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Title: A Bill of Divorcement - A Play in Three Acts
Author: Dane, Clemence
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT

                         _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


                 _NOVELS_:

                     _REGIMENT OF WOMEN_
                     _FIRST THE BLADE_
                     _LEGEND_


                 _LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN_



                               A BILL OF
                              DIVORCEMENT

                         A PLAY IN THREE ACTS


                                  BY
                             CLEMENCE DANE


                     [Illustration: colophon 1921]

                       LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN


             _Copyright: London, William Heinemann, 1921._


This play was produced on Monday, March 14th, 1921, at the St. Martin’s
                   Theatre, with the following cast:

    MARGARET FAIRFIELD                 MISS LILIAN BRAITHWAITE
    MISS HESTER FAIRFIELD              MISS AGNES THOMAS
    SYDNEY FAIRFIELD                   MISS MEGGIE ALBANESI
    BASSETT                            MISS DOROTHY MARTIN
    GRAY MEREDITH                      MR. C. AUBREY SMITH
    KIT PUMPHREY                       MR. IAN HUNTER
    HILARY FAIRFIELD                   MR. MALCOLM KEEN
    DR. ALLIOT                         MR. STANLEY LATHBURY
    THE REV. CHRISTOPHER PUMPHREY      MR. FEWLASS LLEWELLYN



                        THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAY

                  _In the order of their appearance._


    MARGARET FAIRFIELD.
    MISS HESTER FAIRFIELD.
    SYDNEY FAIRFIELD.
    BASSETT.
    GRAY MEREDITH.
    KIT PUMPHREY.
    HILARY FAIRFIELD.
    DR. ALLIOT.
    THE CHRISTOPHER.

     SCENE.--_A small house in the country. The action passes on
     Christmas Day, 1933. The audience is asked to imagine that the
     recommendations of the_ Majority Report of the Royal Commission on
     Divorce _v._ Matrimonial Causes _have become the law of the land_.

ACT I.--THE HALL. MORNING.

ACT II.--THE DRAWING ROOM. EARLY AFTERNOON.

ACT III.--THE HALL. LATE AFTERNOON.



                                ACT I.


     _The curtain rises on the hall, obviously used as the common-room
     of a country house. On the right (of the audience) is the outer
     door and a staircase that runs down from an upper landing towards
     the middle of the room, half hiding what has once been a separate
     smaller room with a baize door at the back. In the corner a French
     window opens on to a snowbound garden. On the left, facing the
     entrance, a log fire is blazing. Staircase, pictures, grandfather
     clock, etc., are wreathed with holly and mistletoe. At the
     breakfast table, which is laid for three and littered with paper
     and string, sit_ MISS HESTER FAIRFIELD _and_ MARGARET FAIRFIELD,
     _her niece by marriage. The third chair has two or three parcels
     piled up on it._

     HESTER FAIRFIELD _is one of those twitching, high-minded, elderly
     ladies in black, who keep a grievance as they might keep a pet
     dog--as soon as it dies they replace it by another. The grievance
     of the moment seems to be the empty third chair, and_ MARGARET
     FAIRFIELD _is, as usual, on the defensive. Such a little, pretty,
     helpless-looking woman as_ MARGARET _has generally half a dozen big
     sons and a husband to bully; but_ MARGARET _has only a daughter,
     and her way of looking at even the chair on which that daughter
     ought to be sitting, is the way of a child whose doll has suddenly
     come to life. For the rest, she is so youthfully anxious and simple
     and charming that the streak of grey in her hair puzzles you. You
     wonder what trouble has fingered it. It does not occur to you that
     she is quite thirty-five._


MARGARET. [_Apologising_] Yes, she is late.

MISS FAIRFIELD. As usual!

MARGARET. Oh, well, she was dancing till three. I hadn’t the heart to
wake her.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Till three, was she? Who brought her home?

MARGARET. Kit, of course.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Three o’clock on Christmas morning! I wonder what the
Rector said to that.

MARGARET. Oh, Kit’s on holiday.

MISS FAIRFIELD. I heard you tell her myself to be in by twelve. If
anything could make me approve of this marriage of yours--

MARGARET. Oh, don’t begin it again, Auntie!

MISS FAIRFIELD.--it’s that the child will have a strong hand over her at
last. A step-father’s better than nothing--if you can call him a
step-father when her father’s still alive.

MARGARET. Oh, don’t!

MISS FAIRFIELD. What’s the use of saying “don’t”? He _is_ alive. You
can’t get away from that.

MARGARET. Aunt Hester--_please_!

MISS FAIRFIELD. Well, I’m only telling you--if it’s got to be, I’m not
sorry it’s Gray Meredith.

MARGARET. [_Smiling_] Yes, Sydney knows just how far she may go with
Gray.

MISS FAIRFIELD. I see nothing to laugh at in that.

MARGARET. It’s so funny to think how circumspect you all are with him.
He’s the one person I’ve always felt perfectly safe with. I’d ask
anything of Gray.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Grimly_] You always have, my dear!

MARGARET. I don’t know why you should be unkind to me on Christmas
morning.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_With a sort of grudging affection_] I suppose it’s
because I’ve only got another week to be unkind to you in.

MARGARET. [_Restlessly_] Oh, I wish you didn’t hate it so.

MISS FAIRFIELD. My dear, when you see a person you care for, and she
your own nephew’s wife, on the brink of deadly sin--

MARGARET. Must we begin it again?

MISS FAIRFIELD. I do my duty. If you’d done yours your daughter wouldn’t
be late for breakfast, and I shouldn’t be given the opportunity.

MARGARET. Perhaps I _had_ better call her.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Everything getting cold--and so disrespectful! She ought
to be taught.

MARGARET. [_Rising with a sigh_] You’re quite right. [_Calling at the
foot of the stairs_] Sydney, darling, shall I bring you up your coffee?

SYDNEY’S VOICE. [_Answering_] It’s all right, Mother! I’m coming.

MISS FAIRFIELD. And I suppose that’s all you’ll say.

     SYDNEY _comes out of her room. She is physically a bigger, fairer
     edition of_ MARGARET, _but there the likeness ends. Her manner is
     brisk and decided. She is very sure of herself, but when she loses
     her temper, as she often does, she loses her aplomb and reveals the
     schoolgirl. Her attitude to the world is that of justice,
     untempered, except where her mother is in question, by mercy. But
     she is very fond of her mother._

SYDNEY. [_Running down the stairs_] Merry Christmas, everyone! I’m not
late, am I? Morning, Auntie! What, no post?

MARGARET. It gets later every year.

MISS FAIRFIELD. I’m very much obliged to you, Sydney, for
the--card-case.

SYDNEY. [_Undoing her parcels_] It’s a cigarette case, Auntie dear. You
see, I thought if you gave me a prayer-book again we might do a deal.
Ah, I thought so! Thanks most awfully. It’s sweet of you. Shall we?

MISS FAIRFIELD. What?

SYDNEY. Swop.

MARGARET. Sydney, dear, that’s rather rude.

SYDNEY. [_Swiftly_] Well, Mother, I hate being hinted at.

MARGARET. [_Bewildered_] Hint? What hint?

SYDNEY. Oh, Mother, you’re such a lamb. You never see anything. [_To_
MISS FAIRFIELD] I’m sorry, Auntie, but I’m seventeen, and I’ve left
school, and I am not going to church to-day, or any day any more ever,
except to chaperon Mother and Gray next week, bless ’em!

MISS FAIRFIELD. I do think, Margaret, she ought at least to call him
Uncle.

MARGARET. Aren’t you coming with us to-day, darling? Christmas Day?

SYDNEY. Sorry, Mother. It’s against my principles. I refuse to kneel
down and say I’m a miserable sinner. I’m not miserable and I’m not a
sinner, and I cannot tell a lie to please any old--prayer-book. Besides,
I’m expecting Kit.

MISS FAIRFIELD. You’ll find that Kit takes his mother to church. _She_
hasn’t lost all her influence--

SYDNEY. [_Darkly_] She’ll be finding herself up against me soon.

MARGARET. [_Like a schoolgirl_] Oh, Sydney, has he--?

SYDNEY. He’s trying his hardest to, but I like to sort of _spread_ my
jam.

MARGARET. Then--then--?

SYDNEY. I’m not actually engaged, if you mean that-- [_Watching their
faces mischievously_] but I’m going to be.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Engaged at seventeen! Preposterous!

SYDNEY. [_Instantly_] Mother was married at seventeen.

MARGARET. That was the war.

SYDNEY. I don’t see what that’s got to do with it.

MARGARET. [_Timidly_] Sydney--at seventeen, one doesn’t know enough--

SYDNEY. One doesn’t know the same things, I dare say.

MARGARET. One doesn’t know anything at all.

SYDNEY. Yes, but think of the hopeless sort of world you were seventeen
in--even you. As for poor Auntie, as far as knowing things goes--

MARGARET. Sydney, my dear, be good!

SYDNEY. I am being good. I’m returning hint for hint.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Ruffling_] Is this the way you let your daughter speak
to me, Margaret?

SYDNEY. [_Closing with her_] You see, she doesn’t enjoy being hinted at
either.

MARGARET. [_Between the upper and the nether mill-stone_] I don’t know
what you mean, Sydney, but _don’t_!

SYDNEY. I mean that I’m not going to let Aunt Hester interfere in my
affairs like she does in yours. That’s what I mean.

MISS FAIRFIELD. These are the manners they teach you at your fine
school, I suppose!

SYDNEY. Never mind, Auntie, I’ve had my lessons in the holidays too. You
needn’t think I haven’t watched the life you’ve led Mother over this
divorce business.

MARGARET. [_Distressed at the discussion_] Sydney! Sydney!

SYDNEY. [_Remorselessly_] Well, hasn’t she? What prevented you from
marrying Gray ages ago? Father’s been out of his mind long enough, poor
man! You knew you were free to be free. You knew you were making Gray
miserable and yourself miserable--and yet, though that divorce law has
been in force for years, it’s taken you all this time to fight your
scruples. At least, you call them scruples! What you really mean is Aunt
Hester and her prayer book. And now, when you have at last consented to
give yourself a chance of being happy--when it’s Christmas Day and
you’re going to be married at New Year--still you let Aunt Hester sit at
your own breakfast table and insult you with talk about deadly sin. It’s
no use pretending you didn’t Auntie, because Mother left my door open
and I heard you.

MARGARET. [_With a certain dignity_] Sydney, I can take care of myself.

SYDNEY. [_Oblivious of it_] Take care of yourself! As if everybody
didn’t ride rough-shod over you when I’m not there.

MARGARET. Yes, but my pet, you musn’t break out like this. Of course
your aunt knows you don’t really mean to be rude--

SYDNEY. I do mean to be rude to her when she’s rude to you.

MARGARET. My dear, you quite misunderstand your aunt.

SYDNEY. Oh, no, I don’t, Mother! [MARGARET _shrugs her shoulders
helplessly and sits down on the sofa to the left of the fireplace_.]

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Rising_] I’m afraid you’ll have to go to church
without me, Margaret. I’m thoroughly upset. You’ve brought up your
daughter to ignore me, and I know why. I’m the wrong side of the family.
I’m the one person in this house who remembers poor Hilary. I shall read
the service in the drawing-room. [_She goes out._]

SYDNEY. [_Looking after her_] She owes me something. She’s been dying
for an excuse, with that cold. [_She turns to the sofa and says more
gently_] What’s the use of crying, Mother? If Gray finds out there’ll be
a row, and then Aunt Hester’ll be sorry she ever was born.

MARGARET. It isn’t that. You get so excited, Sydney! You remind me--your
father was so excitable. I don’t like to see it.

SYDNEY. I’m not really. I needn’t let myself go if I don’t want to.

MARGARET. You musn’t get impatient with your aunt. She can’t get
accustomed to the new ways, that’s all. I--I can’t myself, sometimes.
[_Restlessly_] I hope I’m doing right.

SYDNEY. Oh, I do think it’s morbid to have a conscience. If Father had
been dead fifteen years, would you say, “I hope I’m doing right”? And he
_is_ dead. His mind’s dead. You know you’ve done all you can. And you’re
frightfully in love with Gray--

MARGARET. [_Flushing_] Don’t, Sydney!

SYDNEY. Well, you are, and so he is with you. So what’s the worry about?
Aunt Hester! What people like Aunt Hester choose to think! I call it
morbid.

MARGARET. [_Whimsically_] I suppose I haven’t brought you up properly.
Your aunt’s quite right!

SYDNEY. Yes. That’s what it always comes back to. “Your aunt’s quite
right!” I can argue with you by the hour--

MARGARET. [_Hastily_] Oh, not this morning, darling, will you?

SYDNEY.--and Gray can argue with you by the hour--

MARGARET. [_Smiling_] Ah, but he never does.

SYDNEY.--and you pretend to agree with us; but underneath your common
sense, your mind’s really thinking--“Your aunt’s quite right!”

MARGARET. She stands for the old ways, Sydney.

SYDNEY. She stands for Noah and the flood. She’d no business to go
dragging up Father and the divorce on Christmas morning to upset you.

MARGARET. It wasn’t your aunt.

SYDNEY. Then it was me, I suppose! “If I could only control my tongue
and my temper,” and all the rest of it!

MARGARET. [_Quietly_] No, it was about Kit.

SYDNEY. Kit? Oh, that’s all right, Mother. Don’t you worry about me and
Kit.

MARGARET. I do.

SYDNEY. You needn’t.

MARGARET. [_Shyly_] You see, I thought I was in love at seventeen, too.

SYDNEY. Oh, but I quite know what I’m doing.

MARGARET. And now I know I didn’t know much about it. I don’t want you
to be--rushed.

SYDNEY. Nobody could make me do what I didn’t want to do.

MARGARET. [_Forgetting_ SYDNEY] It was nobody’s fault. It was the
war-- [_She sits, dreaming._]

SYDNEY. It’s extraordinary to me--whenever you middle-aged people want
to excuse yourselves for anything you’ve done that you know you oughtn’t
to have done, you say it was the war. How could a war make you get
married if you didn’t want to?

