A lady and gentleman are making love to one another in the drawing-room of a flat in Ashly Gardens in the Victoria district of London. It is past ten at night. The walls are hung with theatrical engravings and photographs--Kemble as Hamlet, Mrs. Siddons as Queen Katharine pleading in court, Macready as Werner (after Maclise), Sir Henry Irving as Richard III (after Long), Miss Ellen Terry, Mrs. Kendal, Miss Ada Rehan, Madame Sarah Bernhardt, Mr. Henry Arthur Jones, Mr. A. W. Pinero, Mr. Sydney Grundy, and so on, but not the Signora Duse or anyone connected with Ibsen. The room is not a perfect square, the right hand corner at the back being cut off diagonally by the doorway, and the opposite corner rounded by a turret window filled up with a stand of flowers surrounding a statue of Shakespear. The fireplace is on the right, with an armchair near it. A small round table, further forward on the same side, with a chair beside it, has a yellow-backed French novel lying open on it. The piano, a grand, is on the left, open, with the keyboard in full view at right angles to the wall. The piece of music on the desk is "When other lips." Incandescent lights, well shaded, are on the piano and mantelpiece. Near the piano is a sofa, on which the lady and gentleman are seated affectionately side by side, in one another's arms.
The lady, Grace Tranfield, is about 32, slight of build, delicate of feature, and sensitive in expression. She is just now given up to the emotion of the moment; but her well closed mouth, proudly set brows, firm chin, and elegant carriage show plenty of determination and self respect. She is in evening dress.
The gentleman, Leonard Charteris, a few years older, is unconventionally but smartly dressed in a velvet jacket and cashmere trousers. His collar, dyed Wotan blue, is part of his shirt, and turns over a garnet coloured scarf of Indian silk, secured by a turquoise ring. He wears blue socks and leather sandals. The arrangement of his tawny hair, and of his moustaches and short beard, is apparently left to Nature; but he has taken care that Nature shall do him the fullest justice. His amative enthusiasm, at which he is himself laughing, and his clever, imaginative, humorous ways, contrast strongly with the sincere tenderness and dignified quietness of the woman.
CHARTERIS (impulsively clasping Grace)
My dearest love.
GRACE (responding affectionately)
My darling. Are you happy?
My heart's love. (He sighs happily, and takes her hands in his, looking quaintly at her.) That must positively be my last kiss, Grace, or I shall become downright silly. Let us talk. (Releases her and sits a little apart from her.) Grace: is this your first love affair?
Have you forgotten that I am a widow? Do you think I married Tranfield for money?
How do I know? Besides, you might have married him not because you loved him, but because you didn't love anybody else. When one is young, one marries out of mere curiosity, just to see what it's like.
Well, since you ask me, I never was in love with Tranfield, though I only found that out when I fell in love with you. But I used to like him for being in love with me. It brought out all the good in him so much that I have wanted to be in love with some one ever since. I hope, now that I am in love with you, you will like me for it just as I liked Tranfield.
My dear, it is because I like you that I want to marry you. I could love anybody--any pretty woman, that is.
Do you really mean that, Leonard?
Of course. Why not?
Never mind why. Now tell me, is this your first love affair?
CHARTERIS (amazed at the simplicity of the question)
No, bless my soul. No--nor my second, nor my third.
But I mean your first serious one.
CHARTERIS (with a certain hesitation)
Yes. (There is a pause. She is not convinced. He adds, with a very perceptible load on his conscience.) It is the first in which _I_ have been serious.
I see. The other parties were always serious.
No, not always--heaven forbid!
Who told you that? (She shakes her head mysteriously, and he turns away from her moodily and adds) You had much better not have asked.
I'm sorry, dear. (She puts out her hand and pulls softly at him to bring him near her again.)
CHARTERIS (yielding mechanically to the pull, and allowing her hand to rest on his arm, but sitting squarely without the least attempt to return the caress)
Do I feel harder to the touch than I did five minutes ago?
