HotFreeBooks.com
Angels & Ministers
by Laurence Housman
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

JULIA. I haven't inquired.

LAURA (self-importance and a sense of duty consuming her.) I wish to see him.

JULIA. Better not, as it didn't occur to you before.

LAURA. Am I not to see my own husband, pray?

JULIA. He didn't ever live here, you know.

LAURA. He can come, I suppose. He has got legs like the rest of us.

JULIA. Yes, but one can't force people: at least, not here. You should remember that—before he married you—he had other ties.

(Mrs. James preserves her self-possession, but there is battle in her eye.)

LAURA. He was married to me longer than he was to Isabel.

JULIA. They had children.

LAURA. I could have had children if I chose. I didn't choose.... Julia, how am I to see him?

JULIA (Washing her hands of it). You must manage for yourself, Laura.

LAURA. I'm puzzled! Here are we in the next world just as we expected, and where are all the—? I mean, oughtn't we to be seeing a great many more things than we do?

JULIA. What sort of things?

LAURA. Well,... have you seen Moses and the Prophets?

JULIA. I haven't looked for them, Laura. On Sundays, I still go to hear Mr. Moore.

LAURA. That's you all over! You never would go o the celebrated preachers. But I mean to. (Pious curiosity awakens.) What happens here, on Sundays?

JULIA (smiling). Oh, just the same.

LAURA. No High Church ways, I hope? If they go in for that here, I shall go out!

JULIA (patiently explanatory). You will go out if you wish to go out. You can choose your church. As I tell you, I always go to hear Mr. Moore; you can go and hear Canon Farrar.

LAURA. Dean Farrar, I suppose you mean.

JULIA. He was not Dean in my day.

LAURA. He ought to have been a Bishop—Archbishop, I think— so learned, and such a magnificent preacher. But I still wonder why we don't see Moses and the Prophets.

JULIA. Well, Laura, it's the world as we knew it-that for the present. No doubt other things will come in time, gradually. But I don't know: I don't ask questions.

LAURA (doubtfully). I suppose it is Heaven, in a way, though?

JULIA. Dispensation has its own ways, Laura; and we have ours.

LAURA (who is not going to be theologically dictated to by anyone lower than Dean Farrar). Julia, I shall start washing the old china again.

JULIA. As you like; nothing ever gets soiled here.

LAURA. It's all very puzzling. The world seems cut in half. Things don't seem real.

JULIA. More real, I should say. We have them—as we wish them to be.

LAURA. Then why can't we have our Mother, like other things?

JULIA. Ah, with persons it is different. We all belong to ourselves now. That one has to accept.

LAURA (stubbornly). Does William belong to himself?

JULIA. I suppose.

LAURA. It isn't Scriptural!

JULIA. It's better.

LAURA. Julia, don't be blasphemous!

JULIA. To consult William's wishes, I meant.

LAURA. But I want him. I've a right to him. If he didn't mean to belong to me, he ought not to have married me.

JULIA. People make mistakes sometimes.

LAURA. Then they should stick to them. It's not honourable. Julia, I mean to have William!

JULIA (resignedly). You and he must arrange that between you.

LAURA (making a dash for it). William! William, I say! William!

JULIA. Oh, Laura, you'll wake the dead! (She gasps, but it is too late: the hated word is out.)

LAURA (as one who will be obeyed). William!

(The door does not open; but there appears through it the indistinct figure of an elderly gentleman with a weak chin and a shifting eye. He stands irresolute and apprehensive; clearly his presence there is perfunctory. Wearing his hat and carrying a hand-bag, he seems merely to have looked in while passing.)

JULIA. Apparently you are to have your wish. (She waves an introductory hand; Mrs. James turns, and regards the unsatisfactory apparition with suspicion.)

LAURA. William, is that you?

WILLIAM (nervously). Yes, my dear; it's me.

LAURA. Can't you be more distinct than that?

WILLIAM. Why do you want me?

LAURA. Have you forgotten I'm your wife?

WILLIAM. I thought you were my widow, my dear.

LAURA. William, don't prevaricate. I am your wife, and you know it.

WILLIAM. Does a wife wear widow's weeds? A widow is such a distant relation: no wonder I look indistinct.

LAURA. How did I know whether I was going to find you here?

WILLIAM. Where else? But you look very nice as you are, my dear. Black suits you.

(But Mrs. James is not to be turned off by compliments.)

LAURA. William, who are you living with?

WILLIAM. With myself, my dear.

LAURA. Anyone else?

WILLIAM. Off and on I have friends staying.

LAURA. Are you living with Isabel?

WILLIAM. She comes in occasionally to see how I'm getting on.

LAURA. And how are you 'getting on'—without me?

WILLIAM. Oh, I manage—somehow.

LAURA. Are you living a proper life, William?

WILLIAM. Well, I'm here, my dear; what more do you want to know?

LAURA. There's a great deal I want to know. But I wish you'd come in and shut the door, instead of standing out there in the passage.

JULIA. The door is shut, Laura.

LAURA. Then I don't call it a door.

WILLIAM (trying to make things pleasant). When is a door not a door? When it's a parent.

LAURA. William, I want to talk seriously. Do you know that when you died you left a lot of debts I didn't know about?

WILLIAM. I didn't know about them either, my dear. But if you had, it wouldn't have made any difference.

LAURA. Yes, it would! I gave you a very expensive funeral.

WILLIAM. That was to please yourself, my dear; it didn't concern me.

LAURA. Have you no self-respect? I've been at my own funeral to-day, let me tell you!

WILLIAM. Have you, my dear? Rather trying, wasn't that?

LAURA. Yes, it was. They've gone and put me beside you; and now I begin to wish they hadn't!

WILLIAM. Go and haunt them for it!

(At this Julia deigns a slight chuckle.)

LAURA (abruptly getting back to her own). I had to go into a smaller house, William. And people knew it was because you'd left me badly off.

WILLIAM. That reflected on me, my dear, not on you.

LAURA. It reflected on me for ever having married you.

WILLIAM. I've often heard you blame yourself. Well, now you're free.

LAURA. I'm not free.

WILLIAM. You can be if you like. Hadn't you better?

LAURA (sentimentally). Don't you see I'm still in mourning for you, William?

WILLIAM. I appreciate the compliment, my dear. Don't spoil it,

LAURA. Don't be heartless!

WILLIAM. I'm not: far from it. (He looks at his watch) I'm afraid I must go now.

LAURA. Why must you go?

WILLIAM. They are expecting me—to dinner.

LAURA. Who's 'they'?

WILLIAM. The children and their mother. They've invited me to stay the night.

(Mrs. James does her best to conceal the shock this gives her. She delivers her ultimatum with judicial firmness!)

LAURA. William, I wish you to come and live here with me.

(William vanishes. Mrs. James in a fervour of virtuous indignation hastens to the door, opens it, and calls 'William!' but there is no answer!)

(Julia, meanwhile, has rung the bell. Mrs. James stills stands glowering in the doorway when she hears footsteps, and moves majestically aside for the returned penitent to enter; but alas! it is only Hannah, obedient to the summons of the bell. Mrs. James faces round and fires a shot at her.)

LAURA. Hannah, you are an ugly woman.

JULIA (faint with horror). Laura!

HANNAH (imperturbably). Well, Ma'am, I'm as God made me.

JULIA. Yes, please, take the tea-things. (Sotto voce, as Hannah approaches.) I'm sorry, Hannah!

HANNAH. It doesn't matter, Ma'am. (She picks up the tray expeditiously and carries it off)

(Mrs. James eyes the departing tray, and is again reminded of something)

LAURA. Julia, where is the silver tea-pot?

JULIA. Which, Laura?

LAURA. Why, that beautiful one of our Mother's.

JULIA. When we shared our dear Mother's things between us, didn't Martha have it?

LAURA. Yes, she did. But she tells me she doesn't know what's become of it. When I ask, what did she do with it in the first place? she loses her temper. But once she told me she left it here with you.

(The fierce eye and the accusing tone make no impression on that cushioned fortress of gentility. With suave dignity Miss Robinson makes chaste denial.)

JULIA. No.

LAURA (insistent). Yes; in a box.

JULIA. In a box? Oh, she may have left anything in a box.

LAURA. It was that box she always travelled about with and never opened. Well, I looked in it once (never mind how), and the tea-pot wasn't there.

JULIA (gently, making allowance). Well, I didn't look in it, Laura.

(Like a water-lily folding its petals she adjusts a small shawl about her shoulders, and sinks composedly into her chair.)

LAURA. The more fool you!... But all the other things she had of our Mother's were there: a perfect magpie's nest! And she, living in her boxes, and never settling anywhere. What did she want with them?

JULIA. I can't say, Laura.

LAURA. No—no more can I; no more can anyone! Martha has got the miser spirit. She's as grasping as a caterpillar. I ought to have had that tea-pot.

JULIA. Why?

LAURA. Because I had a house of my own, and people coming to tea. Martha never had anyone to tea with her in her life—except in lodgings.

JULIA. We all like to live in our own way. Martha liked going about.

LAURA. Yes. She promised me, after William—I suppose I had better say 'evaporated' as you won't let me say 'died'—she promised always to stay with me for three months in the year. She never did. Two, and some little bits, were the most. And I want to know where was that tea-pot all the time?

JULIA (a little jocosely). Not in the box, apparently.

LAURA (returning to her accusation). I thought you had it.

JULIA. You were mistaken. Had I had it here, you would have found it.

