Dear Brutus Play by James Matthew Barrie
DEAR BRUTUS PLAY
J. M. Barrie
Dear Brutus Play Contents
DEAR BRUTUS PLAY ACT I
The scene is a darkened room, which the curtain reveals so stealthily that if there was a mouse on the stage it is there still. Our object is to catch our two chief characters unawares; they are Darkness and Light.
The room is so obscure as to be invisible, but at the back of the obscurity are French windows, through which is seen Lob’s garden bathed in moon-shine. The Darkness and Light, which this room and garden represent, are very still, but we should feel that it is only the pause in which old enemies regard each other before they come to the grip. The moonshine stealing about among the flowers, to give them their last instructions, has left a smile upon them, but it is a smile with a menace in it for the dwellers in darkness. What we expect to see next is the moonshine slowly pushing the windows open, so that it may whisper to a confederate in the house, whose name is Lob. But though we may be sure that this was about to happen it does not happen; a stir among the dwellers in darkness prevents it.
These unsuspecting ones are in the dining-room, and as a communicating door opens we hear them at play. Several tenebrious shades appear in the lighted doorway and hesitate on the two steps that lead down into the unlit room. The fanciful among us may conceive a rustle at the same moment among the flowers. The engagement has begun, though not in the way we had intended.
‘Go on, Coady: lead the way.’
‘Oh dear, I don’t see why I should go first.’
‘The nicest always goes first.’
‘It is a strange house if I am the nicest.’
‘It is a strange house.’
‘Don’t close the door; I can’t see where the switch is.’
They have been groping their way forward, blissfully unaware of how they shall be groping there again more terribly before the night is out. Some one finds a switch, and the room is illumined, with the effect that the garden seems to have drawn back a step as if worsted in the first encounter. But it is only waiting.
The apparently inoffensive chamber thus suddenly revealed is, for a bachelor’s home, creditably like a charming country house drawing-room and abounds in the little feminine touches that are so often best applied by the hand of man. There is nothing in the room inimical to the ladies, unless it be the cut flowers which are from the garden and possibly in collusion with it. The fireplace may also be a little dubious. It has been hacked out of a thick wall which may have been there when the other walls were not, and is presumably the cavern where Lob, when alone, sits chatting to himself among the blue smoke. He is as much at home by this fire as any gnome that may be hiding among its shadows; but he is less familiar with the rest of the room, and when he sees it, as for instance on his lonely way to bed, he often stares long and hard at it before chuckling uncomfortably.
There are five ladies, and one only of them is elderly, the Mrs. Coade whom a voice in the darkness has already proclaimed the nicest. She is the nicest, though the voice was no good judge. Coady, as she is familiarly called and as her husband also is called, each having for many years been able to answer for the other, is a rounded old lady with a beaming smile that has accompanied her from childhood. If she lives to be a hundred she will pretend to the census man that she is only ninety-nine. She has no other vice that has not been smoothed out of existence by her placid life, and she has but one complaint against the male Coady, the rather odd one that he has long forgotten his first wife. Our Mrs. Coady never knew the first one but it is she alone who sometimes looks at the portrait of her and preserves in their home certain mementoes of her, such as a lock of brown hair, which the equally gentle male Coady must have treasured once but has now forgotten. The first wife had been slightly lame, and in their brief married life he had carried solicitously a rest for her foot, had got so accustomed to doing this, that after a quarter of a century with our Mrs. Coady he still finds footstools for her as if she were lame also. She has ceased to pucker her face over this, taking it as a kind little thoughtless attention, and indeed with the years has developed a friendly limp.
Of the other four ladies, all young and physically fair, two are married. Mrs. Dearth is tall, of smouldering eye and fierce desires, murky beasts lie in ambush in the labyrinths of her mind, she is a white-faced gypsy with a husky voice, most beautiful when she is sullen, and therefore frequently at her best. The other ladies when in conclave refer to her as The Dearth. Mrs. Purdie is a safer companion for the toddling kind of man. She is soft and pleading, and would seek what she wants by laying her head on the loved one’s shoulder, while The Dearth might attain it with a pistol. A brighter spirit than either is Joanna Trout who, when her affections are not engaged, has a merry face and figure, but can dismiss them both at the important moment, which is at the word ‘love.’ Then Joanna quivers, her sense of humour ceases to beat and the dullest man may go ahead. There remains Lady Caroline Laney of the disdainful poise, lately from the enormously select school where they are taught to pronounce their r’s as w’s; nothing else seems to be taught, but for matrimonial success nothing else is necessary. Every woman who pronounces r as w will find a mate; it appeals to all that is chivalrous in man.
An old-fashioned gallantry induces us to accept from each of these ladies her own estimate of herself, and fortunately it is favourable in every case. This refers to their estimate of themselves up to the hour of ten on the evening on which we first meet them; the estimate may have changed temporarily by the time we part from them on the following morning. What their mirrors say to each of them is, A dear face, not classically perfect but abounding in that changing charm which is the best type of English womanhood; here is a woman who has seen and felt far more than her reticent nature readily betrays; she sometimes smiles, but behind that concession, controlling it in a manner hardly less than adorable, lurks the sigh called Knowledge; a strangely interesting face, mysterious; a line for her tombstone might be ‘If I had been a man what adventures I could have had with her who lies here.’
Are these ladies then so very alike? They would all deny it, so we must take our own soundings. At this moment of their appearance in the drawing-room at least they are alike in having a common interest. No sooner has the dining-room door closed than purpose leaps to their eyes; oddly enough, the men having been got rid of, the drama begins.
ALICE DEARTH (the darkest spirit but the bravest). We must not waste a second. Our minds are made up, I think?
JOANNA. Now is the time.
MRS. COADE (at once delighted and appalled). Yes, now if at all; but should we?
ALICE. Certainly; and before the men come in.
