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´╗┐Title: Dear Brutus
Author: Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew), 1860-1937
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dear Brutus" ***

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DEAR BRUTUS


By

J. M. Barrie



ACT I


The scene is a darkened room, which the curtain reveals so stealthily
that if there was a mouse on the stage it is there still. Our object
is to catch our two chief characters unawares; they are Darkness and
Light.

The room is so obscure as to be invisible, but at the back of the
obscurity are French windows, through which is seen Lob's garden
bathed in moon-shine. The Darkness and Light, which this room and
garden represent, are very still, but we should feel that it is only
the pause in which old enemies regard each other before they come to
the grip. The moonshine stealing about among the flowers, to give
them their last instructions, has left a smile upon them, but it is a
smile with a menace in it for the dwellers in darkness. What we
expect to see next is the moonshine slowly pushing the windows open,
so that it may whisper to a confederate in the house, whose name is
Lob. But though we may be sure that this was about to happen it does
not happen; a stir among the dwellers in darkness prevents it.

These unsuspecting ones are in the dining-room, and as a communicating
door opens we hear them at play. Several tenebrious shades appear in
the lighted doorway and hesitate on the two steps that lead down into
the unlit room. The fanciful among us may conceive a rustle at the
same moment among the flowers. The engagement has begun, though not
in the way we had intended.

VOICES.--
  'Go on, Coady: lead the way.'
  'Oh dear, I don't see why I should go first.'
  'The nicest always goes first.'
  'It is a strange house if I am the nicest.'
  'It is a strange house.'
  'Don't close the door; I can't see where the switch is.'
  'Over here.'

They have been groping their way forward, blissfully unaware of how
they shall be groping there again more terribly before the night is
out. Some one finds a switch, and the room is illumined, with the
effect that the garden seems to have drawn back a step as if worsted
in the first encounter. But it is only waiting.

The apparently inoffensive chamber thus suddenly revealed is, for a
bachelor's home, creditably like a charming country house
drawing-room and abounds in the little feminine touches that are so
often best applied by the hand of man. There is nothing in the room
inimical to the ladies, unless it be the cut flowers which are from
the garden and possibly in collusion with it. The fireplace may also
be a little dubious. It has been hacked out of a thick wall which may
have been there when the other walls were not, and is presumably the
cavern where Lob, when alone, sits chatting to himself among the blue
smoke. He is as much at home by this fire as any gnome that may be
hiding among its shadows; but he is less familiar with the rest of
the room, and when he sees it, as for instance on his lonely way to
bed, he often stares long and hard at it before chuckling
uncomfortably.

There are five ladies, and one only of them is elderly, the Mrs. Coade
whom a voice in the darkness has already proclaimed the nicest. She
is the nicest, though the voice was no good judge. Coady, as she is
familiarly called and as her husband also is called, each having for
many years been able to answer for the other, is a rounded old lady
with a beaming smile that has accompanied her from childhood. If she
lives to be a hundred she will pretend to the census man that she is
only ninety-nine. She has no other vice that has not been smoothed
out of existence by her placid life, and she has but one complaint
against the male Coady, the rather odd one that he has long forgotten
his first wife. Our Mrs. Coady never knew the first one but it is she
alone who sometimes looks at the portrait of her and preserves in
their home certain mementoes of her, such as a lock of brown hair,
which the equally gentle male Coady must have treasured once but has
now forgotten. The first wife had been slightly lame, and in their
brief married life he had carried solicitously a rest for her foot,
had got so accustomed to doing this, that after a quarter of a
century with our Mrs. Coady he still finds footstools for her as if
she were lame also. She has ceased to pucker her face over this,
taking it as a kind little thoughtless attention, and indeed with the
years has developed a friendly limp.

Of the other four ladies, all young and physically fair, two are
married. Mrs. Dearth is tall, of smouldering eye and fierce desires,
murky beasts lie in ambush in the labyrinths of her mind, she is a
white-faced gypsy with a husky voice, most beautiful when she is
sullen, and therefore frequently at her best. The other ladies when
in conclave refer to her as The Dearth. Mrs. Purdie is a safer
companion for the toddling kind of man. She is soft and pleading, and
would seek what she wants by laying her head on the loved one's
shoulder, while The Dearth might attain it with a pistol. A brighter
spirit than either is Joanna Trout who, when her affections are not
engaged, has a merry face and figure, but can dismiss them both at
the important moment, which is at the word 'love.' Then Joanna
quivers, her sense of humour ceases to beat and the dullest man may
go ahead. There remains Lady Caroline Laney of the disdainful poise,
lately from the enormously select school where they are taught to
pronounce their r's as w's; nothing else seems to be taught, but for
matrimonial success nothing else is necessary. Every woman who
pronounces r as w will find a mate; it appeals to all that is
chivalrous in man.

An old-fashioned gallantry induces us to accept from each of these
ladies her own estimate of herself, and fortunately it is favourable
in every case. This refers to their estimate of themselves up to the
hour of ten on the evening on which we first meet them; the estimate
may have changed temporarily by the time we part from them on the
following morning. What their mirrors say to each of them is, A dear
face, not classically perfect but abounding in that changing charm
which is the best type of English womanhood; here is a woman who has
seen and felt far more than her reticent nature readily betrays; she
sometimes smiles, but behind that concession, controlling it in a
manner hardly less than adorable, lurks the sigh called Knowledge; a
strangely interesting face, mysterious; a line for her tombstone
might be 'If I had been a man what adventures I could have had with
her who lies here.'

Are these ladies then so very alike? They would all deny it, so we
must take our own soundings. At this moment of their appearance in
the drawing-room at least they are alike in having a common interest.
No sooner has the dining-room door closed than purpose leaps to
their eyes; oddly enough, the men having been got rid of, the drama
begins.


ALICE DEARTH (the darkest spirit but the bravest). We must not waste a
second. Our minds are made up, I think?

JOANNA. Now is the time.

MRS. COADE (at once delighted and appalled). Yes, now if at all; but
should we?

ALICE. Certainly; and before the men come in.

MABEL PURDIE. You don't think we should wait for the men? They are as
much in it as we are.

LADY CAROLINE (unlucky, as her opening remark is without a single r).
Lob would be with them. If the thing is to be done at all it should
be done now.

MRS. COADE. IS it quite fair to Lob? After all, he is our host.

JOANNA. Of course it isn't fair to him, but let's do it, Coady.

MRS. COADE. Yes, let's do it!

MABEL. Mrs. Dearth _is_ doing it.

ALICE (who is writing out a telegram). Of course I am. The men are not
coming, are they?

JOANNA (reconnoitring). NO; your husband is having another glass of
port.

ALICE. I am sure he is. One of you ring, please.

(The bold Joanna rings.)

MRS. COADE. Poor Matey!

LADY CAROLINE. He wichly desewves what he is about to get.

JOANNA. He is coming! Don't all stand huddled together like
conspirators.

MRS. COADE. It is what we are!

(Swiftly they find seats, and are sunk thereon like ladies waiting
languidly for their lords when the doomed butler appears. He is a man
of brawn, who could cast any one of them forth for a wager; but we
are about to connive at the triumph of mind over matter.)

ALICE (always at her best before "the bright face of danger"). Ah,
Matey, I wish this telegram sent.

MATEY (a general favourite). Very good, ma'am. The village post office
closed at eight, but if your message is important--

ALICE. It is; and you are so clever, Matey, I am sure that you can
persuade them to oblige you.

MATEY (taking the telegram). I will see to it myself, ma'am; you can
depend on its going.

(There comes a little gasp from COADY, which is the equivalent to
dropping a stitch in needle-work.)

ALICE (who is THE DEARTH now). Thank you. Better read the telegram,
Matey, to be sure that you can make it out. (MATEY reads it to
himself, and he has never quite the same faith in woman again. THE
DEARTH continues in a purring voice.) Read it aloud, Matey.

MATEY. Oh, ma'am!

ALICE (without the purr). Aloud.

(Thus encouraged he reads the fatal missive.)

MATEY. 'To Police Station, Great Cumney. Send officer first thing
to-morrow morning to arrest Matey, butler, for theft of rings.'

ALICE. Yes, that is quite right.

MATEY. Ma'am! (But seeing that she has taken up a book, he turns to
LADY CAROLINE.) My lady!

LADY CAROLINE (whose voice strikes colder than THE DEARTH'S). Should
we not say how many wings?

ALICE. Yes, put in the number of rings, Matey.

(MATEY does not put in the number, but he produces three rings from
unostentatious parts of his person and returns them without noticeable
dignity to their various owners.)

MATEY (hopeful that the incident is now closed). May I tear up the
telegram, ma'am?

ALICE. Certainly not.

LADY CAROLINE. I always said that this man was the culpwit. I am
nevaw mistaken in faces, and I see bwoad awwows all over youws,
Matey.

(He might reply that he sees w's all over hers, but it is no moment
for repartee.)

MATEY. It is deeply regretted.

ALICE (darkly). I am sure it is.

JOANNA (who has seldom remained silent for so long). We may as well
tell him now that it is not our rings we are worrying about. They
have just been a means to an end, Matey.

(The stir among the ladies shows that they have arrived at the more
interesting point.)

ALICE. Precisely. In other words that telegram is sent unless--

(MATEY'S head rises.)

JOANNA. Unless you can tell us instantly whet peculiarity it is that
all we ladies have in common.

MABEL. Not only the ladies; all the guests in this house.

ALICE. We have been here a week, and we find that when Lob invited us
he knew us all so little that we begin to wonder why he asked us. And
now from words he has let drop we know that we were invited because
of something he thinks we have in common.

MABEL. But he won't say what it is.

LADY CAROLINE (drawing back a little from JOANNA). One knows that no
people could be more unlike.

JOANNA (thankfully). One does.

MRS. COADE. And we can't sleep at night, Matey, for wondering what
this something is.

JOANNA (summing up). But we are sure you know, and it you don't tell
us--quod.

MATEY (with growing uneasiness). I don't know what you mean, ladies.

ALICE. Oh yes, you do.

MRS. COADE You must admit that your master is a very strange person.

MATEY (wriggling). He is a little odd, ma'am. That is why every one
calls him Lob; not Mr. Lob.

JOANNA. He is so odd that it has got on my nerves that we have been
invited here for some sort of horrid experiment. (MATEY shivers.) You
look as if you thought so too!

MATEY. Oh no, miss, I--he-- (The words he would keep back elude him).
You shouldn't have come, ladies; you didn't ought to have come.

(For the moment he is sorrier for them than for himself.)

LADY CAROLINE. (Shouldn't have come). Now, my man, what do you mean
by that?

MATEY. Nothing, my lady: I--I just mean, why did you come if you are
the kind he thinks?

MABEL. The kind he thinks?

ALICE. What kind does he think? Now we are getting at it.

MATEY (guardedly). I haven't a notion, ma'am.

LADY CAROLINE (whose w's must henceforth be supplied by the judicious
reader). Then it is not necessarily our virtue that makes Lob
interested in us?

MATEY (thoughtlessly). No, my lady; oh no, my lady. (This makes an
unfavourable impression.)

MRS. COADE. And yet, you know, he is rather lovable.

MATEY (carried away). He is, ma'am, He is the most lovable old
devil--I beg pardon, ma'am.

JOANNA. You scarcely need to, for in a way it is true. I have seen him
out there among his flowers, petting them, talking to them, coaxing
them till they simply _had_ to grow.

ALICE (making use perhaps of the wrong adjective). It is certainly a
divine garden.

(They all look at the unblinking enemy.)

MRS. COADE (not more deceived than the others). How lovely it is in
the moonlight. Roses, roses, all the way. (Dreamily.) It is like a
hat I once had when I was young.

ALICE. Lob is such an amazing gardener that I believe he could even
grow hats.

LADY CAROLINE (who will catch it for this). He is a wonderful
gardener; but is that quite nice at his age? What _is_ his age, man?

MATEY (shuffling). He won't tell, my lady. I think he is frightened
that the police would step in if they knew how old he is. They do say
in the village that they remember him seventy years ago, looking just
as he does to-day.

ALICE. Absurd.

MATEY. Yes, ma'am; but there are his razors.

LADY CAROLINE. Razors?

MATEY. You won't know about razors, my lady, not being married--as
yet--excuse me. But a married lady can tell a man's age by the number
of his razors. (A little scared.) If you saw his razors--there is a
little world of them, from patents of the present day back to
implements so horrible, you can picture him with them in his hand
scraping his way through the ages.

LADY CAROLINE. You amuse one to an extent. Was he ever married?

MATEY (too lightly). He has quite forgotten, my lady. (Reflecting.)
How long ago is it since Merry England?

LADY CAROLINE. Why do you ask?

MABEL. In Queen Elizabeth's time, wasn't it?

MATEY. He says he is all that is left of Merry England: that little
man.

MABEL (who has brothers). Lob? I think there is a famous cricketer
called Lob.

MRS. COADE. Wasn't there a Lob in Shakespeare? No, of course I am
thinking of Robin Goodfellow.

LADY CAROLINE. The names are so alike.

JOANNA. Robin Goodfellow was Puck.

MRS. COADE (with natural elation). That is what was in my head. Lob
was another name for Puck.

JOANNA. Well, he is certainly rather like what Puck might have grown
into if he had forgotten to die. And, by the way, I remember now he
does call his flowers by the old Elizabethan names.

MATEY. He always calls the Nightingale Philomel, miss--if that is any
help.

ALICE (who is not omniscient). None whatever. Tell me this, did he
specially ask you all for Midsummer week?

(They assent.)

MATEY (who might more judiciously have remained silent). He would!

MRS. COADE. Now what do you mean?

MATEY. He always likes them to be here on Midsummer night, ma'am.

ALICE. Them? Whom?

MATEY. Them who have that in common.

MABEL. What can it be?

MATEY. I don't know.

LADY CAROLINE (suddenly introspective). I hope we are all nice women?
We don't know each other very well. (Certain suspicions are reborn in
various breasts.) Does anything startling happen at those times?

MATEY. I don't know.

JOANNA. Why, I believe this is Midsummer Eve!

MATEY. Yes, miss, it is. The villagers know it. They are all inside
their houses, to-night--with the doors barred.

LADY CAROLINE. Because of--of him?

MATEY. He frightens them. There are stories.

