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Title: Caesar's Wife - A comedy in three acts
Author: Maugham, W. Somerset (William Somerset), 1874-1965
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_THE PLAYS OF W. S. MAUGHAM_

_CAESAR'S WIFE_

_A COMEDY_

_In Three Acts_

_Price 2/6, in cloth 3/6_

_LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN_



CÆSAR'S WIFE

_By the same Author_

    THE UNKNOWN
    THE CIRCLE
    THE EXPLORER
    JACK STRAW
    LADY FREDERICK
    LANDED GENTRY
    THE TENTH MAN
    A MAN OF HONOUR
    MRS. DOT
    PENELOPE
    SMITH
    THE LAND OF PROMISE

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN



CÆSAR'S WIFE

A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS

BY

W. S. MAUGHAM

[Illustration: colophon 1922]

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

     _The Performing Rights of this play are fully protected, and
     permission to perform it, whether by Amateurs or Professionals,
     must be obtained in advance from the author's Sole Agent, R.
     Golding Bright, 20, Green Street, Leicester Square, London, W.C. 2,
     from whom all particulars can be obtained._

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN. 1922

This play was produced at the Royalty Theatre, on March 27th, 1919, with
the following cast:

    SIR ARTHUR LITTLE           C. Aubrey Smith.
    RONALD PARRY                George Relph.
    HENRY PRITCHARD             V. Sutton Vane.
    GEORGE APPLEBY              Townsend Whitling.
    OSMAN PASHA                 George C. Desplas.
    VIOLET                      Fay Compton.
    MRS. ETHERIDGE              Eva Moore.
    MRS. PRITCHARD              Helen Haye.
    MRS. APPLEBY                Mrs. Robert Brough.



CHARACTERS


    SIR ARTHUR LITTLE, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.
    RONALD PARRY.
    HENRY PRITCHARD.
    RICHARD APPLEBY, M.P.
    OSMAN PASHA.
    VIOLET.
    MRS. ETHERIDGE.
    MRS. PRITCHARD.
    MRS. APPLEBY.

An English Butler; Native Servants; an Arab Gardener.

The scene is laid in Cairo, in the house and garden of the British
Consular Agent.



CÆSAR'S WIFE



ACT I


     SCENE: _The morning-room in the Consular Agent's house at Cairo.
     The windows are Arabic in character and so are the architraves of
     the doors, but otherwise it is an English room, airy and spacious.
     The furniture is lacquer and Chippendale, there are cool chintzes
     on the chairs and sofas, cut roses in glass vases, and growing
     azaleas in pots; but here and there an Eastern antiquity, a helmet
     and a coat of mail, a piece of woodwork, reminds one of the
     Mussulman conquest of Egypt; while an ancient god in porphyry,
     graven images in blue pottery, blue bowls, recall an older
     civilisation still._

     _When the curtain rises the room is empty, the blinds are down so
     as to keep out the heat, and it is dim and mysterious. A_ SERVANT
     _comes in, a dark-skinned native in the gorgeous uniform, red and
     gold, of the Consular Agent's establishment, and draws the blinds.
     Through the windows is seen the garden with palm-trees, oranges and
     lemons, tropical plants with giant leaves; and beyond, the radiant
     blue of the sky. In the distance is heard the plaintive, guttural
     wailing of an Arab song. A_ GARDENER _in a pale blue gaberdine
     passes with a basket on his arm._

SERVANT.

Es-salâm 'alêkum (Peace be with you).

GARDENER.

U'alêkum es-Salâm warahmet Allâh wa barakâta (And with you be peace and
God's mercy and blessing).

     [_The_ SERVANT _goes out. The_ GARDENER _stops for a moment to nail
     back a straggling creeper and then goes on his way. The door is
     opened._ MRS. APPLEBY _comes in with_ ANNE ETHERIDGE _and they are
     followed immediately by_ VIOLET. ANNE _is a woman of forty, but
     handsome still, very pleasant and sympathetic; she is a woman of
     the world, tactful and self-controlled. She is dressed in light,
     summery things._ MRS. APPLEBY _is an elderly, homely woman, soberly
     but not inexpensively dressed. The wife of a North-country
     manufacturer, she spends a good deal of money on rather dowdy
     clothes._ VIOLET _is a very pretty young woman of twenty. She looks
     very fresh and English in her muslin frock; there is something
     spring-like and virginal in her appearance, and her manner of dress
     is romantic rather than modish. She suggests a lady in a
     Gainsborough portrait rather than a drawing in a paper of Paris
     fashions. Luncheon is just finished and when they come in the women
     leave the door open for the men to follow._]

MRS. APPLEBY.

How cool it is in here! This isn't the room we were in before lunch?

ANNE.

No. They keep the windows closed and the blinds drawn all the morning so
that it's beautifully cool when one comes in.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I suppose we shan't feel the heat so much when we've been here a few
days.

ANNE.

Oh, but this is nothing to what you'll get in Upper Egypt.

VIOLET.

[_As she enters._] Is Mrs. Appleby complaining of the heat? I love it.

ANNE.

Dear Violet, wait till May comes and June. You don't know how exhausting
it gets.

VIOLET.

I'm looking forward to it. I think in some past life I must have been a
lizard.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I dare say the first year you won't feel it. I have a brother settled in
Canada, and he says the first year people come out from England they
don't feel the cold anything like what they do later on.

ANNE.

I've spent a good many winters here, and I always make a point of
getting away by the fifteenth of March.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, are you staying as late as that?

ANNE.

Good gracious, no. You make Lady Little's heart positively sink.

VIOLET.

Nonsense, Anne, you know we want you to stay as long as ever you can.

ANNE.

I used to have an apartment in Cairo, but I've given it up now and Lady
Little asked me to come and stay at the Agency while I was getting
everything settled.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, then you knew Sir Arthur before he married?

ANNE.

Oh, yes, he's one of my oldest friends. I can't help thinking Lady
Little must have great sweetness of character to put up with me.

VIOLET.

Or you must be a perfect miracle of tact, darling.

MRS. APPLEBY.

My belief is, it's a little of both.

ANNE.

When Arthur came to see me one day last July and told me he was going to
marry the most wonderful girl in the world, of course I thought
good-bye. A man thinks he can keep his bachelor friendships, but he
never does.

MRS. APPLEBY.

His wife generally sees to that.

VIOLET.

Well, I think it's nonsense, especially with a man like Arthur who'd
been a bachelor so long and naturally had his life laid out before ever
I came into it. And besides, I'm devoted to Anne.

ANNE.

It's dear of you to say so.

VIOLET.

I came here as an absolute stranger. And after all, I wasn't very old,
was I?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Nineteen?

VIOLET.

Oh, no, I was older than that. I was nearly twenty.

MRS. APPLEBY.

[_Smiling._] Good gracious!

VIOLET.

It was rather alarming to find oneself on a sudden the wife of a man in
Arthur's position. I was dreadfully self-conscious; I felt that
everybody's eyes were upon me. And you don't know how easy it is to make
mistakes in a country that's half Eastern and half European.

ANNE.

To say nothing of having to deal with the representatives of half a
dozen Great Powers all outrageously susceptible.

VIOLET.

And, you know, there was the feeling that the smallest false step might
do the greatest harm to Arthur and his work here. I had only just left
the schoolroom and I found myself almost a political personage. If it
hadn't been for Anne I should have made a dreadful mess of things.

ANNE.

Oh, I don't think that. You had two assets which would have made people
excuse a great deal of inexperience, your grace and your beauty.

VIOLET.

You say very nice things to me, Anne.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Your marriage was so romantic, I can't see how anyone could help feeling
very kindly towards you.

VIOLET.

There's not much room for romance in the heart of the wife of one of the
Agents of the foreign Powers when she thinks she hasn't been given her
proper place at a dinner party.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I remember wondering at the time whether you weren't a little overcome
by all the excitement caused by your marriage.

VIOLET.

I was excited too, you know.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Everyone had always looked upon Sir Arthur as a confirmed bachelor. It
was thought he cared for nothing but his work. He's had a wonderful
career, hasn't he?

VIOLET.

The Prime Minister told me he was the most competent man he'd ever met.

ANNE.

I've always thought he must be a comfort to any Government. Whenever
anyone has made a hash of things he's been sent to put them straight.

VIOLET.

Well, he always has.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Mr. Appleby was saying only this morning he was the last man one would
expect to marry in haste.

VIOLET.

Let's hope he won't repent at leisure.

ANNE.

[_Smiling._] Mrs. Appleby is dying to know all about it, Violet.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm an old woman, Lady Little.

VIOLET.

[_Gaily._] Well, I met Arthur at a week-end party. He'd come home on
leave and all sorts of important people had been asked to meet him. I
was frightened out of my life. The duchesses had strawberry leaves
hanging all over them and they looked at me down their noses. And the
Cabinet Ministers' wives had protruding teeth and they looked at me up
their noses.

ANNE.

What nonsense you talk, Violet!

VIOLET.

I was expecting to be terrified of Arthur. After all, I knew he was a
great man. But you know, I wasn't a bit. He was inclined to be rather
fatherly at first, so I cheeked him.

ANNE.

I can imagine his surprise. No one had done that for twenty years.

VIOLET.

When you know Arthur at all well you discover that when he wants
anything he doesn't hesitate to ask for it. He told our hostess that he
wanted me to sit next to him at dinner. That didn't suit her at all, but
she didn't like to say no. Somehow people don't say no to Arthur. The
Cabinet Ministers' wives looked more like camels than ever, and by
Sunday evening, my dear, the duchesses' strawberry leaves began to curl
and crackle.

ANNE.

Your poor hostess, I feel for her. To have got hold of a real lion for
your party and then have him refuse to bother himself with anybody but a
chit of a girl whom you'd asked just to make an even number!

MRS. APPLEBY.

He just fell in love with you at first sight?

VIOLET.

That's what he says now.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Did you know?

VIOLET.

I thought it looked very like it, you know, only it was so improbable.
Then came an invitation from a woman I only just knew for the next
week-end, and she said Arthur would be there. Then my heart really did
begin to go pit-a-pat. I took the letter in to my sister and sat on her
bed and we talked it over. "Does he mean to propose to me," I said, "or
does he not?" And my sister said: "I can't imagine what he sees in you.
Will you accept him if he does?" she asked. "Oh, no," I said. "Good
heavens, why he's twenty years older than I am!" But of course I meant
to all the time. I shouldn't have cared if he was a hundred, he was the
most wonderful man I'd ever known.

MRS. APPLEBY.

And did he propose to you that week-end, when he'd practically only seen
you once before?

VIOLET.

I got down in the afternoon and he was there already. As soon as I
swallowed a cup of tea he said: "Come out for a walk." Well, I'd have
loved a second cup, but I didn't like to say so, so I went. But we had a
second tea in a cottage half an hour later, and we were engaged then.

     [APPLEBY _comes in with_ OSMAN PASHA. MR. APPLEBY _is a self-made
     man who has entered Parliament; he is about sixty, grey-bearded,
     rather short and stout, with some accent in his speech, shrewd,
     simple and good-natured. He wears a blue serge suit._ OSMAN PASHA
     _is a swarthy, bearded Oriental, obese, elderly but dignified; he
     wears the official frock-coat of the Khedivial service and a
     tarbush._]

APPLEBY.

Sir Arthur is coming in one moment. He is talking to one of his
secretaries.

VIOLET.

Really, it's too bad of them not to leave him alone even when he's
snatching a mouthful of food.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous permettez que j'apporte ma cigarette, chère Madame.

VIOLET.

Of course. Come and sit here, Pasha.

APPLEBY.

I wanted to tell his Excellency how interested I am in his proposal to
found a technical college in Cairo, but I can't speak French.

VIOLET.

Oh, but his Excellency understands English perfectly, and I believe
really he talks it as well as I do, only he won't.

OSMAN PASHA.

Madame, je ne comprends l'anglais que quand vous le parlez, et tout
galant homme sait ce que dit une jolie femme.

ANNE.

[_Translating for the_ APPLEBYS.] He says he only understands English
when Lady Little speaks it, and every nice man understands what a pretty
woman says.

VIOLET.

No one pays me such charming compliments as you do. You know I'm
learning Arabic.

OSMAN PASHA.

C'est une bien belle langue, et vous, madame, vous avez autant
d'intelligence que de beauté.

VIOLET.

I have a Copt who comes to me every day. And I practise a little with
your brother, Anne.

ANNE.

[_To_ MRS. APPLEBY.] My brother is one of Sir Arthur's secretaries. I
expect it was he that Mr. Appleby left with Sir Arthur.

VIOLET.

If it is I shall scold him. He knows quite well that he has no right to
come and bother Arthur when he's in the bosom of his family. But they
say he's a wonderful Arabic scholar.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous parlez de M. Parry? Je n'ai jamais connu un Anglais qui avait une
telle facilité.

ANNE.

He says he's never known an Englishman who speaks so well as Ronny.

VIOLET.

It's a fearfully difficult language. Sometimes my head seems to get tied
up in knots.

[_Two_ SAISES _come in, one with a salver on which are coffee cups and
the other bearing a small tray on which is a silver vessel containing
Turkish coffee. They go round giving coffee to the various people, then
wait in silence. When_ SIR ARTHUR _comes in they give him his coffee and
go out._]

ANNE.

It's wonderful of you to persevere.

VIOLET.

Oh, you know, Ronny's very encouraging. He says I'm really getting on. I
want so badly to be able to talk. You can't think how enthusiastic I am
about Egypt. I love it.

OSMAN PASHA.

Pas plus que l'Égypte vous aime, Madame.

VIOLET.

When we landed at Alexandria and I saw that blue sky and that coloured,
gesticulating crowd, my heart leapt. I knew I was going to be happy. And
every day I've loved Egypt more. I love its antiquities, I love the
desert and the streets of Cairo and those dear little villages by the
Nile. I never knew there was such beauty in the world. I thought you
only read of romance in books; I didn't know there was a country where
it sat by the side of a well under the palm-trees, as though it were at
home.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous êtes charmante, madame. C'est un bien beau pays. Il n'a besoin que
d'une chose pour qu'on puisse y vivre.

ANNE.

[_Translating._] It's a beautiful country. It only wants one thing to
make it livable. And what is that, your Excellency?

OSMAN PASHA.

La liberté.

APPLEBY.

Liberty?

[ARTHUR _has come in when first_ VIOLET _begins to speak of Egypt and he
listens to her enthusiasm with an indulgent smile. At the Pasha's remark
he comes forward._ ARTHUR LITTLE _is a man of forty-five, alert, young
in manner, very intelligent, with the urbanity, self-assurance, tact,
and resourcefulness of the experienced diplomatist. Nothing escapes him,
but he does not often show how much he notices._]

ARTHUR.

Egypt has the liberty to do well, your Excellency. Does it need the
liberty to do ill before it loses the inclination to do it?

VIOLET.

[_To_ MRS. APPLEBY.] I hope you don't mind Turkish coffee?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, no, I like it.

VIOLET.

I'm so glad. I think it perfectly delicious.

ARTHUR.

You have in my wife an enthusiastic admirer of this country, Pasha.

OSMAN PASHA.

J'en suis ravi.

ARTHUR.

I've told Ronny to come in and have a cup of coffee. [_To_ ANNE.] I
thought you'd like to say how d'you do to him.

ANNE.

Are you very busy to-day?

ARTHUR.

We're always busy. Isn't that so, Excellency?

OSMAN PASHA.

En effet, et je vous demanderai permission de me retirer. Mon bureau
m'appelle.

[_He gets up and shakes hands with_ VIOLET.]

VIOLET.

It was charming of you to come.

OSMAN PASHA.

Mon Dieu, madame, c'est moi qui vous remercie de m'avoir donné
l'occasion de saluer votre grâce et votre beauté.

[_He bows to the rest of the company._ ARTHUR _leads him towards the
door and he goes out._]

ANNE.

You take all these compliments without turning a hair, Violet.

ARTHUR.

[_Coming back._] You know, that's a wonderful old man. He's so
well-bred, he has such exquisite manners, it's hard to realise that if
it were possible he would have us all massacred to-morrow.

APPLEBY.

I remember there was a certain uneasiness in England when you
recommended that he should be made Minister of Education.

ARTHUR.

They don't always understand local conditions in England. Osman is a
Moslem of the old school. He has a bitter hatred of the English. In
course of years he has come to accept the inevitable, but he's not
resigned to it. He never loses sight of his aim.

APPLEBY.

And that is?

ARTHUR.

Why, bless you, to drive the English into the sea. But he's a clever old
rascal, and he sees that one of the first things that must be done is to
educate the Egyptians. Well, we want to educate them too. I had all
sorts of reforms in mind which I would never have got the strict
Mohammedans to accept if they hadn't been brought forward by a man whose
patriotism they believe in and whose orthodoxy is beyond suspicion.

ANNE.

Don't you find it embarrassing to work with a man you distrust?

ARTHUR.

I don't distrust him. I have a certain admiration for him, and I bear
him no grudge at all because at the bottom of his heart he simply
loathes me.

APPLEBY.

I don't see why he should do that.

ARTHUR.

I was in Egypt for three years when I was quite a young man. I was very
small fry then, but I came into collision with Osman and he tried to
poison me. I was very ill for two months, and he's never forgiven me
because I recovered.

