E-text prepared by Stephen Bishop <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THE NOTORIOUS MRS. EBBSMITH
ARTHUR WING PINERO
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
AGNES LUCAS CLEEVE SYBIL CLEEVE SIR SANDFORD CLEEVE DUKE OF ST. OLPHERTS GERTRUDE THORPE REV. AMOS WINTERFIELD SIR GEORGE BRODRICK DR. KIRKE FORTUNE ANTONIO POPPI NELLA HEPHZIBAH
The Scene is laid in Venice—first at the Palazzo Arconati, a lodging house on the Grand Canal; afterwards in an apartment in the Campo S. Bartolomeo.
It is Easter-tide, a week passing between the events of the First and Second Acts.
THE FIRST ACT
The Scene is a room in the Palazzo Arconati, on the Grand Canal, Venice. The room itself is beautiful in its decayed grandeur, but the furnishings and hangings are either tawdry and meretricious or avowedly modern. The three windows at the back open on to a narrow covered balcony, or loggia, and through them can be seen the west side of the canal. Between recessed double doors on either side of the room is a fireplace out of use and a marble mantelpiece, but a tiled stove is used for a wood fire. Breakfast things are laid on the table. The sun streams into the room.
[ANTONIO POPPI and NELLA, two Venetian servants, with a touch of the picturesque in their attire, are engaged in clearing the breakfast-table.]
NELLA. [Turning her head.] Ascolta! (Listen!)
ANTONIO. Una gondola allo scalo. (A gondala at our steps.)[They open the centre-window, go out on to the balcony, and look down below.] La Signora Thorpe. (The Signora Thorpe.)
NELLO. Con suo fratello. (With her brother.)
ANTONIO. [Calling.] Buon di, Signor Winterfield! Iddio la benedica! [Good day, Signor Winterfield! The blessing of God be upon you!]
NELLA. [Calling.] Buon di, Signora! La Madonna Passista! (Good day, Signora! May the Virgin have you in her keeping!)
ANTONIO. [Returning to the room.] Noi siamo in ritardo di tutto questa mattina. (We are behindhand with everything this morning.)
NELLA. [Following him.] E vero. (That is true.)
ANTONIO. [Bustling about.] La stufa! (The stove!)
NELLA. [Throwing wood into the stove.] Che tua sia benedetta per rammentarmelo! Questi Inglesi non si contentono del sole. (Bless you for remembering it. These English are not content with the sun.)
[Leaving only a vase of flowers upon the table, they hurry out with the breakfast things. At the same moment, FORTUNE, a manservant, enters, showing in MRS. THORPE and the REV. AMOS WINTERFIELD. GERTRUDE THORPE is a pretty, frank-looking young woman of about seven and twenty. She is in mourning, and has sorrowful eyes and a complexion that is too delicate, but natural cheerfulness and brightness are seen through all. AMOS is about forty—big, burly, gruff; he is untidily dressed, and has a pipe in his hand. FORTUNE is carrying a pair of freshly-cleaned tan-coloured boots upon boot-trees.]
GERTRUDE. Now, Fortune, you ought to have told us downstairs that Dr. Kirke is with Mrs. Cleeve.
AMOS. Come away, Gerty. Mrs. Cleeve can't want to be bored with us just now.
FORTUNE. Mrs. Cleeve give 'er ordares she is always to be bored wiz Madame Thorpe and Mr. Winterfield.
AMOS. Ha, Ha!
GERTRUDE. [Smiling.] Fortune!
FORTUNE. Besides, ze doctares vill go in 'alf a minute, you see.
AMOS. What, is there another doctor with Dr. Kirke?
FORTUNE. Ze great physician, Sir Brodrick.
GERTRUDE. Sir George Brodrick? Amos!
AMOS. Doesn't Mr. Cleeve feel so well?
FORTUNE. Oh, yes. But Mrs. Cleeve 'appen to read in a newspapare zat Sir George Brodrick vas in Florence for ze Paque—ze Eastare. Sir Brodrick vas Mr. Cleeve's doctor in London, Mrs. Cleeve tell me, so'e is acquainted wiz Mr. Cleeve's inside.
AMOS. Ho, ho!
GERTRUDE. Mr. Cleeve's constitution, Fortune.
FORTUNE. Excuse, madame. Zerefore Mrs. Cleeve she telegraph for Sir Brodrick to come to Venise.
AMOS. To consult with Dr. Kirke, I suppose.
FORTUNE. [Listening.] 'Ere is ze doctares.
[DR. KIRKE enters, followed by SIR GEORGE BRODRICK. KIRKE is a shabby, snuff-taking old gentleman—blunt but kind; SIR GEORGE, on the contrary, is scrupulously neat in his dress, and has a suave, professional manner. FORTUNE withdraws]
KIRKE. Good morning, Mr. Winterfield. [To GERTRUDE.] How do you do, my dear? You're getting some colour into your pretty face, I'm glad to see. [To SIR GEORGE.] Mr. Winterfield—Sir George Brodrick. [SIR GEORGE and AMOS shake hands.]
KIRKE. [To SIR GEORGE.] Mrs. Thorpe. [SIR GEORGE shakes hands with GERTRUDE.] Sir George and I started life together in London years ago; now he finds me here in Venice. Well we can't all win the race—eh?
SIR GEORGE. My dear old friend! [To GERTRUDE.] Mr Cleeve has been telling me, Mrs. Thorpe, how exceedingly kind you and your brother have been to him during his illness.
GERTRUDE. Oh, Mr. Cleeve exaggerates our little services.
AMOS. I've done nothing.
GERTRUDE. Nor I.
DR. KIRKE. Now, my dear!
GERTRUDE. Dr Kirke, you weren't in Florence with us; you're only a tale-bearer.
DR. KIRKE. Well, I've excellent authority for my story of a young woman who volunteered to share the nursing of an invalid at a time when she herself stood greatly in need of being nursed.
GERTRUDE. Nonsense! [To SIR GEORGE.] You know, Amos—my big brother over there—Amos and I struck up an acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Cleeve at Florence, at the Hotel d'Italie, and occasionally one of us would give Mr Cleeve his dose while Poor Mrs. Cleeve took a little rest or drive—but positively that's all.
DR KIRKE. You don't tell us—
GERTRUDE. I've nothing more to tell, except that I'm awfully fond of Mrs. Cleeve—
AMOS. Oh, if you once get my sister on the subject of Mrs. Cleeve— [Taking up a newspaper.]
GERTRUDE. [To SIR GEORGE.] Yes, I always say that if I were a man searching for a wife, I should be inclined to base my ideal on Mrs. Cleeve.
SIR GEORGE. [Edging away towards KIRKE, with a surprised uncomfortable smile.] Eh? Really?
GERTRUDE. You conceive a different ideal, Sir George?
SIR GEORGE. Oh—well—
GERTRUDE. Well, Sir George?
AMOS. Perhaps Sir George has heard that Mrs. Cleeve holds regrettable opinions on some points. If so, he may feel surprised that a parson's sister—
GERTRUDE. Oh, I don't share all Mrs. Cleeve's views, or sympathise with them, of course. But they succeed only in making me sad and sorry. Mrs. Cleeve's opinions don't stop me from loving the gentle, sweet woman; admiring her for her patient, absorbing devotion to her husband; wondering at the beautiful stillness with which she seems to glide through life—!
AMOS. [Putting down the newspaper, to SIR GEORGE and KIRKE.] I told you so! [To GERTRUDE.] Gertrude, I'm sure Sir George and Dr. Kirke want to be left together for a few minutes.
GERTRUDE. [Going up to the window.] I'll sun myself on the balcony.
AMOS. And I'll go and buy some tobacco. [To GERTRUDE.] Don't be long, Gerty. [Nodding to SIR GEORGE and KIRKE] Good morning. [They return his nod; and he goes out.]
GERTRUDE. [On the balcony.] Dr. Kirke, I've heard what doctors' consultations consist of. After looking at the pictures, you talk about whist. [She closes the windows and sits outside.]
KIRKE. [Producing his snuff-box.] Ha, ha!
SIR GEORGE. Why this lady and her brother evidently haven't any suspicion of the actual truth, my dear Kirke!
KIRKE. [Taking snuff.] Not the slightest.
SIR GEORGE. The woman made a point of being extremely explicit with you, you tell me?
KIRKE. Yes, she was plain enough with me. At our first meeting, she said: "Doctor, I want you to know so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so."
SIR GEORGE. Really? Well it certainly isn't fair of Cleeve and his— his associate to trick decent people like Mrs Thorpe and her brother. Good gracious, the brother is a clergyman too!
KIRKE. The rector of some dull hole in the north of England.
SIR GEORGE. Really!
KIRKE. A bachelor; this Mrs Thorpe keeps house for him. She's a widow.
SIR GEORGE. Really?
KIRKE. Widow of a captain in the army. Poor thing! She's lately lost her only child and can't get over it.
SIR GEORGE. Indeed, really, really? . . . but about Cleeve, now—he had Roman fever of rather a severe type?
KIRKE. In November. And then that fool of a Bickerstaff at Rome allowed the woman to move him to Florence too soon, and there he had a relapse. However, when she brought him on here the man was practically well.
SIR GEORGE. The difficulty being to convince him of the fact, eh? A highly-strung, emotional creature?
KIRKE. You've hit him.
SIR GEORGE. I've known him from his childhood. Are you still giving him anything?
KIRKE. A little quinine, to humour him.
SIR GEORGE. Exactly. [Looking at his watch.] Where is she? Where is she? I've promised to take my wife shopping in the Merceria this morning. By the bye, Kirke—I must talk scandal, I find—this is rather an odd circumstance. Whom do you think I got a bow from as I passed through the hall of the Danieli last night? [Kirke grunts and shakes his head.] The Duke of St Olpherts.
KIRKE. [Taking snuff.] Ah! I suppose you're in with a lot of swells now, Brodrick.
SIR GEORGE. No, no; you don't understand me. The Duke is this young fellow's uncle by marriage. His Grace married a sister of Lady Cleeve's —of Cleeve's mother, you know.
KIRKE. Oh! This looks as if the family are trying to put a finger in the pie.
SIR GEORGE. The Duke may be here by mere chance. Still, as you say, it does look—[Lowering his voice as KIRKE eyes an opening door.] Who's that?
KIRKE. The woman.