ALICE. What alarms them? Tell us--or--(She brandishes the telegram.)

MATEY. I know nothing for certain, ma'am. I have never done it myself.
He has wanted me to, but I wouldn't.

MABEL. Done what?

MATEY (with fine appeal). Oh. ma'am, don't ask me. Be merciful to me,
ma'am. I am not bad naturally. It was just going into domestic
service that did for me; the accident of being flung among bad
companions. It's touch and go how the poor turn out in this world;
all depends on your taking the right or the wrong turning.

MRS. COADE (the lenient). I daresay that is true.

MATEY (under this touch of sun). When I was young, ma'am, I was
offered a clerkship in the city. If I had taken it there wouldn't be
a more honest man alive to-day. I would give the world to be able to
begin over again.

(He means every word of it, though the flowers would here, if they
dared, burst into ironical applause.)

MRS. COADE. It is very sad, Mrs. Dearth.

ALICE. I am sorry for him; but still--

MATEY (his eyes turning to LADY CAROLINE). What do you say, my lady?

LADY CAROLINE (briefly). As you ask me, I should certainly say jail.

MATEY (desperately). If you will say no more about this, ma'am--I'll
give you a tip that is worth it.

ALICE. Ah, now you are talking.

LADY CAROLINE. Don't listen to him.

MATEY (lowering). You are the one that is hardest on me.

LADY CAROLINE. Yes, I flatter myself I am.

MATEY (forgetting himself). You might take a wrong turning yourself,
my lady.

LADY CAROLINE, I? How dare you, man.

(But the flowers rather like him for this; it is possibly what gave
them a certain idea.)

JOANNA (near the keyhole of the dining-room door). The men are
rising.

ALICE (hurriedly). Very well, Matey, we agree--if the 'tip' is good
enough.

LADY CAROLINE. You will regret this.

MATEY. I think not, my lady. It's this: I wouldn't go out to-night if
he asks you. Go into the garden, if you like. The garden is all
right. (He really believes this.) I wouldn't go farther--not
to-night.

MRS. COADE. But he never proposes to us to go farther. Why should he
to-night?

MATEY. I don't know, ma'am, but don't any of you go--(devilishly)
except you, my lady; I should like you to go.

LADY CAROLINE. Fellow!

(They consider this odd warning.)

ALICE. Shall I? (They nod and she tears up the telegram.)

MATEY (with a gulp). Thank you, ma'am.

LADY CAROLINE. You should have sent that telegram off.

JOANNA. You are sure you have told us all you know, Matey?

MATEY. Yes, miss. (But at the door he is more generous.) Above all,
ladies, I wouldn't go into the wood.

MABEL. The wood? Why, there is no wood within a dozen miles of here.

MATEY. NO, ma'am. But all the same I wouldn't go into it, ladies--not
if I was you.

(With this cryptic warning he leaves them, and any discussion of it
is prevented by the arrival of their host. LOB is very small, and
probably no one has ever looked so old except some newborn child. To
such as watch him narrowly, as the ladies now do for the first time,
he has the effect of seeming to be hollow, an attenuated piece of
piping insufficiently inflated; one feels that if he were to strike
against a solid object he might rebound feebly from it, which would
be less disconcerting if he did not obviously know this and carefully
avoid the furniture; he is so light that the subject must not be
mentioned in his presence, but it is possible that, were the ladies
to combine, they could blow him out of a chair. He enters
portentously, his hands behind his back, as if every bit of him, from
his domed head to his little feet, were the physical expressions of
the deep thoughts within him, then suddenly he whirls round to make
his guests jump. This amuses him vastly, and he regains his gravity
with difficulty. He addresses MRS. COADE.)

LOB. Standing, dear lady? Pray be seated.

(He finds a chair for her and pulls it away as she is about to sit, or
kindly pretends to be about to do so, for he has had this quaint
conceit every evening since she arrived.)

MRS. COADE (who loves children). You naughty!

LOB (eagerly). It is quite a flirtation, isn't it?

(He rolls on a chair, kicking out his legs in an ecstasy of
satisfaction. But the ladies are not certain that he is the little
innocent they have hitherto thought him. The advent of MR. COADE and
MR. PURDIE presently adds to their misgivings. MR. COADE is old, a
sweet pippin of a man with a gentle smile for all; he must have
suffered much, you conclude incorrectly, to acquire that tolerant
smile. Sometimes, as when he sees other people at work, a wistful
look takes the place of the smile, and MR. COADE fidgets like one who
would be elsewhere. Then there rises before his eyes the room called
the study in his house, whose walls are lined with boxes marked A. B.
C. to Z. and A2. B2. C2. to K2. These contain dusty notes for his
great work on the Feudal System, the notes many years old, the work,
strictly speaking, not yet begun. He still speaks at times of
finishing it but never of beginning it. He knows that in more
favourable circumstances, for instance if he had been a poor man
instead of pleasantly well to do, he could have flung himself avidly
into that noble undertaking; but he does not allow his secret sorrow
to embitter him or darken the house. Quickly the vision passes, and
he is again his bright self. Idleness, he says in his game way, has
its recompenses. It is charming now to see how he at once crosses to
his wife, solicitous for her comfort. He is bearing down on her with
a footstool when MR. PURDIE comes from the dining-room. He is the
most brilliant of our company, recently notable in debate at Oxford,
where he was runner-up for the presidentship of the Union and only
lost it because the other man was less brilliant. Since then he has
gone to the bar on Monday, married on Tuesday and had a brief on
Wednesday. Beneath his brilliance, and making charming company for
himself, he is aware of intellectual powers beyond his years. As we
are about to see, he has made one mistake in his life which he is
bravely facing.)

ALICE. Is my husband still sampling the port, Mr. Purdie?

PURDIE (with a disarming smile for the absent DEARTH). Do you know, I
believe he is. Do the ladies like our proposal, Coade?

COADE. I have not told them of it yet. The fact is, I am afraid that
it might tire my wife too much. Do you feel equal to a little
exertion to-night, Coady, or is your foot troubling you?

MRS. COADE (the kind creature). I have been resting it, Coady.

COADE (propping it on the footstool). There! Is that more
comfortable? Presently, dear, if you are agreeable we are all going
out for a walk.

MRS. COADE (quoting MATEY). The garden is all right.

PURDIE (with jocular solemnity). Ah, but it is not to be the garden.
We are going farther afield. We have an adventure for to-night. Get
thick shoes and a wrap, Mrs. Dearth; all of you.

LADY CAROLINE (with but languid interest). Where do you propose to
take us?

PURDIE. To find a mysterious wood. (With the word 'wood' the ladies
are blown upright. Their eyes turn to LOB, who, however, has never
looked more innocent).

JOANNE. Are you being funny, Mr. Purdie? You know quite well that
there are not any trees for miles around. You have said yourself that
it is the one blot on the landscape.

COADE (almost as great a humorist as PURDIE). Ah, on ordinary
occasions! But allow us to point out to you, Miss Joanna, that this
is Midsummer Eve.

(LOB again comes sharply under female observation.)

PURDIE. Tell them what you told us, Lob.

LOB (with a pout for the credulous). It is all nonsense, of course;
just foolish talk of the villagers. They say that on Midsummer Eve
there is a strange wood in this part of the country.

ALICE (lowering). Where?

PURDIE. Ah, that is one of its most charming features. It is never
twice in the same place apparently. It has been seen on different
parts of the Downs and on More Common; once it was close to Radley
village and another time about a mile from the sea. Oh, a sporting
wood!

LADY CAROLINE. And Lob is anxious that we should all go and look for
it?

COADE. Not he; Lob is the only sceptic in the house. Says it is all
rubbish, and that we shall be sillies if we go. But we believe, eh,
Purdie?

PURDIE (waggishly). Rather!

LOB (the artful). Just wasting the evening. Let us have a round game
at cards here instead.

PURDIE (grandly), No, sir, I am going to find that wood.

JOANNA. What is the good of it when it is found?

PURDIE. We shall wander in it deliciously, listening to a new sort of
bird called the Philomel.

(LOB is behaving in the most exemplary manner; making sweet little
clucking sounds.)

JOANNA (doubtfully). Shall we keep together, Mr. Purdie?

PURDIE. No, we must hunt in pairs.

JOANNA. (converted). I think it would be rather fun. Come on, Coady,
I'll lace your boots for you. I am sure your poor foot will carry you
nicely.

ALICE. Miss Trout, wait a moment. Lob, has this wonderful wood any
special properties?

LOB. Pooh! There's no wood.

LADY CAROLINE. You've never seen it?

LOB. Not I. I don't believe in it.

ALICE. Have any of the villagers ever been in it?

LOB (dreamily). So it's said; so it's said.

ALICE. What did they say were their experiences?

LOB. That isn't known. They never came back.

JOANNA (promptly resuming her seat). Never came back!

LOB. Absurd, of course. You see in the morning the wood was gone; and
so they were gone, too. (He clucks again.)

JOANNA. I don't think I like this wood.

MRS. COADE. It certainly is Midsummer Eve.

COADE (remembering that women are not yet civilised). Of course if you
ladies are against it we will drop the idea. It was only a bit of
fun.

ALICE (with a malicious eye on LOB). Yes, better give it up--to please
Lob.

PURDIE. Oh, all right, Lob. What about that round game of cards?

(The proposal meets with approval.)

LOB (bursting into tears). I wanted you to go. I had set my heart on
your going. It is the thing I wanted, and it isn't good for me not to
get the thing I want.

(He creeps under the table and threatens the hands that would draw
him out.)

MRS. COADE. Good gracious, he has wanted it all the time. You wicked
Lob!

ALICE. Now, you see there _is_ something in it.

COADE. Nonsense, Mrs. Dearth, it was only a joke.

MABEL (melting). Don't cry, Lobby.

LOB. Nobody cares for me--nobody loves me. And I need to be loved.

(Several of them are on their knees to him.)

JOANNA. Yes, we do, we all love you. Nice, nice Lobby.

MABEL. Dear Lob, I am so fond of you.

JOANNA. Dry his eyes with my own handkerchief. (He holds up his eyes
but is otherwise inconsolable.)

LADY CAROLINE. Don't pamper him.

LOB (furiously). I need to be pampered.

MRS. COADE. You funny little man. Let us go at once and look for his
wood.

(All feel that thus alone can his tears be dried.)

JOANNA. Boots and cloaks, hats forward. Come on, Lady Caroline, just
to show you are not afraid of Matey.

(There is a general exodus, and LOB left alone emerges from his
temporary retirement. He ducks victoriously, but presently is on his
knees again distressfully regarding some flowers that have fallen
from their bowl.)

LOB. Poor bruised one, it was I who hurt you. Lob is so sorry. Lie
there! (To another.) Pretty, pretty, let me see where you have a
pain? You fell on your head; is this the place? Now I make it better.
Oh, little rascal, you are not hurt at all; you just pretend. Oh
dear, oh dear! Sweetheart, don't cry, you are now prettier than ever.
You were too tall. Oh, how beautifully you smell now that you are
small. (He replaces the wounded tenderly in their bowl.) rink, drink.
Now, you are happy again. The little rascal smiles. All smile,
please--nod heads--aha! aha! You love Lob--Lob loves you.

(JOANNA and MR. PURDIE stroll in by the window.)

JOANNA. What were you saying to them, Lob?

LOB. I was saying 'Two's company, three's none.'

(He departs with a final cluck.)

JOANNA. That man--he suspects!

(This is a very different JOANNA from the one who has so far flitted
across our scene. It is also a different PURDIE. In company they
seldom look at each other, though when the one does so the eyes of
the other magnetically respond. We have seen them trivial, almost
cynical, but now we are to greet them as they know they really are,
the great strong-hearted man and his natural mate, in the grip of the
master passion. For the moment LOB'S words have unnerved JOANNA and
it is JOHN PURDIE's dear privilege to soothe her.)

PURDIE. No one minds Lob. My dear, oh my dear.

JOANNA (faltering). Yes, but he saw you kiss my hand. Jack, if Mabel
were to suspect!

PURDIE (happily). There is nothing for her to suspect.

JOANNA (eagerly). No, there isn't, is there? (She is desirous ever to
be without a flaw.) Jack, I am not doing anything wrong, am I?

PURDIE. You!

(With an adorable gesture she gives him one of her hands, and manlike
he takes the other also.)

JOANNA. Mabel is your wife, Jack. I should so hate myself if I did
anything that was disloyal to her.

PURDIE (pressing her hand to her eyes as if counting them, in the
strange manner of lovers). Those eyes could never be disloyal--my
lady of the nut-brown eyes. (He holds her from him, surveying her,
and is scorched in the flame of her femininity.) Oh, the sveldtness
of you. (Almost with reproach.) Joanna, why are you so sveldt!

(For his sake she would be less sveldt if she could, but she can't.
She admits her failure with eyes grown still larger, and he envelops
her so that he may not see her. Thus men seek safety.)

JOANNA (while out of sight). All I want is to help her and you.

PURDIE. I know--how well I know--my dear brave love.

JOANNA. I am very fond of Mabel, Jack. I should like to be the best
friend she has in the world.

PURDIE. You are, dearest. No woman ever had a better friend.

JOANNA. And yet I don't think she really likes me. I wonder why?

PURDIE (who is the bigger brained of the two.) It is just that Mabel
doesn't understand. Nothing could make me say a word against my wife.

JOANNA (sternly). I wouldn't listen to you if you did.

PURDIE. I love you all the more, dear, for saying that. But Mabel is a
cold nature and she doesn't understand.

JOANNA (thinking never of herself but only of him). She doesn't
appreciate your finer qualities.

PURDIE (ruminating). That's it. But of course I am difficult. I always
was a strange, strange creature. I often think, Joanna, that I am
rather like a flower that has never had the sun to shine on it nor
the rain to water it.

JOANNA. You break my heart.

PURDIE (with considerable enjoyment). I suppose there is no more
lonely man than I walking the earth to-day.

JOANNA (beating her wings). It is so mournful.

PURDIE. It is the thought of you that sustains me, elevates me. You
shine high above me like a star.

JOANNA. No, no. I wish I was wonderful, but I am not.

PURDIE. You have made me a better man, Joanna.

JOANNA. I am so proud to think that.

PURDIE. You have made me kinder to Mabel.

