DAVID. Very fine imitation. It's a capital house, Maggie.
MAGGIE. I'm so glad you like it. Do you know one another? This is my father and my brothers, Lady Sybil.
[The lovely form inclines towards them. ALICK and DAVID remain firm on their legs, but JAMES totters.]
JAMES. A ladyship! Well done, Maggie.
ALICK [sharply]. James! I remember you, my lady.
MAGGIE. Sit down, father. This is the study.
[JAMES wanders round it inquisitively until called to order.]
SYBIL. You must be tired after your long journey.
DAVID [drawing the portraits of himself and partners in one lightning sketch]. Tired, your ladyship? We sat on cushioned seats the whole way.
JAMES [looking about him for the chair you sit on]. Every seat in this room is cushioned.
MAGGIE. You may say all my life is cushioned now, James, by this dear man of mine.
[She gives JOHN'S shoulder a loving pressure, which SYBIL feels is a telegraphic communication to herself in a cypher that she cannot read. ALICK and the BROTHERS bask in the evidence of MAGGIE's happiness.]
JOHN [uncomfortably]. And is Elizabeth hearty, James?
JAMES [looking down his nose in the manner proper to young husbands when addressed about their wives]. She's very well, I thank you kindly.
MAGGIE. James is a married man now, Lady Sybil.
[SYBIL murmurs her congratulations.]
JAMES. I thank you kindly. [Courageously] Yes, I'm married. [He looks at DAVID and ALICK to see if they are smiling; and they are.] It wasn't a case of being catched; it was entirely of my own free will. [He looks again; and the mean fellows are smiling still.] Is your ladyship married?
SYBIL. Alas! no.
DAVID. James! [Politely.] You will be yet, my lady.
[SYBIL indicates that he is kind indeed.]
JOHN. Perhaps they would like you to show them their rooms, Maggie?
DAVID. Fine would we like to see all the house as well as the sleeping accommodation. But first—[He gives his father the look with which chairmen call on the next speaker.]
ALICK. I take you, David. [He produces a paper parcel from a roomy pocket.] It wasn't likely, Mr. Shand, that we should forget the day.
JOHN. The day?
DAVID. The second anniversary of your marriage. We came purposely for the day.
JAMES [his fingers itching to take the parcel from his father]. It's a lace shawl, Maggie, from the three of us, a pure Tobermory; you would never dare wear it if you knew the cost.
[The shawl in its beauty is revealed, and MAGGIE hails it with little cries of joy. She rushes at the donors and kisses each of them just as if she were a pretty woman. They are much pleased and give expression to their pleasure in a not very dissimilar manner.]
JOHN. It's a very fine shawl.
[He should not have spoken, for he has set JAMES'S volatile mind working.]
JAMES. You may say so. What did you give her, Mr. Shand?
JOHN [suddenly deserted by God and man]. Me?
ALICK. Yes, yes, let's see it.
[He is not deserted by MAGGIE, but she can think of no way out.]
SYBIL [prompted by the impediment, which is in hiding, quite close]. Did he ... forget?
[There is more than a touch of malice in the question. It is a challenge, and the Wylies as a family are almost too quick to accept a challenge.]
MAGGIE [lifting the gage of battle]. John forget? Never! It's a pendant, father.
[The impediment bolts. JOHN rises.]
ALICK. A pendant? One of those things on a chain?
[He grins, remembering how once, about sixty years ago, he and a lady and a pendant—but we have no time for this.]
DAVID [who has felt the note of antagonism and is troubled]. You were slow in speaking of it, Mr. Shand.
MAGGIE [This is her fight.] He was shy, because he thought you might blame him for extravagance.
DAVID [relieved]. Oh, that's it.
JAMES [licking his lips]. Let's see it.
MAGGIE [a daughter of the devil]. Where did you put it, John?
[JOHN's mouth opens but has nothing to contribute.]
SYBIL [the impediment has stolen back again]. Perhaps it has been ... mislaid.
[The BROTHERS echo the word incredulously.]
MAGGIE. Not it. I can't think where we laid it down, John. It's not on that table, is it, James? [The Wylies turn to look, and MAGGIE's hand goes out to LADY SYBIL: JOHN SHAND, witness. It is a very determined hand, and presently a pendant is placed in it.] Here it is! [ALICK and the BROTHERS cluster round it, weigh it and appraise it.]
ALICK. Preserve me. Is that stone real, Mr. Shand?
JOHN [who has begun to look his grimmest]. Yes.
MAGGIE [who is now ready, if he wishes it, to take him on too]. John says it's a drop of his blood.
JOHN [wishing it]. And so it is.
DAVID. Well said, Mr. Shand.
MAGGIE [scared]. And now, if you'll come with me, I think John has something he wants to talk over with Lady Sybil. [Recovering and taking him on.] Or would you prefer, John, to say it before us all?
SYBIL [gasping]. No!
JOHN [flinging back his head]. Yes, I prefer to say it before you all.
MAGGIE [flinging back hers]. Then sit down again.
[The WYLIES wonderingly obey.]
SYBIL. Mr. Shand, Mr. Shand!—
JOHN. Maggie knows, and it was only for her I was troubled. Do you think I'm afraid of them? [With mighty relief] Now we can be open.
DAVID [lowering]. What is it? What's wrong, John Shand?
JOHN [facing him squarely]. It was to Lady Sybil I gave the pendant, and all my love with it. [Perhaps JAMES utters a cry, but the silence of ALICK and DAVID is more terrible.]