LAURA. Did Martha never tell you what she did with it?

JULIA. I never asked, Laura.

LAURA. Julia, if you say that again I shall scream.

JULIA. Won't you take your things off?

LAURA. Presently. When I feel more at home. (Returning to the charge) But most of our Mother's things are here.

JULIA. Your share and mine.

LAURA. How did you get mine here?

JULIA. You brought them. At least, they came, a little before you did. Then I knew you were on your way.

LAURA (impressed). Lor'! So that's how things happen?

(She goes and begins to take a look round, and Julia takes up her crochet again. As she does so her eye is arrested by a little old-fashioned hour-glass standing upon the table from which the tea-tray has been taken, the sands of which are still running.)

JULIA (softly, almost to herself). Oh, but how strange! That was Martha's. Is Martha coming too? (She picks up the glass, looks at it, and sets it down again)

LAURA (who is examining the china on a side-table). Why, I declare, Julia! Here is your Dresden that was broken—without a crack in it!

JULIA. No, Laura, it was yours that was broken.

LAURA. It was not mine; it was yours...Don't you remember I broke it?

JULIA. When you broke it you said it was mine. Until you broke it, you said it was yours.

LAURA. Very well, then: as you wish. It isn't broken now, and it's mine.

JULIA. That's satisfactory. I get my own back again. It's the better one.

(ENTER Hannah with a telegram on a salver.)

HANNAH (in a low voice of mystery). A telegram, Ma'am.

(Julia opens it. The contents evidently startle her, but she retains her presence of mind)

JULIA. No answer.

(EXIT Hannah)

JULIA. Laura, Martha is coming!

LAURA. Here? Well, I wonder how she has managed that!

(Her sister hands her the telegram, which she reads.)

'Accident. Quite safe. Arriving by the 6.30.' Why, it's after that now!

JULIA (sentimentally). Oh, Laura, only think! So now we shall be all together again.

LAURA. Yes, I suppose we shall.

JULIA. It will be quite like old days.

LAURA (warningly, as she sits down again and prepares for narrative). Not quite, Julia. (She leans forward, and speaks with measured emphasis) Martha's temper has got very queer! She never had a very good temper, as you know: and it's grown on her.

(A pause. Julia remains silent)

I could tell you some things; but—(Seeing herself unencouraged) oh, you'll find out soon enough! (Then, to stand right with herself) Julia, am I difficult to get on with?

JULIA. Oh well, we all have our little ways, Laura.

LAURA. But Martha: she's so rude! I can't introduce her to people! If anyone comes, she just runs away.

JULIA (changing the subject). D'you remember, Laura, that charming young girl we met at Mrs. Somervale's, the summer Uncle Fletcher stayed with us?

LAURA (snubbingly). I can't say I do.

JULIA. I met her the other day: married, and with three children—and just as pretty and young-looking as ever.

(All this is said with the most ravishing air, but Laura is not to be diverted.)

LAURA. Ah! I daresay. When Martha behaves like that, I hold my tongue and say nothing. But what people must think, I don't know. Julia, when you first came here, did you find old friends and acquaintances? Did anybody recognise you?

JULIA. A few called on me: nobody I didn't wish to see.

LAURA. Is that odious man who used to be our next-door neighbour—the one who played on the 'cello—here still?

JULIA. Mr. Harper? I see him occasionally. I don't find him odious.

LAURA. Don't you?

JULIA. It was his wife who was the—She isn't here: and I don't think he wants her.

LAURA. Where is she?

JULIA. I didn't ask, Laura.

(Mrs. James gives a jerk of exasperation, but at that moment the bell rings and a low knock is heard.)

JULIA (ecstatically). Here she is!

LAURA. Julia, I wonder how it is Martha survived us. She's much the oldest.

JULIA (pleasantly palpitating). Does it matter? Does it matter?

(The door opens and in comes Martha. She has neither the distinction of look nor the force of character which belongs to her two sisters. Age has given a depression to the plain kindliness of her face, and there is a harassed look about her eyes. She peeps into the room a little anxiously, then enters, carrying a large flat box covered in purple paper which, in her further progress across the room she lays upon the table. She talks in short jerks and has a quick, hurried way of doing things, as if she liked to get through and have done with them. It is the same when she submits herself to the embrace of her relations)

LAURA. Oh, so you've come at last. Quite time, too!

MARTHA. Yes, here I am.

JULIA. My dear Martha, welcome to your old home! (Embracing her) How are you?

MARTHA. I'm cold. Well, Laura.

(Between these two the embrace is less cordial, but it takes place)

LAURA. How did you come?

MARTHA. I don't know.

JULIA (seeing harassment in her sister's eye). Arrived safely, at any rate.

MARTHA. I think I was in a railway accident, but I can't be sure. I only heard the crash and people shouting. I didn't wait to see. I just put my fingers in my ears, and ran away.

LAURA. Why do you think it was a railway accident?

MARTHA. Because I was in a railway carriage. I was coming to your funeral. If you'd told me you were ill I'd have come before. I was bringing you a wreath. And then, as I tell you, there was a crash and a shout; and that's all I know about it.

LAURA. Lor', Martha! I suppose they'll have an inquest on you.

MARTHA (stung). I think they'd better mind their own business, and you mind yours!

JULIA. Laura! Here we don't talk about such things. They don't concern us. Would you like tea, Martha, or will you wait for supper?

MARTHA (who has shaken her head at the offer of tea, and nodded a preference for supper). You know how I've always dreaded death.

JULIA. Oh, don't, my dear Martha! It's past.

MARTHA. Yes; but it's upset me. The relief, that's what I can't get over: the relief!

JULIA. Presently you will be more used to it.

(She helps her off with her cloak.)

MARTHA. There were people sitting to right and to left of me and opposite; and suddenly a sort of crash of darkness seemed to come all over me, and I saw nothing more. I didn't feel anything: only a sort of a jar here.

(She indicates the back of her neck. Julia finds these anatomical details painful, and holds her hands deprecatingly; but Laura has no such qualms. She is now undoing the parcel which, she considers, is hers.)

LAURA. I daresay it was only somebody's box from the luggage-rack. I've known that happen. I don't suppose for a minute that it was a railway accident.

(She unfurls the tissue paper of the box and takes out the wreath)

JULIA. Why talk about it?

LAURA. Anyway, nothing has happened to these. 'With fondest love from Martha.' H'm. Pretty!

JULIA. Martha, would you like to go upstairs with your things? And you, Laura?

MARTHA. I will presently, when I've got warm.

LAURA. Not yet. Martha, why was I put into that odious shaped coffin? More like a canoe than anything. I said it was to be straight,

MARTHA. I'd nothing to do with it, Laura. I wasn't there. You know I wasn't.

LAURA. If you'd come when I asked you, you could have seen to it.

MARTHA. You didn't tell me you were dying.

LAURA. Do people tell each other when they are dying? They don't know. I told you I wasn't well.

MARTHA. You always told me that, just when I'd settled down somewhere else.... Of course I'd have come if I'd known! (testily).

JULIA. Oh, surely we needn't go into these matters now! Isn't it better to accept things?

LAURA. I like to have my wishes attended to. What was going to be done about the furniture? (This to Martha.) You know, I suppose, that I left it to the two of you—you and Edwin?

MARTHA. We were going to give it to Bella, to set up house with.

LAURA. That's not what I intended. I meant you to keep on the house and live there. Why couldn't you?

MARTHA (with growing annoyance). Well, that's settled now!

LAURA. It wasn't for Arabella. Arabella was never a favourite of mine. Why should Arabella have my furniture?

MARTHA. Well, you'd better send word, and have it stored up for you till doomsday! Edwin doesn't want it; he's got enough of his own.

LAURA (in a sleek, injured voice). Julia, I'm going upstairs to take my things off.

JULIA. Very well, Laura. (And Laura makes her injured exit.)

So you've been with Edwin, and his family?

MARTHA. Yes. I'm never well there; but I wanted the change.

JULIA. You mean, you had been staying with Laura?

MARTHA. I always go and stay with her, as long as I can—three months, I'm supposed to. But this year—well, I couldn't manage with it.

JULIA. Is she so much more difficult than she used to be?

MARTHA. Of course, I don't know what she's like here.

JULIA. Oh, she has been very much herself—poor Laura!

MARTHA. I know! Julia, I know! And I try to make allowances. All her life she's had her own way with somebody. Poor William! Of course I know he had his faults. But he used to come and say to me: 'Martha, I can't please her.' Well, poor man, he's at peace now, let's hope! Oh, Julia, I've just thought: whatever will poor William do? He's here, I suppose, somewhere?

JULIA. Oh yes, He's here, Martha.

MARTHA. She'll rout him out, depend on it.

JULIA. She has routed him out.

MARTHA (awe-struck). Has she?

JULIA (shaking her head wisely). William won't live with her; he knows better.

MARTHA. Who will live with her, then? She's bound to get hold of somebody.

JULIA. Apparently she means to live here.

MARTHA. Then it's going to be me! I know it's going to be me! When we lived here before, it used to be poor Mamma.

JULIA. The dear Mother is quite capable of looking after herself, you'll find. You needn't belong to Laura if you don't like, Martha. I never let her take possession of me.

MARTHA. She seems never to want to. I don't know how you manage it.

JULIA. Oh, we've had our little tussles. But here you will find it much easier. You can vanish.

MARTHA. What do you mean?