MARGARET. [_Groping for words_] It was the feel in the air. They say the
smell of blood sends horses crazy. That was the feel. One did mad
things. Hilary--your father--he was going out--the trenches--to be hurt.
And he was so fond of me he frightened me. I was so sorry. I thought I
cared. Can’t you understand?

SYDNEY. No. Either you care or you don’t.

MARGARET. [_Passionately_] How can you know until it happens to you? How
was I to know there was more to it than keeping house and looking after
Hilary--and you? How was I to know?

SYDNEY. [_Doubtfully_] Is there so much more to it?

MARGARET. Yes.

SYDNEY. I don’t believe there is for some people. Why it’s just what I
want--to look after Kit and a house of my own, and--oh, at least half a
dozen kids.

MARGARET. [_Uncomfortably_] Sydney, _dear_!

SYDNEY. Oh, Kit’s as keen as I am on eugenics. He’s doing a paper for
his debating society.

MARGARET. Well, I found you quite enough to manage.

SYDNEY. [_Leaning over the back of the sofa_] I believe you were scared
of me when I was little-- [_Margaret nods_] and even now--

MARGARET. [_Quickly_] What?

SYDNEY. [_Quite good humoured about it_] Well, if you had to choose
between me and Gray, it wouldn’t be Gray who’d lose you.

MARGARET. [_Confronted with the idea_] I hope I’d do what’s right.

SYDNEY. [_Airily_] There you are!

MARGARET. [_As it goes home_] It’s not true. You’ve no right to make me
out a heartless mother. But--

SYDNEY. [_Her arm round her mother’s neck_] Well--heartless Mother?

MARGARET. [_Clutching at the arm_] Oh, Sydney--what should I do if
Gray--if Gray--

SYDNEY. It’s all right, Mother! [_There is the sound of a motor driving
up._] There is Gray.

MARGARET. [_Jumping up hurriedly_] Oh, and I’m not dressed. Say I’ll be
down in a minute. [_She runs upstairs._]

SYDNEY. You’ve plenty of time. The bells haven’t begun yet.

MARGARET. [_From the gallery_] Tell Bassett to clear away.

     SYDNEY _rings the bell. The elderly maid enters through the baize
     door._

BASSETT. Yes, Miss?

SYDNEY. You can clear, Bassett!

     _While she is speaking_ GRAY MEREDITH _comes in through the hall
     door. He is about forty, tall, dark and quiet, very sure of himself
     and quite indifferent to the effect he makes on other people. As he
     is a man who never has room in his head for more than one idea at a
     time, and as for the last five years that idea has been_ MARGARET,
     _the rest of the world doesn’t get much out of him. But mention her
     and he behaves exactly like a fire being poked._

GRAY. [_Putting down a box he carries_] Where’s your mother?

SYDNEY. [_Folding her hands_] Good morning, dear Sydney! A merry
Christmas to you, and so many thanks for the tie that, with the help of
your devoted aunt, you so thoughtfully--

GRAY. Stop it, there’s a good child! I haven’t missed her, have I?

SYDNEY. Pray accept in return as a small token of esteem and total
dependency--

GRAY. I asked you if your mother had started.

SYDNEY. [_In her natural voice_] It’s true, you know. You simply daren’t
cope with me yet.

GRAY. [_Twinkling in spite of himself_] Hm! A time will come--

SYDNEY. Wouldn’t it warm the cockles of Aunt Hester’s heart to hear you!
What are cockles, Gray? Gray, she says I ought to call you Uncle! Gray,
d’you think you have brought me what I think you have for a Christmas
present?

GRAY. You’d better go and look. It’s in the motor with Kit.

SYDNEY. It?

GRAY. He.

SYDNEY. By Viscount out of Vixen?

GRAY. Really, Sydney!

SYDNEY. Dear Uncle Hester!

GRAY. Yes, but Sydney--?

SYDNEY. [_At the door_] Oh, didn’t I tell you? Mother says she’ll be
down in a minute. [_She lets in the sound of the church bells as she
goes out._]

     GRAY _walks about the room, then, going to the foot of the
     staircase, he calls softly_.

GRAY. Margaret! [_He waits a moment; then he calls again_] Margaret!

     _He listens, takes another turn about the room, then, coming back
     to the staircase, stands, leaning against the foot of the
     balusters._ MARGARET _comes softly down the stairs, and bending
     over, puts her hands on his shoulders_.

MARGARET. A merry Christmas!

GRAY. [_Turning round and kissing her_] And a happy New Year!

MARGARET. It will be--oh, it will be!

GRAY. I almost think it will sometimes. [_Holding her at arms’ length_]
New frock?

MARGARET. Like it?

GRAY. Oh, I’ve seen it already.

MARGARET. Why, it’s the first time I’ve put it on.

GRAY. [_Untying the box on the table as he speaks_] Sydney carted it
along with her last week when we went to choose--this.

MARGARET. [_Like a child with a new toy_] For me, Gray?

GRAY. Looks like it.

MARGARET. Oh, I hope you haven’t been extravagant.

GRAY. [_Opening the lid_] Well, Sydney said--

MARGARET. Silver fox! Oh, my dear, you shouldn’t.

GRAY. Put ’em on. Sydney’s quite a wise child.

MARGARET. [_Luxuriously_] Oh, I do love being spoiled.

GRAY. You haven’t had so much of it, have you, Meg?

MARGARET. [_With a complete change of manner_] Don’t!

GRAY. What?

MARGARET. Don’t call me Meg.

GRAY. Why not?

MARGARET. You never have before.

GRAY. Don’t you see, I want a name for you that no-one else uses.

MARGARET. [_Close to him_] Yes, yes, that no-one else has ever used. Not
Meg. Not Margaret. Make a name of your own for me--new--new.

GRAY. Well, you’re getting one new name pretty soon, anyhow.

MARGARET. Yes. New year--new name--new life. [_In his arms_] Oh, Gray,
is thirty-five very old?

GRAY. Not when you say it.

MARGARET. Oh, Gray, we’ve time for everything still?

GRAY. Time for everything. [_He laughs_] Except church, my child! Do you
really insist on going?

MARGARET. Aunt Hester will be horrified if I don’t. Besides-- [_She comes
back to the table and begins putting the papers together._]

GRAY. What?

MARGARET. I suppose you’ll think me a fool--

GRAY. Shall I?

MARGARET. Oh, Gray, for the first time in my life I’m happy. I want to
say--

GRAY. What does she want to say?

MARGARET. “Humble and hearty thanks--”

     SYDNEY _runs in with a puppy in her arms. She is followed by_ KIT.
     KIT _is a good-looking, fair-haired boy who may be twenty-two, but
     is nevertheless much younger than_ SYDNEY, _whom he takes as
     seriously as he takes everything else in life. It is part of her
     charm for him that he finds it a little difficult to keep up with
     her._

SYDNEY. Mother! Mother! Look what Gray’s brought me!

MARGARET. Oh, Sydney, your aunt isn’t fond of dogs. Merry Christmas,
Kit!

KIT. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Fairfield!

SYDNEY. Yes, but isn’t he an angel? And Kit’s given me a collar for him.
[_She goes up to_ GRAY] You know, Gray, it’s so sweet of you that in
return I’ll--

GRAY. Well?

SYDNEY. [_Conspiratorially_] Make Kit late for church if you like.

GRAY. [_Putting himself in her hands_] I did promise him a lift.

SYDNEY. [_Settling it_] He can cut across the fields. [_Aloud_] Kit,
what about a bone for the angel? You might go and make love to Bassett.
[_She puts the dog into his arms. They stroll off together into the
inner room._]

KIT. [_Earnestly, as he goes out through the baize door_] He ought to be
kept to biscuits.

SYDNEY. [_Calling to him_] Just one to gnaw. [_Then, over her shoulder_]
Mother, the bells have been going quite a while.

MARGARET. [_To_ GRAY] Listen, don’t you love them?

GRAY. Church bells?

MARGARET. Wedding bells.

GRAY. Margaret, you’ve stepped straight out of a Trollope novel.

MARGARET. [_Flushing_] I suppose you think I’m sentimental.

GRAY. No, but you’re pure nineteenth century.

MARGARET. I’m not. [_Telephone bell rings_] Oh!

GRAY. There goes the twentieth. Don’t you see how it makes you jump?

SYDNEY _has gone to the telephone_.

SYDNEY. Hullo! Hullo!... You rang _me_ up. [_She hangs up the receiver_]
“Sorry you have been trubbled!” And it’s sure to be someone trying to
get on.

GRAY. On Christmas morning? Hardly! I say, come along! The bells have
stopped.

MARGARET. [_In a strange voice_] Yes, they stopped when that other bell
rang.

SYDNEY. Why, Mother, what’s the matter?

MARGARET. [_Blindly_] They stopped.

SYDNEY. I told you, darling, you’re late.

MARGARET. Give me my furs. I’m cold. [GRAY _helps her on with them_.]

SYDNEY. [_Proud of her_] They _are_ lovely.

MARGARET. [_At the door, wistfully_] It isn’t too good to be true, is
it?

GRAY. The furs?

MARGARET. Everything! You--oh, what a fool I am! [_You hear_ GRAY’S
_laugh answering hers as they go out together, and the sound of the
motor driving away_.]

SYDNEY. [_Subsiding on to the sofa, to_ KIT, _who has come in as the
others go_] I thought they’d never get off. Mother has a way of standing
around and gently fussing--I tell you I’ll be glad when next week’s
over.

KIT. So’ll I. I haven’t had a look in lately.

SYDNEY. [_With an intimate glance_] Not last night? But it _has_ been a
job, running Mother. I’m bridesmaid and best man and family lawyer and
Juliet’s nurse all rolled into one--and a sort of lightning conductor
for Aunt Hester into the bargain. That’s why I’ve had so little time for
you. It’s quite true what Gray was saying just now--Mother _is_
nineteenth century. She’s sweet and helpless, but she’s obstinate too.
My word, the time she took making up her mind to get that divorce!

KIT. It’s just about that that I’ve been wanting to talk to you. You
see--

SYDNEY. Well?

KIT. You see--

SYDNEY. Hurry up, old thing!

KIT. Well, you see, when I got home last night the governor was sitting
up for me.

SYDNEY. He would be.

KIT. And in the course of the row--_you_ came in to it.

SYDNEY. Oh, but he likes me.

KIT. Yes, he was quite soothed when I said we were engaged.

SYDNEY. Liar!

KIT. [_Serenely_] Oh, well--

SYDNEY. [_She finds his chuckle infectious_] What did he say?

KIT. Oh, lots of rot, of course, about being too young. But he was quite
bucked really until--

SYDNEY. Well?

KIT. Well, I was a fool. I said something, quite by chance, about your
father. Then the fur began to fly. You see, it seems he thought your
mother was a widow--

SYDNEY. [_Ruffling up_] What’s it got to do with him?

KIT. Well, you see--

SYDNEY. If you’d only make me see instead of you-seeing me all the time.

KIT. I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.

SYDNEY. I’m not nineteenth century.

KIT. [_Desperately_] Well, my people are.

SYDNEY. Well?

KIT. That’s the trouble--my people are! Father promptly began about not
seeing his way to--

SYDNEY. To what, Kit?

KIT. To--to marrying them.

SYDNEY. But I’ve never heard of anything so crazy.

KIT. Of course, you know, there’s nothing to worry about. There are
heaps of clergymen who will.

SYDNEY. My dear boy, if Mother isn’t married in her own parish church
she’ll think she’s living in sin.

KIT. Well, there it is!

SYDNEY. But look here, the old rector knew all about it. Do you mean to
say that a new man can come into our parish and insult Mother just
because his beastly conscience doesn’t work the same way the old
rector’s did? The divorce is perfectly legal.

KIT. [_In great discomfort_] Yes, Father knows all that. [_Hopefully_]
Of course, I don’t see myself why a registry office--

SYDNEY. If it were me I’d prefer it. Much less fuss. But Mother
wouldn’t.

KIT. But she ought to see--

SYDNEY. But she won’t. It’s no use reckoning on what people ought to be.
You’ve got to deal with them as they are.

KIT. [_Guiltily_] Well, I’m awfully sorry.

SYDNEY. It’s no use being sorry. We’ve got to do something.

KIT. [_Hopelessly_] When once the old man gets an idea into his head--

SYDNEY. He’d better not let it out in front of Mother. Gray’d half kill
him if he did. And I tell you this, Kit, what Gray leaves I’ll account
for, even if he is your father. Poor little Mother!

KIT. Well I’m all on your side, you know that. But of course, Sydney, a
clergyman needn’t re-marry divorced people. It’s in that bill. The
governor was quoting it to-day.

SYDNEY. But doesn’t he know the circumstances?

KIT. He only knows what I do.

SYDNEY. One doesn’t shout things at people, naturally. But it’s nothing
to be ashamed of. It’s only that my unfortunate father has been in an
asylum ever since I can remember. Shell-shock. It began before I was
born. He never came home again. Mother had to give up going to see him
even. It seemed to make him worse.

KIT. Pretty tragic.

SYDNEY. Oh, for years now he hasn’t known anyone, luckily. And he’s well
looked after. He’s quite all right.

KIT. [_Uncomfortably_] You’re a queer girl.

SYDNEY. But he is.

KIT. Yes--but--

SYDNEY. What?

KIT. Your own father--

SYDNEY. [_Impatiently_] My dear boy, I’ve never even seen him. Oh, of
course it’s very sad, but I can’t go about with my handkerchief to my
eyes all the time, can I?

KIT. Yes--but--

SYDNEY. I hate cant.

KIT. [_Leaning over the back of the sofa, his hands playing with her
chain_] You little brute--you’re as hard as nails, aren’t you?

SYDNEY. [_Putting up her face to him_] Am I? [_They kiss._]

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Passing through_] Really Sydney! Before lunch!

KIT. You know, old thing, sometimes I don’t feel as if I should ever
really get on with your aunt.

SYDNEY. [_Dimpling_] You’ll have to if--

KIT. Good Lord! You don’t want her in the house!

