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What Every Woman Knows
by James M. Barrie
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WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS

JAMES M. BARRIE



ACT I

(James Wylie is about to make a move on the dambrod, and in the little Scotch room there is an awful silence befitting the occasion. James with his hand poised—for if he touches a piece he has to play it, Alick will see to that—raises his red head suddenly to read Alick's face. His father, who is Alick, is pretending to be in a panic lest James should make this move. James grins heartlessly, and his fingers are about to close on the 'man' when some instinct of self-preservation makes him peep once more. This time Alick is caught: the unholy ecstasy on his face tells as plain as porridge that he has been luring James to destruction. James glares; and, too late, his opponent is a simple old father again. James mops his head, sprawls in the manner most conducive to thought in the Wylie family, and, protruding his underlip, settles down to a reconsideration of the board. Alick blows out his cheeks, and a drop of water settles on the point of his nose.

You will find them thus any Saturday night (after family worship, which sends the servant to bed); and sometimes the pauses are so long that in the end they forget whose move it is.

It is not the room you would be shown into if you were calling socially on Miss Wylie. The drawing-room for you, and Miss Wylie in a coloured merino to receive you; very likely she would exclaim, "This is a pleasant surprise!" though she has seen you coming up the avenue and has just had time to whip the dustcloths off the chairs, and to warn Alick, David and James, that they had better not dare come in to see you before they have put on a dickey. Nor is this the room in which you would dine in solemn grandeur if invited to drop in and take pot-luck, which is how the Wylies invite, it being a family weakness to pretend that they sit down in the dining-room daily. It is the real living-room of the house, where Alick, who will never get used to fashionable ways, can take off his collar and sit happily in his stocking soles, and James at times would do so also; but catch Maggie letting him.

There is one very fine chair, but, heavens, not for sitting on; just to give the room a social standing in an emergency. It sneers at the other chairs with an air of insolent superiority, like a haughty bride who has married into the house for money. Otherwise the furniture is homely; most of it has come from that smaller house where the Wylies began. There is the large and shiny chair which can be turned into a bed if you look the other way for a moment. James cannot sit on this chair without gradually sliding down it till he is lying luxuriously on the small of his back, his legs indicating, like the hands of a clock, that it is ten past twelve; a position in which Maggie shudders to see him receiving company.

The other chairs are horse-hair, than which nothing is more comfortable if there be a good slit down the seat. The seats are heavily dented, because all the Wylie family sit down with a dump. The draught-board is on the edge of a large centre table, which also displays four books placed at equal distances from each other, one of them a Bible, and another the family album. If these were the only books they would not justify Maggie in calling this chamber the library, her dogged name for it; while David and James call it the west-room and Alick calls it 'the room,' which is to him the natural name for any apartment without a bed in it. There is a bookcase of pitch pine, which contains six hundred books, with glass doors to prevent your getting at them.

No one does try to get at the books, for the Wylies are not a reading family. They like you to gasp when you see so much literature gathered together in one prison-house, but they gasp themselves at the thought that there are persons, chiefly clergymen, who, having finished one book, coolly begin another. Nevertheless it was not all vainglory that made David buy this library: it was rather a mighty respect for education, as something that he has missed. This same feeling makes him take in the Contemporary Review and stand up to it like a man. Alick, who also has a respect for education, tries to read the Contemporary, but becomes dispirited, and may be heard muttering over its pages, 'No, no use, no use, no,' and sometimes even 'Oh hell.' James has no respect for education; and Maggie is at present of an open mind.

They are Wylie and Sons of the local granite quarry, in which Alick was throughout his working days a mason. It is David who has raised them to this position; he climbed up himself step by step (and hewed the steps), and drew the others up after him. 'Wylie Brothers,' Alick would have had the firm called, but David said No, and James said No, and Maggie said No; first honour must be to their father; and Alick now likes it on the whole, though he often sighs at having to shave every day; and on some snell mornings he still creeps from his couch at four and even at two (thinking that his mallet and chisel are calling him), and begins to pull on his trousers, until the grandeur of them reminds him that he can go to bed again. Sometimes he cries a little, because there is no more work for him to do for ever and ever; and then Maggie gives him a spade (without telling David) or David gives him the logs to saw (without telling Maggie).

We have given James a longer time to make his move than our kind friends in front will give him, but in the meantime something has been happening. David has come in, wearing a black coat and his Sabbath boots, for he has been to a public meeting. David is nigh forty years of age, whiskered like his father and brother (Alick's whiskers being worn as a sort of cravat round the neck), and he has the too brisk manner of one who must arrive anywhere a little before any one else. The painter who did the three of them for fifteen pounds (you may observe the canvases on the walls) has caught this characteristic, perhaps accidentally, for David is almost stepping out of his frame, as if to hurry off somewhere; while Alick and James look as if they were pinned to the wall for life. All the six of them, men and pictures, however, have a family resemblance, like granite blocks from their own quarry. They are as Scotch as peat for instance, and they might exchange eyes without any neighbour noticing the difference, inquisitive little blue eyes that seem to be always totting up the price of things.

The dambrod players pay no attention to David, nor does he regard them. Dumping down on the sofa he removes his 'lastic sides, as his Sabbath boots are called, by pushing one foot against the other, gets into a pair of hand-sewn slippers, deposits the boots as according to rule in the ottoman, and crosses to the fire. There must be something on David's mind to-night, for he pays no attention to the game, neither gives advice (than which nothing is more maddening) nor exchanges a wink with Alick over the parlous condition of James's crown. You can hear the wag-at-the-wall clock in the lobby ticking. Then David lets himself go; it runs out of him like a hymn:)

DAVID. Oh, let the solid ground Not fail beneath my feet, Before my life has found What some have found so sweet.

[This is not a soliloquy, but is offered as a definite statement. The players emerge from their game with difficulty.]

ALICK [with JAMES's crown in his hand]. What's that you're saying, David?

DAVID [like a public speaker explaining the situation in a few well-chosen words]. The thing I'm speaking about is Love.

JAMES [keeping control of himself]. Do you stand there and say you're in love, David Wylie?

DAVID. Me; what would I do with the thing?

JAMES [who is by no means without pluck]. I see no necessity for calling it a thing.

[They are two bachelors who all their lives have been afraid of nothing but Woman. DAVID in his sportive days—which continue—has done roguish things with his arm when conducting a lady home under an umbrella from a soiree, and has both chuckled and been scared on thinking of it afterwards. JAMES, a commoner fellow altogether, has discussed the sex over a glass, but is too canny to be in the company of less than two young women at a time.]

DAVID [derisively]. Oho, has she got you, James?

JAMES [feeling the sting of it]. Nobody has got me.

DAVID. They'll catch you yet, lad.

JAMES. They'll never catch me. You've been nearer catched yourself.

ALICK. Yes, Kitty Menzies, David.

DAVID [feeling himself under the umbrella]. It was a kind of a shave that.

ALICK [who knows all that is to be known about women and can speak of them without a tremor]. It's a curious thing, but a man cannot help winking when he hears that one of his friends has been catched.

DAVID. That's so.

JAMES [clinging to his manhood]. And fear of that wink is what has kept the two of us single men. And yet what's the glory of being single?

DAVID. There's no particular glory in it, but it's safe.

JAMES [putting away his aspirations]. Yes, it's lonely, but it's safe. But who did you mean the poetry for, then?

DAVID. For Maggie, of course.

[You don't know DAVID and JAMES till you know how they love their sister MAGGIE.]

ALICK. I thought that.

DAVID [coming to the second point of his statement about Love]. I saw her reading poetry and saying those words over to herself.

JAMES. She has such a poetical mind.

DAVID. Love. There's no doubt as that's what Maggie has set her heart on. And not merely love, but one of those grand noble loves; for though Maggie is undersized she has a passion for romance.

JAMES [wandering miserably about the room]. It's terrible not to be able to give Maggie what her heart is set on.

[The others never pay much attention to JAMES, though he is quite a smart figure in less important houses.]

ALICK [violently]. Those idiots of men.

DAVID. Father, did you tell her who had got the minister of Galashiels?

ALICK [wagging his head sadly]. I had to tell her. And then I—I— bought her a sealskin muff, and I just slipped it into her hands and came away.

JAMES [illustrating the sense of justice in the Wylie family]. Of course, to be fair to the man, he never pretended he wanted her.

DAVID. None of them wants her; that's what depresses her. I was thinking, father, I would buy her that gold watch and chain in Snibby's window. She hankers after it.

JAMES [slapping his pocket]. You're too late, David; I've got them for her.

DAVID. It's ill done of the minister. Many a pound of steak has that man had in this house.

ALICK. You mind the slippers she worked for him?

JAMES. I mind them fine; she began them for William Cathro. She's getting on in years, too, though she looks so young.

ALICK. I never can make up my mind, David, whether her curls make her look younger or older.

DAVID [determinedly]. Younger. Whist! I hear her winding the clock. Mind, not a word about the minister to her, James. Don't even mention religion this day.

JAMES. Would it be like me to do such a thing?

DAVID. It would be very like you. And there's that other matter: say not a syllable about our having a reason for sitting up late to- night. When she says it's bed-time, just all pretend we're not sleepy.

ALICK. Exactly, and when—

[Here MAGGIE enters, and all three are suddenly engrossed in the dambrod. We could describe MAGGIE at great length. But what is the use? What you really want to know is whether she was good-looking. No, she was not. Enter MAGGIE, who is not good-looking. When this is said, all is said. Enter MAGGIE, as it were, with her throat cut from ear to ear. She has a soft Scotch voice and a more resolute manner than is perhaps fitting to her plainness; and she stops short at sight of JAMES sprawling unconsciously in the company chair.]

MAGGIE. James, I wouldn't sit on the fine chair.

JAMES. I forgot again.

[But he wishes she had spoken more sharply. Even profanation of the fine chair has not roused her. She takes up her knitting, and they all suspect that she knows what they have been talking about.]

MAGGIE. You're late, David, it's nearly bed-time.

DAVID [finding the subject a safe one]. I was kept late at the public meeting.

ALICK [glad to get so far away from Galashiels]. Was it a good meeting?

DAVID. Fairish. [with some heat] That young John Shand WOULD make a speech.

MAGGIE. John Shand? Is that the student Shand?

DAVID. The same. It's true he's a student at Glasgow University in the winter months, but in summer he's just the railway porter here; and I think it's very presumptuous of a young lad like that to make a speech when he hasn't a penny to bless himself with.

ALICK. The Shands were always an impudent family, and jealous. I suppose that's the reason they haven't been on speaking terms with us this six years. Was it a good speech?

DAVID [illustrating the family's generosity]. It was very fine; but he needn't have made fun of ME.

MAGGIE [losing a stitch]. He dared?

DAVID [depressed]. You see I can not get started on a speech without saying things like 'In rising FOR to make a few remarks.'

JAMES. What's wrong with it?

DAVID. He mimicked me, and said, 'Will our worthy chairman come for to go for to answer my questions?' and so on; and they roared.

JAMES [slapping his money pocket]. The sacket.

DAVID. I did feel bitterly, father, the want of education. [Without knowing it, he has a beautiful way of pronouncing this noble word.]

MAGGIE [holding out a kind hand to him]. David.

ALICK. I've missed it sore, David. Even now I feel the want of it in the very marrow of me. I'm ashamed to think I never gave you your chance. But when you were young I was so desperate poor, how could I do it, Maggie?

MAGGIE. It wasn't possible, father.