JULIA. I mean—vanish. It takes the place of wings. One does it almost without knowing.

MARTHA. How do you do it?

JULIA. You just wish yourself elsewhere; and you come back when you like.

MARTHA. Have you ever done it?

JULIA (with a world of meaning). Not yet.

MARTHA. She won't like it. One doesn't belong to one's self, when she's about—nor does anything. I've had to hide my own things from her sometimes.

JULIA. I shouldn't wonder.

MARTHA. Do you remember the silver tea-pot?

JULIA. I've been reminded of it.

MARTHA. It was mine, wasn't it?

JULIA. Oh, of course.

MARTHA. Laura never would admit it was mine. She wanted it; so I'd no right to it.

JULIA. I had a little idea that was it.

MARTHA. For years she was determined to have it: and I was determined she shouldn't have it. And she didn't have it!

JULIA. Who did have it?

MARTHA. Henrietta was to. I sent it her as a wedding-present, and told her Laura was never to know. And, as she was in Australia, that seemed safe. Well, the ship it went out in was wrecked—all because of that tea-pot, I believe! So now it's at the bottom of the sea!

JULIA. Destiny!

MARTHA. She searched my boxes to try and find it: stole my keys! I missed them, but I didn't dare say anything. I used to wrap it in my night-gown and hide it in the bed during the day, and sleep with it under my pillow at night. And I was so thankful when Henrietta got married; so as to be rid of it!

JULIA. Hush!

(RE-ENTER Mrs. James, her bonnet still on, with the strings dangling, and her cloak on her arm.)

LAURA. Julia I've been looking at your room in there.

JULIA (coldly). Have you, Laura?

LAURA. It used to be our Mother's room.

JULIA. I don't need to be reminded of that: it is why I chose it. (Rising gracefully from her chair, she goes to attend to the fire.)

LAURA. Don't you think it would be much better for you to give it up, and let our Mother come back and live with us?

JULIA. She has never expressed the wish.

LAURA. Of course not, with you in it.

JULIA. She was not in it when I came.

LAURA. How could you expect it, in a house all by herself?

JULIA. I gave her the chance: I began by occupying my own room.

LAURA (self-caressingly). I wasn't here then. That didn't occur to you, I suppose? You seem to forget you weren't the only one.

JULIA. Kind of you to remind me.

LAURA. Saucy.

JULIA. Martha, will you excuse me?

(Polite to the last, she vanishes gracefully away from the vicinity of the coal-box. The place where she has been stooping knows her no more.)

LAURA (rushing round the intervening table to investigate). Julia!

(Martha is quite as much surprised as Mrs. James, but less indignant.)

MARTHA. Well! Did you ever?

LAURA (facing about after vain search). Does she think that is the proper way to behave to me? Julia!

MARTHA. It's no good, Laura. You know Julia, as well as I do. If she makes up her mind to a thing—

LAURA. Yes. She's been waiting here to exercise her patience on me, and now she's happy! Well, she'll have to learn that this house doesn't belong to her any longer. She has got to accommodate herself to living with others.... I wonder how she'd like me to go and sit in that pet chair of hers?

JULIA (softly reappearing in the chair which the 'dear Mother' usually occupies). You can go and sit in it if you wish, Laura.

LAURA (ignoring her return). Martha, do you remember that odious man who used to live next door, who played the 'cello on Sundays?

MARTHA. Oh yes, I remember. They used to hang out washing in the garden, didn't they?

LAURA (very scandalously). Julia is friends with him! They call on each other. His wife doesn't live with him any longer.

(Julia rises and goes slowly and majestically out of the room.)

LAURA (after relishing what she conceives to be her rout of the enemy). Martha, what do you think of Julia?

MARTHA. Oh, she's—What do you want me to think?

LAURA. High and mighty as ever, isn't she? She's been here by herself so long she thinks the whole place is hers.

MARTHA. I daresay we shall settle down well enough presently. Which room are you sleeping in?

LAURA. Of course, I have my old one. Where do you want to go?

MARTHA. The green room will suit me.

LAURA. And Julia means to keep our Mother's room: I can see that. No wonder she won't come and stay,

MARTHA. Have you seen her?

LAURA. She just 'looked in,' as Julia calls it. I could see she'd hoped to find me alone. Julia always thought she was the favourite. I knew better.

MARTHA. How was she?

LAURA. Just her old self; but as if she missed something. It wasn't a happy face, until I spoke to her: then it all brightened up.... Oh, thank you for the wreath, Martha. Where did you get it?

MARTHA. Emily made it.

LAURA. That fool! Then she made her own too, I suppose?

MARTHA. Yes. That went the day before, so you got it in time.

LAURA. I thought it didn't look up to much. (She is now contemplating Emily's second effort with a critical eye.) Now a little maiden-hair fern would have made a world of difference.

MARTHA. I don't hold with flowers myself. I think it's wasteful. But, of course, one has to do it.

LAURA (with pained regret). I'm sorry, Martha; I return it—with many thanks.

MARTHA. What's the good of that? I can't give it back to Emily, now!

LAURA (with quiet grief). I don't wish to be a cause of waste.

MARTHA. Well, take it to pieces, then; and put them in water—or wear it round your head!

LAURA. Ten beautiful wreaths my friends sent me. They are all lying on my grave now! A pity that love is so wasteful! Well, I suppose I must go now and change into my cap. (Goes to the door, where she encounters Julia.) Why, Julia, you nearly knocked me down!

JULIA (ironically). I beg your pardon, Laura; it comes of using the same door. Hannah has lighted a fire in your room.

LAURA. That's sensible at any rate.

(EXIT Mrs. James)

JULIA. Well? And how do you find Laura?

MARTHA. Julia, I don't know whether I can stand her.

JULIA. She hasn't got quite—used to herself yet.

MARTHA (explosively). Put that away somewhere! (She gives an angry shove to the wreath)

JULIA. Put it away! Why?

MARTHA (furiously). Emily made it: and it didn't cost anything; and it hasn't got any maiden-hair fern in it; and it's too big to wear with her cap. So it's good for nothing! Put it on the fire! She doesn't want to see it again.

JULIA (comprehending the situation, restores the wreath to its box). Why did you bring it here, Martha?

MARTHA (miserably). I don't know. I just clung on to it. I suppose it was on my mind to look after it, and see it wasn't damaged. So I found I'd brought it with me.... I believe, now I think of it, I've brought some sandwiches, too. (She routs in a small hand-bag.) Yes, I have. Well, I can have them for supper.... Emily made those too.

JULIA. Then I think you'd better let Hannah have them—for the sake of peace.

MARTHA (woefully). I thought I was going to have peace here.

JULIA. It will be all right, Martha—presently.

MARTHA. Well, I don't want to be uncharitable; but I do wish—I must say it—I do wish Laura had been cremated.

(This is the nearest she can do for wishing her sister in the place to which she thinks she belongs. But the uncremated Mrs. James now re-enters in widow's cap.)

LAURA. Julia, have you ever seen Papa, since you came here?

JULIA (frigidly). No, I have not.

LAURA. Has our Mother seen him?

JULIA. I haven't—(About to say the forbidden thing, she checks herself.) Mamma has not seen him: nor does she know his whereabouts.

LAURA. Does nobody know?

JULIA. Nobody that I know of.

LAURA. Well, but he must be somewhere. Is there no way of finding him?

JULIA. Perhaps you can devise one. I suppose, if we chose, we could go to him; but I'm not sure—as he doesn't come to us.

LAURA. Lor', Julia! Suppose he should be——

JULIA (deprecatingly). Oh, Laura!

LAURA. But, Julia, it's very awkward, not to know where one's own father is. Don't people ever ask?

JULIA. Never, I'm thankful to say.

LAURA. Why not?

JULIA. Perhaps they know better.

LAURA (after a pause). I'm afraid he didn't lead a good life.

MARTHA. Oh, why can't you let the thing be? If you don't remember him, I do. I was fond of him. He was always very kind to us as children; and if he did run away with the governess it was a good riddance—so far as she was concerned. We hated her.

LAURA. I wonder whether they are together still. You haven't inquired after her, I suppose?

JULIA (luxuriating in her weariness). I—have—not, Laura!

LAURA. Don't you think it's our solemn duty to inquire? I shall ask our Mother.

JULIA. I hope you will do nothing of the sort.

LAURA. But we ought to know: otherwise we don't know how to think of him, whether with mercy and pardon for his sins, or with reprobation.

MARTHA (angrily). Why need you think? Why can't you leave him alone?

LAURA. An immortal soul, Martha. It's no good leaving him alone: that won't alter facts.

JULIA. I don't think this is quite a nice subject for discussion.

LAURA. Nice? Was it ever intended to be nice? Eternal punishment wasn't provided as a consolation prize for anybody, so far as I know.

MARTHA. I think it's very horrible—for us to be sitting here—by the fire, and—(But theology is not Martha's strong point). Oh! why can't you leave it?

LAURA. Because it's got to be faced; and I mean to face it. Now, Martha, don't try to get out of it. We have got to find our Father.

JULIA. I think, before doing anything, we ought to consult Mamma.

LAURA. Very well; call her and consult her! You were against it just now.

JULIA. I am against it still. It's all so unnecessary.

MARTHA. Lor', there is Mamma!

(Old Mrs. Robinson is once more in her place. Martha makes a move toward her.)