APPLEBY.

What a scoundrel!

ARTHUR.

He would be a little out of place in a Nonconformist community. In the
good old days of Ismael he had one of his wives beaten to death and
thrown into the Nile.

APPLEBY.

But is it right to give high office to a man of that character?

ARTHUR.

They were the manners and customs of the times.

MRS. APPLEBY.

But he tried to kill you. Don't you bear him any ill will?

ARTHUR.

I don't think it was very friendly, you know, but after all no statesman
can afford to pay attention to his private feelings. His duty is to find
the round peg for the round hole and put him in.

ANNE.

Why does he come here?

ARTHUR.

He has a very great and respectful admiration for Violet. She chaffs
him, if you please, and the old man adores her. I think she's done more
to reconcile him to the British occupation than all our diplomacy.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It must be wonderful to have power in a country like this.

VIOLET.

Power? Oh, I haven't that. But it makes me so proud to think I can be of
any use at all. I only wish I had the chance to do more. Since I've been
here I've grown very patriotic.

[RONALD PARRY _comes in. He is a young man, very good-looking, fresh and
pleasant, with a peculiar charm of manner._]

ARTHUR.

Ah, here is Ronny.

RONNY.

Am I too late for my cup of coffee?

VIOLET.

No, it will be brought to you at once.

RONNY.

[_Shaking hands with_ VIOLET.] Good morning.

VIOLET.

This is Mr. Parry. Mr. and Mrs. Appleby.

RONNY.

How d'you do?

ARTHUR.

Now, Ronny, don't put on your Foreign Office manner. Mr. and Mrs.
Appleby are very nice people.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm glad you think that, Sir Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Well, when you left your cards with a soup ticket from the F.O. my heart
sank.

APPLEBY.

There, my dear, I told you he wouldn't want to be bothered with us.

ARTHUR.

You see, I expected a pompous couple who knew all about everything and
were going to tell me exactly how Egypt ought to be governed. A Member
of Parliament doesn't inspire confidence in the worried bosom of a
Government official.

VIOLET.

I don't know if you think you're putting Mr. and Mrs. Appleby at their
ease, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Oh, but I shouldn't say this if I hadn't been most agreeably
disappointed.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I never forget the days when Mr. Appleby used to light the kitchen fire
himself and I used to do the week's washing every Monday morning. I
don't think we've changed much since then, either of us.

ARTHUR.

I know, and I'm really grateful to the Foreign Office for having given
you your letter.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It's been a great treat to us to come and see you. And it's done my
heart good to see Lady Little. If you don't mind my saying so she's like
a spring morning and it makes one glad to be alive just to look at her.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't!

ARTHUR.

I'm inclined to feel very kindly to everyone who feels kindly towards
her. You must enjoy yourselves in Upper Egypt and when you come back to
Cairo you must let us know.

APPLEBY.

I'm expecting to learn a good deal from my journey.

ARTHUR.

You may learn a good deal that will surprise you. You may learn that
there are races in the world that seem born to rule and races that seem
born to serve; that democracy is not a panacea for all the ills of
mankind, but merely one system of government like another, which hasn't
had a long enough trial to make it certain whether it is desirable or
not; that freedom generally means the power of the strong to oppress the
weak, and that the wise statesman gives men the illusion of it but not
the substance--in short, a number of things which must be very
disturbing to the equilibrium of a Radical Member of Parliament.

ANNE.

On the other hand, you'll see our beautiful Nile and the temples.

ARTHUR.

And perhaps they'll suggest to you that however old the world is it's
ever young, and that when all's said and done the most permanent on the
face of the earth is what seems the most transitory--the ideal.

APPLEBY.

Fanny, it looks to me as though we'd bitten off as big a piece of cake
as we can chew with any comfort.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, well, we'll do our best. And though I never could do arithmetic I've
always thought perhaps one might be saved without. Good-bye, Lady
Little, and thank you for having us.

VIOLET.

Good-bye.

[_There are general farewells and they go to the door._ RONNY _opens it
for them. They go out._]

RONNY.

I forgot to tell you, sir, Mrs. Pritchard has just telephoned to ask if
she can see you on a matter of business.

ARTHUR.

[_With a grim smile._] Say I'm very busy to-day, and I regret
exceedingly that it will be quite impossible for me to see her.

RONNY.

[_With a twinkle in his eye._] She said she was coming round at once.

ARTHUR.

If she's made up her mind to see me at all costs she might have saved
herself the trouble of ringing up to find out if it was convenient.

ANNE.

Your sister is a determined creature, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I know. I have some authority in the affairs of this country, but none
over dear Christina. I wonder what she wants.

VIOLET.

Let us hope for the best.

ARTHUR.

I've noticed that whenever anyone wants to see me very urgently it's
never to give me anything. When Christina wants to see me urgently my
only safety is in instant flight.

VIOLET.

You must be nice to her, Arthur. If you're not she'll only take it out
of me.

ARTHUR.

It's monstrous, isn't it?

VIOLET.

After all, she kept house for you for ten years. Admirably, mind you.

ARTHUR.

Admirably. She has a genius for order and organisation in the house.
Everything went like clockwork. She never wasted a farthing. She saved
me hundreds of pounds. She led me a dog's life. I've come to the
conclusion there's nothing so detestable as a good housekeeper.

VIOLET.

How fortunate you married me, then! But you can't expect her to see that
point of view. It's very hard for her to be turned out of this very
pleasant billet, and it's natural that when you won't do something she
asks you she should put it down to my influence.

ANNE.

It must have been a very difficult position for you.

VIOLET.

I did all I could to make her like me. I did feel rather like a usurper,
you know. I tried to make her see that I didn't at all want to put on
airs.

ARTHUR.

Fortunately she's taken it very well. I confess I was a little nervous
when she told me she meant to stay on in Egypt to be near her son.

ANNE.

It would be a detestable person who didn't like Violet, I think.

ARTHUR.

Detestable. I should have no hesitation in having him deported.

RONNY.

I think I'd better be getting back to my work.

ANNE.

Oh, Ronny, would you like me to come and help you with your packing?

VIOLET.

[_To_ RONNY.] Are you going somewhere?

RONNY.

I'm leaving Cairo.

ANNE.

Didn't you know? Ronny has just been appointed to Paris.

VIOLET.

Is he going to leave Egypt for good?

[_She is taken aback by the news. She clenches her hand on the rail of a
chair;_ ARTHUR _and_ ANNE _notice the little, instinctive motion._]

RONNY.

I suppose so.

VIOLET.

But why was it kept from me? Why have you been making a secret of it?

ARTHUR.

Darling, no one's been making a secret of it. I--I thought Anne would
have told you.

VIOLET.

Oh, it doesn't matter at all, but Ronny has been in the habit of doing
all sorts of things for me. It would have been convenient if I'd been
told that a change was going to be made.

ARTHUR.

I'm very sorry. It was only arranged this morning. I received a telegram
from the Foreign Office. I thought it would interest Anne, so I sent
Ronny along to tell her.

VIOLET.

I hate to be treated like a child.

[_There is a moment's embarrassment._]

ANNE.

It was stupid of me. I ought to have come and told you. I was so pleased
and excited that I forgot.

VIOLET.

I don't quite know why you should have been so excited.

ANNE.

It will be very nice for me to have Ronny so near. You see, now I've
given up my flat I shan't come to Egypt very often and I should never
have seen Ronny. I can run over to Paris constantly. Besides, it's a
step, isn't it? And I want to see him an Ambassador before I die.

VIOLET.

I don't see what good it will do him in Paris to speak Arabic like a
native.

ARTHUR.

Oh, well, that is the F.O. all over. The best Persian scholar in the
Service has spent the last six years in Washington.

RONNY.

It's been a great surprise for me. I expected to remain in Egypt
indefinitely.

VIOLET.

[_Recovering herself._] I expect you'll have a very good time in Paris.
When do you go?

RONNY.

There's a boat the day after to-morrow. Sir Arthur thought I'd better
take that.

VIOLET.

[_Scarcely mistress of herself._] As soon as that! [_Recovering,
gaily._] We shall miss you dreadfully. I can't imagine what I shall do
without you. [_To_ ANNE.] You can't think how useful he's been to me
since I came here.

RONNY.

It's very kind of you to say so.

VIOLET.

He's invaluable at functions and things like that. You see, he knows
where everyone should sit at dinner. And at first he used to coach me
with details about various people so that I shouldn't say the wrong
thing.

ARTHUR.

If you had you'd have said it so charmingly that no one would have
resented it.

VIOLET.

I'm so afraid that the man who takes Ronny's place will refuse to write
my invitations for me.

ARTHUR.

It's not exactly the duty of my secretaries.

VIOLET.

No, but I do hate doing it myself. And Ronny was able to imitate my
handwriting.

ARTHUR.

I'm sure he could never write as badly as you.

VIOLET.

Oh, yes, he could. Couldn't you?

RONNY.

I managed to write quite enough like you for people not to notice the
difference.

VIOLET.

You know, there are thirty-two invitations to do now.

ANNE.

Why don't you send cards?

VIOLET.

Oh, I think a letter is so much more polite. Somehow I don't feel old
enough to ask people to dine with me in the third person.

RONNY.

I'll come and do them the moment Sir Arthur can let me go.

ARTHUR.

You'd better do them before Violet goes out.

VIOLET.

That'll be very soon. The Khedive's mother has asked me to go and see
her at half-past three. I'll get the list now, shall I? I don't think
I'll wait for Christina. If she wants to see you on business I dare say
she'd rather I wasn't there.

ARTHUR.

Very well.

VIOLET.

[_To_ RONNY.] Will you come here when you're ready?

RONNY.

Certainly.

[_She goes out._]

ARTHUR.

Have you finished that report yet?

RONNY.

Not quite, sir. It will be ready in ten minutes.

ARTHUR.

Put it on my desk.

RONNY.

All right, sir.

[_Exit._ ARTHUR _and_ ANNE _are left alone. He looks at her
reflectively._]

ARTHUR.

Violet is very sensitive to anything that might be considered a slight.

ANNE.

It's very natural, isn't it? A high-spirited girl.

ARTHUR.

She likes me to tell her my arrangements. It gives her a little feeling
of importance to know things before other people.

ANNE.

Oh, of course. I quite understand. I should do the same in her place.

ARTHUR.

I ought to have remembered and told her that Ronny was going. She was
just a little vexed because she thought I'd been fixing things up behind
her back.

ANNE.

Yes, I know. It would naturally put her out for a moment to learn on a
sudden that one of the persons she'd been thrown in contact with was
going away.

ARTHUR.

[_With a twinkle in his eye._] I'm wondering if I must blame you for the
loss of an excellent secretary.

ANNE.

Me?

ARTHUR.

I don't know why the F.O. should suddenly have made up their minds that
your brother was wanted in Paris. Have you been pulling strings?

ANNE.

[_Smiling._] What a suspicious nature you have!

ARTHUR.

Anne, own up.

ANNE.

I thought Ronny was getting into a groove here. There didn't seem to be
much more for him to do than he has been doing for some time. If you
_will_ have the truth, I've been moving heaven and earth to get him
moved.

ARTHUR.

How deceitful of you not to have said a word about it!

ANNE.

I didn't want to make him restless. I knew he'd be mad to go to Paris. I
thought it much better not to say anything till it was settled.

ARTHUR.

D'you think he's mad to go to Paris?

ANNE.

[_Fencing with him._] Any young man would be.

ARTHUR.

I wonder if he'd be very much disappointed if I made other arrangements.

ANNE.

What do you mean, Arthur? You wouldn't prevent him from going when I've
done everything in the world to get him away.

ARTHUR.

[_Abruptly._] Why should you be so anxious for him to go?

[_She looks at him for an instant in dismay._]

ANNE.

Good heavens, don't speak so sharply to me. I told Violet just now. I
wanted him to be more get-at-able. I think he stands a much better
chance of being noticed if he's in a place like Paris.

ARTHUR.

[_With a smile._] Ah, yes, you said you were coming less frequently to
Egypt than in the past. It might be worth while to keep Ronny here in
order to tempt you back.

ANNE.

Egypt isn't the same to me that it was.

ARTHUR.

I hope my marriage has made no difference to our friendship, Anne. You
know how deeply I value it.

ANNE.

You used to come and see me very often. You knew I was discreet and you
used to talk over with me all sorts of matters which occupied you. I was
pleased and flattered. Of course I realised that those pleasant
conversations of ours must stop when you married. I only came here this
winter to collect my goods and chattels.

ARTHUR.

You make me feel vaguely guilty towards you.

ANNE.

Of course you're nothing of the sort. But I don't want Violet to feel
that I am making any attempt to--to monopolise you. She's been charming
to me. The more I know her the more delightful I find her.

ARTHUR.

It's very nice of you to say so.

ANNE.

You know I've always had a great admiration for you. I'm so glad to see
you married to a girl who's not unworthy of you.

ARTHUR.

I suppose it was a dangerous experiment for a man of my age to marry a
girl of nineteen.

ANNE.

I think one can admit that. But you've always been one of the favourites
of the gods. You've made a wonderful success of it.

ARTHUR.

It needs on a husband's part infinite tact, patience, and tolerance.

ANNE.

You have the great advantage that Violet is genuinely in love with you.

ARTHUR.

I suppose only a fatuous ass would confess that a beautiful girl was in
love with him.

ANNE.

You make her very happy.

ARTHUR.

There's nothing I wouldn't do to achieve that. I'm more desperately in
love with Violet even than when I first married her.

ANNE.

I'm so glad. _I_ want nothing but your happiness.

ARTHUR.

Here is Christina.

[_The door opens as he says these words and an English_ BUTLER _ushers
in_ MRS. PRITCHARD. _She is a tall, spare woman, with hair turning grey,
comely, upright in her carriage, with decision of character indicated by
every gesture; but though masterful and firm to attain her ends, she is
an honest woman, direct, truthful and not without humour. She is
admirably gowned in a manner befitting her station and importance._]

BUTLER.

Mrs. Pritchard.

[_Exit._]

ARTHUR.

I knew it was you, Christina. I felt a sense of responsibility descend
upon the house.

CHRISTINA.

[_Kissing him._] How is Violet?

ARTHUR.

Lovely.

CHRISTINA.

I was inquiring about her health.

ARTHUR.

Her health is perfect.

CHRISTINA.

At her age one's always well, I suppose. [_Kissing_ ANNE.] How d'you do?
And how are you, my poor Arthur?

ARTHUR.

You ask me as though I was a doddering old gentleman, crippled with
rheumatism. I'm in the best of health, thank you very much, and very
active for my years. [CHRISTINA _has seen a flower on the table that has
fallen from a bowl, and picks it up and puts it back in its place._] Why
do you do that?

CHRISTINA.

I don't like untidiness.

ARTHUR.

I do.

[_He takes the flower out again and places it on the table._]

CHRISTINA.

I was expecting to find you in your office.

ARTHUR.

Do you think I'm neglecting my work? I thought it more becoming to wait
for you here.

CHRISTINA.

I wanted to see you on a matter of business.

ARTHUR.

So I understood from your message. I feel convinced you're going to put
me in the way of making my fortune.

ANNE.

I'll leave you, shall I?

CHRISTINA.

Oh, no, pray don't. There's not the least reason why you shouldn't hear
what it's all about.

ARTHUR.

You're not going to make my fortune after all. You're going to ask me to
do something.

CHRISTINA.

What makes you think that?

ARTHUR.

You want a third person present to be witness to my brutal selfishness
when I refuse. I know you, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

[_Smiling._] You're much too sensible to refuse a perfectly reasonable
request.

ARTHUR.

Let us hear it. [_She sits down on the sofa. The cushions have been
disordered by people sitting on them and she shakes them out, and pats
them and arranges them in their place._] I wish you'd leave the
furniture alone, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

I cannot make out what pleasure people take in seeing things out of
their proper place.

ARTHUR.

You're very long in coming to the point.

CHRISTINA.

I hear that the Khedive has quarrelled with his secretary.

ARTHUR.

You're a marvellous woman, Christina. You get hold of all the harem
gossip.

CHRISTINA.

It's true, isn't it?

ARTHUR.

Yes. But I only heard of it myself just before luncheon. How did it come
to your ears?

CHRISTINA.

That doesn't matter, does it? I have a way of hearing things that may be
of interest to me.

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid I'm very dense, but I don't see how it can be of any
particular interest to you.

CHRISTINA.

[_Smiling._] Dear Arthur. The Khedive has asked you to recommend him an
English secretary.

ANNE.

Has he really? That's a change. He's never had an English secretary
before.

ARTHUR.

Never.

ANNE.

It's a wonderful opportunity.

ARTHUR.

If we get the right man he can be of the greatest possible help. If he's
tactful, wise, and courteous, there's no reason why in time he shouldn't
attain very considerable influence over the Khedive. If we can really
get the Khedive to work honestly and sincerely with us, instead of
hampering us by all kinds of secret devices, we can do miracles in this
country.

ANNE.

What a splendid chance for the man who gets the job!

ARTHUR.

I suppose it is. If he has the right qualities he may achieve anything.
And after all, it's a splendid chance to be able to render such great
service to our own old country.