I feel as if my body had turned into the toughest of hickory. That is what comes of reminding me of Julia Craven. (Brooding, with his chin on his right hand and his elbow on his knee.) I have sat alone with her just as I am sitting with you--
GRACE (shrinking from him)
CHARTERIS (sitting upright and facing her steadily)
Just exactly. She has put her hands in mine, and laid her cheek against mine, and listened to me saying all sorts of silly things. (Grace, chilled to the soul, rises from the sofa and sits down on the piano stool, with her back to the keyboard.) Ah, you don't want to hear any more of the story. So much the better.
GRACE (deeply hurt, but controlling herself)
When did you break it off?
Break it off?
Yes, break it off.
Well, let me see. When did I fall in love with you?
Did you break it off then?
CHARTERIS (mischievously, making it plainer and plainer that it has not been broken off)
It was clear then, of course, that it must be broken off.
And did you break it off?
Oh, yes: _I_ broke it off,
But did she break it off?
As a favour to me, dearest, change the subject. Come away from the piano: I want you to sit here with me. (Takes a step towards her.)
No. I also have grown hard to the touch--much harder than hickory for the present. Did she break it off?
My dear, be reasonable. It was fully explained to her that it was to be broken off.
Did she accept the explanation?
She did what a woman like Julia always does. When I explained personally, she said it was not not my better self that was speaking, and that she knew I still really loved her. When I wrote it to her with brutal explicitness, she read the letter carefully and then sent it back to me with a note to say that she had not had the courage to open it, and that I ought to be ashamed of having written it. (Comes beside Grace, and puts his left hand caressingly round her neck.) You see, dearie, she won't look the situation in the face.
(shaking off his hand and turning a little away on the stool). I am afraid, from the light way in which you speak of it, you did not sound the right chord.
My dear, when you are doing what a woman calls breaking her heart, you may sound the very prettiest chords you can find on the piano; but to her ears it is just like this--(Sits down on the bass end of the keyboard. Grace puts her fingers in her ears. He rises and moves away from the piano, saying) No, my dear: I've been kind; I've been frank; I've been everything that a goodnatured man could be: she only takes it as the making up of a lover's quarrel. (Grace winces.) Frankness and kindness: one is as the other--especially frankness. I've tried both. (He crosses to the fireplace, and stands facing the fire, looking at the ornaments on the mantelpiece and warming his hands.)
GRACE (Her voice a little strained)
What are you going to try now?
CHARTERIS (on the hearthrug, turning to face her)
Action, my dear! Marriage!! In that she must believe. She won't be convinced by anything short of it, because, you see, I have had some tremendous philanderings before and have gone back to her after them.
And so that is why you want to marry me?
I cannot deny it, my love. Yes: it is your mission to rescue me from Julia.
Then, if you please, I decline to be made use of for any such purpose. I will not steal you from another woman. (She begins to walk up and down the room with ominous disquiet.)
Steal me! (Comes towards her.) Grace: I have a question to put to you as an advanced woman. Mind! as an advanced woman. Does Julia belong to me? Am I her owner--her master?
Certainly not. No woman is the property of a man. A woman belongs to herself and to nobody else.
Quite right. Ibsen for ever! That's exactly my opinion. Now tell me, do I belong to Julia; or have I a right to belong to myself?
Of course you have; but--
CHARTERIS (interrupting her triumphantly)
Then how can you steal me from Julia if I don't belong to her? (Catching her by the shoulders and holding her out at arm's length in front of him.) Eh, little philosopher? No, my dear: if Ibsen sauce is good for the goose, it's good for the gander as well. Besides (coaxing her) it was nothing but a philander with Julia--nothing else in the world, I assure you.
GRACE (breaking away from him)
So much the worse! I hate your philanderings: they make me ashamed of you and of myself. (Goes to the sofa and sits in the right hand corner of it, leaning gloomily on her elbow with her face averted.)
