Rosalind Play by James Matthew Barrie
From Half Hours Plays
Two middle-aged ladies are drinking tea in the parlour of a cottage by the sea. It is far from London, and a hundred yards from the cry of children, of whom middle-aged ladies have often had enough. Were the room Mrs. Page’s we should make a journey through it in search of character, but she is only a bird of passage; nothing of herself here that has not strayed from her bedroom except some cushions and rugs: touches of character after all maybe, for they suggest that Mrs. Page likes to sit soft.
The exterior of the cottage is probably picturesque, with a thatched roof, but we shall never know for certain, it being against the rules of the game to step outside and look. The old bowed window of the parlour is of the engaging kind that still brings some carriage folk to a sudden stop in villages, not necessarily to sample the sweets of yester-year exposed within in bottles; its panes are leaded; but Mrs. Quickly will put something more modern in their place if ever her ship comes home. They will then be used as the roof of the hen-coop, and ultimately some lovely lady, given, like the chickens, to ‘picking up things,’ may survey the world through them from a window in Mayfair. The parlour is, by accident, like some woman’s face that scores by being out of drawing. At present the window is her smile, but one cannot fix features to the haphazard floor, nor to the irregular walls, which nevertheless are part of the invitation to come and stay here. There are two absurd steps leading up to Mrs. Page’s bedroom, and perhaps they are what give the room its retroussée touch. There is a smell of sea-weed; twice a day Neptune comes gallantly to the window and hands Mrs. Page the smell of sea-weed. He knows probably that she does not like to have to go far for her sea-weed. Perhaps he also suspects her to be something of a spark, and looks forward to his evening visits, of which we know nothing.
This is a mere suggestion that there may be more in Mrs. Page (when the moon is up, say) than meets the eye, but we see at present only what does meet the eye as she gossips with her landlady at the tea-table. Is she good-looking? is the universal shriek; the one question on the one subject that really thrills humanity. But the question seems beside the point about this particular lady, who has so obviously ceased to have any interest in the answer. To us who have a few moments to sum her up while she is still at the tea-table (just time enough for sharp ones to form a wrong impression), she is an indolent, sloppy thing, this Mrs. Page of London, decidedly too plump, and averse to pulling the strings that might contract her; as Mrs. Quickly may have said, she has let her figure go and snapped her fingers at it as it went. Her hair is braided back at a minimum of labour (and the brush has been left on the parlour mantelpiece). She wears at tea-time a loose and dowdy dressing-gown and large flat slippers. Such a lazy woman (shall we venture?) that if she were a beggar and you offered her alms, she would ask you to put them in her pocket for her.
Yet we notice, as contrary to her type, that she is not only dowdy but self-consciously enamoured of her dowdiness, has a kiss for it so to speak. This is odd, and perhaps we had better have another look at her. The thing waggling gaily beneath the table is one of her feet, from which the sprawling slipper has dropped, to remain where it fell. It is an uncommonly pretty foot, and one instantly wonders what might not the rest of her be like if it also escaped from its moorings.
The foot returns into custody, without its owner having to stoop, and Mrs. Page crosses with cheerful languor to a chair by the fire. She has a drawling walk that fits her gown. There is no footstool within reach, and she pulls another chair to her with her feet and rests them on it contentedly. The slippers almost hide her from our view.
Dame Quickly. You Mrs. Cosy Comfort.
Mrs. Page (whose voice is as lazy as her walk). That’s what I am. Perhaps a still better name for me would be Mrs. Treacly Contentment. Dame, you like me, don’t you? Come here, and tell me why.
Dame. What do I like you for, Mrs. Page? Well, for one thing, its very kind of you to let me sit here drinking tea and gossiping with you, for all the world as if I were your equal. And for another, you always pay your book the day I bring it to you, and that is enough to make any poor woman like her lodger.
Mrs. Page. Oh, as a lodger I know I’m well enough, and I love our gossips over the tea-pot, but that is not exactly what I meant. Let me put it in this way: If you tell me what you most envy in me, I shall tell you what I most envy in you.
Dame (with no need to reflect). Well, most of all, ma’am, I think I envy you your contentment with middle-age.
Mrs. Page (purring). I am middle-aged, so why should I complain of it?
Dame (who feels that only yesterday she was driving the youths to desperation). You even say it as if it were a pretty word.
Mrs. Page. But isn’t it?
Dame. Not when you are up to the knees in it, as I am.
Mrs. Page. And as I am. But I dote on it. It is such a comfy, sloppy, pull-the-curtains, carpet-slipper sort of word. When I wake in the morning, Dame, and am about to leap out of bed like the girl I once was, I suddenly remember, and I cry ‘Hurrah, I’m middle-aged.’
Dame. You just dumbfounder me when you tell me things like that. (Here is something she has long wanted to ask.) You can’t be more than forty, if I may make so bold?
Mrs. Page. I am forty and a bittock, as the Scotch say. That means forty, and a good wee bit more.
Dame. There! And you can say it without blinking.
Mrs. Page. Why not? Do you think I should call myself a 30-to-45, like a motor-car? Now what I think I envy you for most is for being a grandmamma.
Dame (smiling tolerantly at some picture the words have called up). That’s a cheap honour.
Mrs Page (summing up probably her whole conception of the duties of a grandmother). I should love to be a grandmamma, and toss little toddlekins in the air.
Dame (who knows that there is more in it than that). I dare say you will be some day.
(The eyes of both turn to a photograph on the mantelpiece. It represents a pretty woman in the dress of Rosalind. The Dame fingers it for the hundredth time, and Mrs. Page regards her tranquilly.)
Dame. No one can deny but your daughter is a pretty piece. How old will she be now?
Mrs. Page. Dame, I don’t know very much about the stage, but I do know that you should never, never ask an actress’s age.
Dame. Surely when they are as young and famous as this puss is.