CHRISTINA.

Has the Khedive given any particulars about the sort of man he wants?

ARTHUR.

He naturally wants a young man and a good sportsman. It's important that
he should be able to speak Arabic. But the qualifications which will
satisfy the Khedive are nothing beside those which will satisfy me. The
wrong man may cause irreparable damage to British interests.

CHRISTINA.

Have you thought that Henry would be admirably suited?

ARTHUR.

I can't say I have, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

He's young and he's very good at games. He speaks Arabic.

ARTHUR.

Quite well, I believe. I think he's very well suited to the post he has.
It would be a pity to disturb him when he's just got at home with the
work.

CHRISTINA.

Arthur, you can't compare a very badly paid job in the Ministry of
Education with a private secretaryship to the Khedive.

ARTHUR.

The best job for a man is the one he's most fitted to do.

CHRISTINA.

You've got no fault to find with Henry. He's a very good worker, he's
honest, industrious, and painstaking.

ARTHUR.

You don't praise a pair of boots because you can walk in them without
discomfort; if you can't you chuck them away.

CHRISTINA.

What d'you mean by that?

ARTHUR.

The qualities you mention really don't deserve any particular reward. If
Henry hadn't got them I'd fire him without a moment's hesitation.

CHRISTINA.

I have no doubt you'd welcome the opportunity. It's the greatest
misfortune of Henry's life that he happens to be your nephew.

ARTHUR.

On the other hand, it's counterbalanced by his extraordinary good luck
in being your son.

CHRISTINA.

You've stood in his way on every possible occasion.

ARTHUR.

[_Good-humouredly._] You know that's not true, Christina. I've refused
to perpetrate a number of abominable jobs that you've urged me to. He's
had his chances as everyone else has. You're an admirable mother. If I'd
listened to you he'd be Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister by now.

CHRISTINA.

I've never asked you to do anything for Henry that wasn't perfectly
reasonable.

ARTHUR.

It's evident then that we have different views upon what is reasonable.

CHRISTINA.

I appeal to you, Anne: do you see any objection to suggesting Henry to
the Khedive as a private secretary?

ARTHUR.

I knew that's what she wanted you here for, Anne, to be a witness to my
pig-headed obstinacy.

CHRISTINA.

Don't be absurd, Arthur. I'm asking Anne for an unprejudiced opinion.

ARTHUR.

Anne is unlikely to have an opinion of any value on a matter she knows
nothing about.

ANNE.

[_With a chuckle._] That is a very plain hint that I can't do better
than hold my tongue. I'll take it, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

It's so unreasonable of you, Arthur. You won't listen to any argument.

ARTHUR.

The only one you've offered yet is: here's a good job going, Henry's
your nephew, give it him. My dear, don't you see the Khedive would
never accept such a near relation of mine?

CHRISTINA.

I don't agree with you at all. The fact of his asking you to recommend
an English secretary shows that he wants to draw the connection between
you and himself closer. After all, you might give the boy a chance.

ARTHUR.

This is not an occasion when one can afford to give a chance. It's hit
or miss. If the man I choose is a failure the Khedive will never ask me
to do such a thing for him again. I can't take any risks.

CHRISTINA.

Will you tell me what qualifications Henry lacks to make him suitable
for the post?

ARTHUR.

Certainly. It's true he speaks Arabic, but he doesn't understand the
native mind. Grammars can't teach you that, my dear, only sympathy. He
has the mind of an official. I often think that you must have swallowed
a ramrod in early life and poor Henry was born with a foot-rule in his
inside.

CHRISTINA.

I am not amused, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I have no doubt in course of time he'll become a very competent
official, but he'll never be anything else. He lacks imagination, and
that is just as necessary to a statesman as to a novelist. Finally he
has no charm.

CHRISTINA.

How can you judge? You're his uncle. You might just as well say I have
no charm.

ARTHUR.

You haven't. You're an admirable woman, with all the substantial virtues
which make you an ornament to your sex, but you have no charm.

CHRISTINA.

[_With a grim smile._] I should be a fool if I expected you to pay me
compliments, shouldn't I?

ARTHUR.

You would at all events be a woman who is unable to learn by experience.

CHRISTINA.

Besides, I don't agree with you. I think Henry has charm.

ARTHUR.

Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If
he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.

CHRISTINA.

Really, Arthur, it amazes me that a man in your position can be
influenced by such absurd trifles. It's so unfair, when a boy has a
dozen solid real virtues that you should refuse to recommend him for a
job because he hasn't got in your opinion a frivolous, unsubstantial
advantage like charm.

ARTHUR.

Unsubstantial it may be, but frivolous it certainly isn't. Believe me,
charm is the most valuable asset that any man can have. D'you think it
sounds immoral to say it compensates for the lack of brains and virtue?
Alas! it happens to be true. Brains may bring you to power, but charm
enables you to keep it. Without charm you will never lead men.

CHRISTINA.

And do you imagine you're likely to find a young Englishman who's a
sportsman and an Arabic scholar, who has tact, imagination, sympathy,
wisdom, courtesy and charm?

ANNE.

If you do, Arthur, I'm afraid he won't remain here very long, because I
warn you, I shall insist on marrying him.

ARTHUR.

It's not so formidable as it sounds. I'm going to suggest Ronny.

CHRISTINA.

[_Astounded._] Ronald Parry! That's the very last person I should have
thought you'd be inclined to suggest.

ARTHUR.

[_Sharply._] Why?

ANNE.

[_With dismay._] You don't really mean that, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

Why not?

CHRISTINA.

[_To_ ANNE.] Didn't you know?

ANNE.

It's the last thing that would ever have entered my head.

CHRISTINA.

I thought you'd made all arrangements for sending him away.

ARTHUR.

I made no arrangements at all. I received a telegram from the F.O.
saying that he'd been appointed to Paris.

ANNE.

[_After a very short pause._] Don't you think you'd better leave it at
that?

ARTHUR.

No, I don't. I'm going to wire to London explaining the circumstances
and suggesting that I think him very suitable for the post that's just
offered itself.

ANNE.

[_Trying to take it lightly._] I feel rather aggrieved, after all the
efforts I've made to get him appointed to Paris.

CHRISTINA.

Oh, he owes that to you, does he? You thought it would be better for him
to leave here?

ARTHUR.

[_Deliberately._] I don't quite understand what you're driving at,
Christina.

CHRISTINA.

[_Taking him up defiantly._] I cannot imagine anyone more unsuitable
than Ronald Parry.

ARTHUR.

That is for me to judge, isn't it?

ANNE.

Perhaps the Foreign Office will say they see no reason to change their
mind.

ARTHUR.

I don't think so.

ANNE.

Have you told Ronny?

ARTHUR.

No, I thought it unnecessary till I'd found out whether the Khedive
would be willing to take him.

CHRISTINA.

I'm amazed, Arthur. When Henry told me Ronald Parry was going I couldn't
help thinking it was very desirable.

ARTHUR.

Why?

     [_She looks at him, about to speak, then hesitates. She does not
     dare, and resolves to be silent._ ANNE _comes to the rescue_.]

ANNE.

Christina knows that I shall be very little in Egypt in future and how
fond Ronny and I are of one another. We naturally want to be as near
each other as we can.

CHRISTINA.

[_With a chuckle._] It really amuses me that you should refuse to give a
good job to Henry because you've made up your mind to give it to Ronald
Parry.

     [ARTHUR _walks up to her deliberately and faces her_.]

ARTHUR.

If you've got anything to say against him say it.

     [_They stare at one another for a moment in silence._]

CHRISTINA.

If you have nothing against him there's no reason why I should.

ARTHUR.

I see. I have a good deal to do this afternoon. If you have nothing more
to say to me I'd like to get back to my work.

CHRISTINA.

Very well, I'll go.

ARTHUR.

You won't stop and see Violet?

CHRISTINA.

I don't think so, thank you.

     [_She goes out. He opens the door for her._]

ANNE.

Why didn't you tell me just now that you'd decided to keep Ronny in
Cairo?

ARTHUR.

I thought it was unnecessary till everything was settled. I daresay
you'll be good enough to hold your tongue about it.

ANNE.

Have you definitely made up your mind?

ARTHUR.

Definitely.

     [_They look at one another steadily._]

ANNE.

I think I'll go up to my room. I keep to my old habit of a siesta after
luncheon.

ARTHUR.

I wish I could get Violet to take it.

ANNE.

She's so young, she doesn't feel the need of it yet.

ARTHUR.

Yes, she's so young.

     [ANNE _goes out. For a moment_ ARTHUR _gives way to discouragement.
     He feels old and tired. But he hears a footstep and pulls himself
     together. He is his usual self, gay, gallant and humorous, when_
     VIOLET _enters the room_.]

VIOLET.

I saw Christina drive away. What did she want?

ARTHUR.

The earth.

VIOLET.

I hope you gave it her.

ARTHUR.

No, I'm trying to get the moon for you just now, darling, and I thought
if I gave her the earth it really would upset the universe a little too
much.

VIOLET.

I thought I'd better do these invitations before I dressed.

ARTHUR.

You're not going to put on a different frock to go and have tea with the
Khedive's mother? You look charming in that.

VIOLET.

I think it's a little too young. It was all right for the morning.

ARTHUR.

Of course you are older this afternoon, that's quite true.

VIOLET.

Can you spare Ronny just now?

ARTHUR.

[_After an instant's pause._] Yes, I'll send him to you at once.

VIOLET.

[_As he is going._] I shall be back in time to give you your tea.

ARTHUR.

That will be very nice. Good-bye till then.

     [_He goes out. She is meditative. She gives a slight start as_
     RONNY _comes in_.]

VIOLET.

I hope I haven't torn you away from anything very important.

RONNY.

I was only typing a very dull report. I'd just finished it.

VIOLET.

You mustn't ever bother about me if it's not convenient, you know.

RONNY.

I shan't have much chance, shall I?

VIOLET.

No.... Look, here's the list.

     [_She hands him a sheet of paper on which names are scribbled, and
     he reads it._]

RONNY.

It looks rather a stodgy party, doesn't it? I see you've crossed my name
out.

VIOLET.

It's not much good asking you when you won't be here. Whom d'you advise
me to ask in your place?

RONNY.

I don't know. I hate the idea of anyone being asked in my place. Shall I
start on them at once?

VIOLET.

If you don't mind. I have to go out, you know.

     [_He sits down at a writing table._]

RONNY.

I'll start on those I dislike least.

VIOLET.

[_With a chuckle._] Don't you remember when Arthur said I must ask the
Von Scheidleins how we hated to write them a civil letter?

RONNY.

[_Writing._] Dear Lady Sinclair.

VIOLET.

Oh, she asked me to call her Evelyn.

RONNY.

Hang! I'll have to start again.

VIOLET.

It always make me so uncomfortable to address fat old ladies by their
Christian names.

RONNY.

I'll end up "yours affectionately," shall I?

VIOLET.

I suppose you're awfully excited at the thought of going?

RONNY.

No.

VIOLET.

It's a step for you, isn't it? I ... I ought to congratulate you.

RONNY.

You don't think I want to go, do you? I hate it.

VIOLET.

Why?

RONNY.

I've been very happy here.

VIOLET.

You knew you couldn't stay here for the rest of your life.

RONNY.

Why not?

VIOLET.

[_With an effort at self-control._] Who is the next person on the list?

RONNY.

[_Looking at it._] Will you miss me at all?

VIOLET.

I suppose I shall at first.

RONNY.

That's not a very kind thing to say.

VIOLET.

Isn't it? I don't mean to be unkind, Ronny.

RONNY.

Oh, I'm so miserable!

     [_She gives a little cry and looks at him. She presses her hands to
     her heart._]

VIOLET.

Let us go on with the letters.

     [_Silently he writes. She does not watch him, but looks hopelessly
     into space. She is unable to restrain a sob._]

RONNY.

You're crying.

VIOLET.

No, I'm not. I'm not. I swear I'm not. [_He gets up and goes over to
her. He looks into her eyes._] It came so suddenly. I never dreamt you'd
be going away.

RONNY.

Oh, Violet!

VIOLET.

Don't call me that. Please don't.

RONNY.

Did you know that I loved you?

VIOLET.

How should I know? Oh, I'm so unhappy. What have I done to deserve it?

RONNY.

I couldn't help loving you. It can't matter if I tell you now. It's the
end of everything. I don't want to go without your knowing. I love you.
I love you. I love you.

VIOLET.

Oh, Ronny!

RONNY.

It's been so wonderful, all these months. I've never known anyone to
come up to you. Everything you said pleased me. I loved the way you
walk, and your laugh, and the sound of your voice.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't!

RONNY.

I was content just to see you and to talk with you and to know you were
here, near me. You've made me extraordinarily happy.

VIOLET.

Have I? Oh, I'm so glad.

RONNY.

I couldn't help myself. I tried not to think of you. You're not angry
with me?

VIOLET.

I can't be. Oh, Ronny, I've had such a rotten time. It came upon me
unawares, I didn't know what was happening. I thought I only liked you.

RONNY.

Oh, my dearest! Is it possible ...?

VIOLET.

And when it struck me--oh, I was so frightened. I thought it must be
written on my face and everyone must see. I knew it was wrong. I knew I
mustn't. I couldn't help myself.

RONNY.

Oh, say it, Violet. I want to hear you say it: "I love you."

VIOLET.

I love you. [_He kneels down before her and covers her hands with
kisses._] Oh, don't, don't!

RONNY.

My dearest. My very dearest.

VIOLET.

What have I done? I made up my mind that no one should ever know. I
thought then it wouldn't matter. It needn't prevent me from doing my
duty to Arthur. It didn't interfere with my affection for him. I didn't
see how it could hurt anyone if I kept my love for you locked up in my
heart, tightly, and it made me so happy. I rejoiced in it.

RONNY.

I never knew. I used to weigh every word you said to me. You never gave
me a sign.

VIOLET.

I didn't know it was possible to love anybody as I love you, Ronny.

RONNY.

My precious!

VIOLET.

Oh, don't say things like that to me. It breaks my heart. I wouldn't
ever have told you only I was upset by your going. If they'd only given
me time to get used to the thought I wouldn't ... I wouldn't make such a
fool of myself.

RONNY.

You can't grudge me that little bit of comfort.

VIOLET.

But it all came so suddenly, the announcement that you were going and
your going. I felt I couldn't bear it. Why didn't they give me time?

RONNY.

Don't cry, my dearest, it tortures me.

VIOLET.

This is the last time we shall be alone, Ronny. I couldn't let you go
without ... oh, my God, I can't bear it.

RONNY.

We might have been so happy together, Violet. Why didn't we meet sooner?
I feel we're made for one another.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't talk of that. D'you suppose I haven't said to myself: "Oh, if
I'd only met him first"? Oh, Ronny, Ronny, Ronny!

RONNY.

I never dared to think that you loved me. It's maddening that I must go.
It's horrible to think of leaving you now.

VIOLET.

No, it's better. We couldn't have gone on like that. I'm glad you're
going. It breaks my heart.

RONNY.

Oh, Violet, why didn't you wait for me?

VIOLET.

I made a mistake. I must pay for it. Arthur's so good and kind. He loves
me with all his heart. Oh, what a fool I was! I didn't know what love
was. I feel that my life is finished, and I'm so young, Ronny.

RONNY.

You know I'd do anything in the world for you.

VIOLET.

My dear one. [_They stand, face to face, looking at one another
wistfully and sadly._] It's no good, Ronny, we're both making ourselves
utterly miserable. Say good-bye to me and let us part. [_He draws her
towards him._] No, don't kiss me. I don't want you to kiss me. [_He
takes her in his arms and kisses her passionately._] Oh, Ronny, I do
love you so. [_At last she tears herself away from him. She sinks into a
chair. He makes a movement towards her._] No, don't come near me now.
I'm so tired.

     [_He looks at her for a moment, then he goes back to the table and
     sits down to write the letters. Their eyes meet slowly._]

RONNY.

It's good-bye, then?

VIOLET.

It's good-bye.

     [_She presses her hands to her heart as though the aching were
     unendurable. He buries his head in his hands._]

END OF THE FIRST ACT



ACT II


     _The scene is the garden of the Consular Agent's residence. It is
     an Eastern garden with palm-trees, magnolias, and flowering bushes
     of azaleas. On one side is an old Arabic well-head decorated with
     verses from the Koran; a yellow rambler grows over the ironwork
     above. Rose-trees are in full bloom. On the other side are basket
     chairs and a table. At the bottom of the garden runs the Nile and
     on the farther bank are lines of palm-trees and the Eastern sky. It
     is towards evening and during the act the sun gradually sets._

     _The table is set out with tea-things._ ANNE _is seated reading a
     book. The gardener in his blue gaberdine, with brown legs and the
     little round cap of the Egyptian workman, is watering the flowers._
     CHRISTINA _comes in_.

ANNE.

[_Looking up, with a smile._] Ah, Christina!

CHRISTINA.

I was told I should find you here. I came to see Violet, but I hear she
hasn't come back yet.

ANNE.

She was going to see the Khedive's mother.

CHRISTINA.

I think I'll wait for her.

ANNE.

Would you like tea? I was waiting till Violet came in. I expect she's
been made to eat all sorts of sweet things and she'll want a cup of tea
to take the taste out of her mouth.