[AGNES enters. She moves firmly but noiselessly—a placid woman, with a sweet, low voice. Her dress is plain to the verge of coarseness; her face, which has little colour, is, at the first glance almost wholly unattractive.]
AGNES. [Looking from one to the other.] I thought you would send for me, perhaps. [To SIR GEORGE.] What do you say about him?
KIRKE. One moment. [Pointing to the balcony.] Mrs. Thorpe—
AGNES. Excuse me. [She goes to the window and opens it.]
GERTRUDE. Oh, Mrs Cleeve! [Entering the room.] Am I in the way?
AGNES. You are never that, my dear. Run along to my room; I'll call you in a minute or two. [GERTRUDE nods, and goes to the door.] Take off you hat and sit with me for a while.
GERTRUDE. I'll stay for a bit, but this hat doesn't take off. [She goes out]
AGNES. [To SIR GEORGE and KIRKE.] Yes?
SIR GEORGE. We are glad to be able to give a most favourable report. I may say that Mr Cleeve has never appeared to be in better health.
AGNES. [Drawing a deep breath.] He will be very much cheered by what you say.
SIR GEORGE. [Bowing stiffly.] I'm glad—
AGNES. His illness left him with a morbid, irrational impression that he would never be his former self again.
SIR GEORGE. A nervous man recovering from a scare. I've helped remove that impression I believe.
AGNES. Thank you. We have a troublesome, perhaps a hard time before us; we both need all our health and spirits. [Turning her head, listening.] Lucas?
[LUCAS enters the room. He is a handsome, intellectual-looking young man of about eight-and-twenty.]
LUCAS. [To AGNES, excitedly.] Have you heard what they say of me?
AGNES. [Smiling.] Yes.
LUCAS. How good of you, Sir George, to break up your little holiday for the sake of an anxious, fidgety fellow. [To Agnes.] Isn't it?
AGNES. Sir George has rendered us a great service.
LUCAS. [Going to KIRKE, brightly.] Yes, and proved how ungrateful I've been to you, doctor.
KIRKE. Don't apologise. People who don't know when they're well are the mainstay of my profession. [Offering snuff-box.] Here—[LUCAS takes a pinch of snuff, laughingly.]
AGNES. [In a low voice to SIR GEORGE.] He has been terribly hipped at times. [Taking up the vase of flowers from the table.] Your visit will have made him another man. [She goes to a table, puts down the vase upon the tray, and commences to cut and arrange the fresh flowers she finds there.]
LUCAS. [Seeing that AGNES is out of hearing.] Excuse me, Kirke—just for one moment. [To SIR GEORGE.] Sir George—[KIRKE joins AGNES.] You still go frequently to Great Cumberland Place?
SIR GEORGE. Your mother's gout has been rather stubborn lately.
LUCAS. Very likely she and my brother Sandford will get to hear of your visit to me here; in that case you'll be questioned pretty closely, naturally.
SIR GEORGE. My position is certainly a little delicate.
LUCAS. Oh you may be perfectly open with my people as to my present mode of life. Only—[He motions SIR GEORGE to be seated; they sit facing each other.] Only I want you hear me declare again plainly [looking towards AGNES] that but for the care and devotion of that good woman over there, but for the solace of that woman's companionship, I should have been dead months ago—I should have died raving in my awful bedroom on the ground floor of that foul Roman hotel. Malarial fever, of course! Doctors don't admit—do they?—that it's possible for strong men to die of miserable marriages. And yet I was dying in Rome, I truly believe, from my bitter, crushing disappointment, from the consciousness of my wretched, irretrievable—[FORTUNE enters, carrying LUCAS' hat, gloves, overcoat, and silk wrap, and upon a salver, a bottle of medicine and a glass.]
LUCAS. [Sharply.] Qu'y a-t-il, Fortune?
FORTUNE. Sir, you have an appointment.
LUCAS. [Rising.] At the Danieli at eleven. Is it so late? [FORTUNE places the things upon the table. LUCAS puts the wrap around his throat; AGNES goes to him and arranges it for him solicitously.]
SIR GEORGE. [Rising.] I have to meet Lady Brodrick at the Piazzetta. Let me take you in my gondola.
AGNES. [To SIR GEORGE.] I would rather Lucas went in the house gondola; I know its cushions are dry. May he take you to the Piazetta?
SIR GEORGE. [A little stiffly.] Certainly.
AGNES. [To FORTUNE.] Mettez les coussins dans la gondole.
FORTUNE. Bien, madame.
[FORTUNE goes out. AGNES begins to measure a dose of medicine.]
SIR GEORGE. [To AGNES.] Er—I—ah—
LUCAS. [Putting on his gloves.] Agnes, Sir George—
AGNES. [Turning to SIR GEORGE, the bottle and glass in her hands.] Yes?
SIR GEORGE. [Constrainedly.] We always make a point of acknowledging the importance of nursing as an aid to medical treatment. I—I am sure Mr. Cleeve owes you much in that respect.
AGNES. Thank you.
SIR GEORGE. [To LUCAS.] I have to discharge my gondola; you'll find me at the steps, Cleeve. [AGNES shifts the medicine bottle from one hand to the other so that her right hand may be free, but SIR GEORGE simply bows in a formal way and moves towards the door.] You are coming with us, Kirke?
SIR GEORGE. Do you mind seeing that I'm not robbed by my gondolier? [He goes out.]
AGNES. [Giving the medicine to LUCAS, undisturbed.] Here, dear.
KIRKE. [To AGNES.] May I pop in tonight for my game of chess?
AGNES. Do, doctor; I shall be very pleased.
KIRKE. [Shaking her hand in a marked way.] Thank you. [He follows SIR GEORGE.]
AGNES. [Looking after him.] Liberal little man.
[She has LUCAS' overcoat in her hand: a small pen-and-ink drawing of a woman's hand drops from one of the pockets. They pick it up together.]
AGNES. Isn't that the sketch you made of me in Florence?
LUCAS. [Replacing it in the coat-pocket.] Yes.
AGNES. You are carrying it about with you?
LUCAS. I slipped it into my pocket, thinking it might interest the Duke.
AGNES. [Assisting him with his overcoat.] Surely I am too obnoxious in the abstract for your uncle to entertain such a detail as a portrait.
LUCAS. It struck me that it might serve to correct certain preconceived notions of my people's.
AGNES. Images of a beautiful temptress with peach-blossomed cheeks and stained hair?
LUCAS. That's what I mean; they suspect a decline of taste on my part, of that sort. Good-bye, dear.
AGNES. Is this mission of the Duke of St Olpherts the final attempt to part us, I wonder? [Angrily, her voice hardening.] Why should they harass and disturb you as they do?
LUCAS. [Kissing her.] Nothing disturbs me now that I know I and strong and well. Besides, everybody will soon tire of being shocked. Even conventional morality must grow breathless in the chase. [He leaves her. She opens the other door and calls.]
AGNES. Mrs. Thorpe! I'm alone now. [She goes on to the balcony, through the centre window, and looks down below. GERTRUDE enters, and joins her on the balcony.]
GERTRUDE. How well your husband is looking!
AGNES. Sir George Brodrick pronounces him quite recovered.
GERTRUDE. Isn't that splendid! [Waving her hand and calling.] Buon giorno, Signor Cleeve! Come molto meglio voi state! [Leaving the balcony, laughing.] Ha, ha! My Italian! [AGNES waves finally to the gondola below, returns to the room, and slips her arm through GERTRUDE'S.]
AGNES. Two whole days since I've seen you.
GERTRUDE. They've been two of my bad days, dear.
AGNES. [Looking into her face.] All right now?
GERTRUDE. Oh, "God's in his heaven" this morning! When the sun's out I feel that my little boy's bed in Ketherick Cemetery is warm and cosy.
AGNES. [Patting GERTRUDE'S hand] Ah!—
GERTRUDE. The weather's the same all over Europe, according to the papers. Do you think it's really going to last? To me these chilly, showery nights are terrible. You know, I still tuck my child up at night-time; still have my last peep at him before going to my own bed; and it is awful to listen to these cold rains—drip, drip, upon that little green coverlet of his! [She goes and stands by the window silently.]
AGNES. This isn't strong of you, dear Mrs. Thorpe. You mustn't—you mustn't. [AGNES brings the tray with the cut flowers to the nearer table; calmly and methodically she resumes trimming the stalks.]
GETRUDE. You're quite right. That's over. Now, then, I'm going to gabble for five minutes gaily. [Settling herself comfortably in an armchair.] What jolly flowers you've got there! What have you been doing with yourself? Amos took me to the Caffe Quadri yesterday to late breakfast, to cheer me up. Oh, I've something to say to you! At the Caffe, at the next table to ours, there were three English people—two men and a girl—home from India, I gathered. One of the men was looking out of the window, quizzing the folks walking in the Piazza, and suddenly he caught sight of your husband. [AGNES' hands pause in their work.] "I do believe that's Lucas Cleeve," he said. And then the girl had a peep, and said "Certainly it is." And the man said: "I must find out where he's stopping; If Minerva is with him, you must call." "Who's Minerva?" said the second man. "Minerva is Mrs. Lucas Cleeve," the girl said, "it's a pet name—he married a chum of mine, a daughter of Sir John Steyning's a year or so after I went out." Excuse me, dear. Do these people really know you and your husband, or were they talking nonsense?
[AGNES takes the vase of faded flowers, goes onto the balcony, and empties the contents of the vase into the canal. Then she stands by the window, her back towards GERTRUDE.]
AGNES. No, they evidently know Mr. Cleeve.
GERTRUDE. Your husband never calls you by that pet-name of yours. Why is it you haven't told me you're a daughter of Admiral Steyning's?
AGNES. Mrs Thorpe—
GERTRUDE. [Warmly.] Oh, I must say what I mean! I have often pulled myself up short in my gossips with you, conscious of a sort of wall between us. [AGNES comes slowly from the window.] Somehow, I feel now that you haven't in the least made a friend of me. I'm hurt. St's stupid of me; I can't help it.
AGNES. [After a moment's pause.] I am not the lady these people were speaking of yesterday.
AGNES. Mr. Cleeve is no longer with his wife; he has left her.
GERTRUDE. Left—his wife!
AGNES. Like yourself, I am a widow. I don't know whether you've ever heard my name—Ebbsmith. [GERTRUDE stares at her blankly.] I beg your pardon sincerely. I never meant to conceal my true position; such a course is opposed to every true principle of mind. But I grew so attached to you in Florence and—well, it was contemptibly weak; I'll never do such a thing again. [She goes back to the table and commences to refill the vase with the fresh flowers.]
