. Mine—such as they are—are my own. I imagine its something like this. There is an old saying that if you take care of the pence, the pounds will take care of themselves. Well, perhaps if we take care of the dowdies and the butchers and the bakers, the beauties and the bigwigs will take care of themselves. (Rising and facing her determinedly.) Anyhow, I dont want to have things arranged for me by Wagner. Im not Wagner. How does he know where the shoe pinches me? How do you know where the shoe pinches your washerwoman?—you and your high F in alt. How are you to know when you havent made her comfortable unless she has a vote? Do you want her to come and break your windows?
LADY CORINTHIA. Am I to understand that General Mitchener is a democrat and a suffraget?
MITCHENER. Yes: you have converted me—you and Mrs. Banger.
LADY CORINTHIA. Farewell, creature. (Balsquith enters hurriedly.) Mr. Balsquith: I am going to wait on General Sandstone. He at least is an officer and a gentleman. (She sails out.)
BALSQUITH. Mitchener: the game is up.
MITCHENER. What do you mean?
BALSQUITH. The strain is too much for the Cabinet. The old Liberal and Unionist Free Traders declare that if they are defeated on their resolution to invite tenders from private contractors for carrying on the Army and Navy, they will go solid for votes for women as the only means of restoring the liberties of the country which we have destroyed by compulsory military service.
MITCHENER. Infernal impudence?
BALSQUITH. The Labor party is taking the same line. They say the men got the Factory Acts by hiding behind the women's petticoats, and that they will get votes for the army in the same way.
MITCHENER. Balsquith: we must not yield to clamor. I have just told this lady that I am at last convinced—
BALSQUITH (joyfully). That the suffragets must be supported.
MITCHENER. No: that the anti-suffragets must be put down at all hazards.
BALSQUITH. Same thing.
MITCHENER. No. For you now tell me that the Labor Party demands votes for women. That makes it impossible to give them, because it would be yielding to clamor. The one condition on which we can consent to grant anything in this country is that nobody shall presume to want it.
BALSQUITH (earnestly). Mitchener: its no use. You cant have the conveniences of Democracy without its occasional inconveniences.
MITCHENER. What are its conveniences, I should like to know?
BALSQUITH. When you tell people that they are the real rulers and they can do what they like, nine times out of ten, they say, "All right, tell us what to do." But it happens sometimes that they get an idea of their own; and then of course youre landed.
BALSQUITH (desperately shouting him down). No: its no use telling me to shoot them down: Im not going to do it. After all, I dont suppose votes for women will make much difference. It hasnt in the other countries in which it has been tried.
MITCHENER. I never supposed it would make much difference. What I cant stand is giving in to that Pankhurst lot. Hang it all, Balsquith, it seems only yesterday that we put them in quod for a month. I said at the time that it ought to have been ten years. If my advice had been taken this wouldnt have happened. Its a consolation to me that events are proving how thoroughly right I was.
The Orderly rushes in.
THE ORDERLY. Look ere, sir: Mrs. Banger locked the door of General Sandstone's room on the inside; and shes sitting on his ead until he signs a proclamation for women to serve in the army.
MITCHENER. Put your shoulder to the door and burst it open.
THE ORDERLY. Its only in story books that doors burst open as easy as that. Besides, Im only too thankful to have a locked door between me and Mrs. B.; and so is all the rest of us.
MITCHENER. Cowards. Balsquith: to the rescue! (He dashes out.)
BALSQUITH (ambling calmly to the hearth). This is the business of the Sergeant at Arms rather than of the leader of the House. Theres no use in my tackling Mrs. Banger: she would only sit on my head too.
THE ORDERLY. You take my tip, Mr. Balsquith. Give the women the vote and give the army civil rights; and av done with it.
MITCHENER. Balsquith: prepare to hear the worst.
BALSQUITH. Sandstone is no more?
MITCHENER. On the contrary, he is particularly lively. He has softened Mrs. Banger by a proposal of marriage in which he appears to be perfectly in earnest. He says he has met his ideal at last, a really soldierly woman. She will sit on his head for the rest of his life; and the British Army is now to all intents and purposes commanded by Mrs. Banger. When I remonstrated with Sandstone she positively shouted "Right-about-face. March" at me in the most offensive tone. If she hadnt been a woman I should have punched her head. I precious nearly punched Sandstone's. The horrors of martial law administered by Mrs. Banger are too terrible to be faced. I demand civil rights for the army.
THE ORDERLY (chuckling). Wot oh, General! Wot oh!
MITCHENER. Hold your tongue. (He goes to the door and calls.) Mrs. Farrell! (Returning, and again addressing the Orderly.) Civil rights don't mean the right to be uncivil. (Pleased with his own wit.) Almost a pun. Ha ha!
MRS. FARRELL. Whats the matther now? (She comes to the table.)
MITCHENER (to the Orderly). I have private business with Mrs. Farrell. Outside, you infernal blackguard.
THE ORDERLY (arguing, as usual). Well, I didnt ask to—(Mitchener seizes him by the nape; rushes him out; and slams the door).
MITCHENER. Excuse the abruptness of this communication, Mrs. Farrell; but I know only one woman in the country whose practical ability and force of character can maintain her husband in competition with the husband of Mrs. Banger. I have the honor to propose for your hand.
MRS. FARRELL. Dye mean you want to marry me?
MITCHENER. I do.
MRS. FARRELL. No thank you. Id have to work for you just the same; only I shouldnt get any wages for it.
BALSQUITH. That will be remedied when women get the vote. Ive had to promise that.
MITCHENER (winningly). Mrs. Farrell: you have been charwoman here now ever since I took up my duties. Have you really never, in your more romantic moments, cast a favorable eye on my person?
MRS. FARRELL. Ive been too busy casting an unfavorable eye on your cloze and on the litther you make with your papers.