CHRISTINA.

No, don't have it brought for me.... I can never quite get over being
treated as a guest in the house I was mistress of for so many years.
[_To the Gardener._] Imshi (Get out).

GARDENER.

Dêtak sa 'ideh (May thy night be happy).

     [_He goes out._]

ANNE.

Your knowledge of Arabic is rather sketchy, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

I never see why I should trouble myself with strange languages. If
foreigners want to talk to me they can talk to me in English.

ANNE.

But surely when we're out of our own country we're foreigners.

CHRISTINA.

Nonsense, Anne, we're English. I wonder Arthur allows Violet to learn
Arabic. I can't help thinking it'll make a bad impression on the
natives. _I_ managed this house on fifty words of Arabic.

ANNE.

[_Smiling._] I'm convinced that on a hundred you'd be prepared to manage
the country.

CHRISTINA.

I don't think you can deny that I did my work here competently.

ANNE.

You're a wonderful housekeeper.

CHRISTINA.

I have common sense and a talent for organisation. [_Pursing her lips._]
It breaks my heart to see the way certain things are done here now.

ANNE.

You must remember Violet is very young.

CHRISTINA.

Much too young to be a suitable wife for Arthur.

ANNE.

He seems to be very well satisfied, and after all he is the person most
concerned.

CHRISTINA.

I know. His infatuation is--blind, don't you think?

ANNE.

[_Coolly._] I think it's very delightful to see two people so much in
love with one another.

CHRISTINA.

D'you know that I used to be fearfully jealous of you, Anne?

ANNE.

[_Amused._] I know that you thoroughly disliked me, Christina. You
didn't trouble to hide it.

CHRISTINA.

I was always afraid that Arthur would marry you. I didn't want to be
turned out of this house. I suppose you think that's horrid of me.

ANNE.

No, I think it's very natural.

CHRISTINA.

I didn't see why Arthur should marry. I gave him all the comforts of
home life. And I thought it would interfere with his work. Of course I
knew that he liked you. I suffered agonies when he used to go and dine
with you quietly. [_With a sniff._] He said it rested him.

ANNE.

Perhaps it did. Did you grudge him that?

CHRISTINA.

I knew you were desperately in love with him.

ANNE.

Need you throw that in my face now? Really, I haven't deserved it.

CHRISTINA.

My dear, I wish he had married you. It never struck me he'd marry a girl
twenty years younger than himself.

ANNE.

He never looked upon me as anything but a friend. I don't suppose it
occurred to him for an instant that my feeling might possibly be
different.

CHRISTINA.

It was stupid of me. I ought to have given him a hint.

ANNE.

[_With a smile._] You took care not to do that, Christina. Perhaps you
knew that was all it wanted.

CHRISTINA.

[_Reflectively._] I don't think he's treated you very well.

ANNE.

Nonsense. A man isn't obliged to marry a woman just because she's in
love with him. I don't see why loving should give one a claim on the
person one loves.

CHRISTINA.

You would have made him a splendid wife.

ANNE.

So will Violet, my dear. Most men have the wives they deserve.

CHRISTINA.

I marvel at your kindness to her. You're so tolerant and sympathetic,
one would never imagine she's robbed you of what you wanted most in the
world.

ANNE.

I shouldn't respect myself very much if I bore her the shadow of a
grudge. I'm so glad that she's sweet and charming and ingenuous; it
makes it very easy to be fond of her.

CHRISTINA.

I know. I wanted to dislike her. But I can't really. There is something
about her which disarms one.

ANNE.

Isn't it lucky? It's a difficult position. That irresistible charm of
hers will make everything possible. After all, you and I can agree in
that we both want Arthur to be happy.

CHRISTINA.

I wonder if there's much chance of that.

     [ANNE _looks at her for a moment inquiringly, and_ CHRISTINA
     _coolly returns the stare_.]

ANNE.

Why did you come here this afternoon, Christina?

CHRISTINA.

[_With a faint smile._] Why did you take so much trouble to get your
brother moved to Paris?

ANNE.

Good heavens, I told you this morning.

CHRISTINA.

D'you think we need make pretences with one another?

ANNE.

I don't think I quite understand.

CHRISTINA.

Don't you? You wanted Ronny to leave Egypt because you know he's in love
with Violet.

     [_For a moment_ ANNE _is a little taken aback, but she quickly
     recovers herself_.]

ANNE.

He's very susceptible. He's always falling in and out of love. I had
noticed that he was attracted, and I confess I thought it better to put
him out of harm's way.

CHRISTINA.

How cunning you are, Anne! You won't admit anything till you're quite
certain the person you're talking to knows it. You know as well as I do
that Violet is just as much in love with him.

ANNE.

[_Much disturbed._] Christina, what are you going to do? How could I
help knowing? You've only got to see the way they look at one another.
They're sick with love.

CHRISTINA.

What did Arthur expect? I've never seen a couple more admirably suited
to one another.

ANNE.

I thought no one knew but me till this morning, when you were talking to
Arthur. Then I thought you must know too. My heart was in my mouth, I
was afraid you were going to tell him. But you didn't, and I thought I'd
been mistaken.

CHRISTINA.

You didn't give me credit for very nice feeling, Anne. Because I didn't
act like a perfect beast you thought I must be a perfect fool.

ANNE.

I know how devoted you are to your son. I didn't believe you'd stick at
anything when his interests were at stake. I'm sorry, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

Pray don't apologise. I didn't know it myself. It was on the tip of my
tongue to tell Arthur, but I simply couldn't. I couldn't do anything so
shabby.

ANNE.

Oh, Christina, we mustn't ever let him know, we can't make him so
miserable. It would break his heart.

CHRISTINA.

Well, what is to be done?

ANNE.

Heaven knows. I've been racking my brains. I can think of nothing. I'd
arranged everything so beautifully. And now I'm helpless. I thought
even of going to Ronny and asking him to refuse any job that will keep
him here. But Arthur looks upon it as so important. He'll insist on
Ronny's accepting unless his reasons for going are--what's the word I
want?

CHRISTINA.

Irrefutable. It seems very hard that my boy should be done out of such a
splendid chance by Ronny. Except for your brother I'm sure Arthur would
give it to Henry.

ANNE.

[_Diplomatically._] I know he has the highest opinion of Henry's
abilities.

CHRISTINA.

You can't expect me to sit still and let things go on.

ANNE.

Arthur is perfectly unconscious. He thinks Violet is as much in love
with him as he is with her. You couldn't be so cruel as to hint anything
to him.

CHRISTINA.

How you adore him, Anne! You may set your mind at rest. I'm not going to
say a word to Arthur. I'm going to speak to Violet.

ANNE.

[_Frightened._] What are you going to say?

CHRISTINA.

I'm going to ask her to do all she can to persuade Arthur to give Henry
the job. And then Ronny can go to Paris.

ANNE.

You're not going to tell her you know?

CHRISTINA.

[_Deliberately._] If it's necessary she must make Ronny refuse the
appointment. He must invent some excuse that Arthur will accept.

ANNE.

But it's blackmail.

CHRISTINA.

I don't care what it is.

     [VIOLET _comes in. She wears an afternoon gown, picturesque and
     simple, yet elegant enough for the visit she has been paying. She
     has a large hat, which she presently removes._]

ANNE.

Here is Violet.

VIOLET.

Oh, you poor people, haven't you had any tea?

ANNE.

I thought we'd wait till you came back. It'll come at once now.

VIOLET.

How are you, Christina? How is Henry? [_They kiss one another._] I've
not seen him for days.

CHRISTINA.

He's coming to fetch me presently.

VIOLET.

I shall tell him he neglects me. He's the only one of my in-laws I'm not
a little afraid of.

CHRISTINA.

He's a good boy.

VIOLET.

He has a good mother. I thought it would be such fun having a nephew
several years older than myself, but he won't treat me as an aunt. He
will call me Violet. I tell him he ought to be more respectful.

     [_Meanwhile_ SERVANTS _have brought the tea_.]

CHRISTINA.

What have you been doing this afternoon?

VIOLET.

Oh, I went to see the Khedive's mother. She made me eat seventeen
different things and I feel exactly like a boa-constrictor. [_Looking at
the cakes and scones._] I'm afraid there's not a very nice tea.

CHRISTINA.

So I notice.

VIOLET.

[_With a smile._] I suppose I couldn't persuade you to pour it out.

CHRISTINA.

[_Gratified._] Certainly, if you wish it.

     [_She sits down in front of the teapot and pours out cups of tea._
     ARTHUR _comes in_.]

ARTHUR.

Hulloa, Christina, are you pouring out the tea?

CHRISTINA.

Violet asked me to.

VIOLET.

If only I weren't here it would be quite like old times.

ARTHUR.

I understand you want to see me, Violet.

VIOLET.

Oh, I hope you haven't come out here on purpose. I sent the message that
I wished to have a word with you when convenient, but I didn't want to
hurry you. I was quite prepared to go to you.

ARTHUR.

That sounds very formidable. I had a few minutes to spare while some
letters were being prepared for me to sign. But in any case I'm always
at your service.

VIOLET.

The Khedive's mother has asked me to talk to you about a man called
Abdul Said.

ARTHUR.

Oh!

VIOLET.

She thought if I put the circumstances before you....

ARTHUR.

[_Interrupting._] What has he got to do with her?

VIOLET.

He's been employed for years on an estate of hers up the Nile. His
mother was one of her maids. It appears she gave her a dowry when she
married.

ARTHUR.

[_Smiling._] I see. I gathered that Abdul Said had powerful influence
somewhere or other.

CHRISTINA.

Who is this man, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

He's been sentenced to death for murder. It was a perfectly clear case,
but there was a lot of perjury and we had some difficulty in getting a
conviction. What has the Princess asked you to do?

VIOLET.

She explained the whole thing to me, and then she asked if I wouldn't
intercede with you. I promised to do everything I could.

ARTHUR.

You shouldn't have done that. The old lady knows quite well an affair of
this sort is no business of yours. I wish you'd told her so.

VIOLET.

Arthur, what could I do? His wife was there, and his mother. If you'd
seen them.... I couldn't bear to look at their misery and do nothing. I
said I was sure that when you knew all the facts you'd reprieve the
man.

ARTHUR.

It's not in my power to do anything of the sort. The prerogative of
mercy is with the Khedive.

VIOLET.

I know, but if you advise him to exercise it he will. He's only too
anxious to, but he won't move without your advice.

ARTHUR.

It's monstrous of the Princess to try and make use of you in this way.
She prepared a complete trap for you.

ANNE.

What did the man do exactly?

ARTHUR.

It's rather a peculiar case. Abdul Said had a difference of opinion with
an Armenian merchant and shortly after his only son fell ill and died.
He took it into his head that the Armenian had cast the evil eye on him,
and he took his gun, waited for his opportunity, and shot the Armenian
dead. The man isn't a criminal in the ordinary sense of the word, but we
can't afford to make exceptions. If we did there'd be a crop of murders
with the same excuse. I looked into the case this morning and I see no
reason to advise the Khedive to interfere with the course of justice.

VIOLET.

This morning? When you came in to luncheon full of spirits, laughing and
chaffing, had you just sent a man to his death? How horribly callous!

ARTHUR.

I'm sorry you should think that. I give every matter my closest
attention, and when I've settled it to the best of my ability I put it
out of my mind. I think it would be just as unwise to let it affect me
as for a doctor to let himself be affected by his patients' sufferings.

VIOLET.

It seems to me horrible to slaughter that wretched man because he's
ignorant and simple-minded. Don't you see that for yourself?

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid I'm not here to interpret the law according to my feelings
but according to its own spirit.

VIOLET.

It's easy to talk like that when you haven't got any feeling one way or
the other. Don't you realise the misery of that man condemned to die for
what he honestly thought was a mere act of justice? I wish you'd seen
the agony of those poor women. And now they're more or less happy
because I promised to help them. The Princess told them I had influence
with you. If she only knew!

ARTHUR.

You should never have been put in such a position. It was grossly
unfair. I'll take care that nothing of the sort occurs again.

VIOLET.

D'you mean to say you'll do nothing? Won't you even go into the matter
again--with a little sympathy?

ARTHUR.

I can't!

VIOLET.

It's the first thing I've ever asked you, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I know. I'm only sorry that I must refuse you.

VIOLET.

This is the first sentence of death in Egypt since our marriage. Don't
you know what it would mean to me to think I'd saved a man's life? The
Khedive is waiting to sign the reprieve. It only requires a word from
you. Won't you say it? I feel that the gratitude of these poor women may
be like a blessing on us.

ARTHUR.

My dear, I think my duty is very clear. I must do it.

VIOLET.

It's clear because all that grief means nothing to you. What do you care
if a man is hanged whom you've never even seen? I wonder if you'd find
it so easy to do your duty in a matter that affected you. If it meant
misery or happiness to you. It's easy to do one's duty when one doesn't
care.

ARTHUR.

You're quite right. That is the test: if one can do one's duty when it
means the loss of all one holds dear and valuable in the world.

VIOLET.

I hope you'll never be put to it.

ARTHUR.

[_With a chuckle._] My dear, you say that as though you hoped precisely
the contrary.

VIOLET.

Must I write to the Princess and say I was entirely mistaken, and I have
no more influence over you than a tripper at Shepheard's Hotel?

ARTHUR.

I'd sooner you didn't write to her at all. I will have a message
conveyed which you may be sure will save you from any humiliation.

VIOLET.

[_Icily._] I'm afraid you have a lot of business; you mustn't let me
keep you.

     [_He looks at her reflectively for a moment and then goes out.
     There is an awkward silence._]

VIOLET.

Those good people we had to luncheon to-day would be amused to see what
the power amounts to that they congratulated me on.

CHRISTINA.

There's very little that Arthur would refuse you. He'd do practically
anything in the world to please you.

VIOLET.

It'll be a long time before I ask him to do anything else.

CHRISTINA.

Don't say that, Violet. Because I came here to-day on purpose to ask you
to use your influence with him.

VIOLET.

You see how much I have.

CHRISTINA.

That was a matter of principle. Men are always funny about principles.
You can never get them to understand that circumstances alter cases.

VIOLET.

Arthur looks upon me as a child. After all, it's not my fault that I'm
twenty years younger than he is.

CHRISTINA.

I want your help so badly, Violet. And you know, the fact that Arthur
has just refused to do something for you is just the reason that will
make him anxious to do anything you ask now.

VIOLET.

I don't want to expose myself to the humiliation of another refusal.

CHRISTINA.

It's so important to me. It may mean all the difference to Henry's
future.

VIOLET.

[_With a change of manner, charmingly._] Oh! I'd love to do anything I
could for Henry.

CHRISTINA.

The Khedive has asked Arthur for an English secretary. It seems to me
that Henry has every possible qualification, but you know what Arthur
is; he's terrified of the least suspicion of favouring his friends and
relations.

VIOLET.

My dear Christina, what can I do? Arthur would merely tell me to mind my
own business.

CHRISTINA.

He wants to give the post to Ronald Parry....

VIOLET.

[_Quickly._] Ronny? But Ronny's going to Paris. It's all arranged.

CHRISTINA.

It was. But Arthur thinks it essential that he should stay in Egypt.

VIOLET.

Did you know this, Anne?

ANNE.

Not till just now.

VIOLET.

Does Ronny know?

ANNE.

I don't think so.

     [VIOLET _is aghast. She does all she can to hide her agitation. The
     two women watch her_, CHRISTINA _with cold curiosity_, ANNE _with
     embarrassment_.]

VIOLET.

I'm ... I'm awfully surprised. It's only an hour or two ago that Ronny
and I bade one another a pathetic farewell.

CHRISTINA.

Really? But there was never any talk of his going till the day after
to-morrow. You were in a great hurry with your leave-takings.

VIOLET.

I thought he'd be busy packing and that I mightn't have another chance.

CHRISTINA.

You've been so intimate, I'm sure he would have been able to snatch a
moment to say good-bye to you and Arthur before his train started.

     [VIOLET _does not quite know what this speech means. She gives_
     CHRISTINA _a look_. ANNE _comes to the rescue quickly_.]

ANNE.

Ronny has been acting as Violet's secretary to a certain extent. I
expect they had all sorts of little secrets together that they wanted to
discuss in private.

CHRISTINA.

Of course. That's very natural. [_With great friendliness._] If I
thought I were robbing you of anyone who was indispensable to you I
wouldn't ask you to put in a good word for Henry. But, of course, if
Ronald became the Khedive's secretary he couldn't exactly continue to
write letters and pay bills for you, could he?

VIOLET.

I'm rather taken aback. I'd got it fixed in my head that Ronny was
going.

CHRISTINA.

I can promise you that in helping Henry you're not doing any harm to
Ronald. Anne is very anxious that he should leave Egypt. Isn't that so?

ANNE.

In a way. Henry is proposing to spend the rest of his official life in
Egypt. An appointment like this is naturally more important to him than
it would be to Ronny, who is by way of being a bird of passage.

CHRISTINA.

Exactly. Ronny has had his experience here. If he stayed longer it would
only be waste of time. Anne naturally wants to have him near her. I
daresay she's a little afraid of his getting into mischief here.