JOANNA. I am sure you are always kind to her.

PURDIE. Yes, I hope so. But I think now of special little ways of
giving her pleasure. That never-to-be-forgotten day when we first
met, you and I!

JOANNA (fluttering nearer to him.) That tragic, lovely day by the
weir. Oh, Jack!

PURDIE. Do you know how in gratitude I spent the rest of that day?

JOANNA (crooning). Tell me.

PURDIE. I read to Mabel aloud for an hour. I did it out of kindness to
her, because I had met you.

JOANNA. It was dear of you.

PURDIE. Do you remember that first time my arms--your waist--you are
so fluid, Joanna. (Passionately.) Why are you so fluid?

JOANNA (downcast). I can't help it, Jack.

PURDIE. I gave her a ruby bracelet for that.

JOANNA. It is a gem. You have given that lucky woman many lovely
things.

PURDIE. It is my invariable custom to go straight off and buy Mabel
something whenever you have been sympathetic to me. Those new
earrings of hers--they are in memory of the first day you called me
Jack. Her Paquin gown--the one with the beads--was because you let me
kiss you.

JOANNA. I didn't exactly let you.

PURDIE. No, but you have such a dear way of giving in.

JOANNA. Jack, she hasn't worn that gown of late.

PURDIE. No, nor the jewels. I think she has some sort of idea now that
when I give her anything nice it means that you have been nice to me.
She has rather a suspicious nature, Mabel; she never used to have it,
but it seems to be growing on her. I wonder why, I wonder why?

(In this wonder which is shared by JOANNA their lips meet, and MABEL,
who has been about to enter from the garden quietly retires.)

JOANNA. Was that any one in the garden?

PURDIE (returning from a quest). There is no one there now.

JOANNA. I am sure I heard some one. If it was Mabel! (With a
perspicacity that comes of knowledge of her sex.) Jack, if she saw us
she will think you were kissing me.

(These fears are confirmed by the rather odd bearing of MABEL, who now
joins their select party.)

MABEL (apologetically). I am so sorry to interrupt you, Jack; but
please wait a moment before you kiss her again. Excuse me, Joanna.
(She quietly draws the curtains, thus shutting out the garden and any
possible onlooker.) I did not want the others to see you; they might
not understand how noble you are, Jack. You can go on now.

(Having thus passed the time of day with them she withdraws by the
door, leaving JACK bewildered and JOANNA knowing all about it.)

JOANNA. How extraordinary! Of all the--! Oh, but how contemptible!
(She sweeps to the door and calls to MABEL by name.)

MABEL (returning with promptitude). Did you call me, Joanna?

JOANNA (guardedly). I insist on an explanation. (With creditable
hauteur.) What were you doing in the garden, Mabel?

MABEL (who has not been so quiet all day). I was looking for something
I have lost.

PURDIE (hope springing eternal). Anything important?

MABEL. I used to fancy it, Jack. It is my husband's love. You don't
happen to have picked it up, Joanna? If so and you don't set great
store by it I should like it back--the pieces, I mean.

(MR. PURDIE is about lo reply to this, when JOANNA rather wisely fills
the breach.)

JOANNA. Mabel, I--I will not be talked to in that way. To imply that
I--that your husband--oh, shame!

PURDIE (finely). I must say, Mabel, that I am a little disappointed in
you. I certainly understood that you had gone upstairs to put on your
boots.

MABEL. Poor old Jack. (She muses.) A woman like that!

JOANNA (changing her comment in the moment of utterance), I forgive
you Mabel, you will be sorry for this afterwards.

PURDIE (warningly, but still reluctant to think less well of his
wife). Not a word against Joanna, Mabel. If you knew how nobly she
has spoken of you.

JOANNA (imprudently). She does know. She has been listening.

(There is a moment's danger of the scene degenerating into something
mid-Victorian. Fortunately a chivalrous man is present to lift it to a
higher plane. JOHN PURDIE is one to whom subterfuge of any kind is
abhorrent; if he has not spoken out before it is because of his
reluctance to give MABEL pain. He speaks out now, and seldom
probably has he proved himself more worthy.)

PURDIE. This is a man's business. I must be open with you now, Mabel:
it is the manlier way. If you wish it I shall always be true to you
in word and deed; it is your right. But I cannot pretend that Joanna
is not the one woman in the world for me. If I had met her before
you--it's Kismet, I suppose. (He swells.)

JOANNA (from a chair). Too late, too late.

MABEL (although the woman has seen him swell). I suppose you never
knew what true love was till you met her, Jack?

PURDIE. You force me to say it. Joanna and I are as one person. We
have not a thought at variance. We are one rather than two.

MABEL (looking at JOANNA). Yes, and that's the one! (With the
cheapest sarcasm.) I am so sorry to have marred your lives.

PURDIE. If any blame there is, it is all mine; she is as spotless as
the driven snow. The moment I mentioned love to her she told me to
desist.

MABEL. Not she.

JOANNA. So you were listening! (The obtuseness of MABEL is very
strange to her.) Mabel, don't you see how splendid he is!

MABEL. Not quite, Joanna.

(She goes away. She is really a better woman than this, but never
capable of scaling that higher plane to which he has, as it were,
offered her a hand.)

JOANNA. How lovely of you, Jack, to take it all upon yourself.

PURDIE (simply). It is the man's privilege.

JOANNA. Mabel has such a horrid way of seeming to put people in the
wrong.

PURDIE. Have you noticed that? Poor Mabel, it is not an enviable
quality.

JOANNA (despondently). I don't think I care to go out now. She has
spoilt it all. She has taken the innocence out of it, Jack.

PURDIE (a rock). We must be brave and not mind her. Ah, Joanna, if we
had met in time. If only I could begin again. To be battered for ever
just because I once took the wrong turning, it isn't fair.

JOANNA (emerging from his arms). The wrong turning! Now, who was
saying that a moment ago--about himself? Why, it was Matey.

(A footstep is heard.)

PURDIE (for the first time losing patience with his wife). Is that her
coming back again? It's too bad.

(But the intruder is MRS. DEARTH, and he greets her with relief.)

Ah, it is you, Mrs. Dearth.

ALICE. Yes, it is; but thank you for telling me, Mr. Purdie. I don't
intrude, do I?

JOANNA (descending to the lower plane, on which even goddesses snap).
Why should you?

PURDIE. Rather not. We were--hoping it would be you. We want to start
on the walk. I can't think what has become of the others. We have
been looking for them everywhere. (He glances vaguely round the room,
as if they might so far have escaped detection.)

ALICE (pleasantly). Well, do go on looking; under that flower-pot
would be a good place. It is my husband I am in search of.

PURDIE (who likes her best when they are in different rooms). Shall I
rout him out for you?

ALICE. How too unutterably kind of you, Mr. Purdie. I hate to trouble
you, but it would be the sort of service one never forgets.

PURDIE. You know, I believe you are chaffing me.

ALICE. No, no, I am incapable of that.

PURDIE. I won't be a moment.

ALICE. Miss Trout and I will await your return with ill-concealed
impatience.

(They await it across a table, the newcomer in a reverie and JOANNA
watching her. Presently MRS. DEARTH looks up, and we may notice that
she has an attractive screw of the mouth which denotes humour.)

Yes, I suppose you are right; I dare say I am.

JOANNA (puzzled). I didn't say anything.

ALICE. I thought I heard you say 'That hateful Dearth woman, coming
butting in where she is not wanted.'

(Joanna draws up her sveldt figure, but a screw of one mouth often
calls for a similar demonstration from another, and both ladies
smile. They nearly become friends.)

JOANNA. You certainly have good ears.

ALICE (drawling). Yes, they have always been rather admired.

JOANNA (snapping). By the painters for whom you sat when you were an
artist's model?

ALICE (measuring her). So that has leaked out, has it!

JOANNA (ashamed). I shouldn't have said that.

ALICE (their brief friendship over). Do you think I care whether you
know or not?

JOANNA (making an effort to be good). I'm sure you don't. Still, it
was cattish of me.

ALICE. It was.

JOANNA (in flame). I don't see it.

(MRS. DEARTH laughs and forgets her, and with the entrance of a man
from the dining room JOANNA drifts elsewhere. Not so much a man, this
newcomer, as the relic of what has been a good one; it is the most he
would ever claim for himself. Sometimes, brandy in hand, he has
visions of the WILL DEARTH he used to be, clear of eye, sees him but
a field away, singing at his easel or, fishing-rod in hand, leaping a
stile. Our WILL stares after the fellow for quite a long time, so
long that the two melt into the one who finishes LOB's brandy. He is
scarcely intoxicated as he appears before the lady of his choice, but
he is shaky and has watery eyes.)

(ALICE has had a rather wild love for this man, or for that other one,
and he for her, but somehow it has gone whistling down the wind. We
may expect therefore to see them at their worst when in each other's
company.)

DEARTH (who is not without a humorous outlook on his own degradation).
I am uncommonly flattered, Alice, to hear that you have sent for me.
It quite takes me aback.

ALICE (with cold distaste). It isn't your company I want, Will.

DEARTH. You know. I felt that Purdie must have delivered your message
wrongly.

ALICE. I want you to come with us on this mysterious walk and keep an
eye on Lob.

DEARTH. On poor little Lob? Oh, surely not.

ALICE. I can't make the man out. I want you to tell me something; when
he invited us here, do you think it was you or me he specially
wanted?

DEARTH. Oh, you. He made no bones about it; said there was something
about you that made him want uncommonly to have you down here.

ALICE. Will, try to remember this: did he ask us for any particular
time?

DEARTH. Yes, he was particular about its being Midsummer week.

ALICE. Ah! I thought so. Did he say what it was about me that made him
want to have me here in Midsummer week?

DEARTH. No, but I presumed it must be your fascination, Alice.

ALICE. Just so. Well, I want you to come out with us to-night to watch
him.

DEARTH. Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy, spy on my host! And such a harmless
little chap, too. Excuse me, Alice. Besides I have an engagement.

ALICE. An engagement--with the port decanter, I presume.

DEARTH. A good guess, but wrong. The decanter is now but an empty
shell.  Still, how you know me! My engagement is with a quiet cigar
in the garden.

ALICE. Your hand is so unsteady, you won't be able to light the
match.

DEARTH. I shall just manage. (He triumphantly proves the exact truth
of his statement.)

ALICE. A nice hand for an artist!

DEARTH. One would scarcely call me an artist now-a-days.

ALICE. Not so far as any work is concerned.

DEARTH. Not so far as having any more pretty dreams to paint is
concerned.  (Grinning at himself.) Wonder why I have become such a
waster, Alice?

ALICE. I suppose it was always in you.

DEARTH (with perhaps a glimpse of the fishing-rod). I suppose so; and
yet I was rather a good sort in the days when I went courting you.

ALICE. Yes, I thought so. Unlucky days for me, as it has turned out.

DEARTH (heartily). Yes, a bad job for you. (Puzzling unsteadily over
himself.) I didn't know I was a wrong 'un at the time; thought quite
well of myself, thought a vast deal more of you. Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy,
how I used to leap out of bed at 6 A.M. all agog to be at my easel;
blood ran through my veins in those days. And now I'm middle-aged
and done for. Funny! Don't know how it has come about, nor what has
made the music mute. (Mildly curious.) When did you begin to despise
me, Alice?

ALICE. When I got to know you really, Will; a long time ago.

DEARTH (bleary of eye). Yes, I think that is true. It was a long time
ago, and before I had begun to despise myself. It wasn't till I knew
you had no opinion of me that I began to go down hill. You will grant
that, won't you; and that I did try for a bit to fight on? If you had
cared for me I wouldn't have come to this, surely?

ALICE. Well, I found I didn't care for you, and I wasn't hypocrite
enough to pretend I did. That's blunt, but you used to admire my
bluntness.

DEARTH. The bluntness of you, the adorable wildness of you, you
untamed thing!  There were never any shades in you; kiss or kill was
your motto, Alice. I felt from the first moment I saw you that you
would love me or knife me.

(Memories of their shooting star flare in both of them for as long as
a sheet of paper might take to burn.)

ALICE. I didn't knife you.

DEARTH. No. I suppose that was where you made the mistake. It is hard
on you, old lady. (Becoming watery.) I suppose it's too late to try
to patch things up?

ALICE. Let's be honest; it is too late, Will.  DEARTH (whose tears
would smell of brandy). Perhaps if we had had children--Pity!

ALICE. A blessing I should think, seeing what sort of a father they
would have had.

DEARTH (ever reasonable). I dare say you're right. Well, Alice, I know
that somehow it's my fault. I'm sorry for you.

ALICE. I'm sorry for myself. If I hadn't married you what a different
woman I should be. What a fool I was.

DEARTH. Ah! Three things they say come not back to men nor women--the
spoken word, the past life and the neglected opportunity. Wonder if
we should make any more of them, Alice, if they did come back to us.

ALICE. You wouldn't.

DEARTH (avoiding a hiccup). I guess you're right.

ALICE. But I--

DEARTH (sincerely). Yes, what a boon for you. But I hope it's not
Freddy Finch-Fallowe you would put in my place; I know he is
following you about again. (He is far from threatening her, he has
too beery an opinion of himself for that.)

ALICE. He followed me about, as you put it, before I knew you. I don't
know why I quarrelled with him.

DEARTH. Your heart told you that he was no good, Alice.

ALICE. My heart told me that you were. So it wasn't of much service to
me, my heart!

DEARTH. The Honourable Freddy Finch-Fallowe is a rotter.

ALICE (ever inflammable). You are certainly an authority on the
subject.

DEARTH (with the sad smile of the disillusioned). You have me there.
After which brief, but pleasant, little connubial chat, he pursued
his dishonoured way into the garden.

(He is however prevented doing so for the moment by the return of the
others.  They are all still in their dinner clothes though wearing
wraps. They crowd in through the door, chattering.)

LOB. Here they are. Are you ready, dear lady?

MRS. COADE (seeing that DEARTH's hand is on the window curtains). Are
you not coming with us to find the wood, Mr. Dearth.

DEARTH. Alas, I am unavoidably detained. You will find me in the
garden when you come back.

JOANNA (whose sense of humour has been restored). If we ever do come
back!