MABEL PURDIE. You don’t think we should wait for the men? They are as much in it as we are.
LADY CAROLINE (unlucky, as her opening remark is without a single r). Lob would be with them. If the thing is to be done at all it should be done now.
MRS. COADE. IS it quite fair to Lob? After all, he is our host.
JOANNA. Of course it isn’t fair to him, but let’s do it, Coady.
MRS. COADE. Yes, let’s do it!
MABEL. Mrs. Dearth is doing it.
ALICE (who is writing out a telegram). Of course I am. The men are not coming, are they?
JOANNA (reconnoitring). NO; your husband is having another glass of port.
ALICE. I am sure he is. One of you ring, please.
(The bold Joanna rings.)
MRS. COADE. Poor Matey!
LADY CAROLINE. He wichly desewves what he is about to get.
JOANNA. He is coming! Don’t all stand huddled together like conspirators.
MRS. COADE. It is what we are!
(Swiftly they find seats, and are sunk thereon like ladies waiting languidly for their lords when the doomed butler appears. He is a man of brawn, who could cast any one of them forth for a wager; but we are about to connive at the triumph of mind over matter.)
ALICE (always at her best before “the bright face of danger”). Ah, Matey, I wish this telegram sent.
MATEY (a general favourite). Very good, ma’am. The village post office closed at eight, but if your message is important—
ALICE. It is; and you are so clever, Matey, I am sure that you can persuade them to oblige you.
MATEY (taking the telegram). I will see to it myself, ma’am; you can depend on its going.
(There comes a little gasp from COADY, which is the equivalent to dropping a stitch in needle-work.)
ALICE (who is THE DEARTH now). Thank you. Better read the telegram, Matey, to be sure that you can make it out. (MATEY reads it to himself, and he has never quite the same faith in woman again. THE DEARTH continues in a purring voice.) Read it aloud, Matey.
MATEY. Oh, ma’am!
ALICE (without the purr). Aloud.
(Thus encouraged he reads the fatal missive.)
MATEY. ‘To Police Station, Great Cumney. Send officer first thing to-morrow morning to arrest Matey, butler, for theft of rings.’
ALICE. Yes, that is quite right.
MATEY. Ma’am! (But seeing that she has taken up a book, he turns to LADY CAROLINE.) My lady!
LADY CAROLINE (whose voice strikes colder than THE DEARTH’S). Should we not say how many wings?
ALICE. Yes, put in the number of rings, Matey.
(MATEY does not put in the number, but he produces three rings from unostentatious parts of his person and returns them without noticeable dignity to their various owners.)
MATEY (hopeful that the incident is now closed). May I tear up the telegram, ma’am?
ALICE. Certainly not.
LADY CAROLINE. I always said that this man was the culpwit. I am nevaw mistaken in faces, and I see bwoad awwows all over youws, Matey.
(He might reply that he sees w’s all over hers, but it is no moment for repartee.)
MATEY. It is deeply regretted.
ALICE (darkly). I am sure it is.
JOANNA (who has seldom remained silent for so long). We may as well tell him now that it is not our rings we are worrying about. They have just been a means to an end, Matey.
(The stir among the ladies shows that they have arrived at the more interesting point.)
ALICE. Precisely. In other words that telegram is sent unless—
(MATEY’S head rises.)
JOANNA. Unless you can tell us instantly whet peculiarity it is that all we ladies have in common.
MABEL. Not only the ladies; all the guests in this house.
ALICE. We have been here a week, and we find that when Lob invited us he knew us all so little that we begin to wonder why he asked us. And now from words he has let drop we know that we were invited because of something he thinks we have in common.
MABEL. But he won’t say what it is.
LADY CAROLINE (drawing back a little from JOANNA). One knows that no people could be more unlike.
JOANNA (thankfully). One does.
MRS. COADE. And we can’t sleep at night, Matey, for wondering what this something is.
JOANNA (summing up). But we are sure you know, and it you don’t tell us—quod.
MATEY (with growing uneasiness). I don’t know what you mean, ladies.
ALICE. Oh yes, you do.
MRS. COADE You must admit that your master is a very strange person.
MATEY (wriggling). He is a little odd, ma’am. That is why every one calls him Lob; not Mr. Lob.
JOANNA. He is so odd that it has got on my nerves that we have been invited here for some sort of horrid experiment. (MATEY shivers.) You look as if you thought so too!
MATEY. Oh no, miss, I—he— (The words he would keep back elude him). You shouldn’t have come, ladies; you didn’t ought to have come.
(For the moment he is sorrier for them than for himself.)
LADY CAROLINE. (Shouldn’t have come). Now, my man, what do you mean by that?
MATEY. Nothing, my lady: I—I just mean, why did you come if you are the kind he thinks?
MABEL. The kind he thinks?
ALICE. What kind does he think? Now we are getting at it.
MATEY (guardedly). I haven’t a notion, ma’am.
LADY CAROLINE (whose w’s must henceforth be supplied by the judicious reader). Then it is not necessarily our virtue that makes Lob interested in us?
MATEY (thoughtlessly). No, my lady; oh no, my lady. (This makes an unfavourable impression.)
MRS. COADE. And yet, you know, he is rather lovable.
MATEY (carried away). He is, ma’am, He is the most lovable old devil—I beg pardon, ma’am.
JOANNA. You scarcely need to, for in a way it is true. I have seen him out there among his flowers, petting them, talking to them, coaxing them till they simply had to grow.
ALICE (making use perhaps of the wrong adjective). It is certainly a divine garden.
(They all look at the unblinking enemy.)
MRS. COADE (not more deceived than the others). How lovely it is in the moonlight. Roses, roses, all the way. (Dreamily.) It is like a hat I once had when I was young.
ALICE. Lob is such an amazing gardener that I believe he could even grow hats.