SYBIL [whose voice is smaller than we had thought]. What are you to do?
[It is to MAGGIE she is speaking.]
DAVID. She'll leave it for us to do.
JOHN. That's what I want.
[The lords of creation look at the ladies.]
MAGGIE [interpreting]. You and I are expected to retire, Lady Sybil, while the men decide our fate. [SYBIL is ready to obey the law, but MAGGIE remains seated.] Man's the oak, woman's the ivy. Which of us is it that's to cling to you, John?
[With three stalwarts glaring at him, JOHN rather grandly takes SYBIL'S hand. They are two against the world.]
SYBIL [a heroine]. I hesitated, but I am afraid no longer; whatever he asks of me I will do.
[Evidently the first thing he asks of her is to await him in the dining-room.]
It will mean surrendering everything for him. I am glad it means all that. [She passes into the dining-room looking as pretty as a kiss.]
MAGGIE. So that settles it.
ALICK. I'm thinking that doesn't settle it.
DAVID. No, by God! [But his love for MAGGIE steadies him. There is even a note of entreaty in his voice.] Have you nothing to say to her, man?
JOHN. I have things to say to her, but not before you.
DAVID [sternly]. Go away, Maggie. Leave him to us.
JAMES [who thinks it is about time that he said something]. Yes, leave him to us.
MAGGIE. No, David, I want to hear what is to become of me; I promise not to take any side.
[And sitting by the fire she resumes her knitting. The four regard her as on an evening at The Pans a good many years ago.]
DAVID [barking]. How long has this been going on?
JOHN. If you mean how long has that lady been the apple of my eye, I'm not sure; but I never told her of it until today.
MAGGIE [thoughtfully and without dropping a stitch]. I think it wasn't till about six months ago, John, that she began to be very dear to you. At first you liked to bring in her name when talking to me, so that I could tell you of any little things I might have heard she was doing. But afterwards, as she became more and more to you, you avoided mentioning her name.
JOHN [surprised]. Did you notice that?
MAGGIE [in her old-fashioned way]. Yes.
JOHN. I tried to be done with it for your sake. I've often had a sore heart for you, Maggie.
JAMES. You're proving it!
MAGGIE. Yes, James, he had. I've often seen him looking at me very sorrowfully of late because of what was in his mind; and many a kindly little thing he has done for me that he didn't use to do.
JOHN. You noticed that too!
DAVID [controlling himself]. Well, we won't go into that; the thing to be thankful for is that it's ended.
ALICK [who is looking very old]. Yes, yes, that's the great thing.
JOHN. All useless, sir, it's not ended; it's to go on.
DAVID. There's a devil in you, John Shand.
JOHN [who is an unhappy man just now]. I dare say there is. But do you think he had a walk over, Mr. David?
JAMES. Man, I could knock you down!
MAGGIE. There's not one of you could knock John down.
DAVID [exasperated]. Quiet, Maggie. One would think you were taking his part.
MAGGIE. Do you expect me to desert him at the very moment that he needs me most?
DAVID. It's him that's deserting you.
JOHN. Yes, Maggie, that's what it is.
ALICK. Where's your marriage vow? And your church attendances?
JAMES [with terrible irony]. And your prize for moral philosophy?
JOHN [recklessly]. All gone whistling down the wind.
DAVID. I suppose you understand that you'll have to resign your seat.
JOHN [his underlip much in evidence]. There are hundreds of seats, but there's only one John Shand.
MAGGIE [but we don't hear her]. That's how I like to hear him speak.
DAVID [the ablest person in the room]. Think, man, I'm old by you, and for long I've had a pride in you. It will be beginning the world again with more against you than there was eight years ago.
JOHN. I have a better head to begin it with than I had eight years ago.
ALICK [hoping this will bite]. She'll have her own money, David!
JOHN. She's as poor as a mouse.
JAMES [thinking possibly of his Elizabeth's mother]. We'll go to her friends, and tell them all. They'll stop it.
JOHN. She's of age.
JAMES. They'll take her far away.
JOHN. I'll follow, and tear her from them.
ALICK. Your career—-
JOHN [to his credit]. To hell with my career. Do you think I don't know I'm on the rocks? What can you, or you, or you, understand of the passions of a man! I've fought, and I've given in. When a ship founders, as I suppose I'm foundering, it's not a thing to yelp at. Peace, all of you. [He strides into the dining-room, where we see him at times pacing the floor.]
DAVID [to JAMES, who gives signs of a desire to take off his coat]. Let him be. We can't budge him. [With bitter wisdom] It's true what he says, true at any rate about me. What do I know of the passions of a man! I'm up against something I don't understand.
ALICK. It's something wicked.
DAVID. I dare say it is, but it's something big.
JAMES. It's that damned charm.
MAGGIE [still by the fire]. That's it. What was it that made you fancy Elizabeth, James?
JAMES [sheepishly]. I can scarcely say.
MAGGIE. It was her charm.
DAVID. HER charm!
JAMES [pugnaciously]. Yes, HER charm.
MAGGIE. She had charm for James.
[This somehow breaks them up. MAGGIE goes from one to another with an odd little smile flickering on her face.]
DAVID. Put on your things, Maggie, and we'll leave his house.
MAGGIE [patting his kind head]. Not me, David.
[This is a MAGGIE they have known but forgotten; all three brighten.]
DAVID. You haven't given in!
[The smile flickers and expires.]
MAGGIE. I want you all to go upstairs, and let me have my try now.