Mrs. Page. She is getting on, you know. Shall we say twenty-three?
Dame. Well, well, it’s true you might be a grandmother by now. I wonder she doesn’t marry. Where is she now?
Mrs. Page. At Monte Carlo, the papers say. It is a place where people gamble.
Dame (shaking her head). Gamble? Dear, dear, that’s terrible. (But she knows of a woman who once won a dinner service
without anything untoward happening afterwards.) And yet I would like just once to put on my shilling with the best of them. If I were you I would try a month of that place with her.
Mrs. Page. Not I, I am just Mrs. Cosy Comfort. At Monte Carlo I should be a fish out of water, Dame, as much as Beatrice would be if she were to try a month down here with me.
Dame (less in disparagement of local society than of that sullen bore the sea, and blissfully unaware that it intrudes even at Monte Carlo). Yes, I’m thinking she would find this a dull hole. (In the spirit of adventure that has carried the English far) And yet, play-actress though she be, I would like to see her, God forgive me.
(She is trimming the lamp when there is a knock at the door. She is pleasantly flustered, and indicates with a gesture that something is constantly happening in this go-ahead village.)
Dame. It has a visitor’s sound.
(The lodger is so impressed that she takes her feet off the chair. Thus may Mrs. Quickly’s ancestors have stared at each other in this very cottage a hundred years ago when they thought they heard Napoleon tapping.)
Mrs. Page (keeping her head). If it is the doctor’s lady, she wants to arrange with me about the cutting out for the mothers’ meeting.
Dame (who has long ceased to benefit from these gatherings). Drat the mothers’ meetings.
Mrs. Page. Oh no, I dote on them. (She is splendidly active; in short, the spirited woman has got up.) Still, I want my evening snooze now, so just tell her I am lying down.
Dame (thankful to be in a plot). I will.
Mrs. Page. Yes, but let me lie down first, so that it won’t be a fib.
Dame. There, there. That’s such a middle-aged thing to say.
(In the most middle-aged way Mrs. Page spreads herself on a couch. They have been speaking in a whisper, and as the Dame goes to the door we have just time to take note that Mrs. Quickly whispered most beautifully: a softer whisper than the Dame’s, but so clear that it might be heard across a field. This is the most tell-tale thing we have discovered about her as yet.
Before Mrs. Quickly has reached the door it opens to admit an impatient young man in knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket, all aglow with rain-drops. Public school (and the particular one) is written on his forehead, and almost nothing else; he has scarcely yet begun to surmise that anything else may be required. He is modest and clear-eyed, and would ring for his tub in Paradise; reputably athletic also, with an instant smile always in reserve for the antagonist who accidentally shins him. Whatever you, as his host, ask him to do, he says he would like to awfully if you don’t mind his being a priceless duffer at it; his vocabulary is scanty, and in his engaging mouth ‘priceless’ sums up all that is to be known of good or ill in our varied existence; at a pinch it would suffice him for most of his simple wants, just as one may traverse the Continent with Combien? His brain is quite as good as another’s, but as yet he has referred scarcely anything to it. He respects learning in the aged, but shrinks uncomfortably from it in contemporaries, as persons who have somehow failed. To him the proper way to look upon ability is as something we must all come to in the end. He has a nice taste in the arts that has come to him by the way of socks, spats and slips, and of these he has a large and happy collection, which he laughs at jollily in public (for his sense of humour is sufficient), but in the privacy of his chamber he sometimes spreads them out like troutlet on the river’s bank and has his quiet thrills of exultation. Having lately left Oxford, he is facing the world confidently with nothing to impress it except these and his Fives Choice (having beaten Hon. Billy Minhorn in the final). He has not yet decided whether to drop into business or diplomacy or the bar. (There will be a lot of fag about this); and all unknown to him there is a grim piece of waste land waiting for him in Canada, which he will make a hash of, or it will make a man of him. Billy will be there too.)
Charles (on the threshold). I beg your pardon awfully, but I knocked three times.
Dame (liking the manner of him, and indeed it is the nicest manner in the world). What’s your pleasure?
Charles. You see how jolly wet my things are. (These boys get on delightful terms of intimacy at once.) I am on a walking tour—not that I have walked much—(they never boast; he has really walked well and far)—and I got caught in that shower. I thought when I saw a house that you might be kind enough to let me take my jacket off and warm my paws, until I can catch a train.
Dame (unable to whisper to Mrs. Page ‘He is good-looking’). I’m sorry, sir, but I have let the kitchen fire out.
Charles (peeping over her shoulder). This fire——?
Dame. This is my lodger’s room.
Charles. Ah, I see. Still, I dare say that if he knew—— (He has edged farther into the room, and becomes aware that there is a lady with eyes closed on the sofa.) I beg your pardon; I didn’t know there was any one here.
(But the lady on the sofa replies not, and to the Dame this is his dismissal.)
Dame. The station is just round the corner, and there is a waiting-room there.
Charles. A station waiting-room fire; I know them. Is she asleep?
Charles (who nearly always gets round them when he pouts). Then can’t I stay? I won’t disturb her.
Dame (obdurate). I’m sorry.
Charles (cheerily—he will probably do well on that fruit-farm). Heigho! Well, here is for the station waiting-room.
(And he is about to go when Mrs. Page signs to the Dame that he may stay. We have given the talk between the Dame and Charles in order to get it over, but our sterner eye is all the time on Mrs. Page. Her eyes remain closed as if in sleep and she is lying an the sofa, yet for the first time since the curtain rose she has come to life. As if she knew we were watching her she is again inert, but there was a twitch of the mouth a moment ago that let a sunbeam loose upon her face. It is gone already, popped out of the box and returned to it with the speed of thought. Noticeable as is Mrs. Page’s mischievous smile, far more noticeable is her control of it. A sudden thought occurs to us that the face we had thought stolid is made of elastic.)