ANNE.

I don't know about that, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

My dear, you know how susceptible he is. There's always the possibility
that he'll fall in love with someone who isn't very desirable.

VIOLET.

I've got an awful headache.

CHRISTINA.

Why don't you take a little aspirin? I'm quite sure that if you set your
mind to it you can persuade Arthur to give the job to Henry. And that
would settle everything.

VIOLET.

And if I can't persuade him?

CHRISTINA.

Then you must put it to Ronny.

VIOLET.

I?

CHRISTINA.

You see, if he refused the appointment and left Egypt, then I'm
convinced Arthur would accept Henry.

VIOLET.

Why should I put it to Ronny?

CHRISTINA.

[_Pleasantly._] You've been so very friendly, haven't you? If you
suggested to him that ... he's standing in Henry's way....

VIOLET.

I should have thought it was for Anne to do that.

CHRISTINA.

How simple-minded you are! A man will often do for a pretty woman what
he won't do for his sister.

VIOLET.

You want me to make him go?

CHRISTINA.

Don't you think yourself that would be the very best thing ... for all
parties?

     [VIOLET _and_ CHRISTINA _look steadily at one another_. VIOLET
     _sinks her eyes. She knows that_ CHRISTINA _is aware of her love.
     She is terrified._ RONALD _comes in. He is in the highest
     spirits._]

RONNY.

I've been sent to have a cup of tea. Sir Arthur is coming along in a
minute. I've got some news. I'm staying in Egypt. Isn't it splendid?

     [VIOLET _gives a little gasp_.]

VIOLET.

Is it settled then?

RONNY.

Did you know? I thought it would be a surprise.

VIOLET.

No. I've just heard.

RONNY.

Isn't it magnificent?

CHRISTINA.

You're very changeable. It's only a few months ago that you were
constantly telling Henry you'd had enough of the country.

RONNY.

Never. I love it. I should like to stay here all my life.

CHRISTINA.

Fancy that!

RONNY.

[_Addressing himself to_ VIOLET.] It would be madness to leave a place
where you're so happy, wouldn't it? I feel so intensely alive here.
It's a wonderful country. One lives every minute of the day.

CHRISTINA.

You're so enthusiastic. One would almost think you'd fallen in love.

VIOLET.

Ronny is naturally enthusiastic.

RONNY.

[_To_ CHRISTINA.] And why shouldn't I have fallen in love?

CHRISTINA.

Won't you tell us who with?

RONNY.

[_With a chuckle._] I was only joking. Isn't it enough to have a
splendid job in a country where there's so much hope? Sir Arthur has
given me a marvellous opportunity. It'll be my fault if I don't make the
most of it.

CHRISTINA.

[_Dryly._] Shall I give you a cup of tea?

RONNY.

[_Chaffing her._] D'you think I want calming down? I feel like a
prisoner who was going to be hanged and has just had a free pardon. I
don't want to be calmed down. I want to revel in my freedom.

CHRISTINA.

All that means, I take it, that you don't want tea.

RONNY.

It's no good trying to snub me. I'm unsnubable to-day. You haven't
congratulated me, Anne.

ANNE.

My dear, you've been talking nineteen to the dozen. I've not had the
chance to get a word in edgeways.

RONNY.

[_To_ VIOLET.] Will you put my name back on your list for that dinner?
It would have broken my heart to miss it.

VIOLET.

Your official position rather alters things, doesn't it? I would never
dare to ask you now just to make an even number.

RONNY.

Oh, well, I'm sending out the invitations. I shall write a formal letter
to myself, explaining the circumstances, and I daresay I shall see my
way to accept.

CHRISTINA.

Dear Ronald, you might be eighteen.

     [ARTHUR _comes in with_ HENRY PRITCHARD. _This is_ CHRISTINA'S
     _son, a pleasant, clean young man, but in no way remarkable_.]

ARTHUR.

Henry tells me he's come to fetch you away, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

So you lose not a moment in bringing him here.

ARTHUR.

Really, Christina, you do me an injustice. I can't bear to think you
should be parted from your precious boy an instant longer than
necessary.

HENRY.

[_Shaking hands with_ VIOLET.] How is my stately aunt?

VIOLET.

Merry and bright, thank you.

HENRY.

You know I'm having a birthday soon, don't you?

VIOLET.

What of it?

HENRY.

I've always been given to understand that aunts give their nephews ten
shillings on their birthday.

VIOLET.

Do they? I am glad. I'd love to press ten shillings into your willing
hand.

HENRY.

Halloa, Ronny. Lucky devil. I congratulate you.

RONNY.

That's awfully good of you, old man.

ARTHUR.

On what? Christina!

CHRISTINA.

I told Henry. I didn't think it would matter, I thought it better that
he should know.

HENRY.

I say, Uncle Arthur, I'm afraid mother has been giving you a rotten
time. It's not my fault, you know.

ARTHUR.

What isn't?

HENRY.

Well, when mother told me at luncheon that the Khedive had applied for
an English secretary, I saw by the beady look in her eye that if I
didn't get the job she was going to make things unpleasant for somebody.

CHRISTINA.

Really, Henry, I don't know what you mean.

HENRY.

Well, mother, you're an old dear....

CHRISTINA.

Not so old either.

ARTHUR.

Certainly not, Henry. Let us have none of your nonsense.

HENRY.

But you know perfectly well that you'd cheerfully bring the British
Empire tumbling about our ears if you could get me a good fat billet by
doing so.

ARTHUR.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings....

CHRISTINA.

You've got no right to say that, Henry. I've never asked anything for
you that it wasn't practically your right to have.

HENRY.

Well, mother, between you and me I don't mind telling you that Ronny is
much more suited to this particular job than I am. Only a perfect fool
would have hesitated, and for the honour of the family we can't suspect
Uncle Arthur of being that.

ARTHUR.

You see what comes of bringing up a boy properly, Christina; you've made
him a decent fellow in spite of yourself.

CHRISTINA.

You're a tiresome creature, Henry, but I'm attached to you. You may kiss
me.

HENRY.

Come along, Mother. I'm not going to kiss you in public.

CHRISTINA.

[_Getting up._] Well, good-bye, Violet. Don't forget our little
conversation, will you?

VIOLET.

Good-bye. Good-bye, Henry.

CHRISTINA.

[_To_ ANNE.] Why don't you come for a little drive with us? It's such a
beautiful evening.

ANNE.

Will you take me? I think I'd like it. It won't take me a minute to put
on my hat.

     [_She gets up. They start to walk towards the house._]

CHRISTINA.

[_Putting up her cheek._] Good-bye, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Oh, I'll just come along and put you in your carriage. You shan't say
that I don't treat you with the ceremony due to your importance.

     [_They saunter off._ VIOLET _and_ RONNY _are left alone_.]

VIOLET.

You're coming back, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

Oh, yes, in a minute. [_Exit._]

RONNY.

[_Under his breath._] Violet.

VIOLET.

Be quiet.

RONNY.

Isn't it ripping? I could hardly prevent myself from letting them see
how much I loved you.

VIOLET.

You didn't. Christina suspected before and now you've told her in plain
words.

RONNY.

[_Gaily._] That's only your fancy. You think because it's plain to you
it must be plain to anybody else.

VIOLET.

I've never before had anything to hide. D'you think I like it?

RONNY.

And even if she does know, what does it matter? It does her no harm....
And how could anyone help loving you?

VIOLET.

[_Quickly._] Take care what you say.

RONNY.

No one can hear. To look at us anyone would think we were discussing the
political situation.

VIOLET.

You're cunning, Ronny.

RONNY.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

VIOLET.

For God's sake don't keep on saying it. I'm so ashamed.

RONNY.

[_Astonished._] What about?

VIOLET.

Just now, this afternoon, I would never have said what I did only I
thought you were going. I wasn't myself then, Ronny. I ought never to
have....

RONNY.

Thank God you did. You can't grudge me the happiness you gave me. You
can't take it away from me now. I know you love me. I hold the sun and
the moon in my hands and all the stars of heaven.

VIOLET.

[_Desperately._] What are we going to do? Oh, it's not fair to me.

RONNY.

It's done now. You can't unsay it. Each time I look at you I shall
remember. I've held you in my arms and kissed your lips. You can never
take that away from me. And I needn't go. I shall see you constantly.
Oh, I'm so happy.

     [_She walks up and down for a moment, trying to control herself,
     then she makes up her mind: she stops and faces him._]

VIOLET.

I want you to go, Ronny. I want you to make some excuse and refuse the
appointment here.

RONNY.

No, I can't leave you now.

VIOLET.

I beseech you to go.

RONNY.

Do you want me to?

VIOLET.

Yes.

RONNY.

Give me your hand, then.

VIOLET.

Why?

RONNY.

Give me your hand. [_She gives it him and he holds it._] Say you love
me, Violet.

VIOLET.

No.

RONNY.

How cold your hand is!

VIOLET.

Let me go.

RONNY.

D'you really want me to go?

VIOLET.

You know I don't. I adore you. It'll kill me if you go. [_He bends down
and passionately kisses her hand._] Ronny, Ronny, don't! What are you
doing? [_She tears her hand away. She is trembling with emotion. He is
white and cold with passion. They sit opposite one another for a while
in silence._] What a punishment! When you told me this afternoon that
you loved me I thought I'd never been happy in my life before, and
though it tore my heart to think that you must go I felt--oh, I don't
know--as though my joy was so overwhelming, there was no room in my
heart for anything else. And now I'm wretched, wretched.

RONNY.

But why? Darling! My darling, we were going to be parted, and now we're
going to be together. Can anything matter beside that?

VIOLET.

It's all so hopeless.

RONNY.

It needn't be.

VIOLET.

How can it be anything else?

RONNY.

I don't love you for a day or a week, Violet; I love you for always.

VIOLET.

Whatever happens, I'm going to try to do my duty to Arthur.

RONNY.

I'm not seeking to prevent you. What am I asking for? I only want to see
you. I want to know that I'm close to you. I want to touch your hand. I
want to think of you. What harm can that do you?

VIOLET.

If I were my own mistress I could laugh and let you do as you choose.
But I'm not. I'm bound to you hand and foot. It's torture to me. And the
worst of it is I love my bonds. I can't wish to be without them. I'm at
your mercy, Ronny. I love you.

RONNY.

Oh, but that's enough for me. I swear to you I don't want you to do
anything that you'll ever regret.

VIOLET.

If it could only be taken out of our hands. If something would only
happen.

RONNY.

What can happen?

VIOLET.

Perhaps the Khedive will change his mind. Perhaps the Foreign Office
will say you must go to Paris.

RONNY.

Would you be pleased? Violet, I want so little from you. How can it hurt
you to give me that? Let us give ourselves a chance to be happy.

VIOLET.

We shall never be happy. Never. The only thing we can do is to part, and
I can't let you go. I can't. I can't. It's asking too much of me.

RONNY.

I love you with all my heart and soul. I didn't know it was possible to
love anyone as I love you.

[ARTHUR _is heard gaily whistling to himself_.]

VIOLET.

There's Arthur!

RONNY.

[_Quickly._] Shall I go?

VIOLET.

Yes. No. Have we got to hide ourselves? Has it come to that already? Oh,
I hate myself.

     [ARTHUR _comes in_.]

VIOLET.

[_Brightly._] You're very gay this afternoon, Arthur. One doesn't often
hear you whistle.

ARTHUR.

D'you think it's unbecoming to my years or to my dignity?

VIOLET.

Shall I give you a cup of tea?

ARTHUR.

To tell you the honest truth that is what I came here for.

VIOLET.

And I was flattering myself it was for the pleasure of my company.

ARTHUR.

Ronny, will you find out if it would be convenient for the Khedive to
see me at eleven o'clock to-morrow?

RONNY.

Very good, sir.

     [_He goes out._]

VIOLET.

What have you to see the Khedive about--if it isn't a secret?

ARTHUR.

Not at all. I'm merely going to place before him Ronny's name.

VIOLET.

Then the matter's not definitely settled yet?

ARTHUR.

Not formally. I've not had the reply yet to my telegram to the Foreign
Office, and I've not had the Khedive's acceptance of my suggestion.

VIOLET.

But supposing the Foreign Office say they think he'd better go to Paris
after all?

ARTHUR.

I think it's most unlikely. They know by now that the man on the spot is
the best judge of the circumstances, and I've accustomed them to giving
me a free hand.

VIOLET.

And you think the Khedive will raise no objection?

ARTHUR.

He knows Ronny a little and likes him. I think he'll be delighted with
my choice.

     [_There is a pause._ ARTHUR _drinks his tea. There is no sign that
     he is conscious of_ VIOLET'S _agitation. She is tortured by
     indecision._]

VIOLET.

Arthur, I'm sorry if I was cross just now about Abdul Said. It was
stupid of me to interfere with something that wasn't my business.

ARTHUR.

Oh, my dear, don't say that. I'm sorry I couldn't do what you wanted.

VIOLET.

I made myself needlessly disagreeable. Will you forgive me?

ARTHUR.

Darling, don't reproach yourself. That's more than I can bear. There's
nothing to forgive.

VIOLET.

I owe so much to you. I hate to think that I was horrid.

ARTHUR.

You don't owe anything to me at all. And you're incapable of being
horrid.

     [_He seizes her hands and is about to kiss them, when she draws
     them abruptly away._]

VIOLET.

No, don't kiss my hands.

ARTHUR.

Why not?

     [_He is surprised. For an instant she is taken aback. He looks at
     her hands and she withdraws them as though he could see on them the
     kisses which_ RONNY, _a few minutes before, had pressed on them_.]

VIOLET.

[_With the faintest laugh of embarrassment._] If you want to kiss me I
prefer you to kiss my cheeks.

ARTHUR.

That is evidently what they're made for.

     [_He does not attempt to kiss them. She gives him a quick glance
     and looks away._]

VIOLET.

Arthur, I'm afraid Christina will be awfully disappointed at Henry's not
getting that job.

ARTHUR.

Let us hope she will bear her disappointment with as much fortitude as I
do.

VIOLET.

I don't think she's entirely given up hope that you will change your
mind.

ARTHUR.

[_With a chuckle._] I'm sure of that. I don't expect to have much peace
till the matter is officially settled. That is why I mean to settle it
quickly.

VIOLET.

What is your objection to Henry?

ARTHUR.

None. He's not such a good man as Ronald Parry, that's all.

VIOLET.

The last time there was a good job going Henry just missed getting it.

ARTHUR.

Henry is one of those men who would do very well for a job if there
weren't always somebody just a little bit better applying at the same
time.

VIOLET.

Christina thinks you're so anxious not to favour him because he's your
nephew that you are positively biassed against him.

ARTHUR.

Christina, like the majority of her sex, has an unerring eye for the
discreditable motive.

VIOLET.

She blames me because you won't help Henry. She thinks it's because I'm
jealous of her.

ARTHUR.

How exactly like her! The best mother and the most unreasonable woman
I've ever known.

VIOLET.

[_Forcing the words out._] It would be a great pleasure to me if you
could change your mind and let Henry have the post instead of Ronald
Parry.

ARTHUR.

Oh, my dear, don't ask me to do that. You know how I hate refusing to do
anything you wish.

VIOLET.

Anne is so anxious that Ronny should go to Paris. He's made all his
preparations, don't you think you might just as well let him go?

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid I don't. I want him here.

VIOLET.

It would be such a joy to me if I could go and tell Christina that you'd
consented. It would make such a difference to me, you see. I want her to
be fond of me, and I know she'd never forget if I'd been able to do her
a good turn like that. Oh, Arthur, won't you?

ARTHUR.

Darling, I'm afraid I can't.

VIOLET.

I promise I'll never ask you anything again as long as I live if you'll
only do this for me. It means so much to me. You don't know how much.

ARTHUR.

I can't, Violet.

VIOLET.

Won't you talk it over with Anne?

ARTHUR.

To tell you the truth I don't think it's any business of hers.

VIOLET.

[_Hesitatingly._] Is it due to her influence that Ronald was appointed
to Paris?

ARTHUR.

Why?

VIOLET.

I want to know. If she's been pulling strings to get him moved I suppose
it's for some reason. He was very comfortable here. It's not often you
find a secretary who exactly suits you.

ARTHUR.

Well, yes, it was her doing. She tells me she doesn't mean to come to
Egypt so much as in the past and wants her brother nearer to her.

VIOLET.

If she wants to see much of her brother she let him choose rather an
unfortunate profession.... I wonder she didn't tell you the truth.

ARTHUR.

[_Quickly._] I'm convinced she did. I thought her explanation very
natural. I'm sorry it's necessary for me to interfere with her plans.

VIOLET.

I'm sure she wouldn't mind my telling you why she's so anxious Ronny
should leave Egypt. She thinks he's in love with a married woman and it
seems desirable to get him away. Perhaps she didn't want to tell you. I
fancy she's been very uneasy about it.

ARTHUR.

I daresay it's only a momentary infatuation. Let us hope he will get
over it quickly. I can't lose a useful public servant because he happens
to have formed an unfortunate attachment.

VIOLET.

