VICAR. A father ought to be all these things.
MARY. And then . . . then . . .
VICAR. Yes? . . .
MARY. I met a man, a poor miserable man—it still seems like a dream, the way I met him—and he said something dreadful to me, something that hurt me terribly. He seemed to think that my father—that perhaps my father—might be nothing of the sort!
AUNTIE. Why, who was he—the man?
MARY. He wouldn't tell me his name: I mistook him for a thief at first; but afterwards I felt very, very sorry for him. You see, his case was rather like my own. He was wishing for his little girl.
[There is a short silence.]
VICAR. Where did you meet with him?
MARY. Here, in this room.
AUNTIE. When was this?
MARY. A few minutes ago—just before you came in.
AUNTIE. Where is he now?
MARY. He said good-bye. He has gone away.
AUNTIE. For good?
MARY. Yes, I think so: I understood him to mean that.
VICAR. Was he—a rough-looking man?
MARY. Dreadfully; and he swore once—but afterwards he said he was sorry for that.
VICAR. Did he frighten you at all?
MARY. No, not exactly frighten: you see, I felt sorry for him.
VICAR [slowly]. And he wouldn't tell you his name? . . .
MARY. No: I asked him, but he wouldn't.
[The VICAR ponders this for a moment.]
AUNTIE. Now, is it God with you or with me, William?
[For a moment this unnerves him. Then setting his teeth together, he faces his task stubbornly.]
VICAR. Have you any idea about this man?
MARY. How do you mean—any idea?
VICAR. As to why he put this doubt into your head about your father.
MARY. He seemed to be thinking about himself, and how unworthy he was of his own little girl.
VICAR. Did he say—unworthy?
MARY. That's what I think he meant. What he said was that perhaps my father wasn't good enough to be your brother, uncle. That's not true, is it?
VICAR. No, by Heaven! That's not true!
MARY [rapturously]. Oh, I knew it, I knew it!
VICAR [in an agony]. Stop! You don't understand!
MARY. I understand quite enough! That's all I wanted to know!
VICAR. Listen, child! Listen! I mean that it is I who am not worthy to be called his brother.
AUNTIE. William, this is absurd!
MARY [snuggling up to him]. Isn't he a dear?
VICAR [freeing himself]. Listen to me, Mary: I have something awful to tell you: try and bear it bravely. You will hate me for it—never love me again! . . . No, listen! . . .
Supposing your father were—not what you imagine him to be? . . .
MARY. Uncle, didn't you just say . . .
VICAR. Supposing that wretched man you spoke with just now were right, after all! What would you say?
MARY. Uncle! . . .
VICAR. Supposing he were one upon whom a11 the curses of the world had been most cruelly visited—his poor body scarred and graven out of human semblance; his soul the prey of hate and bitterness; his immortal spirit tortured and twisted away from every memory of God! What would you say?
MARY. Uncle, it would be terrible—terrible!
VICAR. What will you say, then, to the man who has brought him to such ruin? What will you say to that man being God's priest? What word of loathing have you for the thief who has stolen the love of another man's child, for the murderer who has slain his brother's soul?
MARY. Uncle, do you mean . . . do you mean . . .
VICAR. I mean that I am the man!
MARY. You! . . .
AUNTIE [passionately]. It is not true! It is a lie! It's entirely your father's own fault!
MARY. I don't understand. Why should Uncle William lie to me?
AUNTIE. He is overwrought: he is ill. It is like your uncle William to take upon himself another man's wickedness!
MARY. Then, that is true, at least: my father is a wicked man! . . .
AUNTIE. I don't want to speak about your father!
MARY. He is nothing that I have wished him to be: not brave . . .
VICAR. Yes—that at least!
MARY [turning towards him]. Beautiful? . . .
VICAR. What do you mean by beautiful?
MARY. You know what I mean: What you once said God was, when you called Him beautiful.
VICAR. I have no right to judge your father.
[She perceives the evasion.]
MARY. Not even—good? . . .
VICAR. He is what I have made him. I and no other!
[She stands looking at him piteously.]
AUNTIE. There is another—I! I kept them apart: I poisoned your uncle against him: I took you away from him: It was I who kept you in ignorance of your father!
MARY. Why? . . .
AUNTIE. Because he stands in the way of my husband's happiness! Because, even, he is your father! Because I hate him! I could almost wish him dead!
VICAR. Martha! . . .
[There is a long pause.]