Dame (cleverly). After all, if you’re willing just to sit quietly by the fire and take a book——
Charles. Rather. Any book. Thank you immensely.
(And in his delightful way of making himself at home he whips off his knapsack and steps inside the fender. ‘He is saucy, thank goodness,’ is what the Dame’s glance at Mrs. Page conveys. That lady’s eyelids flicker as if she had discovered a way of watching Charles while she slumbers. Anon his eye alights on the photograph that has already been the subject of conversation, and he is instantly exclamatory.)
Dame (warningly). Now, you promised not to speak.
Charles. But that photograph. How funny you should have it.
Dame (severely). Hsh. It’s not mine.
Charles (with his first glance of interest at the sleeper). Hers?
(The eyelids have ceased to flicker. It is placid Mrs. Page again. Never was such an inelastic face.)
Dame. Yes; only don’t talk.
Charles. But this is priceless (gazing at the photograph). I must talk. (He gives his reason.) I know her (a reason that would be complimentary to any young lady). It is Miss Beatrice Page.
Dame (who knows the creature man). You mean you’ve seen her?
Charles (youthfully). I know her quite well. I have had lunch with her twice. She is at Monte Carlo just now. (Swelling) I was one of those that saw her off.
Dame. Yes, that’s the place. Read what is written across her velvet chest.
Charles (deciphering the writing on the photograph). ‘To darling Mumsy with heaps of kisses.’ (His eyes gleam. Is he in the middle of an astonishing adventure?) You don’t tell me— Is that——?
Dame (as coolly as though she were passing the butter). Yes, that’s her mother. And a sore trial it must have been to her when her girl took to such a trade.
Charles (waving aside such nonsense). But I say, she never spoke to me about a mother.
Dame. The more shame to her.
Charles (deeply versed in the traffic of the stage). I mean she is famed as being almost the only actress who doesn’t have a mother.
Dame (bewildered). What?
Charles (seeing the uselessness of laying pearls before this lady). Let me have a look at her.
Dame. It is not to be thought of. (But an unexpected nod from the sleeper indicates that it may be permitted.) Oh, well, I see no harm in it if you go softly.
(He tiptoes to the sofa, but perhaps Mrs. Page is a light sleeper, for she stirs a little, just sufficiently to become more compact, while the slippers rise into startling prominence. Some humorous dream, as it might be, slightly extends her mouth and turns the oval of her face into a round. Her head has sunk into her neck. Simultaneously, as if her circulation were suddenly held up, a shadow passes over her complexion. This is a bad copy of the Mrs. Page we have seen hitherto, and will give Charles a poor impression of her.)
Charles (peering over the slippers). Yes, yes, yes.
Dame. Is she like the daughter, think you?
Charles (judicially). In a way, very. Hair’s not so pretty. She’s not such a fine colour. Heavier build, and I should say not so tall. None of Miss Page’s distinction, nothing svelte about her. As for the feet (he might almost have said the palisade)—the feet—— (He shudders a little, and so do the feet.)
Dame. She is getting on, you see. She is forty and a bittock.
Charles. A whattock?
Dame (who has never studied the Doric). It may be a whattock.
Charles (gallantly). But there’s something nice about her. I could have told she was her mother anywhere. (With which handsome compliment he returns to the fire, and Mrs. Page, no doubt much gratified, throws a kiss after him. She also signs to the Dame a mischievous desire to be left alone with this blade.)
Dame (discreetly). Well, I’ll leave you, but, mind, you are not to disturb her.
(She goes, with the pleasant feeling that there are two clever women in the house; and with wide-open eyes Mrs. Page watches Charles dealing amorously with the photograph. Soon he returns to her side, and her eyes are closed, but she does not trouble to repeat the trifling with her appearance. She probably knows the strength of first impressions.)
Charles (murmuring the word as if it were sweet music). Mumsy. (With conviction) You lucky mother.
Mrs. Page (in a dream). Is that you, Beatrice?
(This makes him skurry away, but he is soon back again, and the soundness of her slumber annoys him).
Charles (in a reproachful whisper). Woman, wake up and talk to me about your daughter.
(The selfish thing sleeps on, and somewhat gingerly he pulls away the cushion from beneath her head. Nice treatment for a lady. Mrs. Page starts up, and at first is not quite sure where she is, you know.)
Mrs. Page. Why—what——
Charles (contritely). I am very sorry. I’m afraid I disturbed you.
Mrs. Page (blankly). I don’t know you, do I?
Charles (who has his inspirations). No, madam, but I wish you did.
Mrs. Page (making sure that she is still in the Dame’s cottage). Who are you? and what are you doing here?
Charles (for truth is best). My name is Roche. I am nobody in particular. I’m just the usual thing; Eton, Oxford, and so to bed—as Pepys would say. I am on a walking tour, on my way to the station, but there is no train till seven, and your landlady let me in out of the rain on the promise that I wouldn’t disturb you.
Mrs. Page (taking it all in with a woman’s quickness). I see. (Suddenly) But you have disturbed me.
Charles. I’m sorry.
Mrs. Page (with a covert eye on him). It wasn’t really your fault. This cushion slipped from under me, and I woke up.
Charles (manfully). No, I—I pulled it away.
Mrs. Page (indignant). You did! (She advances upon him like a stately ship.) Will you please to tell me why?
Charles (feebly). I didn’t mean to pull so hard. (Then he gallantly leaps into the breach.) Madam, I felt it was impossible for me to leave this house without first waking you to tell you of the feelings of solemn respect with which I regard you.
Mrs. Page. Really.
Charles. I suppose I consider you the cleverest woman in the world.
Mrs. Page. On so short an acquaintance?
Charles (lucidly). I mean, to have had the priceless cleverness to have her——
Mrs. Page. Have her? (A light breaks on her.) My daughter?
Charles. Yes, I know her. (As who should say, Isn’t it a jolly world.)