JAMES. Your try?
ALICK. Maggie, you put new life into me.
JAMES. And into me.
[DAVID says nothing; the way he grips her shoulder says it for him.]
MAGGIE. I'll save him, David, if I can.
DAVID. Does he deserve to be saved after the way he has treated you?
MAGGIE. You stupid David. What has that to do with it.
[When they have gone, JOHN comes to the door of the dining-room. There is welling up in him a great pity for MAGGIE, but it has to subside a little when he sees that the knitting is still in her hand. No man likes to be so soon supplanted. SYBIL follows, and the two of them gaze at the active needles.]
MAGGIE [perceiving that she has visitors]. Come in, John. Sit down, Lady Sybil, and make yourself comfortable. I'm afraid we've put you about.
[She is, after all, only a few years older than they and scarcely looks her age; yet it must have been in some such way as this that the little old woman who lived in a shoe addressed her numerous progeny.]
JOHN. I'm mortal sorry, Maggie.
SYBIL [who would be more courageous if she could hold his hand]. And I also.
MAGGIE [soothingly]. I'm sure you are. But as it can't be helped I see no reason why we three shouldn't talk the matter over in a practical way.
[SYBIL looks doubtful, but JOHN hangs on desperately to the word practical.]
JOHN. If you could understand, Maggie, what an inspiration she is to me and my work.
SYBIL. Indeed, Mrs. Shand, I think of nothing else.
MAGGIE. That's fine. That's as it should be.
SYBIL [talking too much]. Mrs. Shand, I think you are very kind to take it so reasonably.
MAGGIE. That's the Scotch way. When were you thinking of leaving me, John?
[Perhaps this is the Scotch way also; but SYBIL is English, and from the manner in which she starts you would say that something has fallen on her toes.]
JOHN [who has heard nothing fall]. I think, now that it has come to a breach, the sooner the better. [His tone becomes that of JAMES when asked after the health of his wife.] When it is convenient to you, Maggie.
MAGGIE [making a rapid calculation]. It couldn't well be before Wednesday. That's the day the laundry comes home.
[SYBIL has to draw in her toes again.]
JOHN. And it's the day the House rises. [Stifling a groan] It may be my last appearance in the House.
SYBIL [her arms yearning for him]. No, no, please don't say that.
MAGGIE [surveying him sympathetically]. You love the House, don't you, John, next to her? It's a pity you can't wait till after your speech at Leeds. Mr. Venables won't let you speak at Leeds, I fear, if you leave me.
JOHN. What a chance it would have been. But let it go.
MAGGIE. The meeting is in less than a month. Could you not make it such a speech that they would be very loth to lose you?
JOHN [swelling]. That's what was in my mind.
SYBIL [with noble confidence]. And he could have done it.
MAGGIE. Then we've come to something practical.
JOHN [exercising his imagination with powerful effect]. No, it wouldn't be fair to you if I was to stay on now.
MAGGIE. Do you think I'll let myself be considered when your career is at stake. A month will soon pass for me; I'll have a lot of packing to do.
JOHN. It's noble of you, but I don't deserve it, and I can't take it from you.
MAGGIE. Now's the time, Lady Sybil, for you to have one of your inspiring ideas.
SYBIL [ever ready]. Yes, yes—but what?
[It is odd that they should both turn to MAGGIE at this moment.]
MAGGIE [who has already been saying it to herself]. What do you think of this: I can stay on here with my father and brothers; and you, John, can go away somewhere and devote yourself to your speech?
JOHN. That might be. [Considerately] Away from both of you. Where could I go?
SYBIL [ever ready]. Where?
MAGGIE. I know.
[She has called up a number on the telephone before they have time to check her.]
JOHN [on his dignity]. Don't be in such a hurry, Maggie.
MAGGIE. Is this Lamb's Hotel? Put me on to the Comtesse de la Briere, please.
SYBIL [with a sinking]. What do you want with Auntie?
MAGGIE. Her cottage in the country would be the very place. She invited John and me.
JOHN. Yes, but—
MAGGIE [arguing]. And Mr. Venables is to be there. Think of the impression you could make on HIM, seeing him daily for three weeks.
JOHN. There's something in that.
MAGGIE. Is it you, Comtesse? I'm Maggie Shand.
SYBIL. You are not to tell her that—?
MAGGIE. No. [To the COMTESSE] Oh, I'm very well, never was better. Yes, yes; you see I can't, because my folk have never been in London before, and I must take them about and show them the sights. But John could come to you alone; why not?
JOHN [with proper pride]. If she's not keen to have me, I won't go.
MAGGIE. She's very keen. Comtesse, I could come for a day by and by to see how you are getting on. Yes—yes—certainly. [To JOHN] She says she'll be delighted.
JOHN [thoughtfully]. You're not doing this, Maggie, thinking that my being absent from Sybil for a few weeks can make any difference? Of course it's natural you should want us to keep apart, but—
MAGGIE [grimly]. I'm founding no hope on keeping you apart, John.
JOHN. It's what other wives would do.
MAGGIE. I promised to be different.
JOHN [his position as a strong man assured]. Then tell her I accept. [He wanders back into the dining-room.]
SYBIL. I think—[she is not sure what she thinks]—I think you are very wonderful.
MAGGIE. Was that John calling to you?
SYBIL. Was it? [She is glad to join him in the dining-room.]