SYDNEY. [_Calmly_] I must take her off Mother sometimes. That’s only
fair. But she shan’t worry you.

KIT. I say, you’re going to have things your own way, aren’t you?

SYDNEY. But of course I am, darling.

KIT. [_Heavily_] But look here--marriage is a sort of mutual show, isn’t
it? We’ve got to pull together.

SYDNEY. Of course.

KIT. But suppose we come to a cross-roads, so to speak?

SYDNEY. Well, somebody’ll have to give way, won’t they, darling?

KIT. Hm!

SYDNEY. My dear boy, if you want a door-mat you’d better look out for
someone--someone like poor dear Mother, for instance.

KIT. [_Wiser than he knows_] But you _are_ like her, Sydney!

SYDNEY. Me? Do you think I’d let my daughter run me the way I run
Mother? Not much!

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Re-entering_] I think I left my-- [_murmurs_].

SYDNEY. [_Aside_] It’s no good. She’s doing this on purpose because I
cheeked her. You’d better go, old man. Besides, they must be well
through the anthem.

KIT. [_Disturbed_] Good Lord! I should think I had better go!

SYDNEY. [_Going with him to the door_] I say, keep your father quiet
till I’ve had time to talk to Gray.

KIT. Right! [_He goes out._]

SYDNEY. [_Calling_] Kit!

KIT. [_Reappearing_] Yes?

SYDNEY. Come round in the afternoon.

KIT. Right! [_He goes out._]

SYDNEY. [_Calling_] Kit!

KIT. [_Reappearing_] Yes?

SYDNEY. I don’t suppose there’ll ever be any cross-roads.

KIT. Darling! [_A scuffle._ SYDNEY _reappears patting her hair_.]

MISS FAIRFIELD. I’m afraid I disturbed a _tête-à-tête_.

SYDNEY. [_Sweetly_] Oh, Auntie, whatever made you think that?

MISS FAIRFIELD. But I really couldn’t sit in the drawing-room. There’s
no fire. [_She sits down and opens her book_.]

SYDNEY. [_In a soft little voice, hums_] “When we are married we’ll have
sausages for tea.”

MISS FAIRFIELD. Do you mind being quiet while I read the service?

SYDNEY. Sorry! [_She takes up some knitting._]

MISS FAIRFIELD. What are you doing?

SYDNEY. Tie for Kit.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Sydney! Needlework on Sunday!

SYDNEY. Well, I can’t sit in the drawing-room either if there’s no
fire.

MISS FAIRFIELD. There’s no need to lose your temper.

SYDNEY. [_Out of patience_] Here, I’m going. [_As she makes for the
staircase the telephone gives a broken tinkle._]

MISS FAIRFIELD. Sydney, I believe that telephone’s going off!

SYDNEY. Yes, I’m sure it’s someone trying to get on. They’ve rung up
once already.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Sydney, I won’t be left to deal with it. [_The telephone
rings deafeningly._] There, I told you so.

SYDNEY. Well, it’s not my fault! [_She takes off the receiver_] Hullo!
Hullo!... Yes.... Yes.... Yes.... [_To her aunt_] It’s a trunk call.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Who on earth--?

SYDNEY. Yes.... Hullo!... Yes.... Mrs. Fairfield’s out. Shall I take a
message?... This is Miss Fairfield speaking.... All right, I’ll hold
on.... [_To her aunt_] Auntie, it’s from Bedford. It’s about Father.
[_Into the telephone_] Yes.... This is Miss Fairfield speaking....
What?... Good Lord!

MISS FAIRFIELD. Sydney, don’t say “Good Lord”!

SYDNEY. But you should have let Mrs. Fairfield know!... Only this
morning? Oh, I see.... No, we’ve heard nothing. When did you find
out?... What makes you--? I see.... No, he’s not here.... Of course we’d
let you know.... Then you’ll let us know at once if anything ...
yes.... _Miss_ Fairfield. Mrs. Fairfield is going away very soon....
Thank you.... Good-bye.

     SYDNEY _hangs up the receiver and turns round_.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Well?

SYDNEY. Father’s got away.

MISS FAIRFIELD. What? Who spoke to you?

SYDNEY. The head man--what’s his name? Rogers! Frightfully upset.

MISS FAIRFIELD. I should think so. Why, the poor fellow’s dangerous.

SYDNEY. Apparently he’s been very much better lately, and this last
week, a marked change, he says.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Agitated_] You mean he’s getting well?

SYDNEY. Looks like it. Rogers was awfully guarded but--apparently they’d
already written to Uncle Hugh and the solicitors.

MISS FAIRFIELD. They ought to have written to me.

SYDNEY. Of course, they wouldn’t write to Mother--now--but we ought to
have heard.

MISS FAIRFIELD. When did they miss him?

SYDNEY. This morning. Then a lot about its being inexplicable and the
precautions they had taken and so on. The fact remains that he has
managed to get away.

MISS FAIRFIELD. It’s disgraceful carelessness.

SYDNEY. Their theory is that he has suddenly come to himself. Is it
possible, Auntie? Can it happen?

MISS FAIRFIELD. It’s quite possible. It does. It was the same with my
poor sister, Grace. After ten years that was.

SYDNEY. But the doctors said incurable.

MISS FAIRFIELD. The Almighty’s greater than the doctors. And
nerves--nerves are queer things. I nursed your Aunt Grace. Well, I
always told your mother to wait.

SYDNEY. [_Struck_] Is that a fact about Aunt Grace? Was she out of her
mind too?

MISS FAIRFIELD. She never had to be sent away.

SYDNEY. Nobody ever told me.

MISS FAIRFIELD. There’s something in most families.

SYDNEY. But with Father--wasn’t it shell-shock?

MISS FAIRFIELD. It was brought on by shell-shock.

SYDNEY. D’you mean that in our family there’s insanity?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Fidgeting_] That’s not the way to talk. But we’re
nervy, all of us, we’re nervy. Your poor father would have been no worse
than the rest if it hadn’t been for the war.

SYDNEY. [_Slowly_] What do you mean, “nervy”?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_With a sidelong glance_] I mean the way you’re taking
this.

SYDNEY. [_Sharply_] How am I taking it?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Irritated_] Well, look at you now.

SYDNEY. [_Coldly_] I’m perfectly under control.

MISS FAIRFIELD. That’s it. It’s not natural.

SYDNEY. [_Slowly_] You mean, I shouldn’t bother to control myself if--

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Hastily_] You’re too young to think about such things.

SYDNEY.--if I weren’t afraid, you mean. Did Mother know--when she
married?

MISS FAIRFIELD. I tell you there are troubles in every family, but one
doesn’t talk about them.

SYDNEY. But did she _know_ the trouble was insanity?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Shortly_] I don’t know.

SYDNEY. Did Father?

MISS FAIRFIELD. One always knows in a general sort of way.

SYDNEY. [_Relentlessly_] Am I nervy?

MISS FAIRFIELD. Young people don’t have nerves.

SYDNEY. Insanity! A thing you can hand on! And I told Kit it was
shell-shock!

MISS FAIRFIELD. I don’t see what difference it makes to Christopher.

SYDNEY. You don’t see what difference--? You don’t see--? [_To herself_]
But _I_ see [_There is a pause]_ Aunt Hester, suppose Father really gets
well--?

MISS FAIRFIELD. Well?

SYDNEY. Whatever will he do?

MISS FAIRFIELD. It’s a question of what your mother will do.

SYDNEY. But it won’t have anything to do with Mother.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Grimly_] Won’t it?

SYDNEY. What on earth are you driving at?

MISS FAIRFIELD. I can’t discuss it with you.

SYDNEY. Why not?

MISS FAIRFIELD. You’re too young.

SYDNEY. I’m old enough to be engaged.

MISS FAIRFIELD. You’re not engaged.

SYDNEY. [_Insolently_] Kissed then. You saw that half an hour ago,
didn’t you? I might just as well say I can’t discuss it with you because
you’re too old.

MISS FAIRFIELD. How dare you speak to me like that?

SYDNEY. [_Beside herself_] Oh, are all old people such stone walls?
Here’s a shadow, here’s a trouble, here’s a ghost in the house--and when
I ask you what shall I do, you talk about your blessed dignity!

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Rising_] This is the second time in one morning that
you have driven me out of the room.

SYDNEY. [_Wringing her hands_] Well, I’m sorry! But I’m so worried.
Don’t you see I’ve got to keep it off Mother? and Kit! Oh, I’ve got to
tell Kit! [_Following her irresolutely_] Auntie, if you’d only be
decent. [_But_ MISS FAIRFIELD _has gone out_. SYDNEY _turns back into
the room_] If I only knew what to do!

     _She stands hesitating. Then she goes to the telephone: makes a
     movement as if to take it down but checks herself, shaking her
     head. She comes back to the sofa at last and flings herself down on
     it, fidgeting with the cushions and frowning. She is roused by the
     click of a latch as the French window in the inner room is softly
     opened, and_ HILARY FAIRFIELD _steps over the threshold. He is a
     big, fresh-coloured man with grey hair and bowed shoulders. In
     speech and movements he is quick and jerky, inclined to be
     boisterous, but pathetically easy to check. This he knows himself,
     and he has, indeed, an air of being always in rebellion against his
     own habit of obedience. He comes in, treading softly, his bright
     eyes dancing with excitement, like a child getting ready to spring
     a surprise on somebody. Something in the fashion of the empty room
     (for he does not see_ SYDNEY _crouching in the cushions)
     disconcerts him. He hesitates. The happy little smile fades. His
     eye wanders from one object to another and he moves about,
     recognising a picture here, fingering there an unfamiliar hanging,
     as it were losing and finding himself a dozen times in his progress
     round the room. He comes to a stand at last before the fire-place,
     warming his hands. Then he takes out a pipe and with the other
     hand feels absently along the mantel-piece for the matches._
     SYDNEY, _who has been watching him with a sort of breathless
     sympathy, says softly_:--

SYDNEY. What are you looking for?

HILARY. They’ve moved my-- [_with a start_] eh? [_He turns sharply and
sees her_] Meg! It’s Meg! [_With a rush_] Oh, my own darling!

SYDNEY. [_Her confidence in her power to deal with the situation
suddenly gone_] I--I’m not Meg.

HILARY. [_Boisterously_] Not Meg! Tell me I don’t know Meg! [SYDNEY
_gives a nervous schoolgirl giggle_] Eh? [_Then, his voice changing
completely_] No, it’s not Meg. [_Uneasily_] I beg your pardon. I thought
you were--another girl. I’ve been away a long time.

SYDNEY. Whom do you want?

HILARY. [_Startled again_] There, you see, it’s her voice too. Who are
you?

SYDNEY. [_Fencing_] How did you get in?

HILARY. Tool-shed gate. [_Louder_] Who are you?

SYDNEY. Where have you come from?

HILARY. Bedford. Took a car. [_Lashing himself into an agitation_] Who
are you?

SYDNEY. Whom do you want to see?

HILARY. [_Losing all control_] Who are you?

SYDNEY. [_Slowly_] I think I’m your daughter. [HILARY _stares at her
blankly. Then he bursts out laughing._]

HILARY. Daughter! Daughter! By God, that’s good! My wife isn’t my wife,
she’s my daughter! And my daughter’s seventeen and I’m twenty-two.

SYDNEY. You’re forgetting what years and years--

HILARY. Yes, of course. It’s years and years. It’s a life-time. It’s my
daughter’s lifetime. What’s your name--daughter?

SYDNEY. Sydney.

HILARY. Sydney. Sydney, eh? My mother was Sydney. I like Sydney.
I-- [_catching at his dignity_] I suppose we’re rather a shock to each
other--Sydney.

SYDNEY. No. You’re not a shock to me. But I’m afraid--

HILARY. [_Breaking in_] Is my--? Is your--? Where’s Margaret?

SYDNEY. At church.

HILARY. Back soon, eh?

SYDNEY. Yes, that’s why I’m afraid--

HILARY. [_Unheeding_] I might go to meet her, eh?

SYDNEY. [_Quickly_] Oh, I wouldn’t. Come and sit down and wait for her
and talk.

HILARY. [_Obediently_] Very well. [_He sits down beside her on the sofa.
They look at each other. He says shyly_] I say, isn’t this queer?

SYDNEY. It makes me want to cry.

HILARY. Why? That’s all over. Laugh! Laugh! That’s the thing to do. What
a lovely room this is! I can’t say I like the new paper--or the
curtains!

SYDNEY. [_Quickly_] Yes, I liked the old red ones, too. [_Then, with an
effort_] Those--aren’t--the only changes. Everything changes--

HILARY. [_Swiftly_] Bet you Aunt Hester hasn’t, eh? [_They look at each
other and laugh._] And I bet you--I say, is your mother such a darling
still?

SYDNEY. [_Recalled to the business before her, brusquely_] Look
here--Father--

HILARY. [_Savouring it_] “Father!” “Father!” Well?

SYDNEY. We’ve got to talk. We’ve got to get things straight before she
comes back.

HILARY. [_His eye and his attention beginning to wander_] Back soon, eh?
Why has Meg moved the clock? It was much better where we put it. Must
get it put back. Nearly one. She’s late, isn’t she? I--I really think,
you know, I’ll go out and meet your mother.

SYDNEY. [_Authoritatively_] You’re to stay here.

HILARY. [_Beginning obediently_] Very well-- [_He flares suddenly_] I’ll
do as I like about that.

SYDNEY. [_Passionately_] I’ll not have you frighten her.

HILARY. I? [_He smiles securely._]

SYDNEY. Can’t you realise what the shock--?

HILARY. [_Blissfully_] Never known anyone die of joy yet!

SYDNEY. Father, you don’t understand! You and mother--

HILARY. [_Getting irritated_] Look here, this is nothing to do with
you--

SYDNEY. But you mustn’t--

HILARY [_Violently_] Now I tell you I’m not going to be hectored. I
won’t stand it. I’ve had enough of it. D’you hear? I’ve had enough of
it.

SYDNEY. If you talk to my mother like this--

HILARY. [_Softening_] Meg understands.

SYDNEY [_Jealously_] So do I understand.