Mrs. Page. You know Beatrice personally?
Charles (not surprised that it takes her a little time to get used to the idea). I assure you I have that honour. (In one mouthful) I think she is the most beautiful and the cleverest woman I have ever known.
Mrs. Page. I thought I was the cleverest.
Charles. Yes, indeed; for I think it even cleverer to have had her than to be her.
Mrs. Page. Dear me. I must wait till I get a chair before thinking this out. (A chair means two chairs to her, as we have seen, but she gives the one on which her feet wish to rest to Charles.) You can have this half, Mr.—ah—Mr.——?
Mrs. Page (resting from her labours of the last minute.) You are so flattering, Mr. Roche, I think you must be an actor yourself.
Charles (succinctly). No, I’m nothing. My father says I’m just an expense. But when I saw Beatrice’s photograph there (the nice boy pauses a moment because this is the first time he has said the name to her mother; he is taking off his hat to it) with the inscription on it——
Mrs. Page. That foolish inscription.
Charles (arrested). Do you think so?
Mrs. Page. I mean foolish, because she has quite spoilt the picture by writing across the chest. That beautiful gown ruined.
Charles (fondly tolerant). They all do it, even across their trousers; the men I mean.
Mrs. Page (interested). Do they? I wonder why.
Charles (remembering now that other callings don’t do it). It does seem odd. (But after all the others are probably missing something.)
Mrs. Page (shaking her wise head). I know very little about them, but I am afraid they are an odd race.
Charles (who has doted on many of them, though they were usually not sitting at his table). But very attractive, don’t you think? The ladies I mean.
Mrs. Page (luxuriously). I mix so little with them. I am not a Bohemian, you see. Did I tell you that I have never even seen Beatrice act?
Charles. You haven’t? How very strange. Not even her Rosalind?
Mrs. Page (stretching herself). No. Is it cruel to her?
Charles (giving her one). Cruel to yourself. (But this is no policy for an admirer of Miss Page.) She gave me her photograph as Rosalind. (Hurriedly) Not a postcard.
Mrs. Page (who is very likely sneering). With writing across the chest, I’ll be bound.
Charles (stoutly). Do you think I value it the less for that?
Mrs. Page (unblushing). Oh no, the more. You have it framed on your mantelshelf, haven’t you, so that when the other young bloods who are just an expense drop in they may read the pretty words and say, ‘Roche, old man, you are going it.’
Charles. Do you really think that I——
Mrs. Page. Pooh, that was what Beatrice expected when she gave it you.
Charles. Silence! (She raises her eyebrows, and he is stricken.) I beg your pardon, I should have remembered that you are her mother.
Mrs. Page (smiling on him). I beg yours. I should like to know, Mr. Roche, where you do keep that foolish photograph.
Charles (with a swelling). Why, here. (He produces it in a case from an honoured pocket.) Won’t you look at it?
Mrs. Page (with proper solemnity). Yes. It is one I like.
Charles (cocking his head). It just misses her at her best.
Mrs. Page. Her best? You mean her way of screwing her nose?
Charles (who was never sent up for good for lucidity—or perhaps he was). That comes into it. I mean—I mean her naïveté.
Mrs. Page. Ah yes, her naïveté. I have often seen her practising it before a glass.
Charles (with a disarming smile). Excuse me; you haven’t, you know.
Mrs. Page (disarmed). Haven’t I? Well, well, I dare say she is a wonder, but, mind you, when all is said and done, it is for her nose that she gets her salary. May I read what is written on the chest? (She reads.) The baggage! (Shaking her head at him). But this young lady on the other side, who is she, Lothario?
Charles (boyish and stumbling). That is my sister. She died three years ago. We were rather—chums—and she gave me that case to put her picture in. So I did.
(He jerks it out, glaring at her to see if she is despising him. But Mrs. Page, though she cannot be sentimental for long, can be very good at it while it lasts.)
Mrs. Page (quite moved). Good brother. And it is a dear face. But you should not have put my Beatrice opposite it, Mr. Roche: your sister would not have liked that. It was thoughtless of you.
Charles. My sister would have liked it very much. (Floundering) When she gave me the case she said to me—you know what girls are—she said, ‘If you get to love a woman, put her picture opposite mine, and then when the case is closed I shall be kissing her.’
(His face implores her not to think him a silly. She is really more troubled than we might have expected.)
Mrs. Page (rising). Mr. Roche, I never dreamt——
Charles. And that is why I keep the two pictures together.
Mrs. Page. You shouldn’t.
Charles. Why shouldn’t I? Don’t you dare to say anything to me against my Beatrice.
Mrs. Page (with the smile of ocean on her face). Your Beatrice. You poor boy.
Charles. Of course I haven’t any right to call her that. I haven’t spoken of it to her yet. I’m such a nobody, you see. (Very nice and candid of him, but we may remember that his love has not set him trying to make a somebody out of the nobody. Are you perfectly certain, Charles, that to be seen with the celebrated Page is not almost more delightful to you than to be with her? Her mother at all events gives him the benefit of the doubt, or so we interpret her sudden action. She tears the photograph in two. He protests indignantly.)
Mrs. Page. Mr. Roche, be merry and gay with Beatrice as you will, but don’t take her seriously. (She gives him back the case.) I think you said you had to catch a train.
Charles (surveying his torn treasure. He is very near to tears, but decides rather recklessly to be a strong man). Not yet; I must speak of her to you now.
Mrs. Page (a strong woman without having to decide). I forbid you.
Charles (who, if he knew himself, might see that a good deal of gloomy entertainment could be got by desisting here and stalking London as the persecuted of his lady’s mamma). I have the right. There is no decent man who hasn’t the right to tell a woman that he loves her daughter.
Mrs. Page (determined to keep him to earth though she has to hold him down). She doesn’t love you, my friend.
