The Will Play by James Matthew Barrie

Half Hours Plays by James Matthew Barrie

From Half Hours Plays

The Will Play

The scene is any lawyers office.

It may be, and no doubt will be, the minute reproduction of some actual office, with all the characteristic appurtenances thereof, every blot of ink in its proper place; but for the purpose in hand any bare room would do just as well. The only thing essential to the room, save the two men sitting in it, is a framed engraving on the wall of Queen Victoria, which dates sufficiently the opening scene, and will be changed presently to King Edward; afterwards to King George, to indicate the passing of time. No other alteration is called for. Doubtless different furniture came in, and the tiling of the fire-place was renewed, and at last some one discovered that the flowers in the window-box were dead, but all that is as immaterial to the action as the new blue-bottles; the succession of monarchs will convey allegorically the one thing necessary, that time is passing, but that the office of Devizes, Devizes, and Devizes goes on.

The two men are Devizes Senior and Junior. Senior, who is middle-aged, succeeded to a good thing years ago, and as the curtain rises we see him bent over his table making it a better thing. It is pleasant to think that before he speaks he adds another thirteen and fourpence, say, to the fortune of the firm.

Junior is quite a gay dog, twenty-three, and we catch him skilfully balancing an office ruler on his nose. He is recently from Oxford—
If you show him in Hyde Park, lawk, how they will stare, Tho’ a very smart figure in Bloomsbury Square.

Perhaps Junior is a smarter figure in the office (among the clerks) than he was at Oxford, but this is one of the few things about him that his shrewd father does not know.

There comes to them by the only door into the room a middle-aged clerk called Surtees, who is perhaps worth looking at, though his manner is that of one who has long ceased to think of himself as of any importance to either God or man. Look at him again, however {which few would do), and you may guess that he has lately had a shock—touched a living wire—and is a little dazed by it. He brings a card to Mr. Devizes, Senior, who looks at it and shakes his head.

Mr. Devizes. ‘Mr. Philip Ross.’ Don’t know him.

Surtees (who has an expressionless voice). He says he wrote you two days ago, sir, explaining his business.

Mr. Devizes. I have had no letter from a Philip Ross.

Robert. Nor I.

(He is more interested in his feat with the ruler than in a possible client, but Surtees looks at him oddly.)

Mr. Devizes. Surtees looks as if he thought you had.

(Robert obliges by reflecting in the light of Surtees’s countenance.)

Robert. Ah, you think it may have been that one, Surty?

Mr. Devizes (sharply). What one?

Robert. It was the day before yesterday. You were out, father, and Surtees brought me in some letters. His mouth was wide open. (Thoughtfully) I suppose that was why I did it.

Mr. Devizes. What did you do?

Robert. I must have suddenly recalled a game we used to play at Oxford. You try to fling cards one by one into a hat. It requires great skill. So I cast one of the letters at Surtees’s open mouth, and it missed him and went into the fire. It may have been Philip Ross’s letter.

Mr. Devizes (wrinkling his brows). Too bad, Robert.

Robert (blandly). Yes, you see I am out of practice.

Surtees. He seemed a very nervous person, sir, and quite young. Not a gentleman of much consequence.

Robert (airily). Why not tell him to write again?

Mr. Devizes. Not fair.

Surtees. But she——

Robert. She? Who?

Surtees. There is a young lady with him, sir. She is crying.

Robert. Pretty?

Surtees. I should say she is pretty, sir, in a quite inoffensive way.

Robert (for his own gratification). Ha!

Mr. Devizes. Well, when I ring show them in.

Robert (with roguish finger). And let this be a lesson to you, Surty, not to go about your business with your mouth open. (Surtees tries to smile as requested, but with poor success.) Nothing the matter, Surty? You seem to have lost your sense of humour.

Surtees (humbly enough). I’m afraid I have, sir. I never had very much, Mr. Robert.

(He goes quietly. There has been a suppressed emotion about him that makes the incident poignant.)

Robert. Anything wrong with Surtees, father?

Mr. Devizes. Never mind him. I am very angry with you, Robert.

Robert (like one conceding a point in a debating society). And justly.

Mr. Devizes (frowning). All we can do is to tell this Mr. Ross that we have not read his letter.

Robert (bringing his knowledge of the world to bear). Is that necessary?

Mr. Devizes. We must admit that we don’t know what he has come about.

Robert (tolerant of his father’s limitations). But don’t we?

Mr. Devizes. Do you?

Robert. I rather think I can put two and two together.

Mr. Devizes. Clever boy! Well, I shall leave them to you.

Robert. Right.

Mr. Devizes. Your first case, Robert.

Robert (undismayed). It will be as good as a play to you to sit there and watch me discovering before they have been two minutes in the room what is the naughty thing that brings them here.

Mr. Devizes (drily). I am always ready to take a lesson from the new generation. But of course we old fogies could do that also.

Robert. How?

Mr. Devizes. By asking them.

Robert. Pooh. What did I go to Oxford for?

Mr. Devizes. God knows. Are you ready?

Robert. Quite.

(Mr. Devizes rings.)

Mr. Devizes. By the way, we don’t know the lady’s name.

Robert. Observe me finding it out.

Mr. Devizes. Is she married or single?

Robert. I’ll know at a glance. And mark me, if she is married it is our nervous gentleman who has come between her and her husband; but if she is single it is little Wet Face who has come between him and his wife.

Mr. Devizes. A Daniel!

(A young man and woman are shown in: very devoted to each other, though Robert does not know it. Yet it is the one thing obvious about them; more obvious than his cheap suit, which she presses carefully beneath the mattress every night, or than the strength of his boyish face. Thinking of him as he then was by the light of subsequent events one wonders whether if he had come alone his face might have revealed something disquieting which was not there while she was by. Probably not; it was certainly already there, but had not yet reached the surface. With her, too, though she is to be what is called changed before we see them again, all seems serene; no warning signals; nothing in the way of their happiness in each other but this alarming visit to a lawyer’s office. The stage direction might be ‘Enter two lovers.’ He is scarcely the less nervous of the two, but he enters stoutly in front of her as if to receive the first charge. She has probably nodded valiantly to him outside the door, where she let go his hand.)

Robert (master of the situation). Come in, Mr. Ross (and he bows reassuringly to the lady). My partner—indeed my father. (Mr. Devizes bows but remains in the background.)

Philip (with a gulp). You got my letter?

Robert. Yes—yes.

Philip. I gave you the details in it.

Robert. Yes, I have them all in my head. (Cleverly) You will sit down Miss— I don’t think I caught the name.

(As much as to say, ‘You see, father, I spotted that she was single at once.’)

Mr. Devizes (who has also formed his opinion). You didn’t ask for it, Robert.

Robert (airily). Miss—?

Philip. This is Mrs. Ross, my wife.

(Robert is a little taken aback, and has a conviction that his father is smiling.)

Robert. Ah yes, of course; sit down, please, Mrs. Ross.

(She sits as if this made matters rather worse.)

Philip (standing guard by her side). My wife is a little agitated.

Robert. Naturally. (He tries a ‘feeler.’) These affairs—very painful at the time—but one gradually forgets.

Emily (with large eyes). That is what Mr. Ross says, but somehow I can’t help— (the eyes fill). You see, we have been married only four months.

Robert. Ah—that does make it—yes, certainly. (He becomes the wife’s champion, and frowns on Philip.)

Philip. I suppose the sum seems very small to you?

Robert (serenely). I confess that is the impression it makes on me.

Philip. I wish it was more.

Robert (at a venture). You are sure you can’t make it more?

Philip. How can I?

Robert. Ha!

Emily (with sudden spirit). I think it’s a great deal.

Philip. Mrs. Ross is so nice about it.

Robert (taking a strong line). I think so. But she must not be taken advantage of. And of course we shall have something to say as to the amount.

Philip (blankly). In what way? There it is.

Robert (guardedly). Hum. Yes, in a sense.

Emily (breaking down). Oh dear!

Robert (more determined than ever to do his best for this wronged woman). I am very sorry, Mrs. Ross. (Sternly) I hope, sir, you realise that the mere publicity to a sensitive woman——

Philip. Publicity?

Robert (feeling that he has got him on the run). Of course for her sake we shall try to arrange things so that the names do not appear. Still——

Philip. The names?

(By this time Emily is in tears.)

Emily. I can’t help it. I love him so.

Robert (still benighted). Enough to forgive him? (Seeing himself suddenly as a mediator) Mrs. Ross, is it too late to patch things up?

Philip (now in flame). What do you mean, sir?

Mr. Devizes (who has been quietly enjoying himself). Yes, Robert, what do you mean precisely?

Robert. Really I—(he tries brow-beating) I must tell you at once, Mr. Ross, that unless a client gives us his fullest confidence we cannot undertake a case of this kind.

Philip. A case of what kind, sir? If you are implying anything against my good name——

Robert. On your honour, sir, is there nothing against it?

Philip. I know of nothing, sir.

Emily. Anything against my husband, Mr. Devizes! He is an angel.

Robert (suddenly seeing that little Wet Face must be the culprit). Then it is you!

Emily. Oh, sir, what is me?

Philip. Answer that, sir.

Robert. Yes, Mr. Ross, I will. (But he finds he cannot.) On second thoughts I decline. I cannot believe it has been all this lady’s fault, and I decline to have anything to do with such a painful case.

Mr. Devizes (promptly). Then I will take it up.

Philip (not to be placated). I think your son has insulted me.

Emily. Philip, come away.

Mr. Devizes. One moment, please. As I did not see your letter, may I ask Mr. Ross what is your business with us?

Philip. I called to ask whether you would be so good as to draw up my will.

Robert (blankly). Your will! Is that all?

Philip. Certainly.

Mr. Devizes. Now we know, Robert.

Robert. But Mrs. Ross’s agitation?

Philip (taking her hand). She feels that to make my will brings my death nearer.

Robert. So that’s it!

Philip. It was all in the letter.

Mr. Devizes (coyly). Anything to say, Robert?

Robert. Most—ah—extremely— (He has an inspiration.) But even now I’m puzzled. You are Edgar Charles Ross?

Philip. No, Philip Ross.

Robert (brazenly). Philip Ross? We have made an odd mistake, father. (There is a twinkle in Mr. Devizes’s eye. He watches interestedly to see how his son is to emerge from the mess.) The fact is, Mrs. Ross, we are expecting to-day a Mr. Edgar Charles Ross on a matter—well—of a kind— Ah me. (With fitting gravity) His wife, in short.

Emily (who has not read the newspapers in vain). How awful. How sad.

Robert. Sad indeed. You will quite understand that professional etiquette prevents my saying one word more.

Philip. Yes, of course—we have no desire—But I did write.

Robert. Assuredly. But about a will. That is my father’s department. No doubt you recall the letter now, father?

Mr. Devizes (who if he won’t hinder won’t help). I can’t say I do.

Robert (unabashed). Odd. You must have overlooked it.

Mr. Devizes. Ha. At all events, Mr. Ross, I am quite at your service now.

Philip. Thank you.

Robert (still ready to sacrifice himself on the call of duty). You don’t need me any more, father?

Mr. Devizes. No, Robert; many thanks. You run off to your club now and have a bit of lunch. You must be tired. Send Surtees in to me. (To his clients) My son had his first case to-day.

Philip (politely). I hope successfully.

Mr. Devizes. Not so bad. He rather bungled it at first, but he got out of a hole rather cleverly. I think you’ll make a lawyer yet, Robert.

Robert. Thank you, father. (He goes jauntily, with a flower in his button-hole.)

Mr. Devizes. Now, Mr. Ross.

(The young wife’s hand goes out for comfort and finds Philip’s waiting for it.)

Philip. What I want myself is that the will should all go into one sentence, ‘I leave everything of which I die possessed to my beloved wife.’

Mr. Devizes (thawing to the romance of this young couple). Well, there have been many worse wills than that, sir.

(Emily is emotional.)

Philip. Don’t give way, Emily.

Emily. It was those words, ‘of which I die possessed.’ (Imploring) Surely he doesn’t need to say that—please, Mr. Devizes?

Mr. Devizes. Certainly not. I am confident I can draw up the will without mentioning death at all.

Emily (huskily). Oh, thank you.

Mr. Devizes. At the same time, of course, in a legal document in which the widow is the sole——

(Emily again needs attention.)

Philip (reproachfully). What was the need of saying ‘widow’?

Mr. Devizes. I beg your pardon, Mrs. Ross. I unreservedly withdraw the word ‘widow.’ Forgive a stupid old solicitor. (She smiles gratefully through her tears. Surtees comes in.) Surtees, just take a few notes, please. (Surtees sits in the background and takes notes.) The facts of the case as I understand, Mrs. Ross, are these: Your husband—(Quickly) who is in the prime of health—but knows life to be uncertain——

Emily. Oh!

Mr. Devizes. —though usually, as we learn from holy script itself, it lasts seven times ten years—and believing that he will in all probability live the allotted span, nevertheless, because of his love of you, thinks it judicious to go through the form—it is a mere form—of making a will.

Emily (fervently). Oh, thank you.

Mr. Devizes. Any details, Mr. Ross?

Philip. I am an orphan. I live at Belvedere, 14 Tulphin Road, Hammersmith.

Emily (to whom the address has a seductive sound). We live there.

Philip. And I am a clerk in the employ of Curar and Gow, the foreign coaling agents.

Mr. Devizes. Yes, yes. Any private income?

(They cannot help sniggering a little at the quaint question.)

Philip. Oh no!

Mr. Devizes. I see it will be quite a brief will.

Philip (to whom the remark sounds scarcely worthy of a great occasion). My income is a biggish one.

Mr. Devizes. Yes?

Emily (important). He has £170 a year.

Mr. Devizes. Ah.

Philip. I began at £60. But it is going up, Mr. Devizes, by leaps and bounds. Another £15 this year.

Mr. Devizes. Good.

Philip (darkly). I have a certain ambition.

Emily (eagerly). Tell him, Philip.

Philip (with a big breath). We have made up our minds to come to £365 a year before I—retire.

Emily. That is a pound a day.

Mr. Devizes (smiling sympathetically on them). So it is. My best wishes.

Philip. Thank you. Of course the furnishing took a good deal.

Mr. Devizes. It would.

Emily. He insisted on my having the very best. (She ceases. She is probably thinking of her superb spare bedroom.)

Philip. But we are not a penny in debt; and I have £200 saved.

Mr. Devizes. I think you have made a brave beginning.

Emily. They have the highest opinion of him in the office.

Philip. Then I am insured for £500.

Mr. Devizes. I am glad to hear that.

Philip. Of course I would like to leave her a house in Kensington and a carriage and pair.

Mr. Devizes. Who knows, perhaps you will.

Emily. Oh!

Mr. Devizes. Forgive me.

Emily. What would houses and horses be to me without him.

Mr. Devizes (soothingly). Quite so. What I take Mr. Ross to mean is that when he dies—if he ever should die—everything is to go to his—his spouse.

Philip (dogged). Yes.

Emily (dogged). No.

Philip (sighing). This is the only difference we have ever had. Mrs. Ross insists on certain bequests. You see, I have two cousins, ladies, not well off, whom I have been in the way of helping a little. But in my will, how can I?

Mr. Devizes. You must think first of your wife.

Philip. But she insists on my leaving £50 to each of them. (He looks appealingly to his wife.)

Emily (grandly). £100.

Philip. £50.

Emily. Dear, £100.

Mr. Devizes. Let us say £75.

Philip (reluctantly). Very well.

Emily. No, £100.

Philip. She’ll have to get her way. Here are their names and addresses.

Mr. Devizes. Anything else?

Philip (hurriedly). No.

Emily. The convalescent home, dear. He was in it a year ago, and they were so kind.

Philip. Yes, but——

Emily. £10. (He has to yield, with a reproachful, admiring look.)

Mr. Devizes. Then if that is all, I won’t detain you. If you look in to-morrow, Mr. Ross, about this time, we shall have everything ready for you.

(Their faces fall.)

Emily. Oh, Mr. Devizes, if only it could all be drawn up now, and done with.

Philip. You see, sir, we are screwed up to it to-day.

(‘Our fate is in your hands,’ they might be saying, and the lawyer smiles to find himself such a power.)

Mr. Devizes (looking at his watch). Well, it certainly need not take long. You go out and have lunch somewhere, and then come back.

Emily. Oh, don’t ask me to eat.

Philip. We are too excited.

Emily. Please may we just walk about the street?

Mr. Devizes (smiling). Of course you may, you ridiculous young wife.

Emily. I know it’s ridiculous of me, but I am so fond of him.

Mr. Devizes. Yes, it is ridiculous. (Kindly, and with almost a warning note) But don’t change; especially if you get on in the world, Mr. Ross.

Philip. No fear!

Emily (backing from the will, which may now be said to be in existence). And please don’t give us a copy of it to keep. I would rather not have it in the house.

Mr. Devizes (nodding reassuringly). In an hour’s time. (They go, and the lawyer has his lunch, which is simpler than Robert’s: a sandwich and a glass of wine. He speaks as he eats.) You will get that ready, Surtees. Here are the names and addresses he left. (Cheerily) A nice couple.

Surtees (who is hearing another voice). Yes, sir.

Mr. Devizes (unbending). Little romance of its kind. Makes one feel quite gay.

Surtees. Yes, sir.

Mr. Devizes (struck perhaps by the deadness of his voice). You don’t look very gay, Surtees.

Surtees. I’m sorry, sir. We can’t all be gay. (He is going out without looking at his employer.) I’ll see to this, sir.

Mr. Devizes. Stop a minute. Is there anything wrong? (Surtees has difficulty in answering, and Mr. Devizes goes to him kindly.) Not worrying over that matter we spoke about? (Surtees inclines his head.) Is the pain worse?

Surtees. It’s no great pain, sir.

Mr. Devizes (uncomfortably). I’m sure it’s not—what you fear. Any specialist would tell you so.

Surtees (without looking up). I have been to one, sir—yesterday.

Mr. Devizes. Well?

Surtees. It’s—that, sir.

Mr. Devizes. He couldn’t be sure.

Surtees. Yes, sir.

Mr. Devizes. An operation——

Surtees. Too late, he said, for that. If I had been operated on long ago there might have been a chance.

Mr. Devizes. But you didn’t have it long ago.

Surtees. Not to my knowledge, sir; but he says it was there all the same, always in me, a black spot, not so big as a pin’s head, but waiting to spread and destroy me in the fulness of time. All the rest of me as sound as a bell. (That is the voice that Surtees has been hearing.)

Mr. Devizes (helpless). It seems damnably unfair.

Surtees (humbly). I don’t know, sir. He says there’s a spot of that kind in pretty nigh all of us, and if we don’t look out it does for us in the end.

Mr. Devizes (hurriedly). No, no, no.

Surtees. He called it the accursed thing. I think he meant we should know of it and be on the watch. (He pulls himself together.) I’ll see to this at once, sir.

(He goes out. Mr. Devizes continues his lunch.

The curtain falls here for a moment only, to indicate the passing of a number of years. When it rises we see that the engraving of Queen Victoria has given way to one of King Edward.

Robert is discovered, immersed in affairs. He is now a middle-aged man who has long forgotten how to fling cards into a hat. To him comes Sennet, a brisk clerk. )

Sennet. Mrs. Philip Ross to see you, sir.

Robert. Mr. Ross, don’t you mean, Sennet?

Sennet. No, sir.

Robert. Ha. It was Mr. Ross I was expecting. Show her in. (Frowning) And, Sennet, less row in the office, if you please.

Sennet (glibly). It was those young clerks, sir——

Robert. They mustn’t be young here, or they go. Tell them that.

Sennet (glad to be gone). Yes, sir.

(He shows in Mrs. Ross. We have not seen her for twenty years and would certainly not recognise her in the street. So shrinking her first entrance into this room, but she sails in now like a galleon. She is not so much dressed as richly upholstered. She is very sure of herself. Yet she is not a different woman from the Emily we remember; the pity of it is that somehow this is the same woman.)

Robert (who makes much of his important visitor and is also wondering why she has come). This is a delightful surprise, Mrs. Ross. Allow me. (He removes her fine cloak with proper solicitude, and Emily walks out of it in the manner that makes it worth possessing). This chair, alas, is the best I can offer you.

Emily (who is still a good-natured woman if you attempt no nonsense with her). It will do quite well.

Robert (gallantly). Honoured to see you in it.

Emily (smartly). Not you. You were saying to yourself, ‘Now, what brings the woman here?’

Robert. Honestly, I——

Emily. And I’ll tell you. You are expecting Mr. Ross, I think?

Robert (cautiously). Well—ah——

Emily. Pooh. The cunning of you lawyers. I know he has an appointment with you, and that is why I’ve come.

Robert. He arranged with you to meet him here?

Emily (preening herself). I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know that he will be specially pleased to find me here when he comes.

Robert (guardedly). Oh?

Emily (who is now a woman that goes straight to her goal). I know what he is coming about. To make a new will.

Robert (admitting it). After all, not the first he has made with us, Mrs. Ross.

Emily (promptly). No, the fourth.

Robert (warming his hands at the thought). Such a wonderful career. He goes from success to success.

Emily (complacently). Yes, we’re big folk.

Robert. You are indeed.

Emily (sharply). But the last will covered everything.

Robert (on guard again). Of course it is a matter I cannot well discuss even with you. And I know nothing of his intentions.

Emily. Well, I suspect some of them.

Robert. Ah.

Emily. And that’s why I’m here. Just to see that he does nothing foolish.

(She settles herself more comfortably as Mr. Ross is announced. A city magnate walks in. You know he is that before you see that he is Philip Ross.)

Philip (speaking as he enters). How do, Devizes, how do. Well, let us get at this thing at once. Time is money, you know, time is money. (Then he sees his wife.) Hello, Emily.

Emily (unperturbed). You didn’t ask me to come, Philip, but I thought I might as well.

Philip. That’s all right.

(His brow had lowered at first sight of her, but now he gives her cleverness a grin of respect.)

Emily. It is the first will you have made without taking me into your confidence.

Philip. No important changes. I just thought to save you the—unpleasantness of the thing.

Emily. How do you mean?

Philip (fidgeting). Well, one can’t draw up a will without feeling for the moment that he is bringing his end nearer. Is that not so, Devizes?

Robert (who will quite possibly die intestate). Some do have that feeling.

Emily. But what nonsense. How can it have any effect of that kind one way or the other.

Robert. Quite so.

Emily (reprovingly). Just silly sentiment, Philip. I would have thought it would be a pleasure to you, handling such a big sum.

Philip (wincing). Not handling it, giving it up.

Emily. To those you love.

Philip (rather shortly). I’m not giving it up yet. You talk as if I was on my last legs.

Emily (imperturbably). Not at all. It’s you that are doing that.

Robert (to the rescue). Here is my copy of the last will. I don’t know if you would like me to read it out?

Philip. It’s hardly necessary.

Emily. We have our own copy at home and we know it well.

Philip (sitting back in his chair). What do you think I’m worth to-day, Devizes?

(Every one smiles. It is as if the sun had peeped in at the window.)

Robert. I daren’t guess.

Philip. An easy seventy thou.

Emily. And that’s not counting the house and the country cottage. We call it a cottage. You should see it!

Robert. I have heard of it.

Emily (more sharply, though the sun still shines). Well, go on, Philip. I suppose you are not thinking of cutting me out of anything.

Philip (heartily). Of course not. There will be more to you than ever.

Emily (coolly). There’s more to leave.

Philip (hesitating). At the same time——

Emily. Well? It’s to be mine absolutely of course. Not just a life interest.

Philip (doggedly). That is a change I was thinking of.

Emily. Just what I have suspected for days. Will you please to say why?

Robert (whose client after all is the man). Of course it is quite common.

Emily. I didn’t think my husband was quite common.

Robert. I only mean that as there are children——

Philip. That’s what I mean too.

Emily. And I can’t be trusted to leave my money to my own children! In what way have I ever failed them before?

Philip (believing it too). Never, Emily, never. A more devoted mother— If you have one failing it is that you spoil them.

Emily. Then what’s your reason?

Philip (less sincerely). Just to save you worry when I’m gone.

Emily. It’s no worry to me to look after my money.

Philip (bridling). After all, it’s my money.

Emily. I knew that was what was at the back of your mind.

Philip (reverently). It’s such a great sum.

Emily. One would think you were afraid I would marry again.

Philip (snapping). One would think you looked to my dying next week.

Emily. Tuts.

(Philip is unable to sit still.)

Philip. My money. If you were to invest it badly and lose it! I tell you, Devizes, I couldn’t lie quiet in my grave if I thought my money was lost by injudicious investments.

Emily (coldly). You are thinking of yourself, Philip, rather than of the children.

Philip. Not at all.

Robert (hastily). How are the two children?

Emily. Though I say it myself, there never were better. Harry is at Eton, you know, the most fashionable school in the country.

Robert. Doing well, I hope.

Philip (chuckling). We have the most gratifying letters from him. Last Saturday he was caught smoking cigarettes with a lord. (With pardonable pride) They were sick together.

Robert. And Miss Gwendolen? She must be almost grown up now.

(The parents exchange important glances.)

Emily. Should we tell him?

Philip. Under the rose, you know, Devizes.

Robert. Am I to congratulate her?

Emily. No names, Philip.

Philip. No, no names—but she won’t be a plain Mrs., no sir.

Robert. Well done, Miss Gwendolen. (With fitting jocularity) Now I see why you want a new will.

Philip. Yes, that’s my main reason, Emily.

Emily. But none of your life interests for me, Philip.

Philip (shying). We’ll talk that over presently.

Robert. Will you keep the legacies as they are?

Philip. Well, there’s that £500 for the hospitals.

Emily. Yes, with so many claims on us, is that necessary?

Philip (becoming stouter). I’m going to make it £1000.

Emily. Philip!

Philip. My mind is made up. I want to make a splash with the hospitals.

Robert (hurrying to the next item). There is £50 a year each to two cousins, ladies.

Philip. I suppose we’ll keep that as it is, Emily?

Emily. It was just gifts to them of £100 each at first.

Philip. I was poor at that time myself.

Emily. Do you think it’s wise to load them with so much money? They’ll not know what to do with it.

Philip. They’re old.

Emily. But they’re wiry. £75 a year between them would surely be enough.

Philip. It would be if they lived together, but you see they don’t. They hate each other like cat and dog.

Emily. That’s not nice between relatives. You could leave it to them on condition that they do live together. That would be a Christian action.

Philip. There’s something in that.

Robert. Then the chief matter is whether Mrs. Ross——

Emily. Oh, I thought that was settled.

Philip (with a sigh). I’ll have to give in to her, sir.

Robert. Very well. I suppose my father will want to draw up the will. I’m sorry he had to be in the country to-day.

Emily. (affable now that she has gained her point). I hope he is wearing well?

Robert. Wonderfully. He is away playing golf.

Philip (grinning). Golf. I have no time for games. (Considerately) But he must get the drawing up of my will. I couldn’t deprive the old man of that.

Robert. He will be proud to do it again.

Philip (well satisfied). Ah! There’s many a one would like to look over your father’s shoulder when he’s drawing up my will. I wonder what I’ll cut up for in the end. But I must be going.

Emily. Can I drop you anywhere? I have the greys out.

Philip. Yes, at the club.

(Now Mrs. Ross walks into her cloak.)

Good-day, Devizes. I won’t have time to look in again, so tell the old man to come to me.

Robert (deferentially). Whatever suits you best. (Ringing.) He will be delighted. I remember his saying to me on the day you made your first will——

Philip (chuckling). A poor little affair that.

Robert. He said to me you were a couple whose life looked like being a romance.

Philip. And he was right—eh, Emily?—though he little thought what a romance.

Emily. No, he little thought what a romance.

(They make a happy departure, and Robert is left reflecting.)

The curtain again falls, and rises immediately, as the engraving shows, on the same office in the reign of King George. It is a foggy morning and a fire burns briskly. Mr. Devizes, Senior, arrives for the day’s work just as he came daily for over half a century. But he has no right to be here now. A year or two ago they got him to retire, as he was grown feeble; and there is an understanding that he does not go out of his house alone. He has, as it were, escaped to-day, and his feet have carried him to the old office that is the home of his mind. He was almost portly when we saw him first, but he has become little again and as light as the schoolboy whose deeds are nearer to him than many of the events of later years. He arrives at the office, thinking it is old times, and a clerk surveys him uncomfortably from the door.

Creed (not quite knowing what to do). Mr. Devizes has not come in yet, sir.

Mr. Devizes (considering). Yes, I have. Do you mean Mr. Robert?

Creed. Yes, sir.

Mr. Devizes (querulously). Always late. Can’t get that boy to settle down. (Leniently) Well, well, boys will be boys—eh, Surtees?

Creed (wishing Mr. Robert would come). My name is Creed, sir.

Mr. Devizes (sharply). Creed? Don’t know you. Where is Surtees?

Creed. There is no one of that name in the office, sir.

Mr. Devizes (growing timid). No? I remember now. Poor Surtees! (But his mind cannot grapple with troubles.) Tell him I want him when he comes in.

(He is changing, after his old custom, into an office coat.)

Creed. That is Mr. Dev—Mr. Robert’s coat, sir.

Mr. Devizes. He has no business to hang it there. That is my nail.

Creed. He has hung it there for years, sir.

Mr. Devizes. Not at all. I must have it. Why does Surtees let him do it. Help me into my office coat, boy.

(Creed helps him into the coat he has taken off, and the old man is content.)

Creed (seeing him lift up the correspondence). I don’t think Mr. Devizes would like you to open the office letters, sir.

Mr. Devizes (pettishly). What’s that? Go away, boy. Send Surtees.

(To the relief of Creed Robert arrives, and, taking in the situation, signs to the clerk to go. He has a more youthful manner than when last we saw him has Robert, but his hair is iron grey. He is kindly to his father.)

Robert. You here, father.

Mr. Devizes (after staring at him). Yes, you are Robert. (A little frightened.) You are an old man, Robert.

Robert (without wincing). Getting on, father. But why did they let you come? You haven’t been here for years.

Mr. Devizes (puzzled). Years? I think I just came in the old way, Robert, without thinking.

Robert. Yes, yes. I’ll get some one to go home with you.

Mr. Devizes (rather abject). Let me stay, Robert. I like being here. I won’t disturb you. I like the smell of the office, Robert.

Robert. Of course you may stay. Come over to the fire. (He settles his father by the fire in the one arm-chair.) There; you can have a doze by the fire.

Mr. Devizes. A doze by the fire. That is all I’m good for now. Once—but my son hangs his coat there now. (Then he looks up fearfully.) Robert, tell me something in a whisper: Is Surtees dead?

Robert (who has forgotten the name). Surtees?

Mr. Devizes. My clerk, you know.

Robert. Oh, why, he has been dead this thirty years, father.

Mr. Devizes. So long. Seems like yesterday.

Robert. It is just far back times that seem clear to you now.

Mr. Devizes (meekly). Is it?

(Robert opens his letters, and his father falls asleep. Creed comes.)

Creed. Sir Philip Ross.

(The great Sir Philip enters, nearly sixty now, strong of frame still, but a lost man. He is in mourning, and carries the broken pieces of his life with an air of braggadocio. It should be understood that he is not a ‘sympathetic’ part, and any actor who plays him as such will be rolling the play in the gutter.)

Robert (on his feet at once to greet such a client). You, Sir Philip.

Philip (head erect). Here I am.

Robert (because it will out). How are you?

Philip (as if challenged). I’m all right—great. (With defiant jocularity) Called on the old business.

Robert. To make another will?

Philip. You’ve guessed it—the very first time. (He sees the figure by the fire.)

Robert. Yes, it’s my father. He’s dozing. Shouldn’t be here at all. He forgets things. It’s just age.

Philip (grimly). Forgets things. That must be fine.

Robert (conventionally). I should like, Sir Philip, to offer you my sincere condolences. In the midst of life we are—How true that is. I attended the funeral.

Philip. I saw you.

Robert. A much esteemed lady. I had a great respect for her.

Philip (almost with relish). Do you mind, when we used to come here about the will, somehow she—we—always took for granted I should be the first to go.

Robert (devoutly). These things are hid from mortal eyes.

Philip (with conviction). There’s a lot hid. We needn’t have worried so much about the will if—well, let us get at it. (Fiercely) I haven’t given in, you know.

Robert. We must bow our heads——

Philip. Must we? Am I bowing mine?

Robert (uncomfortably). Such courage in the great hour—yes—and I am sure Lady Ross——

Philip (with the ugly humour that has come to him). She wasn’t that.

Robert. The honour came so soon afterwards—I feel she would like to be thought of as Lady Ross. I shall always remember her as a fine lady richly dressed who used——

Philip (harshly). Stop it. That’s not how I think of her. There was a time before that—she wasn’t richly dressed—(he stamps upon his memories). Things went wrong, I don’t know how. It’s a beast of a world. I didn’t come here to talk about that. Let us get to work.

Robert (turning with relief from the cemetery). Yes, yes, and after all life has its compensations. You have your son who——

Philip (snapping). No, I haven’t. (This startles the lawyer.) I’m done with him.

Robert. If he has been foolish——

Philip. Foolish! (Some dignity comes into the man.) Sir, I have come to a pass when foolish as applied to my own son would seem to me a very pretty word.

Robert. Is it as bad as that?

Philip. He’s a rotter.

Robert. It is very painful to me to hear you say that.

Philip. More painful, think you, than for me to say it? (Clenching his fists.) But I’ve shipped him off. The law had to wink at it, or I couldn’t have done it. Why don’t you say I pampered him and it serves me right? It’s what they are all saying behind my back. Why don’t you ask me about my girl? That’s another way to rub it in.

Robert. Don’t, Sir Philip. I knew about her. My sympathy——

Philip. A chauffeur! that is what he was. The man who drove her own car.

Robert. I was deeply concerned——

Philip. I want nobody’s pity. I’ve done with both of them, and if you think I’m a broken man you’re much mistaken. I’ll show them. Have you your papers there? Then take down my last will. I have everything in my head. I’ll show them.

Robert. Would it not be better to wait till a calmer——

Philip. Will you do it now, or am I to go across the street?

Robert. If I must.

Philip. Then down with it. (He wets his lips.) I, Philip Ross, of 77 Bath Street, W., do hereby revoke all former wills and testaments, and I leave everything of which I die possessed——

Robert. Yes?

Philip. Everything of which I die possessed——

Robert. Yes?

Philip. I leave it—I leave it— (The game is up.) My God, Devizes, I don’t know what to do with it.

Robert. I—I—really—come——

Philip (cynically). Can’t you make any suggestions?

Robert. Those cousins are dead, I think?

Philip. Years ago.

Robert (troubled). In the case of such a large sum——

Philip (letting all his hoarded gold run through his fingers). The money I’ve won with my blood. God in heaven. (Showing his teeth.) Would that old man like it to play with? If I bring it to you in sacks, will you fling it out of the window for me?

Robert. Sir Philip!

Philip (taking a paper from his pocket). Here, take this. It has the names and addresses of the half-dozen men I’ve fought with most for gold; and I’ve beaten them. Draw up a will leaving all my money to be divided between them, with my respectful curses, and bring it to my house and I’ll sign it.

Robert (properly shocked). But really I can’t possibly——

Philip. Either you or another; is it to be you?

Robert. Very well.

Philip. Then that’s settled. (He rises with an ugly laugh. He regards Mr. Devizes quizzically.) So you weren’t in at the last will after all, old Sleep by the Fire.

(To their surprise the old man stirs.)

Mr. Devizes. What’s that about a will?

Robert. You are awake, father?

Mr. Devizes (whose eyes have opened on Philip’s face). I don’t know you, sir.

Robert. Yes, yes, father, you remember Mr. Ross. He is Sir Philip now.

Mr. Devizes (courteously). Sir Philip? I wish you joy, sir, but I don’t know you.

Robert (encouragingly). Ross, father.

Mr. Devizes. I knew a Mr. Ross long ago.

Robert. This is the same.

Mr. Devizes (annoyed). No, no. A bright young fellow he was, with such a dear, pretty wife. They came to make a will. (He chuckles.) And bless me, they had only twopence halfpenny. I took a fancy to them; such a happy pair.

Robert (apologetically). The past is clearer to him than the present nowadays. That will do, father.

Philip (brusquely). Let him go on.

Mr. Devizes. Poor souls, it all ended unhappily, you know.

Philip (who is not brusque to him). Yes, I know. Why did things go wrong, sir? I sit and wonder, and I can’t find the beginning.

Mr. Devizes. That’s the sad part of it. There was never a beginning. It was always there. He told me all about it.

Robert. He is thinking of something else; I don’t know what.

Philip. Quiet. What was it that was always there?

Mr. Devizes. It was always in them—a spot no bigger than a pin’s head, but waiting to spread and destroy them in the fulness of time.

Robert. I don’t know what he has got hold of.

Philip. He knows. Could they have done anything to prevent it, sir?

Mr. Devizes. If they had been on the watch. But they didn’t know, so they weren’t on the watch. Poor souls.

Philip. Poor souls.

Mr. Devizes. It’s called the accursed thing. It gets nearly everybody in the end, if they don’t look out.

(He sinks back into his chair and forgets them.)

Robert. He is just wandering.

Philip. The old man knows.

(He slowly tears up the paper he had given Robert.)

Robert (relieved). I am glad to see you do that.

Philip. A spot no bigger than a pin’s head. (A wish wells up in him, too late perhaps.) I wish I could help some young things before that spot has time to spread and destroy them as it has destroyed me and mine.

Robert (brightly). With such a large fortune——

Philip (summing up his life). It can’t be done with money, sir.

(He goes away; God knows where.)