HILARY. I believe you do. You got wild all in a moment. That’s my way,
too. It means nothing. Meg can’t see that it means nothing. But it makes
a man wild, you know, to be dragooned when he’s as sane as--my God, I
_am_ sane! That’s all over, isn’t it? I am sane. Daughter!

SYDNEY. [_Watching him_] Father?

HILARY. Don’t let me get--that way. It’s bad. Help me to go slow. I’m as
well as you are, you know. But it’s new. It only happened to-day--like a
curtain lifting. [_Confidentially_] You see I was standing in the
garden--

SYDNEY. I can’t conceive how you got away.

HILARY. Led. Like Peter out of prison. I went through the gate, openly.
Their eyes were blinded. [_With a complete change of tone_] Pure luck,
you know. There were visitors going out--and I nipped along with them,
talking. No-one spotted me. I wouldn’t have believed it possible. Heaps
of us--of them, I mean--have tried, you know.

SYDNEY. But you’d no money.

HILARY. [_Whimsically_] I took the first taxi I saw. Promised him
double. He’s at the lower gate now, waiting to be paid.

SYDNEY. Father, _dear_! Ticking away the tuppences! We’re not
millionaires!

HILARY. [_Carelessly_] Your mother’ll see to it. [_Sound of a motor
horn_] That’s him! I suppose he’s got tired of waiting and come round.

SYDNEY. No, no! That’ll be Mother. You mustn’t stop here. You must let
me tell her. You must let me tell her first. [_She goes out hurriedly._]

HILARY. Your mother, is it? Your mother, eh? Here--child--a minute, give
me a minute! give me a minute!

MARGARET. [_As she comes in_] No--he couldn’t. But he’s coming round
directly after lunch--Hilary!

HILARY. [_Like a man who can’t see_] Meg! Is it Meg? Meg, I’ve come
home.

MARGARET. [_Terrified_] Sydney, don’t go away!

SYDNEY. It’s all right, Mother!

HILARY. Meg!

MARGARET. But they said--they said--incurable. They shouldn’t have
said--incurable.

HILARY. What does it matter? I’m well. I’m well, Meg! I tell you--it
came over me like a lantern flash--like a face turning to you. I was in
the garden, you know--lost. I was a lost soul--outcast! No hope. I can
never make anyone understand. I was never like the rest of them. I was
sane, always--but--the face was turned away.

SYDNEY. What face?

HILARY. The face of God.

MARGARET. Sydney--is he--?

SYDNEY.--It’s all right, Mother! That isn’t madness. He’s come to
himself.

MARGARET. Then--then--what am I to do?

HILARY. What’s that? [_He comes nearer._]

MARGARET. I--I--

HILARY. [_Staring at her_] You don’t say a word. One would think you
weren’t glad to see me. Aren’t you glad to see me?

MARGARET. Of course--glad--you poor Hilary!

HILARY. If you knew what it is to say to myself--I’m at home! That
place--!

MARGARET. [_Mechanically_] Oh, but there was every comfort.

HILARY. Hell! Hell!

MARGARET. [_Insisting_] But they were good to you?

HILARY. Good enough.

MARGARET. [_In acute distress_] They didn’t--ill-treat--?

SYDNEY. Mother, you know you did the very best--

HILARY. If it had been heaven--what difference does it make? I was a
dead man. Do you know what the dead do in heaven? They sit on their
golden chairs and sicken for home. Why did you never come?

MARGARET. They wouldn’t let me. It made you worse.

HILARY. Because I wanted you so.

MARGARET. But you didn’t know me.

HILARY. My voice didn’t--and my speech and my actions didn’t. But _I_
knew you. Meg--behind the curtain--behind the dreams and the noises, and
the abandonment of God--I wanted you. I wanted--I wanted-- [_He puts his
hand to his head._] Look here--I tell you we mustn’t talk of these
things. It’s not safe, I tell you. When I talk I see a black hand
reaching up through the floor--do you see? there--through the widening
crack of the floor--to catch me by the ankle and drag--drag--

SYDNEY. Father--Father--go slow!

MARGARET. [_Terrified_] Sydney!

SYDNEY. It’s all right, Mother! We’ll manage.

HILARY. [_Turning to her_] Yes, you tell your mother. I’m all right! You
understand that, don’t you? Once it was a real hand. Now I know it’s in
my mind. I tell you, Meg, I’m well. But it’s not safe to think about
anything but--Oh, my dear, the holly and the crackle of the fire and the
snow like a veil of peace on me--and you like the snow--so still--

       _He comes to her with outstretched arms._

MARGARET [_Faintly_] No--no--no--

HILARY. [_Exalted_] Yes--yes--yes! [_He catches her to him._]

MARGARET. For pity’s sake, Hilary--!

BASSETT. [_Entering_] Lunch is served, Ma’am!

MARGARET. [_Helplessly_] Sydney?

SYDNEY. Lay an extra cover. This--my--this gentleman is staying to
lunch.

HILARY. [_Boisterously_] Staying to lunch! to lunch! That’s a good joke,
isn’t it? I say, listen! I’m laughing. Do you know, I’m laughing? It’s
blessed to laugh. Staying to lunch! Yes, my girl! Lunch and tea and
supper and breakfast, thank God! and for many a long day!


                               CURTAIN.



                                ACT II.


     _The curtain rises on_ MARGARET’S _drawing-room. It is prettily
     furnished in a gentle, white-walled, water-colour-in-gold-frame
     fashion, and is full of flowers. In one corner is a parrot in a
     cage, and near it_ MISS FAIRFIELD’S _arm-chair and foot-stool and
     work-table. The fire-place has a white sheepskin in front of it,
     and brass fire-irons: on the mantel-piece is a gilt clock and many
     photographs. At right angles to the fire a low empire couch runs
     out into the room. There is a hint of_ SYDNEY _in the ultra-modern
     cushionry with which it is piled. As the curtain goes up_ BASSETT
     _is showing in_ GRAY MEREDITH.


BASSETT. They’re still at lunch, Sir.

GRAY. [_Glancing at the clock_] They’re late.

BASSETT. It’s the visitor, Sir. He’s kept them talking.

GRAY. Visitor?

BASSETT. Yes, Sir, a strange gentleman. Will you take coffee, Sir?

GRAY. I may as well go in and have it with them.

BASSETT. The mistress said, would you not, Sir. She’d come to you.

GRAY. [_A little surprised_] Oh, very well.

BASSETT. I’ll tell Miss Sydney you’ve come, Sir.

GRAY. [_Lifting his eyebrows_] Tell Mrs. Fairfield.

BASSETT. Miss Sydney said I was to tell her too, Sir, quietly.

GRAY. [_Puzzled_] Is--? [_He checks an impulse to question the servant_]
All right!

BASSETT. Thank you, Sir.

     _She goes out, leaving the door open. There is a slight pause._
     MARGARET _comes in hurriedly, shutting the door behind her_.

GRAY. [_Smiling_] Well, what’s the mystery?

MARGARET. Gray, he’s come back!

GRAY. Who?

MARGARET. Hilary!

GRAY. [_Lightly_] Hilary? What Hilary? _Hilary!_

MARGARET. Yes.

GRAY. Good God!

MARGARET. He got away. He came straight here. I found him with Sydney.

GRAY. Don’t be frightened. I’m here. Is he dangerous?

MARGARET. No, no, poor fellow!

GRAY. You can’t be sure. Anyway, I’d better take charge of him while you
phone the asylum. No, that won’t do, there are no trains. We must ring
up the authorities.

MARGARET. Oh, no, Gray!

GRAY. It’s not pleasant, but it’s the only thing to do.

MARGARET. You don’t understand.

GRAY. There’s only one way to deal with an escaped lunatic.

MARGARET. But he’s not. He’s well.

GRAY. What’s that?

MARGARET. He’s well. He knows me. He--

GRAY. I don’t believe it.

MARGARET. Do you think I want to believe it? Oh, what a ghastly thing to
say!

GRAY. This has nothing to do with you. He has nothing to do with you.
Leave me to deal with him. [_He goes towards the door._]

MARGARET. Where are you going?

GRAY. ’Phoning for Dr. Alliot to begin with.

MARGARET. Sydney’s done that already.

GRAY. Sydney’s head’s on her shoulders.

MARGARET. He’ll be here as soon as he can. He could always manage
Hilary.

GRAY. You’d better go up to your room.

MARGARET. No.

GRAY. Don’t take it too hard. It’ll be over in an hour. We’ll get him
away quietly, poor devil.

MARGARET. But it’s no good, Gray, he’s well. We’ve been on to the asylum
already. They say we should have heard in a day or two even if he hadn’t
got away.

GRAY. Really well?

MARGARET. The old Hilary--voice and ways and--oh, my God! what am I to
do?

GRAY. Do? You?

MARGARET. Don’t you see, he knows nothing? His hair’s grey and he talks
as he talked at twenty. It’s horrible.

GRAY. What do you mean, he knows nothing?

MARGARET. About the divorce. About you and me. He thinks it’s all--as he
left it.

GRAY. [_Incredulously_] You’ve said nothing?

MARGARET. He’s like a lost child come home. Do you think I want to send
him crazy again? He--

GRAY. [_With a certain anger_] You’ve said nothing?

MARGARET. Not yet.

GRAY. You’ll come away with me at once.

MARGARET. I can’t. I’ve got to think of Hilary.

GRAY. You’ve got to think of me.

MARGARET. I _am_ you. But I’ve done him so much injury--

GRAY. _You’ve_ done Fairfield injury? You little saint!

MARGARET. Saint? I’m a wicked woman. I’m wishing he hadn’t got well. I’m
wishing the doctors will say it’s not true. In my wicked heart I’m
calling down desolation on my own husband.

GRAY. You have no husband. You’re marrying me in a week. You’re mine.

MARGARET. I’m afraid--

GRAY. Whose are you? Answer me.

MARGARET. Yours.

GRAY. You know it?

MARGARET. I know it.

GRAY. Then never be afraid again.

MARGARET. No, not when you’re here. I’m not afraid when you’re here. But
I must be good to Hilary. You see that?

GRAY. What good is “good” to him, poor devil?

MARGARET. At least I’ll break it gently.

GRAY. Gently? That’s just like a woman. All you can do for him is to
come away now.

MARGARET. How can I? He’s got to be told.

GRAY. Then let me tell him.

MARGARET. No, no! From you, just from you, it would be wanton. I won’t
have cruelty.

GRAY. We’ll go straight up to town and get married at once. That’ll
settle everything.

MARGARET. You mustn’t rush me. I’ve got to do what’s right.

GRAY. It is right. There’s nothing else to be done. You can’t stay here.

MARGARET. No, I can’t stay here. Don’t let me stay here.

GRAY. Come with me. The car’s outside. You say Alliot will be here in
ten minutes. Leave him a note. He’s an old friend as well as a doctor.
Let him deal with it if you won’t let me.

MARGARET. Oh, can’t you see that I must tell Hilary myself?

GRAY. [_Angrily_] Women are incomprehensible!

MARGARET. It’s men who are uncomprehending. Can’t you feel that it’ll
hurt him less from me?

GRAY. It’ll hurt him ten thousand times more.

MARGARET. But differently. It’s the things one might have said that
fester. At least I’ll spare him that torment. He shall say all he wants
to say.

GRAY. [_Blackly_] I suppose the truth is that there’s something in the
very best of women that enjoys a scene.

MARGARET. That’s the first bitter thing you’ve ever said to me.

GRAY. [_Breaking out_] Can’t you see what it does to me to know you are
in the same house with him? For God’s sake come out of it!

MARGARET. [_Close to him_] I want to come, now, this moment. I want to
be forced to come.

GRAY. That settles it.

MARGARET. [_Eluding him_] But I mustn’t! Don’t you see that I mustn’t? I
can’t leave Sydney to lay my past for me.

GRAY. Your past is dead.

MARGARET. Its ghost’s awake and walking.

HILARY’S VOICE. Meg! Meg!

MARGARET. [_Clinging to him_] Listen, it’s calling to me.

HILARY’S VOICE. Meg, where are you?

MARGARET. It’s too late! I’m too old! I shall never get away from him. I
told you it was too good to be true.

GRAY. [_Deliberately matter-of-fact_] Listen to me! I am going home now.
There are orders to be given. I must get some money and papers. But I
shall be back here in an hour. I give you just that hour to tell him
what you choose. After that you’ll be ready to come.

MARGARET. If--if I’ve managed--

GRAY. There’s no if. You’re coming.

MARGARET. Am I coming, Gray?

HILARY. [_Entering from the hall]_ Meg, Sydney said you’d gone to your
room. Hullo! What’s this? Who’s this? Doctor, eh? I’ve been expecting
them down on me. [_To_ GRAY] It’s no good, you know. I’m as fit as you
are. Any test you like.

MARGARET. Mr. Meredith called to see me, Hilary! He’s just going.

HILARY. Oh, sorry! [_He walks to the fire and stands warming his hands,
but watching them over his shoulder._]

GRAY. [_At the door, in a low voice to_ MARGARET] I don’t like leaving
you.

MARGARET. You must! It’s better! But--come back quickly!

GRAY. You’ll be ready?

MARGARET. I will. [GRAY _goes out_.]

HILARY. [_Uneasily_] Who’s that man?

MARGARET. His name’s Gray Meredith.

HILARY. What’s he doing here?

MARGARET. He’s an old friend.

HILARY. I don’t know him, do I?

MARGARET. It’s since you were ill. It’s the last five years.

HILARY. He’s in love with you! I tell you, the man’s in love with you!
Do you think I’m so dazed and crazed I can’t see that? You shouldn’t let
him, Meg! You’re such a child you don’t know what you’re doing when you
look and smile--

MARGARET. [_In a strained voice_] I do know. [_She stands quite still in
the middle of the room, her head lifted, a beautiful woman._]

HILARY. [_Staring at her_] Lord, I don’t wonder at him, poor brute!
[_Still staring_] Meg, you’ve changed.

MARGARET. [_Catching at the opening_] Yes, Hilary.

HILARY. Taller, more beautiful--and yet I miss something.