I'm afraid I'm not explaining myself very well. Ronny is desperately in
love. There's no other way of putting it. You _must_ let him go. After
all, you're very fond of him, you've known him since he was a small boy;
it isn't as though he were a stray young man sent you by the Foreign
Office. You can't be entirely indifferent to him. Perhaps his welfare is
at stake. Don't you think it's wiser--it's only kind--to send him out of
harm's way.

ARTHUR.

My dear, you know that I--Arthur Little--would do anything to please you
and that I care very much for the happiness of Anne and the welfare of
Ronald Parry. But, you see, I'm an official too, and the official can't
do all sorts of things that the man would be very glad to.

VIOLET.

How can you separate the official and the man? The official can't do
things that the man disapproves.

ARTHUR.

Ah! that's a point that has been discussed ever since states came into
being. Are the rules of private morality binding on the statesman? In
theory most of us answer yes, but in practice very few act on that
principle. In this case, darling, it hardly applies. I see no conflict
between the man and the official.

VIOLET.

You think it doesn't really concern you, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

I've not said that. But I'm not going to let an appeal to my emotions
interfere with my judgment. I think I understand the situation. I'm not
proposing to change my mind. I shall present Ronny's name to the Khedive
to-morrow.

VIOLET.

D'you think me very stupid, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

Not at all, darling. Only a clever woman could achieve your beauty.

VIOLET.

Then doesn't it occur to you that if I've made such a point of Ronny's
going it must be for some very good reason?

ARTHUR.

[_With a quick look at her._] Don't you think we'd better leave that
subject alone, darling?

VIOLET.

I'm afraid you'll think it silly and vain of me to say so, but I think
you should know that--that Ronny's in love with me. That is why I want
him to go.

ARTHUR.

It's very natural that he should be in love with you. I'm always
surprised that everybody else isn't. I don't see how I can prevent that
except by taking you to live in the depths of the Sahara.

VIOLET.

Don't make light of it, Arthur. It wasn't very easy for me to tell you.

ARTHUR.

How do you wish me to take it? I can't blame Ronald. He's by way of
being a gentleman. I've been good to him. He'll make the best of a bad
job.

VIOLET.

D'you mean to say that it makes no difference to you?

ARTHUR.

This secretaryship is a stepping-stone to a very important position.
You're not going to ask me to rob him of it because he's done something
so very natural as to fall in love with the most charming woman in
Egypt? I imagine that all my secretaries will fall in love with you.
Poor devils, I don't see how they can be expected to help it.

VIOLET.

You drive me mad. It's so serious, it's so tremendously serious, and you
have the heart to make little jokes about it.

ARTHUR.

[_Gravely._] Has it ever struck you that flippancy is often the best way
of dealing with a serious situation? Sometimes it's really too serious
to be taken seriously.

VIOLET.

What do you mean by that?

ARTHUR.

Nothing very much. I was excusing myself for my ill-timed jests.

VIOLET.

You're determined to keep Ronny here?

ARTHUR.

Quite. [_There is a pause._ ARTHUR _gets up and puts his hand on her
shoulder_.] I don't think there's anything more to say. If you will
forgive me I will get back to the office.

VIOLET.

No, don't go yet, Arthur. There's something more I want to say to you.

ARTHUR.

Will you allow me to advise you not to? It's so easy to say too much;
it's never unwise to say too little. I beseech you not to say anything
that we should both of us regret.

VIOLET.

You think it's unimportant if Ronny loves me, because you trust me
implicitly.

ARTHUR.

Implicitly.

VIOLET.

Has it never occurred to you that I might be influenced by his love
against my will? Do you think it's so very safe?

ARTHUR.

If I allowed any doubt on that matter to enter my head I should surely
be quite unworthy of your affection.

VIOLET.

Arthur, I don't want to have any secrets from you.

ARTHUR.

[_Trying to stop her._] Don't, Violet. I don't want you to go on.

VIOLET.

I must now.

ARTHUR.

Oh, my dear, don't you see that things said can never be taken back. We
may both know something....

VIOLET.

[_Interrupting._] What do you mean?

ARTHUR.

But so long as we don't tell one another we can ignore it. If certain
words pass our lips then the situation is entirely changed.

VIOLET.

You're frightening me.

ARTHUR.

I don't wish to do that. Only you can tell me nothing that I don't know.
But if you tell me you may do irreparable harm.

VIOLET.

D'you mean to say you know? Oh, it's impossible. Arthur, Arthur, I can't
help it. I must tell you. It burns my heart. I love Ronny with all my
body and soul.

     [_There is a pause while they look at one another._]

ARTHUR.

Did you think I didn't know?

VIOLET.

Then why did you offer him the job?

ARTHUR.

I had to.

VIOLET.

No one could have blamed you if you had suggested Henry.

ARTHUR.

My dear, I'm paid a very considerable salary. It would surely be taking
money under false pretences if I didn't do my work to the best of my
ability.

VIOLET.

It may mean happiness or misery to all three of us.

ARTHUR.

I must take the risk of that. You see, Ronny is cut out for this
particular position. It's only common honesty to give it him.

VIOLET.

Don't you love me any more?

ARTHUR.

Don't ask me that, Violet. You know I love you with all my heart.

VIOLET.

Then I can't understand.

ARTHUR.

You don't think I want him to stay, do you? When the telegram came from
the Foreign Office ordering him to Paris my middle-aged heart simply
leapt for joy. Do you think I didn't see all the advantages he had over
me? He seemed to have so much to offer you and I so little.

VIOLET.

Oh, Arthur!

ARTHUR.

But if he went away I thought presently you'd forget him. I thought if I
were very kind to you and tolerant, and if I asked nothing more from you
than you were prepared to give I might in time make you feel towards me,
not love perhaps, but tenderness and affection. That was all I could
hope for, but that would have made me very happy. Then the Khedive asked
for an English secretary, and I knew Ronny was the only man for it. You
see, I've been at this work so long, the official in me makes decisions
almost mechanically.

VIOLET.

And supposing they break the heart of the man in you?

ARTHUR.

[_Smiling._] By a merciful interposition of Providence we all seem to
have just enough strength to bear the burdens that are placed on us.

VIOLET.

D'you think so?

ARTHUR.

You like the rest of us, Violet.

VIOLET.

How long have you known I loved him?

ARTHUR.

Always. I think perhaps I knew before you did.

VIOLET.

Why didn't you do something?

ARTHUR.

Will you tell me what there was to do?

VIOLET.

Aren't you angry with us?

ARTHUR.

I should be a fool to be that. It seems to me so natural, so horribly
natural. He's young and nice-looking and cheery. It seems to me now
inevitable that you should have fallen in love with him. You might be
made for one another.

VIOLET.

Oh, do you see that?

ARTHUR.

It had struck you too, had it? I suppose it's obvious to anyone who
takes the trouble to think about it. [_She does not answer._] Haven't
you wished with all your heart that you'd met him first? Don't you hate
me now because I married you? [_She looks away._] My dear child, I'm so
sorry for you. I've been very grateful for your kindness to me during
the last month or two. I've seen you try to be loving to me and
affectionate. I've been so anxious to tell you not to force yourself,
because I understood and you mustn't be unhappy about me. But I didn't
know how. I could only make myself as little troublesome as possible.

VIOLET.

You've been immensely good to me, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

That's the least you had a right to expect of me. I did you a great
wrong in marrying you. I knew you didn't love me. You were dazzled by
the circumstances. You didn't know what marriage was and how irksome it
must be unless love makes its constraints sweeter than freedom. But I
adored you. I thought love would come. With all my heart I ask you to
forgive me.

VIOLET.

Oh, Arthur, don't talk like that. You know I was so happy to marry you.
I thought you wonderful, I was so excited and flattered--I thought that
was love. I never knew that love would come like this. If I'd only
known what to expect I could have fought against it. It took me
unawares. I never had a chance. It wasn't my fault, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I'm not blaming you, darling.

VIOLET.

It would be easier for me if you did.

ARTHUR.

It's just bad luck. Bad luck? I might have expected it.

VIOLET.

Still, I'm glad I've told you. I hated having a secret from you. It's
better that we should be frank with one another.

ARTHUR.

If I can help you in any way I'm glad too that you've told me.

VIOLET.

What is to be done?

ARTHUR.

There's nothing to be done.

VIOLET.

Arthur, until to-day Ronny and I have never exchanged a word that anyone
might not have heard. I was happy to be with him, I knew he liked me, I
was quite satisfied with that. But when I heard that he was going away
suddenly everything was changed. I felt I couldn't bear to let him go.
Oh, I'm so ashamed, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Dear child!

VIOLET.

I don't know how it happened. He told me he loved me. He didn't mean to.
Don't think he's been disloyal to you, Arthur. We were both so upset. It
was just as much my fault as his. I couldn't help letting him see how
much he meant to me. We thought we were never going to see one another
again. He took me in his arms and held me in them. I was so happy and so
miserable. I never thought life could mean so much.

ARTHUR.

And just now when you were alone he kissed your hands.

VIOLET.

How do you know?

ARTHUR.

When I wanted to kiss them you withdrew them. You couldn't bear that I
should touch them. You felt on them still the pressure of his lips.

VIOLET.

I couldn't help it. He was beside himself with joy because he needn't
go. I don't want to love him, Arthur. I want to love you. I've tried so
desperately hard.

ARTHUR.

My dear, one either loves or one doesn't. I'm afraid trying doesn't do
much good.

VIOLET.

If he stays here I shall have to see him constantly. I shan't have a
chance to get over it. Oh, I can't. I can't. It's intolerable. Have pity
on me.

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid you'll be very unhappy. But you see, something more than your
happiness is at stake. A little while ago you said you wanted to do more
for your country than you did. Does it strike you that you can do
something for it now?

VIOLET.

I?

ARTHUR.

We all want to do great and heroic things, but generally we can only do
very modest ones. D'you think we ought to shirk them?

VIOLET.

I don't understand.

ARTHUR.

Ronny can be of infinite value here. You can't help your feelings for
him. I can't bring myself to blame you. But you are mistress of your
words and your actions. What are we to do? You wouldn't wish me to
resign when my work here is but half done. We must make the best of the
position. Remember that all of us here, you more than most women,
because you're my wife, work for the common cause by our lives and the
example we set. At all costs we must seem honest, straightforward, and
without reproach. And one finds by experience that it's much less
trouble to be a thing than only to seem it. There's only one way in
which we can avoid reproach and that is by being irreproachable.

VIOLET.

You mean that it's necessary for the country that Ronny and you should
stay here? And if my heart breaks it doesn't matter. I thought I was
doing so much in asking you to send him away. Don't you know that with
all my heart I wanted him to stay? D'you know what I feel, Arthur? I
can't think of anything else. I'm obsessed by a hungry longing for him.
Till to-day I could have borne it. But now ... I feel his arms about me
every moment, and his kisses on my lips. You can't know the rapture and
the torture and the ecstasy that consume me.

ARTHUR.

Oh, my dear, do you think I don't know what love is?

VIOLET.

I want to do the right thing, Arthur, but you mustn't ask too much of
me. If I've got to treat him as a casual friend, I can't go on seeing
him. I can't, Arthur, I can't! If he must stay then let me go.

ARTHUR.

Never! I think, even if it weren't necessary, I should make him stay
now. You and I are not people to run away from danger. After all, we're
not obliged to yield to our passions--we can control them if we want to.
For your own sake you must stay, Violet.

VIOLET.

And if I break, I break.

ARTHUR.

It's only the worthless who are broken by unhappiness. If you have faith
and courage and honesty unhappiness can only make you stronger.

VIOLET.

Have you thought of yourself, Arthur? What will you feel when you see
him with me? What will you suspect when you're working in your office
and don't know where I am?

ARTHUR.

I shall know that you are unhappy, and I shall feel the most tender
compassion for you.

VIOLET.

You're exposing me to a temptation that I want with all my heart to
yield to. What is there to hold me back? Only the thought that I must do
my duty to you. What is there to reward me? Only the idea that perhaps
I'm doing a little something for the country.

ARTHUR.

I put myself in your hands, Violet. I shall never suspect that you can
do anything, not that I should reproach you for--I will never reproach
you--but that you may reproach yourself for.

[_A pause._]

VIOLET.

Just now, when we were talking of Abdul Said, I asked if you could do
your duty when it was a matter that affected you, if it meant misery or
happiness to you, I said.

ARTHUR.

My dear, duty is rather a forbidding word. Let us say that I--want to
earn my screw.

VIOLET.

You must have thought me very silly. I said I hoped you'd never be put
to the test, and the test had come already, and you never hesitated.

ARTHUR.

These things are very much a matter of habit, you know.

VIOLET.

What you can do I can do too, Arthur--if you believe in me.

ARTHUR.

Of course I believe in you.

VIOLET.

Then let him stay. I'll do what I can.

     [RONNY _comes in_.]

RONNY.

The Khedive was engaged when I rang up. But I left the message and the
answer has just come through. He will be pleased to see you, sir, at
eleven o'clock.

ARTHUR.

That will do admirably. Ronny must lunch with us to-morrow, Violet.
We'll crack a bottle to celebrate his step!

END OF THE SECOND ACT



ACT III


     _The scene shows part of the garden and a verandah at the Consular
     Agent's house. Coloured lanterns are fixed here and there. It is
     night, and in the distance is seen the blue sky bespangled with
     stars. At the lack of the verandah are the windows of the house
     gaily lit. Within a band is heard playing dance-music._ VIOLET _is
     giving a dance. Everyone who appears is magnificently gowned._
     VIOLET _is wearing all her pearls and diamonds_. ARTHUR _has across
     his shirt front the broad riband of an order. It is the end of the
     evening. Various people are sealed on the verandah, enjoying the
     coolness. They are_ MR. _and_ MRS. APPLEBY, CHRISTINA _and_ ARTHUR.

APPLEBY.

Well, my dear, I think it's about time I was taking you back to your
hotel.

ARTHUR.

Oh, nonsense! It's when everybody has gone that a dance really begins to
get amusing.

CHRISTINA.

That's a pleasant remark to make to your guests.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm really ashamed to have stayed like this to the bitter end, but I do
love to see the young folk enjoying themselves.

ARTHUR.

Ah! you have learnt how to make the most of advancing years. The solace
of old age is to take pleasure in the youth of those who come after us.

CHRISTINA.

I don't think you're very polite, Arthur.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Bless your heart, I know I'm not so young as I was.

ARTHUR.

Do you mind?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Me? Why should I? I've had my day and I've enjoyed it. It's only fair to
give others a chance now.

CHRISTINA.

I'm sure you enjoyed your trip up the Nile.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, we had a wonderful time.

ARTHUR.

And what conclusions did you come to, Mr. Appleby? I remember that you
were looking for instruction as well as amusement.

APPLEBY.

I didn't forget what you told me. I just kept my ears open and my mouth
shut.

ARTHUR.

A capital practice, not much favoured by democratic communities.

APPLEBY.

But I came to one very definite conclusion for all that.

ARTHUR.

What was it?

APPLEBY.

In fact, I came to two.

ARTHUR.

That's not so satisfactory--unless they contradicted one another; in
which case I venture to suggest that you have grasped at all events the
elements of the Egyptian problem.

APPLEBY.

The first is that you're the right man in the right place.

ARTHUR.

Christina would never admit that. She has known for many years that she
could manage Egypt far better than I do.

CHRISTINA.

I don't deny that for a minute. I think on the whole women are more
level-headed than men. They're not swayed by emotion. They're more
practical. They know that principle must often yield to expediency, and
they can do the expedient without surrendering the principle.

ARTHUR.

You make my head whirl, Christina.

APPLEBY.

I had the opportunity of seeing a good many different sorts of people. I
never heard a reasonable complaint against you. Some of them didn't like
you personally, but they looked up to you, and they believed in you. I
asked myself how you managed it.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I told him that it's because you're human.

ARTHUR.

Christina thinks it very bad for me to hear pleasant things said of me.

CHRISTINA.

Christina doesn't know what her brother would do if he hadn't got an
affectionate sister to gibe at.

APPLEBY.

It must be a great satisfaction to you to see the country becoming every
year more prosperous and contented.

ARTHUR.

What was the second conclusion you came to?

APPLEBY.

I'm coming to that. Most of us are torn asunder as it were by a conflict
of duties. This and that urgently needs to be done, and if you put one
thing right you put something else wrong. We all want to do for the
best, but we don't exactly know what the best is. Now, you've got your
duty clearly marked out before you, if you take my meaning; you're
young.

ARTHUR.

Youngish.

APPLEBY.

You've made a success of your job and of your life. It's not all of us
who can say that. My second conclusion is that you must be the happiest
man alive.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm glad he's got that off his chest. He's been dinning it into my ears
for the last ten days. My impression is that he fell in love with Lady
Little that day he lunched here six weeks ago.

ARTHUR.

I'm not going to blame him for that. Everybody does.... It was a wise
old fellow who said that you must count no man happy till he's dead.
[CHRISTINA _gives him a look, and puts her hand affectionately on his
arm. He quickly withdraws it._] Here is Violet.

     [_She comes in on_ HENRY PRITCHARD'S _arm and sinks into a chair_.]

VIOLET.

I'm absolutely exhausted. I feel that in another minute my legs will
drop off.

ARTHUR.

Do take care, darling, that would be so disfiguring.

VIOLET.

Oh, I'd still dance on the stumps.