Charles (though a hopeless passion would be another rather jolly thing). How do you know? You have already said——
Mrs. Page (rather desperate). I wish you had never come here.
Charles (manfully). Why are you so set against me? I think if I was a woman I should like at any rate to take a good straight look into the eyes of a man who said he was fond of her daughter. You might have to say ‘No’ to him, but—often you must have had thoughts of the kind of man who would one day take her from you, and though I may not be the kind, I assure you, I—I am just as fond of her as if I were. (Not bad for Charles. Sent up for good this time.)
Mrs. Page (beating her hands together in distress). You are torturing me, Charles.
Charles. But why? Did I tell you my name was Charles? (With a happy thought.) She has spoken of me to you! What did she say?
(If he were thinking less of himself and a little of the woman before him he would see that she has turned into an exquisite supplicant.)
Mrs. Page. Oh, boy—you boy! Don’t say anything more. Go away now.
Charles. I don’t understand.
Mrs. Page. I never had an idea that you cared in that way. I thought we were only jolly friends.
Mrs. Page (with a wry lip for the word that has escaped her). Charles, if you must know, can’t you help me out a little. Don’t you see at last?
(She has come to him with undulations as lovely as a swallow’s flight, mocking, begging, not at all the woman we have been watching; she has become suddenly a disdainful, melting armful. But Charles does not see.)
Charles (the obtuse). I—I——
Mrs. Page. Very well. But indeed I am sorry to have to break your pretty toy. (Drooping still farther on her stem.) Beatrice, Mr. Roche, has not had a mother this many a year. Do you see now?
Mrs. Page. Well, well. (Abjectly) Beatrice, Mr. Roche, is forty and a bittock.
Charles. I—you—but—oh no.
Mrs. Page (for better, for worse). Yes, I am Beatrice. (He looks to the photograph to rise up and give her the lie.) The writing on the photograph? A jest. I can explain that.
Charles. But—but it isn’t only on the stage I have seen her. I know her off too.
Mrs. Page. A little. I can explain that also. (He is a very woeful young man.) I am horribly sorry, Charles.
Charles (with his last kick). Even now——
Mrs. Page. Do you remember an incident with a pair of scissors one day last June in a boat near Maidenhead?
Charles. When Beatrice—when you—when she—cut her wrist?
Mrs. Page. And you kissed the place to make it well. It left its mark.
Charles. I have seen it since.
Mrs. Page. You may see it again, Charles. (She offers him her wrist, but he does not look. He knows the mark is there. For the moment the comic spirit has deserted her, so anxious is she to help this tragic boy. She speaks in the cooing voice that proves her to be Beatrice better than any wrist-mark.) Am I so terribly unlike her as you knew her?
Charles (Ah, to be stabbed with the voice you have loved.) No, you are very like, only—yes, I know now it’s you.
Mrs. Page (pricked keenly). Only I am looking my age to-day. (Forlorn) This is my real self, Charles—if I have one. Why don’t you laugh, my friend. I am laughing. (No, not yet, though she will be presently.) You won’t give me away, will you? (He shakes his head.) I know you won’t now, but it was my first fear when I saw you. (With a sigh.) And now, I suppose, I owe you an explanation.
Charles (done with the world). Not unless you wish to.
Mrs. Page. Oh yes, I wish to. (The laughter is bubbling up now.) Only it will leave you a wiser and a sadder man. You will never be twenty-three again, Charles.
Charles (recalling his distant youth). No, I know I won’t.
Mrs. Page (now the laughter is playing round her mouth). Ah, don’t take it so lugubriously. You will only jump to twenty-four, say. (She sits down beside him to make full confession.) You must often have heard gossip about actresses’ ages?
Charles. I didn’t join in it.
Mrs. Page. Then you can’t be a member of a club.
Charles. If they began it——
Mrs. Page. You wouldn’t listen?
Charles. Not about you. I dare say I listened about the others.
Mrs. Page. You nice boy. And now to make you twenty-four. (Involuntarily, true to the calling she adorns, she makes the surgeon’s action of turning up her sleeves.) You have seen lots of plays, Charles?
Charles. Yes, tons.
Mrs. Page. Have you noticed that there are no parts in them for middle-aged ladies?
Charles (who has had too happy a life to notice this or almost anything else). Aren’t there?
Mrs. Page. Oh no, not for ‘stars.’ There is nothing for them between the ages of twenty-nine and sixty. Occasionally one of the less experienced dramatists may write such a part, but with a little coaxing we can always make him say, ‘She needn’t be more than twenty-nine.’ And so, dear Charles, we have succeeded in keeping middle-age for women off the stage. Why, even Father Time doesn’t let on about us. He waits at the wings with a dark cloth for us, just as our dressers wait with dust-sheets to fling over our expensive frocks; but we have a way with us that makes even Father Time reluctant to cast his cloak; perhaps it is the coquettish imploring look we give him as we dodge him; perhaps though he is an old fellow he can’t resist the powder on our pretty noses. And so he says, ‘The enchanting baggage, I’ll give her another year.’ When you come to write my epitaph, Charles, let it be in these delicious words, ‘She had a long twenty-nine.’
Charles. But off the stage—I knew you off. (Recalling a gay phantom) Why, I was one of those who saw you into your train for Monte Carlo.
Mrs. Page. You thought you did. That made it easier for me to deceive you here. But I got out of that train at the next station.
(She makes a movement to get out of the train here. We begin to note how she suits the action to the word in obedience to Shakespeare’s lamentable injunction; she cannot mention the tongs without forking two of her fingers.)
Charles. You came here instead?
Mrs. Page. Yes, stole here.
Charles (surveying the broken pieces of her). Even now I can scarcely— You who seemed so young and gay.
Mrs. Page (who is really very good-natured, else would she clout him on the head). I was a twenty-nine. Oh, don’t look so solemn, Charles. It is not confined to the stage. The stalls are full of twenty-nines. Do you remember what fun it was to help me on with my cloak? Remember why I had to put more powder on my chin one evening?