GERTRUDE. When you say that Mr. Cleeve has left his wife, I suppose you mean to tell me that you have taken her place?
AGNES. Yes, I mean that.
[GERTRUDE rises and walks to the door.]
GERTRUDE [At the door.] You knew that I could not speak to you after hearing this?
AGNES. I thought it almost certain that you would not.
[After a moment's irresolution, GERTRUDE returns, and stands by the settee.]
GERTRUDE. I can hardly believe you.
AGNES. I should like you to hear more than just the bare fact.
GETRUDE. [Drumming on the back of the settee.] Why don't you tell me more?
AGNES. You were going, you know.
GERTRUDE. [Sitting.] I won't go quite like that. Please tell me.
AGNES. [Calmly.] Well—did you ever read of John Thorold—"Jack Thorold, the demagogue?" [GERTRUDE shakes her head.] I daresay not. John Thorold, once a schoolmaster, was my father. In my time he used to write for the two or three, so-called, inflammatory journals, and hold forth in small lecture-halls, occasionally even from the top of a wooden stool in the Park, upon trade and labour questions, division of wealth, and the rest of it. He believed in nothing that people who go to church are credited with believing in, Mrs. Thorpe; his scheme for the readjustment of things was Force; his pet doctrine, the ultimate healthy healing that follows the surgery of Revolution. But to me he was the gentlest creature imaginable; and I was very fond of him, in spite of his—as I then thought—strange ideas. Strange ideas! Ha! Many of 'em luckily don't sound quite so irrational today!
GERTRUDE. [Under her breath.] Oh!
AGNES. My home was a wretched one. If dad was violent out of the house, mother was violent enough in it; with her it was rage, sulk, storm, from morning till night; till one day father turned a deaf ear to mother and died in his bed. That was my first intimate experience of the horrible curse that falls upon so many.
AGNES. The curse of unhappy marriage. Though really I'd looked on little else all my life. Most of our married friends were cursed in a like way; and I remember taking an oath, when I was a mere child, that nothing should ever push me over into the choked-up, seething pit. Fool! When I was nineteen I was gazing like a pet sheep into a man's eyes; and one morning I was married, at St. Andrew's Church in Holborn, to Mr. Ebbsmith, a barrister.
GERTRUDE. In church?
AGNES. Yes, in church—in church. In spite of father's unbelief and mother's indifference, at the time I married I was as simple—ay, in my heart, as devout—as any girl in a parsonage. The other thing hadn't soaked into me. Whenever I could escape from our stifling rooms at home, and slam the front door behind me, the air blew away uncertainty and scepticism; I seemed only to have to take a long, deep breath to be full of hope and faith. And it was like this till that man married me.
GERTRUDE. Of course, I guess your marriage was an unfortunate one.
AGNES. It lasted eight years. For about twelve months he treated me like a woman in a harem, for the rest of the time like a beast of burden. Oh! When I think of it! [Wiping her brow with her handkerchief.] Phew!
GERTRUDE. It changed you?
AGNES. Oh, yes, it changed me.
GERTRUDE. You spoke of yourself just now as a widow. He's dead?
AGNES. He died on our wedding day—the eighth anniversary.
GERTRUDE. You were free then—free to begin again.
AGNES. Eh? [Looking at GERTRUDE.] Yes; but you don't begin to believe all over again. [She gathers up the stalks of the flowers from the tray, and, kneeling, crams them into the stove.] However, this is an old story. I'm thirty-three now.
GERTRUDE. [Hesitatingly.] You and Mr. Cleeve—?
AGNES. We've known each other since last November—no longer. Six years of my life unaccounted for, eh? Well, for a couple of years or so I was lecturing.
AGNES. Ah, I'd become an out-and-out child of my father by that time— spouting, perhaps you'd call it, standing on the identical little platforms he used to speak from, lashing abuses with my tongue as he had done. Oh, and I was fond, too, of warning women.
GERTRUDE. Against what?
AGNES. Falling into the pit.
AGNES. The chocked-up, seething pit—until I found my bones almost through my skin and my voice too weak to travel across a room.
GERTRUDE. From what cause?
AGNES. Starvation, my dear. So, after lying in a hospital for a month or two, I took up nursing for a living. Last November I was sent for by Dr. Bickerstaff to go through to Rome to look after a young man who'd broken down there, and who declined to send for his friends. My patient was Mr. Cleeve—[taking up the tray]—and that's where his fortunes join mine. [She crosses the room, and puts the tray upon the cabinet.]
GERTRUDE. And yet, judging from what that girl said yesterday, Mr. Cleeve married quite recently?
AGNES. Less than three years ago. Men don't suffer as patiently as women. In many respects his marriage story is my own, reversed—the man in place of the woman. I endured my hell, though; he broke the gates of his.
GERTRUDE. I have often seen Mr. Cleeve's name in the papers. His future promised to be brilliant, didn't it?
AGNES. [Tidying the table, folding the newspapers, &c.] There's a great career for him still.
GERTRUDE. In Parliament—now?
AGNES. No, he abandons that, and devotes himself to writing. We shall write much together, urging our views on this subject of Marriage. We shall have to be poor, I expect, but we shall be content.
AGNES. Quite content. Don't judge us by my one piece of cowardly folly in keeping the truth from you, Mrs. Thorpe, Indeed, it's our great plan to live the life we have mapped out for ourselves, fearlessly, openly; faithful to each other, helpful to each other, so long as we remain together.
GERTRUDE. But tell me—you don't know how I—how I have liked you!— tell me, if Mr. Cleeve's wife divorces him, he will marry you?
AGNES. No. I haven't made you quite understand—Lucas and I don't desire to marry, in your sense.
GERTRUDE. But you are devoted to each other!
GERTRUDE. What, is that the meaning of "for as long as you are together?" You would go your different ways if ever you found that one of you was making the other unhappy?
AGNES. I do mean that. We remain together only to help, to heal, to console. Why should men and women be so eager to grant to each other the power of wasting life? That is what marriage gives—the right to destroy years and years of life. And the right, once given, it attracts —attracts! We have both suffered from it. So many rich years out of my life have been squandered by it. And out of his life, so much force, energy—spent in battling with the shrew, the termagant he has now fled from; strength never to be replenished, never to be repaid—all wasted, wasted!
GERTRUDE. Your legal marriage with him might not bring further miseries.
AGNES. Too late! We have done with marriage; we distrust it. We are not now among those who regard marriage as indispensable to union. We have done with it!
GERTRUDE. [Advancing to her.] You know that it would be impossible for me, if I would do so, to deceive my brother as to all this.
AGNES. Why, of course, dear.
GERTRUDE. [Looking at her watch.] Amos must be wondering—
AGNES. Run away, then. [GERTRUDE crosses quickly to the door.]
GERTRUDE [Retracing a step or two.] Shall I see you—? Oh!
AGNES. [Shaking her head.] Ah!
GERTRUDE. [Going to her, constrainedly.] When Amos and I have talked this over, perhaps—perhaps—
AGNES. No, I fear not. Come, my dear friend—[with a smile]—give me a shake of the hand.
GERTRUDE. [Taking her hand.] What you've told me is dreadful. [Looking into AGNES' face.] And yet you're not a wicked woman! [Kissing AGNES.] In case we don't meet again. [The women separate quickly, looking towards the door, as LUCAS enters.]
LUCAS. [Shaking hands with GERTRUDE.] How do you do, Mrs Thorpe? I've just had a wave of the hand from your brother.
GERTRUDE. Where is he?
LUCAS. On his back in a gondola, a pipe in his mouth as usual, gazing skywards. [Going on to the balcony.] He's within hail. [GERTRUDE goes quickly to the door, followed by AGNES.] There! By the Palazzo Sforza. [He re-enters the room; GERTRUDE has disappeared. He is going towards the door.] Let me get hold of him, Mrs. Thorpe.
AGNES. [Standing before LUCAS, quietly] She knows, Lucas, dear.
LUCAS. Does she?
AGNES. She overheard some gossip at the Caffe Quadri yesterday, and began questioning me; so I told her.
LUCAS. [Taking off his coat.] Adieu to them, then—eh?
AGNES. [Assisting him.] Adieu.
LUCAS. I intended to write to the brother directly they had left Venice, to explain.
AGNES. Your describing me as "Mrs. Cleeve" at the hotel in Florence helped to lead us into this; after we move from here I must always be, frankly, "Mrs. Ebbsmith."
LUCAS. These were decent people. You and she had formed quite an attachment?
[She places his coat, &c. on a chair, then fetches her work-basket from the cabinet.]
LUCAS. There's something of the man in your nature, Agnes.
AGNES. I've anathematised my womanhood often enough. [She sits at the table, taking out her work composedly.]
LUCAS. Not that every man possesses the power you have acquired—the power of going through life with compressed lips.
AGNES. [Looking up, smiling.] A propos?
LUCAS. These people—this woman you've been so fond of. You see them shrink away with the utmost composure.
AGNES. [Threading a needle.] You forget, dear, that you and I have prepared ourselves for a good deal of this sort of thing.
LUCAS. Certainly, but at the moment—
AGNES. One must take care that the regret lasts no longer than a moment. Have you seen your uncle?
LUCAS. A glimpse. He hadn't long risen.
AGNES. He adds sluggishness to other vices, then?
LUCAS. [Lighting a cigarette.] He greeted me through six inches of open door. His toilet has its mysteries.
AGNES. A stormy interview?
LUCAS. The reverse. He grasped my hand warmly, declared I looked the picture of health, and said it was evident I had been most admirably nursed.
AGNES. [Frowning.] That's a strange utterance. But he's an eccentric, isn't he?
LUCAS. No man has ever been quite satisfied as to whether his oddities are ingrained or affected.
AGNES. No man. What about women?
LUCAS. Ho! They have had opportunities of closer observation.
AGNES. Hah! And they report—?
LUCAS. Nothing. They become curiously reticent.
AGNES. [Scornfully, as she is cutting a thread.] These noblemen!
LUCAS. [Taking a packet of letters from his pocket.] Finally, he presented me with these, expressed a hope that he'd see much of me during the week, and dismissed me with a fervent God bless you!
AGNES. [Surprised.] He remains here, then?
LUCAS. It seems so.
AGNES. What are those, dear?