MARY. Then I have nobody, now. It's no use wishing any more.
AUNTIE. Mary . . .
MARY. No! . . . I want to be alone.
[She goes out into the garden. They follow her out with their eyes.]
VICAR. So! God has revealed His partisanship!—He has beggared us both!
[AUNTIE considers this for a moment. Then, with sudden determination, she rises.]
AUNTIE. I am not going to be beggared without a struggle for it, William!
[She moves briskly across to the bell.]
VICAR. What are you going to do, Martha?
AUNTIE, [flashing round passionately, before she can ring the bell]. Do you think I am going to stand by and see your life wrecked—yours and that child's?
VICAR. We are not the only persons concerned, Martha.
AUNTIE. As far as I care, you are!
VICAR. And what of Robert? . . .
AUNTIE. Robert! That's what I'm going to see to now!
[She rings the bell.]
There's only one way of dealing with a brute like that!
VICAR. What's that?
AUNTIE. Pack him off to Australia, Africa—anywhere, so long as we are never pestered with him again!
VICAR, Do you think you'll get him to go?
AUNTIE. Oh, I'll find the money! A drunkard like that will do anything for money! Well, he shall have plenty: perhaps he'll drink himself to . . .
VICAR. By Heaven, but I say no!
AUNTIE. By Heaven, but I say yes! It's about time I took things in hand again! Do you think I'm going to risk that child learning everything? She knows more than enough already! Providentially, she does not know the worst!
VICAR. And what knowledge do you consider Providence has so kindly spared her?
AUNTIE. The knowledge who that man was! She shall never know, if I can have my way! [She rings the bell again, impatiently.] Why doesn't he come? Why doesn't he come?
[Enter MANSON by the main door. There is a subtle change in the manner of him, a look in his eye, as of the servant merging in the master.]
MANSON. You rang.
AUNTIE. Yes, come in, Manson. I want to have a little confidential talk with you—confidential, you understand.
MANSON [eying her]. If you please. I expected this.
[He has the air of a judge. She hurries on, unheeding.]
AUNTIE. Manson, you saw everything. You were here when that dreadful creature arrived.
AUNTIE. Why, my husband's brother, Robert. Didn't you tell me, William, that Manson heard everything he said?
AUNTIE. Then you will know the wretched plight we are in. Manson, it's terrible. I want your help. By-the-way, you have not spoken about it to the other servants?
MANSON. I am always most discreet.
AUNTIE [touched]. Thank you, Manson, thank you: I felt that I could trust you. It's to prove my trust that I've sent for you now. Perhaps I'd better begin by explaining everything quite clearly, so that you . . .
MANSON. There is no need. I know everything already.
AUNTIE, Everything! How? . . .
MANSON. A certain gift of divination—mine by birth. And, besides, you forget that I had a long conversation with your brother-in-law after master left the room.
AUNTIE. What! Whilst my brother was here?
MANSON. Yes: we all three had breakfast together.
AUNTIE. Breakfast together! Then James has heard all!
MANSON. Not quite all. You may have observed that your brother is a little deaf.
AUNTIE. But surely— What did he think?
MANSON. He mistook him for your husband.
AUNTIE. My husband!
MANSON. Your brother is also a little blind, remember.
AUNTIE [delighted]. Then James never found out? . . .
MANSON. Oh yes: I took care to undeceive him on the point.
AUNTIE. Good gracious! How did he take it?
MANSON. At first, a little angrily; but, after a while, some few poor words of my own chanced to move him to more—profitable meditation.
AUNTIE. Manson, you're perfectly wonderful! I respect you very, very much!
MANSON. It is not enough. I shall require more.
AUNTIE [embarrassed]. Oh, of course, I shall be glad to do anything that . . .
Why, what do you mean? . . .
MANSON. I mean that service such as mine demands a greater recompense!
AUNTIE. You may be sure that anything in reason . . .
MANSON. It must go beyond that!
AUNTIE. Well, what do you ask?
MANSON. The uttermost obedience, loyalty, and love!
AUNTIE. Manson, how dare you! By what right . . .
MANSON. By my own right!
AUNTIE. This is insolence! What right do you mean?
MANSON. The right of understanding, the right of purpose, and the right of will!
AUNTIE. You force me to speak angrily to you! Do you forget that you are my servant?
MANSON. No! And, therefore, it is my office to command you now!
Sit down, and hear me speak!