MAGGIE. Comtesse, hold the line a minute. [She is alone, and she has nearly reached the end of her self-control. She shakes emotionally and utters painful little cries; there is something she wants to do, and she is loth to do it. But she does it.] Are you there, Comtesse? There's one other thing, dear Comtesse; I want you to invite Lady Sybil also; yes, for the whole time that John is there. No, I'm not mad; as a great favour to me; yes, I have a very particular reason, but I won't tell you what it is; oh, call me Scotchy as much as you like, but consent; do, do, do. Thank you, thank you, good-bye.
[She has control of herself now, and is determined not to let it slip from her again. When they reappear the stubborn one is writing a letter.]
JOHN. I thought I heard the telephone again.
MAGGIE [looking up from her labours]. It was the Comtesse; she says she's to invite Lady Sybil to the cottage at the same time.
JOHN. To invite Sybil? Then of course I won't go, Maggie.
MAGGIE [wondering seemingly at these niceties]. What does it matter? Is anything to be considered except the speech? [It has been admitted that she was a little devil.] And, with Sybil on the spot, John, to help you and inspire you, what a speech it will be!
JOHN [carried away]. Maggie, you really are a very generous woman.
SYBIL [convinced at last]. She is indeed.
JOHN. And you're queer too. How many women in the circumstances would sit down to write a letter?
MAGGIE. It's a letter to you, John.
JOHN. To me?
MAGGIE. I'll give it to you when it's finished, but I ask you not to open it till your visit to the Comtesse ends.
JOHN. What is it about?
MAGGIE. It's practical.
SYBIL [rather faintly]. Practical? [She has heard the word so frequently to-day that it is beginning to have a Scotch sound. She feels she ought to like MAGGIE, but that she would like her better if they were farther apart. She indicates that the doctors are troubled about her heart, and murmuring her adieux she goes. JOHN, who is accompanying her, pauses at the door.]
JOHN [with a queer sort of admiration for his wife]. Maggie, I wish I was fond of you.
MAGGIE [heartily]. I wish you were, John.
[He goes, and she resumes her letter. The stocking is lying at hand, and she pushes it to the floor. She is done for a time with knitting.]
[Man's most pleasant invention is the lawn-mower. All the birds know this, and that is why, when it is at rest, there is always at least one of them sitting on the handle with his head cocked, wondering how the delicious whirring sound is made. When they find out, they will change their note. As it is, you must sometimes have thought that you heard the mower very early in the morning, and perhaps you peeped in neglige from your lattice window to see who was up so early. It was really the birds trying to get the note.
On this broiling morning, however, we are at noon, and whoever looks will see that the whirring is done by Mr. Venables. He is in a linen suit with the coat discarded (the bird is sitting on it), and he comes and goes across the Comtesse's lawns, pleasantly mopping his face. We see him through a crooked bowed window generously open, roses intruding into it as if to prevent its ever being closed at night; there are other roses in such armfuls on the tables that one could not easily say where the room ends and the garden begins.
In the Comtesse's pretty comic drawing-room (for she likes the comic touch when she is in England) sits John Shand with his hostess, on chairs at a great distance from each other. No linen garments for John, nor flannels, nor even knickerbockers; he envies the English way of dressing for trees and lawns, but is too Scotch to be able to imitate it; he wears tweeds, just as he would do in his native country where they would be in kilts. Like many another Scot, the first time he ever saw a kilt was on a Sassenach; indeed kilts were perhaps invented, like golf, to draw the English north. John is doing nothing, which again is not a Scotch accomplishment, and he looks rather miserable and dour. The Comtesse is already at her Patience cards, and occasionally she smiles on him as if not displeased with his long silence. At last she speaks:]
COMTESSE. I feel it rather a shame to detain you here on such a lovely day, Mr. Shand, entertaining an old woman.
JOHN. I don't pretend to think I'm entertaining you, Comtesse.
COMTESSE. But you ARE, you know.
JOHN. I would be pleased to be told how?
[She shrugs her impertinent shoulders, and presently there is another heavy sigh from JOHN.]
COMTESSE. Again! Why do not you go out on the river?
JOHN. Yes, I can do that. [He rises.]
COMTESSE. And take Sybil with you. [He sits again.] No?
JOHN. I have been on the river with her twenty times.
COMTESSE. Then take her for a long walk through the Fairloe woods.
JOHN. We were there twice last week.
COMTESSE. There is a romantically damp little arbour at the end of what the villagers call the Lovers' Lane.
JOHN. One can't go there every day. I see nothing to laugh at.
COMTESSE. Did I laugh? I must have been translating the situation into French.
[Perhaps the music of the lawn-mower is not to JOHN's mood, for he betakes himself to another room. MR. VENABLES pauses in his labours to greet a lady who has appeared on the lawn, and who is MAGGIE. She is as neat as if she were one of the army of typists [who are quite the nicest kind of women], and carries a little bag. She comes in through the window, and puts her hands over the COMTESSE's eyes.]
COMTESSE. They are a strong pair of hands, at any rate.
MAGGIE. And not very white, and biggish for my size. Now guess.
[The COMTESSE guesses, and takes both the hands in hers as if she valued them. She pulls off MAGGIE's hat as if to prevent her flying away.]
COMTESSE. Dear abominable one, not to let me know you were coming.
MAGGIE. It is just a surprise visit, Comtesse. I walked up from the station. [For a moment MAGGIE seems to have borrowed SYBIL'S impediment.] How is—everybody?
COMTESSE. He is quite well. But, my child, he seems to me to be a most unhappy man.