ALICK [gazing at the book-shelves]. To be able to understand these books! To up with them one at a time and scrape them as clean as though they were a bowl of brose. Lads, it's not to riches, it's to scholarship that I make my humble bow.

JAMES [who is good at bathos]. There's ten yards of them. And they were selected by the minister of Galashiels. He said—

DAVID [quickly]. James.

JAMES. I mean—I mean—

MAGGIE [calmly]. I suppose you mean what you say, James. I hear, David, that the minister of Galashiels is to be married on that Miss Turnbull.

DAVID [on guard]. So they were saying.

ALICK. All I can say is she has made a poor bargain.

MAGGIE [the damned]. I wonder at you, father. He's a very nice gentleman. I'm sure I hope he has chosen wisely.

JAMES. Not him.

MAGGIE [getting near her tragedy]. How can you say that when you don't know her? I expect she is full of charm.

ALICK. Charm? It's the very word he used.

DAVID. Havering idiot.

ALICK. What IS charm, exactly, Maggie?

MAGGIE. Oh, it's—it's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have. Some women, the few, have charm for all; and most have charm for one. But some have charm for none.

[Somehow she has stopped knitting. Her men-folk are very depressed. JAMES brings his fist down on the table with a crash.]

JAMES [shouting]. I have a sister that has charm.

MAGGIE. No, James, you haven't.

JAMES [rushing at her with the watch and chain]. Ha'e, Maggie.

[She lets them lie in her lap.]

DAVID. Maggie, would you like a silk?

MAGGIE. What could I do with a silk? [With a gust of passion] You might as well dress up a little brown hen.

[They wriggle miserably.]

JAMES [stamping]. Bring him here to me.

MAGGIE. Bring whom, James?

JAMES. David, I would be obliged if you wouldn't kick me beneath the table.

MAGGIE [rising]. Let's be practical; let's go to our beds.

[This reminds them that they have a job on hand in which she is not to share.]

DAVID [slily]. I don't feel very sleepy yet.

ALICK. Nor me either.

JAMES. You've just taken the very words out of my mouth.

DAVID [with unusual politeness]. Good-night to you Maggie.

MAGGIE [fixing the three of them]. ALL of you unsleepy, when, as is well known, ten o'clock is your regular bed-time?

JAMES. Yes, it's common knowledge that we go to our beds at ten. [Chuckling] That's what we're counting on.

MAGGIE. Counting on?

DAVID. You stupid whelp.

JAMES. What have I done?

MAGGIE [folding her arms]. There's something up. You've got to tell me, David.

DAVID [who knows when he is beaten]. Go out and watch, James.

MAGGIE. Watch?

[JAMES takes himself off, armed, as MAGGIE notices, with a stick.]

DAVID [in his alert business way]. Maggie, there are burglars about.

MAGGIE. Burglars? [She sits rigid, but she is not the kind to scream.]

DAVID. We hadn't meant for to tell you till we nabbed them; but they've been in this room twice of late. We sat up last night waiting for them, and we're to sit up again to-night.

MAGGIE. The silver plate.

DAVID. It's all safe as yet. That makes us think that they were either frightened away these other times, or that they are coming back for to make a clean sweep.

MAGGIE. How did you get to know about this?

DAVID. It was on Tuesday that the polissman called at the quarry with a very queer story. He had seen a man climbing out at this window at ten past two.

MAGGIE. Did he chase him?

DAVID. It was so dark he lost sight of him at once.

ALICK. Tell her about the window.

DAVID. We've found out that the catch of the window has been pushed back by slipping the blade of a knife between the woodwork.

MAGGIE. David.

ALICK. The polissman said he was carrying a little carpet bag.

MAGGIE. The silver plate IS gone.

DAVID. No, no. We were thinking that very likely he has bunches of keys in the bag.

MAGGIE. Or weapons.

DAVID. As for that, we have some pretty stout weapons ourselves in the umbrella stand. So, if you'll go to your bed, Maggie—

MAGGIE. Me? and my brothers in danger.

ALICK. There's just one of them.

MAGGIE. The polissman just saw one.

DAVID [licking his palms]. I would be very pleased if there were three of them.

MAGGIE. I watch with you. I would be very pleased if there were four of them.

DAVID. And they say she has no charm!

[JAMES returns on tiptoe as if the burglars were beneath the table. He signs to every one to breathe no more, and then whispers his news.]

JAMES. He's there. I had no sooner gone out than I saw him sliding down the garden wall, close to the rhubarbs.

ALICK. What's he like?

JAMES. He's an ugly customer. That's all I could see. There was a little carpet bag in his hand.

DAVID. That's him.

JAMES. He slunk into the rhodydendrons, and he's there now, watching the window.

DAVID. We have him. Out with the light.

[The room is beautified by a chandelier fitted for three gas jets, but with the advance of progress one of these has been removed and the incandescent light put in its place. This alone is lit. ALICK climbs a chair, pulls a little chain, and the room is now but vaguely lit by the fire. It plays fitfully on four sparkling faces.]

MAGGIE. Do you think he saw you, James?

JAMES. I couldn't say, but in any case I was too clever for him. I looked up at the stars, and yawned loud at them as if I was tremendous sleepy.

[There is a long pause during which they are lurking in the shadows. At last they hear some movement, and they steal like ghosts from the room. We see DAVID turning out the lobby light; then the door closes and an empty room awaits the intruder with a shudder of expectancy. The window opens and shuts as softly as if this were a mother peering in to see whether her baby is asleep. Then the head of a man shows between the curtains. The remainder of him follows. He is carrying a little carpet bag. He stands irresolute; what puzzles him evidently is that the Wylies should have retired to rest without lifting that piece of coal off the fire. He opens the door and peeps into the lobby, listening to the wag-at-the-wall clock. All seems serene, and he turns on the light. We see him clearly now. He is JOHN SHAND, age twenty-one, boots muddy, as an indignant carpet can testify. He wears a shabby topcoat and a cockerty bonnet; otherwise he is in the well- worn corduroys of a railway porter. His movements, at first stealthy, become almost homely as he feels that he is secure. He opens the bag and takes out a bunch of keys, a small paper parcel, and a black implement that may be a burglar's jemmy. This cool customer examines the fire and piles on more coals. With the keys he opens the door of the bookcase, selects two large volumes, and brings them to the table. He takes off his topcoat and opens his parcel, which we now see contains sheets of foolscap paper. His next action shows that the 'jemmy' is really a ruler. He knows where the pen and ink are kept. He pulls the fine chair nearer to the table, sits on it, and proceeds to write, occasionally dotting the carpet with ink as he stabs the air with his pen. He is so occupied that he does not see the door opening, and the Wylie family staring at him. They are armed with sticks.]

ALICK [at last]. When you're ready, John Shand.

[JOHN hints back, and then he has the grace to rise, dogged and expressionless.]

JAMES [like a railway porter]. Ticket, please.

DAVID. You can't think of anything clever for to go for to say now, John.

MAGGIE. I hope you find that chair comfortable, young man.

JOHN. I have no complaint to make against the chair.

ALICK [who is really distressed]. A native of the town. The disgrace to your family! I feel pity for the Shands this night.

JOHN [glowering]. I'll thank you, Mr. Wylie, not to pity my family.

JAMES. Canny, canny.

MAGGIE [that sense of justice again]. I think you should let the young man explain. It mayn't be so bad as we thought.

DAVID. Explain away, my billie.

JOHN. Only the uneducated would need an explanation. I'm a student, [with a little passion] and I'm desperate for want of books. You have all I want here; no use to you but for display; well, I came here to study. I come twice weekly. [Amazement of his hosts.]

DAVID [who is the first to recover]. By the window.

JOHN. Do you think a Shand would so far lower himself as to enter your door? Well, is it a case for the police?

JAMES. It is.

MAGGIE [not so much out of the goodness of her heart as to patronise the Shands]. It seems to me it's a case for us all to go to our beds and leave the young man to study; but not on that chair. [And she wheels the chair away from him.]

JOHN. Thank you, Miss Maggie, but I couldn't be beholden to you.

JAMES. My opinion is that he's nobody, so out with him.

JOHN. Yes, out with me. And you'll be cheered to hear I'm likely to be a nobody for a long time to come.

DAVID [who had been beginning to respect him]. Are you a poor scholar?

JOHN. On the contrary, I'm a brilliant scholar.

DAVID. It's siller, then?

JOHN [glorified by experiences he has shared with many a gallant soul]. My first year at college I lived on a barrel of potatoes, and we had just a sofa-bed between two of us; when the one lay down the other had to get up. Do you think it was hardship? It was sublime. But this year I can't afford it. I'll have to stay on here, collecting the tickets of the illiterate, such as you, when I might be with Romulus and Remus among the stars.

JAMES [summing up]. Havers.

DAVID [in whose head some design is vaguely taking shape]. Whist, James. I must say, young lad, I like your spirit. Now tell me, what's your professors' opinion of your future.

JOHN. They think me a young man of extraordinary promise.

DAVID. You have a name here for high moral character.

JOHN. And justly.

DAVID. Are you serious-minded?

JOHN. I never laughed in my life.

DAVID. Who do you sit under in Glasgow?

JOHN. Mr. Flemister of the Sauchiehall High.

DAVID. Are you a Sabbath-school teacher?

JOHN. I am.

DAVID. One more question. Are you promised?

JOHN. To a lady?

DAVID. Yes.

JOHN. I've never given one of them a single word of encouragement. I'm too much occupied thinking about my career.

DAVID. So. [He reflects, and finally indicates by a jerk of the head that he wishes to talk with his father behind the door.]

JAMES [longingly]. Do you want me too?

[But they go out without even answering him.]

MAGGIE. I don't know what maggot they have in their heads, but sit down, young man, till they come back.

JOHN. My name's Mr. Shand, and till I'm called that I decline to sit down again in this house.

MAGGIE. Then I'm thinking, young sir, you'll have a weary wait.

[While he waits you can see how pinched his face is. He is little more than a boy, and he seldom has enough to eat. DAVID and ALICK return presently, looking as sly as if they had been discussing some move on the dambrod, as indeed they have.]

DAVID [suddenly become genial]. Sit down, Mr. Shand, and pull in your chair. You'll have a thimbleful of something to keep the cold out? [Briskly] Glasses, Maggie.

[She wonders, but gets glasses and decanter from the sideboard, which JAMES calls the chiffy. DAVID and ALICK, in the most friendly manner, also draw up to the table.]

You're not a totaller, I hope?

JOHN [guardedly]. I'm practically a totaller.

DAVID. So are we. How do you take it? Is there any hot water, Maggie?

JOHN. If I take it at all, and I haven't made up my mind yet, I'll take it cold.

DAVID. You'll take it hot, James?

JAMES [also sitting at the table but completely befogged]. No, I—

DAVID [decisively] I think you'll take it hot, James.

JAMES [sulking]. I'll take it hot.

DAVID. The kettle, Maggie.

[JAMES has evidently to take it hot so that they can get at the business now on hand, while MAGGIE goes kitchenward for the kettle.]

ALICK. Now, David, quick, before she comes back.

DAVID. Mr. Shand, we have an offer to make you.

JOHN [warningly]. No patronage.

ALICK. It's strictly a business affair.

DAVID. Leave it to me, father. It's this—[But to his annoyance the suspicious MAGGIE has already returned with the kettle.] Maggie, don't you see that you're not wanted?

MAGGIE [sitting down by the fire and resuming her knitting]. I do, David.

DAVID. I have a proposition to put before Mr. Shand, and women are out of place in business transactions.

[The needles continue to click.]

ALICK [sighing]. We'll have to let her bide, David.