MARGARET. [_Urging him on_] Yes, Hilary.

HILARY. [_Wistfully_]--something you used to have--kind--a kind way with
you. The child’s got it. Sydney--my daughter, Sydney! She’s more you
than you are. You--you’ve grown right up--away--beyond me--haven’t you?

MARGARET. Yes, Hilary.

HILARY. But I’m going to catch up. You’ll help me to catch up with
you--Meg? [_She doesn’t answer._] Meg! wait for me! Meg, where are you?
Why don’t you hold out your hands?

MARGARET. [_Wrung for him_] I can’t, Hilary! My hands are full.

HILARY. [_His tone lightening into relief_] What, Sydney? She’ll be off
in no time. She’s told me about the boy--what’s his name--Kit--already.

MARGARET. It’s not Sydney.

HILARY. What? [_Crescendo_] Eh? What are you driving at? What are you
trying to tell me? What’s changed you? Why do you look at me sideways?
Why do you flinch when I speak loudly? Yes--and when I kissed you--It’s
that man! [_He goes up to her and takes her by the wrist, staring into
her face._] Is it true? You?

MARGARET. [_Pitifully_] I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m trying to tell you.
I only want to tell you and make you understand. Hilary, fifteen years
is a long time--

HILARY. [_Dully_] Yes. I suppose it’s a long time for a woman to be
faithful.

MARGARET. That’s it! That’s the whole thing! If I’d loved you it
wouldn’t have been long--

HILARY. [_Violently, crying her down_] You did love me once.

MARGARET. [_Beaten_] Did I--once? I don’t know--

            _There is a silence._

HILARY. [_Without expression_] What do you expect me to do? Forgive you?

MARGARET. [_Stung_] There’s nothing to forgive. [_Softening_] Oh, so
much, Hilary, to forgive each other; but not that.

HILARY. [_More and more roughly as he loses control of himself_]
Divorce you then? Because I’ll not do that! I’ll have no dirty linen
washed in the courts.

MARGARET. [_Forced into the open_] Hilary, I divorced you twelve months
ago.

HILARY. [_Shouting_] What? What? What?

MARGARET. I divorced you--

HILARY. [_Beside himself_] You’re mad! You couldn’t do it! You’d no
cause! D’you think I’m to be put off with your lies? Am I a child? You’d
no cause! Oh, I see what you’re at. You want to confuse me. You want to
pull wool over my eyes. You want to drive me off my head--drive me mad
again. You devil! You devil! You shan’t do it. I’ve got friends--Sydney!
where’s that girl [_Shouting_] Sydney! Hester! All of you! Come here!
Come here, I say! [SYDNEY _opens the drawing room door_.]

SYDNEY. Mother, what is it? [_She enters, followed by_ MISS FAIRFIELD.
_To_ HILARY--] What are you doing? You’re frightening her.

HILARY. [_Wildly_] No, no! You’re not on her side. You’re little
Sydney--kind--my Sydney! What did you say--go slow, eh! Keep your hand
here--cool, cool. [_Then as_ SYDNEY, _breaking from him, makes a
movement to her mother_] Stand away from that woman!

MARGARET. Sydney, humour him.

HILARY. [_At white heat_] What was I calling you for, eh? Oh, yes, a
riddle. I’ve got a riddle for you. There was a man at that place--used
to ask riddles--the moon told ’em to him. Just such a white face
whispering out of the blue--lies! He couldn’t find the answers--sent him
off his head. But I know the answer. When’s a wife not a wife, eh? Want
to know the answer? [_Pointing to_ MARGARET] When she’s
_this--this--this_! [_Confidentially_] She’s poisoning me.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Now, Hilary! Hilary!--

HILARY. Sydney, come here! I’ll tell _you_. [SYDNEY _stands torn between
the two_.]

MISS FAIRFIELD. What have you done to him, Margaret?

MARGARET. I’ve told him the truth.

MISS FAIRFIELD. God forgive you!

HILARY. [_Raving_] I tell you she’s pouring poison into my ear. You
remember that fellow in the play--and _his_ wife? That’s what she’s
done. If I told you what she said to me, you’d think I was mad. And
that’s what she wants you to think. She wants to get rid of me. She’s
got a tame cat about the place. I’m in the way. And so she comes to me,
d’you see, and tells me--what do you think? She says she’s not my wife.
What do you think of that?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Grimly_] You may well ask.

MARGARET. [_To_ SYDNEY] He won’t listen--

SYDNEY. Sit down, darling! You’re shaking.

MARGARET. He’s always had these rages. It’s my fault. I began at the
wrong end. Hilary--it’s not--I’m not what you think.

HILARY. Then what was that man doing in my house?

MARGARET. In a week I’m going to marry him.

HILARY. D’you hear her? To _me_ she says this! Is she mad or am I?

MARGARET. [_Desperately_] I tell you there’s been a law passed--

MISS FAIRFIELD. No need for him to know that now, Margaret!

SYDNEY. Of course he has to know.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Not now.

MARGARET. [_On the defensive_] I don’t know what you mean, Aunt Hester!

MISS FAIRFIELD. Let us rather thank God that he has come back in time.

MARGARET. [_Uneasy_] In time? In time?

MISS FAIRFIELD. To snatch a brand from the burning.

MARGARET. I’m a free woman. I’ve got my divorce.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Whom God hath joined let no man put asunder.

MARGARET. [_At bay_] I’m a free woman. I’m going to marry Gray Meredith.
This is a trap! Sydney!

MISS FAIRFIELD. Is this talk for a young girl to hear?

MARGARET. Sydney, you’re to fetch Gray.

HILARY. [_With weak violence_] If he comes here I’ll kill him.

MARGARET. [_Catching_ SYDNEY _back_] No, no! D’you hear him? What am I
to do?

SYDNEY. It’s all right, Mother! We’ll manage somehow.

BASSETT. [_Entering_] Dr. Alliot is in the hall, ma’am.

MARGARET. [_With a gasp of relief_] Ask him to come in here. At once.

     _Dr. Alliot trots in. He is a pleasant, roundabout, clean little
     old man, with a twinkling face and brisk chubby movements of the
     hands. He is upright and his voice is strong. He wears his seventy
     odd years like a good joke that he expects you to keep up, in spite
     of the fact that he is really your own age and understands you
     better than you do yourself. But behind his comfortable manner is a
     hint of authority which has its effect, especially on_ HILARY.

DR. ALLIOT. What’s all this I hear? Well, well! Good afternoon, Mrs.
Fairfield! Good afternoon, Miss Fairfield! Merry Christmas, Sydney! Now
then, now for him! Welcome back, Fairfield! Welcome back, my boy!

HILARY. It’s--it’s old Alliot, isn’t it?

DR. ALLIOT. Your memory’s all right I see.

HILARY. I suppose they’ve sent for you--

DR. ALLIOT. Well, well, you see, you’ve arrived rather unconventionally.
I’ve been in touch with--

HILARY. That place?

DR. ALLIOT. Why, yes! You may have to go back, you know. Formalities!
Formalities!

HILARY. I don’t mind. I’m well. I’m well, Alliot! I’m not afraid of what
you’ll say. I’m not afraid of any of you.

DR. ALLIOT. Well, well, well! that sounds hopeful.

HILARY. But I can’t go yet, Doctor.

DR. ALLIOT. Only for a day or two.

HILARY. It’s my wife. I lost my temper. I do lose my temper. It means
nothing. Go slow, eh? My wife’s ill, Doctor. She’s not right in her
head.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Alert_] Ah!

HILARY. [_With a wave of his hand_] So are the rest of them. Mad as
hatters.

DR. ALLIOT. Hm!

HILARY. [_Checked, glances at him keenly a moment. Then chuckling_] Oh,
you’re thinking that’s a delusion.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Humouring him_] Between you and me, it’s a common one.

HILARY. [_Half flattered_] Ah, we know, don’t we? Served in the same
shop, eh? Only the counter between us.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Feeling his way_] Well, well--

HILARY. But look here! She says she’s not my wife.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Enlightened_] Oh! Oh, that’s the trouble!

HILARY. She says she’s not my wife.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Soberly_] It’s a hard case, Fairfield.

HILARY. What d’you mean by that?

DR. ALLIOT. It’s the old wisdom of the scape-goat--it is expedient--how
does it go? expedient--?

SYDNEY. “It is expedient that one man should die for the people.”

DR. ALLIOT. That’s it! A hard word, but a true one.

HILARY. What has that got to do with me?

DR. ALLIOT. Well, the situation is this--

HILARY. There is no situation. I married Meg. I fell ill. Now I’m well
again. I want my wife.

DR. ALLIOT. Why, yes--yes--

HILARY. [_Picking it up irritably_] “Yes--yes--” “Yes--yes--” I suppose
that’s what you call humouring a lunatic.

DR. ALLIOT. Why, I hope to be convinced, Fairfield, that that trouble’s
over, but--

HILARY. But you’re going to lock me up again because I want my wife.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Patiently_] Will you let me put the case to you?

HILARY. You can put fifty cases. It makes no difference.

SYDNEY. [_At his elbow, softly_] Father, I’d listen.

HILARY. [_Slipping his arm through hers_] Eh? Sydney? that you? You’re
not against me, Sydney?

SYDNEY. Nobody’s against you. We only want you to listen.

HILARY. Well, out with it!

DR. ALLIOT. D’you remember--can you throw your mind back to the
beginning of the agitation against the marriage laws? No, you were a
schoolboy--

HILARY. Deceased wife’s sister, eh? That’s the law that lets a man marry
his sister-in-law and won’t let a woman marry her brother-in-law. Pretty
good, that, for your side of the counter.

DR. ALLIOT. Well, well, that hardly matters now.

HILARY. It shows what your rotten, muddle-headed laws are worth, anyhow.

SYDNEY. Father.

HILARY. All right! Go ahead! Go ahead!

DR. ALLIOT. Well, as the result of that agitation--and remember, Hilary,
what thousand, thousand tragedies must have had voice in such an
outcry--a commission was appointed to enquire into the working of the
divorce laws. It made its report, recommended certain drastic reforms,
and there, I suppose, as is the way with commissions, would have been
the end of the subject, if it hadn’t been for the war--and the war
marriages.

HILARY. [_Lowering_] So that’s where I come in! Margaret, is that where
I come in?

DR. ALLIOT. Never, I suppose, in one decade were there so many young
marriages. Happy? that’s another thing! Marry in haste--

MARGARET. They weren’t all happy.

DR. ALLIOT. But they were _young_, those boys and girls who married. As
young as Kit, and as impatient as Sydney. And that saved them. That
young, young generation found out, out of their own unhappiness, the war
taught them, what peace couldn’t teach us--that when conditions are evil
it is not your duty to submit--that when conditions are evil, your duty,
in spite of protests, in spite of sentiment, your duty, though you
trample on the bodies of your nearest and dearest to do it, though you
bleed your own heart white, your duty is to see that those conditions
are changed. If your laws forbid you, you must change your laws. If your
church forbids you, you must change your church; and if your God forbids
you, why then, you must change your God.

MISS FAIRFIELD. And we who will not change?

MARGARET. Or cannot change--?

DR. ALLIOT. Stifle. Like a snake that can’t cast its skin. Grow or
perish--it’s the law of life. And so, when this young generation--yours,
not mine, Hilary--decided that the marriage laws were, I won’t say evil,
but outgrown, they set to work to change them.

MISS FAIRFIELD. You needn’t think it was without protest, Hilary. I
joined the anti-divorce league myself.

DR. ALLIOT. No, it wasn’t without protest. Mrs. Grundy and the churches
are protesting still. But in spite of protest, no man or woman to-day
is bound to a drunkard, an habitual criminal, or--

HILARY. Or--?

DR. ALLIOT. Or to a partner who, as far as we doctors know--

HILARY. But you can’t be sure!

DR. ALLIOT. I say as far as we know, is incurably insane--in practice,
is insane for more than five years.

HILARY. And if he recovers? Look at me!

DR. ALLIOT. [_With a sigh_] “It is expedient--”

HILARY. And you call that justice!

MARGARET. At least call it mercy. All the days of your life to stand at
the window, Hilary, and watch the sun shining on the other side of the
road--it’s hard, it’s hard on a woman.

DR. ALLIOT. At least call it common sense. If a man can’t live his
normal life, it’s as if he were dead. If he’s an incurable drunkard, if
he’s shut away for life in prison--

HILARY. But I’m not a drunkard. I’m not a convict. I’ve done nothing.
I’ve been to the war, to fight, for her, for all of you, for my country,
for this law-making machine that I’ve called my country. And when I’ve
got from it, not honourable scars, not medals and glory, but sixteen
years in hell, then when I get out again, then the country I’ve fought
for, the laws I’ve fought for, the woman I’ve fought for, they say to
me, “As you’ve done without her for fifteen years you can do without
her altogether.” That’s what it is. When I was helpless they conspired
behind my back to take away all I had from me. [_To_ MARGARET] Did I
ever hurt you? Didn’t I love you? Didn’t you love me? Could I help being
ill? What have I done?

SYDNEY. You died, Father.

MARGARET. Sydney, don’t be cruel.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Ah, we cry after the dead, but I’ve always wondered what
their welcome back would be.

HILARY. Well, you know now.

DR. ALLIOT. I don’t say it isn’t hard--

HILARY. Ah, you don’t say it isn’t hard. That’s good of you. That’s
sympathy indeed. And my wife--she’s full of it too, isn’t she? “Poor
dear! I was married to him once. I’d quite forgotten.”

MARGARET. For pity’s sake, Hilary!

DR. ALLIOT. Why, face it, man! One of you must suffer. Which is it to
be? The useful or the useless? the whole or the maimed? the healthy
woman with her life before her, or the man whose children ought never to
have been born?

HILARY. [_In terrible appeal_] Margaret!

SYDNEY. Is that true, Dr. Alliot? Is that true?

MARGARET. [_Her voice shaking_] I think you go too far.

DR. ALLIOT. Mrs. Fairfield, in this matter I cannot go too far.

MISS FAIRFIELD. For me, at any rate--too far and too fast altogether!
Before ladies! It’s not nice. It’s enough to call down a judgment.