ARTHUR.

When are you going to send that unfortunate band away?

VIOLET.

Oh, we must have one more dance. After all, it's our last ball of the
season. And now that everyone has gone I needn't be dignified any more.
There's no one but Henry and Anne and Ronny. We've just had a gorgeous
one-step, haven't we, Henry?

HENRY.

Gorgeous. You're a ripping dancer.

VIOLET.

My one accomplishment. [_The band is heard beginning a waltz._] Good
heavens, they've started again. That's Anne, I'm positive. She's been
playing the British matron too and now she's having her fling.

ARTHUR.

You girls, you never grow up.

HENRY.

Are you ready for another turn, Violet?

ARTHUR.

Don't dance any more, darling, you look worn out.

VIOLET.

Supposing you danced with your mother, Henry. I can see her toes itching
inside her black satin slippers.

CHRISTINA.

Nonsense! I haven't danced for fifteen years.

HENRY.

Come on, mother. Just to show them you know how.

     [_He seizes her hand and drags her to her feet._]

CHRISTINA.

I was just as good a dancer as anybody else in my day.

ARTHUR.

When Christina says that she means she was a great deal better.

HENRY.

Come on, mother, or it'll be over before we begin.

CHRISTINA.

Don't be rough with me, Henry.

     [_They go into the house._]

APPLEBY.

We rather fancied ourselves too, Fanny, once upon a time. What d'you say
to trying what we can do, my dear?

MRS. APPLEBY.

You be quiet, George. Fancy me dancing with my figure!

APPLEBY.

I don't deny you're plump, but I never did like a scrag. Perhaps it's
the last chance we shall ever have.

MRS. APPLEBY.

What would they say at home if they ever come to hear you and me had
been dancing? Really, George, I'm surprised at you.

ARTHUR.

[_Amused._] I won't tell.

APPLEBY.

You know you want to, Fanny. You're only afraid they'll laugh. Come on,
or else I shall dance by myself.

MRS. APPLEBY.

[_Getting up._] I see you've quite made up your mind to make a fool of
yourself.

     [_They go out._ ARTHUR _watches them, smiling_.]

ARTHUR.

What good people! It's really a treat to see them together.

VIOLET.

Mr. Appleby is very enthusiastic about you. He was telling me just now
about his trip in Upper Egypt. He's tremendously impressed. He said I
ought to be very proud of you.

ARTHUR.

I can't imagine any remark more calculated to make you dislike me.

     [_She gives him a long look and then glances away. When she speaks
     it is with embarrassment._]

VIOLET.

Are you satisfied with me, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

My dear, what do you mean?

VIOLET.

Since that afternoon when I told you....

ARTHUR.

Yes, I know.

VIOLET.

We've never talked about it. [_Giving him her hand._] I want to thank
you for having been so good to me.

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid you haven't got much to thank me for. It would have been
easier if I'd been able to help you, but I didn't see anything I could
do but just sit still and twiddle my thumbs.

VIOLET.

I've felt your confidence in me and that has been a help. You've never
given the slightest sign that anything was changed. You used sometimes
to ask me what I'd been doing during the day. Of late you haven't even
done that.

ARTHUR.

I didn't want you to suspect for a moment that your actions were not
perfectly free.

VIOLET.

I know. No one could have been more considerate than you've been. Oh,
I've been so unhappy, Arthur. I wouldn't go through the last six weeks
for anything in the world.

ARTHUR.

It's torn my heart to see you so pale and wan. And when, often, I saw
you'd been crying I almost lost my head. I didn't know what to do.

VIOLET.

I couldn't help it if I loved him, Arthur. That wasn't in my power. But
all that was in my power I've done. Somehow I've managed not to be alone
with him.

ARTHUR.

Haven't you had any explanation with him?

VIOLET.

There didn't seem to be anything to explain. D'you think I ought to have
told him I didn't love him? I couldn't, Arthur. I couldn't.

ARTHUR.

My dear! My dear!

VIOLET.

Once or twice he wrote to me. I knew he would and I'd made up my mind
not to read the letters. But when they came I couldn't help myself. I
had to read them. I was so wretched and it meant so much to me that he
loved me. [ARTHUR _makes an instinctive movement of pain_.] I didn't
mean to say that. Please forgive me.

ARTHUR.

I think I understand.

VIOLET.

I didn't answer them.

ARTHUR.

Did he only write once or twice?

VIOLET.

That's all. You see, he can't make it out. He thinks I've treated him
badly. Oh, I think that's the hardest thing of all. I've seen the misery
in his eyes. And there was nothing I could do. I hadn't the courage to
tell him. I'm weak. I'm so horribly weak. And when I'm with him alone
I.... Oh, it is cruel that I should make him suffer so when he loves me.

ARTHUR.

I don't know what to say to you. It seems cold comfort to say that you
must set your hope in the merciful effects of time. Time will ease your
pain and his. Perhaps the worst is over already.

VIOLET.

I hope with all my heart it is. I couldn't have borne any more, Arthur.
I'm at the end of my strength.

ARTHUR.

Dear heart, you're tired physically now. We'll send these people away
and you must go to bed.

VIOLET.

Yes. I'm exhausted. But I want to tell you, Arthur, I think you're
right. The worst is over. I'm not suffering quite so much as I did. I
find it a little easier not to think of him. When I meet him I can
manage to be gay and flippant and indifferent. I'm so glad, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

You've been very brave. I told you we were all strong enough to bear the
burdens that are laid upon us.

VIOLET.

You mustn't think too well of me. I couldn't have done what I have
except for the consciousness of his great love for me. Is that awfully
disloyal of me, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

[_Gravely._] No, darling.

VIOLET.

You can understand, can't you? It means so much to me. It's helped me
more than anything else in the world. It's the only thing that made
these past weeks not intolerable. I'm satisfied to know he loves me. I
want nothing more.

     [MR. _and_ MRS. APPLEBY _come in_. ARTHUR _immediately assumes a
     chaffing manner_.]

ARTHUR.

Why, what's this? You haven't given in already?

APPLEBY.

The spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak.

MRS. APPLEBY.

We wouldn't like it talked about at home, but the fact is we got a bit
out of breath.

VIOLET.

Well, sit down a moment and rest yourself.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Just a moment if you don't mind, and then we'll be going.

     [CHRISTINA _appears with_ HENRY.]

ARTHUR.

Here is poor Christina in a state of complete mental and physical
collapse.

CHRISTINA.

Don't be ridiculous, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

How did you get on?

HENRY.

First rate. Only mother won't let herself go. I kept on telling her
there's only one thing to do in modern dancing--let all your bones go
loose and leave the man to do the rest.

CHRISTINA.

[_With a chuckle._] I think modern dancing is an abandoned pastime.
Nothing will induce me to let all my bones go loose.

HENRY.

Mother's idea of dancing is to keep herself to herself.

CHRISTINA.

[_Looking at him affectionately._] You're an impudent boy.

MRS. APPLEBY.

[_To_ VIOLET.] I do wish I'd seen you dancing with Mr. Parry. He's a
wonderful dancer.

VIOLET.

He does dance well, doesn't he?

HENRY.

Haven't you danced with him to-night, Violet?

VIOLET.

No. He came rather late and my card was filled up. I promised him an
extra, but some stuffy old diplomatist came and asked me for a dance, so
I gave him Ronny's.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It's too bad. It must be a rare sight to see you and Mr. Parry waltzing
together.

VIOLET.

How do you know he dances so well?

MRS. APPLEBY.

There were two or three dances at our hotel last week and we saw him
then.

VIOLET.

Oh, I see.

APPLEBY.

[_With a chuckle._] I like that young man. When he gets hold of a good
thing he freezes on to it.

VIOLET.

Oh?

APPLEBY.

There's a young American girl staying at the hotel. She's a Miss Pender.
I wonder if you know her?

VIOLET.

No, I don't think so. We get to know very few of the winter visitors.

MRS. APPLEBY.

She's a perfect picture to look at. And a beautiful dancer.

APPLEBY.

Everyone was looking at them last night. They made a wonderful pair.

VIOLET.

Do you know this lady, Henry?

HENRY.

Yes, I've met her two or three times. She's very pretty.

APPLEBY.

I don't think anyone else had much of a look in with her.

HENRY.

Well, you needn't be disagreeable about it.

APPLEBY.

As far as I could see she danced with Mr. Parry pretty well all the
time.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It was a treat to see them together.

VIOLET.

[_A little uncertainly._] If one gets hold of a partner who suits one I
always think it's better to stick to him.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, I don't think it was only that. She's so much in love with him that
she can't help showing it.

HENRY.

I never saw such a fellow as Ronny. When there is a bit of luck going he
always gets it.

VIOLET.

And is he in love with her too?

APPLEBY.

Oh, one can't tell that.

MRS. APPLEBY.

If he isn't he very soon will be. She's too pretty for any man to resist
long.

ARTHUR.

[_Lightly._] You know them, the brutes, don't you?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Bless their hearts, I don't blame them. What are pretty girls for except
to make nice men happy? I was a pretty girl myself once.

ARTHUR.

And was Mr. Appleby a nice man?

APPLEBY.

I think I must have been, for you've certainly made me happy, my dear.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I wish you'd put that in writing, George. I'd like to have a little
something like that by me when you've got a bit of a chill on your
liver.

APPLEBY.

H'm, I think bed's the place for you, Fanny. Say good-night to her
ladyship and let's be going.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Good-night, Lady Little, and thank you so much for asking us. We have
enjoyed ourselves.

VIOLET.

Good-night.

APPLEBY.

Good-night.

ARTHUR.

I hope you'll have a pleasant journey home. Lucky people, you'll see the
spring in England. When you get back the hedgerows will be just bursting
into leaf.

     [_The_ APPLEBYS _go out_.]

VIOLET.

How old is this American girl, Henry?

HENRY.

Oh, I don't know, about nineteen or twenty.

VIOLET.

Is she as pretty as they say?

HENRY.

Rather.

VIOLET.

Is she fair?

HENRY.

Very. She's got wonderful hair.

VIOLET.

You've never mentioned her. Do you think Ronny is in love with her?

HENRY.

Oh, I don't know about that. She's great fun. And you know, it's always
flattering when a pretty girl makes a dead set at you.

     [_There is a momentary silence._ VIOLET _is extremely disturbed by
     the news that has just reached her_. ARTHUR _realises that a crisis
     has come_.]

CHRISTINA.

[_In a matter-of-fact way._] Let us hope that something will come of it.
There's no reason why Ronny shouldn't marry. I think men marry much too
late nowadays.

     [ANNE _and_ RONNY _appear_.]

ANNE.

I'm absolutely ashamed of myself. I half expected to find you'd all gone
to bed.

VIOLET.

[_Smiling._] Have you been having a jolly dance?

ANNE.

Think of having a good band and the whole floor to oneself. By the way,
Violet, the band want to know if they can go away.

VIOLET.

I'm sorry I had to cut your dance, Ronny.

RONNY.

It was rotten luck. But I suppose on these occasions small fry like me
have to put up with that sort of thing.

VIOLET.

If you like we'll have a turn now before we send the band away.

RONNY.

I'd love it.

     [ARTHUR _gives a little start and looks at_ VIOLET _curiously_.
     ANNE _is surprised too_.]

CHRISTINA.

If you're going to start dancing again we'll go. Henry has to be at his
office early in the morning.

VIOLET.

Good-night, then.

CHRISTINA.

[_Kissing her._] Your dance has been a great success.

VIOLET.

It's nice of you to say so.

CHRISTINA.

[_To_ ARTHUR.] Good-night, dear old thing. God bless and guard you
always.

ARTHUR.

My dear Christina, why this embarrassing emotion?

CHRISTINA.

I don't know what we should do if anything happened to you.

ARTHUR.

Don't be an idiot, my dear; nothing is going to happen to me.

CHRISTINA.

[_With a smile._] I can't get you out of thinking me a perfect fool.

ARTHUR.

Be off with you, Christina. If you go on finding out things that are not
your business I shall have you deported.

VIOLET.

What has she found out now?

ARTHUR.

A trifle that we thought it wouldn't hurt the public to know nothing
about.

CHRISTINA.

[_Shaking hands with_ RONNY.] I don't grudge you your job any more.
We're all under a debt of gratitude to you.

RONNY.

I had a bit of luck, that's all. It's nothing to make a fuss about.

ARTHUR.

Go and have your dance, darling. It's really getting very late.

VIOLET.

[_To_ RONNY.] Are you ready?

RONNY.

What shall we make them play?

     [_They go out._]

CHRISTINA.

Good-night, ANNE.

ANNE.

[_Kissing her._] Good-night, my dear. [_Henry shakes hands with_ ANNE
_and_ ARTHUR. _He and his mother go out._] I suppose I mayn't ask what
Christina was referring to?

ARTHUR.

I can't prevent you from asking.

ANNE.

But you have no intention of answering. What is the matter, Arthur? You
look so deadly white.

ARTHUR.

Nothing. I'm tired. I had a busy day and now the dance. [_The sound of a
waltz is heard._] Oh, damn that music!

ANNE.

Sit down and rest yourself. Why don't you have a smoke! [_Putting her
hand on his arm._] My dear friend.

ARTHUR.

For God's sake don't pity me.

ANNE.

Won't you talk to me frankly? I may be able to help you. In the old days
you used to bring your troubles to me, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I tell you I'm only tired. What is the use of talking about what can't
be helped?

ANNE.

You must know that I notice most things that concern your happiness.
[_Looking away._] Why did you imagine I took so much trouble to get
Ronny moved to Paris?

ARTHUR.

I suspected. Ought I to thank you? I'm too miserable and too humiliated.

ANNE.

Have you heard about a Miss Pender? She's an American girl.

ARTHUR.

Of course I have. It's my business to know everything that goes on in
Cairo.

ANNE.

Don't you think that may be the solution?

     [HENRY _comes in_.]

ARTHUR.

[_Sharply._] What d'you want?

HENRY.

I beg your pardon. Mother left her fan here.

     [_He takes it up from a chair._]

ARTHUR.

I thought you'd gone five minutes ago.

HENRY.

Oh, we just stood for a moment to look at Ronny and Violet dancing. Upon
my soul it's a fair treat.

ARTHUR.

They make a wonderful couple, don't they?

HENRY.

I'm afraid Violet's awfully tired. She's not saying a word and she's as
white as a sheet.

ARTHUR.

I'll send her to bed as soon as they've finished.

HENRY.

Good-night.

ARTHUR.

[_Smiling._] Good-night, my boy.

     [_Exit_ HENRY.]

ANNE.

Is anything the matter?

ARTHUR.

Tell me about this American girl. She's in love with Ronny, isn't she?

ANNE.

Yes, that's obvious.

ARTHUR.

And he?

ANNE.

He's been very unhappy, you know.

ARTHUR.

[_Almost savagely._] That is a calamity which I find myself able to bear
with patience.

ANNE.

And now he's surprised and pleased. I've met her. Poor dear, she did
everything to make me like her, because Ronny was my brother. She's
awfully pretty. He's not in love with her yet. But I think he may be.
He's on the brink and if there were nothing else he'd fall over.

ARTHUR.

That is what I suspected. You know, Anne, the longer I live the more
inexplicable I find human beings. I always thought I was by way of being
a fairly decent fellow. I never knew what mean beastliness there was
inside me. It would be quite impossible for me to tell you how I hate
your brother. I've had to be jolly and affable with him and, by George,
I wanted to kill him.

ANNE.

Why didn't you let him go? Are you sure it was necessary to give him
that job?

ARTHUR.

Already he's been invaluable.

ANNE.

Then one can only hope for the best.

     [_There is a moment's pause. When_ ARTHUR _speaks it is at first
     rather to himself than to_ ANNE.]

ARTHUR.

No one knows what I've gone through during the last few months. I've
been devoured with jealousy and I knew it would be fatal if I showed
Violet the least trace of ill-temper. I kept on saying to myself that
it wasn't her fault if she was in love with Ronny. [_Humorously._] You
can't think how devilish hard it is not to resent the fact that somebody
doesn't care for you.

ANNE.

[_With a chuckle._] Oh yes, I can.

ARTHUR.

I knew that almost everything depended on how I acted during these
weeks, and the maddening thing was that I could do nothing but sit still
and control myself. I saw her miserable and knew that she didn't want my
comfort. I've yearned to take her in my arms and I've known she'd _let_
me because it was her duty. Those dear good donkeys, the Applebys, told
me just now they thought I must be the happiest man alive! Week after
week, with an aching heart I've forced myself to be gay and amusing.
D'you think I'm amusing, Anne?

ANNE.

Sometimes.

ARTHUR.

The battle has been so unfair. All the dice are loaded against me. He
has every advantage over me. But at last I thought I'd won. I thought
Violet was getting more resigned. She told me herself just now that the
worst was over. And those confounded people must go and upset the
applecart. Damn their eyes!

ANNE.

Why?

ARTHUR.

The Applebys told her about Miss Pender. It was very natural. They knew
no reason for not repeating the hotel gossip.

ANNE.

Was that why she asked Ronny to dance with her?

ARTHUR.

Yes. It's the crisis. She had the strength to keep him at arm's length
when she knew he loved her. What will she do now?

ANNE.