Grace: you utterly misunderstand the origin of my philanderings. (Sits down beside her.) Listen to me: am I a particularly handsome man?
GRACE (turning to him as if astonished at his conceit)
You admit it. Am I a well dressed man?
Of course not. Have I a romantic mysterious charm about me?--do I look as if a secret sorrow preyed on me?--am I gallant to women?
Not in the least.
Certainly not. No one can accuse me of it. Then whose fault is it that half the women I speak to fall in love with me? Not mine: I hate it: it bores me to distraction. At first it flattered me--delighted me--that was how Julia got me, because she was the first woman who had the pluck to make me a declaration. But I soon had enough of it; and at no time have I taken the initiative and persecuted women with my advances as women have persecuted me. Never. Except, of course, in your case.
Oh, you need not make any exception. I had a good deal of trouble to induce you to come and see us. You were very coy.
CHARTERIS (fondly, taking her hand)
With you, dearest, the coyness was sheer coquetry. I loved you from the first, and fled only that you might pursue. But come! let us talk about something really interesting. (Takes her in his arms.) Do you love me better than anyone else in the world?
I don't think you like to be loved too much.
That depends on who the person is. You (pressing her to his heart) cannot love me too much: you cannot love me half enough. I reproach you every day for your coldness--your-- (Violent double knock heard without. They start and listen, still in one another's arms, hardly daring to breathe.) Who the deuce is calling at this hour?
I can't imagine. (They listen guiltily. The door of the flat is opened without. They hastily get away from one another.)
A WOMAN'S VOICE OUTSIDE
Is Mr. Charteris here?
CHARTERIS (springing up)
Julia! The devil! (Stands at the left of the sofa with his hands on it, bending forward with his eyes fixed on the door.)
GRACE (rising also)
What can she want?
Never mind: I will announce myself. (A beautiful, dark, tragic looking woman, in mantle and bonnet, appears at the door, raging furiously.) Oh, this is charming. I have interrupted a pretty tete-a-tete. Oh, you villain! (She comes straight at Grace. Charteris runs across behind the sofa and stops her. She struggles furiously with him. Grace preserves her self possession, but retreats quietly to the piano. Julia, finding Charteris too strong for her, gives up her attempt to get at Grace, but strikes him in the face as she frees herself.)
Oh, Julia, Julia! This is too bad.
Is it, indeed, too bad? What are you doing up here with that woman? You scoundrel! But now listen to me; Leonard: you have driven me to desperation; and I don't care what I do, or who hears me. I'll not bear it. She shall not have my place with you--
No, no: I don't care: I will expose her true character before everybody. You belong to me: you have no right to be here; and she knows it.
I think you had better let me take you home, Julia.
I will not. I am not going home: I am going to stay here--here--until I have made you give her up.
My dear, you must be reasonable. You really cannot stay in Mrs. Tranfield's house if she objects. She can ring the bell and have us both put out.
Let her do it then. Let her ring the bell if she dares. Let us see how this pure virtuous creature will face the scandal of what I will declare about her. Let us see how you will face it. I have nothing to lose. Everybody knows how you have treated me: you have boasted of your conquests, you poor pitiful, vain creature--I am the common talk of your acquaintances and hers. Oh, I have calculated my advantage (tearing off her mantle): I am a most unhappy and injured woman; but I am not the fool you take me to be. I am going to stay--see! (She flings the mantle on the round table; puts her bonnet on it, and sits down.) Now, Mrs. Tranfield: there is the bell: (pointing to the button beside the fireplace) why don't you ring? (Grace, looking attentively at Charteris, does not move.) Ha! ha! I thought so.
CHARTERIS (quietly, without relaxing his watch on Julia)
Mrs. Tranfield: I think you had better go into another room. (Grace makes a movement towards the door, but stops and looks inquiringly at Charteris as Julia springs up. He advances a step so as to prevent her from getting to the door.)