BASSETT. [_Entering_] Mr. Pumphrey to see you, ma’am. [_To_ SYDNEY] And
Mr. Kit.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Justified_] Ah!

MARGARET. I can’t see anyone.

BASSETT. He said, ma’am, it was important.

HILARY. Who? Who?

MISS FAIRFIELD. The Rector. I expect he’s heard about you.

HILARY. I can’t see him. I won’t see him. Let me go. I’ve met the
Levites. Spare me the priest. [_He breaks away from them and goes
stumbling out at the other door._]

SYDNEY. [_Following him anxiously_] Father!

DR. ALLIOT. [_Preventing her_] No, no, my child! I’ll look after him.
[_He goes out quickly._]

     _The_ RECTOR _is an insignificant man, with an important manner and
     a plum in his mouth. He enters with_ KIT, _who is flushed and
     perturbed_.

RECTOR. Ah, good afternoon, Mrs. Fairfield--Miss Fairfield--

MARGARET. [_Mechanically. She is very tired and inattentive_] A happy
Christmas, Mr. Pumphrey!

RECTOR. Ah! Just so! Christmas afternoon. An unusual day to call, Mrs.
Fairfield, and, I fear, an inconvenient hour--

MARGARET. Not at all, Mr. Pumphrey.

RECTOR. I can give myself [_he takes out his watch_] till three fifteen,
no longer. The children’s service is at three thirty.

MARGARET. [_Turning to the bell_] Mayn’t I order you an early cup of
tea?

RECTOR. Thank you, thank you, no. Busy as I am, I should not have
disturbed you--

MISS FAIRFIELD. Rector, it’s as if you had been sent!

RECTOR. Ah! gratifying! I did not see you at the morning service, Miss
Fairfield. But last night--_late_ last night--

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_With a look at_ SYDNEY] Three A.M., Rector?

RECTOR. Three fifteen, Miss Fairfield.

KIT. Look here, Father--

RECTOR. I received certain information from my son--

KIT. No, you don’t, Father. I’ll have my say first. It’s just this, Mrs.
Fairfield--

RECTOR. [_Fussed_] Christopher? Christopher?

KIT. [_He is very much in earnest and he addresses himself solely to_
MARGARET] I want you to know that it is nothing to do with me, Mrs.
Fairfield. I don’t agree with my father. [_Confidentially_] You wouldn’t
think it but I never do.

RECTOR. Christopher?

KIT. [_Ignoring him_] And it was only coming up the drive that he
sprung on me why he wanted to see you, or I wouldn’t have come--

MARGARET. [_Liking him_] I think Sydney would have been sorry, Kit.

KIT. [_With a touch of his father’s manner_] Yes, well, Sydney and I
have talked it over--and I know I’m going into the church myself--but I
think he’s all wrong, Mrs. Fairfield. [_Unconscious of plagiarism_] I’m
not nineteenth century. [_But_ SYDNEY _giggles_.]

MISS FAIRFIELD. Rector, what’s the matter with the young man?

KIT. [_Forging ahead_] You see, I’m pretty keen about Sydney, and so,
naturally, I’m pretty keen about you, Mrs. Fairfield.

RECTOR. Miss Fairfield, I’m without words.

KIT. [_Burdened_]--and I just wanted to tell you that I can’t tell you
what I think of my father over this business. It makes me wild.

SYDNEY. Kit, you’d better shut up.

KIT. [_Turning to_ SYDNEY] Well, I only wanted her to understand that
I’m not responsible for my father--that he’s not my own choice, if you
know what I mean. [_They talk aside._]

RECTOR. His mother’s right hand! I don’t know what’s come over him.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Grimly_] A pretty face, Rector!

RECTOR. Ah! the very point! I shall be glad to see you alone, Mrs.
Fairfield--not you, of course, Miss Fairfield, but--er-- [_He glances
at_ KIT _and_ SYDNEY.]

MARGARET. [_Resignedly_] Sydney, have you shown Kit all your presents?

SYDNEY. [_Reluctantly taking the hint, but continuing the conversation
as they go out_] What did you let him come for? Oh, you’re no good!
[_The door bangs behind them._]

MARGARET. [_Half smiling_] Well, Mr. Pumphrey, I suppose it’s about
Sydney and Kit?

RECTOR. Mrs. Fairfield, until last night we encouraged, we were
gratified--

MARGARET. Last night? Oh, the dance!

RECTOR. I sat up for my son until three fifteen of Christmas morning.
His excuse was your daughter--

MARGARET. [_With dignity_] Do you take objection to Sydney, Mr.
Pumphrey?

RECTOR. Now, my dear lady, you mustn’t misunderstand me--

MARGARET. [_Quietly_] To me, then?

RECTOR. Mrs. Fairfield, I beg--But in the course of a
slight--er--altercation between Christopher and myself it transpired--

MARGARET. [_She has been prepared for it_] I see, it’s her father--

RECTOR. I am grieved--grieved for you.

MARGARET. But his illness was no secret.

RECTOR. My heart, Mrs. Fairfield, and Mrs. Pumphrey’s heart has gone out
to you in your affliction. When the light of reason--

MARGARET. Then you did know. _Then_ I don’t follow.

RECTOR. But according to Christopher--

MARGARET. Well?

RECTOR. Mrs. Fairfield, is your husband alive or dead?

MARGARET. My former husband is alive.

RECTOR. [_With a half deprecatory, half triumphant gesture_] Out of your
own mouth, Mrs. Fairfield--

MARGARET. [_Bewildered_] But you say you knew he was insane?

RECTOR. But I didn’t know he was alive.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Irritated_] Don’t be so foolish, Margaret. It’s not
the insanity, it’s the divorce.

RECTOR. When I realised that I had been within a week of re-marrying a
divorced person--

MARGARET. [_Coldly_] Why didn’t you go to Mr. Meredith?

RECTOR. Mr. Meredith is--er--a difficult man to--er--approach. I felt
that an appeal to your feelings, as a Christian, as a mother--

MARGARET. You mean you’ll prevent Kit marrying Sydney--?

RECTOR. It depends on you, Mrs. Fairfield. I won’t let him marry the
child of a woman who remarries while her husband is alive.

MARGARET. But the church allows it?

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Correcting her_] Winks at it, Margaret.

RECTOR. [_With dignity_] “Winks” is hardly the word--

MARGARET. Then what word would you use, Mr. Pumphrey?

RECTOR. I am not concerned with words.

MARGARET. But I want to know. I care about my church. It lets me and it
doesn’t let me--what does it mean?

RECTOR. [_Much moved_] I am not concerned with meanings, Mrs. Fairfield.
I am concerned with my own conscience.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Margaret--you’ve no business to upset the Rector. Why
don’t you tell him that the situation has changed?

MARGARET. Nothing has changed.

RECTOR. Changed?

MISS FAIRFIELD. My nephew has recovered--returned. He’s in the house
now.

RECTOR. Providence! It’s providence! [_With enthusiasm_] I never knew
anything like providence. Changed indeed, Miss Fairfield! My objection
goes. Dear little Sydney! Ah, Mrs. Fairfield, in a year you and your
husband will look back on this--episode as on a dream--a bad dream--

MARGARET. [_Stonily_] I have no husband.

RECTOR. Ah! the re-marriage--a mere formality--

MISS FAIRFIELD. Simpler still--the decree can be rescinded.

MARGARET. [_Stunned_] Aunt Hester, knowing his history, knowing mine, is
it possible that you expect me to go back to him?

MISS FAIRFIELD. He’s come back to you.

RECTOR. A wife’s duty--

MARGARET. [_Slowly_] I think you’re wicked. I think you’re both wicked.

RECTOR. Mrs. Fairfield!

MISS FAIRFIELD. Control yourself, Margaret!

MARGARET. [_With a touch of wildness in her manner_] You--do you love
your wife?

RECTOR. Mrs. Fairfield!

MARGARET. Do you?

RECTOR. Mrs. Pumphrey and I--most attached--

MARGARET. Suppose you weren’t. Think of it--to want so desperately to
feel--and to feel nothing. Do you know what it means to dread a person
who loves you? To stiffen at the look in their eyes? To pity
and--shudder? You should not judge.

     HILARY, _unseen, opens the door and shuts it again quickly_.

RECTOR. I--I--

MISS FAIRFIELD. There it is, you see, Rector! She doesn’t care _what_
she says.

DR. ALLIOT _enters_.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Gravely, holding the door behind him_] Margaret, my
child-- [_He sees the others and his voice changes_] Hullo, Pumphrey! You
here still? Well, well--you’re cutting it fine.

RECTOR. The service! [_He pulls out his watch, stricken._]

DR. ALLIOT. I’ll run you down there if you’ll wait a minute. [_To_
MARGARET, _privately, poking a wise forefinger_] What you want, my
child, is a good cry and a cup of tea.

RECTOR. [_Coming up to_ MARGARET, _stiffly_] Goodday, Mrs. Fairfield!
You will not--reconsider--?

MARGARET. I will not.

RECTOR. I regret--I regret-- [_To_ MISS FAIRFIELD] My dear lady, you have
my sympathy. I think I left my hat-- [MISS FAIRFIELD _escorts him into
the hall_.]

DR. ALLIOT. Hilary’s coming home with me, Margaret. He wants a word with
you first. Can you manage that?

MARGARET. Of course.

DR. ALLIOT. [_Abruptly_] Where’s Meredith?

MARGARET. [_Eagerly_] He’s coming. He’s taking me away.

DR. ALLIOT. Good. The sooner the better.

RECTOR. [_Reappearing at the door_] Dr. Alliot--it now wants seven
minutes to the half.

DR. ALLIOT. Coming! Coming! See now--you can be gentle with him--

MARGARET. Of course.

DR. ALLIOT. [_With a keen look at her_] Nor yet too gentle. Well, well,
God be with you, child! [_He trots out._]

     HILARY _comes in, hesitating. If he is without dignity, he is,
     nevertheless, too much like a hectored, forlorn child to be
     ludicrous._

HILARY. Have they gone? [_Reassuring her_] It’s all right. I’m going
too. [_He waits for her to answer. She says nothing_] I’m going. I’ve
got to. I see that. He’s made me see.

MARGARET. Dr. Alliot?

HILARY. I’m going to stay with him till I can look round. He’s going to
make it right with that place.

MARGARET. I’m glad you’ve got a good friend, Hilary.

HILARY. Yes, he’s a good chap. He’s talked to me. He’s made me see. [_He
comes a little closer._] He says--and I do see--It’s too late, of
course-- [_his look at her is a petition, but she makes no sign_] isn’t
it? [_He comes nearer._] Yes--it’s too late. It wouldn’t be fair--to ask
you-- [_again the look_] would it?

MARGARET. [_Imploringly_] Oh, Hilary, Hilary!

HILARY. [_Encouraged to come closer_] No woman could be expected--you
couldn’t be expected-- [_she makes no sign_] could you? [_Repeating his
lesson_] It’s what he says--you’ve made a new life for yourself-- [_he
waits_] haven’t you? There’s no room in it--for me--is there? [_He is
close to her. She does not move._] So it’s just a case of--saying
good-bye and going, because--because--I quite see--there’s no
chance-- [_Suddenly he throws himself down beside her, catching at her
hands, clinging to her knees_] Oh! Meg, Meg, Meg! isn’t there just a
chance?

MARGARET. [_Faintly_] Hilary, I can’t stand it.

HILARY. [_And from now to the end of the scene he is at full pelt,
tumbling over his words, frantic_] Yes, but listen to me! Listen to me!
You don’t listen. Listen to me! I’ve been alone so long--

MARGARET. Gray! Gray! Why don’t you come?

HILARY. I’ll not trouble you. I’ll not get in your way--but--don’t leave
me all alone. Give me something--the rustle of your dress, the cushion
where you’ve lain--your voice about the house. You can’t deny me such
little things, that you give your servant and your dog.

MARGARET. It’s madness--

HILARY. It’s naked need!

MARGARET. What good should I be to you? I don’t love you, Hilary--poor
Hilary. I love him. I never think of anything but him.

HILARY. But it’s me you married. You promised--you promised--better or
worse--in sickness in health--You can’t go back on your promise.

MARGARET. It isn’t fair.

HILARY. Anything’s fair! You don’t know what misery means.

MARGARET. I’m learning.

HILARY. But you don’t _know_. You couldn’t leave me to it if you knew.
Why, I’ve never known you hurt a creature in all your life! Remember
the rat-hunts in the barn, the way we used to chaff you? and the
starling? and the kitten you found? Why, I’ve seen you step aside for a
little creeping green thing on the path. You’ve never hurt anything.
Then how can you hurt me so? You can’t have changed since yesterday--

MARGARET. [_In despairing protest_] It’s half my life ago--

HILARY. It’s yesterday, it’s yesterday!

MARGARET. [_With the fleeting courage of a half caught bird_] Yes, it
_is_ yesterday. It’s how you took me--yesterday--and now you’re doing it
again!

HILARY. [_Catching at the hope of it_] Am I? Am I? Is it yesterday?
yesterday come back again?

MARGARET. [_In the toils_] No--no! Hilary, I can’t!

HILARY. [_At white heat_] No, you can’t. You can’t leave me.
You can’t do it to me. You can’t drive me out--the
wilderness--alone--alone--alone. You can’t do it, Meg--you can’t do
it--you can’t!

MARGARET. [_Beaten_] I suppose--I can’t.

HILARY. You--you’ll stay with me? [_Breaking down utterly_] Oh, God
bless you, Meg, God bless you, God bless you--

     _She resigns her hands to him while she sits, flattened against the
     back of her chair, quivering a little, like a crucified moth._

MARGARET. [_Puzzling it out_] You mean--God help me?


                               CURTAIN.



                               ACT III.


     _The scene is the same as in_ ACT 1. MISS FAIRFIELD _sits reading_.
     SYDNEY _is fidgeting about the room_. BASSETT _comes in and begins
     to lay the cloth_. KIT, _who enters unseen behind her, sees_ MISS
     FAIRFIELD _and makes hastily up the stair on tip-toe_.