You heard what Henry said. They don't seem to be talking to one another.

ARTHUR.

No.

ANNE.

Why did you let them dance together? You might easily have said it was
too late and the band must go.

ARTHUR.

What good would that do? No. I've done nothing to prevent their meeting.
I've left them absolute liberty.

ANNE.

Do you think it's fair to Violet? You know, women act so much on
impulse. The surroundings and the circumstances have so much influence
on them. Think of the excitement of dancing, the magic of this wonderful
night, and the solitude under these stars. You complain the dice are
loaded against you, but now you're double-loading them against yourself.

ARTHUR.

It tortures me, but I must give them the opportunity to fight the matter
out for themselves.

ANNE.

Poor child, she's so young.

ARTHUR.

Too young.

ANNE.

Don't say that; it sounds as though you regretted having married her.

ARTHUR.

Don't you imagine that regret has been tormenting her ever since she
found out what love really was? Even though I love her with all my heart
I know now that I made a mistake. Do you think you can make anyone love
you by constant tenderness, devotion, and kindness?

ANNE.

Not a man perhaps. But a woman yes, yes, yes!

ARTHUR.

Whoever loved that loved not at first sight? I want so tremendously to
make her happy, and I've only made her utterly miserable. And there's no
way out. It's a pity that a convenient attack of brain fever can't carry
me off, but I'm as strong as a horse.

ANNE.

You know, Arthur, there's one compensation about the pains of love.
While one's suffering from them one feels one will never get over them,
but one does, and when they're gone they don't even leave a scar. One
looks back and remembers one's torment and marvels that it was possible
to suffer like that.

ARTHUR.

You talk as though you'd had experience.

ANNE.

I have.

ARTHUR.

I always look upon you as so calm and self-controlled.

ANNE.

I was desperately in love for years with a man. I should have made him
an excellent wife, although it's I as says it. But it never occurred to
him for an instant that my feelings were more than friendly. And
eventually he married somebody else.

ARTHUR.

My dear friend, I hate to think of your being unhappy.

ANNE.

I'm not. That's why I told you the tragic story. I've got over it so
completely that now I have an equal affection both for him and his wife.

ARTHUR.

D'you know, Anne, at one time I very nearly asked you to marry me?

ANNE.

[_Gaily._] Oh, what nonsense!

ARTHUR.

I daresay it's as well I didn't. I should have lost the best friend I've
ever had.

ANNE.

On the other hand, I've lost the satisfaction of refusing the most
distinguished man of our day. Why didn't you ask me?

ARTHUR.

You were such an awfully good friend. I thought we were very well as we
were.

ANNE.

That isn't the reason, Arthur. You didn't ask me because you didn't love
me. If you had you'd have let friendship go hang. [_Seeing that he is
not paying any attention to her._] What's the matter?

ARTHUR.

The music has stopped.

ANNE.

[_With a slight tightening of the lips._] I'm afraid my concerns don't
interest you very much. I was only talking about them to distract you.

ARTHUR.

Forgive me, but I've got this anguish gnawing at my heart. Anne, when
they come back here I want you to come with me for a stroll in the
garden.

ANNE.

Why? I'm frightfully tired. I think I shall go to bed.

ARTHUR.

No, do this for me, Anne. I want to give them their chance. It may be
the last chance for all of us.

ANNE.

[_With a little sigh._] Very well, I'll do even that for you.

ARTHUR.

You are a good friend, and I'm a selfish beast.

ANNE.

I wish you could have a child, Arthur. That might settle everything.

ARTHUR.

That is what I look forward to with all my heart. I think she might love
her baby's father.

ANNE.

Then she'll realise that only you could have been so tolerant and so
immensely patient. When she looks back she'll be filled with gratitude.

     [RONNY _and_ VIOLET _come in_.]

VIOLET.

I've told the band they can go.

ARTHUR.

I don't suppose they wanted telling twice. Did you have a pleasant
dance?

VIOLET.

I was very tired.

RONNY.

It was brutal of me to make you dance so long. I'll say good-night
before I'm turned out.

ARTHUR.

Oh, won't you sit down and have a cigarette before you go? Anne and I
were just going to stroll to the end of the garden to have a look at the
Nile.

VIOLET.

Oh.

ANNE.

I'm too restless to go to bed just yet.

     [ARTHUR _and_ ANNE _go out_. VIOLET _and_ RONNY _do not speak for a
     moment. At first the conversation is quite light._]

VIOLET.

What was it that Christina was referring to just now? Had it anything to
do with you?

RONNY.

I don't think I'm justified in telling you about it. If Sir Arthur
thinks you should know I daresay he'd rather tell you himself.

VIOLET.

Of course you mustn't tell me if it's a secret.

RONNY.

I'd almost forgotten what a beautiful dancer you were.

VIOLET.

[_With a smile._] So soon?

RONNY.

You haven't given me much chance of dancing with you during the last few
weeks.

VIOLET.

I hear there's a girl at the Ghezireh Palace who dances very well. Miss
Pender, isn't that her name?

RONNY.

Yes, she's wonderful.

VIOLET.

I'm told she's charming.

RONNY.

Very.

VIOLET.

I should like to meet her. I wonder whom I know that could bring us
together.

RONNY.

[_With a change of tone._] Why do you speak of her?

VIOLET.

Is there any reason why I shouldn't?

RONNY.

Do you know that this is the first time I've been quite alone with you
for six weeks?

VIOLET.

[_Still quite lightly._] It was inevitable that when you ceased being
Arthur's private secretary we should see less of one another.

RONNY.

I only welcomed my new job because I thought I shouldn't be utterly
parted from you.

VIOLET.

Don't you think it was better that we shouldn't see too much of one
another?

RONNY.

What have I done to you, Violet? Why have you been treating me like
this?

VIOLET.

I'm not conscious that I've treated you differently from what I used.

RONNY.

Why didn't you answer my letters?

VIOLET.

[_In a low voice._] I hadn't anything to say.

RONNY.

I wonder if you can imagine what I went through, the eagerness with
which I looked forward to a letter from you, just a word or two would
have satisfied me, how anxiously I expected each post, and my despair
when day after day went by.

VIOLET.

You ought not to have written to me.

RONNY.

D'you think I could help myself? Have you forgotten that day when we
thought we were never going to meet again? If you wanted me to be
nothing more than a friend why did you tell me you loved me? Why did you
let me kiss you and hold you in my arms?

VIOLET.

You know quite well. I lost my head. I was foolish. You--you attached
too much importance to the emotion of the moment.

RONNY.

Oh, Violet, how can you say that? I know you loved me then. After all,
the past can't be undone. I loved you. I know you loved me. We couldn't
go back to the time when we were no more than friends.

VIOLET.

You forget that Arthur is my husband and you owe him everything in the
world. We both owe him everything in the world.

RONNY.

No, I don't forget it for a moment. After all, we're straight, both of
us, and we could have trusted ourselves. I wanted nothing but to be
allowed to love you and to know that you loved me.

VIOLET.

Do you remember what you said in the first letter you wrote me?

RONNY.

Oh, you can't blame me for that. I'd loved you so long, so passionately.
I'd never dared to hope that you cared for me. And when I knew! I never
said a tenth part of what I wanted to. I went home and I just wrote all
that had filled my heart to overflowing. I wanted you to know how humbly
grateful I was for the wonderful happiness you'd given me. I wanted you
to know that my soul to its most hidden corners was yours for ever.

VIOLET.

How _could_ I answer it?

RONNY.

You needn't have been afraid of me, Violet. If it displeased you I would
never even have told you that I loved you. I would have carried you in
my heart like an image of the Blessed Virgin. When we met here or there,
though there were a thousand people between us and we never exchanged a
word, I should have known that we were the only people in the world, and
that somehow, in some strange mystic fashion, I belonged to you and you
belonged to me. Oh, Violet, I only wanted a little kindness. Was it so
much to ask?

     [VIOLET _is moved to the very depths of her heart. She can scarcely
     control herself, the pain she suffers seems unendurable; her throat
     is so dry that she can hardly speak._]

VIOLET.

They say that Miss Pender is in love with you. Is it true?

RONNY.

A man's generally a conceited ass when he thinks girls are in love with
him.

VIOLET.

Never mind that. Is it true? Please be frank with me.

RONNY.

Perhaps it is.

VIOLET.

Would she marry you if you asked her?

RONNY.

I think so.

VIOLET.

She can't have fallen in love with you without some encouragement.

RONNY.

She plays tennis a good deal and she's very fond of dancing. You know, I
was rather wretched. Sometimes you looked at me as though you hated me.
You seemed to try and avoid me. I wanted to forget. I didn't know what
I'd done to make you treat me so cruelly. It was very pleasant to be
with someone who seemed to want me. Everything I did pleased her. She's
rather like you. When I was with her I was a little less unhappy. When I
found she was in love with me I was touched and I was tremendously
grateful.

VIOLET.

Are you sure you're not in love with her?

RONNY.

Yes, I'm quite sure.

VIOLET.

But you like her very much, don't you?

RONNY.

Yes, very much.

VIOLET.

Don't you think if it weren't for me you would be in love with her?

RONNY.

I don't know.

VIOLET.

I'd like you to be frank with me.

RONNY.

[_Unwillingly._] You don't want my love. She's sweet and kind and
tender.

VIOLET.

I think she might make you very happy.

RONNY.

Who knows?

     [_There is a pause._ VIOLET _forces herself to make the final
     renunciation. Her fingers move spasmodically in the effort she
     makes to speak calmly._]

VIOLET.

It seems a pity that you should waste your life for nothing. I'm afraid
you'll think me a heartless flirt. I'm not that. At the time I feel all
I say. But ... I don't quite understand myself. I take a violent fancy
to someone, and I lose my head, but somehow it doesn't last. I ... I
suppose I'm not capable of any enduring passion. There are people like
that, aren't there? It goes just as suddenly as it comes. And when it
goes--well, it's gone for ever. I can't understand then what on earth I
saw in the man who made my heart go pit-a-pat. I'm dreadfully sorry I
caused you so much pain. You took it so much more seriously than I
expected. And afterwards I didn't know what to do. You must--you must
try to forgive me.

     [_There is a long pause._]

RONNY.

Don't you love me at all now?

VIOLET.

It's much better that I should tell you the truth, isn't it? even at the
risk of hurting your feelings. I'm frightfully ashamed of myself. I'm
afraid you'll think me awfully frivolous.

RONNY.

Why don't you say it right out?

VIOLET.

D'you want me to? [_She hesitates, but then takes courage._] I'm very
sorry, dear Ronny, I'm afraid I don't care for you in that way at all.

RONNY.

I'm glad to know.

VIOLET.

You're not angry with me?

RONNY.

Oh, no, my dear, how can you help it? We're made as we're made.... D'you
mind if I go now?

VIOLET.

Won't you stop and say good-night to Anne?

RONNY.

No, if you don't mind, I'd like to go quickly.

VIOLET.

Very well. And try to forgive me, Ronny.

RONNY.

Good-night.

     [_He takes her hand and they look into one another's eyes._]

VIOLET.

Good-night.

     [_He goes out._ VIOLET _clasps her hands to her heart as though to
     ease its aching_. ANNE _and_ ARTHUR _return_.]

ANNE.

Where is Ronny?

VIOLET.

He's gone. It was so late. He asked me to say good-night to you.

ANNE.

Thank you. It must be very late. I'll say good-night too. [_She bends
down and kisses_ VIOLET.] Good-night, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Good-night. [_She goes out._ ARTHUR _sits down. A_ SAIS _comes in and
turns out some of the lights. In the distance is heard the wailing of an
Arab song._ ARTHUR _motions to the_ SAIS.] Leave these. I'll turn them
out myself. [_The_ SAIS _goes in and turns out all the lights in the
lower rooms but one. The light remains now only just round_ ARTHUR _and_
VIOLET. _The Arab song is like a wail of pain._] That sounds strangely
after the waltzes and one-steps that we've heard this evening.

VIOLET.

It seems to come from very far away.

ARTHUR.

It seems to wail down the ages from an immeasurable past.

VIOLET.

What does it say?

ARTHUR.

I don't know. It must be some old lament.

VIOLET.

It's heartrending.

ARTHUR.

Now it stops.

VIOLET.

The garden is so silent. It seems to be listening too.

ARTHUR.

Are you awfully unhappy, Violet?

VIOLET.

Awfully.

ARTHUR.

It breaks my heart that I, who would do anything in the world for you,
can do so little to console you.

VIOLET.

Had you any idea that Ronny no longer cared for me?

ARTHUR.

How should I know what his feelings were?

VIOLET.

It never occurred to me that he could change. I felt so secure in his
love. It never occurred to me that anyone could take him from me.

ARTHUR.

Did he tell you he didn't care for you any more?

VIOLET.

No.

ARTHUR.

I don't think he's in love with Miss Pender.

VIOLET.

I told him that he meant nothing to me any more. I told him that I took
fancies and got over them. I made him think I was a silly flirt. And he
believed me. If he loved me truly, truly, as he did before, whatever I'd
said he'd have known it was incredible. Oh, I wouldn't have believed him
if he'd made himself cheap in my eyes.

ARTHUR.

My poor child.

VIOLET.

He's not in love with her yet. I know that. He's only pleased and
flattered. He's angry with me. If he's angry he _must_ love me still. He
asked so little. It only needed a word and he would have loved me as
much as ever. What have I done? What harm would it have done you? I've
sent him away now for good. It's all over and done with. And my heart
aches. What shall I do, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

My dear, have courage. I beseech you to have courage.

VIOLET.

I suppose it's shameful that we should have loved one another at all.
But how could we help it? We're masters of our actions, but how can we
command our feelings? After all, our feelings are our own. I don't know
what I'm going to do, Arthur. It wasn't so bad till to-night; I could
control myself, I thought my pain was growing less.... I long for him
with all my soul, and I must let him go. Oh, I hate him. I hate him. If
he'd loved me he might have been faithful to me a few short weeks. He
wouldn't cause me such cruel pain.

ARTHUR.

Don't be unjust to him, Violet. I think he fell in love with you without
knowing what was happening to him. And when he knew I think he struggled
against it as honourably as you did. You know that very little escapes
me. I've seen a sort of shyness in him when he was with me, as though he
were a little ashamed in my presence. I even felt sorry for him because
he felt he was behaving badly to me and he couldn't help himself. He's
suffered just as much as you have. It's not very strange that when this
girl fell in love with him it should seem to offer a new hope. He was
unhappy and she comforted him. Anne says she's rather like you. If ever
he loves her perhaps it will be you that he loves in her.

VIOLET.

Why do you say all this to me?

ARTHUR.

You've been so wretched. I don't want bitterness to come to you now. I
can't bear that you should think your first love has been for someone
not worthy of it. I think time will heal the wounds which now you think
are incurable, but when it does I hope that you will look back on your
love as a thing only of beauty.

VIOLET.

I am a beast, Arthur. I don't deserve anyone to be so good to me as you
are.

ARTHUR.

And there's something else I must tell you.... It appears that various
enterprising people have been laying plans to put me out of the way.

VIOLET.

[_Startled._] Arthur!

ARTHUR.

I find that there was a plot to kill me this morning on my way to the
review.

VIOLET.

How awful!

ARTHUR.

Oh, it's nothing to be alarmed about. We've settled everything without
any fuss. Our old friend Osman Pasha is going to spend some time on his
country estates for the good of his health, and half a dozen foolish
young men are under lock and key. But it might have come off except for
Ronny. It was Ronny who saved me.

VIOLET.

Ronny? Oh, I'm so glad. It makes up a little for the rest.

ARTHUR.

He did a fine thing. He showed determination and presence of mind.

VIOLET.

Oh, my husband! My dear, dear Arthur!

ARTHUR.

You're not sorry?

VIOLET.

I'm glad I've done what I have, Arthur. I've sometimes felt I gave you
so little in return for all you've given me. But at least now I've given
you all I had to give.

ARTHUR.

Don't think it will be profitless. To do one's duty sounds a rather cold
and cheerless business, but somehow in the end it does give one a queer
sort of satisfaction.

VIOLET.

What should I do if I lost you? It makes me sick with fear.

ARTHUR.

[_With a tender smile._] I had an idea you'd be glad I escaped.

VIOLET.

All I've suffered has been worth while. I've done something for you,
haven't I? And even something for England ... I'm so tired.

ARTHUR.

Why don't you go to bed, darling?

VIOLET.

No, I don't want to go yet. I'm too tired. Let me stay here a little
longer.

ARTHUR.

Put your feet up.

VIOLET.

Come and sit close to me, Arthur. I want to be comforted. You're so good
and kind to me, Arthur. I'm so glad I have you. You will never fail me.

ARTHUR.

Never. [_She gives a little shudder._] What's the matter?

VIOLET.

I hope he'll marry her quickly. I want to be a good wife to you. I want
your love. I want your love so badly.

ARTHUR.

My dear one.

VIOLET.

Put your arms round me. I'm so tired.

ARTHUR.

You're half asleep.... Are you asleep?

     [_Her eyes are closed. He kisses her gently. In the distance there
     is heard again the melancholy wail of a Bedouin love-song._]

THE END

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
BILLING AND SONS, LTD., GUILDFORD AND ESHER





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