She shall not. She shall stay here. She shall know what you are, and how you have been in love with me--how it is not two days since you kissed me and told me that the future would be as happy as the past. (Screaming at him) You did: deny it if you dare.
CHARTERIS (to Grace in a low voice)
GRACE (with nonchalant disgust--going)
Get her away as soon as you can, Leonard.
(Julia, with a stifled cry of rage, rushes at Grace, who is crossing behind the sofa towards door. Charteris seizes her and prevents her from getting past the sofa. Grace goes out. Charteris, holding Julia fast, looks around to the door to see whether Grace is safely out of the room.)
JULIA (suddenly ceasing to struggle and speaking with the most pathetic dignity)
Oh, there is no need to be violent. (He passes her across to the left end of the sofa, and leans against the right end, panting and mopping his forehead). That is worthy of you!--to use brute force--to humiliate me before her! (She breaks down and bursts into tears.)
CHARTERIS (to himself with melancholy conviction)
This is going to be a cheerful evening. Now patience, patience, patience! (Sits on a chair near the round table.)
JULIA (in anguish)
Leonard, have you no feeling for me?
Only an intense desire to get you safely out of this.
I am not going to stir.
Well, well. (Heaves a long sigh. They sit silent for awhile, Julia struggling, not to regain her self control, but to maintain her rage at boiling point.)
JULIA (rising suddenly)
I am going to speak to that woman.
CHARTERIS (jumping up)
No, no. Hang it, Julia, don't let's have another wrestling match. I have the strength, but not the wind: you're too young for me. Sit down or else let me take you home. Suppose her father comes in.
I don't care. It rests with you. I am ready to go if she will give you up: until then I stay. Those are my terms: you owe me that, (She sits down determinedly. Charteris looks at her for a moment; then, making up his mind, goes resolutely to the couch, sits down near the right hand end of it, she being at the left; and says with biting emphasis)--
I owe you just exactly nothing.
Nothing! You can look me in the face and say that? Oh, Leonard!
Let me remind you, Julia, that when first we became acquainted, the position you took up was that of a woman of advanced views.
That should have made you respect me the more.
So it did, my dear. But that is not the point. As a woman of advanced views, you were determined to be free. You regarded marriage as a degrading bargain, by which a woman sold herself to a man for the social status of a wife and the right to be supported and pensioned in old age out of his income. That's the advanced view--our view. Besides, if you had married me, I might have turned out a drunkard, a criminal, an imbecile, a horror to you; and you couldn't have released yourself. Too big a risk, you see. That's the rational view--our view. Accordingly, you reserved the right to leave me at any time if you found our companionship incompatible with--what was the expression you used?--with your full development as a human being: I think that was how you put the Ibsenist view--our view. So I had to be content with a charming philander, which taught me a great deal, and brought me some hours of exquisite happiness.
Leonard: you confess then that you owe me something?
No: what I received, I paid. Did you learn nothing from me?--was there no delight for you in our friendship?
JULIA (vehemently and movingly; for she is now sincere)
No. You made me pay dearly for every moment of happiness. You revenged yourself on me for the humiliation of being the slave of your passion for me. I was never sure of you for a moment. I trembled whenever a letter came from you, lest it should contain some stab for me. I dreaded your visits almost as much as I longed for them. I was your plaything, not your companion. (She rises, exclaiming) Oh, there was such suffering in my happiness that I hardly knew joy from pain. (She sinks on the piano stool, and adds, as she buries her face in her hands and turns away from him) Better for me if I had never met you!
CHARTERIS (rising indignantly)
You ungenerous wretch! Is this your gratitude for the way I have just been flattering you? What have I not endured from you--endured with angelic patience? Did I not find out, before our friendship was a fortnight old, that all your advanced views were merely a fashion picked up and followed like any other fashion, without understanding or meaning a word of them? Did you not, in spite of your care for your own liberty, set up claims on me compared to which the claims of the most jealous wife would have been trifles. Have I a single woman friend whom you have not abused as old, ugly, vicious--
JULIA (quickly looking up)
So they are.