DAVID [sternly]. Woman. [But even this does not budge her.] Very well then, sit there, but don't interfere, mind. Mr. Shand, we're willing, the three of us, to lay out L300 on your education if—

JOHN. Take care.

DAVID [slowly, which is not his wont]. On condition that five years from now, Maggie Wylie, if still unmarried, can claim to marry you, should such be her wish; the thing to be perfectly open on her side, but you to be strictly tied down.

JAMES [enlightened]. So, so.

DAVID [resuming his smart manner]. Now, what have you to say? Decide.

JOHN [after a pause]. I regret to say—

MAGGIE. It doesn't matter what he regrets to say, because I decide against it. And I think it was very ill-done of you to make any such proposal.

DAVID [without looking at her]. Quiet, Maggie.

JOHN [looking at her]. I must say, Miss Maggie, I don't see what reasons YOU can have for being so set against it.

MAGGIE. If you would grow a beard, Mr. Shand, the reasons wouldn't be quite so obvious.

JOHN. I'll never grow a beard.

MAGGIE. Then you're done for at the start.

ALICK. Come, come.

MAGGIE. Seeing I have refused the young man—

JOHN. Refused!

DAVID. That's no reason why we shouldn't have his friendly opinion. Your objections, Mr. Shand?

JOHN. Simply, it's a one-sided bargain. I admit I'm no catch at present; but what could a man of my abilities not soar to with three hundred pounds? Something far above what she could aspire to.

MAGGIE. Oh, indeed!

DAVID. The position is that without the three hundred you can't soar.

JOHN. You have me there.

MAGGIE. Yes, but—

ALICK. You see YOU'RE safeguarded, Maggie; you don't need to take him unless you like, but he has to take you.

JOHN. That's an unfair arrangement also.

MAGGIE. I wouldn't dream of it without that condition.

JOHN. Then you ARE thinking of it?

MAGGIE. Poof!

DAVID. It's a good arrangement for you, Mr. Shand. The chances are you'll never have to go on with it, for in all probability she'll marry soon.

JAMES. She's tremendous run after.

JOHN. Even if that's true, it's just keeping me in reserve in case she misses doing better.

DAVID [relieved]. That's the situation in a nutshell.

JOHN. Another thing. Supposing I was to get fond of her?

ALICK [wistfully]. It's very likely.

JOHN. Yes, and then suppose she was to give me the go-by?

DAVID. You have to risk that.

JOHN. Or take it the other way. Supposing as I got to know her I COULD NOT endure her?

DAVID [suavely]. You have both to take risks.

JAMES [less suavely]. What you need, John Shand, is a clout on the head.

JOHN. Three hundred pounds is no great sum.

DAVID. You can take it or leave it.

ALICK. No great sum for a student studying for the ministry!

JOHN. Do you think that with that amount of money I would stop short at being a minister?

DAVID. That's how I like to hear you speak. A young Scotsman of your ability let loose upon the world with L300, what could he not do? It's almost appalling to think of; especially if he went among the English.

JOHN. What do you think, Miss Maggie?

MAGGIE [who is knitting]. I have no thoughts on the subject either way.

JOHN [after looking her over]. What's her age? She looks young, but they say it's the curls that does it.

DAVID [rather happily]. She's one of those women who are eternally young.

JOHN. I can't take that for an answer.

DAVID. She's twenty-five.

JOHN. I'm just twenty-one.

JAMES. I read in a book that about four years' difference in the ages is the ideal thing. [As usual he is disregarded.]

DAVID. Well, Mr. Shand?

JOHN [where is his mother?]. I'm willing if she's willing.

DAVID. Maggie?

MAGGIE. There can be no 'if' about it. It must be an offer.

JOHN. A Shand give a Wylie such a chance to humiliate him? Never.

MAGGIE. Then all is off.

DAVID. Come, come, Mr. Shand, it's just a form.

JOHN [reluctantly]. Miss Maggie, will you?

MAGGIE [doggedly]. Is it an offer?

JOHN [dourly]. Yes.

MAGGIE [rising]. Before I answer I want first to give you a chance of drawing back.

DAVID. Maggie.

MAGGIE [bravely]. When they said that I have been run after they were misleading you. I'm without charm; nobody has ever been after me.

JOHN. Oho!

ALICK. They will be yet.

JOHN [the innocent]. It shows at least that you haven't been after them.

[His hosts exchange a self-conscious glance.]

MAGGIE. One thing more; David said I'm twenty-five, I'm twenty-six.

JOHN. Aha!

MAGGIE. Now be practical. Do you withdraw from the bargain, or do you not?

JOHN [on reflection]. It's a bargain.

MAGGIE. Then so be it.

DAVID [hurriedly]. And that's settled. Did you say you would take it hot, Mr. Shand?

JOHN. I think I'll take it neat.

[The others decide to take it hot, and there is some careful business here with the toddy ladles.]

ALICK. Here's to you, and your career.

JOHN. Thank you. To you, Miss Maggie. Had we not better draw up a legal document? Lawyer Crosbie could do it on the quiet.

DAVID. Should we do that, or should we just trust to one another's honour?

ALICK [gallantly]. Let Maggie decide.

MAGGIE. I think we would better have a legal document.

DAVID. We'll have it drawn up to-morrow. I was thinking the best way would be for to pay the money in five yearly instalments.

JOHN. I was thinking, better bank the whole sum in my name at once.

ALICK. I think David's plan's the best.

JOHN. I think not. Of course if it's not convenient to you—

DAVID [touched to the quick]. It's perfectly convenient. What do you say, Maggie?

MAGGIE. I agree with John.

DAVID [with an odd feeling that MAGGIE is now on the other side]. Very well.

JOHN. Then as that's settled I think I'll be stepping. [He is putting his papers back in the bag.]

ALICK [politely]. If you would like to sit on at your books—

JOHN. As I can come at any orra time now I think I'll be stepping. [MAGGIE helps him into his topcoat.]

MAGGIE. Have you a muffler, John?

JOHN. I have. [He gets it from his pocket.]

MAGGIE. You had better put it twice round. [She does this for him.]

DAVID. Well, good-night to you, Mr. Shand.

ALICK. And good luck.

JOHN. Thank you. The same to you. And I'll cry in at your office in the morning before the 6:20 is due.

DAVID. I'll have the document ready for you. [There is the awkward pause that sometimes follows great events.] I think, Maggie, you might see Mr. Shand to the door.

MAGGIE. Certainly. [JOHN is going by the window.] This way, John.

[She takes him off by the more usual exit.]

DAVID. He's a fine frank fellow; and you saw how cleverly he got the better of me about banking the money. [As the heads of the conspirators come gleefully together] I tell you, father, he has a grand business head.

ALICK. Lads, he's canny. He's cannier than any of us.

JAMES. Except maybe Maggie. He has no idea what a remarkable woman Maggie is.

ALICK. Best he shouldn't know. Men are nervous of remarkable women.

JAMES. She's a long time in coming back.

DAVID [not quite comfortable]. It's a good sign. H'sh. What sort of a night is it, Maggie?

MAGGIE. It's a little blowy.

[She gets a large dustcloth which is lying folded on a shelf, and proceeds to spread it over the fine chair. The men exchange self-conscious glances.]

DAVID [stretching himself]. Yes—well, well, oh yes. It's getting late. What is it with you, father?

ALICK. I'm ten forty-two.

JAMES. I'm ten-forty.

DAVID. Ten forty-two.

[They wind up their watches.]

MAGGIE. It's high time we were bedded. [She puts her hands on their shoulders lovingly, which is the very thing they have been trying to avoid.] You're very kind to me.

DAVID. Havers.

ALICK. Havers.

JAMES [but this does not matter]. Havers.

MAGGIE [a little dolefully]. I'm a sort of sorry for the young man, David.

DAVID. Not at all. You'll be the making of him. [She lifts the two volumes.] Are you taking the books to your bed, Maggie?

MAGGIE. Yes. I don't want him to know things I don't know myself.

[She departs with the books; and ALICK and DAVID, the villains, now want to get away from each other.]

ALICK. Yes—yes. Oh yes—ay, man—it is so—umpha. You'll lift the big coals off, David.

[He wanders away to his spring mattress. DAVID removes the coals.]

JAMES [who would like to sit down and have an argy-bargy]. It's a most romantical affair. [But he gets no answer.] I wonder how it'll turn out? [No answer.] She's queer, Maggie. I wonder how some clever writers has never noticed how queer women are. It's my belief you could write a whole book about them. [DAVID remains obdurate.] It was very noble of her to tell him she's twenty-six. [Muttering as he too wanders away.] But I thought she was twenty-seven.

[DAVID turns out the light.]



ACT II

[Six years have elapsed and John Shand's great hour has come. Perhaps his great hour really lies ahead of him, perhaps he had it six years ago; it often passes us by in the night with such a faint call that we don't even turn in our beds. But according to the trumpets this is John's great hour; it is the hour for which he has long been working with his coat off; and now the coat is on again (broadcloth but ill- fitting), for there is no more to do but await results. He is standing for Parliament, and this is election night.

As the scene discloses itself you get, so to speak, one of John Shand's posters in the face. Vote for Shand. Shand, Shand, Shand. Civil and Religious Liberty, Faith, Hope, Freedom. They are all fly- blown names for Shand. Have a placard about Shand, have a hundred placards about him, it is snowing Shand to-night in Glasgow; take the paste out of your eye, and you will see that we are in one of Shand's committee rooms. It has been a hairdresser's emporium, but Shand, Shand, Shand has swept through it like a wind, leaving nothing but the fixtures; why shave, why have your head doused in those basins when you can be brushed and scraped and washed up for ever by simply voting for Shand?

There are a few hard chairs for yelling Shand from, and then rushing away. There is an iron spiral staircase that once led to the ladies' hairdressing apartments, but now leads to more Shand, Shand, Shand. A glass door at the back opens on to the shop proper, screaming Civil and Religious Liberty, Shand, as it opens, and beyond is the street crammed with still more Shand pro and con. Men in every sort of garb rush in and out, up and down the stair, shouting the magic word. Then there is a lull, and down the stair comes Maggie Wylie, decidedly overdressed in blue velvet and (let us get this over) less good- looking than ever. She raises her hands to heaven, she spins round like a little teetotum. To her from the street, suffering from a determination of the word Shand to the mouth, rush Alick and David. Alick is thinner (being older), David is stouter (being older), and they are both in tweeds and silk hats.]

MAGGIE. David—have they—is he? quick, quick! DAVID. There's no news yet, no news. It's terrible.

[The teetotum revolves more quickly.]

ALICK. For God's sake, Maggie, sit down.

MAGGIE. I can't, I can't.

DAVID. Hold her down.

[They press her into a chair; JAMES darts in, stouter also. His necktie has gone; he will never again be able to attend a funeral in that hat.]

JAMES [wildly]. John Shand's the man for you. John Shand's the man for you. John Shand's the man for you.

DAVID [clutching him]. Have you heard anything?

JAMES. Not a word.

ALICK. Look at her.

DAVID. Maggie [he goes on his knees beside her, pressing her to him in affectionate anxiety]. It was mad of him to dare.

MAGGIE. It was grand of him.

ALICK [moving about distraught]. Insane ambition.

MAGGIE. Glorious ambition.

DAVID. Maggie, Maggie, my lamb, best be prepared for the worst.

MAGGIE [husky]. I am prepared.

ALICK. Six weary years has she waited for this night.

MAGGIE. Six brave years has John toiled for this night.

JAMES. And you could have had him, Maggie, at the end of five. The document says five.