LADY CAROLINE (who will catch it for this). He is a wonderful gardener; but is that quite nice at his age? What is his age, man?
MATEY (shuffling). He won’t tell, my lady. I think he is frightened that the police would step in if they knew how old he is. They do say in the village that they remember him seventy years ago, looking just as he does to-day.
MATEY. Yes, ma’am; but there are his razors.
LADY CAROLINE. Razors?
MATEY. You won’t know about razors, my lady, not being married—as yet—excuse me. But a married lady can tell a man’s age by the number of his razors. (A little scared.) If you saw his razors—there is a little world of them, from patents of the present day back to implements so horrible, you can picture him with them in his hand scraping his way through the ages.
LADY CAROLINE. You amuse one to an extent. Was he ever married?
MATEY (too lightly). He has quite forgotten, my lady. (Reflecting.) How long ago is it since Merry England?
LADY CAROLINE. Why do you ask?
MABEL. In Queen Elizabeth’s time, wasn’t it?
MATEY. He says he is all that is left of Merry England: that little man.
MABEL (who has brothers). Lob? I think there is a famous cricketer called Lob.
MRS. COADE. Wasn’t there a Lob in Shakespeare? No, of course I am thinking of Robin Goodfellow.
LADY CAROLINE. The names are so alike.
JOANNA. Robin Goodfellow was Puck.
MRS. COADE (with natural elation). That is what was in my head. Lob was another name for Puck.
JOANNA. Well, he is certainly rather like what Puck might have grown into if he had forgotten to die. And, by the way, I remember now he does call his flowers by the old Elizabethan names.
MATEY. He always calls the Nightingale Philomel, miss—if that is any help.
ALICE (who is not omniscient). None whatever. Tell me this, did he specially ask you all for Midsummer week?
MATEY (who might more judiciously have remained silent). He would!
MRS. COADE. Now what do you mean?
MATEY. He always likes them to be here on Midsummer night, ma’am.
ALICE. Them? Whom?
MATEY. Them who have that in common.
MABEL. What can it be?
MATEY. I don’t know.
LADY CAROLINE (suddenly introspective). I hope we are all nice women? We don’t know each other very well. (Certain suspicions are reborn in various breasts.) Does anything startling happen at those times?
MATEY. I don’t know.
JOANNA. Why, I believe this is Midsummer Eve!
MATEY. Yes, miss, it is. The villagers know it. They are all inside their houses, to-night—with the doors barred.
LADY CAROLINE. Because of—of him?
MATEY. He frightens them. There are stories.
ALICE. What alarms them? Tell us—or—(She brandishes the telegram.)
MATEY. I know nothing for certain, ma’am. I have never done it myself. He has wanted me to, but I wouldn’t.
MABEL. Done what?
MATEY (with fine appeal). Oh. ma’am, don’t ask me. Be merciful to me, ma’am. I am not bad naturally. It was just going into domestic service that did for me; the accident of being flung among bad companions. It’s touch and go how the poor turn out in this world; all depends on your taking the right or the wrong turning.
MRS. COADE (the lenient). I daresay that is true.
MATEY (under this touch of sun). When I was young, ma’am, I was offered a clerkship in the city. If I had taken it there wouldn’t be a more honest man alive to-day. I would give the world to be able to begin over again.
(He means every word of it, though the flowers would here, if they dared, burst into ironical applause.)
MRS. COADE. It is very sad, Mrs. Dearth.
ALICE. I am sorry for him; but still—
MATEY (his eyes turning to LADY CAROLINE). What do you say, my lady?
LADY CAROLINE (briefly). As you ask me, I should certainly say jail.
MATEY (desperately). If you will say no more about this, ma’am—I’ll give you a tip that is worth it.
ALICE. Ah, now you are talking.
LADY CAROLINE. Don’t listen to him.
MATEY (lowering). You are the one that is hardest on me.
LADY CAROLINE. Yes, I flatter myself I am.
MATEY (forgetting himself). You might take a wrong turning yourself, my lady.
LADY CAROLINE, I? How dare you, man.
(But the flowers rather like him for this; it is possibly what gave them a certain idea.)
JOANNA (near the keyhole of the dining-room door). The men are rising.
ALICE (hurriedly). Very well, Matey, we agree—if the ‘tip’ is good enough.
LADY CAROLINE. You will regret this.
MATEY. I think not, my lady. It’s this: I wouldn’t go out to-night if he asks you. Go into the garden, if you like. The garden is all right. (He really believes this.) I wouldn’t go farther—not to-night.
MRS. COADE. But he never proposes to us to go farther. Why should he to-night?
MATEY. I don’t know, ma’am, but don’t any of you go—(devilishly) except you, my lady; I should like you to go.
LADY CAROLINE. Fellow!
(They consider this odd warning.)
ALICE. Shall I? (They nod and she tears up the telegram.)
MATEY (with a gulp). Thank you, ma’am.
LADY CAROLINE. You should have sent that telegram off.
JOANNA. You are sure you have told us all you know, Matey?
MATEY. Yes, miss. (But at the door he is more generous.) Above all, ladies, I wouldn’t go into the wood.
MABEL. The wood? Why, there is no wood within a dozen miles of here.
MATEY. NO, ma’am. But all the same I wouldn’t go into it, ladies—not if I was you.
(With this cryptic warning he leaves them, and any discussion of it is prevented by the arrival of their host. LOB is very small, and probably no one has ever looked so old except some newborn child. To such as watch him narrowly, as the ladies now do for the first time, he has the effect of seeming to be hollow, an attenuated piece of piping insufficiently inflated; one feels that if he were to strike against a solid object he might rebound feebly from it, which would be less disconcerting if he did not obviously know this and carefully avoid the furniture; he is so light that the subject must not be mentioned in his presence, but it is possible that, were the ladies to combine, they could blow him out of a chair. He enters portentously, his hands behind his back, as if every bit of him, from his domed head to his little feet, were the physical expressions of the deep thoughts within him, then suddenly he whirls round to make his guests jump. This amuses him vastly, and he regains his gravity with difficulty. He addresses MRS. COADE.)