DEARTH. Precisely. (With a groggy bow.) Should we never meet again,
Alice, fare thee well. Purdie, if you find the tree of knowledge in
the wood bring me back an apple.

PURDIE. I promise.

LOB. Come quickly. Matey mustn't see me. (He is turning out the
lights.)

LADY CAROLINE (pouncing). Matey? What difference would that make,
Lob?

LOB. He would take me off to bed; it's past my time.

COADE (not the least gay of the company). You know, old fellow, you
make it very difficult for us to embark upon this adventure in the
proper eerie spirit.

DEARTH. Well, I'm for the garden.

(He walks to the window, and the others are going out by the door. But
they do not go. There is a hitch somewhere--at the window apparently,
for DEARTH, having begun to draw the curtains apart lets them fall,
like one who has had a shock. The others remember long afterwards his
grave face as he came quietly back and put his cigar on the table.
The room is in darkness save for the light from one lamp.)

PURDIE (wondering). How, now, Dearth?

DEARTH. What is it we get in that wood, Lob?

ALICE. Ah, he won't tell us that.

LOB (shrinking). Come on!

ALICE (impressed by the change that has come over her husband). Tell
us first.

LOB (forced to the disclosure). They say that in the wood you get what
nearly everybody here is longing for--a second chance.

(The ladies are simultaneously enlightened.)

JOANNA (speaking for all). So that is what we have in common!

COADE: (with gentle regret). I have often thought, Coady, that if I
had a second chance I should be a useful man instead of just a nice
lazy one.

ALICE (morosely). A second chance!

LOB. Come on.

PURDIE (gaily). Yes, to the wood--the wood!

DEARTH (as they are going out by the door). Stop, why not go this
way?

(He pulls the curtains apart, and there comes a sudden indrawing of
breath from all, for no garden is there now. In its place is an
endless wood of great trees; the nearest of them has come close to
the window. It is a sombre wood, with splashes of moonshine and of
blackness standing very still in it.)

(The party in the drawing-room are very still also; there is scarcely a
cry or a movement. It is perhaps strange that the most obviously
frightened is LOB who calls vainly for MATEY.  The first articulate
voice is DEARTH'S.)

DEARTH (very quietly). Any one ready to risk it?

PURDIE (after another silence). Of course there is nothing in it--just

DEARTH (grimly). Of course. Going out, Purdie?

(PURDIE draws back.)

MRS. DEARTH (the only one who is undaunted). A second chance! (She is
looking at her husband. They all look at him as if he had been a
leader once.)

DEARTH (with his sweet mournful smile). I shall be back in a
moment--probably.

(As he passes into the wood his hands rise, as if a hammer  had tapped
him on the forehead. He is soon lost to view.)

LADY CAROLINE (after a long pause). He does not come back.

MRS. COADE. It's horrible.

(She steals off by the door to her room, calling to her husband to do
likewise. He takes a step after her, and stops in the grip of the two
words that holds them all. The stillness continues. At last MRS.
PURDIE goes out into the wood, her hands raised, and is swallowed up
by it.)

PURDIE. Mabel!

ALICE (sardonically). You will have to go now, Mr. Purdie.

(He looks at JOANNA, and they go out together, one tap of the hammer
for each.)

LOB. That's enough. (Warningly.) Don't you go, Mrs. Dearth. You'll
catch it if you go.

ALICE. A second chance!

(She goes out unflinching.)

LADY CAROLINE. One would like to know.

(She goes out. MRS. COADE'S voice is heard from the stair calling to
her husband. He hesitates but follows LADY CAROLINE. To LOB now alone
comes MATEY with a tray of coffee cups.)

MATEY (as he places his tray on the table). It is past your bed-time,
sir. Say good-night to the ladies, and come along.

LOB. Matey, look!

(MATEY looks.)

MATEY (shrinking). Great heavens, then it's true!

LOB. Yes, but I--I wasn't sure.

(MATEY approaches the window cautiously to peer out, and his master
gives him a sudden push that propels him into the wood. LOB's back is
toward us as he stands alone staring out upon the unknown. He is
terrified still; yet quivers of rapture are running up and down his
little frame.)



ACT II

We are translated to the depths of the wood in the enchantment of a
moonlight night. In some other glade a nightingale is singing, in
this one, in proud motoring attire, recline two mortals whom we have
known in different conditions; the second chance has converted them
into husband and wife. The man, of gross muddy build, lies luxurious
on his back exuding affluence, a prominent part of him heaving
playfully, like some little wave that will not rest in a still sea. A
handkerchief over his face conceals from us what Colossus he may be,
but his mate is our Lady Caroline. The nightingale trills on, and
Lady Caroline takes up its song.

LADY CAROLINE. Is it not a lovely night, Jim. Listen, my own, to
Philomel; he is saying that he is lately married. So are we, you
ducky thing. I feel, Jim, that I am Rosalind and that you are my
Orlando.

(The handkerchief being removed MR. MATEY is revealed; and the
nightingale seeks some farther tree.)

MATEY. What do you say I am, Caroliny?

LADY CAROLINE (clapping her hands). My own one, don't you think it
would be fun if we were to write poems about each other and pin them
on the tree trunks?

MATEY (tolerantly). Poems? I never knew such a lass for high-flown
language.

LADY CAROLINE. Your lass, dearest. Jim's lass.

MATEY (pulling her ear). And don't you forget it.

LADY CAROLINE (with the curiosity of woman). What would you do if I
were to forget it, great bear?

MATEY. Take a stick to you.

LADY CAROLINE (so proud of him). I love to hear you talk like that;
it is so virile. I always knew that it was a master I needed.

MATEY. It's what you all need.

LADY CAROLINE. It is, it is, you knowing wretch.

MATEY. Listen, Caroliny. (He touches his money pocket, which emits a
crinkly sound--the squeak of angels.) That is what gets the ladies.

LADY CAROLINE. How much have you made this week, you wonderful man?

MATEY (blandly). Another two hundred or so. That's all, just two
hundred or so.

LADY CAROLINE (caressing her wedding ring). My dear golden fetter,
listen to him. Kiss my fetter, Jim.

MATEY. Wait till I light this cigar.

LADY CAROLINE. Let me hold the darling match.

MATEY. Tidy-looking Petitey Corona, this. There was a time when one of
that sort would have run away with two days of my screw.

LADY CAROLINE. How I should have loved, Jim, to know you when you were
poor.  Fancy your having once been a clerk.

MATEY (remembering Napoleon and others). We all have our beginnings.
But it wouldn't have mattered how I began, Caroliny: I should have
come to the top just the same. (Becoming a poet himself.) I am a
climber and there are nails in my boots for the parties beneath me.
Boots! I tell you if I had been a bootmaker, I should have been the
first bootmaker in London.

LADY CAROLINE (a humourist at last). I am sure you would, Jim; but
should you have made the best boots?

MATEY (uxoriously wishing that others could have heard this). Very
good.  Caroliny; that is the nearest thing I have heard you say. But
it's late; we had best be strolling back to our Rolls-Royce.

LADY CAROLINE (as they rise). I do hope the ground wasn't damp.

MATEY. Don't matter if it was; I was lying on your rug.

(Indeed we notice now that he has had all the rug, and she the bare
ground.  JOANNA reaches the glade, now an unhappy lady who has got
what she wanted. She is in country dress and is unknown to them as
they are to her.) Who is the mournful party?

JOANNA (hesitating). I wonder, sir, whether you happen to have seen
my husband? I have lost him in the wood.

MATEY. We are strangers in these parts ourselves, missis. Have we
passed any one, Caroliny?

LADY CAROLINE (coyly). Should we have noticed, dear? Might it be that
old gent over there? (After the delightful manner of those happily
wed she has already picked up many of her lover's favourite words and
phrases.)

JOANNA. Oh no, my husband is quite young.

(The woodlander referred to is MR COADE in gala costume; at his mouth
a whistle he has made him from some friendly twig. To its ravishing
music he is seen pirouetting charmingly among the trees, his new
occupation.)

MATEY (signing to the unknown that he is wanted). Seems a merry old
cock.  Evening to you, sir. Do you happen to have seen a young
gentleman in the wood lately, all by himself, and looking for his
wife?

COADE (with a flourish of his legs). Can't say I have.

JOANNA (dolefully). He isn't necessarily by himself; and I don't know
that he is looking for me. There may be a young lady with him.

(The more happily married lady smiles, and Joanna is quick to take
offence.)

JOANNA. What do you mean by that?  LADY CAROLINE (neatly). Oho--if
you like that better.

MATEY. Now, now, now--your manners, Caroliny.

COADE. Would he be singing or dancing?

JOANNA. Oh no--at least, I hope not.

COADE (an artist to the tips). Hope not? Odd! If he is doing neither I
am not likely to notice him, but if I do, what name shall I say?

JOANNA (gloating not). Purdie; I am Mrs. Purdie.

COADE. I will try to keep a look-out, and if I see him ...  but I am
rather occupied at present ...  (The reference is to his legs and a
new step they are acquiring. He sways this way and that, and, whistle
to lips, minuets off in the direction of Paradise.)

JOANNA (looking elsewhere). I am sorry I troubled you. I see him now.

LADY CAROLINE. Is he alone?

(JOANNA glares at her.)

Ah, I see from your face that he isn't.

MATEY (who has his wench in training). Caroliny, no awkward
questions.  Evening, missis, and I hope you will get him to go along
with you quietly.  (Looking after COADE.) Watch the old codger
dancing.

(Light-hearted as children they dance after him, while JOANNA behind a
tree awaits her lord. PURDIE in knickerbockers approaches with
misgivings to make sure that his JOANNA is not in hiding, and then he
gambols joyously with a charming confection whose name is MABEL. They
chase each other from tree to tree, but fortunately not round
JOANNA'S tree.)

MABEL (as he catches her). No, and no, and no. I don't know you nearly
well enough for that. Besides, what would your wife say! I shall
begin to think you are a very dreadful man, Mr. Purdie.

PURDIE (whose sincerity is not to be questioned). Surely you might
call me Jack by this time.

MABEL (heaving). Perhaps, if you are very good, Jack.

PURDIE (of noble thoughts compact). If only Joanna were more like
you.

MABEL. Like me? You mean her face? It is a--well, if it is not
precisely pretty, it is a good face. (Handsomely.) I don't mind her
face at all. I am glad you have got such a dependable little wife,
Jack.

PURDIE (gloomily). Thanks.

MABEL (seated with a moonbeam in her lap). What would Joanna have said
if she had seen you just now?

PURDIE. A wife should be incapable of jealousy.

MABEL Joanna jealous? But has she any reason? Jack, tell me, who is
the woman?

PURDIE (restraining himself by a mighty effort, for he wishes always
to be true to JOANNA). Shall I, Mabel, shall I?

MABEL (faltering, yet not wholly giving up the chase). I can't think
who she is. Have I ever seen her?

PURDIE. Every time you look in a mirror.

MABEL (with her head on one side). How odd, Jack, that can't be; when
I look in a mirror I see only myself.

PURDIE (gloating). How adorably innocent you are, Mabel. Joanna would
have guessed at once.

(Slowly his meaning comes to her, and she is appalled.)

MABEL. Not that!

PURDIE (aflame). Shall I tell you now?

MABEL (palpitating exquisitely). I don't know, I am not sure. Jack,
try not to say it, but if you feel you must, say it in such a way
that it would not hurt the feelings of Joanna if she happened to be
passing by, as she nearly always is.

(A little moan from JOANNA'S tree is unnoticed.)

PURDIE. I would rather not say it at all than that way. (He is
touchingly anxious that she should know him as he really is.) I don't
know, Mabel, whether you have noticed that I am not like other men.
(He goes deeply into the very structure of his being.) All my life I
have been a soul that has had to walk alone. Even as a child I had no
hope that it would be otherwise. I distinctly remember when I was six
thinking how unlike other children I was.  Before I was twelve I
suffered from terrible self-depreciation; I do so still.  I suppose
there never was a man who had a more lowly opinion of himself.

MABEL. Jack, you who are so universally admired.

PURDIE. That doesn't help; I remain my own judge. I am afraid I am a
dark spirit, Mabel. Yes, yes, my dear, let me leave nothing untold
however it may damage me in your eyes. Your eyes! I cannot remember a
time when I did not think of Love as a great consuming passion; I
visualised it, Mabel, as perhaps few have done, but always as the
abounding joy that could come to others but never to me. I expected
too much of women: I suppose I was touched to finer issues than most.
That has been my tragedy.

MABEL. Then you met Joanna.

PURDIE. Then I met Joanna. Yes! Foolishly, as I now see, I thought she
would understand that I was far too deep a nature really to mean the
little things I sometimes said to her. I suppose a man was never
placed in such a position before. What was I to do? Remember, I was
always certain that the ideal love could never come to me. Whatever
the circumstances, I was convinced that my soul must walk alone.

MABEL. Joanna, how could you.

PURDIE (firmly). Not a word against her, Mabel; if blame there is the
blame is mine.

MABEL. And so you married her.

PURDIE. And so I married her.

MABEL. Out of pity.

PURDIE. I felt it was a man's part. I was such a child in worldly
matters that it was pleasant to me to have the right to pay a woman's
bills; I enjoyed seeing her garments lying about on my chairs. In
time that exultation wore off. But I was not unhappy, I didn't expect
much, I was always so sure that no woman could ever plumb the well of
my emotions.

MABEL. Then you met me.

PURDIE. Then I met you.

MABEL. Too late--never--forever--forever--never. They are the saddest
words in the English tongue.

PURDIE. At the time I thought a still sadder word was Joanna.

MABEL. What was it you saw in me that made you love me?

PURDIE (plumbing the well of his emotions). I think it was the feeling
that you are so like myself.

MABEL (with great eyes). Have you noticed that, Jack? Sometimes it has
almost terrified me.

PURDIE. We think the same thoughts; we are not two, Mabel; we are one.
Your hair--

MABEL. Joanna knows you admire it, and for a week she did hers in the
same way.

PURDIE. I never noticed.

MABEL. That was why she gave it up. And it didn't really suit her.
(Ruminating.) I can't think of a good way of doing dear Joanna's hair.
What is that you are muttering to yourself, Jack? Don't keep anything
from me.

PURDIE. I was repeating a poem I have written: it is in two words,
'Mabel Purdie.' May I teach it to you, sweet: say 'Mabel Purdie' to
me.