MAGGIE. Do you think I grudge not being married to him yet? Was I to hamper him till the fight was won?

DAVID [with wrinkled brows]. But if it's lost?

[She can't answer.]

ALICK [starting]. What's that?

[The three listen at the door, the shouting dies down.]

DAVID. They're terrible still; what can make them so still?

[JAMES spirits himself away. ALICK and DAVID blanch to hear MAGGIE speaking softly as if to JOHN.]

MAGGIE. Did you say you had lost, John? Of course you would lose the first time, dear John. Six years. Very well, we'll begin another six to-night. You'll win yet. [Fiercely] Never give in, John, never give in!

[The roar of the multitude breaks out again and comes rolling nearer.]

DAVID. I think he's coming.

[JAMES is fired into the room like a squeezed onion.]

JAMES. He's coming!

[They may go on speaking, but through the clang outside none could hear. The populace seems to be trying to take the committee room by assault. Out of the scrimmage a man emerges dishevelled and bursts into the room, closing the door behind him. It is JOHN SHAND in a five guinea suit, including the hat. There are other changes in him also, for he has been delving his way through loamy ground all those years. His right shoulder, which he used to raise to pound a path through the crowd, now remains permanently in that position. His mouth tends to close like a box. His eyes are tired, they need some one to pull the lids over them and send him to sleep for a week. But they are honest eyes still, and faithful, and could even light up his face at times with a smile, if the mouth would give a little help.]

JOHN [clinging to a chair that he may not fly straight to heaven]. I'm in; I'm elected. Majority two hundred and forty-four; I'm John Shand, M.P.

[The crowd have the news by this time and their roar breaks the door open. JAMES is off at once to tell them that he is to be SHAND'S brother-in-law. A teardrop clings to ALICK's nose; DAVID hits out playfully at JOHN, and JOHN in an ecstasy returns the blow.]

DAVID. Fling yourself at the door, father, and bar them out. Maggie, what keeps you so quiet now?

MAGGIE [weak in her limbs]. You're sure you're in, John?

JOHN. Majority 244. I've beaten the baronet. I've done it, Maggie, and not a soul to help me; I've done it alone. [His voice breaks; you could almost pick up the pieces.] I'm as hoarse as a crow, and I have to address the Cowcaddens Club yet; David, pump some oxygen into me.

DAVID. Certainly, Mr. Shand. [While he does it, MAGGIE is seeing visions.]

ALICK. What are you doing, Maggie?

MAGGIE. This is the House of Commons, and I'm John, catching the Speaker's eye for the first time. Do you see a queer little old wifie sitting away up there in the Ladies' Gallery? That's me. 'Mr. Speaker, sir, I rise to make my historic maiden speech. I am no orator, sir'; voice from Ladies' Gallery, 'Are you not, John? you'll soon let them see that'; cries of 'Silence, woman,' and general indignation. 'Mr. Speaker, sir, I stand here diffidently with my eyes on the Treasury Bench'; voice from the Ladies' Gallery, 'And you'll soon have your coat-tails on it, John'; loud cries of 'Remove that little old wifie,' in which she is forcibly ejected, and the honourable gentleman resumes his seat in a torrent of admiring applause.

[ALICK and DAVID waggle their proud heads.]

JOHN [tolerantly]. Maggie, Maggie.

MAGGIE. You're not angry with me, John?

JOHN. No, no.

MAGGIE. But you glowered.

JOHN. I was thinking of Sir Peregrine. Just because I beat him at the poll he took a shabby revenge; he congratulated me in French, a language I haven't taken the trouble to master.

MAGGIE [becoming a little taller]. Would it help you, John, if you were to marry a woman that could speak French?

DAVID [quickly]. Not at all.

MAGGIE [gloriously]. Mon cher Jean, laissez-moi parler le francais, voulez-vous un interprete?

JOHN. Hullo!

MAGGIE. Je suis la soeur francaise de mes deux freres ecossais.

DAVID [worshipping her]. She's been learning French.

JOHN [lightly]. Well done.

MAGGIE [grandly]. They're arriving.

ALICK. Who?

MAGGIE. Our guests. This is London, and Mrs. John Shand is giving her first reception. [Airily] Have I told you, darling, who are coming to-night? There's that dear Sir Peregrine. [To ALICK] Sir Peregrine, this is a pleasure. Avez-vous...So sorry we beat you at the poll.

JOHN. I'm doubting the baronet would sit on you, Maggie.

MAGGIE. I've invited a lord to sit on the baronet. Voila!

DAVID [delighted]. You thing! You'll find the lords expensive.

MAGGIE. Just a little cheap lord. [JAMES enters importantly.] My dear Lord Cheap, this is kind of you.

[JAMES hopes that MAGGIE's reason is not unbalanced.]

DAVID [who really ought to have had education]. How de doo, Cheap?

JAMES [bewildered]. Maggie—-

MAGGIE. Yes, do call me Maggie.

ALICK [grinning]. She's practising her first party, James. The swells are at the door.

JAMES [heavily]. That's what I came to say. They are at the door.

JOHN. Who?

JAMES. The swells; in their motor. [He gives JOHN three cards.]

JOHN. 'Mr. Tenterden.'

DAVID. Him that was speaking for you?

JOHN. The same. He's a whip and an Honourable. 'Lady Sybil Tenterden.' [Frowns.] Her! She's his sister.

MAGGIE. A married woman?

JOHN. No. 'The Comtesse de la Briere.'

MAGGIE [the scholar]. She must be French.

JOHN. Yes; I think she's some relation. She's a widow.

JAMES. But what am I to say to them? ['Mr. Shand's compliments, and he will be proud to receive them' is the very least that the Wylies expect.]

JOHN [who was evidently made for great ends]. Say I'm very busy, but if they care to wait I hope presently to give them a few minutes.

JAMES [thunderstruck]. Good God, Mr. Shand!

[But it makes him JOHN'S more humble servant than ever, and he departs with the message.]

JOHN [not unaware of the sensation he has created]. I'll go up and let the crowd see me from the window.

MAGGIE. But—but—what are we to do with these ladies?

JOHN [as he tramps upwards]. It's your reception, Maggie; this will prove you.

MAGGIE [growing smaller]. Tell me what you know about this Lady Sybil?

JOHN. The only thing I know about her is that she thinks me vulgar.

MAGGIE. You?

JOHN. She has attended some of my meetings, and I'm told she said that.

MAGGIE. What could the woman mean?

JOHN. I wonder. When I come down I'll ask her.

[With his departure MAGGIE'S nervousness increases.]

ALICK [encouragingly]. In at them, Maggie, with your French.

MAGGIE. It's all slipping from me, father.

DAVID [gloomily]. I'm sure to say 'for to come for to go.'

[The newcomers glorify the room, and MAGGIE feels that they have lifted her up with the tongs and deposited her in one of the basins. They are far from intending to be rude; it is not their fault that thus do swans scatter the ducks. They do not know that they are guests of the family, they think merely that they are waiting with other strangers in a public room; they undulate inquiringly, and if MAGGIE could undulate in return she would have no cause for offence. But she suddenly realises that this is an art as yet denied her, and that though DAVID might buy her evening-gowns as fine as theirs [and is at this moment probably deciding to do so], she would look better carrying them in her arms than on her person. She also feels that to emerge from wraps as they are doing is more difficult than to plank your money on the counter for them. The COMTESSE she could forgive, for she is old; but LADY SYBIL is young and beautiful and comes lazily to rest like a stately ship of Tarsus.]

COMTESSE [smiling divinely, and speaking with such a pretty accent]. I hope one is not in the way. We were told we might wait.

MAGGIE [bravely climbing out of the basin]. Certainly—I am sure if you will be so—it is—

[She knows that DAVID and her father are very sorry for her.]

[A high voice is heard orating outside.]

SYBIL [screwing her nose deliciously]. He is at it again, Auntie.

COMTESSE. Mon Dieu! [Like one begging pardon of the universe] It is Mr. Tenterden, you understand, making one more of his delightful speeches to the crowd. WOULD you be so charming as to shut the door?

[This to DAVID in such appeal that she is evidently making the petition of her life. DAVID saves her.]

MAGGIE [determined not to go under]. J'espere que vous—trouvez— cette—reunion—interessante?

COMTESSE. Vous parlez francais? Mais c'est charmant! Voyons, causons un peu. Racontez-moi tout de ce grand homme, toutes les choses merveilleuses qu'il a faites.

MAGGIE. I—I—Je connais—[Alas!]

COMTESSE [naughtily]. Forgive me, Mademoiselle, I thought you spoke French.

SYBIL [who knows that DAVID admires her shoulders]. How wicked of you, Auntie. [To MAGGIE] I assure you none of us can understand her when she gallops at that pace.

MAGGIE [crushed]. It doesn't matter. I will tell Mr. Shand that you are here.

SYBIL [drawling]. Please don't trouble him. We are really only waiting till my brother recovers and can take us back to our hotel.

MAGGIE. I'll tell him.

[She is glad to disappear up the stair.]

COMTESSE. The lady seems distressed. Is she a relation of Mr. Shand?

DAVID. Not for to say a relation. She's my sister. Our name is Wylie.

[But granite quarries are nothing to them.]

COMTESSE. How do you do. You are the committee man of Mr. Shand?

DAVID. No, just friends.

COMTESSE [gaily to the basins]. Aha! I know you. Next, please! Sybil, do you weigh yourself, or are you asleep?

[LADY SYBIL has sunk indolently into a weighing-chair.]

SYBIL. Not quite, Auntie.

COMTESSE [the mirror of la politesse]. Tell me all about Mr. Shand. Was it here that he—picked up the pin?

DAVID. The pin?

COMTESSE. As I have read, a self-made man always begins by picking up a pin. After that, as the memoirs say, his rise was rapid.

[DAVID, however, is once more master of himself, and indeed has begun to tot up the cost of their garments.]

DAVID. It wasn't a pin he picked up, my lady; it was L300.

ALICK [who feels that JOHN's greatness has been outside the conversation quite long enough]. And his rise wasn't so rapid, just at first, David!

DAVID. He had his fight. His original intention was to become a minister; he's university-educated, you know; he's not a working-man member.

ALICK [with reverence]. He's an M.A. But while he was a student he got a place in an iron-cementer's business.

COMTESSE [now far out of her depths]. Iron-cementer?

DAVID. They scrape boilers.

COMTESSE. I see. The fun men have, Sybil!

DAVID [with some solemnity]. There have been millions made in scraping boilers. They say, father, he went into business so as to be able to pay off the L300.

ALICK [slily]. So I've heard.

COMTESSE. Aha—it was a loan?

[DAVID and ALICK are astride their great subject now.]

DAVID. No, a gift—of a sort—from some well-wishers. But they wouldn't hear of his paying it off, father!

ALICK. Not them!

COMTESSE [restraining an impulse to think of other things]. That was kind, charming.

ALICK [with a look at DAVID]. Yes. Well, my lady, he developed a perfect genius for the iron-cementing.

DAVID. But his ambition wasn't satisfied. Soon he had public life in his eye. As a heckler he was something fearsome; they had to seat him on the platform for to keep him quiet. Next they had to let him into the Chair. After that he did all the speaking; he cleared all roads before him like a fire-engine; and when this vacancy occurred, you could hardly say it did occur, so quickly did he step into it. My lady, there are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.

COMTESSE. I can well believe it. And now he has said farewell to boilers?

DAVID [impressively]. Not at all; the firm promised if he was elected for to make him their London manager at L800 a year.

COMTESSE. There is a strong man for you, Sybil; but I believe you ARE asleep.