SYDNEY. [_Turning_] Oh, Bassett, isn’t it rather early for tea? Lunch
was so late.

BASSETT. [_Desisting_] Oh, very well, miss.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Now, Sydney! Always trying to upset things! I’m more
than ready for my tea. Bring it in at once, Bassett.

BASSETT. Very well, ma’am!

SYDNEY. Auntie, I know Mother won’t want to be disturbed.

MISS FAIRFIELD. It’s high time she was. Talk! Talk! No consideration.
She’ll tire Hilary out. [_She goes towards the drawing-room._]

SYDNEY. [_Worried_] Auntie, I think--

MISS FAIRFIELD. Then you shouldn’t! [_She goes out._]

BASSETT. Shall I bring in tea, Miss Sydney?

SYDNEY. [_With a twinkle_] I think we’ll wait half an hour.

BASSETT. [_With an answering twinkle_] Very well, miss.

SYDNEY. Oh--Bassett--tell Mr. Kit that--er--that the coast’s clear.

BASSETT. He didn’t stay out with us, miss. Him and the puppy together
was a bit too much for cook, with the turkey on her hands. [_Looking
round_] He’s here somewhere, miss. [_She goes out._]

SYDNEY. [_Addressing space_] Kit, you idiot, come out!

KIT. [_Appearing at the head of the stairs_] I spend half my life
dodging your aunt. [_As he runs downstairs he rakes a bunch of mistletoe
from the top of a picture._] She spoilt the whole effect this morning,
but now-- [_He advances on_ SYDNEY.]

SYDNEY. [_Enjoying herself_] What do you want now?

KIT. [_Chanting_] “The mistletoe hung in the old oak hall!”--

SYDNEY. [_Eluding him_] Shut up, Kit! [_They dodge and scuffle like two
puppies till the drawing-room door opens, letting in the sound of
voices._]

KIT. Sst! [_He dashes up the stairs and comes down again much more
soberly as_ SYDNEY _says over her shoulder_--]

SYDNEY. It’s only Mother.

     MARGARET _comes dragging into the room, shutting the door behind
     her_.

SYDNEY. [_The laughter dying out of her_] Oh, Mother, how white you
look!

MARGARET. Has Kit gone?

SYDNEY. No, but I can get rid of him if you want me to.

MARGARET. I want him to wait. I want him to take a letter for me to
Gray.

SYDNEY. Do you want Gray to come here?

MARGARET. I want him not to come here.

SYDNEY. Oh, I see, not till after Father’s gone.

MARGARET. He’s not going.

SYDNEY. Mother!

     MARGARET _looks at her with twitching lips_.

SYDNEY. Mother, you haven’t--

MARGARET. I can’t talk to you now, Sydney.

SYDNEY. But Mother--

MARGARET. Please.

SYDNEY. But Mother--

MARGARET. Ask Kit to wait a few minutes.

SYDNEY. But--

     MARGARET _goes into the inner room and sits down to write at a
     little desk near the window. Her back is turned to them and she is
     soon absorbed in her letter._ SYDNEY _stands deep in thought_.

KIT. [_At the foot of the stairs_] All serene?

     SYDNEY _makes no answer_. KIT _prances up behind her with the bunch
     of mistletoe_.

KIT. [_Repeating his success_] “The mistletoe hung in the old oak hall!”

SYDNEY. [_Violently_] Oh, for God’s sake, stop it!

KIT. [_Quenched_] What’s the row?

SYDNEY. You never know when to stop.

KIT. Well, you needn’t snap out at a person--

SYDNEY. [_Impulsively_] Sorry! Oh, sorry, old man! I’m jumpy to-day.

KIT. [_Chaffing her_] Nervy old thing!

SYDNEY. [_Stricken_] I--I suppose I am.

KIT. One minute you’re as nice as pie, and then you fizz up like a
seidlitz powder, all about nothing.

SYDNEY. All about nothing. Sorry, my old Kit, sorry! [_She flings
herself down on the sofa. Then, with an effort_] Come and talk. What’s
the news?

KIT. I told you it all this morning. What’s yours?

SYDNEY. I like yours better. How’s the pamphlet going?

KIT. Nearly done. I put in all your stuff.

SYDNEY. [_Absently_] Good.

KIT. Though you know, I don’t agree with it. What I feel is--you’re not
listening.

SYDNEY. [_Slowly_] Kit, talking of that paper--I read somewhere--suppose
now--is it true it can skip a generation?

KIT. It? What?

SYDNEY. Oh--any illness. Consumption or--well, say insanity.
Suppose--_you_, for instance--suppose you were a queer family--a little,
you know. Say your mother or your father was queer--and you weren’t.
You were perfectly fit, you understand, perfectly fit--

KIT. Well?

SYDNEY. What about the children?

KIT. I wouldn’t risk it. Thank the Lord your father’s only shell-shock.

SYDNEY. Why?

KIT. You can’t pass on shell-shock.

SYDNEY. Then you can pass on insanity--even if you’re fit yourself?

KIT. Of course you can.

SYDNEY. It would be very wicked, wouldn’t it--to children? Oh, it would
be wicked. I suppose when people are in love they don’t think.

KIT. Won’t think.

SYDNEY. But isn’t there a school that says there’s no such thing as
heredity?

KIT. Well, all I know is I wouldn’t risk it.

SYDNEY. It--it’s hard on people.

KIT. My word, yes. They say that’s why old Alliot never married.

SYDNEY. [_High and mightily_] Oh, village gossip.

KIT. [_Apologetically_] Well, you know what the mater is.

SYDNEY. [_Abandoning her dignity_] Who was it, Kit?

KIT. Old Miss Robson.

SYDNEY. Rot!

KIT. Fact.

SYDNEY. But she’s all right.

KIT. Had a game sister.

SYDNEY. Of course! I just remember her. She used to scare me.

KIT. Oh, it must be true. They’re such tremendous pals still.

SYDNEY. Poor old things!

KIT. Rotten for her.

SYDNEY. Rottener for him! What did she go on being pals with him for?

KIT. Why shouldn’t she?

SYDNEY. Well it stopped him marrying anyone else. She oughtn’t to have
let him.

KIT. You can’t stop a person being fond of you.

SYDNEY. When it’s a man you can.

KIT. My dear girl, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

SYDNEY. My dear boy, if a girl finds out that it’s not right for her to
marry a man, it’s up to her to choke him off.

KIT. Rot!

SYDNEY. Well, I think so.

KIT. Couldn’t be done.

SYDNEY. Couldn’t it just?

KIT. Any man would see through it.

SYDNEY. As if any man ever saw through anything! As if I couldn’t choke
you off in five minutes if I wanted to!

KIT. I’d like to see you try!

SYDNEY. Would you?

KIT. My dear girl, we’re not all fools where women are concerned.

SYDNEY. I admire your air of conviction.

KIT. Don’t be clever-clever, old thing. Be-- [_His arm slips round her._]

SYDNEY. [_Edging away_] Don’t.

KIT. [_He glances round hastily at_ MARGARET, _but she is deep in
writing_.] Why not?

SYDNEY. [_Deliberately_] I hate being pawed. [_A pause._]

KIT. Look here, Sydney, d’you call this a way of spending Christmas
afternoon?

SYDNEY. [_Her lip quivering_] It isn’t much of a way, is it?

KIT. Well then, old thing! [_Again the arm._]

SYDNEY. [_Icily_] I told you to leave me alone.

KIT. [_Rising, huffed_] Oh, well, if you can’t be decent, I’m going.

SYDNEY. [_Sweetly_] Counter attraction?

KIT. [_Wheeling round on her_] Now, my dear old thing, look here. I know
it’s only a sort of way you’ve got into; but when you say--“men!”--with
a sort of sneer, and “other attractions”--like that, in that voice, it
just sounds cheap. I hate it. It’s not like you. I wish you wouldn’t.

SYDNEY. Dear me!

KIT. Now I suppose you’re annoyed.

SYDNEY. Oh, no, I’m only amused.

KIT. [_Heavily_] There’s nothing amusing about me, Sydney. I’m in
earnest.

SYDNEY. I’m sure you are. You got out of answering an innocent little
question quite neatly. It looks like practice.

KIT. [_Harried_] Now, look here, Sydney, I swear to you--

SYDNEY. [_Like the ghost in Hamlet_] Swear!

KIT. If you’re thinking of Alice Hewitt I’ve only met her four times.

SYDNEY. Oh, so her name’s Alice!

KIT. Didn’t you know?

SYDNEY. Never heard of her till this minute.

KIT. Then what on earth have you been driving at.

SYDNEY. Trying an experiment.

KIT. If it’s because you’re jealous--

SYDNEY. Jealous! Jealous of a--What colour are her eyes?

KIT. [_Carelessly_] How’d I know?

SYDNEY. [_With a sudden spurt of suspicion_] Kit! What colour are mine?

KIT. [_Helplessly_] Oh, er--oh--

SYDNEY. [_Terribly_] Kit! What colour are mine? [_Relenting_] Look at my
frock, you donkey! What do you suppose I wear blue for? So Alice has got
blue eyes!

KIT. How do you know?

SYDNEY. I know you, Kit. You’re conservative.

KIT. As a matter of fact, she isn’t unlike you. That’s what made me talk
to her.

SYDNEY. Oh, you’ve talked to her?

KIT. [_Warming_] Oh, yes--quite a lot. She’s a friend of my sister’s.

SYDNEY. She always is.

KIT. What d’you mean--“she always is”? I tell you I’ve only met her four
times. I can’t make you out.

SYDNEY. No?

KIT. I wish I could make you out.

SYDNEY. [_An ache in her voice_] Oh, I wish you could.

KIT. [_Responding instantly_] I say, old thing, is anything really the
matter?

SYDNEY. [_With a glance at_ MARGARET] I’m worried.

KIT. Oh, that! Yes, it’s beastly for your mother.

SYDNEY. Oh, it’s not that. At least--

KIT. What?

SYDNEY. [_Lightly_] Oh, I don’t know.

KIT. [_Puzzled_] Can’t you tell me?

SYDNEY. No, old man.

KIT. [_As in_ ACT. I.] But--look here--marriage has got to be a sort of
mutual show, hasn’t it? Confidence, and all that?

     SYDNEY _goes off into a peal of laughter_.

KIT. What’s the matter now?

SYDNEY. Do you preach this sort of sermon to Alice?

KIT. Sydney--that’s--that’s rude--that’s--that’s--

SYDNEY. Take time, darling!

KIT. You’re being simply insulting.

SYDNEY. Too bad! I should go and tell Alice.

KIT. Damn Alice!

SYDNEY. Oh, no, Kit, she’s got blue eyes.

KIT. [_Storming_] Look here, what’s up?

SYDNEY. Nix.

KIT. Have you really got your back up? What’s the matter with you,
Sydney?

SYDNEY. D’you want to know?

KIT. [_With a certain dignity_] I think I’d better.

SYDNEY. Well, it’s [_yawning_] “jam to-morrow, jam yesterday, but--”
Surely you know how it ends?

KIT. I don’t. And I don’t want to.

SYDNEY. [_Drearily_] “But never jam to-day.”

KIT. [_Startled_] Why, Sydney!

SYDNEY. [_Recovering herself, lightly_] D’you know what that’s out of?

KIT. No.

SYDNEY. [_Mischievously_] You ought to--“Alice”--

     KIT _makes a furious gesture_.

SYDNEY. [_Appeasing him_] No, no, no! “Alice through the Looking-glass!”
[_More soberly_] I can’t help it, Kit. When I look in the looking-glass
I see--Alice.

KIT. Once and for all, Sydney, will you shut up about Alice?

SYDNEY. Can’t. It’s her jam to-day.

KIT. I wish you’d talk sense for a change.

SYDNEY. But I am. I’m conveying to you as nicely and tactfully as
possible that I’m--

KIT. [_Apprehensive at last_] What, Sydney?

SYDNEY. Tired of jam.

KIT. [_Heavily_] D’you mean you’re tired of me?

SYDNEY. That would be putting it crudely.

KIT. What’s got into you? I don’t know you.

SYDNEY. P’raps you’re beginning to.

KIT. But what have I done?

SYDNEY. [_Flaring effectively_] Well, for one thing you shouldn’t have
told your father we were engaged. What girl, do you suppose, would stand
it? You ask Alice.

KIT. [_Flaring in reality_] If you’re not jolly careful I will.

SYDNEY. [_Egging him on_] Good for you!

KIT. [_Furious_] And if I do I’ll ask her more than that.

SYDNEY. [_Clapping her hands_] I should go and do it now, if I were you.
Strike while the iron’s hot.

KIT. You’re mad.

SYDNEY. [_With intense bitterness_] Yes, I suppose that’s the right word
to fling at me.

KIT. [_Between injury and distress_] I never meant that. You’re twisting
the words in my mouth. You’re just picking a quarrel.

SYDNEY. [_Lazily_] Well, what’s one to do with a little boy who won’t
take his medicine? I tried to give it you in jam.

KIT. [_Curt_] You want me to go?

SYDNEY. Yes.

KIT. For good?

SYDNEY. Yes.

KIT. Honest?

SYDNEY. Yes.

KIT. Right. [_He turns from her and goes out._]

MARGARET. [_Looking up_] Was that Kit? Sydney, don’t let him go.

SYDNEY. Kit! Ki-it!

KIT. [_Returning joyfully_] Yes! Yes, old thing?

SYDNEY. [_Impassively_] Mother wants you.

MARGARET. Oh, Kit--would you take this for me? It’s for Mr. Meredith. I
expect you’ll meet him, but if not, I want you to take it on. At once,
Kit.

KIT. Right, Mrs. Fairfield!

MARGARET. [_Detaining him_] What’s the matter, Kit?

KIT. [_His head up_] Nothing, Mrs. Fairfield.

SYDNEY. Mother, Kit’s got to go.

KIT. [_Resentfully_] It’s all right. I’m going. You needn’t worry.

MARGARET. [_Humorously, washing her hands of them_] Oh, you two!

     _She turns away from them and stands, her arm on the mantel-piece,
     staring into the fire._ KIT _marches to the door_.