VICAR. He has been sent to help us! Martha, this is God!
MANSON. Over here, please. [He points to the settee.]
AUNTIE. I . . . I . . .
[MANSON still points. She wavers as in a dream, and at length moves mechanically across the room, obeying him.]
MANSON. Now, let me tell you exactly why you have sent for me here. There is a strange and wretched turmoil in your soul: you have done wrong, and you know it—but you don't know all! You would keep what miserable little right you have by bolstering it up with further wrong. And you have sent for me to help you in that wrong!
AUNTIE. How dare you say that?
MANSON. Haven't you sent for me to help you in your plans about his brother, Robert?
AUNTIE [faintly]. What plans? . . .
MANSON. The plan of banishing him further from your lives than ever! The plan of providing for him! The plan of patching up his bitter wrongs with gold!
AUNTIE. How did you know that?
MANSON. I know you! What, do you think that God's eyes are like your brother's—blind? Or do you think these things can be done in darkness without crying aloud to Heaven for light?
AUNTIE. I am here to work my will, not yours!
MANSON. What gain do you hope to bring yourself by that?
AUNTIE. I am not thinking of myself! I am thinking only of my husband's happiness!
MANSON. Behold the happiness you have already brought him!
AUNTIE. There is the child! It would break her heart!
MANSON. What is her heart but broken now—by you?
AUNTIE, Robert himself would be the first to repudiate any other plan.
MANSON. Have you tried him?
AUNTIE. Of course not; but he must see the impossibility.
MANSON. What impossibility?
AUNTIE. The impossibility of having him here: the impossibility of letting him see the child: the impossibility of him and his brother ever meeting again!
MANSON. Is that your only difficulty?
AUNTIE. Only difficulty! What, would you have me welcome him with open arms?
MANSON. Yes, and heart, too!
AUNTIE. Have him here, entertain him, treat him as a guest?
MANSON. As an honoured guest!
AUNTIE. In this house?
MANSON. This house.
AUNTIE. Good Heavens! what else?
MANSON. Sweep and garnish it throughout, seek out and cleanse its hidden corners, make it fair and ready to lodge him royally as a brother!
AUNTIE [desperately]. I won't do it! I can't! I can't!
MANSON. With my assistance, you can!
VICAR. Manson, how can we bring it about?
AUNTIE, I daren't! I daren't!
VICAR. I dare! I will!
AUNTIE. In God's name, how is it possible?
MANSON. Make me the lord and master of this house for one little hour!
VICAR. By Heaven, yes!
MANSON. And you? You? . . .
[She falters a few moments: then, utterly broken down, she whispers, feebly.]
MANSON. Then first TO CLEANSE IT OF ITS ABOMINATIONS!
[The BISHOP enters from the drawing-room. He carries a letter in his hand.]
BISHOP. Well, here is the letter I have written to the secretary of our Society: I have explained everything quite nicely; and have warned him, of course, against doing anything definite in the matter until we have consulted your dear brother. Now . . . Eh, what? Oh! . . .
[MANSON has tapped his ear, peremptorily: he fixes his ear-trumpet.]
MANSON. I bear you a message from the master of this house. Leave it.
BISHOP. Really, I . . . . . . . Most extraordinary! Hm!
[He blows down the ear-trumpet, and afterwards wipes it very carefully with his handkerchief. MANSON stands, as though carven in marble, waiting for him to fix it again.]
Now: again, please.
MANSON. You are no longer necessary. Leave this house.
BISHOP. You scoundrel! You impudent scoundrel! You . . . You . . .
Give me back my five-pound note!
MANSON [pointing to the fire]. It is invested for you.
BISHOP. I will have it back at once!
MANSON. Hereafter, was the arrangement.
BISHOP. Mr. Smythe! Where are you? Do you hear what this blackguard says?
VICAR. I endorse it, every word.
BISHOP. Martha! . . .
[She turns away from him as from some horror of sin. The BISHOP stands dumfounded for a moment or two: then he boils over.]
Now I see it all! I've been trapped, I've been tricked! Martha, this is all your doing! Brought me here on a trumped-up story of relationship with the Bishop of Benares, to insult me! Oh, what would that godly man say if he heard of it!—And he shall hear of it, believe me! Your infamy shall be spread abroad! So this is your revenge, sir—[he turns to the VICAR]—your revenge for the contumely with which I have very properly treated you, sir! Now I understand why I was made to sit down and eat sausages with a butler—yes, sir, with a butler and a common working-man! Oh! I could die with shame! You have bereft me of all words! You . . . You . . . You are no scholar, sir! And your Greek is contemptible! . . .