SYBIL [stirring herself]. Honestly, I'm not. [Sweetly to the others] But would you mind finding out whether my brother is drawing to a close?

[DAVID goes out, leaving poor ALICK marooned. The COMTESSE is kind to him.]

COMTESSE. Thank you very much. [Which helps ALICK out.] Don't you love a strong man, sleepy head?

SYBIL [preening herself]. I never met one.

COMTESSE. Neither have I. But if you DID meet one, would he wakes you up?

SYBIL. I dare say he would find there were two of us.

COMTESSE [considering her]. Yes, I think he would. Ever been in love, you cold thing?

SYBIL [yawning]. I have never shot up in flame, Auntie.

COMTESSE. Think you could manage it?

SYBIL. If Mr. Right came along.

COMTESSE. As a girl of to-day it would be your duty to tame him.

SYBIL. As a girl of to-day I would try to do my duty.

COMTESSE. And if it turned out that HE tamed you instead?

SYBIL. He would have to do that if he were MY Mr. Right.

COMTESSE. And then?

SYBIL. Then, of course, I should adore him. Auntie, I think if I ever really love it will be like Mary Queen of Scots, who said of her Bothwell that she could follow him round the world in her nighty.

COMTESSE. My petite!

SYBIL. I believe I mean it.

COMTESSE. Oh, it is quite my conception of your character. Do you know, I am rather sorry for this Mr. John Shand.

SYBIL [opening her fine eyes]. Why? He is quite a boor, is he not?

COMTESSE. For that very reason. Because his great hour is already nearly sped. That wild bull manner that moves the multitude—they will laugh at it in your House of Commons.

SYBIL [indifferent]. I suppose so.

COMTESSE. Yet if he had education—-

SYBIL. Have we not been hearing how superbly he is educated?

COMTESSE. It is such as you or me that he needs to educate him now. You could do it almost too well.

SYBIL [with that pretty stretch of neck]. I am not sufficiently interested. I retire in your favour. How would you begin?

COMTESSE. By asking him to drop in, about five, of course. By the way, I wonder is there a Mrs. Shand?

SYBIL. I have no idea. But they marry young.

COMTESSE. If there is not, there is probably a lady waiting for him, somewhere in a boiler.

SYBIL. I dare say.

[MAGGIE descends.]

MAGGIE. Mr. Shand will be down directly.

COMTESSE. Thank you. Your brother has been giving us such an interesting account of his career. I forget, Sybil, whether he said that he was married.

MAGGIE. No, he's not married; but he will be soon.

COMTESSE. Ah! [She is merely making conversation.] A friend of yours?

MAGGIE [now a scorner of herself]. I don't think much of her.

COMTESSE. In that case, tell me all about her.

MAGGIE. There's not much to tell. She's common, and stupid. One of those who go in for self-culture; and then when the test comes they break down. [With sinister enjoyment] She'll be the ruin of him.

COMTESSE. But is not that sad! Figure to yourself how many men with greatness before them have been shipwrecked by marrying in the rank from which they sprang.

MAGGIE. I've told her that.

COMTESSE. But she will not give him up?

MAGGIE. No.

SYBIL. Why should she if he cares for her? What is her name?

MAGGIE. It's—Maggie.

COMTESSE [still uninterested]. Well, I am afraid that Maggie is to do for John. [JOHN comes down.] Ah, our hero!

JOHN. Sorry I have kept you waiting. The Comtesse?

COMTESSE. And my niece Lady Sybil Tenterden. [SYBIL'S head inclines on its stem.] She is not really all my niece; I mean I am only half of her aunt. What a triumph, Mr. Shand!

JOHN. Oh, pretty fair, pretty fair. Your brother has just finished addressing the crowd, Lady Sybil.

SYBIL. Then we must not detain Mr. Shand, Auntie.

COMTESSE [who unless her heart is touched thinks insincerity charming]. Only one word. I heard you speak last night. Sublime! Just the sort of impassioned eloquence that your House of Commons loves.

JOHN. It's very good of you to say so.

COMTESSE. But we must run. Bon soir.

[SYBIL bows as to some one far away.]

JOHN. Good-night, Lady Sybil. I hear you think I'm vulgar. [Eyebrows are raised.]

COMTESSE. My dear Mr. Shand, what absurd—-

JOHN. I was told she said that after hearing me speak.

COMTESSE. Quite a mistake, I—-

JOHN [doggedly]. Is it not true?

SYBIL ['waking up']. You seem to know, Mr. Shand; and as you press me so unnecessarily—well, yes, that is how you struck me.

COMTESSE. My child!

SYBIL [who is a little agitated]. He would have it.

JOHN [perplexed]. What's the matter? I just wanted to know, because if it's true I must alter it.

COMTESSE. There, Sybil, see how he values your good opinion.

SYBIL [her svelte figure giving like a fishing-rod]. It is very nice of you to put it in that way, Mr. Shand. Forgive me.

JOHN. But I don't quite understand yet. Of course, it can't matter to me, Lady Sybil, what you think of me; what I mean is, that I mustn't be vulgar if it would be injurious to my career.

[The fishing-rod regains its rigidity.]

SYBIL. I see. No, of course, I could not affect your career, Mr Shand.

JOHN [who quite understands that he is being challenged]. That's so, Lady Sybil, meaning no offence.

SYBIL [who has a naughty little impediment in her voice when she is most alluring]. Of course not. And we are friends again?

JOHN. Certainly.

SYBIL. Then I hope you will come to see me in London as I present no terrors.

JOHN [he is a man, is JOHN]. I'll be very pleased.

SYBIL. Any afternoon about five.

JOHN. Much obliged. And you can teach me the things I don't know yet, if you'll be so kind.

SYBIL [the impediment becoming more assertive]. If you wish it, I shall do my best.

JOHN. Thank you, Lady Sybil. And who knows there may be one or two things I can teach you.

SYBIL [it has now become an angel's hiccough]. Yes, we can help one another. Good-bye till then.

JOHN. Good-bye. Maggie, the ladies are going.

[During this skirmish MAGGIE has stood apart. At the mention of her name they glance at one another. JOHN escorts SYBIL, but the COMTESSE turns back.]

COMTESSE. Are you, then, THE Maggie? [MAGGIE nods rather defiantly and the COMTESSE is distressed.] But if I had known I would not have said those things. Please forgive an old woman.

MAGGIE. It doesn't matter.

COMTESSE. I—I dare say it will be all right. Mademoiselle, if I were you I would not encourage those tete-a-tetes with Lady Sybil. I am the rude one, but she is the dangerous one; and I am afraid his impudence has attracted her. Bon voyage, Miss Maggie.

MAGGIE. Good-bye—but I CAN speak French. Je parle francais. Isn't that right?

COMTESSE. But, yes, it is excellent. [Making things easy for her] C'est tres bien.

MAGGIE. Je me suis embrouillee—la derniere fois.

COMTESSE. Good! Shall I speak more slowly?

MAGGIE. No, no. Nonon, non, faster, faster.

COMTESSE. J'admire votre courage!

MAGGIE. Je comprends chaque mot.

COMTESSE. Parfait! Bravo!

MAGGIE. Voila!

COMTESSE. Superbe!

[She goes, applauding; and MAGGIE has a moment of elation, which however has passed before JOHN returns for his hat.]

MAGGIE. Have you more speaking to do, John? [He is somehow in high good-humour.]

JOHN. I must run across and address the Cowcaddens Club. [He sprays his throat with a hand-spray.] I wonder if I AM vulgar, Maggie?

MAGGIE. You are not, but I am.

JOHN. Not that I can see.

MAGGIE. Look how overdressed I am, John. I knew it was too showy when I ordered it, and yet I could not resist the thing. But I will tone it down, I will. What did you think of Lady Sybil?

JOHN. That young woman had better be careful. She's a bit of a besom, Maggie.

MAGGIE. She's beautiful, John.

JOHN. She has a neat way of stretching herself. For playing with she would do as well as another.

[She looks at him wistfully.]

MAGGIE. You couldn't stay and have a talk for a few minutes?

JOHN. If you want me, Maggie. The longer you keep them waiting, the more they think of you.

MAGGIE. When are you to announce that we're to be married, John?

JOHN. I won't be long. You've waited a year more than you need have done, so I think it's your due I should hurry things now.

MAGGIE. I think it's noble of you.

JOHN. Not at all, Maggie; the nobleness has been yours in waiting so patiently. And your brothers would insist on it at any rate. They're watching me like cats with a mouse.

MAGGIE. It's so little I've done to help.

JOHN. Three hundred pounds.

MAGGIE. I'm getting a thousand per cent for it.

JOHN. And very pleased I am you should think so, Maggie.

MAGGIE. Is it terrible hard to you, John?

JOHN. It's not hard at all. I can say truthfully, Maggie, that all, or nearly all, I've seen of you in these six years has gone to increase my respect for you.

MAGGIE. Respect!

JOHN. And a bargain's a bargain.

MAGGIE. If it wasn't that you're so glorious to me, John, I would let you off.

[There is a gleam in his eye, but he puts it out.]

JOHN. In my opinion, Maggie, we'll be a very happy pair.

[She accepts this eagerly.]

MAGGIE. We know each other so well, John, don't we?

JOHN. I'm an extraordinary queer character, and I suppose nobody knows me well except myself; but I know you, Maggie, to the very roots of you.

[She magnanimously lets this remark alone.]

MAGGIE. And it's not as if there was any other woman you—fancied more, John.

JOHN. There's none whatever.

MAGGIE. If there ever should be—oh, if there ever should be! Some woman with charm.

JOHN. Maggie, you forget yourself. There couldn't be another woman once I was a married man.

MAGGIE. One has heard of such things.

JOHN. Not in Scotsmen, Maggie; not in Scotsmen.

MAGGIE. I've sometimes thought, John, that the difference between us and the English is that the Scotch are hard in all other respects but soft with women, and the English are hard with women but soft in all other respects.

JOHN. You've forgotten the grandest moral attribute of a Scotsman, Maggie, that he'll do nothing which might damage his career.

MAGGIE. Ah, but John, whatever you do, you do it so tremendously; and if you were to love, what a passion it would be.

JOHN. There's something in that, I suppose.

MAGGIE. And then, what could I do? For the desire of my life now, John, is to help you to get everything you want, except just that I want you to have me, too.

JOHN. We'll get on fine, Maggie.

MAGGIE. You're just making the best of it. They say that love is sympathy, and if that's so, mine must be a great love for you, for I see all you are feeling this night and bravely hiding; I feel for you as if I was John Shand myself. [He sighs.]

JOHN. I had best go to the meeting, Maggie.

MAGGIE. Not yet. Can you look me in the face, John, and deny that there is surging within you a mighty desire to be free, to begin the new life untrammelled?

JOHN. Leave such maggots alone, Maggie.

MAGGIE. It's a shame of me not to give you up.

JOHN. I would consider you a very foolish woman if you did.

MAGGIE. If I were John Shand I would no more want to take Maggie Wylie with me through the beautiful door that has opened wide for you than I would want to take an old pair of shoon. Why don't you bang the door in my face, John? [A tremor runs through JOHN.]

JOHN. A bargain's a bargain, Maggie.

[MAGGIE moves about, an eerie figure, breaking into little cries. She flutters round him, threateningly.]

MAGGIE. Say one word about wanting to get out of it, and I'll put the lawyers on you.

JOHN. Have I hinted at such a thing?

MAGGIE. The document holds you hard and fast.

JOHN. It does.

[She gloats miserably.]