Charles (with a groan). It was only a few weeks ago.
Mrs. Page. Yes. Sometimes it was Mr. Time I saw in the mirror, but the wretch only winked at me and went his way.
Charles (ungallantly). But your whole appearance—so girlish compared to——
Mrs. Page (gallantly). To this. I am coming to ‘this,’ Charles. (Confidentially; no one can be quite so delightfully confidential as Beatrice Page.) You see, never having been more than twenty-nine, not even in my sleep—for we have to keep it up even in our sleep—I began to wonder what middle-age was like. I wanted to feel the sensation. A woman’s curiosity, Charles.
Charles. Still, you couldn’t——
Mrs. Page. Couldn’t I! Listen. Two summers ago, instead of going to Biarritz—see pictures of me in the illustrated papers stepping into my motor-car, or going a round of country houses—see photograph of us all on the steps—the names, Charles, read from left to right—instead of doing any of these things I pretended I went there, and in reality I came down here, determined for a whole calendar month to be a middle-aged lady. I had to get some new clothes, real, cosy, sloppy, very middle-aged clothes; and that is why I invented mamma; I got them for her, you see. I said she was about my figure, but stouter and shorter, as you see she is.
Charles (his eyes wandering up and down her—and nowhere a familiar place). I can’t make out——
Mrs. Page. No, you are too nice a boy to make it out. You don’t understand the difference that a sober way of doing one’s hair, and the letting out of a few strings, and sundry other trifles that are no trifles, make; but you see I vowed that if the immortal part of me was to get a novel sort of rest, my figure should get it also. Voila! And thus all cosy within and without, I took lodgings in the most out-of-the-world spot I knew of, in the hope that here I might find the lady of whom I was in search.
Mrs. Page (rather grimly). Meaning myself. Until two years ago she and I had never met.
Charles (the cynic). And how do you like her?
Mrs. Page. Better than you do, young sir. She is really rather nice. I don’t suppose I could do with her all the year round, but for a month or so I am just wallowing in her. You remember my entrancing little shoes? (she wickedly exposes her flapping slippers). At local dances I sit out deliciously as a wall-flower. Drop a tear, Charles, for me as a wall-flower. I play cards, and the engaged ladies give me their confidences as a dear old thing; and I never, never dream of setting my cap at their swains.
Charles. How strange. You who, when you liked——
Mrs. Page (plaintively). Yes, couldn’t I, Charles?
Charles (falling into the snare). It was just the wild gaiety of you.
Mrs. Page (who is in the better position to know). It was the devilry of me.
Charles. Whatever it was, it bewitched us.
Mrs. Page (candidly, but forgiving herself). It oughtn’t to.
Charles. If you weren’t all glee you were the saddest thing on earth.
Mrs. Page. But I shouldn’t have been sad on your shoulders, Charles.
Charles (appealing). You weren’t sad on all our shoulders, were you?
Mrs. Page (reassuring). No, not all.
Oh the gladness of her gladness when she’s glad, And the sadness of her sadness when she’s sad, But the gladness of her gladness And the sadness of her sadness Are as nothing, Charles, To the badness of her badness when she’s bad.
(This dagger-to-her-breast business is one of her choicest tricks of fence, and is very dangerous if you can coo like Beatrice.)
Charles (pinked). Not a word against yourself.
Mrs. Page (already seeing what she has been up to). Myself! I suppose even now I am only playing a part.
Charles (who has become her handkerchief). No, no, this is your real self.
Mrs. Page (warily). Is it? I wonder.
Charles. I never knew any one who had deeper feelings.
Mrs. Page. Oh, I am always ready with whatever feeling is called for. I have a wardrobe of them, Charles. Don’t blame me, blame the public of whom you are one; the pitiless public that has made me what I am. I am their slave and their plaything, and when I please them they fling me nuts. (Her voice breaks; no voice can break so naturally as Beatrice’s.) I would have been a darling of a wife—don’t you think so, Charles?—but they wouldn’t let me. I am only a bundle of emotions; I have two characters for each day of the week. Home became a less thing to me than a new part. Charles, if only I could have been a nobody. Can’t you picture me, such a happy, unknown woman, dancing along some sandy shore with half a dozen little boys and girls hanging on to my skirts? When my son was old enough, wouldn’t he and I have made a rather pretty picture for the king the day he joined his ship. And I think most of all I should have loved to deck out my daughter in her wedding-gown.
When her mother tends her before the laughing mirror, Tying up her laces, looping up her hair—
But the public wouldn’t have it, and I had to pay the price of my success.
Charles (heart-broken for that wet face). Beatrice!
Mrs. Page. I became a harum-scarum, Charles; sometimes very foolish—(With a queer insight into herself) chiefly through good-nature I think. There were moments when there was nothing I wouldn’t do, so long as I was all right for the play at night. Nothing else seemed to matter. I have kicked over all the traces, my friend. You remember the Scottish poet who
Keenly felt the friendly glow And softer flame, But thoughtless follies laid him low And stained his name.
(Sadly enough) Thoughtless follies laid her low, Charles, and stained her name.
Charles (ready to fling down his glove in her defence). I don’t believe it. No, no, Beatrice—Mrs. Page——
Mrs. Page. Ah, it’s Mrs. Page now.
Charles. You are crying.
Mrs. Page (with some satisfaction). Yes, I am crying.
Charles. This is terrible to me. I never dreamt your life was such a tragedy.
Mrs. Page (coming to). Don’t be so concerned. I am crying, but all the time I am looking at you through the corner of my eye to see if I am doing it well.
Charles (hurt). Don’t—don’t.
Mrs. Page (well aware that she will always be her best audience). Soon I’ll be laughing again. When I have cried, Charles, then it is time for me to laugh.
Charles. Please, I wish you wouldn’t.