Well, then, I'll come to grievances that even you can understand. I accuse you of habitual and intolerable jealousy and ill temper; of insulting me on imaginary provocation: of positively beating me; of stealing letters of mine--
Yes, nice letters.
--of breaking your solemn promises not to do it again; of spending hours--aye, days! piecing together the contents of my waste paper basket in your search for more letters; and then representing yourself as an ill used saint and martyr wantonly betrayed and deserted by a selfish monster of a man.
I was justified in reading your letters. Our perfect confidence in one another gave me the right to do it.
Thank you. Then I hasten to break off a confidence which gives such rights. (Sits down sulkily on sofa.)
JULIA (with her right hand on the back of the sofa, bending over him threateningly)
You have no right to break it off.
I have. You refused to marry me because--
I did not. You never asked me. If we were married, you would never dare treat me as you are doing now.
CHARTERIS (laboriously going back to his argument)
It was understood between us as people of advanced views that we were not to marry because, as the law stands, I might have become a drunkard, a--
--a criminal, an imbecile or a horror. You said that before. (Sits down beside him with a fling.)
I beg your pardon, my dear. I know I have a habit of repeating myself. The point is that you reserved your freedom to give me up when you pleased.
Well, what of that? I do not please to give you up; and I will not. You have not become a drunkard or a criminal.
You don't see the point yet, Julia. You seem to forget that in reserving your freedom to leave me in case I should turn out badly, you also reserved my freedom to leave you in case you should turn out badly.
Very ingenious. And pray, have _I_ become a drunkard, or a criminal, or an imbecile?
You have become what is infinitely worse than all three together--a jealous termagant.
JULIA (shaking her head bitterly)
Yes, abuse me--call me names.
I now assert the right I reserved--the right of breaking with you when I please. Advanced views, Julia, involve advanced duties: you cannot be an advanced woman when you want to bring a man to your feet, and a conventional woman when you want to hold him there against his will. Advanced people form charming friendships: conventional people marry. Marriage suits a good deal of people; and its first duty is fidelity. Friendship suits some people; and its first duty is unhesitating, uncomplaining acceptance of a notice of a change of feeling from either side. You chose friendship instead of marriage. Now do your duty, and accept your notice.
Never! We are engaged in the eye of--the eye of--
CHARTERIS (sitting down quickly beside her)
Yes, Julia. Can't you get it out? In the eye of something that advanced women don't believe in, en?
JULIA (throwing herself at his feet)
O Leonard, don't be cruel. I am too miserable to argue--to think. I only know I love you. You reproach me with not wanting to marry you. I would have married you at any time after I came to love you, if you had asked me. I will marry you now if you will.
I won't, my dear. That's flat. We're intellectually incompatible.
But why? We could be so happy. You love me--I know you love me--I feel it. You say "My dear" to me: you have said it several times this evening. I know I have been wicked, odious, bad. I say nothing in defence of myself. But don't be hard on me. I was distracted by the thought of losing you. I can't face life without you Leonard. I was happy when I met you: I had never loved anyone; and if you had only let me alone I could have gone on contentedly by myself. But I can't now. I must have you with me. Don't cast me off without a thought of all I have at stake. I could be a friend to you if you would only let me--if you would only tell me your plans--give me a share in your work---treat me as something more than the amusement of an idle hour. Oh Leonard, Leonard, you've never given me a chance: indeed you haven't. I'll take pains; I'll read; I'll try to think; I'll conquer my jealousy; I'll-- (She breaks down, rocking her head desperately on his knee and writhing.) Oh, I'm mad: I'm mad: you'll kill me if you desert me.
CHARTERIS (petting her)
My dear love, don't cry--don't go on in this way. You know I can't help it.
JULIA (sobbing as he rises and coaxingly lifts her with him)
Oh, you can, you can. One word from you will make us happy for ever.