[This sad news does not seem to make a most unhappy woman of the child. The COMTESSE is puzzled, as she knows nothing of the situation save what she has discovered for herself.]
Why should that please you, O heartless one?
MAGGIE. I won't tell you.
COMTESSE. I could take you and shake you, Maggie. Here have I put my house at your disposal for so many days for some sly Scotch purpose, and you will not tell me what it is.
COMTESSE. Very well, then, but I have what you call a nasty one for you. [The COMTESSE lures MR. VENABLES into the room by holding up what might be a foaming glass of lemon squash.] Alas, Charles, it is but a flower vase. I want you to tell Mrs. Shand what you think of her husband's speech.
[MR. VENABLES gives his hostess a reproachful look.]
VENABLES. Eh—ah—Shand will prefer to do that himself. I promised the gardener—I must not disappoint him—excuse me—
COMTESSE. You must tell her, Charles.
MAGGIE. Please, Mr. Venables, I should like to know.
[He sits down with a sigh and obeys.]
VENABLES. Your husband has been writing the speech here, and by his own wish he read it to me three days ago. The occasion is to be an important one; and, well, there are a dozen young men in the party at present, all capable of filling a certain small ministerial post. [He looks longingly at the mower, but it sends no message to his aid.] And as he is one of them I was anxious that he should show in this speech of what he is capable.
MAGGIE. And hasn't he?
[Not for the first time MR. VENABLES wishes that he was not in politics.]
VENABLES. I am afraid he has.
COMTESSE. What is wrong with the speech, Charles?
VENABLES. Nothing—and he can still deliver it. It is a powerful, well-thought-out piece of work, such as only a very able man could produce. But it has no SPECIAL QUALITY of its own—none of the little touches that used to make an old stager like myself want to pat Shand on the shoulder. [The COMTESSE's mouth twitches, but MAGGIE declines to notice it.] He pounds on manfully enough, but, if I may say so, with a wooden leg. It is as good, I dare say, as the rest of them could have done; but they start with such inherited advantages, Mrs. Shand, that he had to do better.
MAGGIE. Yes, I can understand that.
VENABLES. I am sorry, Mrs. Shand, for he interested me. His career has set me wondering whether if I had begun as a railway porter I might not still be calling out, 'By your leave.'
[MAGGIE thinks it probable but not important]
MAGGIE. Mr. Venables, now that I think of it, surely John wrote to me that you were dissatisfied with his first speech, and that he was writing another.
[The COMTESSE's eyes open very wide indeed.]
VENABLES. I have heard nothing of that, Mrs. Shand. [He shakes his wise head.] And in any case, I am afraid—[He still hears the wooden leg.]
MAGGIE. But you said yourself that his second thoughts were sometimes such an improvement on the first.
[The COMTESSE comes to the help of the baggage.]
COMTESSE. I remember you saying that, Charles.
VENABLES. Yes, that has struck me. [Politely] Well, if he has anything to show me—In the meantime—
[He regains the lawn, like one glad to escape attendance at JOHN'S obsequies. The COMTESSE is brought back to speech by the sound of the mower—nothing wooden in it.]
COMTESSE. What are you up to now, Miss Pin? You know as well as I do that there is no such speech.
[MAGGIE's mouth tightens.]
MAGGIE. I do not.
COMTESSE. It is a duel, is it, my friend?
[The COMTESSE rings the bell and MAGGIE's guilty mind is agitated.]
MAGGIE. What are you ringing for?
COMTESSE. As the challenged one, Miss Pin, I have the choice of weapons. I am going to send for your husband to ask him if he has written such a speech. After which, I suppose, you will ask me to leave you while you and he write it together.
[MAGGIE wrings her hands.]
MAGGIE. You are wrong, Comtesse; but please don't do that.
COMTESSE. You but make me more curious, and my doctor says that I must be told everything. [The COMTESSE assumes the pose of her sex in melodrama.] Put your cards on the table, Maggie Shand, or—[She indicates that she always pinks her man. MAGGIE dolefully produces a roll of paper from her bag.] What precisely is that?
[The reply is little more than a squeak.]
MAGGIE. John's speech.
COMTESSE. You have written it yourself!
[MAGGIE is naturally indignant.]
MAGGIE. It's typed.
COMTESSE. You guessed that the speech he wrote unaided would not satisfy, and you prepared this to take its place!
MAGGIE. Not at all, Comtesse. It is the draft of his speech that he left at home. That's all.
COMTESSE. With a few trivial alterations by yourself, I swear. Can you deny it?
[No wonder that MAGGIE is outraged. She replaces JOHN's speech in the bag with becoming hauteur.]
MAGGIE. Comtesse, these insinuations are unworthy of you. May I ask where is my husband?
[The COMTESSE drops her a curtsey.]
COMTESSE. I believe your Haughtiness may find him in the Dutch garden. Oh, I see through you. You are not to show him your speech. But you are to get him to write another one, and somehow all your additions will be in it. Think not, creature, that you can deceive one so old in iniquity as the Comtesse de la Briere.
[There can be but one reply from a good wife to such a charge, and at once the COMTESSE is left alone with her shame. Anon a footman appears. You know how they come and go.]
FOOTMAN. You rang, my lady?
COMTESSE. Did I? Ah, yes, but why? [He is but lately from the ploughshare and cannot help her. In this quandary her eyes alight upon the bag. She is unfortunately too abandoned to feel her shame; she still thinks that she has the choice of weapons. She takes the speech from the bag and bestows it on her servitor.] Take this to Mr. Venables, please, and say it is from Mr. Shand. [THOMAS—but in the end we shall probably call him JOHN—departs with the dangerous papers; and when MAGGIE returns she finds that the COMTESSE is once more engaged in her interrupted game of Patience.] You did not find him?