Mrs. Page (already in the grip of another devil). And from all this, Charles, you have so nobly offered to save me. You are prepared to take me away from this dreadful life and let me be my real self. (Charles distinctly blanches.) Charles, it is dear and kind of you, and I accept your offer. (She gives him a come-and-take-me curtsy and awaits his rapturous response. The referee counts ten, but Charles has not risen from the floor. Goose that he is; she trills with merriment, though there is a touch of bitterness in it.) You see the time for laughing has come already. You really thought I wanted you, you conceited boy. (Rather grandly) I am not for the likes of you.
Charles (abject). Don’t mock me. I am very unhappy.
Mrs. Page (putting her hand on his shoulder in her dangerous, careless, kindly way). There, there, it is just a game. All life’s a game.
(It is here that the telegram comes. Mrs. Quickly brings it in; and the better to read it, but with a glance at Charles to observe the effect on him, Mrs. Page puts on her large horn spectacles. He sighs.)
Dame. Is there any answer? The girl is waiting.
Mrs. Page. No answer, thank you.
(Mrs. Quickly goes, wondering what those two have had to say to each other.)
Charles (glad to be a thousand miles away from recent matters). Not bad news, I hope?
Mrs. Page (wiping her spectacles). From my manager. It is in cipher, but what it means is that the summer play isn’t drawing, and that they have decided to revive As You Like It. They want me back to rehearse to-morrow at eleven.
Charles (indignant). They can’t even let you have a few weeks.
Mrs. Page (returning from London). What? Heigho, is it not sad. But I had been warned that this might happen.
Charles (evolving schemes). Surely if you——
(But she has summoned Mrs. Quickly.)
Mrs. Page (plaintively). Alas, Dame, our pleasant gossips have ended for this year. I am called back to London hurriedly.
Dame. Oh dear, the pity! (She has already asked herself what might be in the telegram.) Your girl has come back, and she wants you? Is that it?
Mrs. Page. That’s about it. (Her quiet, sad manner says that we must all dree our weird.) I must go. Have I time to catch the express?
Charles (dispirited). It leaves at seven.
Mrs. Page (bravely). I think I can do it. Is that the train you are to take?
Charles. Yes, but only to the next station.
Mrs. Page (grown humble in her misfortune). Even for that moment of your company I shall be grateful. Dame, this gentleman turns out to be a friend of Beatrice.
Dame. So he said, but I suspicioned him.
Mrs. Page. Well, he is. Mr. Roche, this is my kind Dame. I must put a few things together.
Dame. If I can help——
Mrs. Page. You can send on my luggage to-morrow; but here is one thing you might do now. Run down to the Rectory and tell them why I can’t be there for the cutting-out.
Dame. I will.
Mrs. Page. I haven’t many minutes. Good-bye, you dear, for I shall be gone before you get back. I’ll write and settle everything. (With a last look round) Cosy room! I have had a lovely time.
(Her face quivers a little, but she does not break down. She passes, a courageous figure, into the bedroom. The slippers plop as she mounts the steps to it. Her back looks older than we have seen it; at least such is its intention.)
Dame (who has learned the uselessness of railing against fate). Dearie dear, what a pity.
Charles (less experienced). It’s horrible.
Dame (wisely turning fate into a gossip). Queer to think of a lady like Mrs. Page having a daughter that jumps about for a living. (Good God, thinks Charles, how little this woman knows of life.) What I sometimes fear is that the daughter doesn’t take much care of her. I dare say she’s fond of her, but does she do the little kind things for her that a lady come Mrs. Page’s age needs?
Charles (wincing). She’s not so old.
Dame (whose mind is probably running on breakfast in bed and such-like matters). No, but at our age we are fond of—of quiet, and I doubt she doesn’t get it.
Charles. I know she doesn’t.
Dame (stumbling among fine words which attract her like a display of drapery). She says it’s her right to be out of the hurly-burly and into what she calls the delicious twilight of middle-age.
Charles (with dizzying thoughts in his brain). If she is so fond of it, isn’t it a shame she should have to give it up?
Dame. The living here?
Charles. Not so much that as being middle-aged.
Dame. Give up being middle-aged! How could she do that?
(He is saved replying by Mrs. Page, who calls from the bedroom.)
Mrs. Page. Dame, I hear you talking, and you promised to go at once.
(The Dame apologises, and is off. Charles is left alone with his great resolve, which is no less than to do one of the fine things of history. It carries him toward the bedroom door, but not quickly; one can also see that it has a rival who is urging him to fly the house.)
Charles (with a drum beating inside him). Beatrice, I want to speak to you at once.
Mrs. Page (through the closed door). As soon as I have packed my bag.
Charles (finely). Don’t pack it.
Mrs. Page. I must.
Charles. I have something to say.
Mrs. Page. I can hear you.
Charles (who had been honourably mentioned for the school prize poem). Beatrice, until now I hadn’t really known you at all. The girl I was so fond of, there wasn’t any such girl.
Mrs. Page. Oh yes, indeed there was.
Charles (now in full sail for a hero’s crown). There was the dear woman who was Rosalind, but she had tired of it. Rosalind herself grew old and gave up the forest of Arden, but there was one man who never forgot the magic of her being there; and I shall never forget yours. (Strange that between the beatings of the drum he should hear a little voice within him calling, ‘Ass, Charles, you ass!’ or words to that effect. But he runs nobly on.) My dear, I want to be your Orlando to the end. (Surely nothing could be grander. He is chagrined to get no response beyond what might be the breaking of a string.) Do you hear me?
Mrs. Page. Yes. (A brief answer, but he is off again.)
Charles. I will take you out of that hurly-burly and accompany you into the delicious twilight of middle-age. I shall be staid in manner so as not to look too young, and I will make life easy for you in your declining years. (‘Ass, Charles, you ass!’) Beatrice, do come out.