LUCAS. The Duke has made himself the bearer of some letters, from friends. I've only glanced at them: reproaches—appeals—
AGNES. Yes, I understand.
[He sits looking through the letters impatiently, then tearing them up and throwing the pieces upon the table.]
LUCAS. Lord Warminster—my godfather: "My dear boy, for God's sake—!" [Tearing up the letter and reading another.] Sir Charles Littlecote: "Your brilliant future . . . blasted . . ." [Another letter.] Lord Froom: "Promise of a useful political career unfulfilled . . . cannot an old friend . . . ?" [Another letter.] Edith Heytesbury. I didn't notice a woman had honoured me. [In an undertone.] Edie—![Slipping the letter into his pocket and opening another.] Jack Brophy: "Your great career—" Major Leete: "Your career—" [Destroying the rest of the letters without reading them.] My career! my career! That's the chorus, evidently. Well, there goes my career! [She lays her work aside and goes to him.]
AGNES. Your career? [Pointing to the destroyed letters.] True that one is over. But there's the other, you know—ours.
LUCAS. [Touching her hand.] Yes, yes, Still, it's just a little saddening, the saying good-bye—[disturbing the scraps of paper]—to all this.
AGNES. Saddening, dear? Why, this political career of yours—think what it would have been at best? Accident of birth sent you to the wrong side of the House; influence of family would always have kept you there.
LUCAS. [Partly to himself.] But I made my mark. I did make my mark.
AGNES. Supporting the Party that retards; the Party that preserves for the rich, palters with the poor. [Pointing to the letters again.] Oh, there's not much to mourn for there!
LUCAS. Still, it was—success.
LUCAS. I was talked about, written about, as a Coming Man—the Coming Man!
AGNES. How many "coming men" has one known? Where on earth do they all go to?
LUCAS. Ah, yes, but I allowed for the failure, and carefully set myself to discover the causes of them. And, as I put my fingers upon the causes and examined them, I congratulated myself and said "Well, I haven't that weak point in my armour, or that;" and Agnes, at last I was fool enough to imagine I had no weak point, none whatever.
AGNES. It was weak enough to believe that.
LUCAS. I couldn't foresee that I was doomed to pay the price all nervous men pay for success; that the greater my success became, the more cancer-like grew the fear of never being able to continue it, to excel it; that the triumph of today was always to be the torture of tomorrow! Oh, Agnes, the agony of success to a nervous, sensitive man; the dismal apprehension that fills his life and gives each victory a voice to cry out "Hear, hear! Bravo, bravo, bravo! But this is to be your last—you'll never overtop it!" Ha, yes! I soon found out the weak spot in my armour—the need of constant encouragement, constant reminder of my powers; [taking her hand] the need of that subtle sympathy which a sacrificing, unselfish woman alone possesses the secret of. [Rising.] Well, my very weakness might have been a source of greatness if, three years ago, it had been to such a woman that I had bound myself—a woman of your disposition; instead of to—! Ah! [She lays her hand upon his arm soothingly.]
LUCAS. Yes, yes. [Taking her in his arms.] I know I have such a companion now.
LUCAS. You must be everything to me, Agnes—a double faculty, as it were. When my confidence in myself is shaken, you must try to keep the consciousness of my poor powers alive in me.
AGNES. I shall not fail you in that, Lucas.
LUCAS. And yet, whenever disturbing recollections come uppermost; when I catch myself mourning for those lost opportunities of mine; it is your love that must grant me oblivion—[kissing her upon the lips]— your love! [She makes no response, and after a pause gently releases herself and retreats a step or two.]
LUCAS. [His eyes following her.] Agnes, you seem to me to be changing towards me, growing colder to me. At times you seem positively to shrink from me. I don't understand it. Yesterday I thought I saw you look at me as if I—frightened you!
AGNES. Lucas—Lucas dear, for some weeks, now, I've wanted to say this to you.
AGNES. Don't you think that such a union as ours would be much braver, much more truly courageous, if it could but be—be—
LUCAS. If it could but be—what?
AGNES. [Averting her eyes.] Devoid of passion, if passion had no share in it.
LUCAS. Surely this comes a little late, Agnes, between you and me.
AGNES. [Leaning upon the back of a chair, staring before her and speaking in a low, steady voice.] What has been was inevitable, I suppose. Still, we have hardly yet set foot upon the path we've agreed to follow. It is not too late for us, in our own lives, to pit the highest interpretation upon that word—Love. Think of the inner sustaining power it would give us! [More forcibly.] We agree to go through the world together, preaching the lesson taught us by our experiences. We cry out to all people, "Look at us! Man and woman who are in the bondage of neither law nor ritual! Linked simply by mutual trust! Man and wife, but something better than man and wife! Friends, but even something better than friends!" I say there is that which is noble, finely defiant, in the future we have mapped out for ourselves, if only—if only—
AGNES. [Turning from him.] If only it could be free from passion!
LUCAS. [In a low voice.] Yes, but—is that possible?
AGNES. [In the same tone, watching him askance, a frightened look in her eyes.] Why not?
LUCAS. Young man and woman . . . you and love . . . ? Scarcely upon this earth, my dear Agnes, such a life as you have pictured.
AGNES. I say it can be, it can be—!
[FORTUNE enters, carrying a letter upon a salver, and a beautiful bouquet of white flowers. He hands the note to LUCAS.]
LUCAS. [Taking the note, glancing at AGNES.] Eh! [To FORTUNE, pointing to the bouquet.] Qu'avez-vous la?
FORTUNE. Ah, excuse. [Presenting the bouquet to AGNES.] Wiz compliment. [AGNES takes the bouquet wonderingly.] Tell Madame ze Duke of St Olphert bring it in person, 'e says.
LUCAS. [Opening the note.] Est-il parti?
FORTUNE. 'E did not get out of 'is gondola.
LUCAS. Bien. [FORTUNE withdraws. Reading the note aloud.] "While brushing my hair, my dear boy, I became possessed of a strong desire to meet the lady with whom you are now improving the shining hour. Why the devil shouldn't I, if I want to. Without prejudice, as my lawyer says, let me turn up this afternoon and chat pleasantly to her of Shakespeare, also the musical glasses. Pray hand her this flag of truce —I mean my poor bunch of flowers—and believe me yours, with a touch of gout, ST. OLPHERTS." [Indignantly crushing the note.] Ah!
AGNES. [Frowning at the flowers.] A taste of the oddities, I suppose?
LUCAS. He is simply making sport of us. [Going on to the balcony, and looking out.] There he is. Damn that smile of his!
AGNES. Where? [She joins him.]
LUCAS. With the two gondoliers.
AGNES. Why—that's a beautiful face! How strange!
LUCAS. [Drawing her back into the room.] Come away. He is looking up at us.
AGNES. Are you sure he sees us?
LUCAS. He did.
AGNES. He will want an answer—[She deliberately flings the bouquet over the balcony into the canal, then returns to the table and picks up her work.]
LUCAS. [Looking out again cautiously.] He throws his head back and laughs heartily. [Re-entering the room.] Oh, of course, his policy is to attempt to laugh me out of my resolves. They send him here merely to laugh at me, Agnes, to laugh at me—[coming to AGNES angrily.] laugh at me!
AGNES. He must be a man of small resources. [Threading her needle.] It is so easy to mock.
END OF THE FIRST ACT
THE SECOND ACT
The Scene is the same as that of the previous Act. Through the windows some mastheads and flapping sails are seen in the distance. The light is that of late afternoon.
AGNES, very plainly dressed, is sitting at the table, industriously copying from a manuscript. After a moment or two, ANTONIO and NELLA enter the room, carrying a dressmaker's box, which is corded and labelled.
NELLA. E permess, Signora (Permit us, Signora.)
ANTONIO. Uno scatolone per la Signora (Am enormous box for the Signora.)
AGNES. [Turning her head.] Eh?
NELLA. E venuto colla ferrovia—(It has come by the railway—)
ANTONIO. [consulting the label.] Da'Firenze. (From Florence.)
AGNES. By railway, from Florence?
NELLA [Reading from the label.] "Emilia Bardini, Via Rondinelli."
AGNES. Bardini? That's the dressmaker. There must be some mistake. Non e per me, Nella. (It isn't for me, Nella.)
[ANTONIO and NELLA carry the box to her animatedly.]
NELLA. Ma guardi, Signora! (But look, Signora!)
ANTONIO. Alla Signora Cleeve!
NELLA. E poi abbiamo pagato il porto della ferrovia. (Besides, we have paid the railway dues upon it.)
AGNES. [Collecting her sheets of paper.] Hush, hush! Don't trouble me just now. Mettez-la n'importe ou. [They place the box upon another table.]
NELLA. La corda intaccherebbe la forbice della Signora. Vuole che Antonio la tagli. (The cord would blunt the Signora's scissors. Shall Antonio cut the cord?)
AGNES. [Pinning her sheets of paper together.] I'll see about it bye and bye. Laissez-moi!
NELLA. [Softly to ANTONIO.] Taglia, taglia! (Cut, cut!) [ANTONIO cuts the cord, whereupon NELLA utters a little scream.]
AGNES. [Turning, startled.] What is it?
NELLA. [Pushing ANTONIO away.] Questo stupido non ha caoito la Signora e ha tagliata la corda. (The stupid fellow misunderstood the Signora, and has severed the cord.)
AGNES. [Rising.] It doesn't matter. Be quiet!
NELLA. [Removing the lid from the box angrily.] Ed ecco la scatola aperta contro voglia della Signora! (And now here is the box open against the Signora's wish) [Inquisitively pushing aside the paper which covers the contents of the box.] O Dio! Si vede tutto quel che vi e! (O God! And all the contents exposed!) [When the paper is removed, some beautiful material trimmed with lace, &c., is seen.]
NELLA. Guardi, guardi, Signora! (Signora, look, look!) [AGNES examines the contents of the box with a puzzled air.] Oh, che bellezza! (How beautiful!)
ANTONIO. [To NELLA.] Il padrone. (The master.) [NELLA curtsies to LUCAS, then withdraws with ANTONIO.]
AGNES. Lucas, the dressmaker in the Via Rondinelli at Florence—the woman who ran up the little gown I have on now—
LUCAS. [With a smile] What of her?
AGNES. This has just come from her. Phuh! What does she mean by sending that showy thing to me?
LUCAS. It is my gift to you.
AGNES. [Producing enough of the contents of the box to reveal a very handsome dress.] This!