[All the bravery has dropped from MAGGIE's face.]
MAGGIE. I didn't see him, but I heard him. SHE is with him. I think they are coming here.
[The COMTESSE is suddenly kind again.]
COMTESSE. Sybil? Shall I get rid of her?
MAGGIE. No, I want her to be here, too. Now I shall know.
[The COMTESSE twists the little thing round.]
COMTESSE. Know what?
MAGGIE. As soon as I look into his face I shall know.
[A delicious scent ushers in the fair SYBIL, who is as sweet as a milking stool. She greets MRS. SHAND with some alarm.]
MAGGIE. How do you do, Lady Sybil? How pretty you look in that frock. [SYBIL rustles uncomfortably.] You are a feast to the eye.
SYBIL. Please, I wish you would not.
[Shall we describe SYBIL'S frock, in which she looks like a great strawberry that knows it ought to be plucked; or would it be easier to watch the coming of JOHN? Let us watch JOHN.]
JOHN. You, Maggie! You never wrote that you were coming.
[No, let us watch MAGGIE. As soon as she looked into his face she was to know something of importance.]
MAGGIE [not dissatisfied with what she sees]. No, John, it's a surprise visit. I just ran down to say good-bye.
[At this his face falls, which does not seem to pain her.]
SYBIL [foreseeing another horrible Scotch scene]. To say good-bye?
COMTESSE [thrilling with expectation]. To whom, Maggie?
SYBIL [deserted by the impediment, which is probably playing with rough boys in the Lovers' Lane]. Auntie, do leave us, won't you?
COMTESSE. Not I. It is becoming far too interesting.
MAGGIE. I suppose there's no reason the Comtesse shouldn't be told, as she will know so soon at any rate?
JOHN. That's so. [SYBIL sees with discomfort that he is to be practical also.]
MAGGIE. It's so simple. You see, Comtesse, John and Lady Sybil have fallen in love with one another, and they are to go off as soon as the meeting at Leeds has taken place.
[The COMTESSE's breast is too suddenly introduced to Caledonia and its varied charms.]
COMTESSE. Mon Dieu!
MAGGIE. I think that's putting it correctly, John.
JOHN. In a sense. But I'm not to attend the meeting at Leeds. My speech doesn't find favour. [With a strange humility] There's something wrong with it.
COMTESSE. I never expected to hear you say that, Mr. Shand.
JOHN [wondering also]. I never expected it myself. I meant to make it the speech of my career. But somehow my hand seems to have lost its cunning.
COMTESSE. And you don't know how?
JOHN. It's inexplicable. My brain was never clearer.
COMTESSE. You might have helped him, Sybil.
SYBIL [quite sulkily]. I did.
COMTESSE. But I thought she was such an inspiration to you, Mr. Shand.
JOHN [going bravely to SYBIL'S side]. She slaved at it with me.
COMTESSE. Strange. [Wickedly becoming practical also] So now there is nothing to detain you. Shall I send for a fly, Sybil?
SYBIL [with a cry of the heart]. Auntie, do leave us.
COMTESSE. I can understand your impatience to be gone, Mr. Shand.
JOHN [heavily]. I promised Maggie to wait till the 24th, and I'm a man of my word.
MAGGIE. But I give you back your word, John. You can go now.
[JOHN looks at SYBIL, and SYBIL looks at JOHN, and the impediment arrives in time to take a peep at both of them.]
SYBIL [groping for the practical, to which we must all come in the end]. He must make satisfactory arrangements about you first. I insist on that.
MAGGIE [with no more imagination than a hen]. Thank you, Lady Sybil, but I have made all my arrangements.
JOHN [stung]. Maggie, that was my part.
MAGGIE. You see, my brothers feel they can't be away from their business any longer; and so, if it would be convenient to you, John, I could travel north with them by the night train on Wednesday.
SYBIL. I—I——The way you put things—-!
JOHN. This is just the 21st.
MAGGIE. My things are all packed. I think you'll find the house in good order, Lady Sybil. I have had the vacuum cleaners in. I'll give you the keys of the linen and the silver plate; I have them in that bag. The carpet on the upper landing is a good deal frayed, but—-
SYBIL. Please, I don't want to hear any more.
MAGGIE. The ceiling of the dining-room would be the better of a new lick of paint—-
SYBIL [stamping her foot, small fours]. Can't you stop her?
JOHN [soothingly]. She's meaning well. Maggie, I know it's natural to you to value those things, because your outlook on life is bounded by them; but all this jars on me.
MAGGIE. Does it?
JOHN. Why should you be so ready to go?
MAGGIE. I promised not to stand in your way.
JOHN [stoutly]. You needn't be in such a hurry. There are three days to run yet. [The French are so different from us that we shall probably never be able to understand why the COMTESSE laughed aloud here.] It's just a joke to the Comtesse.
COMTESSE. It seems to be no joke to you, Mr. Shand. Sybil, my pet, are you to let him off?
SYBIL [flashing]. Let him off? If he wishes it. Do you?
JOHN [manfully]. I want it to go on. [Something seems to have caught in his throat: perhaps it is the impediment trying a temporary home.] It's the one wish of my heart. If you come with me, Sybil, I'll do all in a man's power to make you never regret it.