LOB. Standing, dear lady? Pray be seated.
(He finds a chair for her and pulls it away as she is about to sit, or kindly pretends to be about to do so, for he has had this quaint conceit every evening since she arrived.)
MRS. COADE (who loves children). You naughty!
LOB (eagerly). It is quite a flirtation, isn’t it?
(He rolls on a chair, kicking out his legs in an ecstasy of satisfaction. But the ladies are not certain that he is the little innocent they have hitherto thought him. The advent of MR. COADE and MR. PURDIE presently adds to their misgivings. MR. COADE is old, a sweet pippin of a man with a gentle smile for all; he must have suffered much, you conclude incorrectly, to acquire that tolerant smile. Sometimes, as when he sees other people at work, a wistful look takes the place of the smile, and MR. COADE fidgets like one who would be elsewhere. Then there rises before his eyes the room called the study in his house, whose walls are lined with boxes marked A. B. C. to Z. and A2. B2. C2. to K2. These contain dusty notes for his great work on the Feudal System, the notes many years old, the work, strictly speaking, not yet begun. He still speaks at times of finishing it but never of beginning it. He knows that in more favourable circumstances, for instance if he had been a poor man instead of pleasantly well to do, he could have flung himself avidly into that noble undertaking; but he does not allow his secret sorrow to embitter him or darken the house. Quickly the vision passes, and he is again his bright self. Idleness, he says in his game way, has its recompenses. It is charming now to see how he at once crosses to his wife, solicitous for her comfort. He is bearing down on her with a footstool when MR. PURDIE comes from the dining-room. He is the most brilliant of our company, recently notable in debate at Oxford, where he was runner-up for the presidentship of the Union and only lost it because the other man was less brilliant. Since then he has gone to the bar on Monday, married on Tuesday and had a brief on Wednesday. Beneath his brilliance, and making charming company for himself, he is aware of intellectual powers beyond his years. As we are about to see, he has made one mistake in his life which he is bravely facing.)
ALICE. Is my husband still sampling the port, Mr. Purdie?
PURDIE (with a disarming smile for the absent DEARTH). Do you know, I believe he is. Do the ladies like our proposal, Coade?
COADE. I have not told them of it yet. The fact is, I am afraid that it might tire my wife too much. Do you feel equal to a little exertion to-night, Coady, or is your foot troubling you?
MRS. COADE (the kind creature). I have been resting it, Coady.
COADE (propping it on the footstool). There! Is that more comfortable? Presently, dear, if you are agreeable we are all going out for a walk.
MRS. COADE (quoting MATEY). The garden is all right.
PURDIE (with jocular solemnity). Ah, but it is not to be the garden. We are going farther afield. We have an adventure for to-night. Get thick shoes and a wrap, Mrs. Dearth; all of you.
LADY CAROLINE (with but languid interest). Where do you propose to take us?
PURDIE. To find a mysterious wood. (With the word ‘wood’ the ladies are blown upright. Their eyes turn to LOB, who, however, has never looked more innocent).
JOANNE. Are you being funny, Mr. Purdie? You know quite well that there are not any trees for miles around. You have said yourself that it is the one blot on the landscape.
COADE (almost as great a humorist as PURDIE). Ah, on ordinary occasions! But allow us to point out to you, Miss Joanna, that this is Midsummer Eve.
(LOB again comes sharply under female observation.)
PURDIE. Tell them what you told us, Lob.
LOB (with a pout for the credulous). It is all nonsense, of course; just foolish talk of the villagers. They say that on Midsummer Eve there is a strange wood in this part of the country.
ALICE (lowering). Where?
PURDIE. Ah, that is one of its most charming features. It is never twice in the same place apparently. It has been seen on different parts of the Downs and on More Common; once it was close to Radley village and another time about a mile from the sea. Oh, a sporting wood!
LADY CAROLINE. And Lob is anxious that we should all go and look for it?
COADE. Not he; Lob is the only sceptic in the house. Says it is all rubbish, and that we shall be sillies if we go. But we believe, eh, Purdie?
PURDIE (waggishly). Rather!
LOB (the artful). Just wasting the evening. Let us have a round game at cards here instead.
PURDIE (grandly), No, sir, I am going to find that wood.
JOANNA. What is the good of it when it is found?
PURDIE. We shall wander in it deliciously, listening to a new sort of bird called the Philomel.
(LOB is behaving in the most exemplary manner; making sweet little clucking sounds.)
JOANNA (doubtfully). Shall we keep together, Mr. Purdie?
PURDIE. No, we must hunt in pairs.
JOANNA. (converted). I think it would be rather fun. Come on, Coady, I’ll lace your boots for you. I am sure your poor foot will carry you nicely.
ALICE. Miss Trout, wait a moment. Lob, has this wonderful wood any special properties?
LOB. Pooh! There’s no wood.
LADY CAROLINE. You’ve never seen it?
LOB. Not I. I don’t believe in it.
ALICE. Have any of the villagers ever been in it?
LOB (dreamily). So it’s said; so it’s said.
ALICE. What did they say were their experiences?
LOB. That isn’t known. They never came back.
JOANNA (promptly resuming her seat). Never came back!
LOB. Absurd, of course. You see in the morning the wood was gone; and so they were gone, too. (He clucks again.)
JOANNA. I don’t think I like this wood.
MRS. COADE. It certainly is Midsummer Eve.
COADE (remembering that women are not yet civilised). Of course if you ladies are against it we will drop the idea. It was only a bit of fun.
ALICE (with a malicious eye on LOB). Yes, better give it up—to please Lob.