MABEL (timidly covering his mouth with her little hand). If I were to
say it, Jack, I should be false to Joanna: never ask me to be that.
Let us go on.

PURDIE (merciless in his passion). Say it, Mabel, say it. See I write
it on the ground with your sunshade.

MABEL. If it could be! Jack, I'll whisper it to you.

(She is whispering it as they wander, not two but one, farther into
the forest, ardently believing in themselves; they are not
hypocrites. The somewhat bedraggled figure of Joanna follows them,
and the nightingale resumes his love-song. 'That's all you know, you
bird!' thinks Joanna cynically. The nightingale, however, is not
singing for them nor for her, but for another pair he has espied
below. They are racing, the prize to be for the one who first finds
the spot where the easel was put up last night. The hobbledehoy is
sure to be the winner, for she is less laden, and the father loses
time by singing as he comes. Also she is all legs and she started
ahead. Brambles adhere to her, one boot has been in the water and she
has as many freckles as there are stars in heaven. She is as lovely
as you think she is, and she is aged the moment when you like your
daughter best. A hoot of triumph from her brings her father to the
spot.)

MARGARET. Daddy, Daddy. I have won. Here is the place.
Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy!

(He comes. Crack-in-my-eye-Tommy, this engaging fellow in tweeds
is MR. DEARTH, ablaze in happiness and health and a daughter. He
finishes his song, picked up in the Latin Quarter.)

DEARTH. Yes, that is the tree I stuck my easel under last night, and
behold the blessed moon behaving more gorgeously than ever. I am
sorry to have kept you waiting, old moon; but you ought to know by
now how time passes. Now, keep still, while I hand you down to
posterity.

(The easel is erected, MARGARET helping by getting in the way.)

MARGARET (critical, as an artist's daughter should be.) The moon
is rather pale to-night, isn't she?

DEARTH. Comes of keeping late hours.

MARGARET (showing off). Daddy, watch me, look at me. Please, sweet
moon, a pleasant expression. No, no, not as if you were sitting or
it; that is too professional. That is better; thank you. Now keep it.
That is the sort of thing you say to them, Dad.

DEARTH (quickly at work). I oughtn't to have brought you out so late;
you should be tucked up in your cosy bed at home.

MARGARET (pursuing a squirrel that isn't there). With the pillow
anyhow.

DEARTH. Except in its proper place.

MARGARET (wetting the other foot). And the sheet over my face.

DEARTH. Where it oughtn't to be.

MARGARET (more or less upside down). And Daddy tiptoeing in to take it off.

DEARTH. Which is more than you deserve.

MARGARET (in a tree). Then why does he stand so long at the door? And
before he has gone she bursts out laughing, for she has been awake
all the time.

DEARTH. That's about it. What a life! But I oughtn't to have brought
you here.  Best to have the sheet over you when the moon is about;
moonlight is bad for little daughters.

MARGARET (pelting him with nuts). I can't sleep when the moon's at the
full; she keeps calling to me to get up. Perhaps I am _her_ daughter
too.

DEARTH. Gad, you look it to-night.

MARGARET. Do I? Then can't you paint me into the picture as well as
Mamma? You could call it 'A Mother and Daughter' or simply 'Two
ladies.' if the moon thinks that calling me her daughter would make
her seem too old.

DEARTH. O matre pulchra filia pulchrior. That means, 'O Moon--more
beautiful than any twopenny-halfpenny daughter.'

MARGARET (emerging in an unexpected place). Daddy, do you really
prefer her?

DEARTH. 'Sh! She's not a patch on you; it's the sort of thing we say
to our sitters to keep them in good humour. (He surveys ruefully a
great stain on her frock.) I wish to heaven, Margaret, we were not
both so fond of apple-tart.  And what's this? (Catching hold of her
skirt.)

MARGARET (unnecessarily). It's a tear.

DEARTH. I should think it is a tear.

MARGARET. That boy at the farm did it. He kept calling Snubs after me,
but I got him down and kicked him in the stomach. He is rather a
jolly boy.

DEARTH. He sounds it. Ye Gods, what a night!

MARGARET (considering the picture). And what a moon! Dad, she is not
quite so fine as that.

DEARTH. 'Sh! I have touched her up.

MARGARET. Dad, Dad--what a funny man!

(She has seen MR. COADE with whistle, enlivening the wood. He
pirouettes round them and departs to add to the happiness of others.
MARGARET gives an excellent imitation of him at which her father
shakes his head, then reprehensibly joins in the dance. Her mood
changes, she clings to him.)

MARGARET. Hold me tight, Daddy, I 'm frightened. I think they want to
take you away from me.

DEARTH. Who, gosling?

MARGARET. I don't know. It's too lovely, Daddy; I won't be able to
keep hold of it.

DEARTH. What is?

MARGARET. The world--everything--and you, Daddy, most of all. Things
that are too beautiful can't last.

DEARTH (who knows it). Now, how did you find that out?

MARGARET (still in his arms). I don't know, Daddy, am I sometimes
stranger than other people's daughters?

DEARTH. More of a madcap, perhaps.

MARGARET (solemnly). Do you think I am sometimes too full of
gladness?

DEARTH. My sweetheart, you do sometimes run over with it. (He is at
his easel again.)

MARGARET (persisting). To be very gay, dearest dear, is so near to
being very sad.

DEARTH (who knows it). How did you find that out, child?

MARGARET. I don't know. From something in me that's afraid.
(Unexpectedly.) Daddy, what is a 'might-have-been?'

DEARTH. A might-have-been? They are ghosts, Margaret. I daresay I
'might have been' a great swell of a painter, instead of just this
uncommonly happy nobody. Or again, I might have been a worthless idle
waster of a fellow.

MARGARET (laughing). You!

DEARTH. Who knows? Some little kink in me might have set me off on the
wrong road. And that poor soul I might so easily have been might have
had no Margaret. My word, I'm sorry for him.

MARGARET. So am I. (She conceives a funny picture.) The poor old
Daddy, wandering about the world without me!

DEARTH. And there are other 'might-have-beens'--lovely ones, but
intangible.  Shades, Margaret, made of sad folk's thoughts.

MARGARET (jigging about). I am so glad I am not a shade. How awful it
would be, Daddy, to wake up and find one wasn't alive.

DEARTH. It would, dear.

MARGARET. Daddy, wouldn't it be awful. I think men need daughters.

DEARTH. They do.

MARGARET. Especially artists.

DEARTH. Yes, especially artists.

MARGARET. Especially artists.

DEARTH. Especially artists.

MARGARET (covering herself with leaves and kicking them off). Fame is
not everything.

DEARTH. Fame is rot; daughters are the thing.

MARGARET. Daughters are the thing.

DEARTH. Daughters are the thing.

MARGARET. I wonder if sons would be even nicer?

DEARTH. Not a patch on daughters. The awful thing about a son is that
never, never--at least, from the day he goes to school--can you tell
him that you rather like him. By the time he is ten you can't even
take him on your knee.  Sons are not worth having, Margaret. Signed
W. Dearth.

MARGARET. But if you were a mother, Dad, I daresay he would let you do
it.

DEARTH. Think so?

MARGARET. I mean when no one was looking. Sons are not so bad. Signed,
M.  Dearth. But I'm glad you prefer daughters. (She works her way
toward him on her knees, making the tear larger.) At what age are we
nicest, Daddy? (She has constantly to repeat her questions, he is so
engaged with his moon.) Hie, Daddy, at what age are we nicest? Daddy,
hie, hie, at what age are we nicest?

DEARTH. Eh? That's a poser. I think you were nicest when you were two
and knew your alphabet up to G but fell over at H. No, you were best
when you were half-past three; or just before you struck six; or in
the mumps year, when I asked you in the early morning how you were
and you said solemnly 'I haven't tried yet.'

MARGARET (awestruck). Did I?

DEARTH. Such was your answer. (Struggling with the momentous
question.) But I am not sure that chicken-pox doesn't beat mumps. Oh
Lord, I'm all wrong. The nicest time in a father's life is the year
before she puts up her hair.

MARGARET (topheavy with pride in herself). I suppose that is a
splendid time.  But there's a nicer year coming to you. Daddy, there
is a nicer year coming to you.

DEARTH. Is there, darling?

MARGARET. Daddy, the year she does put up her hair!

DEARTH. (with arrested brush). Puts it up for ever? You know, I am
afraid that when the day for that comes I shan't be able to stand it.
It will be too exciting. My poor heart, Margaret.

MARGARET (rushing at him). No, no, it will be lucky you, for it isn't
to be a bit like that. I am to be a girl and woman day about for the
first year. You will never know which I am till you look at my hair.
And even then you won't know, for if it is down I shall put it up,
and if it is up I shall put it down. And so my Daddy will gradually
get used to the idea.

DEARTH. (wryly). I see you have been thinking it out.

MARGARET (gleaming). I have been doing more than that. Shut your eyes,
Dad, and I shall give you a glimpse into the future.

DEARTH. I don't know that I want that: the present is so good.

MARGARET. Shut your eyes, please.

DEARTH. No, Margaret.

MARGARET. Please, Daddy.

DEARTH. Oh, all right. They are shut.

MARGARET. Don't open them till I tell you. What finger is that?

DEARTH. The dirty one.

MARGARET (on her knees among the leaves). Daddy, now I am putting up
my hair.  I have got such a darling of a mirror. It is such a darling
mirror I 've got, Dad. Dad, don't look. I shall tell you about it. It
is a little pool of water.  I wish we could take it home and hang it
up. Of course the moment my hair is up there will be other changes
also; for instance, I shall talk quite differently.

DEARTH. Pooh. Where are my matches, dear?

MARGARET, Top pocket, waistcoat.

DEARTH (trying to light his pipe in darkness). You were meaning to
frighten me just now.

MARGARET. No. I am just preparing you. You see, darling, I can't call
you Dad when my hair is up. I think I shall call you Parent. (He
growls.) Parent dear, do you remember the days when your Margaret was
a slip of a girl, and sat on your knee? How foolish we were, Parent,
in those distant days.

DEARTH. Shut up, Margaret.

MARGARET. Now I must be more distant to you; more like a boy who could
not sit on your knee any more.

DEARTH. See here, I want to go on painting. Shall I look now?

MARGARET. I am not quite sure whether I want you to. It makes such a
difference. Perhaps you won't know me. Even the pool is looking a
little scared. (The change in her voice makes him open his eyes
quickly. She confronts him shyly.) What do you think? Will I do?

DEARTH. Stand still, dear, and let me look my fill. The Margaret that
is to be.

MARGARET (the change in his voice falling clammy on her). You'll see
me often enough, Daddy, like this, so you don't need to look your
fill. You are looking as long as if this were to be the only time.

DEARTH. (with an odd tremor). Was I? Surely it isn't to be that.

MARGARET. Be gay, Dad. (Bumping into him and round him and over him.)
You will be sick of Margaret with her hair up before you are done
with her.

DEARTH. I expect so.

MARGARET. Shut up, Daddy. (She waggles her head, and down comes her
hair.) Daddy, I know what you are thinking of. You are thinking what
a handful she is going to be.

DEARTH. Well, I guess she is.

MARGARET (surveying him from another angle). Now you are thinking
about--about my being in love some day.

DEARTH (with unnecessary warmth). Rot!

MARGARET (reassuringly). I won't, you know; no, never. Oh, I have
quite decided, so don't be afraid, (Disordering his hair.) Will you
hate him at first, Daddy? Daddy, will you hate him? Will you hate
him, Daddy?

DEARTH (at work). Whom?

MARGARET. Well, if there was?

DEARTH. If there was what, darling?

MARGARET. You know the kind of thing I mean, quite well. Would you
hate him at first?

DEARTH. I hope not. I should want to strangle him, but I wouldn't hate
him.

MARGARET. _I_ would. That is to say, if I liked him.

DEARTH. If you liked him how could you hate him?

MARGARET. For daring!

DEARTH. Daring what?

MARGARET. You know. (Sighing.) But of course I shall have no say in
the matter. You will do it all. You do everything for me.

DEARTH (with a groan). I can't help it.

MARGARET. You will even write my love-letters, if I ever have any to
write, which I won't.

DEARTH (ashamed). Surely to goodness, Margaret, I will leave you alone
to do that!

MARGARET. Not you; you will try to, but you won't be able.

DEARTH (in a hopeless attempt at self-defence). I want you, you see,
to do everything exquisitely. I do wish I could leave you to do
things a little more for yourself. I suppose it's owing to my having
had to be father and mother both. I knew nothing practically about
the bringing up of children, and of course I couldn't trust you to a
nurse.

MARGARET (severely). Not you; so sure you could do it better yourself.
That's you all over. Daddy, do you remember how you taught me to
balance a biscuit on my nose, like a puppy?

DEARTH (sadly). Did I?

MARGARET. You called me Rover.

DEARTH. I deny that.

MARGARET. And when you said 'snap' I caught the biscuit in my mouth.

DEARTH. Horrible.

MARGARET (gleaming). Daddy, I can do it still! (Putting a biscuit on
her nose.) Here is the last of my supper. Say 'snap,' Daddy.

DEARTH. Not I.

MARGARET. Say 'snap,' please.

DEARTH. I refuse.

MARGARET. Daddy!

DEARTH. Snap. (She catches the biscuit in her mouth.) Let that be the
last time, Margaret.

MARGARET. Except just once more. I don't mean now, but when my hair is
really up. If I should ever have a--a Margaret of my own, come in and
see me, Daddy, in my white bed, and say 'snap'--and I'll have the
biscuit ready.

DEARTH (turning away his head). Right O.

MARGARET. Dad, if I ever should marry, not that I will but if I
should--at the marriage ceremony will you let me be the one who says
'I do'?

DEARTH. I suppose I deserve this.

MARGARET (coaxingly). You think I 'm pretty, don't you, Dad, whatever
other people say?

DEARTH. Not so bad.

MARGARET. I _know_ I have nice ears.

DEARTH. They are all right now, but I had to work on them for months.

MARGARET. You don't mean to say that you did my ears?

DEARTH. Rather!

MARGARET (grown humble). My dimple is my own.

DEARTH. I am glad you think so. I wore out the point of my little
finger over that dimple.