[He crosses to AUNTIE.] Martha! You are no sister of mine henceforward! [Going, he returns to her.] Anathema maranatha!
[He bounces up to the door, but turns back again for a last word with MANSON.]
And I have one word for you, sir! You are a scoundrel, sir—a cheat, an impostor! And if I could have my way with you, I would have you publicly whipped: I would visit you with the utmost rigour of the law: I would nail you up, sir, for an example!
MANSON. I have encountered similar hostility before, my lord—from gentlemen very like your lordship. Allow me . . .
[He opens the door, his eyes flashing.]
BISHOP. Don't trouble, sir. I can get my hat and my stick and my portmanteau for myself! I can do very well without your assistance—thank God!
[He stumps out. MANSON closes the door after him, barring it, as it were, with his great left arm. He lifts the other arm slowly, as commanding silence. After a moment the front door is heard slamming noisily.]
[AUNTIE sinks, weeping, upon the settee. The VICAR goes over to comfort her. The uplifted hand of MANSON assumes the BISHOP'S sign of blessing as the curtain slowly falls.]
THE FIFTH ACT
As the curtain rises, the scene and situation remain unchanged.
[There is heard a Ring of the Bell. All three turn their heads, alert.]
VICAR. If it's my brother . . .
VICAR. I meant—the Bishop of Benares; but . . .
AUNTIE [hand on his arm, apprehensively]. William . . .
MANSON. It wants ten minutes of the time you said you expected him. [Goes to door: turns.] Only ten minutes.
[He goes out, closing the door softly.]
VICAR. Ten minutes! . . .
AUNTIE. We shall never be able to do it, William! How can we possibly undo the work of all these years in ten minutes? It wants a miracle.
VICAR. We must make the attempt, somehow.
AUNTIE. Yes—yes: how? Oh, I have been blind—blind! [She walks across the room in agitation.] Where has he gone, I wonder? We don't even know that—where he is!
VICAR [making a movement]. Perhaps Manson . . .
AUNTIE. No, no, no: it must be ourselves . . .
Ten minutest—And no assistance on his side: we can't expect it, after our treatment of him. He will hate me most of all: there's the chief difficulty! . . .
VICAR. You would say me, if you had seen his face and heard his voice this morning!
AUNTIE. God help us. God pity us!
VICAR. Amen . . .
Then, there's the child, too! That difficulty must be faced.
AUNTIE. Yes—no escape! We shall have to pay the whole debt, William: I see that.
VICAR. Who knows! Perhaps the child will have to pay most, when all is done.
AUNTIE. The innocent for the guilty—yes . . . Oh, William, William, can you ever forgive me?
VICAR. There is much to forgive, both sides, Martha. My sin has been greater than yours. You have only loved unworthily in blindness: I have seen clearly and been a coward.
[Enter MARY from the garden.]
Mary! . . .
MARY. Let me speak, uncle. I have been thinking, out there in the garden—thinking very hard: I've been trying to put things together again and make them straight; but it's still very difficult. Only there's one thing—I'm sorry I was unkind just now: I didn't mean it: you are everything I have—everything I have ever had; and as for what uncle said—about himself, I mean—I can't believe it. No, I'm sure there's a mistake somewhere; and mistakes can always be put right, if we only help one another and mean it. Shall we try, uncle? Shall we, auntie?
AUNTIE. If it's not too late! . . .
MARY. It can't be too late, auntie dear, if we all wish very hard. I was a coward to give up wishing. That was my sin, too!
AUNTIE. God knows, I wish, Mary! . . .
VICAR. And I! . . .
MARY. And, indeed, I do! . . .
Now, I've been thinking: I've been trying to look the worst in the face. Supposing my father is the wicked man you say—the very, very wickedest man that ever lived, don't you think if we tried to love him very much it might make a difference?
VICAR. What made you think of that, Mary? . . .
MARY [simply]. It's what you taught me, uncle, in your sermons.
VICAR. I taught you? . . .
MARY. Yes: and, besides, there's another reason. . . I've been thinking of the poor man I met this morning.
AUNTIE. ) Yes . . . VICAR. ) What of him? . . .
