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Act I


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

JOANNA. Now is the time.

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

ALICE. Certainly; and before the men come in.

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

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

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

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

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

MABEL. Mrs. Dearth _is_ doing it.

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

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

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

(The bold Joanna rings.)

MRS. COADE. Poor Matey!

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

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

MRS. COADE. It is what we are!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MATEY. Oh, ma'am!

ALICE (without the purr). Aloud.

(Thus encouraged he reads the fatal missive.)

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

ALICE. Yes, that is quite right.

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. Certainly not.

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

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

MATEY. It is deeply regretted.

ALICE (darkly). I am sure it is.

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

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

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

(MATEY'S head rises.)

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNA (thankfully). One does.

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

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

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

ALICE. Oh yes, you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MABEL. The kind he thinks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(They all look at the unblinking enemy.)

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

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

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

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

ALICE. Absurd.

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

LADY CAROLINE. Razors?

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

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. Why do you ask?

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

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

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. The names are so alike.

JOANNA. Robin Goodfellow was Puck.

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

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

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

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

(They assent.)

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

MRS. COADE. Now what do you mean?

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

ALICE. Them? Whom?

MATEY. Them who have that in common.

MABEL. What can it be?

MATEY. I don't know.

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

MATEY. I don't know.

JOANNA. Why, I believe this is Midsummer Eve!

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

LADY CAROLINE. Because of--of him?

MATEY. He frightens them. There are stories.

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

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

MABEL. Done what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. Ah, now you are talking.

LADY CAROLINE. Don't listen to him.

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

LADY CAROLINE. Yes, I flatter myself I am.

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

LADY CAROLINE, I? How dare you, man.

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

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. You will regret this.

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

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. Fellow!

(They consider this odd warning.)

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. You should have sent that telegram off.

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

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

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

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

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

LOB. Standing, dear lady? Pray be seated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(LOB again comes sharply under female observation.)

PURDIE. Tell them what you told us, Lob.

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

ALICE (lowering). Where?

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

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

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

PURDIE (waggishly). Rather!

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

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

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

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

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

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

PURDIE. No, we must hunt in pairs.

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

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

LOB. Pooh! There's no wood.

LADY CAROLINE. You've never seen it?

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

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

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

ALICE. What did they say were their experiences?

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

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

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

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

MRS. COADE. It certainly is Midsummer Eve.

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

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

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

(The proposal meets with approval.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LADY CAROLINE. Don't pamper him.

LOB (furiously). I need to be pampered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNA. What were you saying to them, Lob?

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

(He departs with a final cluck.)

JOANNA. That man--he suspects!

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

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

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

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

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

PURDIE. You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNA. You break my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNA. I am so proud to think that.

PURDIE. You have made me kinder to Mabel.

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

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

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

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

JOANNA (crooning). Tell me.

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

JOANNA. It was dear of you.

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

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

PURDIE. I gave her a ruby bracelet for that.

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

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

JOANNA. I didn't exactly let you.

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

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

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

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

JOANNA. Was that any one in the garden?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PURDIE (hope springing eternal). Anything important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MABEL. Not she.

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

MABEL. Not quite, Joanna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A footstep is heard.)

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

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

Ah, it is you, Mrs. Dearth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PURDIE. I won't be a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNA. You certainly have good ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. It was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. A nice hand for an artist!

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

ALICE. Not so far as any work is concerned.

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

ALICE. I suppose it was always in you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. I didn't knife you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALICE. You wouldn't.

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

ALICE. But I--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PURDIE. I promise.

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

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

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

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

DEARTH. Well, I'm for the garden.

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

PURDIE (wondering). How, now, Dearth?

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

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

LOB (shrinking). Come on!

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

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

(The ladies are simultaneously enlightened.)

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

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

ALICE (morosely). A second chance!

LOB. Come on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(PURDIE draws back.)

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

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

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

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

MRS. COADE. It's horrible.

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

PURDIE. Mabel!

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

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

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

ALICE. A second chance!

(She goes out unflinching.)

LADY CAROLINE. One would like to know.

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

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

LOB. Matey, look!

(MATEY looks.)

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

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

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

James M. Barrie

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