MARGARET. Even my dimple! Have I anything that is really mine? A bit
of my nose or anything?

DEARTH. When you were a babe you had a laugh that was all your own.

MARGARET. Haven't I it now?

DEARTH. It's gone. (He looks ruefully at her.) I'll tell you how it
went. We were fishing in a stream--that is to say, I was wading and
you were sitting on my shoulders holding the rod. We didn't catch
anything. Somehow or another--I can't think how I did it--you
irritated me, and I answered you sharply.

MARGARET (gasping). I can't believe that.

DEARTH. Yes, it sounds extraordinary, but I did. It gave you a shock,
and, for the moment, the world no longer seemed a safe place to you;
your faith in me had always made it safe till then. You were suddenly
not even sure of your bread and butter, and a frightened tear came to
your eyes. I was in a nice state about it, I can tell you. (He is in
a nice state about it still.)

MARGARET. Silly! (Bewildered) But what has that to do with my laugh,
Daddy?

DEARTH. The laugh that children are born with lasts just so long as
they have perfect faith. To think that it was I who robbed you of
yours!

MARGARET. Don't, dear. I am sure the laugh just went off with the tear
to comfort it, and they have been playing about that stream ever
since. They have quite forgotten us, so why should we remember them.
Cheeky little beasts!  Shall I tell you my farthest back
recollection? (In some awe.) I remember the first time I saw the
stars. I had never seen night, and then I saw it and the stars
together. Crack-in-my-eye Tommy, it isn't every one who can boast of
such a lovely, lovely, recollection for their earliest, is it?

DEARTH. I was determined your earliest should be a good one.

MARGARET (blankly). Do you mean to say you planned it?

DEARTH. Rather! Most people's earliest recollection is of some trivial
thing; how they cut their finger, or lost a piece of string. I was
resolved my Margaret's should be something bigger. I was poor, but I
could give her the stars.

MARGARET (clutching him round the legs). Oh, how you love me,
Daddikins.

DEARTH. Yes, I do, rather.

(A vagrant woman has wandered in their direction, one whom the shrill
winds of life have lashed and bled; here and there ragged graces
still cling to her, and unruly passion smoulders, but she, once a
dear, fierce rebel, with eyes of storm, is now first of all a
whimperer. She and they meet as strangers.)

MARGARET (nicely, as becomes an artist's daughter.) Good evening.

ALICE. Good evening, Missy; evening, Mister.

DEARTH (seeing that her eyes search the ground). Lost anything?

ALICE. Sometimes when the tourists have had their sandwiches there are
bits left over, and they squeeze them between the roots to keep the
place tidy. I am looking for bits.

DEARTH. You don't tell me you are as hungry as that?

ALICE (with spirit). Try me. (Strange that he should not know that
once loved husky voice.)

MARGARET (rushing at her father and feeling all his pockets.) Daddy,
that was my last biscuit!

DEARTH. We must think of something else.

MARGARET (taking her hand). Yes, wait a bit, we are sure to think of
something. Daddy, think of something.

ALICE (sharply). Your father doesn't like you to touch the likes of
me.

MARGARET. Oh yes, he does. (Defiantly) And if he didn't, I'd do it all
the same. This is a bit of _myself_, daddy.

DEARTH. That is all you know.

ALICE (whining). You needn't be angry with her. Mister; I'm all
right.

DEARTH. I am not angry with her; I am very sorry for you.

ALICE (flaring). if I had my rights, I would be as good as you--and
better.

DEARTH. I daresay.

ALICE. I have had men-servants and a motor-car.  DEARTH. Margaret and
I never rose to that.

MARGARET (stung). I have been in a taxi several times, and Dad often
gets telegrams.

DEARTH. Margaret!

MARGARET. I'm sorry I boasted.

ALICE. That's nothing. I have a town house--at least I had ...  At
any rate he said there was a town house.

MARGARET (interested). Fancy his not knowing for certain.

ALICE. The Honourable Mrs. Finch-Fallowe--that's who I am.

MARGARET (cordially). It's a lovely name.

ALICE. Curse him.

MARGARET. Don't you like him?

DEARTH. We won't go into that. I have nothing to do with your past,
but I wish we had some food to offer you.

ALICE. You haven't a flask?

DEARTH. No, I don't take anything myself. But let me see....

MARGARET (sparkling). I know! You said we had five pounds. (To the
needy one.) Would you like five pounds?

DEARTH. Darling, don't be stupid; we haven't paid our bill at the
inn.

ALICE (with bravado). All right; I never asked you for anything.

DEARTH. Don't take me up in that way: I have had my ups and downs
myself. Here is ten bob and welcome.

(He surreptitiously slips a coin into MARGARET'S hand.)

MARGARET. And I have half a crown. It is quite easy for us. Dad will
be getting another fiver any day. You can't think how exciting it is
when the fiver comes in; we dance and then we run out and buy chops.

DEARTH. Margaret!

ALICE. It's kind of you. I'm richer this minute than I have been for
many a day.

DEARTH. It's nothing; I am sure you would do the same for us.

ALICE. I wish I was as sure.

DEARTH. Of course you would. Glad to be of any help. Get some victuals
as quickly as you can. Best of wishes, ma'am, and may your luck
change.

ALICE. Same to you, and may yours go on.

MARGARET. Good-night.

ALICE. What is her name, Mister?

DEARTH (who has returned to his easel). Margaret.

ALICE. Margaret. You drew something good out of the lucky bag when you
got her, Mister.

DEARTH. Yes.

ALICE. Take care of her; they are easily lost.

(She shuffles away.)

DEARTH. Poor soul. I expect she has had a rough time, and that some
man is to blame for it--partly, at any rate. (Restless) That woman
rather affects me, Margaret; I don't know why. Didn't you like her
husky voice? (He goes on painting.) I say, Margaret, we lucky ones,
let's swear always to be kind to people who are down on their luck,
and then when we are kind let's be a little kinder.

MARGARET (gleefully). Yes, let's.

DEARTH. Margaret, always feel sorry for the failures, the ones who are
always failures--especially in my sort of calling. Wouldn't it be
lovely, to turn them on the thirty-ninth year of failure into
glittering successes?

MARGARET. Topping.

DEARTH. Topping.

MARGARET. Oh, topping. How could we do it, Dad?

DEARTH. By letter. 'To poor old Tom Broken Heart, Top Attic, Garret
Chambers, S.E.--'DEAR SIR,--His Majesty has been graciously pleased
to purchase your superb picture of Marlow Ferry.'

MARGARET. 'P.S.--I am sending the money in a sack so as you can hear
it chink.'

DEARTH. What could we do for our friend who passed just now? I can't
get her out of my head.

MARGARET. You have made me forget her. (Plaintively) Dad, I didn't
like it.

DEARTH. Didn't like what, dear?

MARGARET (shuddering). I didn't like her saying that about your losing
me.

DEARTH (the one thing of which he is sure). I shan't lose you.

MARGARET (hugging his arm). It would be hard for me if you lost me,
but it would be worse for you. I don't know how I know that, but I do
know it. What would you do without me?

DEARTH (almost sharply). Don't talk like that, dear. It is wicked and
stupid, and naughty. Somehow that poor woman--I won't paint any more
to-night.

MARGARET. Let's get out of the wood; it frightens me.

DEARTH. And you loved it a moment ago. Hullo! (He has seen a distant
blurred light in the wood, apparently from a window.) I hadn't
noticed there was a house there.

MARGARET (tingling). Daddy, I feel sure there wasn't a house there!

DEARTH. Goose. It is just that we didn't look: our old way of letting
the world go hang; so interested in ourselves. Nice behaviour for
people who have been boasting about what they would do for other
people. Now I see what I ought to do.

MARGARET. Let's get out of the wood.

DEARTH. Yes, but my idea first. It is to rouse these people and get
food from them for the husky one.

MARGARET (clinging to him). She is too far away now.

DEARTH. I can overtake her.

MARGARET (in a frenzy). Don't go into that house, Daddy! I don't know
why it is, but I am afraid of that house!

(He waggles a reproving finger at her.)

DEARTH. There is a kiss for each moment until I come back. (She wipes
them from her face.) Oh, naughty, go and stand in the corner. (She
stands against a tree but she stamps her foot.) Who has got a nasty
temper!

(She tries hard not to smile, but she smiles and he smiles, and they
make comic faces at each other, as they have done in similar
circumstances since she first opened her eyes.)

I shall be back before you can count a hundred.

(He goes off humming his song so that she may still hear him when he
is lost to sight; all just as so often before. She tries dutifully to
count her hundred, but the wood grows dark and soon she is afraid
again. She runs from tree to tree calling to her Daddy. We begin to
lose her among the shadows.)

MARGARET (Out of the impalpable that is carrying her away). Daddy,
come back; I don't want to be a might-have-been.



ACT III

Lob's room has gone very dark as it sits up awaiting the possible
return of the adventurers. The curtains are drawn, so that no light
comes from outside.  There is a tapping on the window, and anon two
intruders are stealing about the floor, with muffled cries when they
meet unexpectedly. They find the switch and are revealed as Purdie
and his Mabel. Something has happened to them as they emerged from
the wood, but it is so superficial that neither notices it: they are
again in the evening dress in which they had left the house. But they
are still being led by that strange humour of the blood.

MABEL (looking around her curiously). A pretty little room; I wonder
who is the owner?

PURDIE. It doesn't matter; the great thing is that we have escaped
Joanna.

MABEL. Jack, look, a man!

(The term may not be happily chosen, but the person indicated is Lob
curled up on his chair by a dead fire. The last look on his face
before he fell asleep having been a leery one it is still there.)

PURDIE. He is asleep.

MABEL. Do you know him?

PURDIE. Not I. Excuse me, sir, Hi! (No shaking, however, wakens the
sleeper.)

MABEL. Darling, how extraordinary.

PURDIE (always considerate). After all, precious, have we any right to
wake up a stranger, just to tell him that we are runaways hiding in
his house?

MABEL (who comes of a good family). I think he would expect it of us.

PURDIE (after trying again). There is no budging him.

MABEL (appeased). At any rate, we have done the civil thing.

(She has now time to regard the room more attentively, including the
tray of coffee cups which MATEY had left on the table in a not
unimportant moment of his history.) There have evidently been people
here, but they haven't drunk their coffee. Ugh! cold as a deserted
egg in a bird's nest. Jack, if you were a clever detective you could
construct those people out of their neglected coffee cups. I wonder
who they are and what has spirited them away?

PURDIE. Perhaps they have only gone to bed. Ought we to knock them
up?

MABEL (after considering what her mother would have done). I think
not, dear.  I suppose we have run away, Jack--meaning to?

PURDIE (with the sturdiness that weaker vessels adore). Irrevocably.
Mabel, if the dog-like devotion of a lifetime ...  (He becomes
conscious that something has happened to LOB'S leer. It has not left
his face but it has shifted.) He is not shamming, do you think?

MABEL. Shake him again.

PURDIE (after shaking him). It's all right. Mabel, if the dog-like
devotion of a lifetime ...

MABEL. Poor little Joanna! Still, if a woman insists on being a
pendulum round a man's neck ...

PURDIE. Do give me a chance, Mabel. If the dog-like devotion of a
lifetime ...

(JOANNA comes through the curtains so inopportunely that for the
moment he is almost pettish.)

May I say, this is just a little too much, Joanna!

JOANNA (unconscious as they of her return to her dinner gown). So,
sweet husband, your soul is still walking alone, is it?

MABEL (who hates coarseness of any kind). How can you sneak about in
this way, Joanna? Have you no pride?

JOANNA (dashing away a tear). Please to address me as Mrs. Purdie,
madam. (She sees LOB.) Who is this man?

PURDIE. We don't know; and there is no waking him. You can try, if you
like.

(Failing to rouse him JOANNA makes a third at table. They are all a
little inconsequential, as if there were still some moon-shine in
their hair.)

JOANNA. You were saying something about the devotion of a lifetime;
please go on.

PURDIE (diffidently). I don't like to before you, Joanna.

JOANNA (becoming coarse again). Oh, don't mind me.

PURDIE (looking like a note of interrogation). I should certainly like
to say it.

MABEL (loftily). And I shall be proud to hear it.

PURDIE. I should have liked to spare you this, Joanna; you wouldn't
put your hands over your ears?

JOANNA (alas). No, sir.

MABEL. Fie, Joanna. Surely a wife's natural delicacy ...

PURDIE (severely). As you take it in that spirit, Joanna, I can
proceed with a clear conscience. If the dog-like devotion of a
lifetime--(He reels a little, staring at LOB, over whose face the
leer has been wandering like an insect.)

MABEL. Did he move?

PURDIE. It isn't that. I am feeling--very funny. Did one of you tap me
just now on the forehead?

(Their hands also have gone to their foreheads.)

MABEL. I think I have been in this room before.

PURDIE (flinching). There is something coming rushing back to me.

MABEL. I seem to know that coffee set. If I do, the lid of the milk
jug is chipped. It is!

JOANNA. I can't remember this man's name; but I am sure it begins with L.

MABEL. Lob.

PURDIE. Lob.

JOANNA. Lob.

PURDIE. Mabel, your dress?

MABEL (beholding it). How on earth...?

JOANNA. My dress! (To PURDIE.) You were in knickerbockers in the
wood.

PURDIE. And so I am now. (He sees he is not.) Where did I change? The
wood!  Let me think. The wood ... the wood, certainly. But the
wood wasn't the wood.

JOANNA (revolving like one in pursuit). My head is going round.

MABEL. Lob's wood! I remember it all. We were here. We did go.

PURDIE. So we did. But how could...? where was...?

JOANNE. And who was...?

MABEL And what was...?

PURDIE (even in this supreme hour a man). Don't let go. Hold on to
what we were doing, or we shall lose grip of ourselves. Devotion.
Something about devotion. Hold on to devotion. 'If the dog-like
devotion of a lifetime...' Which of you was I saying that to?

MABEL. To me.

PURDIE. Are you sure?

MABEL (shakily). I am not quite sure.

PURDIE (anxiously). Joanna, what do you think? (With a sudden increase
of uneasiness.) Which of you is my wife?

JOANNA (without enthusiasm). I am. No, I am not. It is Mabel who is
your wife!

MABEL. Me?