JULIA. Don't, Martha. She doesn't like to be—-

MRS. R. I've heard what you've been talking about. No, I haven't seen him. I've tried to get him to come to me, but he didn't seem to want. Martha, my dear, how are you?

MARTHA. Oh, I'm—much as usual. And you, Mother?

MRS. R. Well, what about your Father? Who wants him?

LAURA. I want him, Mother.

MRS. R. What for?

LAURA. First we want to know what sort of a life he is leading. Then we want to ask him about his will.

JULIA. Oh, Laura!

MARTHA. I don't. I don't care if he made a dozen.

LAURA. So I thought if we all called him. You heard when I called, didn't you? Oh no, that was William.

MRS. R. Who's William?

LAURA. Didn't you know I was married?

MRS. R. No. Did he die?

LAURA. Well, now, couldn't we call him?

MRS. R. I daresay. He won't like it.

LAURA. He must. He belongs to us.

MRS. R. Yes, I suppose—as I wouldn't divorce him, though he wanted me to. I said marriages were made in Heaven.

A VOICE. Luckily, they don't last there.

(Greatly startled, they look around, and perceive presently in the mirror over the mantelpiece the apparition of a figure which they seem dimly to recognise. A tall, florid gentleman of the Dundreary type, with long side-whiskers, and dressed in the fashion of sixty years ago, has taken up his position to one side of the ormolu clock; standing, eye-glass in eye, with folded arms resting on the mantel-slab and a stylish hat in one hand, be gazes upon the assembled family with quizzical benevolence.)

MRS. R. (placidly). What, is that you, Thomas?

THOMAS (with the fashionable lisp of the fifties, always substituting 'th' for 's'). How do you do, Susan?

(There follows a pause, broken courageously by Mrs. James.)

LAURA. Are you my Father?

THOMAS. I don't know. Who are you? Who are all of you?

LAURA. Perhaps I had better explain. This is our dear Mother: her you recognise. You are her husband; we are your daughters. This is Martha, this is Julia, and I'm Laura.

THOMAS. Is this true, Susan? Are these our progeny?

MRS. R. Yes—that is—yes, Thomas.

THOMAS. I should not have known it. They all look so much older.

LAURA. Than when you left us? Naturally!

THOMAS. Than me> I meant. But you all seem flourishing.

LAURA. Because we lived longer. Papa, when did you die?

JULIA. Oh! Laura!

THOMAS. I don't know, child.

LAURA. Don't know? How don't you know?

THOMAS. Because in prisons, and other lunatic asylums, one isn't allowed to know anything.

MRS. R. A lunatic asylum! Oh, Thomas, what brought you there?

THOMAS. A damned life, Susan—with you, and others.

JULIA. Oh, Laura, why did you do this?

MARTHA. If this goes on, I shall leave the room.

LAURA. Where are those others now?

THOMAS. Three of them I see before me. You, Laura, used to scream horribly. When you were teething, I was sleepless. Your Mother insisted on having you in the room with us. No wonder I went elsewhere.

MARTHA. I'm going!

THOMAS. Don't, Martha! You were the quietest of the lot. When you were two years old I even began to like you. You were the exception.

LAURA. Haven't you any affection for your old home?

THOMAS. None. It was a prison. You were the gaolers and the turnkeys. To keep my feet in the domestic way you made me wool-work slippers, and I had to wear them. You gave me neckties, which I wouldn't wear. You gave me affection of a demanding kind, which I didn't want. You gave me a moral atmosphere which I detested. And at last I could bear it no more, and I escaped.

LAURA (deaf to instruction). Papa, we wish you and our dear Mother to come back and live with us.

THOMAS. Live with my grandmother! How could I live with any of you?

LAURA. Where are you living?

THOMAS. Ask no questions, and you will be told no lies.

LAURA. Where is she?

THOMAS. Which she?

LAURA. The governess.

THOMAS. Which governess?

LAURA. The one you went away with.

THOMAS. D'you want her back again? You can have her. She'll teach you a thing or two. She did me.

LAURA. Then—you have repented, Papa?

THOMAS. God! why did I come here?

MRS. R. Yes; why did you come? It was weak of you.

THOMAS. Because I never could resist women.

LAURA. Were you really mad when you died, Papa?

THOMAS. Yes, and am still: stark, staring, raving, mad, like all the rest of you.

LAURA. I am not aware that I am mad.

THOMAS. Then you are a bad case. Not to know it, is the worst sign of all. It's in the family: you can't help being. Everything you say and do proves it.... You were mad to come here. You are mad to remain here. You were mad to want to see me. I was mad to let you see me. I was mad at the mere sight of you; and I'm mad to be off again! Goodbye, Susan. If you send for me again, I shan't come!

(He puts on his hat with a flourish!)

LAURA. Where are you going, Father?

THOMAS. To Hell, child! Your Hell, my Heaven!

(He spreads his arms and rises up through the looking-glass; you see his violet frock-coaty his check trousers, his white spats, and patent-leather boots ascending into and passing from view. He twiddles his feet at them and vanishes.)

JULIA. And now I hope you are satisfied, Laura?

MARTHA. Where's Mamma gone?

JULIA. So you've driven her away, too. Well, that finishes it.

(Apparently it does. Robbed of her parental prey, Mrs. James reverts to the next dearest possession she is concerned about.)

LAURA. Martha, where is the silver tea-pot?

MARTHA. I don't know, Laura.

LAURA. You said Julia had it.

MARTHA. I didn't say anything of the sort! You said—you supposed Julia had it; and I said—suppose she had! And I left it at that.

LAURA. Julia says she hasn't got it, so you must have it.

MARTHA. I haven't!

LAURA. Then where is it?

MARTHA. I don't know any more than Julia knows.

LAURA. Then one of you is not telling the truth. ... (Very judicially she begins to examine the two culprits.) Julia, when did you last see it?

JULIA. On the day, Laura, when we shared things between us. It became Martha's: and I never saw it again.

LAURA. Martha, when did you last see it?

MARTHA. I have not seen it—for I don't know how long.

LAURA. That is no answer to my question.

MARTHA (vindictively). Well, if you want to know, it's at the bottom of the sea.

LAURA (deliberately). Don't talk—nonsense.

MARTHA. Unless a shark has eaten it.

LAURA. When I ask a reasonable question, Martha, I expect a reasonable answer.

MARTHA. I've given you a reasonable answer! And I wish the Judgment Day would come, and the sea give up its dead, and then—(At the end of her resources, the poor lady begins to gather herself up, so as once for all to have done with it.) Now, I am going downstairs to talk to Hannah.

LAURA. You will do nothing of the kind, Martha.

MARTHA. I'm not going to be bullied—not by you or anyone.

LAURA. I must request you to wait and hear what I've got to say.

MARTHA. I don't want to hear it.

LAURA. Julia, are we not to discuss this matter, pray?

(Julia, who has her eye on Martha, and is quite enjoying this tussle of the two, says nothing)

MARTHA. You and Julia can discuss it. I am going downstairs.

(Mrs. James crosses the room, locks the door, and, standing mistress of all she surveys, inquires with grim humour.)

LAURA. And where are you going to be, Julia?

JULIA. I am where I am, Laura. I'm not going out of the window, or up the chimney, if that's what you mean.

(She continues gracefully to do her crochet.)

LAURA. Now, Martha, if you please.

MARTHA (goaded into victory). I'm sorry, Julia. You'd better explain. I'm going downstairs.

(Suiting the action to the word, she commits herself doggedly to the experiment, descending bluntly and without grace through the carpet into the room below. Mrs. James stands stupent.)

LAURA. Martha!... Am I to be defied in this way?

JULIA. You brought it on yourself, Laura.

LAURA. You told her to do it!

JULIA. She would have soon found out for herself. (Collectedly, she folds up her work and rises.) And now, I think, I will go to my room and wash my hands for supper.

(As she makes her stately move, her ear is attracted by a curious metallic sound repeated at intervals. Turning about, she perceives, indeed they both perceive, in the centre of the small table, a handsome silver tea-pot which opens and shuts its lid at them, as if trying to speak.)

JULIA. Oh, look, Laura! Martha's tea-pot has arrived.

LAURA. She told a lie, then.

JULIA. No, it was the truth. She wished for it. The sea has given up its dead.

LAURA. Then now I have got it at last!

(But, as she goes to seize the disputed possession, Martha rises through the floor, grabs the tea-pot, and descends to the nether regions once more.)

LAURA (glaring at her sister with haggard eye). Julia, where are we?

JULIA. I don't know what you mean, Laura. (She reaches out a polite hand) The key?

(Mrs. James delivers up the key as one glad to be rid of it.)

LAURA. What is this place we've come to?

JULIA (persuasively). Our home.

LAURA. I think we are in Hell!

JULIA (going to the door, which she unlocks with soft triumph). We are all where we wish to be, Laura. (A gong sounds.) That's supper. (The gong continues its metallic bumbling)

(Julia departs, leaving Mrs. James in undisputed possession of the situation she has made for herself.)

CURTAIN



Part Three

Dethronements

IMAGINARY PORTRAITS OF POLITICAL CHARACTERS, DONE IN DIALOGUE

Preface

The written dialogue, as interpretative of character, is but a form of portraiture, no more personally identified with its subject than drawing or painting; nor can it claim to have more verisimilitude until it finds embodiment on the stage. Why then, in this country at any rate, is its application to living persons only considered legitimate when associated with caricature? So sponsored, in the pages of Punch and the composition of Mr. Max Beerbohm, it has become an accepted convention too habitual for remark. Yet caricature and verbal parody may be as critical both of personality and character as dialogue more seriously designed, and may have as important an influence not merely upon a public opinion, but upon its moral judgment as well.