Mrs. Page. I am coming now. (She comes out carrying her bag.) You naughty Charles, I heard you proposing to mamma.
(The change that has come over her is far too subtle to have grown out of a wish to surprise him, but its effect on Charles is as if she had struck him in the face.
Too subtle also to be only an affair of clothes, though she is now in bravery hot from Mdme. Make-the-woman, tackle by Monsieur, a Rosalind cap jaunty on her head, her shoes so small that one wonders if she ever has to light a candle to look for her feet. She is a tall, slim young creature, easily breakable; svelte is the word that encompasses her as we watch the flow of her figure, her head arching on its long stem, and the erect shoulders that we seem, God bless us, to remember as a little hunched. Her eyes dance with life but are easily startled, because they are looking fresh upon the world, wild notes in them as from the woods. Not a woman this but a maid, or so it seems to Charles.
She has been thinking very little about him, but is properly gratified by what she reads in his face.)
Do I surprise you as much as that, Charles?
(She puts down her bag, Beatrice Page’s famous bag. If you do not know it, you do not, alas, know Beatrice. It is seldom out of her hand, save when cavaliers have been sent in search of it. She is always late for everything except her call, and at the last moment she sweeps all that is most precious to her into the bag, and runs. Jewels? Oh no, pooh; letters from nobodies, postal orders for them, a piece of cretonne that must match she forgets what, bits of string she forgets why, a book given her by darling What’s-his-name, a broken miniature, part of a watch-chain, a dog’s collar, such a neat parcel tied with ribbon (golden gift or biscuits? she means to find out some day), a purse, but not the right one, a bottle of frozen gum, and a hundred good-natured scatter-brained things besides. Her servants (who all adore her) hate the bag as if it were a little dog; swains hate it because it gets lost and has to be found in the middle of a declaration; managers hate it because she carries it at rehearsals, when it bursts open suddenly like a too tightly laced lady, and its contents are strewn on the stage; authors make engaging remarks about it until they discover that it has an artful trick of bursting because she does not know her lines. If you complain, really furious this time, she takes you all in her arms. Well, well, but what we meant to say was that when Beatrice sees Charles’s surprise she puts down her bag.)
Charles. Good God! Is there nothing real in life.
(She curves toward him in one of those swallow-flights which will haunt the stage long after Beatrice Page is but a memory. What they say and how they said it soon passes away; what lives on is the pretty movements like Beatrice’s swallow-flights. All else may go, even the golden voices go, but the pretty movements remain and play about the stage for ever. They are the only ghosts of the theatre.)
Mrs. Page. Heaps of things. Rosalind is real, and I am Rosalind; and the forest of Arden is real, and I am going back to it; and cakes and ale are real, and I am to eat and drink them again. Everything is real except middle-age.
(She puts her hand on his shoulder in the old, dangerous, kindly, too friendly way. That impulsive trick of yours, madam, has a deal to answer for.)
Charles. But you said——
(She flings up her hands in mockery; they are such subtle hands that she can stand with her back to you, and, putting them behind her, let them play the drama.)
Mrs. Page. I said! (She is gone from him in another flight.) I am Rosalind and I am going back. Hold me down, Charles, unless you want me to go mad with glee.
Charles (gripping her). I feel as if in the room you came out of you have left the woman who went into it five minutes ago.
Mrs. Page (slipping from him as she slips from all of us). I have, Charles, I have. I left the floppy, sloppy old frump in a trunk to be carted to the nearest place where they store furniture; and I tell you, my friend (she might have said friends, for it is a warning to the Charleses of every age), if I had a husband and children I would cram them on top of the cart if they sought to come between me and Arden.
Charles (with a shiver). Beatrice!
Mrs. Page. The stage is waiting, the audience is calling, and up goes the curtain. Oh, my public, my little dears, come and foot it again in the forest, and tuck away your double chins.
Charles. You said you hated the public.
Mrs. Page. It was mamma said that. They are my slaves and my playthings, and I toss them nuts. (He knows not how she got there, but for a moment of time her head caressingly skims his shoulder, and she is pouting in his face.) Every one forgives me but you, Charles, every one but you.
Charles (delirious). Beatrice, you unutterable delight——
Mrs. Page (worlds away). Don’t forgive me if you would rather not,
Here’s a sigh to those who love me, And a smile to those who hate.
Charles (pursuing her). There is no one like you on earth, Beatrice. Marry me, marry me (as if he could catch her).
Mrs. Page (cruelly). As a staff for my declining years?
Charles. Forget that rubbish and marry me, you darling girl.
Mrs. Page. I can’t and I won’t, but I’m glad I am your darling girl. (Very likely she is about to be delightful to him, but suddenly she sees her spoil-sport of a bag.) I am trusting to you not to let me miss the train.
Charles. I am coming with you all the way (as if she needed to be told). We had better be off.
Mrs. Page (seizing the bag). Charles, as we run to the station we will stop at every telegraph post and carve something sweet on it—’From the East to Western Ind’—
Charles (inspired). ‘No jewel is like Rosalind’—
Mrs. Page. ‘Middle-age is left behind’—
Charles. ‘For ever young is Rosalind.’ Oh, you dear, Motley’s the only wear.
Mrs. Page. And all the way up in the train, Charles, you shall woo me exquisitely. Nothing will come of it, but you are twenty-three again, and you will have a lovely time.
Charles. I’ll win you, I’ll win you.
Mrs. Page. And eventually you will marry the buxom daughter of the wealthy tallow-chandler——
Charles. Never, I swear.
Mrs. Page (screwing her nose). And bring your children to see me playing the Queen in Hamlet.
(Here Charles Roche, bachelor, kisses the famous Beatrice Page. Another sound is heard.)
Charles. The whistle of the train.
Mrs. Page. Away, away! ‘Tis Touchstone calling. Fool, I come, I come. (To bedroom door) Ta-ta, mamma.
(They are gone.)