Come, my dear: we really must go. We can't stay until Cuthbertson comes. (Releases her gently and takes her mantle from the table.) Here is your mantle: put it on and be good. You have given me a terrible evening: you must have some consideration for me.
JULIA (dangerous again)
Then I am to be cast off.
You are to put on your bonnet, dearest. (He puts the mantle on her shoulders.)
JULIA (with a bitter half laugh, half sob)
Well, I suppose I must do what I am told. (She goes to the table, and looks for her bonnet. She sees the yellow-backed French novel.) Ah, look at that! (holds it out to him.) Look--look at what the creature reads--filthy, vile French stuff that no decent woman would touch. And you--you have been reading it with her.
You recommended that book to me yourself.
Faugh! (Dashes it on the floor.)
CHARTERIS (running anxiously to the book)
Don't damage property, Julia. (He picks it up and dusts it.) Making scenes is an affair of sentiment: damaging property is serious. (Replaces it on the table.) And now do pray come along.
You can go: there is nothing to prevent you. I will not stir. (She sits down stubbornly on the sofa.)
CHARTERIS (losing patience)
Oh come! I am not going to begin all this over again. There are limits even to my forbearance. Come on.
I will not, I tell you.
Then good night. (He makes resolutely for the door. With a rush, she gets there before him, and bars his way.) I thought you wanted me to go.
JULIA (at the door)
You shall not leave me here alone.
Then come with me.
Not until you have sworn to me to give up that woman.
My dear, I will swear anything if you will only come away and put an end to this.
JULIA (perplexed--doubting him)
You will swear?
Solemnly. Propose the oath. I have been on the point of swearing for the last half hour.
You are only making fun of me. I want no oaths. I want your promise--your sacred word of honour.
Certainly--anything you demand, on condition that you come away immediately. On my sacred word of honour as a gentleman--as an Englishman--as anything you like--I will never see her again, never speak to her, never think of her. Now come.
But are you in earnest? Will you keep your word?
CHARTERIS (smiling subtly)
Now you are getting unreasonable. Do come along without any more nonsense. At any rate, I am going. I am not strong enough to carry you home; but I am strong enough to make my way through that door in spite of you. You will then have a new grievance against me for my brutal violence. (He takes a step towards the door.)
If you do, I swear I will throw myself from that window, Leonard, as you pass out.
That window is at the back of the building. I shall pass out at the front; so you will not hurt me. Good night. (He approaches the door.)
Leonard: have you no pity?
Not in the least. When you condescend to these antics you force me to despise you. How can a woman who behaves like a spoiled child and talks like a sentimental novel have the audacity to dream of being a companion for a man of any sort of sense or character? (She gives an inarticulate cry and throws herself sobbing on his breast.) Come, don't cry, my dear Julia: you don't look half so beautiful as when you're happy; and it takes all the starch out of my shirt front. Come along.
I'll come, dear, if you wish it. Give me one kiss.
This is too much. No: I'm dashed if I will. Here, let me go, Julia. (She clings to him.) Will you come without another word if I give you a kiss?
I will do anything you wish, darling.
Well, here. (He takes her in his arms and gives her an unceremonious kiss.) Now remember your promise. Come along.
That was not a nice kiss, dearest. I want one of our old real kisses.
Oh, go to the deuce. (He disengages himself impulsively; and she, as if he had flung her down, falls pathetically with a stifled moan. With an angry look at her, he strides out and slams the door. She raises herself on one hand, listening to his retreating footsteps. They stop. Her face lights up with eager, triumphant cunning. The steps return hastily. She throws herself down again as before. Charteris reappears, in the utmost dismay, exclaiming) Julia: we're done. Cuthbertson's coming upstairs with your father--(she sits up quickly) do you hear?--the two fathers.
JULIA (sitting on the floor)
Impossible. They don't know one another.
I tell you they are coming up together like brothers. What on earth are we to do?
JULIA (scrambling up with the help of his hand)
Quick, the lift: we can go down in that. (She rushes to the table for her bonnet.)
No, the man's gone home; and the lift's locked.
JULIA (putting on bonnet at express speed)
Let's go up to the next floor.
There's no next floor. We're at the top of the house. No, no, you must invent some thumping lie. I can't think of one: you can, Julia. Exercise all your genius. I'll back you up.
Sh-sh! Here they are. Sit down and look at home. (Julia tears off her bonnet and mantle; throws them on the table; and darts to the piano at which she seats herself.)
Come and sing. (She plays the symphony to "When other lips." He stands at the piano, as if about to sing. Two elderly gentlemen enter. Julia stops playing.)
The elder of the two gentlemen, Colonel Daniel Craven, affects the bluff, simple veteran, and carries it off pleasantly and well, having a fine upright figure, and being, in fact, a goodnaturedly impulsive, credulous person who, after an entirely thoughtless career as an officer and a gentleman, is now being startled into some sort of self-education by the surprising proceedings of his children.
His companion, Mr. Joseph Cuthbertson, Grace's father, has none of the Colonel's boyishness. He is a man of fervent idealistic sentiment, so frequently outraged by the facts of life, that he has acquired an habitually indignant manner, which unexpectedly becomes enthusiastic or affectionate when he speaks.
The two men differ greatly in expression. The Colonel's face is lined with weather, with age, with eating and drinking, and with the cumulative effects of many petty vexations, but not with thought: he is still fresh, and he has by no means full expectations of pleasure and novelty. Cuthbertson has the lines of sedentary London brain work, with its chronic fatigue and longing for rest and recreative emotion, and its disillusioned indifference to adventure and enjoyment, except as a means of recuperation.
They are both in evening dress; and Cuthbertson wears his fur collared overcoat, which, with his vigilant, irascible eye, piled up hair, and the honorable earnestness with which he takes himself, gives him an air of considerable consequence.
CUTHBERTSON (with a hospitable show of delight at finding visitors)
Don't stop, Miss Craven. Go on, Charteris. (He comes down behind the sofa, and hangs his overcoat on it, after taking an opera glass and a theatre programme from the pockets, and putting them down on the piano. Craven meanwhile goes to the fire-place and stands on the hearthrug.)
No, thank you. Miss Craven has just been taking me through an old song; and I've had enough of it. (He takes the song off the piano desk and lays it aside; then closes the lid over the keyboard.)
JULIA (passing between the sofa and piano to shake hands with Cuthbertson)
Why, you've brought Daddy! What a surprise! (Looking across to Craven.) So glad you've come, Dad. (She takes a chair near the window, and sits there.)
Craven: let me introduce you to Mr. Leonard Charteris, the famous Ibsenist philosopher.
Oh, we know one another already. Charteris is quite at home at our house, Jo.
I beg both your pardons. (Charteris sits down on the piano stool.) He's quite at home here too. By the bye, where's Grace?
JULIA and CHARTERIS
Er-- (They stop and look at one another.)
I beg your pardon, Mr. Charteris: I interrupted you.
Not at all, Miss Craven. (An awkward pause.)
CUTHBERTSON (to help them out)
You were going to tell about Grace, Charteris.
I was only going to say that I didn't know that you and Craven were acquainted.
Why, _I_ didn't know it until to-night. It's a most extraordinary thing. We met by chance at the theatre; and he turns out to be my oldest friend.
Yes, Craven; and do you see how this proves what I was saying to you about the breaking up of family life? Here are all our young people--Grace and Miss Julia and the rest--bosom friends, inseparables; and yet we two, who knew each other before they were born, might never have met again if you hadn't popped into the stall next to mine to-night by pure chance. Come, sit down (bustling over to him affectionately and pushing him into the arm chair above the fire): there's your place, by my fireside, whenever you choose to fill it. (He posts himself at the right end of the sofa, leaning against it and admiring Craven.) Just imagine your being Dan Craven!