MARY. He said he was a wicked man, and at first he looked so dreadfully wicked, I believed him; but when I began to look at him closely, and heard him talk about his little girl, everything seemed different! I could no more believe him, than I can believe you, uncle, when you say such awful things about yourself! I believe he was a much better man than he ever dreamed! And so I think we might find my father just the same, if he was properly loved and looked after!
VICAR [with determination]. Then listen to me, Mary: I have something to tell you: that very man you spoke to . . .
[ROGERS enters, his face betraying signs of his morning's affliction.]
ROGERS. Beg your pardon, sir; but . . .
VICAR. Yes, Rogers: what is it?
ROGERS. Mr. Manson sent me, sir; it ain't my fault! . . .
VICAR. Do explain yourself, Rogers!
ROGERS. Well, sir, it's a bit orkard: it's . . . I really don't know what you'll say, sir, I don't really . . .
VICAR [impatiently]. Come, come, come, what is it?
ROGERS. It's a man, sir!
VICAR. Well, there's nothing very extraordinary in that. Wants to see me, eh?
ROGERS. Yes, sir; and what's more, Mr. Manson told me to bring 'im in!
VICAR. Well, why don't you?
ROGERS. 'E's mucked up to the eyes, sir! Bin down the drains! It's the same chap as come an' made so free 'ere this mornin'!
[There is a general rapturous excitement.]
VICAR. Praise God! Shew him in at once!
ROGERS [flabbergasted]. What! In 'ere, sir? . . .
VICAR. Come, come, come!
[ROGERS'S cosmos is fast slipping away: he crawls abjectly to the door: his hand on the knob, he turns once more a face of bewildered inquiry upon the VICAR, who snaps his fingers impatiently.]
ROGERS [with a sickly smile]. 'E's just outside, sir.
[Opening the door, he whines.]
Oh, do come in.
[ROBERT enters, amply fulfilling the lad's description. The latter lags out, nauseated with the world.]
[ROBERT stands up stage, in the middle: AUNTIE and VICAR, down stage, one on either side. MARY with her aunt.]
ROBERT. Can I be 'eard civil in this 'ouse, if I speak a few words?
[They make a movement as towards him.]
'Old back! Don't you come near me! Don't you so much as speak till I've done! . . .
[To Auntie and Vicar respectively]. You don't know me: you don't know me . . . Understand?
There's no one 'ere as knows oo I am, excep' one little gel—'er over there. Now, keep quiet! 'Ere! . . .
[MARY goes up to him.]
Tell 'em oo I am.
MARY. Why, it's my friend—the man I was telling you about! The man who looks after the drains!
ROBERT. That's about it: I'm the drain-man, see? Thought you might be mistakin' me for—summat else, if you wasn't told. Now you know.
[MARY'S face, as she returns, bears the first dawn of an idea. The VICAR lifts a hand of warning to AUNTIE.]
VICAR. Go on.
ROBERT. That's what I come 'ere to talk abaht—my job. P'r'aps you'll think as it ain't a tasty subjic, before a lot o' nice, clean, respectable people as never 'ad anythin' worse on their fingers than a bit of lawn-dirt, playin' crokey; but some one 'as to see to the drains, some one 'as to clear up the muck of the world! I'm the one.
An' I'm 'ere to tell you about it.
AUNTIE [involuntarily]. Oh! . . .
ROBERT. You don't like that, ma'am? 'Urts your feelin's, eh?
AUNTIE. Yes; but not in the way you mean,
MARY. But you know, you really are a little unpleasant!
ROBERT. I'm not 'ere to be pleasant, young leddy: I'm 'ere to edicate you.
VICAR. Yes, I think I see!
AUNTIE [breathlessly]. Go on: go on!
ROBERT. Well, I come to this 'ouse this mornin', I don't mind ownin' it, in a rotten bad frame of mind: I 'ad a little job on 'and—a job a bit above my 'ead, an' it got me dahn an' worried me: yus it did—worried me. That young leddy 'll tell you wot I was like when she fust saw me: I looked that bad, she thought I come to steal summat! Well, p'r'aps I did, arter al!—summat as I 'ad no right to, summat as don't properly belong to a streaky swine like me. That was when she fust saw me; but I was wuss before that, I tell you strite!
MARY [self-consciously]. What changed you?
ROBERT. A bloke I met, miss, as knowed me better than I knowed myself. 'E changed me.
AUNTIE. ) Manson! . . . VICAR. ) Manson! . . . MARY. ) Oh, I thought, perhaps . . .