MITCHENER (wounded). Am I to understand that you refuse me?
MRS. FARRELL. Just wait a bit. (She takes Mitchener's chair and rings up the telephone.) Double three oh seven Elephant.
MITCHENER. I trust youre not ringing for the police, Mrs. Farrell. I assure you Im perfectly sane.
MRS. FARRELL (into the telephone). Is that you, Eliza? (She listens for the answer.) Not out of bed yet! Go and pull her out by the heels, the lazy sthreel; and tell her her mother wants to speak to her very particularly about General Mitchener. (To Mitchener.) Dont you be afeard: I know youre sane enough when youre not talkin about the Germans. (Into the telephone.) Is that you, Eliza? (She listens for the answer.) Dye remember me givin you a clout on the side of the head for tellin me that if I only knew how to play me cards I could marry any general on the staff instead o disgracin you be bein a charwoman? (She listens for the answer.) Well, I can have General Mitchener without playing any cards at all. What dye think I ought to say? (She listens.) Well, Im no chicken myself. (To Mitchener.) How old are you?
MITCHENER (with an effort). Fifty-two.
MRS. FARRELL (into the telephone). He says hes fifty-two. (She listens; then, to Mitchener.) She says youre down in Who's Who as sixty-one.
MITCHENER. Damn Who's Who.
MRS. FARRELL (into the telephone). Anyhow I wouldnt let that stand in the way. (She listens.) If I really WHAT? (She listens.)I cant hear you. If I really WHAT? (She listens.) WHO druv him? I never said a word to— Eh? (She listens.) Oh, LOVE him. Arra dont be a fool, child. (To Mitchener.) She wants to know do I really love you.(Into the telephone.) Its likely indeed Id frighten the man off with any such nonsense, at my age. What? (She listens.) Well, thats just what I was thinkin.
MITCHENER. May I ask what you were thinking, Mrs. Farrell? This suspense is awful.
MRS. FARRELL. I was thinkin that perhaps the Duchess might like her daughter-in-law's mother to be a General's lady betther than to be a charwoman. (Into the telephone.) Waitle youre married yourself, me fine lady: you'll find out that every woman is a charwoman from the day shes married. (She listens.) Then you think I might take him? (She listens.) Glang, you young scald: if I had you here Id teach you manners. (She listens.) Thats enough now. Back wid you to bed; and be thankful Im not there to put me slipper across you. (She rings off.) The impudence! (To Mitchener.) Bless you, me childher, may you be happy, she says. (To Balsquith, going to his side of the room.) Give dear, old Mich me love, she says.
The Orderly opens the door, ushering in Lady Corinthia.
THE ORDERLY. Lady Corinthia Fanshawe to speak to you, sir.
LADY CORINTHIA. General Mitchener: your designs on Mrs. Banger are defeated. She is engaged to General Sandstone. Do you still prefer her to me?
MRS. FARRELL. Hes out o the hunt. Hes engaged to me.
The Orderly overcome by this news reels from the door to the standing desk, and clutches the stool to save himself from collapsing.
MITCHENER. And extremely proud of it, Lady Corinthia.
LADY CORINTHIA (contemptuously). She suits you exactly. (Coming to Balsquith.) Mr. Balsquith: you at least, are not a Philistine.
BALSQUITH. No, Lady Corinthia; but Im a confirmed bachelor. I don't want a wife; but I want an Egeria.
MRS. FARRELL. More shame for you.
LADY CORINTHIA. Silence, woman. The position and functions of a wife may suit your gross nature. An Egeria is exactly what I desire to be. (To Balsquith.) Can you play accompaniments?
BALSQUITH. Melodies only, I regret to say. With one finger. But my brother, who is a very obliging fellow, and not unlike me personally, is acquainted with three chords, with which he manages to accompany most of the comic songs of the day.
LADY CORINTHIA. I do not sing comic songs. Neither will you when I am your Egeria. Come. I give a musical at-home this afternoon. I will allow you to sit at my feet.
BALSQUITH. That is my ideal of romantic happiness. It commits me exactly as far as I desire to venture. Thank you.
THE ORDERLY. Wot price me, General? Wont you celebrate your engagement by doing something for me? Maynt I be promoted to be a sergeant.
MITCHENER. Youre too utterly incompetent to discharge the duties of a sergeant. You are only fit to be a lieutenant. I shall recommend you for a commission.
THE ORDERLY. Hooray! The Parkinsons of Stepney will be proud to have me call on them now. Ill go and tell the sergeant what I think of him. Hooray! (He rushes out.)
MRS. FARRELL (going to the door and calling after him.) You might have the manners to shut the door idther you. (She shuts it and comes between Mitchener and Lady Corinthia.)
MITCHENER. Poor wretch; the day after civil rights are conceded to the army he and Chubbs-Jenkinson will be found incapable of maintaining discipline. They will be sacked and replaced by really capable men. Mrs. Farrell: as we are engaged, and I am anxious to do the correct thing in every way, I am quite willing to kiss you if you wish it.
MRS. FARRELL. Youd only feel like a fool; and so would I.
MITCHENER. You are really the most sensible woman. Ive made an extremely wise choice.
LADY CORINTHIA (To Balsquith). You may kiss my hand, if you wish.
BALSQUITH (cautiously). I think we had better not commit ourselves too far. If I might carry your parasol, that would quite satisfy me. Let us change a subject which threatens to become embarrassing. (To Mitchener.) The moral of the occasion for you, Mitchener, appears to be that youve got to give up treating soldiers as if they were schoolboys.
MITCHENER. The moral for you, Balsquith, is that youve got to give up treating women as if they were angels. Ha ha!
MRS. FARRELL. Its a mercy youve found one another out at last. That's enough now.