PURDIE. Oh, all right, Lob. What about that round game of cards?
(The proposal meets with approval.)
LOB (bursting into tears). I wanted you to go. I had set my heart on your going. It is the thing I wanted, and it isn’t good for me not to get the thing I want.
(He creeps under the table and threatens the hands that would draw him out.)
MRS. COADE. Good gracious, he has wanted it all the time. You wicked Lob!
ALICE. Now, you see there is something in it.
COADE. Nonsense, Mrs. Dearth, it was only a joke.
MABEL (melting). Don’t cry, Lobby.
LOB. Nobody cares for me—nobody loves me. And I need to be loved.
(Several of them are on their knees to him.)
JOANNA. Yes, we do, we all love you. Nice, nice Lobby.
MABEL. Dear Lob, I am so fond of you.
JOANNA. Dry his eyes with my own handkerchief. (He holds up his eyes but is otherwise inconsolable.)
LADY CAROLINE. Don’t pamper him.
LOB (furiously). I need to be pampered.
MRS. COADE. You funny little man. Let us go at once and look for his wood.
(All feel that thus alone can his tears be dried.)
JOANNA. Boots and cloaks, hats forward. Come on, Lady Caroline, just to show you are not afraid of Matey.
(There is a general exodus, and LOB left alone emerges from his temporary retirement. He ducks victoriously, but presently is on his knees again distressfully regarding some flowers that have fallen from their bowl.)
LOB. Poor bruised one, it was I who hurt you. Lob is so sorry. Lie there! (To another.) Pretty, pretty, let me see where you have a pain? You fell on your head; is this the place? Now I make it better. Oh, little rascal, you are not hurt at all; you just pretend. Oh dear, oh dear! Sweetheart, don’t cry, you are now prettier than ever. You were too tall. Oh, how beautifully you smell now that you are small. (He replaces the wounded tenderly in their bowl.) rink, drink. Now, you are happy again. The little rascal smiles. All smile, please—nod heads—aha! aha! You love Lob—Lob loves you.
(JOANNA and MR. PURDIE stroll in by the window.)
JOANNA. What were you saying to them, Lob?
LOB. I was saying ‘Two’s company, three’s none.’
(He departs with a final cluck.)
JOANNA. That man—he suspects!
(This is a very different JOANNA from the one who has so far flitted across our scene. It is also a different PURDIE. In company they seldom look at each other, though when the one does so the eyes of the other magnetically respond. We have seen them trivial, almost cynical, but now we are to greet them as they know they really are, the great strong-hearted man and his natural mate, in the grip of the master passion. For the moment LOB’S words have unnerved JOANNA and it is JOHN PURDIE’s dear privilege to soothe her.)
PURDIE. No one minds Lob. My dear, oh my dear.
JOANNA (faltering). Yes, but he saw you kiss my hand. Jack, if Mabel were to suspect!
PURDIE (happily). There is nothing for her to suspect.
JOANNA (eagerly). No, there isn’t, is there? (She is desirous ever to be without a flaw.) Jack, I am not doing anything wrong, am I?
(With an adorable gesture she gives him one of her hands, and manlike he takes the other also.)
JOANNA. Mabel is your wife, Jack. I should so hate myself if I did anything that was disloyal to her.
PURDIE (pressing her hand to her eyes as if counting them, in the strange manner of lovers). Those eyes could never be disloyal—my lady of the nut-brown eyes. (He holds her from him, surveying her, and is scorched in the flame of her femininity.) Oh, the sveldtness of you. (Almost with reproach.) Joanna, why are you so sveldt!
(For his sake she would be less sveldt if she could, but she can’t. She admits her failure with eyes grown still larger, and he envelops her so that he may not see her. Thus men seek safety.)
JOANNA (while out of sight). All I want is to help her and you.
PURDIE. I know—how well I know—my dear brave love.
JOANNA. I am very fond of Mabel, Jack. I should like to be the best friend she has in the world.
PURDIE. You are, dearest. No woman ever had a better friend.
JOANNA. And yet I don’t think she really likes me. I wonder why?
PURDIE (who is the bigger brained of the two.) It is just that Mabel doesn’t understand. Nothing could make me say a word against my wife.
JOANNA (sternly). I wouldn’t listen to you if you did.
PURDIE. I love you all the more, dear, for saying that. But Mabel is a cold nature and she doesn’t understand.
JOANNA (thinking never of herself but only of him). She doesn’t appreciate your finer qualities.
PURDIE (ruminating). That’s it. But of course I am difficult. I always was a strange, strange creature. I often think, Joanna, that I am rather like a flower that has never had the sun to shine on it nor the rain to water it.
JOANNA. You break my heart.
PURDIE (with considerable enjoyment). I suppose there is no more lonely man than I walking the earth to-day.
JOANNA (beating her wings). It is so mournful.
PURDIE. It is the thought of you that sustains me, elevates me. You shine high above me like a star.
JOANNA. No, no. I wish I was wonderful, but I am not.
PURDIE. You have made me a better man, Joanna.
JOANNA. I am so proud to think that.
PURDIE. You have made me kinder to Mabel.
JOANNA. I am sure you are always kind to her.
PURDIE. Yes, I hope so. But I think now of special little ways of giving her pleasure. That never-to-be-forgotten day when we first met, you and I!
JOANNA (fluttering nearer to him.) That tragic, lovely day by the weir. Oh, Jack!
PURDIE. Do you know how in gratitude I spent the rest of that day?
JOANNA (crooning). Tell me.
PURDIE. I read to Mabel aloud for an hour. I did it out of kindness to her, because I had met you.
JOANNA. It was dear of you.
PURDIE. Do you remember that first time my arms—your waist—you are so fluid, Joanna. (Passionately.) Why are you so fluid?
JOANNA (downcast). I can’t help it, Jack.