SYDNEY. [_In spite of herself, softly_] Kit!

KIT. [_Quickly_] Yes?

SYDNEY. [_Recovering herself, impishly_] You’ll give her my love?

KIT. You’re a beast, Sydney Fairfield! [_He goes out with a slam._]

SYDNEY. [_In a changed voice_] You’ll give her _my_ love. [_Running to
the door._] Kit! [_The door opens again, but it is_ GRAY MEREDITH _who
comes in_.]

GRAY. Sydney, what’s wrong with Kit? He went past me like a gust of
wind.

MARGARET. [_Coming up to them_] He didn’t give you my note?

GRAY. He never looked at me. What note?

MARGARET. I--

GRAY. Aren’t you ready? Why aren’t you dressed?

MARGARET. I--

GRAY. You must be quick, dearest.

MARGARET. I-- [_She sways where she stands._]

     GRAY _goes to her, and half clinging to him, half repulsing him,
     she sits down with her arm on the table and her head on her arm_.

GRAY. Of course! Worn out! You should have come an hour ago.

MARGARET. Yes.

GRAY. Never mind that now. Sydney, get your mother’s wraps.

MARGARET. [_Agitated_] Sydney--wait--no.

GRAY. Warm things. It’s bitter, driving.

SYDNEY. [_Uncertainly_] Gray, I think--

GRAY. Get them, please.

     _After a tiny pause and look at him_ SYDNEY _obeys. You see her go
     upstairs and disappear along the gallery._

GRAY. [_Solicitous_] I was afraid it would come hard on you. Has he--?
But you can tell me all that later.

MARGARET. I must tell it you now.

GRAY. Be quick, then. We’ve got a fifty mile drive before us.

MARGARET. [_Not looking at him_] I--I’m not coming.

GRAY. [_Smiling_] Not? There, sit quiet a moment. My dear--my dear
heart--you’re all to pieces.

MARGARET. I’m not coming.

GRAY. [_Checking what he takes for hysteria]_ Margaret--Margaret--

MARGARET. I’m not coming. It’s Hilary.

GRAY. What? Collapsed again? I thought as much.

MARGARET. I--

GRAY. Tragic! But--it simplifies his problem, poor devil. Has Alliot
charge of him?

MARGARET. No, no. It’s not that. He’s not ill. He’s well. That’s it.
He’s well--and--he won’t let me go.

GRAY. He won’t, won’t he? [_He turns from her._]

MARGARET. Where are you going?

GRAY. To settle this matter. Where is he?

MARGARET. Leave him alone. It’s me you must punish. I’ve made up my
mind. Oh, how am I to tell you? He convinced me. He--cried, Gray.
[_Then, as_ GRAY _makes a quick gesture_] You mustn’t sneer. You must
understand. He’s so unhappy. And there’s Sydney to think of. And Gray,
he won’t marry us.

GRAY. What’s that?

MARGARET. The Rector. He’s been here.

GRAY. [_Furious_] My God, why wasn’t I?

MARGARET. And Aunt Hester--she made it worse. [_Despairingly_] You see
what it is--they all think I’m wicked.

GRAY. Damned insolence!

MARGARET. But it’s not them--it’s Hilary. I did fight them. I can’t
fight Hilary. I see it. It’s my own fault. I ought never to have let
myself care for you.

GRAY. Talk sense.

MARGARET. But there it is. It’s too much for me. I’ve got to stay with
him.

GRAY. [_For the first time taking her seriously_] Say that again,
Margaret, if you dare--

MARGARET. I’ve got to--stay-- [_With a sharp crying note in her voice_]
Gray, Gray, don’t look at me like that!

     _He turns abruptly away from her and walks across to the hearth. He
     stands a moment, deep in thought, takes out and lights a cigarette,
     realises what he is doing, and with an exclamation flings it into
     the fire. Then he comes to_ MARGARET, _who has not moved_.

GRAY. [_Very quietly_] This--this is rather an extraordinary statement,
isn’t it?

MARGARET. [_Shrinking_] Don’t use--that tone.

GRAY. I am being as patient as I can. But--it’s not easy.

MARGARET. Easy--?

GRAY. Do you mind telling me exactly what you mean?

MARGARET. I can’t talk. You know I’m not clever. I’m trying to do what’s
right--

GRAY. Then shall I tell you?

     MARGARET _makes a little quick movement with her hands, but she
     says nothing_.

GRAY. [_Watching her keenly while he speaks_] You mean that you’ve made
a mistake--

MARGARET. [_Misunderstanding_] Yes.

GRAY.--that the last five years goes for nothing--that you don’t care
for me.

MARGARET. Gray!

GRAY. Wait. That you’ve never cared for me--that you don’t want to marry
me--

MARGARET. How can you say these things to me?

GRAY. But aren’t they true?

MARGARET. You know--you know they’re not true.

GRAY. Then what do you mean when you say, “I won’t come?”

MARGARET. I mean--Hilary. I’ve got to put him first because--because
he’s weak. You--you’re strong.

GRAY. Not strong enough to do without my birthright. I want my wife and
my children. I’ve waited a long while for you. Now you must come.

     SYDNEY _comes down the stairs, a red furred cloak over her arm. She
     pauses a few steps from the bottom, afraid to break in on them._

MARGARET. If Hilary’s left alone he’ll go mad again.

GRAY. Margaret--come.

MARGARET. How can I?

GRAY. Margaret, my own heart--come.

MARGARET. You oughtn’t to torture me. I’ve got to do what’s right.

GRAY. [_Darkening_] Are you coming with me? I shan’t ask it again.

MARGARET. Oh, God--You hear him! What am I to do?

     SYDNEY _comes down another step_.

GRAY. Why, you’re to do as you choose. I shan’t force you. I’m not your
turn-key. I’m not your beggar. We’re free people, you and I. It’s for
you to say if you’ll keep your--conscience, do you call it?--and lose--

MARGARET. I’ve lost what I love. There’s no more to lose.

GRAY. You sing as sweetly as a toy nightingale. Almost I’d think you
were real.

MARGARET. [_Wounded_] I don’t know what you mean.

GRAY. “What you love!” You don’t know the meaning of the notes you use.

MARGARET. [_Very white, but her voice is steady_] Don’t deceive
yourself. I love you. I ache and faint for you. I starve--

SYDNEY. [_Appalled, whispering_] What is it? I don’t know her.

MARGARET. I’m withering without you like cut grass in the sun. I love
you. I love you. Can’t you see how it is with me? But--

GRAY. There’s no “but” in love.

MARGARET. What is it in me? There’s a thing I can’t do. I can’t see such
pain.

GRAY. [_Hoarsely_] Do you think _I_ can’t suffer?

MARGARET. I _am_ you. But he--he’s so defenceless. It’s
vivisection--like cutting a dumb beast about to make me well. I can’t do
it. I’d rather die of my cancer.

GRAY. [_The storm breaking_] Die then--you fool--you fool!

     SYDNEY _descends another step. The cloak slides from her hands on
     to the baluster._

GRAY. [_Without expression_] Good-bye.

MARGARET. [_Blindly_] Forgive--

GRAY. How can I?

MARGARET. I would you--

GRAY. D’you think I bear you malice? It’s not I. Why, to deny me, that’s
a little thing. I’ll not go under because you’re faithless. But what
you’re doing is the sin without forgiveness. You’re denying--not me--but
life. You’re denying the spirit of life. You’re denying--you’re denying
your mate.

SYDNEY. [_Strung up to breaking point_] Mother, you shall not.

MARGARET. [_As they both turn_] Sydney!

SYDNEY. [_Coming down to them_] I tell you--I tell you, you shall not.

MARGARET. [_Sitting down, with a listless gesture_] I must. There’s no
way out.

SYDNEY. There is. For _you_ there is. I’ve thought it all along, and now
I know. Father--he’s my job, not yours.

MARGARET. [_With a last flicker of passion_] D’you think I’ll make a
scape-goat of my own child?

SYDNEY. [_Sternly_] Can you help it? I’m his child. [_She throws herself
down beside her_] Mother! Mother darling, don’t you see? You’re no good
to him. You’re scared of him. But I’m his own flesh and blood. I know
how he feels. I’ll make him happier than you can. Be glad for me. Be
glad I’m wanted somewhere.

MARGARET. [_Struggling against the hope that is flooding her_] But Kit,
Sydney--Kit?

SYDNEY. [_With a queer little laugh that ends, though it does not begin,
quite naturally_] Bless him, I’ll be dancing at his wedding in six
months.

MARGARET. But all you ought to have--

SYDNEY. [_Jumping up flippantly_] Oh, I’m off getting married. I’m going
to have a career.

MARGARET.--the love--the children--

SYDNEY. [_Strained_] No children for me, Mother. No children for me.
I’ve lost my chance for ever.

MARGARET. [_Weakly_] No--no--

SYDNEY. [_Smiling down at her_] But you--you take it. I give it to you.

MARGARET. But--

SYDNEY. [_Dominant_] What’s the use of arguing? I’ve made up my mind.

MARGARET. But if your father--

SYDNEY. [_At the end of her endurance_] Go away, Mother. Go away
quickly. This is my job, not yours. [_She turns abruptly from them to
the window, and stands staring out into the darkening garden._]

MARGARET. [_Dazed_] So--so-- [_She sways, hesitating, unbelieving, like a
bird at the open door of its cage_] So--I can come.

          GRAY _makes no answer_.

MARGARET. [_With a new full note in her voice_] Gray, I can come.

GRAY. [_Without moving_] Can you, Margaret?

MARGARET. [_In heaven_] I can come.

GRAY. [_Impassively_] Are you sure?

MARGARET. [_In quick alarm_] What do you mean?

GRAY. [_Stonily_] Why, you could deny me. You’ve chopped and changed. I
want proof that you’ve still a right to come.

MARGARET. [_Like a child_] You’re angry with me?

GRAY. No.

MARGARET. You’re angry with me.

GRAY. I want proof.

MARGARET. I get frightened. I’m made so. Always I’ve been afraid--of
Hilary--of everyone--of life. But now--you--you’re angry, you’re so
angry, you’re very angry with me--and I-- [_She goes steadily across the
room to him. He makes no movement_] I’m not afraid. [_She puts up her
hands, and drawing him down to her kisses him on the mouth._] Is that
proof?

GRAY. [_Quietly_] Proof enough. Come.

     _He takes the cloak and throws it round her. They go out together.
     As_ SYDNEY, _forgotten, stands looking after them_, BASSETT _enters
     with the tea-tray. She puts it down on the table and turns up the
     lights._

BASSETT. Is the gentleman staying to tea, miss?

SYDNEY. [_Correcting her_] Mr. Fairfield. It’s my father, Bassett.

BASSETT. We thought so, miss?

SYDNEY. [_Smiling faintly_] Did you, Bassett?

BASSETT. He’s got your way, miss! Quick-like! [_She opens the
drawing-room door_] Tea’s ready, ma’am. [_Outside the motor drives
away._]

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Entering with_ HILARY] Tea’s very late. [BASSETT _goes
out_.]

HILARY. I thought I heard the sound of a car. [_Suspiciously_] Where’s
your mother?

SYDNEY. She’s gone away.

HILARY. [_Stricken_] Gone?

SYDNEY. Gone away for good.

HILARY. Where?

SYDNEY. Out of our lives.

HILARY. With--?

SYDNEY. [_Quickly_] Out of our lives.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Furiously_] This is your doing, Sydney.

HILARY. [_Dazed_] Gone. Everything gone.

SYDNEY. I’m not gone.

HILARY. But that boy--?

SYDNEY. That’s done with.

MISS FAIRFIELD. You’ve jilted him?

SYDNEY. Yes.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Like mother, like daughter.

SYDNEY. Just so.

MISS FAIRFIELD. I pray you get your punishment.

SYDNEY. Your prayers will surely be answered, Auntie.

HILARY. [_Slowly_] It was a cruel thing to do.

SYDNEY. He’ll get over it. Men--they’re not like us.

HILARY. [_Timidly_] You loved him?

SYDNEY. What’s that to anyone but me?

HILARY. [_Peering at her_] You’re crying.

SYDNEY. I’m not.

HILARY. You love him?

SYDNEY. I suppose so.

HILARY. Then why? Then why?

SYDNEY. We’re in the same boat, Father.

MISS FAIRFIELD. Yes, that’s the way they talk now, Hilary. They know too
much, the young women. It upsets everything.

     HILARY _sits down on the sofa_.

HILARY. [_Broken_] I don’t see ahead. I don’t see what’s to become of
me. There’s no-one.

SYDNEY. There’s me.

HILARY. [_Not looking at her_] I should think you hate me.

SYDNEY. I need you just as badly as you need me.

HILARY. [_Fiercely_] It’s your damn-clever doing that she went. D’you
think I can’t hate you?

SYDNEY. [_Close to him_] No, no, Father, you want me too much. We’ll
make a good job of it yet.

HILARY. [_His head in his hands_] What job?

SYDNEY. [_Petting him, coaxing him, loving him, her hands quieting his
twitching hands, her strong will already controlling him_] Living. I’ve
got such plans already, Father--Father dear. We’ll do things. We’ll have
a good time somehow, you and I--you and I. Did you know you’d got a
clever daughter? Writing--painting--acting! We’ll go on tour together.
We’ll make a lot of money. We’ll have a cottage somewhere. You see, I’ll
make it up to you. I’ll make you proud of me.

MISS FAIRFIELD. [_Surveying them_] Proud of her! D’you see, Hilary?
That’s all she thinks of--self--self--self! Money, ambition--and sends
that poor boy away. A parson’s son! Not good enough for her, that’s what
it is. She’s like the rest of the young women. Hard as nails! Hard as
nails!

SYDNEY. [_Crying out_] Don’t you listen to her, Father! Father, don’t
believe her! I’m not hard. I’m not hard.

     _His arm goes round her with a gesture, awkward, timid, yet
     fatherly._


                          THE CURTAIN FALLS.


                           _May-June, 1920._


         WOODS & SONS, LTD., Printers, London, N. 1. (W.W.A.)





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