[Triumph of the Vere de Veres.]
MAGGIE [bringing them back to earth with a dump]. And I can make my arrangements for Wednesday?
SYBIL [seeking the COMTESSE's protection]. No, you can't. Auntie, I am not going on with this. I'm very sorry for you, John, but I see now—I couldn't face it—-
[She can't face anything at this moment except the sofa pillows.]
COMTESSE [noticing JOHN'S big sigh of relief]. So THAT is all right, Mr. Shand!
MAGGIE. Don't you love her any more, John? Be practical.
SYBIL [to the pillows]. At any rate I have tired of him. Oh, best to tell the horrid truth. I am ashamed of myself. I have been crying my eyes out over it—I thought I was such a different kind of woman. But I am weary of him. I think him—oh, so dull.
JOHN [his face lighting up]. Are you sure that is how you have come to think of me?
SYBIL. I'm sorry; [with all her soul] but yes—yes—yes.
JOHN. By God, it's more than I deserve.
COMTESSE. Congratulations to you both.
[SYBIL runs away; and in the fulness of time she married successfully in cloth of silver, which was afterwards turned into a bed-spread.]
MAGGIE. You haven't read my letter yet, John, have you?
COMTESSE [imploringly]. May I know to what darling letter you refer?
MAGGIE. It's a letter I wrote to him before he left London. I gave it to him closed, not to be opened until his time here was ended.
JOHN [as his hand strays to his pocket]. Am I to read it now?
MAGGIE. Not before her. Please go away, Comtesse.
COMTESSE. Every word you say makes me more determined to remain.
MAGGIE. It will hurt you, John. [Distressed] Don't read it; tear it up.
JOHN. You make me very curious, Maggie. And yet I don't see what can be in it.
COMTESSE. But you feel a little nervous? Give ME the dagger.
MAGGIE [quickly]. No. [But the COMTESSE has already got it.]
COMTESSE. May I? [She must have thought they said Yes, for she opens the letter. She shares its contents with them.] 'Dearest John, It is at my request that the Comtesse is having Lady Sybil at the cottage at the same time as yourself.'
COMTESSE. Yes, she begged me to invite you together.
JOHN. But why?
MAGGIE. I promised you not to behave as other wives would do.
JOHN. It's not understandable.
COMTESSE. 'You may ask why I do this, John, and my reason is, I think that after a few weeks of Lady Sybil, every day, and all day, you will become sick to death of her. I am also giving her the chance to help you and inspire you with your work, so that you may both learn what her help and her inspiration amount to. Of course, if your love is the great strong passion you think it, then those weeks will make you love her more than ever and I can only say good-bye. But if, as I suspect, you don't even now know what true love is, then by the next time we meet, dear John, you will have had enough of her.—Your affectionate wife, Maggie.' Oh, why was not Sybil present at the reading of the will! And now, if you two will kindly excuse me, I think I must go and get that poor sufferer the eau de Cologne.
JOHN. It's almost enough to make a man lose faith in himself.
COMTESSE. Oh, don't say that, Mr. Shand.
MAGGIE [defending him]. You mustn't hurt him. If you haven't loved deep and true, that's just because you have never met a woman yet, John, capable of inspiring it.
COMTESSE [putting her hand on MAGGIE's shoulder]. Have you not, Mr. Shand?
JOHN. I see what you mean. But Maggie wouldn't think better of me for any false pretences. She knows my feelings for her now are neither more nor less than what they have always been.
MAGGIE [who sees that he is looking at her as solemnly as a volume of sermons printed by request]. I think no one could be fond of me that can't laugh a little at me.
JOHN. How could that help?
COMTESSE [exasperated]. Mr. Shand, I give you up.
MAGGIE. I admire his honesty.
COMTESSE. Oh, I give you up also. Arcades ambo. Scotchies both.
JOHN [when she has gone]. But this letter, it's not like you. By Gosh, Maggie, you're no fool.
[She beams at this, as any wife would.]
But how could I have made such a mistake? It's not like a strong man. [Evidently he has an inspiration.]
MAGGIE. What is it?
JOHN [the inspiration]. AM I a strong man?
MAGGIE. You? Of course you are. And self-made. Has anybody ever helped you in the smallest way?
JOHN [thinking it out again]. No, nobody.
MAGGIE. Not even Lady Sybil?
JOHN. I'm beginning to doubt it. It's very curious, though, Maggie, that this speech should be disappointing.
MAGGIE. It's just that Mr. Venables hasn't the brains to see how good it is.
JOHN. That must be it. [But he is too good a man to rest satisfied with this.] No, Maggie, it's not. Somehow I seem to have lost my neat way of saying things.
MAGGIE [almost cooing]. It will come back to you.
JOHN [forlorn]. If you knew how I've tried.
MAGGIE [cautiously]. Maybe if you were to try again; and I'll just come and sit beside you, and knit. I think the click of the needles sometimes put you in the mood.
JOHN. Hardly that; and yet many a Shandism have I knocked off while you were sitting beside me knitting. I suppose it was the quietness.
MAGGIE. Very likely.
JOHN [with another inspiration]. Maggie!
MAGGIE [again]. What is it, John?
JOHN. What if it was you that put those queer ideas into my head!
JOHN. Without your knowing it, I mean.
MAGGIE. But how?
JOHN. We used to talk bits over; and it may be that you dropped the seed, so to speak.
MAGGIE. John, could it be this, that I sometimes had the idea in a rough womanish sort of way and then you polished it up till it came out a Shandism?