LUCAS. I knew Bardini had your measurements; I wrote to her, instructing her to make that. I remember Lady Heytesbury in something similar last season.
AGNES. [Examining the dress.] A mere strap for the sleeve, and sufficiently decolletee, I should imagine.
LUCAS. My dear Agnes, I can't understand your reason fro trying to make yourself a plain-looking woman when nature intended you for a pretty one.
LUCAS. [Looking hard at her.] You are pretty.
AGNES. Oh, as a girl I may have been—[disdainfully]—pretty. What good did it do anybody? [Fingering the dress with aversion.] And when would you have me hang this on my bones?
LUCAS. Oh, when we are dining, or—
AGNES. Dining in a public place?
LUCAS. Why not look your best in a public place?
AGNES. Look my best? You know, I don't think of this sort of garment in connection with our companionship, Lucas.
LUCAS. It is not an extraordinary garment for a lady.
AGNES. Rustle of silk, glare of arms and throat—they belong, to my mind, to such a very different order of things from that we have set up.
LUCAS. Shall I appear before you in ill-made clothes, clumsy boots—
AGNES. Why? We are just as we have always been, since we've been together. I don't tell you that your appearance is beginning to offend.
LUCAS. Offend! Agnes, you—you pain me. I simply fail to understand why you should allow our mode of life to condemn you to perpetual slovenliness.
LUCAS. No, no, shabbiness.
AGNES. [Looking down upon the dress she is wearing.] Shabbiness!
LUCAS. [With a laugh.] Forgive me, dear; I'm forgetting you are wearing a comparatively new afternoon-gown.
AGNES. At any rate, I'll make this brighter tomorrow with some trimmings willingly. [Pointing to the dressmaker's box.] Then you won't insist on my decking myself out in rags of that kind—eh! There's something in the idea—I needn't explain.
LUCAS. [Fretfully.] Insist! I'll not urge you again. [Pointing to the box.] Get rid of it somehow. Are you copying that manuscript of mine?
AGNES. I had just finished it.
LUCAS. Already! [Taking up her copy.] How beautifully you write! [Going to her eagerly.] What do you think of my Essay?
AGNES. It bristles with truth; it is vital.
LUCAS. My method of treating it?
AGNES. Hardly a word out of place.
LUCAS [Chilled.] Hardly a word?
AGNES. Not a word, in fact.
LUCAS. No, dear, I daresay your "hardly" is nearer the mark.
AGNES. I assure you it is brilliant, Lucas.
LUCAS. What a wretch I am ever to find the smallest fault in you! Shall we dine out tonight?
AGNES. As you wish, dear.
LUCAS. At the Grunwald? [He goes to the table to pick up his manuscript; when his back is turned she looks at her watch quickly.] We'll solemnly toast this, shall we, in Montefiascone?
AGNES. [Eyeing him askance.] You are going out for your chocolate this afternoon as usual, I suppose?
LUCAS. Yes, but I'll look through your copy first, so that I can slip it into the post at once. You are not coming out?
AGNES. Not till dinner-time.
LUCAS. [Kissing her on the forehead.] I talked over the points of this —[tapping the manuscript]—with a man this morning; he praised some of the phrases warmly.
AGNES. A man? [In an altered tone.] The Duke?
AGNES. [With assumed indifference, replacing the lid on the dressmaker's box.] You have seen him again today, then?
LUCAS. We strolled about together for half an hour on the Piazza.
AGNES. [Replacing the cord round the box.] You—you don't dislike him as much as you did?
LUCAS. He's someone to chat to. I suppose one gets accustomed even to a man one dislikes.
AGNES. [Almost inaudibly.] I suppose so.
LUCAS. As a matter of fact, he has the reputation of being rather a pleasant companion; though I—I confess—I—I don't find him very entertaining. [He goes out. She stands staring at the door through which he has disappeared. There is a knock at the opposite door.]
AGNES. [Rousing herself.] Fortune! [Raising her voice.] Fortune! [The door opens, and GERTRUDE enters hurriedly.]
GERTRUDE. Fortune is complacently smoking a cigarette in the Campo.
AGNES. Mrs. Thorpe!
GERTRUDE. [Breathlessly.] Mr Cleeve is out, I conclude?
AGNES. No. He is later than usual going out this afternoon.
GERTRUDE. [Irresolutely.] I don't think I'll wait, then.
AGNES. But do tell me: you have been crossing the streets to avoid me during the past week; what has made you come to see me now?
GERTRUDE. I would come. I've given poor Amos the slip; he believes I am buying beads for the Ketherick school-children.
AGNES. [Shaking her head.] Ah, Mrs. Thorpe!—
GERTRUDE. Of course, it's perfectly brutal to be underhanded. But we're leaving for home tomorrow; I couldn't resist it.
AGNES. [Coldly.] Perhaps I'm very ungracious—
GERTRUDE. [Taking AGNES' hand.] The fact is, Mrs. Cleeve—oh, what do you wish me to call you?
AGNES. [Withdrawing her hand.] Well—you're off tomorrow. Agnes will do.
GETRUDE. Thank you. The fact is, it's been a bad week with me— restless, fanciful. And I haven't been able to get you out of my head.
AGNES. I'm sorry.
GERTRUDE. Your story, your present life; you, yourself—such a contradiction to what you profess! Well, it all has a sort of fascination for me.
AGNES. My dear, you're simply not sleeping again. [Turning away.] You'd better go back to the ammonia Kirke prescribed for you.
GERTRUDE. [Taking a card from her purse, with a little, light laugh.] You want to physic me, do you, after worrying my poor brain as you've done? [Going to her.] "The Rectory, Daleham, Ketherick Moor." Yorkshire, you know. There can be no great harm in your writing to me sometimes.
AGNES [Refusing the card.] No; under the circumstances I can't promise that.
GERTRUDE. [Wistfully.] Very well.
AGNES. [Facing her.] Oh, can't you understand that it can only be— disturbing to both of us for an impulsive, emotional creature like yourself to keep up acquaintanceship with a woman who takes life as I do? We'll drop each other, leave each other alone. [She walks away, and stands leaning upon the stove, her back towards GERTRUDE.]
GERTRUDE. [Replacing the card in her purse.] As you please. Picture me, sometimes, in that big, hollow shell of a rectory at Ketherick, strolling about my poor dead little chap's empty room.
AGNES. [Under her breath.] Oh!
GERTRUDE. [Turning to go.] God bless you.
AGNES. Gertrude! [With altered manner.] You—you have the trick of making me lonely also. [Going to GERTRUDE, taking her hands and fondling them.] I'm tired of talking to the walls! And your blood is warm to me! Shall I tell you, or not—or not?
GERTRUDE. Do tell me.
AGNES. There is a man here, in Venice, who is torturing me—flaying me alive.
GERTRUDE. Torturing you?
AGNES. He came here about a week ago; he is trying to separate us.
GERTRUDE. You and Mr. Cleeve?
GERTRUDE. You are afraid he will succeed?
AGNES. Succeed! What nonsense you talk!
GERTRUDE. What upsets you, then?
AGNES. After all, it's difficult to explain—the feeling is so indefinite. It's like—something in the air. This man is influencing us both oddly. Lucas is as near illness again as possible; I can hear his nerves vibrating. And I—you know what a fish-like thing I am as a rule—just look at me now, as I'm speaking to you.
GERTRUDE. But don't you and Mr. Cleeve—talk to each other?
AGNES. As children do when the lights are put out—of everything but what's uppermost in their minds.
GERTRUDE. You have met the man?
AGNES. I intend to meet him.
GERTRUDE. Who is he?
AGNES. A relation of Lucas's—the Duke of St. Olpherts
GERTRUDE. He has right on his side, then?
AGNES. If you choose to think so.
GERTRUDE. Supposing he does succeed in taking Mr. Cleeve away from you?
AGNES. [Staring at GERTRUDE.] What, now, do you mean?
[There is a brief pause; then AGNES walks across the room, wiping her brow with her handkerchief.]
AGNES. I tell you, that idea's—preposterous.
GERTRUDE. Oh, I can't understand you.
AGNES. You'll respect my confidence?
AGNES. [Sitting.] Well, I fancy this man's presence here has simply started me thinking of a time—oh, it may never come!—a time when I may cease to be—necessary to Mr. Cleeve. Do you understand?
GERTRUDE. I remember what you told me of your being prepared to grant each other freedom if—
AGNES. Yes, yes; and for the past few days this idea has filled me with a fear of the most humiliating kind.
GERTRUDE. What fear?
AGNES. The fear lest, after all my beliefs and protestations, I should eventually find myself loving Lucas in the helpless, common way of women—
GERTRUDE. [Under her breath.] I see.
AGNES. The dread that the moment may arrive some day when should it be required of me, I shan't feel myself able to give him up easily. [Her head drooping, uttering a low moan.] Oh!—
[LUCAS, dressed for going out, enters, carrying AGNES'S copy of his manuscript, rolled and addressed for the post. AGNES rises.]
AGNES. [To LUCAS.] Mrs. Thorpe starts for home tomorrow; she has called to say good-bye.
LUCAS. [To GERTRUDE.] It is very kind. Is your brother quite well?
GERTRUDE. [Embarrassed.] Thanks: quite.
LUCAS. [Smiling.] I believe I have added to his experience of the obscure corners of Venice during the past week.
GERTRUDE. I—I don't—Why?
LUCAS. By so frequently putting him to the inconvenience of avoiding me.
GERTRUDE. Oh, Mr. Cleeve, we—I—I—
LUCAS. Please tell your brother that I asked after him.
GERTRUDE. I—I can't; he—doesn't know I've—I've—
LUCAS. Ah! Really? [With a bow.] Good-bye. [He goes out, AGNES accompanying him to the door.]
GERTRUDE. [To herself.] Brute! [To AGNES.] Oh, I suppose Mr. Cleeve has made me look precisely as I feel.
GERTRUDE. Like people deserve to feel who do godly, mean things.
FORTUNE. [To AGNES, significantly.] Mr. Cleeve 'as jus' gone out.
AGNES. Vous savez, n'est-ce pas?
FORTUNE. [Glancing at GERTRUDE.] But Madame is now engage.
GERTRUDE. [To AGNES.] Oh, I am going.
AGNES. [To GERTRUDE.] Wait. [Softly to her.] I want you to hear this little comedy. Fortune shall repeat my instructions. [To FORTUNE.] Les ordres que je vous ai donnes, repetez-les.