PURDIE (with a curious gulp). Why, of course you are, Mabel!

MABEL. I believe I am!

PURDIE. And yet how can it be? I was running away with you.

JOANNA (solving that problem). You don't need to do it now.

PURDIE. The wood. Hold on to the wood. The wood is what explains it.
Yes, I see the whole thing. (He gazes at LOB.) You infernal old
rascal! Let us try to think it out. Don't any one speak for a moment.
Think first. Love ...  Hold on to love. (He gets another tap.) I
say, I believe I am not a deeply passionate chap at all; I believe I
am just .... a philanderer!

MABEL. It is what you are.

JOANNA (more magnanimous). Mabel, what about ourselves?

PURDIE (to whom it is truly a nauseous draught). I didn't know. Just
a philanderer! (The soul of him would like at this instant to creep
into another body.) And if people don't change, I suppose we shall
begin all over again now.

JOANNA (the practical). I daresay; but not with each other. I may
philander again, but not with you.

(They look on themselves without approval, always a sorry occupation.
The man feels it most because he has admired himself most, or perhaps
partly for some better reason.)

PURDIE (saying good-bye to an old friend). John Purdie, John Purdie,
the fine fellow I used to think you! (When he is able to look them in
the face again.) The wood has taught me one thing, at any rate.

MABEL (dismally). What, Jack?

PURDIE. That it isn't accident that shapes our lives.

JOANNA. No, it's Fate.

PURDIE (the truth running through him, seeking for a permanent home in
him, willing to give him still another chance, loth to desert him).
It's not Fate, Joanna. Fate is something outside us. What really
plays the dickens with us is some thing in ourselves. Something that
makes us go on doing the same sort of fool things, however many
chances we get.

MABEL. Something in ourselves?

PURDIE (shivering). Something we are born with.

JOANNA. Can't we cut out the beastly thing?

PURDIE. Depends, I expect, on how long we have pampered him. We can at
least control him if we try hard enough. But I have for the moment an
abominably clear perception that the likes of me never really tries.
Forgive me, Joanna--no, Mabel--both of you. (He is a shamed
man.) It isn't very pleasant to discover that one is a rotter. I
suppose I shall get used to it.

JOANNA. I could forgive anybody anything to-night. (Candidly.) It is
so lovely not to be married to you, Jack.

PURDIE (spiritless). I can understand that. I do feel small.

JOANNA (the true friend). You will soon swell up again.

PURDIE (for whom, alas, we need not weep). That is the appalling
thing. But at present, at any rate, I am a rag at your feet,
Joanna--no, at yours, Mabel.  Are you going to pick me up? I don't
advise it.

MABEL. I don't know whether I want to, Jack. To begin with, which of
us is it your lonely soul is in search of?

JOANNA. Which of us is the fluid one, or the fluider one?

MABEL. Are you and I one? Or are you and Joanna one? Or are the three
of us two?

JOANNA. He wants you to whisper in his ear, Mabel, the entrancing
poem, 'Mabel Purdie.' Do it, Jack; there will be nothing wrong in it
now.

PURDIE. Rub it in.

MABEL. When I meet Joanna's successor--

PURDIE (quailing). No, no, Mabel none of that. At least credit me with
having my eyes open at last. There will be no more of this. I swear
it by all that is--

JOANNA (in her excellent imitation of a sheep). Baa-a, he is off
again.

PURDIE. Oh Lord, so I am.

MABEL. Don't, Joanna.

PURDIE (his mind still illumined). She is quite right--I was. In my
present state of depression--which won't last--I feel there is
something in me that will make me go on being the same ass, however
many chances I get. I haven't the stuff in me to take warning. My
whole being is corroded. Shakespeare knew what he was talking
about--'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in
ourselves, that we are underlings.'

JOANNA. For 'dear Brutus' we are to read 'dear audience' I suppose?

PURDIE. You have it.

JOANNA. Meaning that we have the power to shape ourselves?

PURDIE. We have the power right enough.

JOANNA. But isn't that rather splendid?

PURDIE. For those who have the grit in them, yes. (Still seeing with a
strange clearness through the chink the hammer has made.) And they
are not the dismal chappies; they are the ones with the thin bright
faces. (He sits lugubriously by his wife and is sorry for the first
time that she has not married a better man.) I am afraid there is not
much fight in me, Mabel, but we shall see. If you catch me at it
again, have the goodness to whisper to me in passing, 'Lob's Wood.'
That may cure me for the time being.

MABEL (still certain that she loved him once but not so sure why.)
Perhaps I will ... as long as I care to bother, Jack. It depends on
you how long that is to be.

JOANNA (to break an awkward pause). I feel that there is hope in that
as well as a warning. Perhaps the wood may prove to have been useful
after all. (This brighter view of the situation meets with no
immediate response. With her next suggestion she reaches harbour.)
You know, we are not people worth being sorrowful about--so let us
laugh.

(The ladies succeed in laughing though not prettily, but the man has
been too much shaken.)

JOANNA (in the middle of her laugh). We have forgotten the others! I
wonder what is happening to them?

PURDIE (reviving). Yes, what about them? Have they changed!

MABEL. I didn't see any of them in the wood.

JOANNA. Perhaps we did see them without knowing them; we didn't know
Lob.

PURDIE (daunted). That's true.

JOANNA. Won't it be delicious to be here to watch them when they come
back, and see them waking up--or whatever it was we did.

PURDIE. What was it we did? I think something tapped me on the
forehead.

MABEL (blanching). How do we know the others will come back?

JOANNA (infected). We don't know. How awful!

MABEL. Listen!

PURDIE. I distinctly hear some one on the stairs.

MABEL. It will be Matey.

PURDIE (the chink beginning to close). Be cautious both of you; don't
tell him we have had any ... odd experiences.

(It is, however, MRS. COADE who comes downstairs in a dressing-gown
and carrying a candle and her husband's muffler.)

MRS. COADE. So you are back at last. A nice house, I must say. Where
is Coady?

PURDIE (taken aback). Coady! Did he go into the wood, too?

MRS. COADE (placidly). I suppose so. I have been down several times to
look for him.

MABEL. Coady, too!

JOANNA (seeing visions). I wonder ...  Oh, how dreadful!

MRS. COADE. What is dreadful, Joanna?

JOANNA (airily). Nothing. I was just wondering what he is doing.

MRS. COADE. Doing? What should he be doing? Did anything odd happen to
you in the wood?

PURDIE (taking command). No, no, nothing.

JOANNA. We just strolled about, and came back. (That subject being
exhausted she points to LOB). Have you noticed him?

MRS. COADE. Oh, yes; he has been like that all the time. A sort of
stupor, I think; and sometimes the strangest grin comes over his
face.

PURDIE (wincing). Grin?

MRS. COADE. Just as if he were seeing amusing things in his sleep.

PURDIE (guardedly). I daresay he is. Oughtn't we to get Matey to him?

MRS. COADE. Matey has gone, too.

PURDIE. Wha-at!

MRS. COADE. At all events he is not in the house.

JOANNA (unguardedly). Matey! I wonder who is with him.

MRS. COADE. Must somebody be with him?

JOANNA. Oh, no, not at all.

(They are simultaneously aware that someone outside has reached the
window.)

MRS. COADE. I hope it is Coady.

(The other ladies are too fond of her to share this wish.)

MABEL. Oh, I hope not.

MRS. COADE (blissfully). Why, Mrs. Purdie?

JOANNA (coaxingly). Dear Mrs. Coade, whoever he is, and whatever he
does, I beg you not to be surprised. We feel that though we had no
unusual experiences in the wood, others may not have been so
fortunate.

MABEL. And be cautious, you dear, what you say to them before they
come to.

MRS. COADE. 'Come to'? You puzzle me. And Coady didn't have his
muffler.

(Let it be recorded that in their distress for this old lady they
forget their own misadventures. PURDIE takes a step toward the
curtains in a vague desire to shield her;--and gets a rich reward; he
has seen the coming addition to their circle.)

PURDIE (elated and pitiless). It is Matey!

(A butler intrudes who still thinks he is wrapped in fur.)

JOANNA (encouragingly). Do come in.

MATEY. With apologies, ladies and gents ...  May I ask who is host?

PURDIE (splashing in the temperature that suits him best). A very
reasonable request. Third on the left.

MATEY (advancing upon Lob). Merely to ask, sir, if you can direct me
to my hotel?

(The sleeper's only response is a alight quiver in one leg.)

The gentleman seems to be reposing.

MRS. COADE. It is Lob.

MATEY. What is lob, ma'am?

MRS. COADE (pleasantly curious). Surely you haven't forgotten?

PURDIE (over-riding her). Anything we can do for you, sir? Just give
it a name.

JOANNA (in the same friendly spirit). I hope you are not alone: do say
you have some lady friends with you.

MATEY (with an emphasis on his leading word). My wife is with me.

JOANNA. His wife! ... (With commendation.) You have been quick!

MRS. COADE. I didn't know you were married.

MATEY. Why should you, madam? You talk as if you knew me.

MRS. COADE. Good gracious, do you really think I don't?

PURDIE (indicating delicately that she is subject to a certain
softening). Sit down, won't you, my dear sir, and make yourself
comfy.

MATEY (accustomed of late to such deferential treatment). Thank you.
But my wife ...

JOANNA (hospitably). Yes, bring her in; we are simply dying to make
her acquaintance.

MATEY. You are very good; I am much obliged.

MABEL (as he goes out). Who can she be?

JOANNA (leaping). Who, who, who!

MRS. COADE. But what an extraordinary wood. He doesn't seem to know
who he is at all.

MABEL (soothingly). Don't worry about that, Coady darling. He will
know soon enough.

JOANNA (again finding the bright side). And so will the little wife!
By the way, whoever she is, I hope she is fond of butlers.

MABEL (who has peeped). It is Lady Caroline!

JOANNA (leaping again). Oh, joy, joy! And she was so sure she couldn't
take the wrong turning!

(Lady Caroline is evidently still sure of it.)

MATEY. May I present my wife--Lady Caroline Matey.

MABEL (glowing). How do you do!

PURDIE. Your servant, Lady Caroline.

MRS. COADE. Lady Caroline Matey! You?

LADY CAROLINE (without an r in her). Charmed, I'm sure.

JOANNA (neatly). Very pleased to meet any wife of Mr. Matey.

PURDIE (taking the floor). Allow me. The Duchess of Candelabra. The
Ladies Helena and Matilda M'Nab. I am the Lord Chancellor.

MABEL. I have wanted so long to make your acquaintance.

LADY CAROLINE. Charmed.

JOANNA (gracefully). These informal meetings are so delightful, don't
you think?

LADY CAROLINE. Yes, indeed.

MATEY (the introductions being thus pleasantly concluded). And your
friend by the fire?

PURDIE. I will introduce you to him when you wake up--I mean when he
wakes up.

MATEY. Perhaps I ought to have said that I am _James_ Matey.

LADY CAROLINE (the happy creature). _The_ James Matey.

MATEY. A name not, perhaps, unknown in the world of finance.

JOANNA. Finance? Oh, so you did take that clerkship in the City!

MATEY (a little stiffly). I began as a clerk in the City, certainly;
and I am not ashamed to admit it.

MRS. COADE (still groping). Fancy that, now. And did it save you?

MATEY. Save me, madam?

JOANNA. Excuse us--we ask odd questions in this house; we only mean,
did that keep you honest? Or are you still a pilferer?

LADY CAROLINE (an outraged swan). Husband mine, what does she mean?

JOANNA. No offence; I mean a pilferer on a large scale.

MATEY (remembering certain newspaper jealousy). If you are referring
to that Labrador business--or the Working Women's Bank ...

PURDIE (after the manner of one who has caught a fly). O-ho, got him!

JOANNA (bowing). Yes, those are what I meant.

MATEY (stoutly). There was nothing proved.

JOANNA (like one calling a meeting). Mabel, Jack, here is another of
us! You have gone just the same way again, my friend. (Ecstatically.)
There is more in it, you see, than taking the wrong turning; you
would always take the wrong turning. (The only fitting comment.)
Tra-la-la!

LADY CAROLINE. If you are casting any aspersions on my husband, allow
me to say that a prouder wife than I does not to-day exist.

MRS. COADE (who finds herself the only clear-headed one). My dear, do
be careful.

MABEL. So long as you are satisfied, dear Lady Caroline. But I thought
you shrank from all blood that was not blue.

LADY CAROLINE. You thought? Why should you think about me? I beg to
assure you that I adore my Jim.

(She seeks his arm, but her Jim has encountered the tray containing
coffee cups and a cake, and his hands close on it with a certain
intimacy.) Whatever are you doing, Jim?

MATEY. I don't understand it, Caroliny; but somehow I feel at home
with this in my hands.

MABEL. 'Caroliny!'

MRS. COADE. Look at me well; don't you remember me?

MATEY (musing). I don't remember you; but I seem to associate you
with hard-boiled eggs. (With conviction.) You like your eggs
hard-boiled.

PURDIE. Hold on to hard-boiled eggs! She used to tip you especially to
see to them.

(MATEY'S hand goes to his pocket.)

Yes, that was the pocket.

LADY CAROLINE (with distaste). Tip!

MATEY (without distaste). Tip!

PURDIE. Jolly word, isn't it?

MATEY (raising the tray). It seems to set me thinking.

LADY CAROLINE (feeling the tap of the hammer). Why is my work-basket
in this house?

MRS. COADE. You are living here, you know.

LADY CAROLINE. That is what a person feels. But when did I come? It is
very odd, but one feels one ought to say when did one go.

PURDIE. She is coming to with a wush!

MATEY (under the hammer). Mr.... Purdie!

LADY CAROLINE. MRS. Coade!

MATEY. The Guv'nor! My clothes!

LADY CAROLINE. One is in evening dress!

JOANNA (charmed to explain). You will understand clearly in a minute,
Caroliny. You didn't really take that clerkship, Jim; you went into
domestic service; but in the essentials you haven't altered.

PURDIE (pleasantly). I'll have my shaving water at 7.30 sharp, Matey.

MATEY (mechanically). Very good, sir.

LADY CAROLINE. Sir? Midsummer Eve! The wood!

PURDIE. Yes, hold on to the wood.

MATEY. You are ... you are ... you are Lady Caroline Laney!