The defection of Punch was felt by Gladstone to be a serious set-back to the fortunes of his Home Rule policy; and Tenniel's cartoon of "the Grand old Janus," saying "Quite right!" to the police who were bludgeoning an English mob, and "Quite wrong!" to the police who were bludgeoning an Irish one, was a personal jibe which hit him hard.

The customary device, where contemporaries are concerned, of disembowelling the victim's name, and leaving it a skeleton of consonants, is a formal concession which in effect concedes nothing. Nor is there any reason why it should; for the only valid objection to the medium of dialogue is in cases where its form might mislead the reader into mistaking fiction for fact, and the author's invention for the ipsissima verba of the characters he portrays. I hope that this book will attract no readers so unintelligent. Having chosen dialogue for these studies of historical events because I find in it a natural and direct means to the interpretation of character, my main scruple is satisfied when I have made it plain that they have no more authenticity because they happen to be written in dramatic form, than they would have were they written as political essays. These are imaginary conversations which never actually took place; and though I think they have a nearer relation to the minds of the supposed speakers than have King's speeches to the person who utters them, they must merely be taken as a personal reading of characters and events, tributes to men for all of whom I have, in one way or another, a very great respect and admiration; and not least for the one whom, with a reticence that is symbolical of the part he played in the downfall of "The Man of Business," I have here left nameless.



The King-maker

Note

Readers of this dialogue may need to be reminded, for clearer understanding, of the following sequence of events. On November 15th, 1890, a decree nisi was pronounced in the undefended divorce suit O'Shea v. O'Shea and Parnell. On November 24th, Gladstone, in a letter to John Morley, stated that Parnell's retention of the Irish leadership would be fatal to his own continued advocacy of the Irish cause. In December, the majority of the Irish Party threw over Parnell in order to placate the "Nonconformist conscience," and retain the co-operation of the Liberal Party under Gladstone's leadership. During the months following, Parnell and his adherents suffered a series of defeats at by-elections in Ireland. In June 1891, immediately on the decree nisi being made absolute, Parnell married Katharine O'Shea. On October 6th he died.



Dramatis Personae.

CHARLES STEWART PARNELL (Dethroned "King" of Ireland) KATHARINE PARNELL (His wife: divorced wife of Captain O'Shea) A MAN (Ex-valet to Captain O'Shea) A SERVANT



The King-maker

Brighton. October 1891.

In a comfortably furnished sitting-room, with windows looking upon the sea-parade, a Woman of distinguished beauty sits reading beside the fire, so intently occupied that she pays no heed to the entry of the Servant, who unobtrusively lights the gas, draws down the blinds, and closes the curtains. Then taking up a tea-tray, served for two, she retires, and the reader is left alone. But not for long. The slam of the street-door causes an attention which the coming and going of the Servant has failed to arouse; and now, as the door opens, the brightened interest of her face tells that, without seeing, she knows who is there. Quietly, almost furtively, she lets fall the paper she has been reading, and turns to her husband eyes of serene welcome, meeting confidently the sharp interrogation of his glance.

PARNELL. What are you doing?

KATHARINE. I was reading.

PARNELL. Yes? What?

KATHARINE. Those papers you just brought in.

PARNELL. And I told you not to.

KATHARINE (smiling). I was wilful and disobeyed.

PARNELL (picking up the paper, and looking at it with contemptuous disgust). Why did you?

KATHARINE. Isn't "wilful" a sufficient answer, my dear?

(And with a covert look of amusement she watches him tear and throw the paper into the fire.)

Why do you try to make me a coward? You aren't one yourself.

PARNELL. That gutter-stuff! (And the second paper joins its fellow in the flames.)

KATHARINE. Now wasn't that just a bit unnecessary? After all, they are helping to make history. That is public opinion—the voice of the people, you know.

PARNELL. Not our people!

KATHARINE. Oh? Have you brought back any better news—from there?

PARNELL. Nothing special. The result of the election was out.

KATHARINE. You didn't wire it. How much were we to the bad?

PARNELL. A few hundred. What does more or less matter? It's—it's the priests who are winning now.

KATHARINE. With divided congregations as the result.

PARNELL. Yes. But I'd rather they won than the politicians. They are honest, at any rate. Poor fools!

KATHARINE. So it's the real country we are seeing now?

PARNELL. Yes. That's the material I've had to work with!

KATHARINE. Wonderful—considering.

PARNELL. And now—now one gets to the root! But I always knew it.

KATHARINE. So you are not disappointed?

PARNELL. No; only defeated. Yet I did think once that I was going to win.

KATHARINE. So you will.

PARNELL. When I'm dead, no doubt ... some day. You can't fight for a winning cause, and not know that.

KATHARINE. But you are not going to die yet, dearest.

PARNELL (with a deep sigh of dejection). Oh! Wifie, I'm so tired, so tired!

KATHARINE. Well, who has a better right? Be tired, my dear! Give yourself up to it: let everything else go, and just rest! You are tired out. That's what I've been telling you.

PARNELL. Too much to do yet. Even dying would take more time than I can spare just now.

KATHARINE. But you must spare time to live, my dear—if you really wish to.

PARNELL. Wish? I never wished it more—for now I am living. I'm awake. Doubts are over.

KATHARINE. King ... look at me! Don't take your eyes away, till I've done.... One of those papers said (what others have been saying) that it was I ... I ... need I go on?

PARNELL (with grim tenderness). Till you've done: you said ...

KATHARINE. I—that have ruined you.

PARNELL. That's just what they would say, of course. It's so easy: and pleases—so many.

KATHARINE. All the same—by mere accident—mayn't it be true? It has happened, you know, sometimes, that love and politics haven't quite gone together.

PARNELL. Love and politics never do. Do you think I've loved any of my party-followers: that any of them have loved me?

KATHARINE. Doesn't—O'Kelly?

PARNELL. He's gone now—with the rest.

KATHARINE. Didn't Mr. Biggar?

PARNELL. Dead.... No.

KATHARINE. Still, you love—Ireland.

PARNELL. Not as she is to-day—so narrow and jealous, so stupid, so blind! Has she anything alive in her now worth saving? That Ireland has got to die; and, though it doesn't sound like it, this is the death-rattle beginning. Ireland is going to fail, and deserves to fail. But another Ireland won't fail. She's learning her lesson—or will learn it, in the grave. Something like this was bound to come; but if it were to come again twenty years on, it wouldn't count. She'd know better.

KATHARINE. Twenty years! We shall be an old couple by then.

PARNELL. In the life of a nation twenty years is nothing. No. Ireland was shaped for failure: she has it in her. It had got to come out. Subjection, oppression, starvation, haven't taught her enough: she must face betrayal too, of the most mischievous kind—the betrayal of well-meaning fools. After that, paralysis, loss of confidence, loss of will, loss of faith—in false leaders. Then she'll begin to learn.

KATHARINE. Do you mean that everything has failed now?

PARNELL. Yes; if I fail. I'm not thinking of myself as indispensable: it's the principle. That's what I've been trying to make them understand. But they won't, they won't! Independence, defiance-they don't see it as a principle, only as an expedient. They may make it a cry, they may feel it as their right; but when to insist on it looks like losing a point in the game—then they give up the principle, to become parasites! That's what is happening now. It's the slave in the blood coming out—the crisis of the disease. That's why I'm fighting it: and will, to the death! And when—when we are dead—some day: she'll come to her senses again—and see! Then—this will have helped.

KATHARINE. But will it?

PARNELL. Why? Don't you believe that Ireland will be free some day?

KATHARINE. I did when she chose you for her leader.

PARNELL (bitterly). A dead leader, one whom she can't hurt, may do better for her.

KATHARINE. Don't say "dead"!

PARNELL. I shan't be alive in twenty years, my dear. And it may take all that.

KATHARINE. Without you it will take more.

PARNELL. It won't be "without me." That's what I mean. They may beat me to-day; but I shall still count. Think of all Ireland's failures! Grattan's Parliament counts; "Ninety-eight" counts; Fitzgerald counts; O'Connell counts; her famines, her emigrations, her rebellions—all count.

KATHARINE. Does Butt count?

PARNELL. He wasn't a failure: he didn't try to do anything. If Ireland needs more failures, to make a case for her conviction, shall I grudge mine? Yes, all her failures count: they get into the blood! Why, even the silly statues in her streets mean more than statues can mean here. Prosperity forgets; adversity remembers. Even hatred has its use: it grips, and drives men on.

KATHARINE. Did you need—hatred, to do that for you?

PARNELL. Yes: till I got love!... Reason, conviction aren't enough. Morley said a good thing the other day. The English, he said, meant well by Ireland: but they didn't mean it much.

KATHARINE. I suppose that's true of some?

PARNELL. Quite true: and what is the most that it amounts to? Compromise. Morley's an authority on compromise. And yet I like him: I get on with him. But he's too thick with Gladstone to be honest over this. Curious his having to back the conventions, eh?

KATHARINE. Why does he?