FORTUNE. [Speaking in an undertone.] On ze left 'and side of ze Campo—
AGNES. Non, non—tout haut.
FORTUNE. [Aloud, with a slight shrug of the shoulders.] On ze left 'and side of ze Campo—
FORTUNE. In one of ze doorways between Fiorentini's and ze leetle lamp-shop—ze—ze—h'm—ze person.
AGNES. Precisely. Depechez-vous. [FORTUNE bows and retires.] Fortune flatters himself he is engaged in some horrid intrigue. You guess whom I am expecting?
GERTRUDE. The Duke?
AGNES. [Ringing a bell.] I've written to him asking him to call upon me this afternoon while Lucas is at Florian's. [Referring to her watch.] He is to kick his heels about the Campo till I let him know I am alone.
GERTRUDE. Will he obey you?
AGNES. A week ago he was curious to see the sort of animal I am. If he holds off now, I'll hit upon some other plan. I will come to close quarters with him, if only for five minutes.
GERTRUDE. Good-bye. [They embrace, then walk together to the door.] You still refuse my address?
AGNES. You bat! Didn't you see me make a note of it?
AGNES. [Her hand on her heart.] Here.
GERTRUDE. [Gratefully.] Ah! [She goes out.]
AGNES. [At the open door.] Gertrude!
GERTRUDE. [Outside.] Yes?
AGNES. [In a low voice.] Remember, in my thoughts I pace that lonely little room of yours with you. [As if to stop GERTRUDE from re-entering.] Hush! No, no. [She closes the door sharply. NELLA appears.]
AGNES. [Pointing to the box on the table.] Portez ce carton dans ma chambre.
NELLA. [Trying to peep into the box as she carries it.] Signora, se Ella si mettesse questo magnifico abito! Oh! Quanto sarebbe piu bella! (Signora, if you were to wear this magnificent dress, oh how much more beautiful you would be!)
AGNES. Sssh! Sssh! [NELLA goes out. FORTUNE enters.] Eh, bien?
[FORTUNE glances over his shoulder. The DUKE OF ST. OLPHERTS enters; the wreck of a very handsome man, with delicate features, a polished manner, and a smooth, weary voice. He limps, walking with the aid of a cane. FORTUNE retires.]
AGNES. Duke of St. Olpherts?
ST. OLPHERTS. [Bowing.] Mrs. Ebbsmith?
AGNES. Mr. Cleeve would have opposed this rather out-of-the-way proceeding of mine. He doesn't know I have asked you to call on me today.
ST. OLPHERTS. So I conclude. It gives our meeting a pleasant air of adventure.
AGNES. I shall tell him directly he returns.
ST. OLPHERTS. [Gallantly.] And destroy a cherished secret.
AGNES. You are an invalid. [Motioning him to be seated.] Pray don't stand. [Sitting.] Your Grace is a man who takes life lightly. It will relieve you to hear that I wish to keep sentiment out of any business we have together.
ST. OLPHERTS. I believe I haven't the reputation of being a sentimental man. [Seating himself.] You send for me, Mrs. Ebbsmith—
AGNES. To tell you I have come to regard the suggestion you were good enough to make a week ago—
ST. OLPHERTS. Suggestion?
AGNES. Shakespeare, the musical glasses, you know—
ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, yes. Ha! Ha!
AGNES. I've come to think it a reasonable one. At the moment I considered it a gross impertinence.
ST. OLPHERTS. Written requests are so dependent on a sympathetic reader.
AGNES. That meeting might have saved you time and trouble.
ST. OLPHERTS. I grudge neither.
AGNES. It might perhaps have shown your Grace that your view of life is too narrow; that your method of dealing with its problems wants variety; that, in point of fact, your employment upon your present mission is distinctly inappropriate. Our meeting today may serve the same purpose.
ST. OLPHERTS. My view of life?
AGNES. That all men and women may safely be judged by the standards of the casino and the dancing-garden.
ST. OLPHERTS. I have found those standards not altogether untrustworthy. My method—?
AGNES. To scoff, to sneer, to ridicule.
ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! And how much is there, my dear Mrs. Ebbsmith, belonging to humanity that survives being laughed at?
AGNES. More than you credit, Duke. For example, I—I think it possible you may not succeed in grinning away the compact between Mr. Cleeve and myself?
ST. OLPHERTS. Compact?
AGNES. Between serious man and woman.
ST. OLPHERTS. Serious woman.
AGNES. Ah! At least you must see that—serious woman. [Rising, facing him.] You can't fail to realise, even from this slight personal knowledge of me, that you are not dealing just now with some poor, feeble ballet-girl.
ST. OLPHERTS. But how well you put it! [Rising.] And how frank of you to furnish, as it were, a plan of the fortifications to the—the—
AGNES. Why do you stick at "enemy"?
ST. OLPHERTS. It's not the word. Opponent! For the moment, perhaps, opponent. I am never an enemy, I hope, where your sex is concerned.
AGNES. No, I am aware that you are not over-nice in the bestowal of your patronage—where my sex is concerned.
ST. OLPHERTS. You regard my appearance in an affair of morals as a quaint one?
AGNES. Your Grace is beginning to know me.
ST. OLPHERTS. Dear lady, you take pride, I hear, in belonging to—The People. You would delight me amazingly by giving me an inkling of the popular notion of my career.
AGNES. [Walking away.] Excuse me.
ST. OLPHERTS. [Following her.] Please! It would be instructive, perhaps chastening. I entreat.
ST OLPHERTS. You are letting sentiment intrude itself. [Sitting, in pain.] I challenge you.
AGNES. At Eton you were curiously precocious. The head-master, referring to your aptitude with books, prophesied a brilliant future for you; your tutor, alarmed by your attachment to a certain cottage at Ascot which was minus a host, thanked his stars to be rid of you. At Oxford you closed all books, except, of course, betting-books.
ST. OLPHERTS. I detected the tendency of the age—scholarship for the masses. I considered it my turn to be merely intuitively intelligent.
AGNES. You left Oxford a gambler and a spendthrift. A year or two in town established you as an amiable, undisguised debauchee. The rest is modern history.
ST. OLPHERTS. Complete your sketch. Don't stop at the—rude outline.
AGNES. Your affairs falling into disorder, you promptly married a wealthy woman—the poor, rich lady who has for some years honoured you by being your duchess at a distance. This burlesque of a marriage helped to reassure your friends, and actually obtained for you an ornamental appointment for which an over-taxed nation provides a handsome stipend. But, to sum up, you must always remain an irritating source of uneasiness to your own order, as, luckily, you will always be a sharp-edged weapon in the hands of mine.
ST. OLPHERTS. [With a polite smile.] Yours! Ah, to that small, unruly section to which I understand you particularly attach yourself. To the—
AGNES. [With changed manner, flashing eyes, harsh voice, and violent gestures.] The sufferers, the toilers; that great crowd of old and young—old and young stamped by excessive labour and privation all of one pattern—whose backs bend under burdens, whose bones ache and grow awry, whose skins, in youth and in age, are wrinkled and yellow; those from whom a fair share of the earth's space and of the light of day is withheld. [Looking down at him fiercely.] The half-starved who are bidden to stand with their feet in the kennel to watch gay processions in which you and your kind are borne high. Those who would strip the robes from a dummy aristocracy and cast the broken dolls into the limbo of a nation's discarded toys. Those who—mark me!—are already upon the highway, marching, marching; whose time is coming as surely as yours is going!
ST. OLPHERTS. [Clapping his hands gently.] Bravo! Bravo! Really a flash of the old fire. Admirable! [She walks away to the window with an impatient exclamation.] Your present affaire du coeur does not wholly absorb you, then, Mrs. Ebbsmith. Even now the murmurings of love have not entirely superseded the thunderous denunciations of—h'm—You once bore a nickname, my dear.
AGNES. [Turning sharply.] Ho! So you've heard that, have you?
ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, yes.
AGNES. Mad—Agnes? [He bows deprecatingly.] We appear to have studied each other's history pretty closely.
ST. OLPHERTS. Dear lady, this is not the first time the same roof has covered us.
ST. OLPHERTS. Five years ago, on a broiling night in July, I joined a party of men who made an excursion from a club-house in St James's Street to the unsavoury district of St. Luke's.
AGNES. Oh, yes.
ST. OLPHERTS. A depressin' building; the Iron Hall, Barker Street—no—Carter Street.
ST. OLPHERTS. We took our places amongst a handful of frowsy folks who cracked nuts and blasphemed. On the platform stood a gaunt, white-faced young lady resolutely engaged in making up by extravagance of gesture for the deficiencies of an exhausted voice. "There," said one of my companions, "that is the notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith." Upon which a person near us, whom I judged from his air of leaden laziness to be a British working man, blurted out, "Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith! Mad Agnes! That's the name her sanguinary friends give her—Mad Agnes!" At that moment the eye of the panting oratress caught mine for an instant, and you and I first met.
AGNES. [Passing her hand across her brow, thoughtfully.] Mad—Agnes . . . [To him, with a grim smile.] We have both been criticised, in our time, pretty sharply, eh, Duke?
ST. OLPHERTS. Yes. Let that reflection make you more charitable to a poor peer. [A knock at the door.]
[FORTUNE and ANTONIO enter, ANTONIO carrying tea, &c., upon a tray.]
AGNES. [To ST. OLPHERTS.] You drink tea—fellow sufferer? [He signifies assent. FORTUNE places the tray on the table, then withdraws with ANTONIO. AGNES pours out tea.]
ST. OLPHERTS. [Producing a little box from his waistcoat pocket.] No milk, dear lady. And may I be allowed—saccharine? [She hands him his cup of tea; their eyes meet.]
AGNES. [Scornfully.] Tell me now—really—why do the Cleeves send a rip like you to do their serious work?
ST. OLPHERTS. [Laughing heartily.] Ha, ha, ha! Rip! ha, ha! Poor solemn family! Oh, set a thief to catch a thief, you know. That, I presume, is their motive.
AGNES. [Pausing in the act of pouring out, and staring at him.] What do you mean?
ST OLPHERTS. [Sipping his tea.] Set a thief to catch a thief. And by deduction, set one sensualist—who, after all, doesn't take the trouble to deceive himself—to rescue another who does.
AGNES. If I understand you, that is an insinuation against Mr. Cleeve.