ROBERT. Don't know 'is name; 'e was a fair knock-aht— Got togs on 'im like an Earl's Court Exhibition . . . 'E changed me: 'e taught me my own mind; 'e brought me back to my own job—drains.
AUNTIE. Yes . . .
ROBERT. Funny thing, ma'am, peopled born different: some's born without noses in their 'eads, worth speakin' of. I wasn't—I can smell out a stink anywhere.
AUNTIE [fascinated]. I am sure you can. This is most interesting!
ROBERT [warming]. Moment I stuck my 'ead in this 'ouse, I knowed as summat was wrong in my line, and I ses to myself: Wot oh, 'e ain't such an awl-mighty liar, arter all—that's drains! An' drains it was, strike me dead—arskin' your pawdon!
MARY, Now, didn't I always say . . .
ROBERT. Yus, miss, you're one o' the nosey uns, I can see! Well, soon as ole Togs got done with 'is talk, I got my smeller dahn, follered up the scent, an' afore I knowed where I was, I was in it, up to my eyes!—Out there in the room with the blood-red 'eap o' books! Blimey, you never did see! Muck, ma'am!—Just look at my 'ands! Ain't that pretty?
'Owever, I got there, right enough, I don't fink! Fancy I put that little bit strite afore I done!
AUNTIE. Oh, this is too beautiful of you! . . .
ROBERT [burning with enthusiasm, and manifestly affected by her appreciation]. Wait a bit: I got more yet! Talk abaht bee-utiful!—That bit was on'y an ash-pan! Look 'ere, ma'am, I got the loveliest little job on as ever yer soiled yer 'ands in! . . .
MARY. Oh, do tell us! . . .
AUNTIE. ) Yes, do! . . . VICAR. ) Yes, yes! . . .
[A splendid rapture infects them all.]
ROBERT. I followed up that drain—I wasn't goin' to stick till kingdom come inside your little mouse-'ole out there: No, I said, Where's this leadin to? What's the 'ell-an-glory use o' flushin' out this blarsted bit of a sink, with devil-know-wot stinkin' cess-pool at the end of it! That's wot I said, ma'am! . . .
AUNTIE. Very rightly! I see! I see! . . .
ROBERT. So up I go through the sludge, puffin' an' blowin' like a bally ole cart-'orse—strooth, it seemed miles! Talk abaht bee-utiful, ma'am, it ud 'a' done your 'eart good, it would really! Rats!—'Undreds on em, ma'am: I'm bitten clean through in places! 'Owever, I pushed my way through, somehow, 'oldin' my nose an fightin' for my breath, till at last I got to the end—and then I soon saw wot was the matter! . . .
It's under the church—that's where it is! I know it's the church, cos I 'eard "The Church's One Foundation" on the orgin, rumblin' up over my 'ead! Well, I . . .
ALL. Yes . . . yes . . .
AUNTIE. Why don't you go on? . . .
ROBERT. You'd never guess wot I saw there, not if you was to try from now till glory 'allelooyer! . . .
The biggest back-'ander, I ever did 'av', swelp me! . . .
[They hang on his words expectantly.]
IT AIN'T NO DRAIN AT ALL!
ALL [breathlessly]. Why, what is it, then? . . .
ROBERT. IT'S A GRIVE!
ALL. A grave! . . .
ROBERT. Yus, one o' them whoppin' great beer-vaults as you shove big bugses' corpses inter! What d'yer think o' that now?
MARY. ) Oh! . . . AUNTIE. ) Horrible! . . .
VICAR. I seem to remember some tradition . . .
ROBERT, You'd 'a' said so if you'd seen wot I seen! Talk abaht corfins an' shrouds an' bones an' dead men gone to rot, they wasn't in it, wot I saw dahn there! Madame Twosoes is a flea-bite to it! Lord!—I never thought there could be such a lot o' muck an' dead things all in one place before! It was a fair treat, it was, I tek my oath! . . .
[Rapturously]. Why—why, it may cost a man 'is LIFE to deal with that little job!
VICAR. My God! The thing's impossible!
ROBERT. Impossible! Means a bit of work, that's all!
VICAR. Why, no one would ever dare . . .
ROBERT. Dare! Why, wot d'you think I come 'ere for? . . .
VICAR. You! . . .
ROBERT. Yus—makin' myself unpleasant . . .