LADY CAROLINE. It is Matey, the butler!

MABEL. You seemed quite happy with him, you know, Lady Caroline.

JOANNA (nicely). We won't tell.

LADY CAROLINE (subsiding). Caroline Matey! And I seemed to like it!
How horrible!

MRS. COADE (expressing a general sentiment). It is rather difficult to
see what we should do next.

MATEY (tentatively). Perhaps if I were to go downstairs?

PURDIE. It would be conferring a personal favour on us all.

(Thus encouraged MATEY and his tray resume friendly relations with
the pantry.)

LADY CAROLINE (with itching fingers as she glares at Lob). It is all
that wretch's doing.

(A quiver from Lob's right leg acknowledges the compliment. The gay
music of a pipe is heard from outside.)

JOANNA (peeping). Coady!

MRS. COADE. Coady! Why is he so happy?

JOANNA (troubled). Dear, hold my hand.

MRS. COADE (suddenly trembling). Won't he know me?

PURDIE (abashed by that soft face). Mrs. Coade, I 'm sorry. It didn't
so much matter about the likes of us, but for your sake I wish Coady
hadn't gone out.

MRS. COADE. We that have been happily married this thirty years.

COADE (popping in buoyantly). May I intrude? My name is Coade. The
fact is I was playing about in the wood on a whistle, and I saw your
light.

MRS. COADE (the only one with the nerve to answer). Playing about in
the wood with a whistle!

COADE (with mild dignity). And why not, madam?

MRS. COADE. Madam! Don't you know me?

COADE. I don't know you ... (Reflecting.) But I wish I did.

MRS. COADE. Do you? Why?

COADE. If I may say so, you have a very soft, lovable face.

(Several persons breathe again.)

MRS. COADE (inquisitorially). Who was with you, playing whistles in
the wood?

(The breathing ceases.)

COADE. No one was with me.

(And is resumed.)

MRS. COADE. No ... lady?

COADE. Certainly not. (Then he spoils it.) I am a bachelor.

MRS. COADE. A bachelor!

JOANNA. Don't give way, dear; it might be much worse.

MRS. COADE. A bachelor! And you are sure you never spoke to me before?
Do think.

COADE. Not to my knowledge. Never ... except in dreams.

MABEL (taking a risk). What did you say to her in dreams?

COADE. I said, 'My dear.' (This when uttered surprises him.) Odd!

JOANNA. The darling man!

MRS. COADE (wavering). How could you say such things to an old woman?

COADE (thinking it out). Old? I didn't think of you as old. No, no,
young--with the morning dew on your face--coming across a lawn--in a
black and green dress--and carrying such a pretty parasol.

MRS. COADE (thrilling). That was how he first met me! He used to love
me in black and green; and it _was_ a pretty parasol. Look, I am old...
So it can't be the same woman.

COADE (blinking). Old? Yes, I suppose so. But it is the same soft,
lovable face, and the same kind, beaming smile that children could
warm their hands at.

MRS. COADE. He always liked my smile.

PURDUE. So do we all.

COADE (to himself). Emma!

MRS. COADE. He hasn't forgotten my name!

COADE. It is sad that we didn't meet long ago. I think I have been
waiting for you. I suppose we have met too late? You couldn't
overlook my being an old fellow, could you, eh?

JOANNA. How lovely; he is going to propose to her again. Coady, you
happy thing, he is wanting the same soft face after thirty years!

MRS. COADE (undoubtedly hopeful). We mustn't be too sure, but I think
that is it. (Primly.) What is it exactly that you want, Mr. Coade?

COADE (under a lucky star). I want to have the right to hold the
parasol over you. Won't you be my wife, my dear, and so give my long
dream of you a happy ending?

MRS. COADE (preening). Kisses are not called for at our age, Coady,
but here is a muffler for your old neck.

COADE. My muffler; I have missed it. (It is however to his forehead
that his hand goes. Immediately thereafter he misses his sylvan
attire.) Why ... why ... what ... who ... how is this?

PURDIE (nervously). He is coming to.

COADE (reeling and righting himself). Lob!

(The leg indicates that he has got it.)

Bless me, Coady, I went into that wood!

MRS. COADE. And without your muffler, you that are so subject to
chills. What are you feeling for in your pocket?

COADE. The whistle. It is a whistle I--Gone! of course it is. It's
rather a pity, but ... (Anxious.) Have I been saying awful things
to you?

MABEL. You have been making her so proud. It is a compliment to our
whole sex. You had a second chance, and it is her, again!

COADE. Of course it is. (Crestfallen.) But I see I was just the same
nice old lazy Coady as before; and I had thought that if I had a
second chance, I could do things. I have often said to you, Coady,
that it was owing to my being cursed with a competency that I didn't
write my great book. But I had no competency this time, and I haven't
written a word.

PURDIE (bitterly enough). That needn't make you feel lonely in this
house.

MRS. COADE (in a small voice). You seem to have been quite happy as an
old bachelor, dear.

COADE. I am surprised at myself, Emma, but I fear I was.

MRS. COADE (with melancholy perspicacity). I wonder if what it means
is that you don't especially need even me. I wonder if it means that
you are just the sort of amiable creature that would be happy
anywhere, and anyhow?

COADE. Oh dear, can it be as bad as that!

JOANNA (a ministering angel she). Certainly not. It is a romance, and
I won't have it looked upon as anything else.

MRS. COADE. Thank you, Joanna. You will try not to miss that whistle,
Coady?

COADE (getting the footstool for her). You are all I need.

MRS. COADE. Yes; but I am not so sure as I used to be that it is a
great compliment.

JOANNA. Coady, behave.

(There is a knock on the window.)

PURDIE (peeping). Mrs. Dearth! (His spirits revive.) She is alone. Who
would have expected that of _her_?

MABEL. She is a wild one, Jack, but I sometimes thought rather a dear;
I do hope she has got off cheaply.

(ALICE comes to them in her dinner gown.)

PURDIE (the irrepressible). Pleased to see you, stranger.

ALICE (prepared for ejection.) I was afraid such an unceremonious
entry might startle you.

PURDIE. Not a bit.

ALICE (defiant). I usually enter a house by the front door.

PURDIE. I have heard that such is the swagger way.

ALICE (simpering). So stupid of me. I lost myself in the wood ... and ...

JOANNA (genially). Of course you did. But never mind that; do tell us
your name.

LADY CAROLINE (emerging again). Yes, yes, your name.

ALICE. Of course, I am the Honourable Mrs. Finch-Fallowe.

LADY CAROLINE. Of course, of course!

PURDIE. I hope Mr. Finch-Fallowe is very well? We don't know him
personally, but may we have the pleasure of seeing him bob up
presently?

ALICE. No, I am not sure where he is.

LADY CAROLINE (with point). I wonder if the dear clever police know?

ALICE (imprudently). No, they don't.

(It is a very secondary matter to her. This woman of calamitous fires
hears and sees her tormentors chiefly as the probable owner, of the
cake which is standing on that tray.) So awkward, I gave my
sandwiches to a poor girl and her father whom I met in the wood, and
now ... isn't it a nuisance--I am quite hungry. (So far with a
mincing bravado.) May I?

(Without waiting for consent she falls to upon the cake, looking over
it like one ready to fight them for it.)

PURDIE (sobered again). Poor soul.

LADY CAROLINE. We are so anxious to know whether you met a friend of
ours in the wood--a Mr. Dearth. Perhaps you know him, too?

ALICE. Dearth? I don't know any Dearth.

MRS. COADE. Oh, dear what a wood!

LADY CAROLINE. He is quite a front door sort of man; knocks and rings,
you know.

PURDIE. Don't worry her.

ALICE (gnawing). I meet so many; you see I go out a great deal. I
have visiting-cards--printed ones.

LADY CAROLINE. How very distingue. Perhaps Mr. Dearth has painted
your portrait; he is an artist.

ALICE. Very likely; they all want to paint me. I daresay that is the
man to whom I gave my sandwiches.

MRS. COADE. But I thought you said he had a daughter?

ALICE. Such a pretty girl; I gave her half a crown.

COADE. A daughter? That can't be Dearth.

PURDIE (darkly). Don't be too sure. Was the man you speak of a rather
chop-fallen, gone-to-seed sort of person.

ALICE. No, I thought him such a jolly, attractive man.

COADE. Dearth jolly, attractive! Oh no. Did he say anything about his
wife?

LADY CAROLINE, Yes, do try to remember if he mentioned her.

ALICE (snapping). No, he didn't.

PURDIE. He was far from jolly in her time.

ALICE (with an archness for which the cake is responsible). Perhaps
that was the lady's fault.

(The last of the adventurers draws nigh, carolling a French song as he
comes.)

COADE. Dearth's voice. He sounds quite merry!

JOANNA (protecting). Alice, you poor thing.

PURDIE. This is going to be horrible.

(A clear-eyed man of lusty gait comes in.)

DEARTH. I am sorry to bounce in on you in this way, but really I have
an excuse. I am a painter of sorts, and...

(He sees he has brought some strange discomfort here.)

MRS. COADE. I must say, Mr. Dearth, I am delighted to see you looking
so well. Like a new man, isn't he?

(No one dares to answer.)

DEARTH. I am certainly very well, if you care to know. But did I tell
you my name?

JOANNA (for some one has to speak). No, but--but we have an instinct
in this house.

DEARTH. Well, it doesn't matter. Here is the situation; my daughter
and I have just met in the wood a poor woman famishing for want of
food. We were as happy as grigs ourselves, and the sight of her
distress rather cut us up. Can you give me something for her? Why are
you looking so startled? (Seeing the remains of the cake.) May I have
this?

(A shrinking movement from one of them draws his attention, and he
recognises in her the woman of whom he has been speaking. He sees her
in fine clothing and he grows stern.)

I feel I can't be mistaken; it was you I met in the wood? Have you
been playing some trick on me? (To the others.) It was for her I
wanted the food.

ALICE (her hand guarding the place where his gift lies). Have you come
to take hack the money you gave me?

DEARTH. Your dress! You were almost in rags when I saw you outside.

ALICE (frightened as she discovers how she is now attired). I don't ...
understand ...

COADE (gravely enough). For that matter, Dearth, I daresay you were
different in the wood, too.

(DEARTH sees his own clothing.)

DEARTH. What...!

ALICE (frightened). Where am I? (To Mrs. Coade.) I seem to know you
... do I?

MRS. COADE (motherly). Yes, you do; hold my hand, and you will soon
remember all about it.

JOANNA. I am afraid, Mr. Dearth, it is harder for you than for the
rest of us.

PURDIE (looking away). I wish I could help you, but I can't; I am a
rotter.

MABEL. We are awfully sorry. Don't you remember ... Midsummer Eve?

DEARTH (controlling himself). Midsummer Eve? This room. Yes, this room
... You was it you? ... were going out to look for something ...
The tree of knowledge, wasn't it? Somebody wanted me to go, too ...
Who was that? A lady, I think ... Why did she ask me to go?
What was I doing here? I was smoking a cigar ... I laid it down,
there ... (He finds the cigar.) Who was the lady?

ALICE (feebly). Something about a second chance.

MRS. COADE. Yes, you poor dear, you thought you could make so much of
it.

DEARTH. A lady who didn't like me-- (With conviction.) She had good
reasons, too--but what were they...?

ALICE. A little old man! He did it. What did he do?

(The hammer is raised.)

DEARTH. I am ... it is coming back--I am not the man I thought
myself.

ALICE. I am not Mrs. Finch-Fallowe. Who am I?

DEARTH (staring at her). You were that lady.

ALICE. It is you--my husband!

(She is overcome.)

MRS. COADE. My dear, you are much better off, so far as I can see,
than if you were Mrs. Finch-Fallowe.

ALICE (with passionate knowledge). Yes, yes indeed! (Generously.) But
he isn't.

DEARTH. Alice! ... I--(He tries to smile.) I didn't know you when I
was in the wood with Margaret. She ... she ... Margaret...
(The hammer falls.)

O my God!

(He buries his face in his hands.)

ALICE. I wish--I wish--

(She presses his shoulder fiercely and then stalks out by the door.)

PURDIE (to LOB, after a time). You old ruffian.

DEARTH. No, I am rather fond of him, our lonely, friendly little host.
Lob, I thank thee for that hour.

(The seedy-looking fellow passes from the scene.)

COADE. Did you see that his hand is shaking again?

PURDIE. The watery eye has come back.

JOANNA. And yet they are both quite nice people.

PURDIE (finding the tragedy of it). We are all quite nice people.

MABEL. If she were not such a savage!

PURDIE. I daresay there is nothing the matter with her except that she
would always choose the wrong man, good man or bad man, but the wrong
man for her.

COADE. We can't change.

MABEL. Jack says the brave ones can.

JOANNA. 'The ones with the thin bright faces.'

MABEL. Then there is hope for you and me, Jack.

PURDIE (ignobly). I don't expect so.

JOANNA (wandering about the room, like one renewing acquaintance with
it after returning from a journey). Hadn't we better go to bed? It
must be getting late.

PURDIE. Hold on to bed! (They all brighten.)

MATEY (entering). Breakfast is quite ready.

(They exclaim.)

LADY CAROLINE. My watch has stopped.

JOANNA. And mine. Just as well perhaps!

MABEL. There is a smell of coffee.

(The gloom continues to lift.)

COADE. Come along, Coady; I do hope you have not been tiring your
foot.

MRS. COADE. I shall give it a good rest to-morrow, dear.

MATEY. I have given your egg six minutes, ma'am.

(They set forth once more upon the eternal round. The curious JOANNA
remains behind.)

JOANNA. A strange experiment, Matey; does it ever have any permanent
effect?

MATEY (on whom it has had none). So far as I know, not often, miss;
but, I believe, once in a while.

(There is hope in this for the brave ones. If we could wait long
enough we might see the DEARTHS breasting their way into the light.)

_He_ could tell you.

(The elusive person thus referred to kicks responsively, meaning
perhaps that none of the others will change till there is a tap from
another hammer. But when MATEY goes to rout him from his chair he is
no longer there. His disappearance is no shock to MATEY, who shrugs
his shoulders and opens the windows to let in the glory of a summer
morning. The garden has returned, and our queer little hero is busy
at work among his flowers. A lark is rising.)



The End





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