ST. OLPHERTS. Insinuation!—
AGNES. [Looking at him fixedly.] Make yourself clearer.
ST. OLPHERTS. You have accused me, Mrs. Ebbsmith, of narrowness of outlook. In the present instance, dear lady, it is your judgement which is at fault.
ST. OLPHERTS. It is not I who fall into the error of confounding you with the designing danseuse of commerce; it is, strangely enough, you who have failed in your estimate of Mr. Lucas Cleeve.
AGNES. What is my estimate?
ST. OLPHERTS. I pay you the compliment of believing that you have looked upon my nephew as a talented young gentleman whose future was seriously threatened by domestic disorder; a young man of a certain courage and independence, with a share of the brain and spirit of those terrible human pests called reformers; the one gentleman, in fact, most likely to aid you in advancing your vivacious social and political tenets. You have such thoughts in your mind?
AGNES. I can't deny it.
ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! But what is the real, the actual Lucas Cleeve?
AGNES. Well—what is the real Lucas Cleeve?
ST OLPHERTS. Poor dear fellow! I'll tell you. [Going to the table to deposit his cup there; while she watches him, her hand tightly clasped, a frightened look in her eyes.] The real Lucas Cleeve. [Coming back to her.] An egoist. An egoist.
AGNES. An egoist, Yes.
ST. OLPHERTS. Possessing ambition without patience, self-esteem without self-confidence.
ST. OLPHERTS. Afflicted with a desperate craving for the opium-like drug, adulation; persistently seeking the society of those whose white, pink-tipped fingers fill the pernicious pipe most deftly and delicately. Eh?
AGNES. I didn't—Pray, go on.
ST. OLPHERTS. Ha! I remember they looked to his marriage to check his dangerous fancy for the flutter of lace, the purr of pretty women. And now, here, he is—loose again.
AGNES. [Suffering.] Oh!—
ST. OLPHERTS. In short, in intellect still nothing but a callow boy; in body, nervous, bloodless, hysterical; in morals—an epicure.
AGNES. Have done! Have done!
ST. OLPHERTS. "Epicure" offends you. A vain woman would find consolation in the word.
AGNES. Enough of it! Enough! Enough! [She turns away, beating her hands together. The light in the room has gradually become subdued; the warm tinge of sunset now colours the scene outside the window.]
ST. OLPHERTS. [With a shrug of his shoulders.] The real Lucas Cleeve.
AGNES. No, no! Untrue, untrue! [LUCAS enters. The three remain silent for a moment.] The Duke of St. Olpherts calls in answer to a letter I wrote to him yesterday. I wanted to make his acquaintance. [She goes out.]
LUCAS. [After a brief pause.] By a lucky accident the tables were crowded at Florian's; I might have missed the chance of welcoming you. In God's name, Duke, why must you come here?
ST. OLPHERTS. [Fumbling in his pocket for a note.] In God's name? You bring the orthodoxy into this queer firm, then, Lucas? [Handing the note to LUCAS.] A peremptory summons.
LUCAS. You need not have obeyed it. [ST. OLPHERTS takes a cigarette from his case and limps away.] I looked about for you just now. I wanted to see you.
ST. OLPHERTS. How fortunate—
LUCAS. To tell you that this persecution must come to an end. It has made me desperately wretched for a whole week.
ST. OLPHERTS. Persecution?
ST. OLPHERTS. Dear Lucas, the process of inducing a man to return to his wife isn't generally described as temptation.
LUCAS. Ah, I won't hear another word of that proposal. [ST. OLPHERTS shrugs his shoulders.] I say my people are offering me, through you, a deliberate temptation to be a traitor. To which of these two women—my wife or—[pointing to the door]—to her—am I really bound now? It may be regrettable, scandalous, but the common rules of right and wrong have ceased to apply here. Finally, Duke—and this is my message—I intend to keep faith with the woman who sat by my bedside in Rome, the woman to whom I shouted my miserable story in my delirium, the woman whose calm, resolute voice healed me, hardened me, renewed in me the desire to live.
ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! Oh, these modern nurses, in their greys, or browns, and snowy bibs! They have much to answer for, dear Lucas.
LUCAS. No, no! Why will you persist, all of you, in regarding this as a mere morbid infatuation, bred in the fumes of pastilles? It isn't so! Laugh, if you care to; but this is a meeting of affinities, of the solitary man and the truly sympathetic woman.
ST. OLPHERTS. And oh—oh these sympathetic women!
LUCAS. No! Oh, the unsympathetic women! There you have the cause of half the world's misery. The unsympathetic women—you should have loved one of them.
ST. OLPHERTS. I dare say I've done that in my time.
LUCAS. Love one of these women—I know!—worship here, yield yourself to the intoxicating day-dreams that make the grimy world sweeter than any heaven ever imagined. How you heart leaps with gratitude for your good fortune! How compassionately you regard your unblest fellow men! What may you not accomplish with such a mate beside you; how high will be your aims, how paltry every obstacle that bars your way to them; how sweet is to be the labour, how divine the rest! Then—you marry her. Marry her, and in six months, if you've pluck enough to do it, lag behind your shooting party and blow your brains out, by accident, at the edge of a turnip-field. You have found out by that time all that there is to look for—the daily diminishing interest in your doings, the poorly assumed attention as you attempt to talk over some plan for the future; then the yawn, and by degrees, the covert sneer, the little sarcasm, and finally, the frank, open stare of boredom. Ah, Duke, when you all carry out your repressive legislation against women of evil lives, don't fail to include in your schedule the Unsympathetic Wives. They are the women whose victims show the sorriest scars; they are the really "bad women" of the world: all the others are snow-white in comparison!
ST. OLPHERTS. Yes, you've got a good deal of this in that capital Essay you quoted from this morning. Dear fellow, I admit your home discomforts; but to jump out of the frying pan into this confounded— what does she call it?—compact!
ST. OLPHERTS. A vague reference, as I understand, to your joint crusade against the blessed institution of Marriage.
LUCAS. [An alteration in his manner.] Oh—ho, that idea! What—what has she been saying to you?
ST. OLPHERTS. Incidentally she pitched into me, dear Lucas; she attacked my moral character. You must have been telling tales.
LUCAS. Oh, I—I hope not. Of course, we—
ST. OLPHERTS. Yes, yes—a little family gossip, to pass the time while she has been dressing her hair or—By the bye, she doesn't appear to spend much time in dressing her hair.
LUCAS. [Biting his lip.] Really?
ST. OLPHERTS. Then she denounced the gilded aristocracy generally. Our day is over; we're broken wooden dolls, and are going to be chucked. The old tune; but I enjoyed the novelty of being so near the instrument. I assure you, dear fellow, I was within three feet of her when she deliberately Trafalgar Squared me.
LUCAS. [With an uneasy laugh.] You're the red rag, Duke. This spirit of revolt in her—it's ludicrously extravagant; but it will die out in time, when she has become used to being happy and cared for—[partly to himself, with clenched hands]—yes, cared for.
ST. OLPHERTS. Die out? Bred in the bone, dear Lucas.
LUCAS. On some topics she's a mere echo of her father, if you mean that?
ST. OLPHERTS. The father—one of those public park vermin, eh?
LUCAS. Dead years ago.
ST. OLPHERTS. I once heard her bellowing in a dirty little shed in St. Luke's. I told you?
LUCAS. Yes, you've told me.
ST. OLPHERTS. I sat there again, it seemed, this afternoon. The orator not quite so lean, perhaps—a little less witch-like; but—
LUCAS. She was actually in want of food in those days! Poor girl! [Partly to himself.] I mean to remind myself of that constantly. Poor girl!
ST. OLPHERTS. Girl! Let me see—you're considerably her junior?
LUCAS. No, no; a few months, perhaps.
ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, come!
LUCAS. Well, years—two or three.
ST. OLPHERTS. The voice remains rather raucous.
LUCAS. By God, the voice is sweet!
ST. OLPHERTS. Well—considering the wear and tear. Really, my dear fellow, I do believe this—I do believe that if you gowned her respectably—
LUCAS. [Impulsively.] Yes, yes, I say so. I tell her that.
ST. OLPHERTS. [With a smile.] Do you? That's odd, now.
LUCAS. What a topic. Poor Agnes's dress!
ST. OLPHERTS. Your taste used to be rather aesthetic. Even your own wife is one of the smartest women in London.
LUCAS. Ha, well I must contrive to smother these aesthetic tastes of mine.
ST. OLPHERTS. It's a pity that other people will retain their sense of the incongruous.
LUCAS. [Snapping his fingers.] Other people!—
ST. OLPHERTS. The public.
LUCAS. The public?
ST. OLPHERTS. Come, you know well enough that unostentatious immodesty is no part of your partner's programme. Of course, you will find yourself by-and-bye in a sort of perpetual parade with your crack-brained visionary—
LUCAS. You shall not speak of her so! You shall not.
ST. OLPHERTS. [Unconcernedly.] Each of you bearing a pole of the soiled banner of Free Union. Free Union for the People! Ho, my dear Lucas!
LUCAS. Good heavens, Duke, do you imagine, now that I am in sound health and mind again, that I don't see the hideous absurdity of these views of hers?
ST. OLPHERTS. Then why the deuce don't you listen a little more patiently to my views?
LUCAS. No, no. I tell you I intend to keep faith with her, as far as I am able. She's so earnest, so pitiably earnest. If I broke faith with her entirely, it would be too damnably cowardly.
ST. OLPHERTS. Cowardly!
LUCAS. [Pacing the room agitatedly.] Besides, we shall do well together, after all, I believe—she and I. In the end we shall make concessions to each other and settle down, somewhere abroad, peacefully.
ST. OLPHERTS. Ha! And they called you a Coming Man at one time, didn't they?
LUCAS. Oh, I—I shall make as fine a career with my pen as that other career would have been. At any rate, I ask you to leave me to it all— to leave me!
[FORTUNE enters. The shades of evening have now deepened; the glow of sunset comes into the room.]
FORTUNE. I beg your pardon, sir.
FORTUNE. It is pas' ze time for you to dress for dinner.
LUCAS. I'll come. [FORTUNE goes out.]
ST. OLPHERTS. When do we next meet, dear fellow?
LUCAS. No, no—please not again.
[Nella enters, excitedly.]
NELLA [ Speaking over her shoulder.] Si, Signora; ecco il Signore. (Yes, Signora; her is the Signor.) [To Cleeve.] Scusi, Signore. Quando la vendra come e cara—! (Pardon, Signor, when you see her you'll see how sweet she looks—!) [Agnes's voice is heard.]