PURDIE. I gave her a ruby bracelet for that.
JOANNA. It is a gem. You have given that lucky woman many lovely things.
PURDIE. It is my invariable custom to go straight off and buy Mabel something whenever you have been sympathetic to me. Those new earrings of hers—they are in memory of the first day you called me Jack. Her Paquin gown—the one with the beads—was because you let me kiss you.
JOANNA. I didn’t exactly let you.
PURDIE. No, but you have such a dear way of giving in.
JOANNA. Jack, she hasn’t worn that gown of late.
PURDIE. No, nor the jewels. I think she has some sort of idea now that when I give her anything nice it means that you have been nice to me. She has rather a suspicious nature, Mabel; she never used to have it, but it seems to be growing on her. I wonder why, I wonder why?
(In this wonder which is shared by JOANNA their lips meet, and MABEL, who has been about to enter from the garden quietly retires.)
JOANNA. Was that any one in the garden?
PURDIE (returning from a quest). There is no one there now.
JOANNA. I am sure I heard some one. If it was Mabel! (With a perspicacity that comes of knowledge of her sex.) Jack, if she saw us she will think you were kissing me.
(These fears are confirmed by the rather odd bearing of MABEL, who now joins their select party.)
MABEL (apologetically). I am so sorry to interrupt you, Jack; but please wait a moment before you kiss her again. Excuse me, Joanna. (She quietly draws the curtains, thus shutting out the garden and any possible onlooker.) I did not want the others to see you; they might not understand how noble you are, Jack. You can go on now.
(Having thus passed the time of day with them she withdraws by the door, leaving JACK bewildered and JOANNA knowing all about it.)
JOANNA. How extraordinary! Of all the—! Oh, but how contemptible! (She sweeps to the door and calls to MABEL by name.)
MABEL (returning with promptitude). Did you call me, Joanna?
JOANNA (guardedly). I insist on an explanation. (With creditable hauteur.) What were you doing in the garden, Mabel?
MABEL (who has not been so quiet all day). I was looking for something I have lost.
PURDIE (hope springing eternal). Anything important?
MABEL. I used to fancy it, Jack. It is my husband’s love. You don’t happen to have picked it up, Joanna? If so and you don’t set great store by it I should like it back—the pieces, I mean.
(MR. PURDIE is about lo reply to this, when JOANNA rather wisely fills the breach.)
JOANNA. Mabel, I—I will not be talked to in that way. To imply that I—that your husband—oh, shame!
PURDIE (finely). I must say, Mabel, that I am a little disappointed in you. I certainly understood that you had gone upstairs to put on your boots.
MABEL. Poor old Jack. (She muses.) A woman like that!
JOANNA (changing her comment in the moment of utterance), I forgive you Mabel, you will be sorry for this afterwards.
PURDIE (warningly, but still reluctant to think less well of his wife). Not a word against Joanna, Mabel. If you knew how nobly she has spoken of you.
JOANNA (imprudently). She does know. She has been listening.
(There is a moment’s danger of the scene degenerating into something mid-Victorian. Fortunately a chivalrous man is present to lift it to a higher plane. JOHN PURDIE is one to whom subterfuge of any kind is abhorrent; if he has not spoken out before it is because of his reluctance to give MABEL pain. He speaks out now, and seldom probably has he proved himself more worthy.)
PURDIE. This is a man’s business. I must be open with you now, Mabel: it is the manlier way. If you wish it I shall always be true to you in word and deed; it is your right. But I cannot pretend that Joanna is not the one woman in the world for me. If I had met her before you—it’s Kismet, I suppose. (He swells.)
JOANNA (from a chair). Too late, too late.
MABEL (although the woman has seen him swell). I suppose you never knew what true love was till you met her, Jack?
PURDIE. You force me to say it. Joanna and I are as one person. We have not a thought at variance. We are one rather than two.
MABEL (looking at JOANNA). Yes, and that’s the one! (With the cheapest sarcasm.) I am so sorry to have marred your lives.
PURDIE. If any blame there is, it is all mine; she is as spotless as the driven snow. The moment I mentioned love to her she told me to desist.
MABEL. Not she.
JOANNA. So you were listening! (The obtuseness of MABEL is very strange to her.) Mabel, don’t you see how splendid he is!
MABEL. Not quite, Joanna.
(She goes away. She is really a better woman than this, but never capable of scaling that higher plane to which he has, as it were, offered her a hand.)
JOANNA. How lovely of you, Jack, to take it all upon yourself.
PURDIE (simply). It is the man’s privilege.
JOANNA. Mabel has such a horrid way of seeming to put people in the wrong.
PURDIE. Have you noticed that? Poor Mabel, it is not an enviable quality.
JOANNA (despondently). I don’t think I care to go out now. She has spoilt it all. She has taken the innocence out of it, Jack.
PURDIE (a rock). We must be brave and not mind her. Ah, Joanna, if we had met in time. If only I could begin again. To be battered for ever just because I once took the wrong turning, it isn’t fair.
JOANNA (emerging from his arms). The wrong turning! Now, who was saying that a moment ago—about himself? Why, it was Matey.
(A footstep is heard.)
PURDIE (for the first time losing patience with his wife). Is that her coming back again? It’s too bad.
(But the intruder is MRS. DEARTH, and he greets her with relief.)
Ah, it is you, Mrs. Dearth.
ALICE. Yes, it is; but thank you for telling me, Mr. Purdie. I don’t intrude, do I?
JOANNA (descending to the lower plane, on which even goddesses snap). Why should you?
PURDIE. Rather not. We were—hoping it would be you. We want to start on the walk. I can’t think what has become of the others. We have been looking for them everywhere. (He glances vaguely round the room, as if they might so far have escaped detection.)
ALICE (pleasantly). Well, do go on looking; under that flower-pot would be a good place. It is my husband I am in search of.