MAGGIE. The woman never rises with the man. I'll drag you down, John. I'll drag you down.

JOHN. Have no fear of that, I won't let you. I'm too strong.

MAGGIE. You'll miss the prettiest thing in the world, and all owing to me.

JOHN. What's that?

MAGGIE. Romance.

JOHN. Poof.

MAGGIE. All's cold and grey without it, John. They that have had it have slipped in and out of heaven.

JOHN. You're exaggerating, Maggie.

MAGGIE. You've worked so hard, you've had none of the fun that comes to most men long before they're your age.

JOHN. I never was one for fun. I cannot call to mind, Maggie, ever having laughed in my life.

MAGGIE. You have no sense of humour.

JOHN. Not a spark.

MAGGIE. I've sometimes thought that if you had, it might make you fonder of me. I think one needs a sense of humour to be fond of me.

JOHN. I remember reading of some one that said it needed a surgical operation to get a joke into a Scotsman's head.

MAGGIE. Yes, that's been said.

JOHN. What beats me, Maggie, is how you could insert a joke with an operation.

[He considers this and gives it up.]

MAGGIE. That's not the kind of fun I was thinking of. I mean fun with the lasses, John—gay, jolly, harmless fun. They could be impudent fashionable beauties now, stretching themselves to attract you, like that hiccoughing little devil, and running away from you, and crooking their fingers to you to run after them.

[He draws a big breath.]

JOHN. No, I never had that.

MAGGIE. It's every man's birthright, and you would have it now but for me.

JOHN. I can do without, Maggie.

MAGGIE. It's like missing out all the Saturdays.

JOHN. You feel sure, I suppose, that an older man wouldn't suit you better, Maggie?

MAGGIE. I couldn't feel surer of anything. You're just my ideal.

JOHN. Yes, yes. Well, that's as it should be.

[She threatens him again.]

MAGGIE. David has the document. It's carefully locked away.

JOHN. He would naturally take good care of it.

[The pride of the Wylies deserts her.]

MAGGIE. John, I make you a solemn promise that, in consideration of the circumstances of our marriage, if you should ever fall in love I'll act differently from other wives.

JOHN. There will be no occasion, Maggie.

[Her voice becomes tremulous.]

MAGGIE. John, David doesn't have the document. He thinks he has, but I have it here.

[Somewhat heavily JOHN surveys the fatal paper.]

JOHN. Well do I mind the look of it, Maggie. Yes, yes, that's it. Umpha.

MAGGIE. You don't ask why I've brought it.

JOHN. Why did you?

MAGGIE. Because I thought I might perhaps have the courage and the womanliness to give it back to you. [JOHN has a brief dream.] Will you never hold it up against me in the future that I couldn't do that?

JOHN. I promise you, Maggie, I never will.

MAGGIE. To go back to The Pans and take up my old life there, when all these six years my eyes have been centred on this night! I've been waiting for this night as long as you have been; and now to go back there, and wizen and dry up, when I might be married to John Shand!

JOHN. And you will be, Maggie. You have my word.

MAGGIE. Never—never—never. [She tears up the document. He remains seated immovable, but the gleam returns to his eye. She rages first at herself and then at him.] I'm a fool, a fool, to let you go. I tell you, you'll rue this day, for you need me, you'll come to grief without me. There's nobody can help you as I could have helped you. I'm essential to your career, and you're blind not to see it.

JOHN. What's that, Maggie? In no circumstances would I allow any meddling with my career.

MAGGIE. You would never have known I was meddling with it. But that's over. Don't be in too great a hurry to marry, John. Have your fling with the beautiful dolls first. Get the whiphand of the haughty ones, John. Give them their licks. Every time they hiccough let them have an extra slap in memory of me. And be sure to remember this, my man, that the one who marries you will find you out.

JOHN. Find me out?

MAGGIE. However careful a man is, his wife always finds out his failings.

JOHN. I don't know, Maggie, to what failings you refer.

[The Cowcaddens Club has burst its walls, and is pouring this way to raise the new Member on its crest. The first wave hurls itself against the barber's shop with cries of 'Shand, Shand, Shand.' For a moment, JOHN stems the torrent by planting his back against the door.]

You are acting under an impulse, Maggie, and I can't take advantage of it. Think the matter over, and we'll speak about it in the morning.

MAGGIE. No, I can't go through it again. It ends to-night and now. Good luck, John.

[She is immediately submerged in the sea that surges through the door, bringing much wreckage with it. In a moment the place is so full that another cupful could not find standing room. Some slippery ones are squeezed upwards and remain aloft as warnings. JOHN has jumped on to the stair, and harangues the flood vainly like another Canute. It is something about freedom and noble minds, and, though unheard, goes to all heads, including the speaker's. By the time he is audible sentiment has him for her own.]

JOHN. But, gentlemen, one may have too much even of freedom [No, no.] Yes, Mr. Adamson. One may want to be tied. [Never, never.] I say yes, Willie Cameron; and I have found a young lady who I am proud to say is willing to be tied to me. I'm to be married. [Uproar.] Her name's Miss Wylie. [Transport.] Quiet; she's here now. [Frenzy.] She was here! Where are you, Maggie? [A small voice—'I'm here.' A hundred great voices—'Where—where—where?' The small voice—'I'm so little none of you can see me.']

[Three men, name of Wylie, buffet their way forward.]

DAVID. James, father, have you grip of her?

ALICK. We've got her.

DAVID. Then hoist her up.

[The queer little elated figure is raised aloft. With her fingers she can just touch the stars. Not unconscious of the nobility of his behaviour, the hero of the evening points an impressive finger at her.]

JOHN. Gentlemen, the future Mrs. John Shand! [Cries of 'Speech, speech!'] No, no, being a lady she can't make a speech, but—-

[The heroine of the evening surprises him.]

MAGGIE. I can make a speech, and I will make a speech, and it's in two words, and they're these [holding out her arms to enfold all the members of the Cowcaddens Club]—My Constituents! [Dementia.]



ACT III

[A few minutes ago the Comtesse de la Briere, who has not recently been in England, was shown into the London home of the Shands. Though not sufficiently interested to express her surprise in words, she raised her eyebrows on finding herself in a charming room; she has presumed that the Shand scheme of decoration would be as impossible as themselves.

It is the little room behind the dining-room for which English architects have long been famous; 'Make something of this, and you will indeed be a clever one,' they seem to say to you as they unveil it. The Comtesse finds that John has undoubtedly made something of it. It is his 'study' (mon Dieu, the words these English use!) and there is nothing in it that offends; there is so much not in it too that might so easily have been there. It is not in the least ornate; there are no colours quarrelling with each other (unseen, unheard by the blissful occupant of the revolving chair); the Comtesse has not even the gentle satisfaction of noting a 'suite' in stained oak. Nature might have taken a share in the decorations, so restful are they to the eyes; it is the working room of a man of culture, probably lately down from Oxford; at a first meeting there is nothing in it that pretends to be what it is not. Our visitor is a little disappointed, but being fair-minded blows her absent host a kiss for disappointing her.

He has even, she observes with a twinkle, made something of the most difficult of his possessions, the little wife. For Maggie, who is here receiving her, has been quite creditably toned down. He has put her into a little grey frock that not only deals gently with her personal defects, but is in harmony with the room. Evidently, however, she has not 'risen' with him, for she is as ever; the Comtesse, who remembers having liked her the better of the two, could shake her for being so stupid. For instance, why is she not asserting herself in that other apartment?

The other apartment is really a correctly solemn dining-room, of which we have a glimpse through partly open folding-doors. At this moment it is harbouring Mr. Shand's ladies' committee, who sit with pens and foolscap round the large table, awaiting the advent of their leader. There are nobly wise ones and some foolish ones among them, for we are back in the strange days when it was considered 'unwomanly' for women to have minds. The Comtesse peeps at them with curiosity, as they arrange their papers or are ushered into the dining-room through a door which we cannot see. To her frivolous ladyship they are a species of wild fowl, and she is specially amused to find her niece among them. She demands an explanation as soon as the communicating doors close.]

COMTESSE. Tell me since when has my dear Sybil become one of these ladies? It is not like her.

[MAGGIE is obviously not clever enough to understand the woman question. Her eye rests longingly on a half-finished stocking as she innocently but densely replies:]

MAGGIE. I think it was about the time that my husband took up their cause.

[The COMTESSE has been hearing tales of LADY SYBIL and the barbarian; and after having the grace to hesitate, she speaks with the directness for which she is famed in Mayfair.]

COMTESSE. Mrs. Shand, excuse me for saying that if half of what I hear be true, your husband is seeing that lady a great deal too often. [MAGGIE is expressionless; she reaches for her stocking, whereat her guest loses patience.] Oh, mon Dieu, put that down; you can buy them at two francs the pair. Mrs. Shand, why do not you compel yourself to take an intelligent interest in your husband's work?

MAGGIE. I typewrite his speeches.

COMTESSE. But do you know what they are about?

MAGGIE. They are about various subjects.

COMTESSE. Oh!

[Did MAGGIE give her an unseen quizzical glance before demurely resuming the knitting? One is not certain, as JOHN has come in, and this obliterates her. A 'Scotsman on the make,' of whom DAVID has spoken reverently, is still to be read—in a somewhat better bound volume—in JOHN SHAND's person; but it is as doggedly honest a face as ever; and he champions women, not for personal ends, but because his blessed days of poverty gave him a light upon their needs. His self-satisfaction, however, has increased, and he has pleasantly forgotten some things. For instance, he can now call out 'Porter' at railway stations without dropping his hands for the barrow. MAGGIE introduces the COMTESSE, and he is still undaunted.]

JOHN. I remember you well—at Glasgow.

COMTESSE. It must be quite two years ago, Mr. Shand.

[JOHN has no objection to showing that he has had a classical education.]

JOHN. Tempus fugit, Comtesse.

COMTESSE. I have not been much in this country since then, and I return to find you a coming man.

[Fortunately his learning is tempered with modesty.]

JOHN. Oh, I don't know, I don't know.

COMTESSE. The Ladies' Champion.

[His modesty is tempered with a respect for truth.]

JOHN. Well, well.

COMTESSE. And you are about, as I understand, to introduce a bill to give women an equal right with men to grow beards [which is all she knows about it. He takes the remark literally.]

JOHN. There's nothing about beards in it, Comtesse. [She gives him time to cogitate, and is pleased to note that there is no result.] Have you typed my speech, Maggie?

MAGGIE. Yes; twenty-six pages. [She produces it from a drawer.]

[Perhaps JOHN wishes to impress the visitor.]

JOHN. I'm to give the ladies' committee a general idea of it. Just see, Maggie, if I know the peroration. 'In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, these are the reasonable demands of every intelligent Englishwoman'— I had better say British woman—'and I am proud to nail them to my flag'—-

[The visitor is properly impressed.]

COMTESSE. Oho! defies his leaders!

JOHN. 'So long as I can do so without embarrassing the Government.'

COMTESSE. Ah, ah, Mr. Shand!

JOHN. 'I call upon the Front Bench, sir, loyally but firmly'—

COMTESSE. Firm again!

JOHN. —'either to accept my Bill, or to promise WITHOUT DELAY to bring in one of their own; and if they decline to do so I solemnly warn them that though I will not press the matter to a division just now'—

COMTESSE. Ahem!

JOHN. 'I will bring it forward again in the near future.' And now Comtesse, you know that I'm not going to divide—and not another soul knows it.

COMTESSE. I am indeed flattered by your confidence.

JOHN. I've only told you because I don't care who knows now.

COMTESSE. Oh!