JOHN [slowly slapping his knee]. I believe you've hit it, Maggie: to think that you may have been helping me all the time—and neither of us knew it!
[He has so nearly reached a smile that no one can say what might have happened within the next moment if the COMTESSE had not reappeared.]
COMTESSE. Mr. Venables wishes to see you, Mr. Shand.
JOHN [lost, stolen, or strayed a smile in the making]. Hum!
COMTESSE. He is coming now.
JOHN [grumpy]. Indeed!
COMTESSE [sweetly]. It is about your speech.
JOHN. He has said all he need say on that subject, and more.
COMTESSE [quaking a little]. I think it is about the second speech.
JOHN. What second speech?
[MAGGIE runs to her bag and opens it.]
MAGGIE [horrified]. Comtesse, you have given it to him!
COMTESSE [impudently]. Wasn't I meant to?
JOHN. What is it? What second speech?
MAGGIE. Cruel, cruel. [Willing to go on her knees] You had left the first draft of your speech at home, John, and I brought it here with— with a few little things I've added myself.
JOHN [a seven-footer]. What's that?
MAGGIE [four foot ten at most]. Just trifles—things I was to suggest to you—while I was knitting—and then, if you liked any of them you could have polished them—and turned them into something good. John, John—and now she has shown it to Mr. Venables.
JOHN [thundering]. As my work, Comtesse?
[But the COMTESSE is not of the women who are afraid of thunder.]
MAGGIE. It is your work—nine-tenths of it.
JOHN [in the black cap]. You presumed, Maggie Shand! Very well, then, here he comes, and now we'll see to what extent you've helped me.
VENABLES. My dear fellow. My dear Shand, I congratulate you. Give me your hand.
JOHN. The speech?
VENABLES. You have improved it out of knowledge. It is the same speech, but those new touches make all the difference. [JOHN sits down heavily.] Mrs. Shand, be proud of him.
MAGGIE. I am. I am, John.
COMTESSE. You always said that his second thoughts were best, Charles.
VENABLES [pleased to be reminded of it]. Didn't I, didn't I? Those delicious little touches! How good that is, Shand, about the flowing tide.
COMTESSE. The flowing tide?
VENABLES. In the first speech it was something like this—'Gentlemen, the Opposition are calling to you to vote for them and the flowing tide, but I solemnly warn you to beware lest the flowing tide does not engulf you.' The second way is much better.
COMTESSE. What is the second way, Mr. Shand?
[JOHN does not tell her.]
VENABLES. This is how he puts it now. [JOHN cannot help raising his head to listen.] 'Gentlemen, the Opposition are calling to you to vote for them and the flowing tide, but I ask you cheerfully to vote for us and DAM the flowing tide.'
[VENABLES and his old friend the COMTESSE laugh heartily, but for different reasons.]
COMTESSE. It IS better, Mr. Shand.
MAGGIE. I don't think so.
VENABLES. Yes, yes, it's so virile. Excuse me, Comtesse, I'm off to read the whole thing again. [For the first time he notices that JOHN is strangely quiet.] I think this has rather bowled you over, Shand.
[JOHN's head sinks lower.]
Well, well, good news doesn't kill.
MAGGIE [counsel for the defence]. Surely the important thing about the speech is its strength and knowledge and eloquence, the things that were in the first speech as well as in the second.
VENABLES. That of course is largely true. The wit would not be enough without them, just as they were not enough without the wit. It is the combination that is irresistible. [JOHN's head rises a little.] Shand, you are our man, remember that, it is emphatically the best thing you have ever done. How this will go down at Leeds!
[He returns gaily to his hammock; but lower sinks JOHN'S head, and even the COMTESSE has the grace to take herself off. MAGGIE's arms flutter near her husband, not daring to alight.]
MAGGIE. You heard what he said, John. It's the combination. Is it so terrible to you to find that my love for you had made me able to help you in the little things?
JOHN. The little things! It seems strange to me to hear you call me by my name, Maggie. It's as if I looked on you for the first time.
MAGGIE. Look at me, John, for the first time. What do you see?
JOHN. I see a woman who has brought her husband low.
MAGGIE. Only that?
JOHN. I see the tragedy of a man who has found himself out. Eh, I can't live with you again, Maggie.
MAGGIE. Why did you shiver, John?
JOHN. It was at myself for saying that I couldn't live with you again, when I should have been wondering how for so long you have lived with me. And I suppose you have forgiven me all the time. [She nods.] And forgive me still? [She nods again.] Dear God!
MAGGIE. John, am I to go? or are you to keep me on? [She is now a little bundle near his feet.] I'm willing to stay because I'm useful to you, if it can't be for a better reason. [His hand feels for her, and the bundle wriggles nearer.] It's nothing unusual I've done, John. Every man who is high up loves to think that he has done it all himself; and the wife smiles, and lets it go at that. It's our only joke. Every woman knows that. [He stares at her in hopeless perplexity.] Oh, John, if only you could laugh at me.
JOHN. I can't laugh, Maggie.
[But as he continues to stare at her a strange disorder appears in his face. MAGGIE feels that it is to be now or never.]
MAGGIE. Laugh, John, laugh. Watch me; see how easy it is.
[A terrible struggle is taking place within him. He creaks. Something that may be mirth forces a passage, at first painfully, no more joy in it than in the discoloured water from a spring that has long been dry. Soon, however, he laughs loud and long. The spring water is becoming clear. MAGGIE claps her hands. He is saved.]