PARNELL. Because the political salvation of his party and its leader comes before Ireland. He means well by her: but he doesn't mean it so much as all that. Still he's the only one of them who doesn't pretend to look on me as a black sheep. He too has to work with his material. That's politics. The Nonconformist conscience means votes—so it decides him: just as the priests decide me.... They would decide him in any case, I mean. And so-so it goes on.... "Look here upon this picture, and on this": Ireland trying to please England; England trying, now and then, to please Ireland! I don't know which is the more ludicrous; but I know that both equally must fail. And they've got to see it!—and some day they will. It won't be "Home Rule" then....

(So for a while he sits and thinks, his hand in hers. Then he resumes.)

My ruin? What would my ruin matter anyway? Put it, that the making public of our claim—our right to each other—is to be allowed by any possibility to affect the cause of a nation—the justice of that cause: doesn't that fact, if true, show that the whole basis of the political principles they have so boasted, and on which we have so blindly relied, was utterly and fantastically false and rotten? Haven't we, providentially, given the world the proof that it needed of its own lie?

KATHARINE. We didn't give it, my dear.

PARNELL. Well, their proof has satisfied them, anyhow: as they are acting on it. Oh! When I see what poor, weak things nations really are—so inadequately equipped for the shaping of their own destinies—I wonder whether in truth the history we read is not the wrong history—mere side history, to which a false significance has been given, because so much blood and treasure have been expended on it, which just a little expenditure of common sense might have spared.... Think of all the silly accidents and blunders, in Ireland's great chapter of accidents, which have counted for so much—even in these last few years!... The Phoenix Park business—an assassination, for which perhaps only a dozen men were responsible—and at once, for that one act, more suppression and hatred and coercion are directed against a whole nation: Crimes Acts, packed juries, judges without juries, arrests without charge, imprisonments without trial. So logical, isn't it? What a means for putting a foreign Government right in the eyes of the people who deny its moral authority!... And then—Pigott, that shallow fraud, driven to suicide by those who were at first so eager to believe him: and the exposure of his silly forgery turns elections, makes Home Rule popular! Coming by such means, would it be worth it?... Gladstone, honourably hoodwinking himself all those years, accepting you as our secret go-between—and you making no pretence, my dear! Oh, I suppose it was the right and gentlemanly thing for him to pretend not to know. It was also, it seems, good politics. Chamberlain knew too—must have known; for Chamberlain's no fool; and yet to his friend, the deceived husband, said nothing! It wasn't politics; not then. Now—now it's the great stroke, and Home Rule goes down under it.... Is that history, or is it "Alice in Wonderland"?... If you are my ruin now, you were also my ruin then, when you were helping me to think that I could win justice for a nation from politicians like these: win it by any means except by beating them, bringing them to their knees, making them red with the blood of a people always in revolt, till their reputation stinks to the whole world! And when they do at last climb down and accept the inevitable, then their main thought will be only how to save their own face—and make it look a little less like the defeat they know it to be!

KATHARINE. My dear, you are so tired. Do rest!

PARNELL. I am resting: for now—thanks to you—I have got at the truth! Political history is a thing made up of accidents; but not so the fate of men or of nations whose will is set to be free. No accident there! That you were tied to a man you wouldn't live with, who wouldn't live with you—was an accident. But our love was no accident; it was waiting for us before we knew anything. You and I had each a star which shone at the other's birth.

KATHARINE. Your star was mine, dearest. I hadn't one of my own.

PARNELL. Well, if nations wish to be fooled, let them go to the devil their own way, not laying the blame of their own folly on others! But having got you—would I ever have let you go for any power under Heaven? Why (as soon as you were free) did I marry you? I knew that, politically, it was a blunder: that over there it would go against us— prove the case. Half Ireland cared nothing for the verdict of an English jury. But when we married, they had to believe it then.... Well, I wanted them to believe it. I know my love would have waited, had I asked her. And it wasn't—it wasn't honour, my dear; it was much more pride: for I am a proud man, that I own: and not less since I have won you.

KATHARINE. If you hadn't been proud, dearest, you would never have got my love.

PARNELL. Oh, yes, I should. Those who love, don't love for qualities good or bad. They love them in the person they love—that's all. You have qualities which I didn't care about till I found them in you. To love is to see life—new!

KATHARINE. And whole. Some day—alone by ourselves—we will!

PARNELL. Don't we already?

KATHARINE. Yes, if only—these other things didn't interfere. But I promised; so they must.

PARNELL. My dear, when they have quite broken me—they will in time—then I'll come.

KATHARINE. You promise to go right away?

PARNELL. I promise, sweetheart.

(Moving toward each other they are about to embrace, when the door opens, and the Servant enters carrying a card upon a tray.)

SERVANT. If you please, sir.

(Parnell takes the card; there is a pause while he looks at the name)

PARNELL. Will you say I am engaged.

(The Servant goes. Parnell hands the card to his wife.)

I don't know the man. Do you?

KATHARINE. No. And yet I seem to remember. Yes; Willie had a man-servant of that name.

(The Servant returns, bearing a folded note upon her tray)

SERVANT. If you please, sir, I was to give you this.

PARNELL (having read the note). Is the man still there?

SERVANT. Yes, sir.

(There is a pause.)

PARNELL. Show him in.

(As the Servant goes he hands the note to Katharine, and watches while she reads it.)

So—you remember him?

KATHARINE. Only the name.... I may have seen him, now and then.

(And then enters a smooth-shaven man, sprucely dressed, with the irreproachable manners of a well-trained servant. First, with a murmured apology, he bows to the lady; then, having respectfully waited till the silence becomes marked, says:)

MAN. Good evening, sir.

PARNELL (glancing again at the note). You are a valet?

MAN. Yes, sir.

PARNELL. Are you wanting a place?

MAN. No, sir. I have a place.

PARNELL. Well?

MAN. That gentleman, sir—my last employer, dismissed me without a character.

(His reference is to the note which Parnell still holds open in his hand.)

PARNELL. Well?

MAN. That's all, sir.

PARNELL. Then what have you come here for?

MAN. To give you this, sir.

(He draws out and presents a letter, rather soiled by keeping, which has already been opened. There is a pause, while Parnell looks first at the address, then runs his eye over the contents)

PARNELL. May I show it to—this lady?

MAN. Oh, yes, sir.

PARNELL. Whom, I take it, you recognise?

MAN. Yes, sir. (And meeting her glance, he bows once more)

(Parnell hands over the letter, and while Katharine reads there is a pause.)

PARNELL. Did you bring me this expecting money for it?

MAN. No, sir.

PARNELL. I see it has a date. You could have let me have it before?

MAN. Yes, sir.

PARNELL. More than—six months ago?

MAN. More than a year ago, sir.

PARNELL. Quite so. And you did not?

MAN (eyeing him steadfastly). No, sir. I was still comfortable in his service then, sir.

PARNELL (ironically, after a pause of scrutiny eye to eye). I am singularly obliged to you.... How did you come by it, may I ask?

MAN. Well, sir, he'd been dining out, sir. Left it in his pocket—hadn't posted it.

PARNELL. I see.... Had your dismissal anything to do with this?

MAN. Oh, no, sir. That only happened quite recently.

PARNELL. And then—he dismissed you without a character, you say? Do you think you deserved one?

MAN. From him, sir?—yes, sir.

PARNELL (coldly amused). That is a good answer. Have you been put to any expense coming here?

MAN. Just my return fare, sir.

PARNELL. And were you expecting me to—?

MAN. No, sir; I could have sent it in the post, if I'd wished.

PARNELL (surprised). Do you mean, then, that I may keep this letter?

MAN. Yes, sir.

PARNELL. I may do what I like with it?

MAN. Just what you like, sir.

PARNELL. Thank you.

(After a pause of meditation he very deliberately tears up the letter and puts it into the fire. Then, with rather icy politeness:)

I am much obliged to you; and I wish you a good evening.

(A little crestfallen, but with quiet self possession, the man accepts the termination of the interview.)

MAN. Good evening, sir. (He moves to the door.)

PARNELL. Stop!

(The man turns as the other goes towards him, and they meet face to face.)

You haven't given yourself a very good character, coming here, my man; but you might have done worse. Anyway, you've washed your hands of it now. Don't do things like that again.

MAN. No, sir.

(And as he stands hesitating, Parnell opens the door.)

Thank you, sir.

(The man goes. Parnell closes the door after him, comes meditatively across, and sits down. There is a long pause)

KATHARINE. What are you—thinking?

PARNELL. A year ago! ... If he had come to me with that a year ago—what should I have done?

KATHARINE. You would have done just the same.

PARNELL. Torn it up? And put it in the fire?—I'm not so sure.

KATHARINE. But I am. Hadn't he the same right as I had, to live his own life?

PARNELL. My dear, I said "a year ago." That means before the case came on. That would have stopped it—for good.... If I had had it—I might have been tempted.

(Watching him, she sees him smile.)

KATHARINE (rather tremulously). Are you glad—that you didn't have it?

PARNELL. And use it? Yes: I am—glad!

KATHARINE (throwing herself into his arms). Oh, my dear! Why, that means everything. You're glad! You're glad!

PARNELL (clasping her). Oh, my own love, my own dear sweet!

KATHARINE. You regret—nothing?

PARNELL. Nothing. Haven't I made you sure of that—yet?

KATHARINE. Oh, my King!—my King!

(And just then the paper in the grate kindling into flame, he points to it.)

PARNELL. Look! there goes—our proof.

KATHARINE. It doesn't matter.

PARNELL. It never did.

KATHARINE. That's what I mean.

PARNELL. But, politically, it might have made a world of difference.

KATHARINE. Yes—to the world; not to us. We wanted to be as we are, didn't we?