[Somehow MAGGIE seems to be dissatisfied.]

MAGGIE. But why is that, John?

JOHN. I daren't keep the Government in doubt any longer about what I mean to do. I'll show the whips the speech privately to-night.

MAGGIE [who still wants to know]. But not to go to a division is hedging, isn't it? Is that strong?

JOHN. To make the speech at all, Maggie, is stronger than most would dare. They would do for me if I went to a division.

MAGGIE. Bark but not bite?

JOHN. Now, now, Maggie, you're out of your depth.

MAGGIE. I suppose that's it.

[The COMTESSE remains in the shallows.]

COMTESSE. But what will the ladies say, Mr. Shand?

JOHN. They won't like it, Comtesse, but they've got to lump it.

[Here the maid appears with a card for MAGGIE, who considers it quietly.]

JOHN. Any one of importance?

MAGGIE. No.

JOHN. Then I'm ready, Maggie.

[This is evidently an intimation that she is to open the folding-doors, and he makes an effective entrance into the dining-room, his thumb in his waistcoat. There is a delicious clapping of hands from the committee, and the door closes. Not till then does MAGGIE, who has grown thoughtful, tell her maid to admit the visitor.]

COMTESSE. Another lady, Mrs. Shand?

MAGGIE. The card says 'Mr. Charles Venables.'

[The COMTESSE is really interested at last.]

COMTESSE. Charles Venables! Do you know him?

MAGGIE. I think I call to mind meeting one of that name at the Foreign Office party.

COMTESSE. One of that name! He who is a Minister of your Cabinet. But as you know him so little why should he call on you?

MAGGIE. I wonder.

[MAGGIE's glance wanders to the drawer in which she has replaced JOHN's speech.]

COMTESSE. Well, well, I shall take care of you, petite.

MAGGIE. Do you know him?

COMTESSE. Do I know him! The last time I saw him he asked me to—to— hem!—ma cherie, it was thirty years ago.

MAGGIE. Thirty years!

COMTESSE. I was a pretty woman then. I dare say I shall detest him now; but if I find I do not—let us have a little plot—I shall drop this book; and then perhaps you will be so charming as—as not to be here for a little while?

[MR. VENABLES, who enters, is such a courtly seigneur that he seems to bring the eighteenth century with him; you feel that his sedan chair is at the door. He stoops over MAGGIE's plebeian hand.]

VENABLES. I hope you will pardon my calling, Mrs. Shand; we had such a pleasant talk the other evening.

[MAGGIE, of course, is at once deceived by his gracious manner.]

MAGGIE. I think it's kind of you. Do you know each other? The Comtesse de la Briere.

[He repeats the name with some emotion, and the COMTESSE, half mischievously, half sadly, holds a hand before her face.]

VENABLES. Comtesse.

COMTESSE. Thirty years, Mr. Venables.

[He gallantly removes the hand that screens her face.]

VENABLES. It does not seem so much.

[She gives him a similar scrutiny.]

COMTESSE. Mon Dieu, it seems all that.

[They smile rather ruefully. MAGGIE like a kind hostess relieves the tension.]

MAGGIE. The Comtesse has taken a cottage in Surrey for the summer.

VENABLES. I am overjoyed.

COMTESSE. No, Charles, you are not. You no longer care. Fickle one! And it is only thirty years.

[He sinks into a chair beside her.]

VENABLES. Those heavenly evenings, Comtesse, on the Bosphorus.

COMTESSE. I refuse to talk of them. I hate you.

[But she drops the book, and MAGGIE fades from the room. It is not a very clever departure, and the old diplomatist smiles. Then he sighs a beautiful sigh, for he does all things beautifully.]

VENABLES. It is moonlight, Comtesse, on the Golden Horn.

COMTESSE. Who are those two young things in a caique?

VENABLES. Is he the brave Leander, Comtesse, and is she Hero of the Lamp?

COMTESSE. No, she is the foolish wife of the French Ambassador, and he is a good-for-nothing British attache trying to get her husband's secrets out of her.

VENABLES. Is it possible! They part at a certain garden gate.

COMTESSE. Oh, Charles, Charles!

VENABLES. But you promised to come back; I waited there till dawn. Blanche, if you HAD come back—

COMTESSE. How is Mrs. Venables?

VENABLES. She is rather poorly. I think it's gout.

COMTESSE. And you?

VENABLES. I creak a little in the mornings.

COMTESSE. So do I. There is such a good man at Wiesbaden.

VENABLES. The Homburg fellow is better. The way he patched me up last summer—Oh, Lord, Lord!

COMTESSE. Yes, Charles, the game is up; we are two old fogies. [They groan in unison; then she raps him sharply on the knuckles.] Tell me, sir, what are you doing here?

VENABLES. Merely a friendly call.

COMTESSE. I do not believe it.

VENABLES. The same woman; the old delightful candour.

COMTESSE. The same man; the old fibs. [She sees that the door is asking a question.] Yes, come, Mrs. Shand, I have had quite enough of him; I warn you he is here for some crafty purpose.

MAGGIE [drawing back timidly]. Surely not?

VENABLES. Really, Comtesse, you make conversation difficult. To show that my intentions are innocent, Mrs. Shand, I propose that you choose the subject.

MAGGIE [relieved]. There, Comtesse.

VENABLES. I hope your husband is well?

MAGGIE. Yes, thank you. [With a happy thought] I decide that we talk about him.

VENABLES. If you wish it.

COMTESSE. Be careful; HE has chosen the subject.

MAGGIE. I chose it, didn't I?

VENABLES. You know you did.

MAGGIE [appealingly]. You admire John?

VENABLES. Very much. But he puzzles me a little. You Scots, Mrs. Shand, are such a mixture of the practical and the emotional that you escape out of an Englishman's hand like a trout.

MAGGIE [open-eyed]. Do we?

VENABLES. Well, not you, but your husband. I have known few men make a worse beginning in the House. He had the most atrocious bow-wow public-park manner—-

COMTESSE. I remember that manner!

MAGGIE. No, he hadn't.

VENABLES [soothingly]. At first. But by his second session he had shed all that, and he is now a pleasure to listen to. By the way, Comtesse, have you found any dark intention in that?

COMTESSE. You wanted to know whether he talks over these matter with his wife; and she has told you that he does not.

MAGGIE [indignantly]. I haven't said a word about it, have I?

VENABLES. Not a word. Then, again, I admire him for his impromptu speeches.

MAGGIE. What is impromptu?

VENABLES. Unprepared. They have contained some grave blunders not so much of judgment as of taste—-

MAGGIE [hotly]. I don't think so.

VENABLES. Pardon me. But he has righted himself subsequently in the neatest way. I have always found that the man whose second thoughts are good is worth watching. Well, Comtesse, I see you have something to say.

COMTESSE. You are wondering whether she can tell you who gives him his second thoughts.

MAGGIE. Gives them to John? I would like to see anybody try to give thoughts to John.

VENABLES. Quite so.

COMTESSE. Is there anything more that has roused your admiration Charles?

VENABLES [purring]. Let me see. Yes, we are all much edified by his humour.

COMTESSE [surprised indeed]. His humour? That man!

MAGGIE [with hauteur]. Why not?

VENABLES. I assure you, Comtesse, some of the neat things in his speeches convulse the house. A word has even been coined for them— Shandisms.

COMTESSE [slowly recovering from a blow]. Humour!

VENABLES. In conversation, I admit, he strikes one as being—ah— somewhat lacking in humour.

COMTESSE [pouncing]. You are wondering who supplies his speeches with the humour.

MAGGIE. Supplies John?

VENABLES. Now that you mention it, some of his Shandisms do have a curiously feminine quality.

COMTESSE. You have thought it might be a woman.

VENABLES. Really, Comtesse—

COMTESSE. I see it all. Charles, you thought it might be the wife!

VENABLES [flinging up his hands]. I own up.

MAGGIE [bewildered]. Me?

VENABLES. Forgive me, I see I was wrong.

MAGGIE [alarmed]. Have I been doing John any harm?

VENABLES. On the contrary, I am relieved to know that there are no hairpins in his speeches. If he is at home, Mrs. Shand, may I see him? I am going to be rather charming to him.

MAGGIE [drawn in two directions]. Yes, he is—oh yes—but—

VENABLES. That is to say, Comtesse, if he proves himself the man I believe him to be.

[This arrests MAGGIE almost as she has reached the dining-room door.]

MAGGIE [hesitating]. He is very busy just now.

VENABLES [smiling]. I think he will see me.

MAGGIE. Is it something about his speech?

VENABLES [the smile hardening]. Well, yes, it is.

MAGGIE. Then I dare say I could tell you what you want to know without troubling him, as I've been typing it.

VENABLES [with a sigh]. I don't acquire information in that way.

COMTESSE. I trust not.

MAGGIE. There's no secret about it. He is to show it to the whips tonight.

VENABLES [sharply]. You are sure of that?

COMTESSE. It is quite true, Charles. I heard him say so; and indeed he repeated what he called the 'peroration' before me.

MAGGIE. I know it by heart. [She plays a bold game.] 'These are the demands of all intelligent British women, and I am proud to nail them to my flag'—

COMTESSE. The very words, Mrs. Shand.

MAGGIE [looking at her imploringly]. 'And I don't care how they may embarrass the Government.' [The COMTESSE is bereft of speech, so suddenly has she been introduced to the real MAGGIE SHAND]. 'If the right honourable gentleman will give us his pledge to introduce a similar Bill this session I will willingly withdraw mine; but otherwise I solemnly warn him that I will press the matter now to a division.'

[She turns her face from the great man; she has gone white.]

VENABLES [after a pause]. Capital.

[The blood returns to MAGGIE's heart.]

COMTESSE [who is beginning to enjoy herself very much]. Then you are pleased to know that he means to, as you say, go to a division?

VENABLES. Delighted. The courage of it will be the making of him.

COMTESSE. I see.

VENABLES. Had he been to hedge we should have known that he was a pasteboard knight and have disregarded him.

COMTESSE. I see.

[She desires to catch the eye of MAGGIE, but it is carefully turned from her.]

VENABLES. Mrs. Shand, let us have him in at once.

COMTESSE. Yes, yes, indeed.

[MAGGIE's anxiety returns, but she has to call JOHN in.]

JOHN [impressed]. Mr. Venables! This is an honour.

VENABLES. How are you, Shand?

JOHN. Sit down, sit down. [Becoming himself again.] I can guess what you have come about.

VENABLES. Ah, you Scotsmen.

JOHN. Of course I know I'm harassing the Government a good deal—

VENABLES [blandly]. Not at all, Shand. The Government are very pleased.

JOHN. You don't expect me to believe that?

VENABLES. I called here to give you the proof of it. You may know that we are to have a big meeting at Leeds on the 24th, when two Ministers are to speak. There is room for a third speaker, and I am authorised to offer that place to you.

JOHN. To me!

VENABLES. Yes.

JOHN [swelling]. It would be—the Government taking me up.

VENABLES. Don't make too much of it; it would be an acknowledgment that they look upon you as one of their likely young men.

MAGGIE. John!

JOHN [not found wanting in a trying hour]. It's a bribe. You are offering me this on condition that I don't make my speech. How can you think so meanly of me as to believe that I would play the women's cause false for the sake of my own advancement. I refuse your bribe.

VENABLES [liking him for the first time]. Good. But you are wrong. There are no conditions, and we want you to make your speech. Now do you accept?

JOHN [still suspicious]. If you make me the same offer after you have read it. I insist on your reading it first.

VENABLES [sighing]. By all means.