PURDIE (who likes her best when they are in different rooms). Shall I rout him out for you?
ALICE. How too unutterably kind of you, Mr. Purdie. I hate to trouble you, but it would be the sort of service one never forgets.
PURDIE. You know, I believe you are chaffing me.
ALICE. No, no, I am incapable of that.
PURDIE. I won’t be a moment.
ALICE. Miss Trout and I will await your return with ill-concealed impatience.
(They await it across a table, the newcomer in a reverie and JOANNA watching her. Presently MRS. DEARTH looks up, and we may notice that she has an attractive screw of the mouth which denotes humour.)
Yes, I suppose you are right; I dare say I am.
JOANNA (puzzled). I didn’t say anything.
ALICE. I thought I heard you say ‘That hateful Dearth woman, coming butting in where she is not wanted.’
(Joanna draws up her sveldt figure, but a screw of one mouth often calls for a similar demonstration from another, and both ladies smile. They nearly become friends.)
JOANNA. You certainly have good ears.
ALICE (drawling). Yes, they have always been rather admired.
JOANNA (snapping). By the painters for whom you sat when you were an artist’s model?
ALICE (measuring her). So that has leaked out, has it!
JOANNA (ashamed). I shouldn’t have said that.
ALICE (their brief friendship over). Do you think I care whether you know or not?
JOANNA (making an effort to be good). I’m sure you don’t. Still, it was cattish of me.
ALICE. It was.
JOANNA (in flame). I don’t see it.
(MRS. DEARTH laughs and forgets her, and with the entrance of a man from the dining room JOANNA drifts elsewhere. Not so much a man, this newcomer, as the relic of what has been a good one; it is the most he would ever claim for himself. Sometimes, brandy in hand, he has visions of the WILL DEARTH he used to be, clear of eye, sees him but a field away, singing at his easel or, fishing-rod in hand, leaping a stile. Our WILL stares after the fellow for quite a long time, so long that the two melt into the one who finishes LOB’s brandy. He is scarcely intoxicated as he appears before the lady of his choice, but he is shaky and has watery eyes.)
(ALICE has had a rather wild love for this man, or for that other one, and he for her, but somehow it has gone whistling down the wind. We may expect therefore to see them at their worst when in each other’s company.)
DEARTH (who is not without a humorous outlook on his own degradation). I am uncommonly flattered, Alice, to hear that you have sent for me. It quite takes me aback.
ALICE (with cold distaste). It isn’t your company I want, Will.
DEARTH. You know. I felt that Purdie must have delivered your message wrongly.
ALICE. I want you to come with us on this mysterious walk and keep an eye on Lob.
DEARTH. On poor little Lob? Oh, surely not.
ALICE. I can’t make the man out. I want you to tell me something; when he invited us here, do you think it was you or me he specially wanted?
DEARTH. Oh, you. He made no bones about it; said there was something about you that made him want uncommonly to have you down here.
ALICE. Will, try to remember this: did he ask us for any particular time?
DEARTH. Yes, he was particular about its being Midsummer week.
ALICE. Ah! I thought so. Did he say what it was about me that made him want to have me here in Midsummer week?
DEARTH. No, but I presumed it must be your fascination, Alice.
ALICE. Just so. Well, I want you to come out with us to-night to watch him.
DEARTH. Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy, spy on my host! And such a harmless little chap, too. Excuse me, Alice. Besides I have an engagement.
ALICE. An engagement—with the port decanter, I presume.
DEARTH. A good guess, but wrong. The decanter is now but an empty shell. Still, how you know me! My engagement is with a quiet cigar in the garden.
ALICE. Your hand is so unsteady, you won’t be able to light the match.
DEARTH. I shall just manage. (He triumphantly proves the exact truth of his statement.)
ALICE. A nice hand for an artist!
DEARTH. One would scarcely call me an artist now-a-days.
ALICE. Not so far as any work is concerned.
DEARTH. Not so far as having any more pretty dreams to paint is concerned. (Grinning at himself.) Wonder why I have become such a waster, Alice?
ALICE. I suppose it was always in you.
DEARTH (with perhaps a glimpse of the fishing-rod). I suppose so; and yet I was rather a good sort in the days when I went courting you.
ALICE. Yes, I thought so. Unlucky days for me, as it has turned out.
DEARTH (heartily). Yes, a bad job for you. (Puzzling unsteadily over himself.) I didn’t know I was a wrong ‘un at the time; thought quite well of myself, thought a vast deal more of you. Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy, how I used to leap out of bed at 6 A.M. all agog to be at my easel; blood ran through my veins in those days. And now I’m middle-aged and done for. Funny! Don’t know how it has come about, nor what has made the music mute. (Mildly curious.) When did you begin to despise me, Alice?
ALICE. When I got to know you really, Will; a long time ago.
DEARTH (bleary of eye). Yes, I think that is true. It was a long time ago, and before I had begun to despise myself. It wasn’t till I knew you had no opinion of me that I began to go down hill. You will grant that, won’t you; and that I did try for a bit to fight on? If you had cared for me I wouldn’t have come to this, surely?
ALICE. Well, I found I didn’t care for you, and I wasn’t hypocrite enough to pretend I did. That’s blunt, but you used to admire my bluntness.
DEARTH. The bluntness of you, the adorable wildness of you, you untamed thing! There were never any shades in you; kiss or kill was your motto, Alice. I felt from the first moment I saw you that you would love me or knife me.
(Memories of their shooting star flare in both of them for as long as a sheet of paper might take to burn.)
ALICE. I didn’t knife you.
DEARTH. No. I suppose that was where you made the mistake. It is hard on you, old lady. (Becoming watery.) I suppose it’s too late to try to patch things up?
ALICE. Let’s be honest; it is too late, Will. DEARTH (whose tears would smell of brandy). Perhaps if we had had children—Pity!