AGNES. [Outside.] Am I keeping you waiting, Lucas?
[She enters, handsomely gowned, her throat and arms bare, the fashion of her hair roughly altered. She stops abruptly upon seeing ST. OLPHERTS; a strange light comes into her eyes; her voice, manner, bearing, all express triumph. The two men stare at her blankly. She appears to be a beautiful woman.]
AGNES. [To Nella.] Un petit chale noir tricote—cher-chez-le. [Nella withdraws.] Ah, you're not dressed, Lucas dear.
LUCAS. What—what time is it? [He goes towards the door, still staring at AGNES.]
ST. OLPHERTS. [Looking at her, and speaking in an altered tone.] I fear my gossiping has delayed him. You—you dine out?
AGNES. At the Grunwald. Why don't you join us? [Turning to Lucas, lightly.] Persuade him, Lucas. [LUCAS pauses at the door.]
ST. OLPHERTS. Er—impossible. Some—friends of mine may arrive tonight. [Lucas goes out.] I am more than sorry.
AGNES. [Mockingly.] Really? You are sure you are not shy of being seen with a notorious woman?
ST. OLPHERTS. My dear Mrs. Ebbsmith—!
AGNES. No, I forget—that would be unlike you. Mad people scare you, perhaps?
ST. OLPHERTS. Ha, ha! Don't be too rough.
AGNES. Come, Duke, confess—isn't there more sanity in me than you suspected?
ST. OLPHERTS. [In a low voice, eyeing her.] Much more. I think you are very clever.
[LUCAS quietly re-enters the room; he halts upon seeing that ST. OLPHERTS still lingers.]
ST. OLPHERTS. [With a wave of the hand to LUCAS.] Just off, dear fellow. [He offers his hand to AGNES; she quickly places hers behind her back.] You—you are charming. [He walks to the door, then looks round at the pair.] Au'voir! [ST. OLPHERTS goes out.]
AGNES. Au'voir! [Her hand drooping suddenly, her voice hard and dull.] You had better take me to Fulici's before we dine, and buy me some gloves.
LUCAS. [Coming to her, and seizing her hand.] Agnes dear!
AGNES. [Releasing herself and sitting with a heavy, almost sullen, look upon her face.] Are you satisfied?
LUCAS. [By her side.] You have delighted me! How sweet you look—
LUCAS. You shall have twenty new gowns now; you shall see the women envying you, the men envying me. Ah, ha! Fifty new gowns! You will wear them?
LUCAS. Why, what has brought about this change in you?
AGNES. I know.
LUCAS. You know?
AGNES. Exactly how you regard me.
LUCAS. I don't understand you.
AGNES. Listen. Long ago, in Florence, I began to suspect that we had made a mistake, Lucas. Even there I began to suspect that your nature was not one to allow you to go through life sternly, severely, looking upon me more and more each day as a fellow worker and less and less as —a woman. I suspected this—oh, proved it!—but still made myself believe that this companionship of ours would gradually become, in a sense, colder—more temperate, more impassive. [Beating her brow.] Never! never! Oh, a few minutes ago this man, who means to part us if he can, drew your character, disposition, in a dozen words.
LUCAS. You believe him! You credit what he says of me!
AGNES. I declared it to be untrue. Oh, but—
AGNES. [Rising, seizing his arm.] The picture he paints of you is not wholly a false one. Sssh! Lucas. Hark! Attend to me! I resign myself to it all! Dear, I must resign myself to it!
LUCAS. Resign yourself? Has life with me become so distasteful?
AGNES. Has it? Think! Why, when I realised the actual terms of our companionship—why didn't I go on my own way stoically? Why don't I go at this very moment?
LUCAS. You really love me, do you mean—as simple, tender women are content to love? [She looks at him, nods slowly, then turns away and droops over the table. He raises her, and takes her in his arms.] My dear girl! My dear, cold, warm-hearted girl! Ha! You couldn't bear to see me packed up in one of the Duke's travelling boxes and borne back to London—eh! [She shakes her head; her lips form the word "No".] No fear of that, my—my sweetheart!
AGNES. [Gently pushing him from her.] Quick—dress—take me out.
LUCAS. You are shivering—get your thickest wrap.
AGNES. That heavy brown cloak of mine?
AGNES. It's an old friend, but—dreadfully shabby. You will be ashamed of me again.
AGNES. I'll write to Bardini about a new one tomorrow. I won't oppose you—I won't repel you any more.
LUCAS. Repel me! I only urged you to reveal yourself as what you are— a beautiful woman.
AGNES. Ah! Am I—that?
LUCAS. [Kissing her.] Beautiful—beautiful!
AGNES. [With a gesture of abandonment.] I'm—glad. [She leaves him and goes out. He looks after her for a moment thoughtfully, then suddenly passes his hands across his brow and opens his arms widely as if casting a burden from him.]
LUCAS. Oh!—oh! [Turning away alertly.] Fortune—
END OF THE SECOND ACT
THE THIRD ACT
[The Scene is the same as before, but it is evening, and the lamps are lighted within the room, while outside it is bright moonlight.]
[AGNES, dressed as at the end of the preceding Act, is lying upon the settee propped up by pillows. A pretty silk shawl, with which she plays restlessly, is over her shoulders. Her face is pale, but her eyes glitter, and her voice has a bright ring in it. KIRKE is seated at a table writing. GERTRUDE, without hat or mantle, is standing behind the settee, looking down smilingly upon AGNES.]
KIRKE. [Writing.] H'm—[To AGNES.] Are you often guilty of this sort of thing?
AGNES. [Laughing.] I've never fainted before in my life; I don't mean to do so again.
KIRKE. [Writing.] Should you alter your mind about that, do select a suitable spot on the next occasion. What was it your head came against?
GERTRUDE. A wooden chest, Mr. Cleeve thinks.
AGNES. With beautiful, rusty, iron clamps. [Putting her hand to her head, and addressing GERTRUDE.] The price of vanity.
AGNES. Lucas was to take me out to dinner. While I was waiting for him to dress I must needs stand and survey my full length in a mirror.
KIRKE. [Glancing at her.] A very excusable proceeding.
AGNES. Suddenly the room sank and left me—so the feeling was—in the air.
KIRKE. Well, most women can manage to look in their pier-glasses without swooning—eh, Mrs Thorpe?
GERTRUDE. [Smiling.] How should I know doctor?
KIRKE. [Blotting his writing.] There. How goes the time?
GERTRUDE. Half past eight.
KIRKE. I'll leave this prescription at Mantovani's myself. I can get it made up to-night.
AGNES. [Taking the prescription out of his hand playfully.] Let me look.
KIRKE. [Protesting.] Now, now!
AGNES. [Reading the prescription.] Ha, ha! After all, what humbugs doctors are!
KIRKE. You've never heard me deny it.
AGNES. [Returning the prescription to him.] But I'll swallow it—for the dignity of my old profession. [She reaches out her hand to take a cigarette.]
KIRKE. Don't smoke too many of those things.
AGNES. They never harm me. It's a survival of the time in my life when the cupboard was always empty. [Striking a match.] Only it had to be stronger tobacco in those days, I can tell you. [She lights her cigarette. GERTRUDE is assisting KIRKE with his overcoat. LUCAS enters, in evening dress, looking younger, almost boyish.]
LUCAS. [Brightly.] Well?
KIRKE. She's to have a cup of good bouillon—Mrs. Thorpe is going to look after that—and anything else she fancies. She's alright. [Shaking hands with AGNES.] The excitement of putting on that pretty frock—[AGNES gives a hard little laugh. Shaking hands with LUCAS.] I'll look in tomorrow. [Turning to GERTRUDE.] Oh, just a word with you, nurse. [LUCAS has been bending over AGNES affectionately; he now sits by her, and they talk in undertones; he lights a cigarette from hers.]
KIRKE. [To GERTRUDE.] There's many a true word, et cetera.
KIRKE. Yes, and that smart gown's connected with it too.
GERTRUDE. It is extraordinary to see her like this.
KIRKE. Not the same woman.
GERTRUDE. No, nor is he quite the same man.
KIRKE. How long can you remain with her?
GERTRUDE. Till eleven—if you will let my brother know where I am.
KIRKE. What, doesn't he know?
GERTRUDE. I simply sent word, about an hour ago, that I shouldn't be back to dinner.
KIRKE. Very well.
GERTRUDE. Look here! I'll get you to tell him the truth.
KIRKE. The truth—oh?
GERTRUDE. I called here this afternoon, unknown to Amos, to bid her good-bye. Then I pottered about, rather miserably, spending money. Coming out of Naya's, the photographer's, I tumbled over Mr. Cleeve, who had been looking for you, and he begged me to come round here again after I had done my shopping.
KIRKE. I understand.
GERTRUDE. Doctor, have you ever seen Amos look dreadfully stern and knit about the brows—like a bishop who is put out?
GERTRUDE. Then you will.
KIRKE. Well, this is a pretty task—! [He goes out. GERTRUDE comes to AGNES. LUCAS rises.]
GERTRUDE. I am going down into the kitchen to see what these people can do in the way of strong soup.
LUCAS. You are exceedingly good to us, Mrs. Thorpe. I can't tell you how ashamed I am of my bearishness this afternoon.
GERTRUDE. [Arranging the shawl about AGNES'S shoulders.] Hush, please!
AGNES. Are you looking at my shawl? Lucas brought it in with him, as a reward for my coming out of that stupid faint. I—I have always refused to be—spoilt in this way, but now—now—
LUCAS. [Breaking in deliberately.] Pretty work upon it, is there not, Mrs. Thorpe?
GERTRUDE. Charming. [Going to the door, which LUCAS opens for her.] Thank you.[She passes out. AGNES rises.]
LUCAS. Oh, my dear girl—!
AGNES. [Throwing her cigarette under the stove.] I'm quite myself again, Lucas dear. Watch me—look! [Walking firmly.]
LUCAS. No trembling?
AGNES. Not a flutter. [Watching her open hand.] My hand is absolutely steady. [He takes her hand and kisses it upon the palm.] Ah!—
LUCAS. [Looking at her hand.] No, it is shaking.
AGNES. Yes, when you—when you—oh, Lucas!—[She sinks into a chair, turning her back upon him, and covering her face with her hands; her shoulders heaving.]