PARNELL. As we are, and as we were—how long is it?—eleven years ago. There's been no change since. When I go back to my star, I shall have found what I came for. That's what matters most. Souls either find or lose themselves—live or die. I lived: I shouldn't have done, on this earth, but for you—but for you.

(There is a pause. He sits meditating.)

KATHARINE. And of what—now?

PARNELL. The next generation—possibly the next but one: you and I gone, and Ireland free. In this last year we may have done more for that—than we could ever have planned. We've given them a bone to bite on: and there's meat on it—real meat. And because of that, they call you my ruin, eh? I look rather like one, I suppose, just now. But as I came home to-night, all my mind was filled with you; and I knew that to me you were worth far more than all the rest. And then suddenly I thought—what am I worth to you?

KATHARINE. This—that if now you told me to go—because it was for your good—I'd go—glad—yes glad that you'd made me do for you, at last, something that was hard to do—for the first time, dearest, for the first time!

PARNELL (deeply moved). That so? Not an accident, then, eh?

KATHARINE (embracing him). Oh, my dear, my dear, my dear!

PARNELL. How true to life love makes everything!—so clear and straight— looking back now. Through you I've learned this truth at any rate—that there are two things about which a man must never compromise—first his own soul, the right to be himself—no matter what others may think or do.

KATHARINE. And the other?

PARNELL. His instinct, of trust or distrust, in the character of others. I hadn't any real doubt, but I compromised with instinct to gain my end: did things I didn't believe were any good—accepted the word of men I didn't trust. Home Rule itself was a compromise that I made myself accept. But I never really believed in it. For you can't limit the liberty of a nation, if it's really alive. Then came the smash—that woke me. And that I was awake at last our love came to be the proof...Something different has got to be now. Ireland will have to become more real—more herself, more of a rebel than ever she has been yet. If, thirty years hence, my failure shall have helped to bring that about—an Ireland really free—then I've won....

(The words come quietly, confidently; but it is the voice of an exhausted man, whose physical resources are nearly at an end. For a long time he sits quite still, holding his wife's hand, saying nothing, for he has nothing more to say. A high screen behind the couch on which they rest cuts off the gaslight; only the firelight plays fitfully upon the two faces. Suddenly the brightness falls away, and over that foreshadowing of death, now only three days distant, the scene closes.)



The Man of Business

Dramatis Personae

JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Ex-Minister) JESSE COLLINGS (His Friend) A DISTINGUISHED VISITOR A NURSE



The Man of Business

SCENE: Highbury. August 1913.

Between double-doors, opening from living-room to conservatory, sits the shadow of the once great and powerful Minister, State Secretary for the Colonies. To the dark, sombre tones of the heavily furnished chamber the gorgeous colours of the orchids, hanging in trails and festoons under their luminous dome of glass, offer a vivid contrast. Yet even greater is that which they present to the drawn and haggard features of the catastrophically aged man whose public career is now over. In wheeled chair, with lower limbs wrapped in a shawl and supported by a foot-rest, he sits bent and almost motionless; and when he moves head or hand, it is head or hand only, and the motion is slow, painful, and hesitating, as though mind functioned on body with difficulty, uncertain of its ground. Nevertheless, when the door opens, and the small squat figure of a very old and dear friend advances towards him, his face lights instantly. With tender reverence and affection the newcomer takes hold of his hand, lifts, presses it, lays it back again. And when he has seated himself, the Shadow speaks.

CHAMBERLAIN. Well, Collings? Well?

JESSE COLLINGS. Well, my dear Chamberlain, how are you? I'm a little late, I'm afraid.

CHAMBERLAIN. I hadn't noticed. Time doesn't matter to me now.

JESSE COLLINGS. No; but I like to be punctual. It's my nature.

CHAMBERLAIN. Habit...Habit and nature are different things, Collings. I've been finding that out.

(At this, for a diversion, Collings, readjusting his pince-nez, tilts his head bird-like, and takes a genial look at his friend)

JESSE COLLINGS. Joe, you are looking better to-day.

CHAMBERLAIN. Well, even looks are not to be despised, I suppose, when one has nothing else left.

JESSE COLLINGS. Come, come!

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes?

JESSE COLLINGS. Nothing else left, indeed! Don't—don't be so down, Chamberlain.

CHAMBERLAIN. Dear old friend!... Just now you called me "Joe." You don't often do that. Why did you?

JESSE COLLINGS. A reversion to old habits, I suppose. One does as one gets older.

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes.

JESSE COLLINGS (genially making conversation, which he sees to be advisable). I was reading only the other day that, as we get on in years and begin to forget other things, our childhood comes back to us.

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes?

JESSE COLLINGS. Now I wonder if that's true?

CHAMBERLAIN. I wonder.

JESSE COLLINGS. Mine hasn't begun to come back to me.

CHAMBERLAIN. You aren't old yet.

JESSE COLLINGS. I'm over eighty.

CHAMBERLAIN. Good for another twenty years. And once you were my senior. We weren't quite boys together, Collings; but we've been good friends.

JESSE COLLINGS. Thank God for that!—Joe.

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, I do. More now than I used to.

JESSE COLLINGS. All the same, you haven't so much cause to thank Him as we have.

CHAMBERLAIN. No?

(The listless monotone makes the little old man fear that he is not succeeding.)

JESSE COLLINGS. Is my talk tiring you?

CHAMBERLAIN. Not at all.... Please go on!

JESSE COLLINGS. I only want to say what I said just now: Don't be down, dear friend. Your record will stand the test better than that of others. Your work is still going on; it hasn't finished just because you are—laid up.

CHAMBERLAIN. "Laid up" is a kind way of putting it, Collins.

JESSE COLLINGS. Why, I needn't even have said that; when here—it's sitting up I find you.

CHAMBERLAIN. Sitting out.

JESSE COLLINGS. Well, "sitting out," if you like, for the time being. But do you imagine that this phrase or that phrase (true for the moment) states the case, counts, is worth troubling about?

CHAMBERLAIN. Do I imagine? No, I don't. I don't imagine anything. I was never a man of imagination.

JESSE COLLINGS. You are, when you say that!

CHAMBERLAIN. No, Collings. When I've done anything, it has been because I've had it in my hands to do.... My hands are empty now. Some men manage to think with their heads only; others do it—with their stomachs you might almost say. I've never been able to think properly unless I had hold of things—had them here in my hands.... Look at them, now! (With a slow, faint gesture he indicates their helplessness; then continues:) I was the man of business,... and now, I'm out of business; so I can't think.

JESSE COLLINGS. But that business, as you call it, Chamberlain, which you made so many of us understand for the first time—I was a "Little Englander" myself, once—that's still going on.

CHAMBERLAIN (bitterly). Yes, it's a fine business!

JESSE COLLINGS (startled). Don't you still believe in it?

CHAMBERLAIN. As a business? Yes. But it's going to fail all the same. There's nobody to run it now.

JESSE COLLINGS. We mean to run it, Chamberlain! You'll see!

CHAMBERLAIN. I know you do, Collings. You are loyalty itself.

JESSE COLLINGS. There are others too. I'm not the only one.

CHAMBERLAIN. You are the best of them.

JESSE COLLINGS. No, I won't admit that.

CHAMBERLAIN. Name?

JESSE COLLINGS. The best? Probably some one we don't yet even know. The best are still to come. Time's with us.

CHAMBERLAIN. Is it?

JESSE COLLINGS. Don't you think so yourself?

CHAMBERLAIN. Not now. I did once.

JESSE COLLINGS. You always said so.

CHAMBERLAIN. I said it as long as I believed it: till the stars in their courses turned against me. That broke me, Collings. If I could have gone on having faith in myself, I shouldn't be—as I am now.

JESSE COLLINGS. But what—what made you lose it?

CHAMBERLAIN. Can't you guess?

(Collings shakes his head, remains valiantly incredulous; and there is a pause.)

I saw somebody else—whose cards weren't so good—playing with a better hand. It was the hand beat me. My head's all right still, though it sleeps. But I've lost my hand. Look at it! (Again the gesture illustrative of defeat.) Threw it away. You know who I mean?

JESSE COLLINGS (_cautiously, _rather reluctantly_). I suppose I do.

CHAMBERLAIN (watching to see the effect of his news). He's coming to-day: to see me.

COLLINGS (surprised). Coming here?

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, it's all been nicely arranged—just a call in passing. To-morrow's papers will describe it as "a pathetic meeting." Well, when a man has to meet his executioner on friendly terms, I suppose it is "pathetic" for one of them.

(All this is very disconcerting to poor Collings. He helps himself to a half-sentence, and stops.)

JESSE COLLINGS. Did he himself——?

CHAMBERLAIN. Propose it? Oh, yes—in the most charming way possible. Isn't it amazing how a man with charm can do things that nobody else dare? I never managed to charm anybody.

JESSE COLLINGS. You made friends—and kept them.

CHAMBERLAIN. So does he. He has been successful all round: art, politics, letters, society—he has friends in all. I've only been successful in business.

JESSE COLLINGS. My dear friend, aren't you forgetting yourself? You came out of business.

CHAMBERLAIN. No, I only changed to business on a larger scale—carried it on under a bigger name. That's how I found myself. I had to make things into a business in order to make a success of them. That was my method, Collings: glorify it as much as you like. And up to a point it was good business, I don't deny. That's how we ran local politics, invented the Caucus: Corporation Street is the result. That's how we managed to run Unionism: made a hard and fast contract of it, and made them stick to it. That's how I ran the Colonies—and the Boer War. That's how I was going to run the Empire on a Preferential Tariff. That came just too late. I'd made a mistake.