VICAR. Do you mean . . . Do I understand . . .
ROBERT. I mean as I've found my place, or I don't know a good thing when I see it!
AUNTIE. What! To go into that dreadful vault, and . . .
ROBERT. Why not: ain't it my job?
AUNTIE. But you said—perhaps—death . . .
ROBERT. It's worth it, it's a lovely bit of work!
VICAR. No, ten thousand times, no! The sacrifice is too much!
ROBERT. You call that sacrifice?—It's fun: not 'arf!
VICAR. I had rather see the church itself . . .
ROBERT. What, you call yourself a clergyman!
VICAR. I call myself nothing: I am nothing—less than nothing in all this living world!
ROBERT. By God, but I call myself summat—I'M THE DRAIN-MAN, THAT'S WOT I AM!
VICAR [feverishly]. You shall not go! . . .
ROBERT. Why, wot is there to fear? Ain't it worth while, to move away that load o' muck!
VICAR. The stench—the horror—the darkness . . .
ROBERT. What's it matter, if the comrides up above 'av' light an' joy an' a breath of 'olesome air to sing by? . . .
VICAR. Hour by hour—dying—alone . . .
ROBERT. The comrides up in the spans an arches, joinin' 'ands . . .
VICAR. Fainter and fainter, below there, and at last—an endless silence! . . .
ROBERT. 'Igh in the dome, the 'ammerin's of the comrides as 'av' climbed aloft!
AUNTIE. William, there is yet one other way! . . .
VICAR. Yes, yes, I see: I see! . . . [To ROBERT]. Then—you mean to go?
ROBERT. By 'Eaven, yus!
VICAR. Then, by God and all the powers of grace, you shall not go alone! Off with these lies and make-believes! Off with these prisoner's shackles! They cramp, they stifle me! Freedom! Freedom! This is no priest's work—it calls for a man! . . .
[He tears off his parson's coat and collar, casting them furiously aside. He rolls up his sleeves.]
Now, if you're ready, Comrade: you and I together!
AUNTIE. God's might go with you, William! Accept him, Christ!
[There is a silence. Then ROBERT speaks with slow consideration.]
ROBERT. I—don't—know. It's dangerous, you understand!
VICAR. I go with you.
ROBERT. This ain't psalms an 'ymns an' ole maids' tea-parties, mind you! It may mean typhoid!
VICAR. I understand.
ROBERT. They don't leave you alone: they got teeth, remember—poison in 'em!
VICAR. I will go with you.
[A slight pause. Then ROBERT, dropping into a quite ordinary tone, says.]
ROBERT. Then let's 'av' summat so eat, an' get along. There's nuthin' more to say.
MARY [inspired]. Yes, there is!
ROBERT. What do you mean, miss?
MARY. I mean that I understand: that I know who you are.
ROBERT. Me? . . .
MARY [simply]. Yes, you are my father.
ROBERT. 'Ow the everlastin' did you know that?
MARY [going up to him]. Because you are my wish come true: because you are brave, because you are very beautiful, because you are good!
ROBERT. My little kid! My little kid!
[They embrace each other.]
VICAR. Robert! [Taking his left hand].
AUNTIE. Brother! [Taking his other hand.]
[They form a kind of cross.]
[MANSON and ROGERS re-enter with table-cloth, etc., for lunch.]
MANSON. Come along, Rogers. Take that end.
[They lay the cloth, as it were with ceremonial gravity, MANSON being at the upper end of the table. They pay no heed to the others, who watch them interestedly.]
ROBERT. I could just do with a good, square feed. My work meks me 'ungry.
MANSON. Flowers, Rogers.
[ROGERS brings vase from side-board and places it on the VICAR'S side of the table. MANSON removes it to a more communal position. Presently looking up, he sees the group to his left watching him.]
Oh, beg pardon, sir: perhaps you'd like to know—the Bishop of Benares is here.
VICAR. What, already! Let's have him in at once!
[MANSON deliberates with the flowers before he speaks.]
MANSON. He is here.
[The VICAR crosses towards him.]
VICAR. What do you mean? Where is he?
[MANSON looks at him over the flowers.]
[The VICAR steps back, gazing at him. After a moment he gasps.]
VICAR. In God's name, who are you?
MANSON. In God's Name—your brother.
[He holds out his hand. The VICAR takes it, sinking to his knees and sobbing as one broken yet healed.]
[The curtain descends slowly.]