[MAGGIE is in an agony as she sees JOHN hand the speech to his leader. On the other hand, the COMTESSE thrills.]

But I assure you we look on the speech as a small matter. The important thing is your intention of going to a division; and we agree to that also.

JOHN [losing his head]. What's that?

VENABLES. Yes, we agree.

JOHN. But—but—why, you have been threatening to excommunicate me if I dared.

VENABLES. All done to test you, Shand.

JOHN. To test me?

VENABLES. We know that a division on your Bill can have no serious significance; we shall see to that. And so the test was to be whether you had the pluck to divide the House. Had you been intending to talk big in this speech, and then hedge, through fear of the Government, they would have had no further use for you.

JOHN [heavily]. I understand. [But there is one thing he cannot understand, which is, why VENABLES should be so sure that he is not to hedge.]

VENABLES [turning over the pages carelessly]. Any of your good things in this, Shand?

JOHN [whose one desire is to get the pages back]. No, I—no—it isn't necessary you should read it now.

VENABLES [from politeness only]. Merely for my own pleasure. I shall look through it this evening. [He rolls up the speech to put it in his pocket. JOHN turns despairingly to MAGGIE, though well aware that no help can come from her.]

MAGGIE. That's the only copy there is, John. [To VENABLES] Let me make a fresh one, and send it to you in an hour or two.

VENABLES [good-naturedly]. I could not put you to that trouble, Mrs. Shand. I will take good care of it.

MAGGIE. If anything were to happen to you on the way home, wouldn't whatever is in your pocket be considered to be the property of your heirs?

VENABLES [laughing]. Now there is forethought! Shand, I think that after that—! [He returns the speech to JOHN, whose hand swallows it greedily.] She is Scotch too, Comtesse.

COMTESSE [delighted]. Yes, she is Scotch too.

VENABLES. Though the only persons likely to do for me in the street, Shand, are your ladies' committee. Ever since they took the horse out of my brougham, I can scent them a mile away.

COMTESSE. A mile? Charles, peep in there.

[He softly turns the handle of the dining-room door, and realises that his scent is not so good as he had thought it. He bids his hostess and the COMTESSE good-bye in a burlesque whisper and tiptoes off to safer places. JOHN having gone out with him, MAGGIE can no longer avoid the COMTESSE's reproachful eye. That much injured lady advances upon her with accusing finger.]

COMTESSE. So, madam!

[MAGGIE is prepared for her.]

MAGGIE. I don't know what you mean.

COMTESSE. Yes, you do. I mean that there IS some one who 'helps' our Mr. Shand.

MAGGIE. There's not.

COMTESSE. And it IS a woman, and it's you.

MAGGIE. I help in the little things.

COMTESSE. The little things! You are the Pin he picked up and that is to make his fortune. And now what I want to know is whether your John is aware that you help at all.

[JOHN returns, and at once provides the answer.]

JOHN. Maggie, Comtesse, I've done it again!

MAGGIE. I'm so glad, John.

[The COMTESSE is in an ecstasy.]

COMTESSE. And all because you were not to hedge, Mr. Shand.

[His appeal to her with the wistfulness of a schoolboy makes him rather attractive.]

JOHN. You won't tell on me, Comtesse! [He thinks it out.] They had just guessed I would be firm because they know I'm a strong man. You little saw, Maggie, what a good turn you were doing me when you said you wanted to make another copy of the speech.

[She is dense.]

MAGGIE. How, John?

JOHN. Because now I can alter the end.

[She is enlightened.]

MAGGIE. So you can!

JOHN. Here's another lucky thing, Maggie: I hadn't told the ladies' committee that I was to hedge, and so they need never know. Comtesse, I tell you there's a little cherub who sits up aloft and looks after the career of John Shand.

[The COMTESSE looks not aloft but toward the chair at present occupied by MAGGIE.]

COMTESSE. Where does she sit, Mr. Shand?

[He knows that women are not well read.]

JOHN. It's just a figure of speech.

[He returns airily to his committee room; and now again you may hear the click of MAGGIE's needles. They no longer annoy the COMTESSE; she is setting them to music.]

COMTESSE. It is not down here she sits, Mrs. Shand, knitting a stocking.

MAGGIE. No, it isn't.

COMTESSE. And when I came in I gave him credit for everything; even for the prettiness of the room!

MAGGIE. He has beautiful taste.

COMTESSE. Good-bye, Scotchy.

MAGGIE. Good-bye, Comtesse, and thank you for coming.

COMTESSE. Good-bye—Miss Pin.

[MAGGIE rings genteelly.]

MAGGIE. Good-bye.

[The COMTESSE is now lost in admiration of her.]

COMTESSE. You divine little wife. He can't be worthy of it, no man could be worthy of it. Why do you do it?

[MAGGIE shivers a little.]

MAGGIE. He loves to think he does it all himself; that's the way of men. I'm six years older than he is. I'm plain, and I have no charm. I shouldn't have let him marry me. I'm trying to make up for it.

[The COMTESSE kisses her and goes away. MAGGIE, somewhat foolishly, resumes her knitting.]

[Some days later this same room is listening—with the same inattention—to the outpouring of JOHN SHAND's love for the lady of the hiccoughs. We arrive—by arrangement—rather late; and thus we miss some of the most delightful of the pangs.

One can see that these two are playing no game, or, if they are, that they little know it. The wonders of the world [so strange are the instruments chosen by Love] have been revealed to JOHN in hiccoughs; he shakes in SYBIL's presence; never were more swimming eyes; he who has been of a wooden face till now, with ways to match, has gone on flame like a piece of paper; emotion is in flood in him. We may be almost fond of JOHN for being so worshipful of love. Much has come to him that we had almost despaired of his acquiring, including nearly all the divine attributes except that sense of humour. The beautiful SYBIL has always possessed but little of it also, and what she had has been struck from her by Cupid's flail. Naked of the saving grace, they face each other in awful rapture.]

JOHN. In a room, Sybil, I go to you as a cold man to a fire. You fill me like a peal of bells in an empty house.

[She is being brutally treated by the dear impediment, for which hiccough is such an inadequate name that even to spell it is an abomination though a sign of ability. How to describe a sound that is noiseless? Let us put it thus, that when SYBIL wants to say something very much there are little obstacles in her way; she falters, falls perhaps once, and then is over, the while her appealing orbs beg you not to be angry with her. We may express those sweet pauses in precious dots, which some clever person can afterwards string together and make a pearl necklace of them.]

SYBIL. I should not ... let you say it, ... but ... you ... say it so beautifully.

JOHN. You must have guessed.

SYBIL. I dreamed ... I feared ... but you were ... Scotch, and I didn't know what to think.

JOHN. Do you know what first attracted me to you, Sybil? It was your insolence. I thought, 'I'll break her insolence for her.'

SYBIL. And I thought... 'I'll break his str...ength!'

JOHN. And now your cooing voice plays round me; the softness of you, Sybil, in your pretty clothes makes me think of young birds. [The impediment is now insurmountable; she has to swim for it, she swims toward him.] It is you who inspire my work.

[He thrills to find that she can be touched without breaking.]

SYBIL. I am so glad... so proud...

JOHN. And others know it, Sybil, as well as I. Only yesterday the Comtesse said to me, 'No man could get on so fast unaided. Cherchez la femme, Mr. Shand.'

SYBIL. Auntie said that?

JOHN. I said 'Find her yourself, Comtesse.'

SYBIL. And she?

JOHN. She said 'I have found her,' and I said in my blunt way, 'You mean Lady Sybil,' and she went away laughing.

SYBIL. Laughing?

JOHN. I seem to amuse the woman.

[Sybil grows sad.]

SYBIL. If Mrs. Shand—It is so cruel to her. Whom did you say she had gone to the station to meet?

JOHN. Her father and brothers.

SYBIL. It is so cruel to them. We must think no more of this. It is mad... ness.

JOHN. It's fate. Sybil, let us declare our love openly.

SYBIL. You can't ask that, now in the first moment that you tell me of it.

JOHN. The one thing I won't do even for you is to live a life of underhand.

SYBIL. The... blow to her.

JOHN. Yes. But at least she has always known that I never loved her.

SYBIL. It is asking me to give... up everything, every one, for you.

JOHN. It's too much.

[JOHN is humble at last.]

SYBIL. To a woman who truly loves, even that is not too much. Oh! it is not I who matter—it is you.

JOHN. My dear, my dear.

SYBIL. So gladly would I do it to save you; but, oh, if it were to bring you down!

JOHN. Nothing can keep me down if I have you to help me.

SYBIL. I am dazed, John, I...

JOHN. My love, my love.

SYBIL. I... oh... here...

JOHN. Be brave, Sybil, be brave.

SYBIL. ..........

[In this bewilderment of pearls she melts into his arms. MAGGIE happens to open the door just then; but neither fond heart hears her.]

JOHN. I can't walk along the streets, Sybil, without looking in all the shop windows for what I think would become you best. [As awkwardly as though his heart still beat against corduroy, he takes from his pocket a pendant and its chain. He is shy, and she drops pearls over the beauty of the ruby which is its only stone.] It is a drop of my blood, Sybil.

[Her lovely neck is outstretched, and he puts the chain round it. MAGGIE withdraws as silently as she had come; but perhaps the door whispered 'd—n' as it closed, for SYBIL wakes out of Paradise.]

SYBIL. I thought—-Did the door shut?

JOHN. It was shut already.

[Perhaps it is only that SYBIL is bewildered to find herself once again in a world that has doors.]

SYBIL. It seemed to me—-

JOHN. There was nothing. But I think I hear voices; they may have arrived.

[Some pretty instinct makes SYBIL go farther from him. MAGGIE kindly gives her time for this by speaking before opening the door.]

MAGGIE. That will do perfectly, David. The maid knows where to put them. [She comes in.] They've come, John; they WOULD help with the luggage. [JOHN goes out. MAGGIE is agreeably surprised to find a visitor.] How do you do, Lady Sybil? This is nice of you.

SYBIL. I was so sorry not to find you in, Mrs. Shand.

[The impediment has run away. It is only for those who love it.]

MAGGIE. Thank you. You'll sit down?

SYBIL. I think not; your relatives—-

MAGGIE. They will be so proud to see that you are my friend.

[If MAGGIE were less simple her guest would feel more comfortable. She tries to make conversation.]

SYBIL. It is their first visit to London?

[Instead of relieving her anxiety on this point, MAGGIE has a long look at the gorgeous armful.]

MAGGIE. I'm glad you are so beautiful, Lady Sybil.

[The beautiful one is somehow not flattered. She pursues her investigations with growing uneasiness.]

SYBIL. One of them is married now, isn't he? [Still there is no answer; MAGGIE continues looking at her, and shivers slightly.] Have they travelled from Scotland to-day? Mrs. Shand, why do you look at me so? The door did open! [MAGGIE nods.] What are you to do?

MAGGIE. That would be telling. Sit down, my pretty.

[As SYBIL subsides into what the Wylies with one glance would call the best chair, MAGGIE's men-folk are brought in by JOHN, all carrying silk hats and looking very active after their long rest in the train. They are gazing about them. They would like this lady, they would like JOHN, they would even like MAGGIE to go away for a little and leave them to examine the room. Is that linen on the walls, for instance, or just paper? Is the carpet as thick as it feels, or is there brown paper beneath it? Had MAGGIE got anything off that bookcase on account of the worm-hole? DAVID even discovers that we were simpletons when we said there was nothing in the room that pretended to be what it was not. He taps the marble mantelpiece, and is favourably impressed by the tinny sound.]

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