JESSE COLLINGS. What mistake?

CHAMBERLAIN. Collings, the Boer War wasn't good business. It might have been; but it lasted too long. Any modern war that isn't over in six months now is a blunder, you'll find. They were able to hold out too long. That did for me. There have been bees in my bonnet ever since—all because of it. Boers first; then Bannerman; then—Balfour. Just once my business instinct betrayed me, and I was done!

JESSE COLLINGS. But—wasn't the war necessary?

CHAMBERLAIN. To put the "business" on a sound footing? Yes, I thought so; it looked like it. No, it wasn't! But before I quite knew, there'd come a point where we couldn't go back; and so we just had to go on—and on. D'you know what was the cleverest thing said or done during that war?... You'd never guess ... but it's true. Campbell-Bannerman's "methods of barbarism" speech. We downed him for it at the time, but it caught on—it stuck. And it was on the strength of it (with C.-B. as their hope for the future) that the Boers were persuaded to make peace: saved our face for us. They might have gone on, till we got sick of it, and the world too.

JESSE COLLINGS. I don't—I can't think you are right, Chamberlain. You are forgetting things.

CHAMBERLAIN. No—I've had difficulty about thinking so myself; but, it has come to me.

(And so he sits and meditates over the point in his career where as a business man he first jailed. Presently he resumes:)

When two men, whose qualifications I used rather to despise, beat me at business, Collings—it was a facer!

JESSE COLLINGS. Bannerman; and—the other?

CHAMBERLAIN. Comes to see me to-day. But it won't be a business meeting. He'll not say anything about it—if he can help.

JESSE COLLINGS. And you?

CHAMBERLAIN. Perhaps I shall succumb to his charm. I've done so before now.

JESSE COLLINGS. Have you and he—had words ever?

CHAMBERLAIN. Differences of opinion, of course. "Words"? How should we? He was always so wonderfully accommodating, so polite, so apologetic even. Nobody ever had a finer contempt for his party than he—not even old Dizzy, or Salisbury, or Churchill. So he could always say the handsome thing to one—behind its back—even when he was making burnt-offerings to its prejudices.

JESSE COLLINGS. And when you left him?

CHAMBERLAIN. When I left him he did the thing beautifully. So genuinely sorry to lose me; so sure of having me with him again, before long. How could I have gone out and worked against him after that? But it's what—as a business politician—I ought to have done.

JESSE COLLINGS. If you had—should we have won, straight away?

CHAMBERLAIN. We should have won the party, and the party-machine too. For the rest it wouldn't have mattered waiting a year or two. Yes, we should have won. But here's this, Collings: we should have won then; we shan't win now. Times are changing: the time for it is over. Something else is coming along—what, I don't know. My old fox-scent has gone: wind's against me. The Colonies are growing up too fast. They won't separate, but they mean to stand on their own feet all the same: in their own way—not mine. We ought to have got them when they were a bit younger: we could have done it then. Once it flattered them to be called "Dominions "; now they are going to be "Sovereign States." And he—he doesn't mind. He is never for big constructive ideas—only for contrivances: takes things as they come, makes the best of them—philosophically—and gets round them; and sometimes does it brilliantly.

JESSE COLLINGS. What will he talk about?

CHAMBERLAIN. Anything that comes into his head: the weather, the garden, the greenhouses, the theatres. He'll tell me, perhaps, of a book or two that I ought to read, that he hasn't had time for. He'll say, as you said, that I'm looking better than he expected. He'll say something handsome about Austen—quite genuinely meaning it. Then he'll say he's afraid of tiring me; then he'll go.... Have you noticed how he shakes hands? He hasn't much of a hand—not a real hand—but he does it, like everything else, charmingly.

JESSE COLLINGS (a little crestfallen). I thought you really liked him.

CHAMBERLAIN. So I do. Because he has beaten me, is that any reason for hating him? If it were—after a lifetime of polls and politics, one would have to be at hate with half the world. No, from his point of view he had to beat me, and he has done it. What I stick at is that he has proved the better business man! As I used head and hand—and heart (and heart, Collings!)—

JESSE COLLINGS. Yes, yes, I know you did.

CHAMBERLAIN. Some people thought I hadn't a heart: "hard as nails" they called me.... Well, as I used those, so he used his defeats, his doubts, his indecision, his charm—and left his heart out. That was the real business-stroke. That did for me.... I liked him: he knew it. Whether he ever liked me, to this day, I don't know—for certain. If he did, it made no difference. That's what I call business.

JESSE COLLINGS (warmly). But you've always been honourable.

CHAMBERLAIN. So has he. Don't be sentimental, Collings! But some men manage in public life to give you a certain view of their character: so that you count on it. And then, on occasion, they play another—and get wonderful results. If I'd had that gift, I should have used it and done better. He has used it, and he has done better. I don't whine about it. But I'd rather, Collings (I suppose I'm prejudiced), I'd rather he hadn't asked himself here—just now: not just now.

(There is a pause, and Collings feels that he must say something; but finding nothing of any value to say, he merely commentates with a query.)

JESSE COLLINGS. What has "just now" to do with it?

CHAMBERLAIN. "Just now," dear Collings, only means the next few months or so—possibly a year. That's all. I had rather he'd waited, and then just sent a wreath with the right sort of inscription on it. He could have done that charmingly too. And I haven't got wreaths here for him, for I don't think that even a posy of these would really interest him.

(And with a weary gesture he points to the orchids, as though they were things of which, not impossibly, "posies" might be made.)

JESSE COLLINGS (a little perplexed by this introduction of wreaths and flowers into political affairs). What does really interest him? He's so interesting himself.

CHAMBERLAIN. You've hit it, Collings. It's himself. Not selfishly. He stands for so many things that he values—that he thinks good for the world—necessary for the stability of the social order. He is their embodiment: he is the most emblematic figure in the modern world that I know—in this country, at any rate—representing so much that is good in the great traditions which have got to go. And to stave off that day he will do almost anything. He would even—if he thought it would enable him the better to prick some of his bubbles—he would even take office under Lloyd George.

(At this point, unobtrusively, a Nurse enters and stands waiting.)

JESSE COLLINGS. I don't think we shall live to see that!

CHAMBERLAIN. I shall not; you may.

JESSE COLLINGS (impulsively). Chamberlain, I don't want to live after you!

CHAMBERLAIN (cajolingly). Oh, yes, you do! Anyway—I want you to. You will send me a wreath that will be worth having.

(Whereat his quaint little companion leans forward, and, putting his two hands pleadingly on the swathed knees, wants to speak but cannot. Slowly the sick man lets down his own and covers them. And so, hand resting on hand, he continues speaking:)

Say what you like about the business man—the man who failed: he has known how to make friends—good ones. And you, Jesse Collings, have been one of the best: I couldn't have had a better. There's someone been waiting behind you to give you a hint that you are tiring me—staying too long. But you haven't: you never have. Perhaps, in the future, I shan't see enough of you; perhaps, from now on, my doctor will have to measure even my friends for me: three a day before meals. But I shall get life in bits still—as long as you are allowed to come. Yes, Nurse, you make take him away now!

(Jesse Collings rises, and stands by his friend with moist eyes.)

JESSE COLLINGS. Good-bye, my dear Joe, and—God bless you.

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes ... good-bye!

(Hands press and part, and Jesse Callings tip-toes meekly out, apologising for the length of his stay by the softness of his going. Chamberlain's head drops, his face becomes more drawn, his hands more rigid and helpless. Without a word, his Nurse arranges his pillows, preparing him for the sleep to which his unresisting body gradually succumbs.)

* * * * *

(Two hours later he is awake again, and the Nurse is removing a tray from which he has just taken some nourishment. He lifts his head and looks at her. At this sign that he is about to speak, she pauses. Presently the words come.)

CHAMBERLAIN. Is he in there, waiting to see me?

NURSE. Yes, sir.

CHAMBERLAIN. Ask him to come in.

NURSE. You want to see him alone, sir? (There is a pause.)

CHAMBERLAIN. I think only one at a time is enough—better for me: don't you?

NURSE. It would be less tiring for you, sir.

CHAMBERLAIN. Yes. Ask him to come in.

(So that being settled, she goes, and he sits waiting. The afternoon sunlight is making the orchids look more resplendently themselves than ever. So still, so vivid, so alive, they hang their snake-like heads in long pendulous clusters; and among them all there is not a single one which shows the slightest sign of falling-off or decay. Presently the door is softly opened, and the Nurse, entering only to retire again, ushers in the Distinguished Visitor, whose brow, venerable with intellect, and grey with the approach of age, crowns a figure still almost youthful in its elasticity and grace, and perfect in the deliberate ease and deportment of its entry into a situation which many would find difficult. As he approaches the wheeled chair, the kindness, modesty, and distinction of his bearing prepare the way before him, and his silence has already said the nicest of nice things, in the nicest possible way, before he actually speaks. This he does not do till he has already taken and held the hand which the other has tried to offer.)

DISTINGUISHED VISITOR. My dear Chamberlain, how very good of you to let me come?

CHAMBERLAIN. Not too much out of your way, I hope?

DIST. V. On the contrary, I could wish it were more, if that might help to express my pleasure in seeing you again.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse