The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Circle, by W. Somerset Maugham

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Title: The Circle
       A Comedy in Three Acts

Author: W. Somerset Maugham

Release Date: March 23, 2013 [EBook #42395]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Paul Haxo from page images generously made
available by the Internet Archive and the University of
California, Santa Barbara Library.


The Circle

Persons of the Play

The First Act

The Second Act

The Third Act

Transcriber’s Note

[Pg 1]



[Pg 2]




 (Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia)

[Pg 3]






[Pg 4]


All applications regarding the Performance Rights of this play should be addressed to The American Play Company, 33 West 42nd Street, New York.


[Pg 5]


Clive Champion-Cheney

Arnold Champion-Cheney, M.P.

Lord Porteous

Edward Luton

Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney


Mrs. Shenstone.

The action takes place at Aston-Adey, Arnold Champion-Cheney’s house in Dorset.

[Pg 9]



The Scene is a stately drawing-room at Aston-Adey, with fine pictures on the walls and Georgian furniture. Aston-Adey has been described, with many illustrations, in Country Life. It is not a house, but a place. Its owner takes a great pride in it, and there is nothing in the room which is not of the period. Through the French windows at the back can be seen the beautiful gardens which are one of the features.

It is a fine summer morning.

Arnold comes in. He is a man of about thirty-five, tall and good-looking, fair, with a clean-cut, sensitive face. He has a look that is intellectual, but somewhat bloodless. He is very well dressed.

Arnold. [Calling.] Elizabeth! [He goes to the window and calls again.] Elizabeth! [He rings the bell. While he is waiting he gives a look round the room. He slightly alters the position of one of the chairs. He takes an ornament from the chimney-piece and blows the dust from it.]

[A Footman comes in.

Oh, George! see if you can find Mrs. Cheney, and ask her if she’d be good enough to come here.

Footman. Very good, sir.

[The Footman turns to go.

Arnold. Who is supposed to look after this room?

Footman. I don’t know, sir.

Arnold. I wish when they dust they’d take care to replace the things exactly as they were before.

[Pg 10]

Footman. Yes, sir.

Arnold. [Dismissing him.] All right.

[The Footman goes out. He goes again to the window and calls.

Arnold. Elizabeth! [He sees Mrs. Shenstone.] Oh, Anna, do you know where Elizabeth is?

[Mrs. Shenstone comes in from the garden. She is a woman of forty, pleasant and of elegant appearance.

Anna. Isn’t she playing tennis?

Arnold. No, I’ve been down to the tennis court. Something very tiresome has happened.

Anna. Oh?

Arnold. I wonder where the deuce she is.

Anna. When do you expect Lord Porteous and Lady Kitty?

Arnold. They’re motoring down in time for luncheon.

Anna. Are you sure you want me to be here? It’s not too late yet, you know. I can have my things packed and catch a train for somewhere or other.

Arnold. No, of course we want you. It’ll make it so much easier if there are people here. It was exceedingly kind of you to come.

Anna. Oh, nonsense!

Arnold. And I think it was a good thing to have Teddie Luton down.

Anna. He is so breezy, isn’t he?

Arnold. Yes, that’s his great asset. I don’t know that he’s very intelligent, but, you know, there are occasions when you want a bull in a china shop. I sent one of the servants to find Elizabeth.

Anna. I daresay she’s putting on her shoes. She and Teddie were going to have a single.

Arnold. It can’t take all this time to change one’s shoes.

Anna. [With a smile.] One can’t change one’s shoes without powdering one’s nose, you know.

[Pg 11]

[Elizabeth comes in. She is a very pretty creature in the early twenties. She wears a light summer frock.

Arnold. My dear, I’ve been hunting for you everywhere. What have you been doing?

Elizabeth. Nothing! I’ve been standing on my head.

Arnold. My father’s here.

Elizabeth. [Startled.] Where?

Arnold. At the cottage. He arrived last night.

Elizabeth. Damn!

Arnold. [Good-humouredly.] I wish you wouldn’t say that, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. If you’re not going to say “Damn” when a thing’s damnable, when are you going to say “Damn”?

Arnold. I should have thought you could say, “Oh, bother!” or something like that.

Elizabeth. But that wouldn’t express my sentiments. Besides, at that speech day when you were giving away the prizes you said there were no synonyms in the English language.

Anna. [Smiling.] Oh, Elizabeth! it’s very unfair to expect a politician to live in private up to the statements he makes in public.

Arnold. I’m always willing to stand by anything I’ve said. There are no synonyms in the English language.

Elizabeth. In that case I shall be regretfully forced to continue to say “Damn” whenever I feel like it.

[Edward Luton shows himself at the window. He is an attractive youth in flannels.

Teddie. I say, what about this tennis?

Elizabeth. Come in. We’re having a scene.

Teddie. [Entering.] How splendid! What about?

Elizabeth. The English language.

Teddie. Don’t tell me you’ve been splitting your infinitives.

Arnold. [With the shadow of a frown.] I wish you’d be serious, Elizabeth. The situation is none too pleasant.

[Pg 12]

Anna. I think Teddie and I had better make ourselves scarce.

Elizabeth. Nonsense! You’re both in it. If there’s going to be any unpleasantness we want your moral support. That’s why we asked you to come.

Teddie. And I thought I’d been asked for my blue eyes.

Elizabeth. Vain beast! And they happen to be brown.

Teddie. Is anything up?

Elizabeth. Arnold’s father arrived last night.

Teddie. Did he, by Jove! I thought he was in Paris.

Arnold. So did we all. He told me he’d be there for the next month.

Anna. Have you seen him?

Arnold. No! he rang me up. It’s a mercy he had a telephone put in the cottage. It would have been a pretty kettle of fish if he’d just walked in.

Elizabeth. Did you tell him Lady Catherine was coming?

Arnold. Of course not. I was flabbergasted to know he was here. And then I thought we’d better talk it over first.

Elizabeth. Is he coming along here?

Arnold. Yes. He suggested it, and I couldn’t think of any excuse to prevent him.

Teddie. Couldn’t you put the other people off?

Arnold. They’re coming by car. They may be here any minute. It’s too late to do that.

Elizabeth. Besides, it would be beastly.

Arnold. I knew it was silly to have them here. Elizabeth insisted.

Elizabeth. After all, she is your mother, Arnold.

Arnold. That meant precious little to her when she—went away. You can’t imagine it means very much to me now.

Elizabeth. It’s thirty years ago. It seems so absurd to bear malice after all that time.

[Pg 13]

Arnold. I don’t bear malice, but the fact remains that she did me the most irreparable harm. I can find no excuse for her.

Elizabeth. Have you ever tried to?

Arnold. My dear Elizabeth, it’s no good going over all that again. The facts are lamentably simple. She had a husband who adored her, a wonderful position, all the money she could want, and a child of five. And she ran away with a married man.

Elizabeth. Lady Porteous is not a very attractive woman, Arnold. [To Anna.] Do you know her?

Anna. [Smiling.] “Forbidding” is the word, I think.

Arnold. If you’re going to make little jokes about it, I have nothing more to say.

Anna. I’m sorry, Arnold.

Elizabeth. Perhaps your mother couldn’t help herself—if she was in love?

Arnold. And had no sense of honour, duty, or decency? Oh, yes, under those circumstances you can explain a great deal.

Elizabeth. That’s not a very pretty way to speak of your mother.

Arnold. I can’t look on her as my mother.

Elizabeth. What you can’t get over is that she didn’t think of you. Some of us are more mother and some of us more woman. It gives me a little thrill when I think that she loved that man so much. She sacrificed her name, her position, and her child to him.

Arnold. You really can’t expect the said child to have any great affection for the mother who treated him like that.

Elizabeth. No, I don’t think I do. But I think it’s a pity after all these years that you shouldn’t be friends.

Arnold. I wonder if you realise what it was to grow up under the shadow of that horrible scandal. Everywhere, at school, and at Oxford, and afterwards in[Pg 14] London, I was always the son of Lady Kitty Cheney. Oh, it was cruel, cruel!

Elizabeth. Yes, I know, Arnold. It was beastly for you.

Arnold. It would have been bad enough if it had been an ordinary case, but the position of the people made it ten times worse. My father was in the House then, and Porteous—he hadn’t succeeded to the title—was in the House too; he was Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and he was very much in the public eye.

Anna. My father always used to say he was the ablest man in the party. Every one was expecting him to be Prime Minister.

Arnold. You can imagine what a boon it was to the British public. They hadn’t had such a treat for a generation. The most popular song of the day was about my mother. Did you ever hear it? “Naughty Lady Kitty. Thought it such a pity . . .”

Elizabeth. [Interrupting.] Oh, Arnold, don’t!

Arnold. And then they never let people forget them. If they’d lived quietly in Florence and not made a fuss the scandal would have died down. But those constant actions between Lord and Lady Porteous kept on reminding everyone.

Teddie. What were they having actions about?

Arnold. Of course my father divorced his wife, but Lady Porteous refused to divorce Porteous. He tried to force her by refusing to support her and turning her out of her house, and heaven knows what. They were constantly wrangling in the law courts.

Anna. I think it was monstrous of Lady Porteous.

Arnold. She knew he wanted to marry my mother, and she hated my mother. You can’t blame her.

Anna. It must have been very difficult for them.

Arnold. That’s why they’ve lived in Florence. Porteous has money. They found people there who were willing to accept the situation.

[Pg 15]

Elizabeth. This is the first time they’ve ever come to England.

Arnold. My father will have to be told, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. Yes.

Anna. [To Elizabeth.] Has he ever spoken to you about Lady Kitty?

Elizabeth. Never.

Arnold. I don’t think her name has passed his lips since she ran away from this house thirty years ago.

Teddie. Oh, they lived here?

Arnold. Naturally. There was a house-party, and one evening neither Porteous nor my mother came down to dinner. The rest of them waited. They couldn’t make it out. My father sent up to my mother’s room, and a note was found on the pincushion.

Elizabeth. [With a faint smile.] That’s what they did in the Dark Ages.

Arnold. I think he took a dislike to this house from that horrible night. He never lived here again, and when I married he handed the place over to me. He just has a cottage now on the estate that he comes to when he feels inclined.

Elizabeth. It’s been very nice for us.

Arnold. I owe everything to my father. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for asking these people to come here.

Elizabeth. I’m going to take all the blame on myself, Arnold.

Arnold. [Irritably.] The situation was embarrassing enough anyhow. I don’t know how I ought to treat them.

Elizabeth. Don’t you think that’ll settle itself when you see them?

Arnold. After all, they’re my guests. I shall try and behave like a gentleman.

Elizabeth. I wouldn’t. We haven’t got central heating.

[Pg 16]

Arnold. [Taking no notice.] Will she expect me to kiss her?

Elizabeth. [With a smile.] Surely.

Arnold. It always makes me uncomfortable when people are effusive.

Anna. But I can’t understand why you never saw her before.

Arnold. I believe she tried to see me when I was little, but my father thought it better she shouldn’t.

Anna. Yes, but when you were grown up?

Arnold. She was always in Italy. I never went to Italy.

Elizabeth. It seems to me so pathetic that if you saw one another in the street you wouldn’t recognise each other.

Arnold. Is it my fault?

Elizabeth. You’ve promised to be very gentle with her and very kind.

Arnold. The mistake was asking Porteous to come too. It looks as though we condoned the whole thing. And how am I to treat him? Am I to shake him by the hand and slap him on the back? He absolutely ruined my father’s life.

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] How much would you give for a nice motor accident that prevented them from coming?

Arnold. I let you persuade me against my better judgment, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Elizabeth. [Good-humouredly.] I think it’s very lucky that Anna and Teddie are here. I don’t foresee a very successful party.

Arnold. I’m going to do my best. I gave you my promise and I shall keep it. But I can’t answer for my father.

Anna. Here is your father.

[Mr. Champion-Cheney shows himself at one of the French windows.

[Pg 17]

C.-C. May I come in through the window, or shall I have myself announced by a supercilious flunkey?

Elizabeth. Come in. We’ve been expecting you.

C.-C. Impatiently, I hope, my dear child.

[Mr. Champion-Cheney is a tall man in the early sixties, spare, with a fine head of gray hair and an intelligent, somewhat ascetic face. He is very carefully dressed. He is a man who makes the most of himself. He bears his years jauntily. He kisses Elizabeth and then holds out his hand to Arnold.

Elizabeth. We thought you’d be in Paris for another month.

C.-C. How are you, Arnold? I always reserve to myself the privilege of changing my mind. It’s the only one elderly gentlemen share with pretty women.

Elizabeth. You know Anna.

C.-C. [Shaking hands with her.] Of course I do. How very nice to see you here! Are you staying long?

Anna. As long as I’m welcome.

Elizabeth. And this is Mr. Luton.

C.-C. How do you do? Do you play bridge?

Luton. I do.

C.-C. Capital. Do you declare without top honours?

Luton. Never.

C.-C. Of such is the kingdom of heaven. I see that you are a good young man.

Luton. But, like the good in general, I am poor.

C.-C. Never mind; if your principles are right, you can play ten shillings a hundred without danger. I never play less, and I never play more.

Arnold. And you—are you going to stay long, father?

C.-C. To luncheon, if you’ll have me.

[Arnold gives Elizabeth a harassed look.

Elizabeth. That’ll be jolly.

Arnold. I didn’t mean that. Of course you’re going to stay for luncheon. I meant, how long are you going to stay down here?

[Pg 18]

C.-C. A week.

[There is a moment’s pause. Everyone but Champion-Cheney is slightly embarrassed.

Teddie. I think we’d better chuck our tennis.

Elizabeth. Yes. I want my father-in-law to tell me what they’re wearing in Paris this week.

Teddie. I’ll go and put the rackets away.

[Teddie goes out.

Arnold. It’s nearly one o’clock, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. I didn’t know it was so late.

Anna. [To Arnold.] I wonder if I can persuade you to take a turn in the garden before luncheon.

Arnold. [Jumping at the idea.] I’d love it.

[Anna goes out of the window, and as he follows her he stops irresolutely.

I want you to look at this chair I’ve just got. I think it’s rather good.

C.-C. Charming.

Arnold. About 1750, I should say. Good design, isn’t it? It hasn’t been restored or anything.

C.-C. Very pretty.

Arnold. I think it was a good buy, don’t you?

C.-C. Oh, my dear boy! you know I’m entirely ignorant about these things.

Arnold. It’s exactly my period . . . I shall see you at luncheon, then.

[He follows Anna through the window.

C.-C. Who is that young man?

Elizabeth. Mr. Luton. He’s only just been demobilised. He’s the manager of a rubber estate in the F.M.S.

C.-C. And what are the F.M.S. when they’re at home?

Elizabeth. The Federated Malay States. He joined up at the beginning of the war. He’s just going back there.

C.-C. And why have we been left alone in this very marked manner?

[Pg 19]

Elizabeth. Have we? I didn’t notice it.

C.-C. I suppose it’s difficult for the young to realise that one may be old without being a fool.

Elizabeth. I never thought you that. Everyone knows you’re very intelligent.

C.-C. They certainly ought to by now. I’ve told them often enough. Are you a little nervous?

Elizabeth. Let me feel my pulse. [She puts her finger on her wrist.] It’s perfectly regular.

C.-C. When I suggested staying to luncheon Arnold looked exactly like a dose of castor oil.

Elizabeth. I wish you’d sit down.

C.-C. Will it make it easier for you? [He takes a chair.] You have evidently something very disagreeable to say to me.

Elizabeth. You won’t be cross with me?

C.-C. How old are you?

Elizabeth. Twenty-five.

C.-C. I’m never cross with a woman under thirty.

Elizabeth. Oh, then I’ve got ten years.

C.-C. Mathematics?

Elizabeth. No. Paint.

C.-C. Well?

Elizabeth. [Reflectively.] I think it would be easier if I sat on your knees.

C.-C. That is a pleasing taste of yours, but you must take care not to put on weight.

[She sits down on his knees.

Elizabeth. Am I boney?

C.-C. On the contrary. . . . I’m listening.

Elizabeth. Lady Catherine’s coming here.

C.-C. Who’s Lady Catherine?

Elizabeth. Your—Arnold’s mother.

C.-C. Is she?

[He withdraws himself a little and Elizabeth gets up.

Elizabeth. You mustn’t blame Arnold. It’s my fault.[Pg 20] I insisted. He was against it. I nagged him till he gave way. And then I wrote and asked her to come.

C.-C. I didn’t know you knew her.

Elizabeth. I don’t. But I heard she was in London. She’s staying at Claridge’s. It seemed so heartless not to take the smallest notice of her.

C.-C. When is she coming?

Elizabeth. We’re expecting her in time for luncheon.

C.-C. As soon as that? I understand the embarrassment.

Elizabeth. You see, we never expected you to be here. You said you’d be in Paris for another month.

C.-C. My dear child, this is your house. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t ask whom you please to stay with you.

Elizabeth. After all, whatever her faults, she’s Arnold’s mother. It seemed so unnatural that they should never see one another. My heart ached for that poor lonely woman.

C.-C. I never heard that she was lonely, and she certainly isn’t poor.

Elizabeth. And there’s something else. I couldn’t ask her by herself. It would have been so—so insulting. I asked Lord Porteous, too.

C.-C. I see.

Elizabeth. I daresay you’d rather not meet them.

C.-C. I daresay they’d rather not meet me. I shall get a capital luncheon at the cottage. I’ve noticed you always get the best food if you come in unexpectedly and have the same as they’re having in the servants’ hall.

Elizabeth. No one’s ever talked to me about Lady Kitty. It’s always been a subject that everyone has avoided. I’ve never even seen a photograph of her.

C.-C. The house was full of them when she left. I think I told the butler to throw them in the dust-bin. She was very much photographed.

Elizabeth. Won’t you tell me what she was like?

[Pg 21]

C.-C. She was very like you, Elizabeth, only she had dark hair instead of red.

Elizabeth. Poor dear! it must be quite white now.

C.-C. I daresay. She was a pretty little thing.

Elizabeth. But she was one of the great beauties of her day. They say she was lovely.

C.-C. She had the most adorable little nose, like yours. . . .

Elizabeth. D’you like my nose?

C.-C. And she was very dainty, with a beautiful little figure; very light on her feet. She was like a marquise in an old French comedy. Yes, she was lovely.

Elizabeth. And I’m sure she’s lovely still.

C.-C. She’s no chicken, you know.

Elizabeth. You can’t expect me to look at it as you and Arnold do. When you’ve loved as she’s loved you may grow old, but you grow old beautifully.

C.-C. You’re very romantic.

Elizabeth. If everyone hadn’t made such a mystery of it I daresay I shouldn’t feel as I do. I know she did a great wrong to you and a great wrong to Arnold. I’m willing to acknowledge that.

C.-C. I’m sure it’s very kind of you.

Elizabeth. But she loved and she dared. Romance is such an illusive thing. You read of it in books, but it’s seldom you see it face to face. I can’t help it if it thrills me.

C.-C. I am painfully aware that the husband in these cases is not a romantic object.

Elizabeth. She had the world at her feet. You were rich. She was a figure in society. And she gave up everything for love.

C.-C. [Dryly.] I’m beginning to suspect it wasn’t only for her sake and for Arnold’s that you asked her to come here.

Elizabeth. I seem to know her already. I think her face is a little sad, for a love like that doesn’t leave you[Pg 22] gay, it leaves you grave, but I think her pale face is unlined. It’s like a child’s.

C.-C. My dear, how you let your imagination run away with you!

Elizabeth. I imagine her slight and frail.

C.-C. Frail, certainly.

Elizabeth. With beautiful thin hands and white hair. I’ve pictured her so often in that Renaissance Palace that they live in, with old Masters on the walls and lovely carved things all round, sitting in a black silk dress with old lace round her neck and old-fashioned diamonds. You see, I never knew my mother; she died when I was a baby. You can’t confide in aunts with huge families of their own. I want Arnold’s mother to be a mother to me. I’ve got so much to say to her.

C.-C. Are you happy with Arnold?

Elizabeth. Why shouldn’t I be?

C.-C. Why haven’t you got any babies?

Elizabeth. Give us a little time. We’ve only been married three years.

C.-C. I wonder what Hughie is like now!

Elizabeth. Lord Porteous?

C.-C. He wore his clothes better than any man in London. You know he’d have been Prime Minister if he’d remained in politics.

Elizabeth. What was he like then?

C.-C. He was a nice-looking fellow. Fine horseman. I suppose there was something very fascinating about him. Yellow hair and blue eyes, you know. He had a very good figure. I liked him. I was his parliamentary secretary. He was Arnold’s godfather.

Elizabeth. I know.

C.-C. I wonder if he ever regrets!

Elizabeth. I wouldn’t.

C.-C. Well, I must be strolling back to my cottage.

Elizabeth. You’re not angry with me?

C.-C. Not a bit.

[Pg 23]

[She puts up her face for him to kiss. He kisses her on both cheeks and then goes out. In a moment Teddie is seen at the window.

Teddie. I saw the old blighter go.

Elizabeth. Come in.

Teddie. Everything all right?

Elizabeth. Oh, quite, as far as he’s concerned. He’s going to keep out of the way.

Teddie. Was it beastly?

Elizabeth. No, he made it very easy for me. He’s a nice old thing.

Teddie. You were rather scared.

Elizabeth. A little. I am still. I don’t know why.

Teddie. I guessed you were. I thought I’d come and give you a little moral support. It’s ripping here, isn’t it?

Elizabeth. It is rather nice.

Teddie. It’ll be jolly to think of it when I’m back in the F.M.S.

Elizabeth. Aren’t you homesick sometimes?

Teddie. Oh, everyone is now and then, you know.

Elizabeth. You could have got a job in England if you’d wanted to, couldn’t you?

Teddie. Oh, but I love it out there. England’s ripping to come back to, but I couldn’t live here now. It’s like a woman you’re desperately in love with as long as you don’t see her, but when you’re with her she maddens you so that you can’t bear her.

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] What’s wrong with England?

Teddie. I don’t think anything’s wrong with England. I expect something’s wrong with me. I’ve been away too long. England seems to me full of people doing things they don’t want to because other people expect it of them.

Elizabeth. Isn’t that what you call a high degree of civilisation?

Teddie. People seem to me so insincere. When you go to parties in London they’re all babbling about art, and you feel that in their hearts they don’t care twopence[Pg 24] about it. They read the books that everybody is talking about because they don’t want to be out of it. In the F.M.S. we don’t get very many books, and we read those we have over and over again. They mean so much to us. I don’t think the people over there are half so clever as the people at home, but one gets to know them better. You see, there are so few of us that we have to make the best of one another.

Elizabeth. I imagine that frills are not much worn in the F.M.S. It must be a comfort.

Teddie. It’s not much good being pretentious where everyone knows exactly who you are and what your income is.

Elizabeth. I don’t think you want too much sincerity in society. It would be like an iron girder in a house of cards.

Teddie. And then, you know, the place is ripping. You get used to a blue sky and you miss it in England.

Elizabeth. What do you do with yourself all the time?

Teddie. Oh, one works like blazes. You have to be a pretty hefty fellow to be a planter. And then there’s ripping bathing. You know, it’s lovely, with palm trees all along the beach. And there’s shooting. And now and then we have a little dance to a gramophone.

Elizabeth. [Pretending to tease him.] I think you’ve got a young woman out there, Teddie.

Teddie. [Vehemently.] Oh, no!

[She is a little taken aback by the earnestness of his disclaimer. There is a moment’s silence, then she recovers herself.

Elizabeth. But you’ll have to marry and settle down one of these days, you know.

Teddie. I want to, but it’s not a thing you can do lightly.

Elizabeth. I don’t know why there more than elsewhere.

[Pg 25]

Teddie. In England if people don’t get on they go their own ways and jog along after a fashion. In a place like that you’re thrown a great deal on your own resources.

Elizabeth. Of course.

Teddie. Lots of girls come out because they think they’re going to have a good time. But if they’re empty-headed, then they’re just faced with their own emptiness and they’re done. If their husbands can afford it they go home and settle down as grass-widows.

Elizabeth. I’ve met them. They seem to find it a very pleasant occupation.

Teddie. It’s rotten for their husbands, though.

Elizabeth. And if the husbands can’t afford it?

Teddie. Oh, then they tipple.

Elizabeth. It’s not a very alluring prospect.

Teddie. But if the woman’s the right sort she wouldn’t exchange it for any life in the world. When all’s said and done it’s we who’ve made the Empire.

Elizabeth. What sort is the right sort?

Teddie. A woman of courage and endurance and sincerity. Of course, it’s hopeless unless she’s in love with her husband.

[He is looking at her earnestly and she, raising her eyes, gives him a long look. There is silence between them.

Teddie. My house stands on the side of a hill, and the cocoanut trees wind down to the shore. Azaleas grow in my garden, and camellias, and all sorts of ripping flowers. And in front of me is the winding coast line, and then the blue sea.

[A pause.

Do you know that I’m awfully in love with you?

Elizabeth. [Gravely.] I wasn’t quite sure. I wondered.

Teddie. And you?

[She nods slowly.

I’ve never kissed you.

[Pg 26]

Elizabeth. I don’t want you to.

[They look at one another steadily. They are both grave. Arnold comes in hurriedly.

Arnold. They’re coming, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. [As though returning from a distant world.] Who?

Arnold. [Impatiently.] My dear! My mother, of course. The car is just coming up the drive.

Teddie. Would you like me to clear out?

Arnold. No, no! For goodness’ sake stay.

Elizabeth. We’d better go and meet them, Arnold.

Arnold. No, no; I think they’d much better be shown in. I feel simply sick with nervousness.

[Anna comes in from the garden.

Anna. Your guests have arrived.

Elizabeth. Yes, I know.

Arnold. I’ve given orders that luncheon should be served at once.

Elizabeth. Why? It’s not half-past one already, is it?

Arnold. I thought it would help. When you don’t know exactly what to say you can always eat.

[The Butler comes in and announces.

Butler. Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney! Lord Porteous!

[Lady Kitty comes in followed by Porteous, and the Butler goes out. Lady Kitty is a gay little lady, with dyed red hair and painted cheeks. She is somewhat outrageously dressed. She never forgets that she has been a pretty woman and she still behaves as if she were twenty-five. Lord Porteous is a very bald, elderly gentleman in loose, rather eccentric clothes. He is snappy and gruff. This is not at all the couple that Elizabeth expected, and for a moment she stares at them with round, startled eyes. Lady Kitty goes up to her with outstretched hands.

Lady Kitty. Elizabeth! Elizabeth! [She kisses her[Pg 27] effusively.] What an adorable creature! [Turning to Porteous.] Hughie, isn’t she adorable?

Porteous. [With a grunt.] Ugh!

[Elizabeth, smiling now, turns to him and gives him her hand.

Elizabeth. How d’you do?

Porteous. Damnable road you’ve got down here. How d’you do, my dear? Why d’you have such damnable roads in England?

[Lady Kitty’s eyes fall on Teddie and she goes up to him with her arms thrown back, prepared to throw them round him.

Lady Kitty. My boy, my boy! I should have known you anywhere!

Elizabeth. [Hastily.] That’s Arnold.

Lady Kitty. [Without a moment’s hesitation.] The image of his father! I should have known him anywhere! [She throws her arms round his neck.] My boy, my boy!

Porteous. [With a grunt.] Ugh!

Lady Kitty. Tell me, would you have known me again? Have I changed?

Arnold. I was only five, you know, when—when you . . .

Lady Kitty. [Emotionally.] I remember as if it was yesterday. I went up into your room. [With a sudden change of manner.] By the way, I always thought that nurse drank. Did you ever find out if she really did?

Porteous. How the devil can you expect him to know that, Kitty?

Lady Kitty. You’ve never had a child, Hughie; how can you tell what they know and what they don’t?

Elizabeth. [Coming to the rescue.] This is Arnold, Lord Porteous.

Porteous. [Shaking hands with him.] How d’you do? I knew your father.

Arnold. Yes.

Porteous. Alive still?

[Pg 28]

Arnold. Yes.

Porteous. He must be getting on. Is he well?

Arnold. Very.

Porteous. Ugh! Takes care of himself, I suppose. I’m not at all well. This damned climate doesn’t agree with me.

Elizabeth. [To Lady Kitty.] This is Mrs. Shenstone. And this is Mr. Luton. I hope you don’t mind a very small party.

Lady Kitty. [Shaking hands with Anna and Teddie.] Oh, no, I shall enjoy it. I used to give enormous parties here. Political, you know. How nice you’ve made this room!

Elizabeth. Oh, that’s Arnold.

Arnold. [Nervously.] D’you like this chair? I’ve just bought it. It’s exactly my period.

Porteous. [Bluntly.] It’s a fake.

Arnold. [Indignantly.] I don’t think it is for a minute.

Porteous. The legs are not right.

Arnold. I don’t know how you can say that. If there is anything right about it, it’s the legs.

Lady Kitty. I’m sure they’re right.

Porteous. You know nothing whatever about it, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. That’s what you think. I think it’s a beautiful chair. Hepplewhite?

Arnold. No, Sheraton.

Lady Kitty. Oh, I know. “The School for Scandal.”

Porteous. Sheraton, my dear. Sheraton.

Lady Kitty. Yes, that’s what I say. I acted the screen scene at some amateur theatricals in Florence, and Ermeto Novelli, the great Italian tragedian, told me he’d never seen a Lady Teazle like me.

Porteous. Ugh!

Lady Kitty. [To Elizabeth.] Do you act?

Elizabeth. Oh, I couldn’t. I should be too nervous.

Lady Kitty. I’m never nervous. I’m a born actress.[Pg 29] Of course, if I had my time over again I’d go on the stage. You know, it’s extraordinary how they keep young. Actresses, I mean. I think it’s because they’re always playing different parts. Hughie, do you think Arnold takes after me or after his father? Of course I think he’s the very image of me. Arnold, I think I ought to tell you that I was received into the Catholic Church last winter. I’d been thinking about it for years, and last time we were at Monte Carlo I met such a nice monsignore. I told him what my difficulties were and he was too wonderful. I knew Hughie wouldn’t approve, so I kept it a secret. [To Elizabeth.] Are you interested in religion? I think it’s too wonderful. We must have a long talk about it one of these days. [Pointing to her frock.] Callot?

Elizabeth. No, Worth.

Lady Kitty. I knew it was either Worth or Callot. Of course, it’s line that’s the important thing. I go to Worth myself, and I always say to him, “Line, my dear Worth, line.” What is the matter, Hughie?

Porteous. These new teeth of mine are so damned uncomfortable.

Lady Kitty. Men are extraordinary. They can’t stand the smallest discomfort. Why, a woman’s life is uncomfortable from the moment she gets up in the morning till the moment she goes to bed at night. And d’you think it’s comfortable to sleep with a mask on your face?

Porteous. They don’t seem to hold up properly.

Lady Kitty. Well, that’s not the fault of your teeth. That’s the fault of your gums.

Porteous. Damned rotten dentist. That’s what’s the matter.

Lady Kitty. I thought he was a very nice dentist. He told me my teeth would last till I was fifty. He has a Chinese room. It’s so interesting; while he scrapes your teeth he tells you all about the dear Empress Dowager. Are you interested in China? I think it’s too wonderful.[Pg 30] You know they’ve cut off their pigtails. I think it’s such a pity. They were so picturesque.

[The Butler comes in.

Butler. Luncheon is served, sir.

Elizabeth. Would you like to see your rooms?

Porteous. We can see our rooms after luncheon.

Lady Kitty. I must powder my nose, Hughie.

Porteous. Powder it down here.

Lady Kitty. I never saw anyone so inconsiderate.

Porteous. You’ll keep us all waiting half an hour. I know you.

Lady Kitty. [Fumbling in her bag.] Oh, well, peace at any price, as Lord Beaconsfield said.

Porteous. He said a lot of damned silly things, Kitty, but he never said that.

[Lady Kitty’s face changes. Perplexity is followed by dismay, and dismay by consternation.

Lady Kitty. Oh!

Elizabeth. What is the matter?

Lady Kitty. [With anguish.] My lip-stick!

Elizabeth. Can’t you find it?

Lady Kitty. I had it in the car. Hughie, you remember that I had it in the car.

Porteous. I don’t remember anything about it.

Lady Kitty. Don’t be so stupid, Hughie. Why, when we came through the gates I said: “My home, my home!” and I took it out and put some on my lips.

Elizabeth. Perhaps you dropped it in the car.

Lady Kitty. For heaven’s sake send some one to look for it.

Arnold. I’ll ring.

Lady Kitty. I’m absolutely lost without my lip-stick. Lend me yours, darling, will you?

Elizabeth. I’m awfully sorry. I’m afraid I haven’t got one.

Lady Kitty. Do you mean to say you don’t use a lip-stick?

[Pg 31]

Elizabeth. Never.

Porteous. Look at her lips. What the devil d’you think she wants muck like that for?

Lady Kitty. Oh, my dear, what a mistake you make! You must use a lip-stick. It’s so good for the lips. Men like it, you know. I couldn’t live without a lip-stick.

[Champion-Cheney appears at the window holding in his upstretched hand a little gold case.

C.-C. [As he comes in.] Has anyone here lost a diminutive utensil containing, unless I am mistaken, a favourite preparation for the toilet?

[Arnold and Elizabeth are thunderstruck at his appearance and even Teddie and Anna are taken aback. But Lady Kitty is overjoyed.

Lady Kitty. My lip-stick!

C.-C. I found it in the drive and I ventured to bring it in.

Lady Kitty. It’s Saint Antony. I said a little prayer to him when I was hunting in my bag.

Porteous. Saint Antony be blowed! It’s Clive, by God!

Lady Kitty. [Startled, her attention suddenly turning from the lip-stick.] Clive!

C.-C. You didn’t recognise me. It’s many years since we met.

Lady Kitty. My poor Clive, your hair has gone quite white!

C.-C. [Holding out his hand.] I hope you had a pleasant journey down from London.

Lady Kitty. [Offering him her cheek.] You may kiss me, Clive.

C.-C. [Kissing her.] You don’t mind, Hughie?

Porteous. [With a grunt.] Ugh!

C.-C. [Going up to him cordially.] And how are you, my dear Hughie?

Porteous. Damned rheumatic if you want to know. Filthy climate you have in this country.

[Pg 32]

C.-C. Aren’t you going to shake hands with me, Hughie?

Porteous. I have no objection to shaking hands with you.

C.-C. You’ve aged, my poor Hughie.

Porteous. Some one was asking me how old you were the other day.

C.-C. Were they surprised when you told them?

Porteous. Surprised! They wondered you weren’t dead.

[The Butler comes in.

Butler. Did you ring, sir?

Arnold. No. Oh, yes, I did. It doesn’t matter now.

C.-C. [As the Butler is going.] One moment. My dear Elizabeth, I’ve come to throw myself on your mercy. My servants are busy with their own affairs. There’s not a thing for me to eat in my cottage.

Elizabeth. Oh, but we shall be delighted if you’ll lunch with us.

C.-C. It either means that or my immediate death from starvation. You don’t mind, Arnold?

Arnold. My dear father!

Elizabeth. [To the Butler.] Mr. Cheney will lunch here.

Butler. Very good, ma’am.

C.-C. [To Lady Kitty.] And what do you think of Arnold?

Lady Kitty. I adore him.

C.-C. He’s grown, hasn’t he? But then you’d expect him to do that in thirty years.

Arnold. For God’s sake let’s go in to lunch, Elizabeth!


[Pg 35]


The Scene is the same as in the preceding Act.

It is afternoon. When the curtain rises Porteous and Lady Kitty, Anna and Teddie are playing bridge. Elizabeth and Champion-Cheney are watching. Porteous and Lady Kitty are partners.

C.-C. When will Arnold be back, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth. Soon, I think.

C.-C. Is he addressing a meeting?

Elizabeth. No, it’s only a conference with his agent and one or two constituents.

Porteous. [Irritably.] How anyone can be expected to play bridge when people are shouting at the top of their voices all round them, I for one cannot understand.

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] I’m so sorry.

Anna. I can see your hand, Lord Porteous.

Porteous. It may help you.

Lady Kitty. I’ve told you over and over again to hold your cards up. It ruins one’s game when one can’t help seeing one’s opponent’s hand.

Porteous. One isn’t obliged to look.

Lady Kitty. What was Arnold’s majority at the last election?

Elizabeth. Seven hundred and something.

C.-C. He’ll have to fight for it if he wants to keep his seat next time.

Porteous. Are we playing bridge, or talking politics?

Lady Kitty. I never find that conversation interferes with my game.

Porteous. You certainly play no worse when you talk than when you hold your tongue.

[Pg 36]

Lady Kitty. I think that’s a very offensive thing to say, Hughie. Just because I don’t play the same game as you do you think I can’t play.

Porteous. I’m glad you acknowledge it’s not the same game as I play. But why in God’s name do you call it bridge?

C.-C. I agree with Kitty. I hate people who play bridge as though they were at a funeral and knew their feet were getting wet.

Porteous. Of course you take Kitty’s part.

Lady Kitty. That’s the least he can do.

C.-C. I have a naturally cheerful disposition.

Porteous. You’ve never had anything to sour it.

Lady Kitty. I don’t know what you mean by that, Hughie.

Porteous. [Trying to contain himself.] Must you trump my ace?

Lady Kitty. [Innocently.] Oh, was that your ace, darling?

Porteous. [Furiously.] Yes, it was my ace.

Lady Kitty. Oh, well, it was the only trump I had. I shouldn’t have made it anyway.

Porteous. You needn’t have told them that. Now she knows exactly what I’ve got.

Lady Kitty. She knew before.

Porteous. How could she know?

Lady Kitty. She said she’d seen your hand.

Anna. Oh, I didn’t. I said I could see it.

Lady Kitty. Well, I naturally supposed that if she could see it she did.

Porteous. Really, Kitty, you have the most extraordinary ideas.

C.-C. Not at all. If anyone is such a fool as to show me his hand, of course I look at it.

Porteous. [Fuming.] If you study the etiquette of bridge, you’ll discover that onlookers are expected not to interfere with the game.

[Pg 37]

C.-C. My dear Hughie, this is a matter of ethics, not of bridge.

Anna. Anyhow, I get the game. And rubber.

Teddie. I claim a revoke.

Porteous. Who revoked?

Teddie. You did.

Porteous. Nonsense. I’ve never revoked in my life.

Teddie. I’ll show you. [He turns over the tricks to show the faces of the cards.] You threw away a club on the third heart trick and you had another heart.

Porteous. I never had more than two hearts.

Teddie. Oh, yes, you had. Look here. That’s the card you played on the last trick but one.

Lady Kitty. [Delighted to catch him out.] There’s no doubt about it, Hughie. You revoked.

Porteous. I tell you I did not revoke. I never revoke.

C.-C. You did, Hughie. I wondered what on earth you were doing.

Porteous. I don’t know how anyone can be expected not to revoke when there’s this confounded chatter going on all the time.

Teddie. Well, that’s another hundred to us.

Porteous. [To Champion-Cheney.] I wish you wouldn’t breathe down my neck. I never can play bridge when there’s somebody breathing down my neck.

[The party have risen from the bridge-table, and they scatter about the room.

Anna. Well, I’m going to take a book and lie down in the hammock till it’s time to dress.

Teddie. [Who has been adding up.] I’ll put it down in the book, shall I?

Porteous. [Who has not moved, setting out the cards for a patience.] Yes, yes, put it down. I never revoke.

[Anna goes out.

Lady Kitty. Would you like to come for a little stroll, Hughie?

Porteous. What for?

[Pg 38]

Lady Kitty. Exercise.

Porteous. I hate exercise.

C.-C. [Looking at the patience.] The seven goes on the eight.

[Porteous takes no notice.

Lady Kitty. The seven goes on the eight, Hughie.

Porteous. I don’t choose to put the seven on the eight.

C.-C. That knave goes on the queen.

Porteous. I’m not blind, thank you.

Lady Kitty. The three goes on the four.

C.-C. All these go over.

Porteous. [Furiously.] Am I playing this patience, or are you playing it?

Lady Kitty. But you’re missing everything.

Porteous. That’s my business.

C.-C. It’s no good losing your temper over it, Hughie.

Porteous. Go away, both of you. You irritate me.

Lady Kitty. We were only trying to help you, Hughie.

Porteous. I don’t want to be helped. I want to do it by myself.

Lady Kitty. I think your manners are perfectly deplorable, Hughie.

Porteous. It’s simply maddening when you’re playing patience and people won’t leave you alone.

C.-C. We won’t say another word.

Porteous. That three goes. I believe it’s coming out. If I’d been such a fool as to put that seven up I shouldn’t have been able to bring these down.

[He puts down several cards while they watch him silently.

Lady Kitty and C.-C. [Together.] The four goes on the five.

Porteous. [Throwing down the cards violently.] Damn you! why don’t you leave me alone? It’s intolerable.

C.-C. It was coming out, my dear fellow.

Porteous. I know it was coming out. Confound you!

Lady Kitty. How petty you are, Hughie!

Porteous. Petty, be damned! I’ve told you over and[Pg 39] over again that I will not be interfered with when I’m playing patience.

Lady Kitty. Don’t talk to me like that, Hughie.

Porteous. I shall talk to you as I please.

Lady Kitty. [Beginning to cry.] Oh, you brute! You brute! [She flings out of the room.]

Porteous. Oh, damn! now she’s going to cry.

[He shambles out into the garden. Champion-Cheney, Elizabeth and Teddie are left alone. There is a moment’s pause. Champion-Cheney looks from Teddie to Elizabeth, with an ironical smile.

C.-C. Upon my soul, they might be married. They frip so much.

Elizabeth. [Frigidly.] It’s been nice of you to come here so often since they arrived. It’s helped to make things easy.

C.-C. Irony? It’s a rhetorical form not much favoured in this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Elizabeth. What exactly are you getting at?

C.-C. How slangy the young women of the present day are! I suppose the fact that Arnold is a purist leads you to the contrary extravagance.

Elizabeth. Anyhow you know what I mean.

C.-C. [With a smile.] I have a dim, groping suspicion.

Elizabeth. You promised to keep away. Why did you come back the moment they arrived?

C.-C. Curiosity, my dear child. A surely pardonable curiosity.

Elizabeth. And since then you’ve been here all the time. You don’t generally favour us with so much of your company when you’re down at your cottage.

C.-C. I’ve been excessively amused.

Elizabeth. It has struck me that whenever they started fripping you took a malicious pleasure in goading them on.

C.-C. I don’t think there’s much love lost between them now, do you?

[Pg 40]

[Teddie is making as though to leave the room.

Elizabeth. Don’t go, Teddie.

C.-C. No, please don’t. I’m only staying a minute. We were talking about Lady Kitty just before she arrived. [To Elizabeth.] Do you remember? The pale, frail lady in black satin and old lace.

Elizabeth. [With a chuckle.] You are a devil, you know.

C.-C. Ah, well, he’s always had the reputation of being a humorist and a gentleman.

Elizabeth. Did you expect her to be like that, poor dear?

C.-C. My dear child, I hadn’t the vaguest idea. You were asking me the other day what she was like when she ran away. I didn’t tell you half. She was so gay and so natural. Who would have thought that animation would turn into such frivolity, and that charming impulsiveness lead to such a ridiculous affectation?

Elizabeth. It rather sets my nerves on edge to hear the way you talk of her.

C.-C. It’s the truth that sets your nerves on edge, not I.

Elizabeth. You loved her once. Have you no feeling for her at all?

C.-C. None. Why should I?

Elizabeth. She’s the mother of your son.

C.-C. My dear child, you have a charming nature, as simple, frank, and artless as hers was. Don’t let pure humbug obscure your common sense.

Elizabeth. We have no right to judge. She’s only been here two days. We know nothing about her.

C.-C. My dear, her soul is as thickly rouged as her face. She hasn’t an emotion that’s sincere. She’s tinsel. You think I’m a cruel, cynical old man. Why, when I think of what she was, if I didn’t laugh at what she has become I should cry.

Elizabeth. How do you know she wouldn’t be just[Pg 41] the same now if she’d remained your wife? Do you think your influence would have had such a salutary effect on her?

C.-C. [Good-humouredly.] I like you when you’re bitter and rather insolent.

Elizabeth. D’you like me enough to answer my question?

C.-C. She was only twenty-seven when she went away. She might have become anything. She might have become the woman you expected her to be. There are very few of us who are strong enough to make circumstances serve us. We are the creatures of our environment. She’s a silly, worthless woman because she’s led a silly, worthless life.

Elizabeth. [Disturbed.] You’re horrible to-day.

C.-C. I don’t say it’s I who could have prevented her from becoming this ridiculous caricature of a pretty woman grown old. But life could. Here she would have had the friends fit to her station, and a decent activity, and worthy interests. Ask her what her life has been all these years among divorced women and kept women and the men who consort with them. There is no more lamentable pursuit than a life of pleasure.

Elizabeth. At all events she loved and she loved greatly. I have only pity and affection for her.

C.-C. And if she loved what d’you think she felt when she saw that she had ruined Hughie? Look at him. He was tight last night after dinner and tight the night before.

Elizabeth. I know.

C.-C. And she took it as a matter of course. How long do you suppose he’s been getting tight every night? Do you think he was like that thirty years ago? Can you imagine that that was a brilliant young man, whom everyone expected to be Prime Minister? Look at him now. A grumpy sodden old fellow with false teeth.

Elizabeth. You have false teeth, too.

[Pg 42]

C.-C. Yes, but damn it all, they fit. She’s ruined him and she knows she’s ruined him.

Elizabeth. [Looking at him suspiciously.] Why are you saying all this to me?

C.-C. Am I hurting your feelings?

Elizabeth. I think I’ve had enough for the present.

C.-C. I’ll go and have a look at the gold-fish. I want to see Arnold when he comes in. [Politely.] I’m afraid we’ve been boring Mr. Luton.

Teddie. Not at all.

C.-C. When are you going back to the F.M.S.?

Teddie. In about a month.

C.-C. I see.

[He goes out.

Elizabeth. I wonder what he has at the back of his head.

Teddie. D’you think he was talking at you?

Elizabeth. He’s as clever as a bagful of monkeys.

[There is a moment’s pause. Teddie hesitates a little and when he speaks it is in a different tone. He is grave and somewhat nervous.

Teddie. It seems very difficult to get a few minutes alone with you. I wonder if you’ve been making it difficult?

Elizabeth. I wanted to think.

Teddie. I’ve made up my mind to go away to-morrow.

Elizabeth. Why?

Teddie. I want you altogether or not at all.

Elizabeth. You’re so arbitrary.

Teddie. You said you—you said you cared for me.

Elizabeth. I do.

Teddie. Do you mind if we talk it over now?

Elizabeth. No.

Teddie. [Frowning.] It makes me feel rather shy and awkward. I’ve repeated to myself over and over again exactly what I want to say to you, and now all I’d prepared seems rather footling.

[Pg 43]

Elizabeth. I’m so afraid I’m going to cry.

Teddie. I feel it’s all so tremendously serious and I think we ought to keep emotion out of it. You’re rather emotional, aren’t you?

Elizabeth. [Half smiling and half in tears.] So are you for the matter of that.

Teddie. That’s why I wanted to have everything I meant to say to you cut and dried. I think it would be awfully unfair if I made love to you and all that sort of thing, and you were carried away. I wrote it all down and thought I’d send it you as a letter.

Elizabeth. Why didn’t you?

Teddie. I got the wind up. A letter seems so—so cold. You see, I love you so awfully.

Elizabeth. For goodness’ sake don’t say that.

Teddie. You mustn’t cry. Please don’t, or I shall go all to pieces.

Elizabeth. [Trying to smile.] I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean anything really. It’s only tears running out of my eyes.

Teddie. Our only chance is to be awfully matter-of-fact.

[He stops for a moment. He finds it quite difficult to control himself. He clears his throat. He frowns with annoyance at himself.

Elizabeth. What’s the matter?

Teddie. I’ve got a sort of lump in my throat. It is idiotic. I think I’ll have a cigarette.

[She watches him in silence while he lights a cigarette.

You see, I’ve never been in love with anyone before, not really. It’s knocked me endways. I don’t know how I can live without you now. . . . Does that old fool know I’m in love with you?

Elizabeth. I think so.

Teddie. When he was talking about Lady Kitty smashing up Lord Porteous’ career I thought there was something at the back of it.

[Pg 44]

Elizabeth. I think he was trying to persuade me not to smash up yours.

Teddie. I’m sure that’s very considerate of him, but I don’t happen to have one to smash. I wish I had. It’s the only time in my life I’ve wished I were a hell of a swell so that I could chuck it all and show you how much more you are to me than anything else in the world.

Elizabeth. [Affectionately.] You’re a dear old thing, Teddie.

Teddie. You know, I don’t really know how to make love, but if I did I couldn’t do it now because I just want to be absolutely practical.

Elizabeth. [Chaffing him.] I’m glad you don’t know how to make love. It would be almost more than I could bear.

Teddie. You see, I’m not at all romantic and that sort of thing. I’m just a common or garden business man. All this is so dreadfully serious and I think we ought to be sensible.

Elizabeth. [With a break in her voice.] You owl!

Teddie. No, Elizabeth, don’t say things like that to me. I want you to consider all the pros and cons, and my heart’s thumping against my chest, and you know I love you, I love you, I love you.

Elizabeth. [In a sigh of passion.] Oh, my precious!

Teddie. [Impatiently, but with himself, rather than with Elizabeth.] Don’t be idiotic, Elizabeth. I’m not going to tell you that I can’t live without you and a lot of muck like that. You know that you mean everything in the world to me. [Almost giving it up as a bad job.] Oh, my God!

Elizabeth. [Her voice faltering.] D’you think there’s anything you can say to me that I don’t know already?

Teddie. [Desperately.] But I haven’t said a single thing I wanted to. I’m a business man and I want to put it all in a business way, if you understand what I mean.

[Pg 45]

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] I don’t believe you’re a very good business man.

Teddie. [Sharply.] You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a first-rate business man, but somehow this is different. [Hopelessly.] I don’t know why it won’t go right.

Elizabeth. What are we going to do about it?

Teddie. You see, it’s not just because you’re awfully pretty that I love you. I’d love you just as much if you were old and ugly. It’s you I love, not what you look like. And it’s not only love; love be blowed! It’s that I like you so tremendously. I think you’re such a ripping good sort. I just want to be with you. I feel so jolly and happy just to think you’re there. I’m so awfully fond of you.

Elizabeth. [Laughing through her tears.] I don’t know if this is your idea of introducing a business proposition.

Teddie. Damn you, you won’t let me.

Elizabeth. You said “Damn you.”

Teddie. I meant it.

Elizabeth. Your voice sounded as if you meant it, you perfect duck!

Teddie. Really, Elizabeth, you’re intolerable.

Elizabeth. I’m doing nothing.

Teddie. Yes, you are, you’re putting me off my blow. What I want to say is perfectly simple. I’m a very ordinary business man.

Elizabeth. You’ve said that before.

Teddie. [Angrily.] Shut up. I haven’t got a bob besides what I earn. I’ve got no position. I’m nothing. You’re rich and you’re a big pot and you’ve got everything that anyone can want. It’s awful cheek my saying anything to you at all. But after all there’s only one thing that really matters in the world, and that’s love. I love you. Chuck all this, Elizabeth, and come to me.

Elizabeth. Are you cross with me?

Teddie. Furious.

[Pg 46]

Elizabeth. Darling!

Teddie. If you don’t want me tell me so at once and let me get out quickly.

Elizabeth. Teddie, nothing in the world matters anything to me but you. I’ll go wherever you take me. I love you.

Teddie. [All to pieces.] Oh, my God!

Elizabeth. Does it mean as much to you as that? Oh, Teddie!

Teddie. [Trying to control himself.] Don’t be a fool, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. It’s you’re the fool. You’re making me cry.

Teddie. You’re so damned emotional.

Elizabeth. Damned emotional yourself. I’m sure you’re a rotten business man.

Teddie. I don’t care what you think. You’ve made me so awfully happy. I say, what a lark life’s going to be!

Elizabeth. Teddie, you are an angel.

Teddie. Let’s get out quick. It’s no good wasting time. Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. What?

Teddie. Nothing. I just like to say Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. You fool!

Teddie. I say, can you shoot?

Elizabeth. No.

Teddie. I’ll teach you. You don’t know how ripping it is to start out from your camp at dawn and travel through the jungle. And you’re so tired at night and the sky’s all starry. It’s a fair treat. Of course I didn’t want to say anything about all that till you’d decided. I’d made up my mind to be absolutely practical.

Elizabeth. [Chaffing him.] The only practical thing you said was that love is the only thing that really matters.

Teddie. [Happily.] Pull the other leg next time, will you? I should have to have one longer than the other.

[Pg 47]

Elizabeth. Isn’t it fun being in love with some one who’s in love with you?

Teddie. I say, I think I’d better clear out at once, don’t you? It seems rather rotten to stay on in—in this house.

Elizabeth. You can’t go to-night. There’s no train.

Teddie. I’ll go to-morrow. I’ll wait in London till you’re ready to join me.

Elizabeth. I’m not going to leave a note on the pincushion like Lady Kitty, you know. I’m going to tell Arnold.

Teddie. Are you? Don’t you think there’ll be an awful bother?

Elizabeth. I must face it. I should hate to be sly and deceitful.

Teddie. Well, then, let’s face it together.

Elizabeth. No, I’ll talk to Arnold by myself.

Teddie. You won’t let anyone influence you?

Elizabeth. No.

[He holds out his hand and she takes it. They look into one another’s eyes with grave, almost solemn affection. There is the sound outside of a car driving up.

Elizabeth. There’s the car. Arnold’s come back. I must go and bathe my eyes. I don’t want them to see I’ve been crying.

Teddie. All right. [As she is going.] Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. [Stopping.] What?

Teddie. Bless you.

Elizabeth. [Affectionately.] Idiot!

[She goes out of the door and Teddie through the French window into the garden. For an instant the room is empty. Arnold comes in. He sits down and takes some papers out of his despatch-case. Lady Kitty enters. He gets up.

Lady Kitty. I saw you come in. Oh, my dear, don’t get up. There’s no reason why you should be so dreadfully polite to me.

[Pg 48]

Arnold. I’ve just rung for a cup of tea.

Lady Kitty. Perhaps we shall have the chance of a little talk. We don’t seem to have had five minutes by ourselves. I want to make your acquaintance, you know.

Arnold. I should like you to know that it’s not by my wish that my father is here.

Lady Kitty. But I’m so interested to see him.

Arnold. I was afraid that you and Lord Porteous must find it embarrassing.

Lady Kitty. Oh, no. Hughie was his greatest friend. They were at Eton and Oxford together. I think your father has improved so much since I saw him last. He wasn’t good-looking as a young man, but now he’s quite handsome.

[The Footman brings in a tray on which are tea-things.

Lady Kitty. Shall I pour it out for you?

Arnold. Thank you very much.

Lady Kitty. Do you take sugar?

Arnold. No. I gave it up during the war.

Lady Kitty. So wise of you. It’s so bad for the figure. Besides being patriotic, of course. Isn’t it absurd that I should ask my son if he takes sugar or not? Life is really very quaint. Sad, of course, but oh, so quaint! Often I lie in bed at night and have a good laugh to myself as I think how quaint life is.

Arnold. I’m afraid I’m a very serious person.

Lady Kitty. How old are you now, Arnold?

Arnold. Thirty-five.

Lady Kitty. Are you really? Of course, I was a child when I married your father.

Arnold. Really. He always told me you were twenty-two.

Lady Kitty. Oh, what nonsense! Why, I was married out of the nursery. I put my hair up for the first time on my wedding-day.

Arnold. Where is Lord Porteous?

Lady Kitty. My dear, it sounds too absurd to hear[Pg 49] you call him Lord Porteous. Why don’t you call him—Uncle Hughie?

Arnold. He doesn’t happen to be my uncle.

Lady Kitty. No, but he’s your godfather. You know, I’m sure you’ll like him when you know him better. I’m so hoping that you and Elizabeth will come and stay with us in Florence. I simply adore Elizabeth. She’s too beautiful.

Arnold. Her hair is very pretty.

Lady Kitty. It’s not touched up, is it?

Arnold. Oh, no.

Lady Kitty. I just wondered. It’s rather a coincidence that her hair should be the same colour as mine. I suppose it shows that your father and you are attracted by just the same thing. So interesting, heredity, isn’t it?

Arnold. Very.

Lady Kitty. Of course, since I joined the Catholic Church I don’t believe in it any more. Darwin and all that sort of thing. Too dreadful. Wicked, you know. Besides, it’s not very good form, is it?

[Champion-Cheney comes in from the garden.

C.-C. Do I intrude?

Lady Kitty. Come in, Clive. Arnold and I have been having such a wonderful heart-to-heart talk.

C.-C. Very nice.

Arnold. Father, I stepped in for a moment at the Harveys’ on my way back. It’s simply criminal what they’re doing with that house.

C.-C. What are they doing?

Arnold. It’s an almost perfect Georgian house and they’ve got a lot of dreadful Victorian furniture. I gave them my ideas on the subject, but it’s quite hopeless. They said they were attached to their furniture.

C.-C. Arnold should have been an interior decorator.

Lady Kitty. He has wonderful taste. He gets that from me.

[Pg 50]

Arnold. I suppose I have a certain flair. I have a passion for decorating houses.

Lady Kitty. You’ve made this one charming.

C.-C. D’you remember, we just had chintzes and comfortable chairs when we lived here, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. Perfectly hideous, wasn’t it?

C.-C. In those days gentlemen and ladies were not expected to have taste.

Arnold. You know, I’ve been looking at this chair again. Since Lord Porteous said the legs weren’t right I’ve been very uneasy.

Lady Kitty. He only said that because he was in a bad temper.

C.-C. His temper seems to me very short these days, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. Oh, it is.

Arnold. You feel he knows what he’s talking about. I gave seventy-five pounds for that chair. I’m very seldom taken in. I always think if a thing’s right you feel it.

C.-C. Well, don’t let it disturb your night’s rest.

Arnold. But, my dear father, that’s just what it does. I had a most horrible dream about it last night.

Lady Kitty. Here is Hughie.

Arnold. I’m going to fetch a book I have on Old English furniture. There’s an illustration of a chair which is almost identical with this one.

[Porteous comes in.

Porteous. Quite a family gathering, by George!

C.-C. I was thinking just now we’d make a very pleasing picture of a typical English home.

Arnold. I’ll be back in five minutes. There’s something I want to show you, Lord Porteous.

[He goes out.

C.-C. Would you like to play piquet with me, Hughie?

Porteous. Not particularly.

C.-C. You were never much of a piquet player, were you?

[Pg 51]

Porteous. My dear Clive, you people don’t know what piquet is in England.

C.-C. Let’s have a game then. You may make money.

Porteous. I don’t want to play with you.

Lady Kitty. I don’t know why not, Hughie.

Porteous. Let me tell you that I don’t like your manner.

C.-C. I’m sorry for that. I’m afraid I can’t offer to change it at my age.

Porteous. I don’t know what you want to be hanging around here for.

C.-C. A natural attachment to my home.

Porteous. If you’d had any tact you’d have kept out of the way while we were here.

C.-C. My dear Hughie, I don’t understand your attitude at all. If I’m willing to let bygones be bygones why should you object?

Porteous. Damn it all, they’re not bygones.

C.-C. After all, I am the injured party.

Porteous. How the devil are you the injured party?

C.-C. Well, you did run away with my wife, didn’t you?

Lady Kitty. Now, don’t let’s go into ancient history. I can’t see why we shouldn’t all be friends.

Porteous. I beg you not to interfere, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. I’m very fond of Clive.

Porteous. You never cared two straws for Clive. You only say that to irritate me.

Lady Kitty. Not at all. I don’t see why he shouldn’t come and stay with us.

C.-C. I’d love to. I think Florence in spring-time is delightful. Have you central heating?

Porteous. I never liked you, I don’t like you now, and I never shall like you.

C.-C. How very unfortunate! because I liked you, I like you now, and I shall continue to like you.

Lady Kitty. There’s something very nice about you, Clive.

[Pg 52]

Porteous. If you think that, why the devil did you leave him?

Lady Kitty. Are you going to reproach me because I loved you? How utterly, utterly, utterly detestable you are!

C.-C. Now, now, don’t quarrel with one another.

Lady Kitty. It’s all his fault. I’m the easiest person in the world to live with. But really he’d try the patience of a saint.

C.-C. Come, come, don’t get upset, Kitty. When two people live together there must be a certain amount of give and take.

Porteous. I don’t know what the devil you’re talking about.

C.-C. It hasn’t escaped my observation that you are a little inclined to frip. Many couples are. I think it’s a pity.

Porteous. Would you have the very great kindness to mind your own business?

Lady Kitty. It is his business. He naturally wants me to be happy.

C.-C. I have the very greatest affection for Kitty.

Porteous. Then why the devil didn’t you look after her properly?

C.-C. My dear Hughie, you were my greatest friend. I trusted you. It may have been rash.

Porteous. It was inexcusable.

Lady Kitty. I don’t know what you mean by that, Hughie.

Porteous. Don’t, don’t, don’t try and bully me, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. Oh, I know what you mean.

Porteous. Then why the devil did you say you didn’t?

Lady Kitty. When I think that I sacrificed everything for that man! And for thirty years I’ve had to live in a filthy marble palace with no sanitary conveniences.

C.-C. D’you mean to say you haven’t got a bathroom?

[Pg 53]

Lady Kitty. I’ve had to wash in a tub.

C.-C. My poor Kitty, how you’ve suffered!

Porteous. Really, Kitty, I’m sick of hearing of the sacrifices you made. I suppose you think I sacrificed nothing. I should have been Prime Minister by now if it hadn’t been for you.

Lady Kitty. Nonsense!

Porteous. What do you mean by that? Everyone said I should be Prime Minister. Shouldn’t I have been Prime Minister, Clive?

C.-C. It was certainly the general expectation.

Porteous. I was the most promising young man of my day. I was bound to get a seat in the Cabinet at the next election.

Lady Kitty. They’d have found you out just as I’ve found you out. I’m sick of hearing that I ruined your career. You never had a career to ruin. Prime Minister! You haven’t the brain. You haven’t the character.

C.-C. Cheek, push, and a gift of the gab will serve very well instead, you know.

Lady Kitty. Besides, in politics it’s not the men that matter. It’s the women at the back of them. I could have made Clive a Cabinet Minister if I’d wanted to.

Porteous. Clive?

Lady Kitty. With my beauty, my charm, my force of character, my wit, I could have done anything.

Porteous. Clive was nothing but my political secretary. When I was Prime Minister I might have made him Governor of some Colony or other. Western Australia, say. Out of pure kindliness.

Lady Kitty. [With flashing eyes.] D’you think I would have buried myself in Western Australia? With my beauty? My charm?

Porteous. Or Barbadoes, perhaps.

Lady Kitty. [Furiously.] Barbadoes! Barbadoes can go to—Barbadoes.

Porteous. That’s all you’d have got.

[Pg 54]

Lady Kitty. Nonsense! I’d have India.

Porteous. I would never have given you India.

Lady Kitty. You would have given me India.

Porteous. I tell you I wouldn’t.

Lady Kitty. The King would have given me India. The nation would have insisted on my having India. I would have been a vice-reine or nothing.

Porteous. I tell you that as long as the interests of the British Empire—Damn it all, my teeth are coming out!

[He hurries from the room.

Lady Kitty. It’s too much. I can’t bear it any more. I’ve put up with him for thirty years and now I’m at the end of my tether.

C.-C. Calm yourself, my dear Kitty.

Lady Kitty. I won’t listen to a word. I’ve quite made up my mind. It’s finished, finished, finished. [With a change of tone.] I was so touched when I heard that you never lived in this house again after I left it.

C.-C. The cuckoos have always been very plentiful. Their note has a personal application which, I must say, I have found extremely offensive.

Lady Kitty. When I saw that you didn’t marry again I couldn’t help thinking that you still loved me.

C.-C. I am one of the few men I know who is able to profit by experience.

Lady Kitty. In the eyes of the Church I am still your wife. The Church is so wise. It knows that in the end a woman always comes back to her first love. Clive, I am willing to return to you.

C.-C. My dear Kitty, I couldn’t take advantage of your momentary vexation with Hughie to let you take a step which I know you would bitterly regret.

Lady Kitty. You’ve waited for me a long time. For Arnold’s sake.

C.-C. Do you think we really need bother about Arnold? In the last thirty years he’s had time to grow used to the situation.

[Pg 55]

Lady Kitty. [With a little smile.] I think I’ve sown my wild oats, Clive.

C.-C. I haven’t. I was a good young man, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. I know.

C.-C. And I’m very glad, because it has enabled me to be a wicked old one.

Lady Kitty. I beg your pardon.

[Arnold comes in with a large book in his hand.

Arnold. I say, I’ve found the book I was hunting for. Oh! isn’t Lord Porteous here?

Lady Kitty. One moment, Arnold. Your father and I are busy.

Arnold. I’m so sorry.

[He goes out into the garden.

Lady Kitty. Explain yourself, Clive.

C.-C. When you ran away from me, Kitty, I was sore and angry and miserable. But above all I felt a fool.

Lady Kitty. Men are so vain.

C.-C. But I was a student of history, and presently I reflected that I shared my misfortune with very nearly all the greatest men.

Lady Kitty. I’m a great reader myself. It has always struck me as peculiar.

C.-C. The explanation is very simple. Women dislike intelligence, and when they find it in their husbands they revenge themselves on them in the only way they can, by making them—well, what you made me.

Lady Kitty. It’s ingenious. It may be true.

C.-C. I felt I had done my duty by society and I determined to devote the rest of my life to my own entertainment. The House of Commons had always bored me excessively and the scandal of our divorce gave me an opportunity to resign my seat. I have been relieved to find that the country got on perfectly well without me.

Lady Kitty. But has love never entered your life?

C.-C. Tell me frankly, Kitty, don’t you think people make a lot of unnecessary fuss about love?

[Pg 56]

Lady Kitty. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world.

C.-C. You’re incorrigible. Do you really think it was worth sacrificing so much for?

Lady Kitty. My dear Clive, I don’t mind telling you that if I had my time over again I should be unfaithful to you, but I should not leave you.

C.-C. For some years I was notoriously the prey of a secret sorrow. But I found so many charming creatures who were anxious to console that in the end it grew rather fatiguing. Out of regard to my health I ceased to frequent the drawing-rooms of Mayfair.

Lady Kitty. And since then?

C.-C. Since then I have allowed myself the luxury of assisting financially a succession of dear little things, in a somewhat humble sphere, between the ages of twenty and twenty-five.

Lady Kitty. I cannot understand the infatuation of men for young girls. I think they’re so dull.

C.-C. It’s a matter of taste. I love old wine, old friends and old books, but I like young women. On their twenty-fifth birthday I give them a diamond ring and tell them they must no longer waste their youth and beauty on an old fogey like me. We have a most affecting scene, my technique on these occasions is perfect, and then I start all over again.

Lady Kitty. You’re a wicked old man, Clive.

C.-C. That’s what I told you. But, by George! I’m a happy one.

Lady Kitty. There’s only one course open to me now.

C.-C. What is that?

Lady Kitty. [With a flashing smile.] To go and dress for dinner.

C.-C. Capital. I will follow your example.

[As Lady Kitty goes out Elizabeth comes in.

Elizabeth. Where is Arnold?

C.-C. He’s on the terrace. I’ll call him.

[Pg 57]

Elizabeth. Don’t bother.

C.-C. I was just strolling along to my cottage to put on a dinner jacket. [As he goes out.] Arnold.

[Exit C.-C.

Arnold. Hulloa! [He comes in.] Oh, Elizabeth, I’ve found an illustration here of a chair which is almost identical with mine. It’s dated 1750. Look!

Elizabeth. That’s very interesting.

Arnold. I want to show it to Porteous. [Moving a chair which has been misplaced.] You know, it does exasperate me the way people will not leave things alone. I no sooner put a thing in its place than somebody moves it.

Elizabeth. It must be maddening for you.

Arnold. It is. You are the worst offender. I can’t think why you don’t take the pride that I do in the house. After all, it’s one of the show places in the county.

Elizabeth. I’m afraid you find me very unsatisfactory.

Arnold. [Good-humouredly.] I don’t know about that. But my two subjects are politics and decoration. I should be a perfect fool if I didn’t see that you don’t care two straws about either.

Elizabeth. We haven’t very much in common, Arnold, have we?

Arnold. I don’t think you can blame me for that.

Elizabeth. I don’t. I blame you for nothing. I have no fault to find with you.

Arnold. [Surprised at her significant tone.] Good gracious me! what’s the meaning of all this?

Elizabeth. Well, I don’t think there’s any object in beating about the bush. I want you to let me go.

Arnold. Go where?

Elizabeth. Away. For always.

Arnold. My dear child, what are you talking about?

Elizabeth. I want to be free.

Arnold. [Amused rather than disconcerted.] Don’t be ridiculous, darling. I daresay you’re run down and want[Pg 58] a change. I’ll take you over to Paris for a fortnight if you like.

Elizabeth. I shouldn’t have spoken to you if I hadn’t quite made up my mind. We’ve been married for three years and I don’t think it’s been a great success. I’m frankly bored by the life you want me to lead.

Arnold. Well, if you’ll allow me to say so, the fault is yours. We lead a very distinguished, useful life. We know a lot of extremely nice people.

Elizabeth. I’m quite willing to allow that the fault is mine. But how does that make it any better? I’m only twenty-five. If I’ve made a mistake I have time to correct it.

Arnold. I can’t bring myself to take you very seriously.

Elizabeth. You see, I don’t love you.

Arnold. Well, I’m awfully sorry. But you weren’t obliged to marry me. You’ve made your bed and I’m afraid you must lie on it.

Elizabeth. That’s one of the falsest proverbs in the English language. Why should you lie on the bed you’ve made if you don’t want to? There’s always the floor.

Arnold. For goodness’ sake don’t be funny, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. I’ve quite made up my mind to leave you, Arnold.

Arnold. Come, come, Elizabeth, you must be sensible. You haven’t any reason to leave me.

Elizabeth. Why should you wish to keep a woman tied to you who wants to be free?

Arnold. I happen to be in love with you.

Elizabeth. You might have said that before.

Arnold. I thought you’d take it for granted. You can’t expect a man to go on making love to his wife after three years. I’m very busy. I’m awfully keen on politics and I’ve worked like a dog to make this house a thing of beauty. After all, a man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn’t want to be bothered with sex and[Pg 59] all that sort of thing. I fell in love with you the first time I saw you and I’ve been in love ever since.

Elizabeth. I’m sorry, but if you’re not in love with a man his love doesn’t mean very much to you.

Arnold. It’s so ungrateful. I’ve done everything in the world for you.

Elizabeth. You’ve been very kind to me. But you’ve asked me to lead a life I don’t like and that I’m not suited for. I’m awfully sorry to cause you pain, but now you must let me go.

Arnold. Nonsense! I’m a good deal older than you are and I think I have a little more sense. In your interests as well as in mine I’m not going to do anything of the sort.

Elizabeth. [With a smile.] How can you prevent me? You can’t keep me under lock and key.

Arnold. Please don’t talk to me as if I were a foolish child. You’re my wife and you’re going to remain my wife.

Elizabeth. What sort of a life do you think we should lead? Do you think there’d be any more happiness for you than for me?

Arnold. But what is it precisely that you suggest?

Elizabeth. Well, I want you to let me divorce you.

Arnold. [Astounded.] Me? Thank you very much. Are you under the impression I’m going to sacrifice my career for a whim of yours?

Elizabeth. How will it do that?

Arnold. My seat’s wobbly enough as it is. Do you think I’d be able to hold it if I were in a divorce case? Even if it were a put-up job, as most divorces are nowadays, it would damn me.

Elizabeth. It’s rather hard on a woman to be divorced.

Arnold. [With sudden suspicion.] What do you mean by that? Are you in love with some one?

Elizabeth. Yes.

Arnold. Who?

[Pg 60]

Elizabeth. Teddie Luton.

[He is astonished for a moment, then bursts into a laugh.

Arnold. My poor child, how can you be so ridiculous? Why, he hasn’t a bob. He’s a perfectly commonplace young man. It’s so absurd I can’t even be angry with you.

Elizabeth. I’ve fallen desperately in love with him, Arnold.

Arnold. Well, you’d better fall desperately out.

Elizabeth. He wants to marry me.

Arnold. I daresay he does. He can go to hell.

Elizabeth. It’s no good talking like that.

Arnold. Is he your lover?

Elizabeth. No, certainly not.

Arnold. It shows that he’s a mean skunk to take advantage of my hospitality to make love to you.

Elizabeth. He’s never even kissed me.

Arnold. I’d try telling that to the horse marines if I were you.

Elizabeth. It’s because I wanted to do nothing shabby that I told you straight out how things were.

Arnold. How long have you been thinking of this?

Elizabeth. I’ve been in love with Teddie ever since I knew him.

Arnold. And you never thought of me at all, I suppose.

Elizabeth. Oh, yes, I did. I was miserable. But I can’t help myself. I wish I loved you, but I don’t.

Arnold. I recommend you to think very carefully before you do anything foolish.

Elizabeth. I have thought very carefully.

Arnold. By God! I don’t know why I don’t give you a sound hiding. I’m not sure if that wouldn’t be the best thing to bring you to your senses.

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold, don’t take it like that.

Arnold. How do you expect me to take it? You come to me quite calmly and say: “I’ve had enough of you. We’ve been married three years and I think I’d like to marry somebody else now. Shall I break up your home?[Pg 61] What a bore for you! Do you mind my divorcing you? It’ll smash up your career, will it? What a pity!” Oh, no, my girl, I may be a fool, but I’m not a damned fool.

Elizabeth. Teddie is leaving here by the first train to-morrow. I warn you that I mean to join him as soon as he can make the necessary arrangements.

Arnold. Where is he?

Elizabeth. I don’t know. I suppose he’s in his room.

[Arnold goes to the door and calls.

Arnold. George!

[For a moment he walks up and down the room impatiently. Elizabeth watches him. The Footman comes in.

Footman. Yes, sir.

Arnold. Tell Mr. Luton to come here at once.

Elizabeth. Ask Mr. Luton if he wouldn’t mind coming here for a moment.

Footman. Very good, madam.

[Exit Footman.

Elizabeth. What are you going to say to him?

Arnold. That’s my business.

Elizabeth. I wouldn’t make a scene if I were you.

Arnold. I’m not going to make a scene.

[They wait in silence.

Why did you insist on my mother coming here?

Elizabeth. It seemed to me rather absurd to take up the attitude that I should be contaminated by her when . . .

Arnold. [Interrupting.] When you were proposing to do exactly the same thing. Well, now you’ve seen her what do you think of her? Do you think it’s been a success? Is that the sort of woman a man would like his mother to be?

Elizabeth. I’ve been ashamed. I’ve been so sorry. It all seemed dreadful and horrible. This morning I happened to notice a rose in the garden. It was all overblown and bedraggled. It looked like a painted old woman. And I remembered that I’d looked at it a day[Pg 62] or two ago. It was lovely then, fresh and blooming and fragrant. It may be hideous now, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty it had once. That was real.

Arnold. Poetry, by God! As if this were the moment for poetry!

[Teddie comes in. He has changed into a dinner jacket.

Teddie. [To Elizabeth.] Did you want me?

Arnold. I sent for you.

[Teddie looks from Arnold to Elizabeth. He sees that something has happened.

When would it be convenient for you to leave this house?

Teddie. I was proposing to go to-morrow morning. But I can very well go at once if you like.

Arnold. I do like.

Teddie. Very well. Is there anything else you wish to say to me?

Arnold. Do you think it was a very honourable thing to come down here and make love to my wife?

Teddie. No, I don’t. I haven’t been very happy about it. That’s why I wanted to go away.

Arnold. Upon my word you’re cool.

Teddie. I’m afraid it’s no good saying I’m sorry and that sort of thing. You know what the situation is.

Arnold. Is it true that you want to marry Elizabeth?

Teddie. Yes. I should like to marry her as soon as ever I can.

Arnold. Have you thought of me at all? Has it struck you that you’re destroying my home and breaking up my happiness?

Teddie. I don’t see how there could be much happiness for you if Elizabeth doesn’t care for you.

Arnold. Let me tell you that I refuse to have my home broken up by a twopenny-halfpenny adventurer who takes advantage of a foolish woman. I refuse to allow myself to be divorced. I can’t prevent my wife from going off with you if she’s determined to make a damned fool of[Pg 63] herself, but this I tell you: nothing will induce me to divorce her.

Elizabeth. Arnold, that would be monstrous.

Teddie. We could force you.

Arnold. How?

Teddie. If we went away together openly you’d have to bring an action.

Arnold. Twenty-four hours after you leave this house I shall go down to Brighton with a chorus-girl. And neither you nor I will be able to get a divorce. We’ve had enough divorces in our family. And now get out, get out, get out!

[Teddie looks uncertainly at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. [With a little smile.] Don’t bother about me. I shall be all right.

Arnold. Get out! Get out!


[Pg 67]


The Scene is the same as in the preceding Acts.

It is the night of the same day as that on which takes place the action of the second Act.

Champion-Cheney and Arnold, both in dinner jackets, are discovered. Champion-Cheney is seated. Arnold walks restlessly up and down the room.

C.-C. I think, if you’ll follow my advice to the letter, you’ll probably work the trick.

Arnold. I don’t like it, you know. It’s against all my principles.

C.-C. My dear Arnold, we all hope that you have before you a distinguished political career. You can’t learn too soon that the most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.

Arnold. But supposing it doesn’t come off? Women are incalculable.

C.-C. Nonsense! Men are romantic. A woman will always sacrifice herself if you give her the opportunity. It is her favourite form of self-indulgence.

Arnold. I never know whether you’re a humorist or a cynic, father.

C.-C. I’m neither, my dear boy; I’m merely a very truthful man. But people are so unused to the truth that they’re apt to mistake it for a joke or a sneer.

Arnold. [Irritably.] It seems so unfair that this should happen to me.

C.-C. Keep your head, my boy, and do what I tell you.

[Lady Kitty and Elizabeth come in. Lady Kitty is in a gorgeous evening gown.

[Pg 68]

Elizabeth. Where is Lord Porteous?

C.-C. He’s on the terrace. He’s smoking a cigar. [Going to window.] Hughie!

[Porteous comes in.

Porteous. [With a grunt.] Yes? Where’s Mrs. Shenstone?

Elizabeth. Oh, she had a headache. She’s gone to bed.

[When Porteous comes in Lady Kitty with a very haughty air purses her lips and takes up an illustrated paper. Porteous gives her an irritated look, takes another illustrated paper and sits himself down at the other end of the room. They are not on speaking terms.

C.-C. Arnold and I have just been down to my cottage.

Elizabeth. I wondered where you’d gone.

C.-C. I came across an old photograph album this afternoon. I meant to bring it along before dinner, but I forgot, so we went and fetched it.

Elizabeth. Oh, do let me see it! I love old photographs.

[He gives her the album, and she, sitting down, puts it on her knees and begins to turn over the pages. He stands over her. Lady Kitty and Porteous take surreptitious glances at one another.

C.-C. I thought it might amuse you to see what pretty women looked like five-and-thirty years ago. That was the day of beautiful women.

Elizabeth. Do you think they were more beautiful then than they are now?

C.-C. Oh, much. Now you see lots of pretty little things, but very few beautiful women.

Elizabeth. Aren’t their clothes funny?

C.-C. [Pointing to a photograph.] That’s Mrs. Langtry.

Elizabeth. She has a lovely nose.

C.-C. She was the most wonderful thing you ever saw. Dowagers used to jump on chairs in order to get[Pg 69] a good look at her when she came into a drawing-room. I was riding with her once, and we had to have the gates of the livery stable closed when she was getting on her horse because the crowd was so great.

Elizabeth. And who’s that?

C.-C. Lady Lonsdale. That’s Lady Dudley.

Elizabeth. This is an actress, isn’t it?

C.-C. It is, indeed. Ellen Terry. By George! how I loved that woman!

Elizabeth. [With a smile.] Dear Ellen Terry!

C.-C. That’s Bwabs. I never saw a smarter man in my life. And Oliver Montagu. Henry Manners with his eye-glass.

Elizabeth. Nice-looking, isn’t he? And this?

C.-C. That’s Mary Anderson. I wish you could have seen her in “A Winter’s Tale.” Her beauty just took your breath away. And look! There’s Lady Randolph. Bernal Osborne—the wittiest man I ever knew.

Elizabeth. I think it’s too sweet. I love their absurd bustles and those tight sleeves.

C.-C. What figures they had! In those days a woman wasn’t supposed to be as thin as a rail and as flat as a pancake.

Elizabeth. Oh, but aren’t they laced in? How could they bear it?

C.-C. They didn’t play golf then, and nonsense like that, you know. They hunted, in a tall hat and a long black habit, and they were very gracious and charitable to the poor in the village.

Elizabeth. Did the poor like it?

C.-C. They had a very thin time if they didn’t. When they were in London they drove in the Park every afternoon, and they went to ten-course dinners, where they never met anybody they didn’t know. And they had their box at the opera when Patti was singing or Madame Albani.

Elizabeth. Oh, what a lovely little thing! Who on earth is that?

[Pg 70]

C.-C. That?

Elizabeth. She looks so fragile, like a piece of exquisite china, with all those furs on and her face up against her muff, and the snow falling.

C.-C. Yes, there was quite a rage at that time for being taken in an artificial snowstorm.

Elizabeth. What a sweet smile, so roguish and frank, and debonair! Oh, I wish I looked like that! Do tell me who it is!

C.-C. Don’t you know?

Elizabeth. No.

C.-C. Why—it’s Kitty.

Elizabeth. Lady Kitty! [To Lady Kitty.] Oh, my dear, do look! It’s too ravishing. [She takes the album over to her impulsively.] Why didn’t you tell me you looked like that? Everybody must have been in love with you.

[Lady Kitty takes the album and looks at it. Then she lets it slip from her hands and covers her face with her hands. She is crying.

[In consternation.] My dear, what’s the matter? Oh, what have I done? I’m so sorry.

Lady Kitty. Don’t, don’t talk to me. Leave me alone. It’s stupid of me.

[Elizabeth looks at her for a moment perplexed, then, turning round, slips her arm in Champion-Cheney’s and leads him out on to the terrace.

Elizabeth. [As they are going, in a whisper.] Did you do that on purpose?

[Porteous gets up and goes over to Lady Kitty. He puts his hand on her shoulder. They remain thus for a little while.

Porteous. I’m afraid I was very rude to you before dinner, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. [Taking his hand which is on her shoulder.] It doesn’t matter. I’m sure I was very exasperating.

Porteous. I didn’t mean what I said, you know.

[Pg 71]

Lady Kitty. Neither did I.

Porteous. Of course I know that I’d never have been Prime Minister.

Lady Kitty. How can you talk such nonsense, Hughie? No one would have had a chance if you’d remained in politics.

Porteous. I haven’t the character.

Lady Kitty. You have more character than anyone I’ve ever met.

Porteous. Besides, I don’t know that I much wanted to be Prime Minister.

Lady Kitty. Oh, but I should have been so proud of you. Of course you’d have been Prime Minister.

Porteous. I’d have given you India, you know. I think it would have been a very popular appointment.

Lady Kitty. I don’t care twopence about India. I’d have been quite content with Western Australia.

Porteous. My dear, you don’t think I’d have let you bury yourself in Western Australia?

Lady Kitty. Or Barbadoes.

Porteous. Never. It sounds like a cure for flat feet. I’d have kept you in London.

[He picks up the album and is about to look at the photograph of Lady Kitty. She puts her hand over it.

Lady Kitty. No, don’t look.

[He takes her hand away.

Porteous. Don’t be so silly.

Lady Kitty. Isn’t it hateful to grow old?

Porteous. You know, you haven’t changed much.

Lady Kitty. [Enchanted.] Oh, Hughie, how can you talk such nonsense?

Porteous. Of course you’re a little more mature, but that’s all. A woman’s all the better for being rather mature.

Lady Kitty. Do you really think that?

Porteous. Upon my soul I do.

Lady Kitty. You’re not saying it just to please me?

[Pg 72]

Porteous. No, no.

Lady Kitty. Let me look at the photograph again.

[She takes the album and looks at the photograph complacently.

The fact is, if your bones are good, age doesn’t really matter. You’ll always be beautiful.

Porteous. [With a little smile, almost as if he were talking to a child.] It was silly of you to cry.

Lady Kitty. It hasn’t made my eyelashes run, has it?

Porteous. Not a bit.

Lady Kitty. It’s very good stuff I use now. They don’t stick together either.

Porteous. Look here, Kitty, how much longer do you want to stay here?

Lady Kitty. Oh, I’m quite ready to go whenever you like.

Porteous. Clive gets on my nerves. I don’t like the way he keeps hanging about you.

Lady Kitty. [Surprised, rather amused, and delighted.] Hughie, you don’t mean to say you’re jealous of poor Clive?

Porteous. Of course I’m not jealous of him, but he does look at you in a way that I can’t help thinking rather objectionable.

Lady Kitty. Hughie, you may throw me downstairs like Amy Robsart; you may drag me about the floor by the hair of my head; I don’t care, you’re jealous. I shall never grow old.

Porteous. Damn it all, the man was your husband.

Lady Kitty. My dear Hughie, he never had your style. Why, the moment you come into a room everyone looks and says: “Who the devil is that?”

Porteous. What? You think that, do you? Well, I daresay there’s something in what you say. These damned Radicals can say what they like, but, by God, Kitty! when a man’s a gentleman—well, damn it all, you know what I mean.

[Pg 73]

Lady Kitty. I think Clive has degenerated dreadfully since we left him.

Porteous. What do you say to making a bee-line for Italy and going to San Michele?

Lady Kitty. Oh, Hughie! It’s years since we were there.

Porteous. Wouldn’t you like to see it again—just once more?

Lady Kitty. Do you remember the first time we went? It was the most heavenly place I’d ever seen. We’d only left England a month, and I said I’d like to spend all my life there.

Porteous. Of course I remember. And in a fortnight it was yours, lock, stock and barrel.

Lady Kitty. We were very happy there, Hughie.

Porteous. Let’s go back once more.

Lady Kitty. I daren’t. It must be all peopled with the ghosts of our past. One should never go again to a place where one has been happy. It would break my heart.

Porteous. Do you remember how we used to sit on the terrace of the old castle and look at the Adriatic? We might have been the only people in the world, you and I, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. [Tragically.] And we thought our love would last for ever.

[Enter Champion-Cheney.

Porteous. Is there any chance of bridge this evening?

C.-C. I don’t think we can make up a four.

Porteous. What a nuisance that boy went away like that! He wasn’t a bad player.

C.-C. Teddie Luton?

Lady Kitty. I think it was very funny his going without saying good-bye to anyone.

C.-C. The young men of the present day are very casual.

Porteous. I thought there was no train in the evening.

[Pg 74]

C.-C. There isn’t. The last train leaves at 5.45.

Porteous. How did he go then?

C.-C. He went.

Porteous. Damned selfish I call it.

Lady Kitty. [Intrigued.] Why did he go, Clive?

[Champion-Cheney looks at her for a moment reflectively.

C.-C. I have something very grave to say to you. Elizabeth wants to leave Arnold.

Lady Kitty. Clive! What on earth for?

C.-C. She’s in love with Teddie Luton. That’s why he went. The men of my family are really very unfortunate.

Porteous. Does she want to run away with him?

Lady Kitty. [With consternation.] My dear, what’s to be done?

C.-C. I think you can do a great deal.

Lady Kitty. I? What?

C.-C. Tell her, tell her what it means.

[He looks at her fixedly. She stares at him.

Lady Kitty. Oh, no, no!

C.-C. She’s a child. Not for Arnold’s sake. For her sake. You must.

Lady Kitty. You don’t know what you’re asking.

C.-C. Yes, I do.

Lady Kitty. Hughie, what shall I do?

Porteous. Do what you like. I shall never blame you for anything.

[The Footman comes in with a letter on a salver. He hesitates on seeing that Elizabeth is not in the room.

C.-C. What is it?

Footman. I was looking for Mrs. Champion-Cheney, sir.

C.-C. She’s not here. Is that a letter?

Footman. Yes, sir. It’s just been sent up from the “Champion Arms.”

C.-C. Leave it. I’ll give it to Mrs. Cheney.

[Pg 75]

Footman. Very good, sir.

[He brings the tray to Clive, who takes the letter. The Footman goes out.

Porteous. Is the “Champion Arms” the local pub?

C.-C. [Looking at the letter.] It’s by way of being a hotel, but I never heard of anyone staying there.

Lady Kitty. If there was no train I suppose he had to go there.

C.-C. Great minds. I wonder what he has to write about! [He goes to the door leading on to the garden.] Elizabeth!

Elizabeth. [Outside.] Yes.

C.-C. Here’s a note for you.

[There is silence. They wait for Elizabeth to come. She enters.

Elizabeth. It’s lovely in the garden to-night.

C.-C. They’ve just sent this up from the “Champion Arms.”

Elizabeth. Thank you.

[Without embarrassment she opens the letter. They watch her while she reads it. It covers three pages. She puts it away in her bag.

Lady Kitty. Hughie, I wish you’d fetch me a cloak. I’d like to take a little stroll in the garden, but after thirty years in Italy I find these English summers rather chilly.

[Without a word Porteous goes out. Elizabeth is lost in thought.

I want to talk to Elizabeth, Clive.

C.-C. I’ll leave you.

[He goes out.

Lady Kitty. What does he say?

Elizabeth. Who?

Lady Kitty. Mr. Luton.

Elizabeth. [Gives a little start. Then she looks at Lady Kitty.] They’ve told you?

Lady Kitty. Yes. And now they have I think I knew it all along.

[Pg 76]

Elizabeth. I don’t expect you to have much sympathy for me. Arnold is your son.

Lady Kitty. So pitifully little.

Elizabeth. I’m not suited for this sort of existence. Arnold wants me to take what he calls my place in Society. Oh, I get so bored with those parties in London. All those middle-aged painted women, in beautiful clothes, lolloping round ball-rooms with rather old young men. And the endless luncheons where they gossip about so-and-so’s love affairs.

Lady Kitty. Are you very much in love with Mr. Luton?

Elizabeth. I love him with all my heart.

Lady Kitty. And he?

Elizabeth. He’s never cared for anyone but me. He never will.

Lady Kitty. Will Arnold let you divorce him?

Elizabeth. No, he won’t hear of it. He refuses even to divorce me.

Lady Kitty. Why?

Elizabeth. He thinks a scandal will revive all the old gossip.

Lady Kitty. Oh, my poor child!

Elizabeth. It can’t be helped. I’m quite willing to accept the consequences.

Lady Kitty. You don’t know what it is to have a man tied to you only by his honour. When married people don’t get on they can separate, but if they’re not married it’s impossible. It’s a tie that only death can sever.

Elizabeth. If Teddie stopped caring for me I shouldn’t want him to stay with me for five minutes.

Lady Kitty. One says that when one’s sure of a man’s love, but when one isn’t any more—oh, it’s so different. In those circumstances one’s got to keep a man’s love. It’s the only thing one has.

Elizabeth. I’m a human being. I can stand on my own feet.

[Pg 77]

Lady Kitty. Have you any money of your own?

Elizabeth. None.

Lady Kitty. Then how can you stand on your own feet? You think I’m a silly, frivolous woman, but I’ve learned something in a bitter school. They can make what laws they like, they can give us the suffrage, but when you come down to bedrock it’s the man who pays the piper who calls the tune. Woman will only be the equal of man when she earns her living in the same way that he does.

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] It sounds rather funny to hear you talk like that.

Lady Kitty. A cook who marries a butler can snap her fingers in his face because she can earn just as much as he can. But a woman in your position and a woman in mine will always be dependent on the men who keep them.

Elizabeth. I don’t want luxury. You don’t know how sick I am of all this beautiful furniture. These over-decorated houses are like a prison in which I can’t breathe. When I drive about in a Callot frock and a Rolls-Royce I envy the shop-girl in a coat and skirt whom I see jumping on the tailboard of a bus.

Lady Kitty. You mean that if need be you could earn your own living?

Elizabeth. Yes.

Lady Kitty. What could you be? A nurse or a typist. It’s nonsense. Luxury saps a woman’s nerve. And when she’s known it once it becomes a necessity.

Elizabeth. That depends on the woman.

Lady Kitty. When we’re young we think we’re different from everyone else, but when we grow a little older we discover we’re all very much of a muchness.

Elizabeth. You’re very kind to take so much trouble about me.

Lady Kitty. It breaks my heart to think that you’re going to make the same pitiful mistake that I made.

Elizabeth. Oh, don’t say it was that, don’t, don’t.

[Pg 78]

Lady Kitty. Look at me, Elizabeth, and look at Hughie. Do you think it’s been a success? If I had my time over again do you think I’d do it again? Do you think he would?

Elizabeth. You see, you don’t know how much I love Teddie.

Lady Kitty. And do you think I didn’t love Hughie? Do you think he didn’t love me?

Elizabeth. I’m sure he did.

Lady Kitty. Oh, of course in the beginning it was heavenly. We felt so brave and adventurous and we were so much in love. The first two years were wonderful. People cut me, you know, but I didn’t mind. I thought love was everything. It is a little uncomfortable when you come upon an old friend and go towards her eagerly, so glad to see her, and are met with an icy stare.

Elizabeth. Do you think friends like that are worth having?

Lady Kitty. Perhaps they’re not very sure of themselves. Perhaps they’re honestly shocked. It’s a test one had better not put one’s friends to if one can help it. It’s rather bitter to find how few one has.

Elizabeth. But one has some.

Lady Kitty. Yes, they ask you to come and see them when they’re quite certain no one will be there who might object to meeting you. Or else they say to you: “My dear, you know I’m devoted to you, and I wouldn’t mind at all, but my girl’s growing up—I’m sure you understand; you won’t think it unkind of me if I don’t ask you to the house?”

Elizabeth. [Smiling.] That doesn’t seem to me very serious.

Lady Kitty. At first I thought it rather a relief, because it threw Hughie and me together more. But you know, men are very funny. Even when they are in love they’re not in love all day long. They want change and recreation.

[Pg 79]

Elizabeth. I’m not inclined to blame them for that, poor dears.

Lady Kitty. Then we settled in Florence. And because we couldn’t get the society we’d been used to we became used to the society we could get. Loose women and vicious men. Snobs who liked to patronise people with a handle to their names. Vague Italian Princes who were glad to borrow a few francs from Hughie and seedy countesses who liked to drive with me in the Cascine. And then Hughie began to hanker after his old life. He wanted to go big game shooting, but I dared not let him go. I was afraid he’d never come back.

Elizabeth. But you knew he loved you.

Lady Kitty. Oh, my dear, what a blessed institution marriage is—for women, and what fools they are to meddle with it! The Church is so wise to take its stand on the indi—indi—

Elizabeth. Solu—

Lady Kitty. Bility of marriage. Believe me, it’s no joke when you have to rely only on yourself to keep a man. I could never afford to grow old. My dear, I’ll tell you a secret that I’ve never told a living soul.

Elizabeth. What is that?

Lady Kitty. My hair is not naturally this colour.

Elizabeth. Really.

Lady Kitty. I touch it up. You would never have guessed, would you?

Elizabeth. Never.

Lady Kitty. Nobody does. My dear, it’s white, prematurely of course, but white. I always think it’s a symbol of my life. Are you interested in symbolism? I think it’s too wonderful.

Elizabeth. I don’t think I know very much about it.

Lady Kitty. However tired I’ve been I’ve had to be brilliant and gay. I’ve never let Hughie see the aching heart behind my smiling eyes.

Elizabeth. [Amused and touched.] You poor dear.

[Pg 80]

Lady Kitty. And when I saw he was attracted by some one else the fear and the jealousy that seized me! You see, I didn’t dare make a scene as I should have done if I’d been married—I had to pretend not to notice.

Elizabeth. [Taken aback.] But do you mean to say he fell in love with anyone else?

Lady Kitty. Of course he did eventually.

Elizabeth. [Hardly knowing what to say.] You must have been very unhappy.

Lady Kitty. Oh, I was, dreadfully. Night after night I sobbed my heart out when Hughie told me he was going to play cards at the club and I knew he was with that odious woman. Of course, it wasn’t as if there weren’t plenty of men who were only too anxious to console me. Men have always been attracted by me, you know.

Elizabeth. Oh, of course, I can quite understand it.

Lady Kitty. But I had my self-respect to think of. I felt that whatever Hughie did I would do nothing that I should regret.

Elizabeth. You must be very glad now.

Lady Kitty. Oh, yes. Notwithstanding all my temptations I’ve been absolutely faithful to Hughie in spirit.

Elizabeth. I don’t think I quite understand what you mean.

Lady Kitty. Well, there was a poor Italian boy, young Count Castel Giovanni, who was so desperately in love with me that his mother begged me not to be too cruel. She was afraid he’d go into a consumption. What could I do? And then, oh, years later, there was Antonio Melita. He said he’d shoot himself unless I—well, you understand I couldn’t let the poor boy shoot himself.

Elizabeth. D’you think he really would have shot himself?

Lady Kitty. Oh, one never knows, you know. Those Italians are so passionate. He was really rather a lamb. He had such beautiful eyes.

[Elizabeth looks at her for a long time and a[Pg 81] certain horror seizes her of this dissolute, painted old woman.

Elizabeth. [Hoarsely.] Oh, but I think that’s—dreadful.

Lady Kitty. Are you shocked? One sacrifices one’s life for love and then one finds that love doesn’t last. The tragedy of love isn’t death or separation. One gets over them. The tragedy of love is indifference.

[Arnold comes in.

Arnold. Can I have a little talk with you, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth. Of course.

Arnold. Shall we go for a stroll in the garden?

Elizabeth. If you like.

Lady Kitty. No, stay here. I’m going out anyway.

[Exit Lady Kitty.

Arnold. I want you to listen to me for a few minutes, Elizabeth. I was so taken aback by what you told me just now that I lost my head. I was rather absurd and I beg your pardon. I said things I regret.

Elizabeth. Oh, don’t blame yourself. I’m sorry that I should have given you occasion to say them.

Arnold. I want to ask you if you’ve quite made up your mind to go.

Elizabeth. Quite.

Arnold. Just now I seem to have said all that I didn’t want to say and nothing that I did. I’m stupid and tongue-tied. I never told you how deeply I loved you.

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold!

Arnold. Please let me speak now. It’s so very difficult. If I seemed absorbed in politics and the house, and so on, to the exclusion of my interest in you, I’m dreadfully sorry. I suppose it was absurd of me to think you would take my great love for granted.

Elizabeth. But, Arnold, I’m not reproaching you.

Arnold. I’m reproaching myself. I’ve been tactless and neglectful. But I do ask you to believe that it hasn’t been because I didn’t love you. Can you forgive me?

[Pg 82]

Elizabeth. I don’t think that there’s anything to forgive.

Arnold. It wasn’t till to-day when you talked of leaving me that I realised how desperately in love with you I was.

Elizabeth. After three years?

Arnold. I’m so proud of you. I admire you so much. When I see you at a party, so fresh and lovely, and everybody wondering at you, I have a sort of little thrill because you’re mine, and afterwards I shall take you home.

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold, you’re exaggerating.

Arnold. I can’t imagine this house without you. Life seems on a sudden all empty and meaningless. Oh, Elizabeth, don’t you love me at all?

Elizabeth. It’s much better to be honest. No.

Arnold. Doesn’t my love mean anything to you?

Elizabeth. I’m very grateful to you. I’m sorry to cause you pain. What would be the good of my staying with you when I should be wretched all the time?

Arnold. Do you love that man as much as all that? Does my unhappiness mean nothing to you?

Elizabeth. Of course it does. It breaks my heart. You see, I never knew I meant so much to you. I’m so touched. And I’m so sorry, Arnold, really sorry. But I can’t help myself.

Arnold. Poor child, it’s cruel of me to torture you.

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold, believe me, I have tried to make the best of it. I’ve tried to love you, but I can’t. After all, one either loves or one doesn’t. Trying is no help. And now I’m at the end of my tether. I can’t help the consequences—I must do what my whole self yearns for.

Arnold. My poor child, I’m so afraid you’ll be unhappy. I’m so afraid you’ll regret.

Elizabeth. You must leave me to my fate. I hope you’ll forget me and all the unhappiness I’ve caused you.

Arnold. [There is a pause. Arnold walks up and[Pg 83] down the room reflectively. He stops and faces her.] If you love this man and want to go to him I’ll do nothing to prevent you. My only wish is to do what is best for you.

Elizabeth. Arnold, that’s awfully kind of you. If I’m treating you badly at least I want you to know that I’m grateful for all your kindness to me.

Arnold. But there’s one favour I should like you to do me. Will you?

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold, of course I’ll do anything I can.

Arnold. Teddie hasn’t very much money. You’ve been used to a certain amount of luxury, and I can’t bear to think that you should do without anything you’ve had. It would kill me to think that you were suffering any hardship or privation.

Elizabeth. Oh, but Teddie can earn enough for our needs. After all, we don’t want much money.

Arnold. I’m afraid my mother’s life hasn’t been very easy, but it’s obvious that the only thing that’s made it possible is that Porteous was rich. I want you to let me make you an allowance of two thousand a year.

Elizabeth. Oh, no, I couldn’t think of it. It’s absurd.

Arnold. I beg you to accept it. You don’t know what a difference it will make.

Elizabeth. It’s awfully kind of you, Arnold. It humiliates me to speak about it. Nothing would induce me to take a penny from you.

Arnold. Well, you can’t prevent me from opening an account at my bank in your name. The money shall be paid in every quarter whether you touch it or not, and if you happen to want it, it will be there waiting for you.

Elizabeth. You overwhelm me, Arnold. There’s only one thing I want you to do for me. I should be very grateful if you would divorce me as soon as you possibly can.

Arnold. No, I won’t do that. But I’ll give you cause to divorce me.

[Pg 84]

Elizabeth. You!

Arnold. Yes. But of course you’ll have to be very careful for a bit. I’ll put it through as quickly as possible, but I’m afraid you can’t hope to be free for over six months.

Elizabeth. But, Arnold, your seat and your political career!

Arnold. Oh, well, my father gave up his seat under similar circumstances. He’s got along very comfortably without politics.

Elizabeth. But they’re your whole life.

Arnold. After all one can’t have it both ways. You can’t serve God and Mammon. If you want to do the decent thing you have to be prepared to suffer for it.

Elizabeth. But I don’t want you to suffer for it.

Arnold. At first I rather hesitated at the scandal. But I daresay that was only weakness on my part. Under the circumstances I should have liked to keep out of the Divorce Court if I could.

Elizabeth. Arnold, you’re making me absolutely miserable.

Arnold. What you said before dinner was quite right. It’s nothing for a man, but it makes so much difference to a woman. Naturally I must think of you first.

Elizabeth. That’s absurd. It’s out of the question. Whatever there’s to pay I must pay it.

Arnold. It’s not very much I’m asking you, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. I’m taking everything from you.

Arnold. It’s the only condition I make. My mind is absolutely made up. I will never divorce you, but I will enable you to divorce me.

Elizabeth. Oh, Arnold, it’s cruel to be so generous.

Arnold. It’s not generous at all. It’s the only way I have of showing you how deep and passionate and sincere my love is for you.

[There is a silence. He holds out his hand.

Good-night. I have a great deal of work to do before I go to bed.

[Pg 85]

Elizabeth. Good-night.

Arnold. Do you mind if I kiss you?

Elizabeth. [With agony.] Oh, Arnold!

[He gravely kisses her on the forehead and then goes out. Elizabeth stands lost in thought. She is shattered. Lady Kitty and Porteous come in. Lady Kitty wears a cloak.

Lady Kitty. You’re alone, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth. That note you asked me about, Lady Kitty, from Teddie . . .

Lady Kitty. Yes?

Elizabeth. He wanted to have a talk with me before he went away. He’s waiting for me in the summer house by the tennis court. Would Lord Porteous mind going down and asking him to come here?

Porteous. Certainly. Certainly.

Elizabeth. Forgive me for troubling you. But it’s very important.

Porteous. No trouble at all.

[He goes out.

Lady Kitty. Hughie and I will leave you alone.

Elizabeth. But I don’t want to be left alone. I want you to stay.

Lady Kitty. What are you going to say to him?

Elizabeth. [Desperately.] Please don’t ask me questions. I’m so frightfully unhappy.

Lady Kitty. My poor child!

Elizabeth. Oh, isn’t life rotten? Why can’t one be happy without making other people unhappy?

Lady Kitty. I wish I knew how to help you. I’m simply devoted to you. [She hunts about in her mind for something to do or say.] Would you like my lip-stick?

Elizabeth. [Smiling through her tears.] Thanks. I never use one.

Lady Kitty. Oh, but just try. It’s such a comfort when you’re in trouble.

[Enter Porteous and Teddie.

[Pg 86]

Porteous. I brought him. He said he’d be damned if he’d come.

Lady Kitty. When a lady sent for him? Are these the manners of the young men of to-day?

Teddie. When you’ve been solemnly kicked out of a house once I think it seems rather pushing to come back again as though nothing had happened.

Elizabeth. Teddie, I want you to be serious.

Teddie. Darling, I had such a rotten dinner at that pub. If you ask me to be serious on the top of that I shall cry.

Elizabeth. Don’t be idiotic, Teddie. [Her voice faltering.] I’m so utterly wretched.

[He looks at her for a moment gravely.

Teddie. What is it?

Elizabeth. I can’t come away with you, Teddie.

Teddie. Why not?

Elizabeth. [Looking away in embarrassment.] I don’t love you enough.

Teddie. Fiddle!

Elizabeth. [With a flash of anger.] Don’t say “Fiddle” to me.

Teddie. I shall say exactly what I like to you.

Elizabeth. I won’t be bullied.

Teddie. Now look here, Elizabeth, you know perfectly well that I’m in love with you, and I know perfectly well that you’re in love with me. So what are you talking nonsense for?

Elizabeth. [Her voice breaking.] I can’t say it if you’re cross with me.

Teddie. [Smiling very tenderly.] I’m not cross with you, silly.

Elizabeth. It’s harder still when you’re being rather an owl.

Teddie. [With a chuckle.] Am I mistaken in thinking you’re not very easy to please?

Elizabeth. Oh, it’s monstrous. I was all wrought up[Pg 87] and ready to do anything, and now you’ve thoroughly put me out. I feel like a great big fat balloon that some one has put a long pin into. [With a sudden look at him.] Have you done it on purpose?

Teddie. Upon my soul I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Elizabeth. I wonder if you’re really much cleverer than I think you are.

Teddie. [Taking her hands and making her sit down.] Now tell me exactly what you want to say. By the way, do you want Lady Kitty and Lord Porteous to be here?

Elizabeth. Yes.

Lady Kitty. Elizabeth asked us to stay.

Teddie. Oh, I don’t mind, bless you. I only thought you might feel rather in the way.

Lady Kitty. [Frigidly.] A gentlewoman never feels in the way, Mr. Luton.

Teddie. Won’t you call me Teddie? Everybody does, you know.

[Lady Kitty tries to give him a withering look, but she finds it very difficult to prevent herself from smiling. Teddie strokes Elizabeth’s hands. She draws them away.

Elizabeth. No, don’t do that. Teddie, it wasn’t true when I said I didn’t love you. Of course I love you. But Arnold loves me, too. I didn’t know how much.

Teddie. What has he been saying to you?

Elizabeth. He’s been very good to me, and so kind. I didn’t know he could be so kind. He offered to let me divorce him.

Teddie. That’s very decent of him.

Elizabeth. But don’t you see, it ties my hands. How can I accept such a sacrifice? I should never forgive myself if I profited by his generosity.

Teddie. If another man and I were devilish hungry and there was only one mutton chop between us, and he[Pg 88] said, “You eat it,” I wouldn’t waste a lot of time arguing. I’d wolf it before he changed his mind.

Elizabeth. Don’t talk like that. It maddens me. I’m trying to do the right thing.

Teddie. You’re not in love with Arnold; you’re in love with me. It’s idiotic to sacrifice your life for a slushy sentiment.

Elizabeth. After all, I did marry him.

Teddie. Well, you made a mistake. A marriage without love is no marriage at all.

Elizabeth. I made the mistake. Why should he suffer for it? If anyone has to suffer it’s only right that I should.

Teddie. What sort of a life do you think it would be with him? When two people are married it’s very difficult for one of them to be unhappy without making the other unhappy too.

Elizabeth. I can’t take advantage of his generosity.

Teddie. I daresay he’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of it.

Elizabeth. You’re being beastly, Teddie. He was simply wonderful. I never knew he had it in him. He was really noble.

Teddie. You are talking rot, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. I wonder if you’d be capable of acting like that.

Teddie. Acting like what?

Elizabeth. What would you do if I were married to you and came and told you I loved somebody else and wanted to leave you?

Teddie. You have very pretty blue eyes, Elizabeth. I’d black first one and then the other. And after that we’d see.

Elizabeth. You damned brute!

Teddie. I’ve often thought I wasn’t quite a gentleman. Had it ever struck you?

[They look at one another for a while.

Elizabeth. You know, you are taking an unfair[Pg 89] advantage of me. I feel as if I came to you quite unsuspectingly and when I wasn’t looking you kicked me on the shins.

Teddie. Don’t you think we’d get on rather well together?

Porteous. Elizabeth’s a fool if she don’t stick to her husband. It’s bad enough for the man, but for the woman—it’s damnable. I hold no brief for Arnold. He plays bridge like a foot. Saving your presence, Kitty, I think he’s a prig.

Lady Kitty. Poor dear, his father was at his age. I daresay he’ll grow out of it.

Porteous. But you stick to him, Elizabeth, stick to him. Man is a gregarious animal. We’re members of a herd. If we break the herd’s laws we suffer for it. And we suffer damnably.

Lady Kitty. Oh, Elizabeth, my dear child, don’t go. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. I tell you that, and I’ve sacrificed everything to love.

[A pause.

Elizabeth. I’m afraid.

Teddie. [In a whisper.] Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. I can’t face it. It’s asking too much of me. Let’s say good-bye to one another, Teddie. It’s the only thing to do. And have pity on me. I’m giving up all my hope of happiness.

[He goes up to her and looks into her eyes.

Teddie. But I wasn’t offering you happiness. I don’t think my sort of love tends to happiness. I’m jealous. I’m not a very easy man to get on with. I’m often out of temper and irritable. I should be fed to the teeth with you sometimes, and so would you be with me. I daresay we’d fight like cat and dog, and sometimes we’d hate each other. Often you’d be wretched and bored stiff and lonely, and often you’d be frightfully homesick, and then you’d regret all you’d lost. Stupid women would be rude to you because we’d run away together. And some of them would[Pg 90] cut you. I don’t offer you peace and quietness. I offer you unrest and anxiety. I don’t offer you happiness. I offer you love.

Elizabeth. [Stretching out her arms.] You hateful creature, I absolutely adore you!

[He throws his arms round her and kisses her passionately on the lips.

Lady Kitty. Of course the moment he said he’d give her a black eye I knew it was finished.

Porteous. [Good-humouredly.] You are a fool, Kitty.

Lady Kitty. I know I am, but I can’t help it.

Teddie. Let’s make a bolt for it now.

Elizabeth. Shall we?

Teddie. This minute.

Porteous. You’re damned fools, both of you, damned fools! If you like you can have my car.

Teddie. That’s awfully kind of you. As a matter of fact I got it out of the garage. It’s just along the drive.

Porteous. [Indignantly.] How do you mean, you got it out of the garage?

Teddie. Well, I thought there’d be a lot of bother, and it seemed to me the best thing would be for Elizabeth and me not to stand upon the order of our going, you know. Do it now. An excellent motto for a business man.

Porteous. Do you mean to say you were going to steal my car?

Teddie. Not exactly. I was only going to bolshevise it, so to speak.

Porteous. I’m speechless. I’m absolutely speechless.

Teddie. Hang it all, I couldn’t carry Elizabeth all the way to London. She’s so damned plump.

Elizabeth. You dirty dog!

Porteous. [Spluttering.] Well, well, well! . . . [Helplessly.] I like him, Kitty, it’s no good pretending I don’t. I like him.

Teddie. The moon’s shining, Elizabeth. We’ll drive all through the night.

[Pg 91]

Porteous. They’d better go to San Michele. I’ll wire to have it got ready for them.

Lady Kitty. That’s where we went when Hughie and I . . . [Faltering.] Oh, you dear things, how I envy you!

Porteous. [Mopping his eyes.] Now don’t cry, Kitty. Confound you, don’t cry.

Teddie. Come, darling.

Elizabeth. But I can’t go like this.

Teddie. Nonsense! Lady Kitty will lend you her cloak. Won’t you?

Lady Kitty. [Taking it off.] You’re capable of tearing it off my back if I don’t.

Teddie. [Putting the cloak on Elizabeth.] And we’ll buy you a tooth-brush in London in the morning.

Lady Kitty. She must write a note for Arnold. I’ll put it on her pincushion.

Teddie. Pincushion be blowed! Come, darling. We’ll drive through the dawn and through the sunrise.

Elizabeth. [Kissing Lady Kitty and Porteous.] Good-bye. Good-bye.

[Teddie stretches out his hand and she takes it. Hand in hand they go out into the night.

Lady Kitty. Oh, Hughie, how it all comes back to me! Will they suffer all we suffered? And have we suffered all in vain?

Porteous. My dear, I don’t know that in life it matters so much what you do as what you are. No one can learn by the experience of another because no circumstances are quite the same. If we made rather a hash of things perhaps it was because we were rather trivial people. You can do anything in this world if you’re prepared to take the consequences, and consequences depend on character.

[Enter Champion-Cheney, rubbing his hands. He is as pleased as Punch.

C.-C. Well, I think I’ve settled the hash of that young man.

[Pg 92]

Lady Kitty. Oh!

C.-C. You have to get up very early in the morning to get the better of your humble servant.

[There is the sound of a car starting.

Lady Kitty. What is that?

C.-C. It sounds like a car. I expect it’s your chauffeur taking one of the maids for a joy-ride.

Porteous. Whose hash are you talking about?

C.-C. Mr. Edward Luton’s, my dear Hughie. I told Arnold exactly what to do and he’s done it. What makes a prison? Why, bars and bolts. Remove them and a prisoner won’t want to escape. Clever, I flatter myself.

Porteous. You were always that, Clive, but at the moment you’re obscure.

C.-C. I told Arnold to go to Elizabeth and tell her she could have her freedom. I told him to sacrifice himself all along the line. I know what women are. The moment every obstacle was removed to her marriage with Teddie Luton, half the allurement was gone.

Lady Kitty. Arnold did that?

C.-C. He followed my instructions to the letter. I’ve just seen him. She’s shaken. I’m willing to bet five hundred pounds to a penny that she won’t bolt. A downy old bird, eh? Downy’s the word. Downy.

[He begins to laugh. They laugh, too. Presently they are all three in fits of laughter.

[The Curtain Falls]


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