ALICE. A blessing I should think, seeing what sort of a father they would have had.
DEARTH (ever reasonable). I dare say you’re right. Well, Alice, I know that somehow it’s my fault. I’m sorry for you.
ALICE. I’m sorry for myself. If I hadn’t married you what a different woman I should be. What a fool I was.
DEARTH. Ah! Three things they say come not back to men nor women—the spoken word, the past life and the neglected opportunity. Wonder if we should make any more of them, Alice, if they did come back to us.
ALICE. You wouldn’t.
DEARTH (avoiding a hiccup). I guess you’re right.
ALICE. But I—
DEARTH (sincerely). Yes, what a boon for you. But I hope it’s not Freddy Finch-Fallowe you would put in my place; I know he is following you about again. (He is far from threatening her, he has too beery an opinion of himself for that.)
ALICE. He followed me about, as you put it, before I knew you. I don’t know why I quarrelled with him.
DEARTH. Your heart told you that he was no good, Alice.
ALICE. My heart told me that you were. So it wasn’t of much service to me, my heart!
DEARTH. The Honourable Freddy Finch-Fallowe is a rotter.
ALICE (ever inflammable). You are certainly an authority on the subject.
DEARTH (with the sad smile of the disillusioned). You have me there. After which brief, but pleasant, little connubial chat, he pursued his dishonoured way into the garden.
(He is however prevented doing so for the moment by the return of the others. They are all still in their dinner clothes though wearing wraps. They crowd in through the door, chattering.)
LOB. Here they are. Are you ready, dear lady?
MRS. COADE (seeing that DEARTH’s hand is on the window curtains). Are you not coming with us to find the wood, Mr. Dearth.
DEARTH. Alas, I am unavoidably detained. You will find me in the garden when you come back.
JOANNA (whose sense of humour has been restored). If we ever do come back!
DEARTH. Precisely. (With a groggy bow.) Should we never meet again, Alice, fare thee well. Purdie, if you find the tree of knowledge in the wood bring me back an apple.
PURDIE. I promise.
LOB. Come quickly. Matey mustn’t see me. (He is turning out the lights.)
LADY CAROLINE (pouncing). Matey? What difference would that make, Lob?
LOB. He would take me off to bed; it’s past my time.
COADE (not the least gay of the company). You know, old fellow, you make it very difficult for us to embark upon this adventure in the proper eerie spirit.
DEARTH. Well, I’m for the garden.
(He walks to the window, and the others are going out by the door. But they do not go. There is a hitch somewhere—at the window apparently, for DEARTH, having begun to draw the curtains apart lets them fall, like one who has had a shock. The others remember long afterwards his grave face as he came quietly back and put his cigar on the table. The room is in darkness save for the light from one lamp.)
PURDIE (wondering). How, now, Dearth?
DEARTH. What is it we get in that wood, Lob?
ALICE. Ah, he won’t tell us that.
LOB (shrinking). Come on!
ALICE (impressed by the change that has come over her husband). Tell us first.
LOB (forced to the disclosure). They say that in the wood you get what nearly everybody here is longing for—a second chance.
(The ladies are simultaneously enlightened.)
JOANNA (speaking for all). So that is what we have in common!
COADE: (with gentle regret). I have often thought, Coady, that if I had a second chance I should be a useful man instead of just a nice lazy one.
ALICE (morosely). A second chance!
LOB. Come on.
PURDIE (gaily). Yes, to the wood—the wood!
DEARTH (as they are going out by the door). Stop, why not go this way?
(He pulls the curtains apart, and there comes a sudden indrawing of breath from all, for no garden is there now. In its place is an endless wood of great trees; the nearest of them has come close to the window. It is a sombre wood, with splashes of moonshine and of blackness standing very still in it.)
(The party in the drawing-room are very still also; there is scarcely a cry or a movement. It is perhaps strange that the most obviously frightened is LOB who calls vainly for MATEY. The first articulate voice is DEARTH’S.)
DEARTH (very quietly). Any one ready to risk it?
PURDIE (after another silence). Of course there is nothing in it—just
DEARTH (grimly). Of course. Going out, Purdie?
(PURDIE draws back.)
MRS. DEARTH (the only one who is undaunted). A second chance! (She is looking at her husband. They all look at him as if he had been a leader once.)
DEARTH (with his sweet mournful smile). I shall be back in a moment—probably.
(As he passes into the wood his hands rise, as if a hammer had tapped him on the forehead. He is soon lost to view.)
LADY CAROLINE (after a long pause). He does not come back.
MRS. COADE. It’s horrible.
(She steals off by the door to her room, calling to her husband to do likewise. He takes a step after her, and stops in the grip of the two words that holds them all. The stillness continues. At last MRS. PURDIE goes out into the wood, her hands raised, and is swallowed up by it.)
ALICE (sardonically). You will have to go now, Mr. Purdie.
(He looks at JOANNA, and they go out together, one tap of the hammer for each.)
LOB. That’s enough. (Warningly.) Don’t you go, Mrs. Dearth. You’ll catch it if you go.
ALICE. A second chance!
(She goes out unflinching.)
LADY CAROLINE. One would like to know.
(She goes out. MRS. COADE’S voice is heard from the stair calling to her husband. He hesitates but follows LADY CAROLINE. To LOB now alone comes MATEY with a tray of coffee cups.)
MATEY (as he places his tray on the table). It is past your bed-time, sir. Say good-night to the ladies, and come along.
LOB. Matey, look!
MATEY (shrinking). Great heavens, then it’s true!
LOB. Yes, but I—I wasn’t sure.
(MATEY approaches the window cautiously to peer out, and his master gives him a sudden push that propels him into the wood. LOB’s back is toward us as he stands alone staring out upon the unknown. He is terrified still; yet quivers of rapture are running up and down his little frame.)