Just imagine your being Jo Cuthbertson, though! That's a far more extraordinary coincidence, because I'd got it into my head that your name was Tranfield.
Oh, that's my daughter's name. She's a widow, you know. How uncommonly well you look, Dan! The years haven't hurt you much.
CRAVEN (suddenly becoming unnaturally gloomy)
I look well. I even feel well. But my days are numbered.
Oh don't say that, my dear fellow. I hope not.
JULIA (with anguish in her voice)
Daddy! (Cuthbertson looks inquiringly around at her.)
There, there, my dear: I was wrong to talk of it. It's a sad subject. But it's better that Cuthbertson should know. We used to be very close friends, and are so still, I hope. (Cuthbertson goes to Craven and presses his hand silently; then returns to sofa and sits, pulling out his handkerchief and displaying some emotion. )
CHARTERIS (a little impatiently)
The fact is, Cuthbertson, Craven's a devout believer in the department of witchcraft called medical science. He's celebrated in all the medical schools as an example of the newest sort of liver complaint. The doctors say he can't last another year; and he has fully made up his mind not to survive next Easter, just to oblige them.
CRAVEN (with military affectation)
It's very kind of you to try to keep up my spirits by making light of it, Charteris. But I shall be ready when my time comes. I'm a soldier. (A sob from Julia.) Don't cry, Julia.
I hope you may long be spared, Dan.
To oblige me, Jo, change the subject. (He gets up and again posts himself on the hearthrug with his back to the fire.)
Try and persuade him to join our club, Cuthbertson. He mopes.
It's no use. Sylvia and I are always at him to join; but he won't.
My child, I have my own club.
Yes, the Junior Army and Navy! Do you call that a club? Why, they daren't let a woman cross the doorstep!
CRAVEN (a little ruffled)
Clubs are a matter of taste, Charteris. You like a cock and hen club: I don't. It's bad enough to have Julia and her sister--a girl under twenty--spending half their time at such a place. Besides, now really, such a name for a club! The Ibsen club! I should be laughed out of London. The Ibsen club! Come, Cuthbertson, back me up. I'm sure you agree with me.
Cuthbertson's a member.
No! Why, he's been talking to me all the evening about the way in which everything is going to the dogs through advanced ideas in the younger generation.
Of course. He's been studying it in the club. He's always there.
Not always. Don't exaggerate, Charteris. You know very well that though I joined the club on Grace's account, thinking that her father's presence there would be a protection and a--a sort of sanction, as it were--I never approved of it.
CRAVEN (tactlessly harping on Cuthbertson's inconsistency)
Well, you know, this is unexpected: now it's really very unexpected. I should never have thought it from hearing you talk, Jo. Why, you said the whole modern movement was abhorrent to you because your life had been passed in witnessing scenes of suffering nobly endured and sacrifice willingly rendered by womanly women and manly men and deuce knows what else. Is it at the Ibsen club that you see all this manliness and womanliness?
Certainly not: the rules of the club forbid anything of that sort. Every candidate for membership must be nominated by a man and a woman, who both guarantee that the candidate, if female, is not womanly, and if male, is not manly.
CRAVEN (chuckling cunningly and stooping to press his heated trousers against his legs, which are chilly)
Won't do, Charteris. Can't take me in with so thin a story as that.
It's true. It's monstrous, but it's true.
CRAVEN (with rising indignation, as he begins to draw the inevitable inferences)
Do you mean to say that somebody had the audacity to guarantee that my Julia is not a womanly woman?
It sounds incredible; but a man was found ready to take that inconceivable lie on his conscience.
JULIA (firing up)
If he has nothing worse than that on his conscience, he may sleep pretty well. In what way am I more womanly than any of the rest of them, I should like to know? They are always saying things like that behind my back--I hear of them from Sylvia. Only the other day a member of the committee said I ought never to have been elected--that you (to Charteris) had smuggled me in. I should like to see her say it to my face: that's all.
But, my precious, I most sincerely hope she was right. She paid you the highest compliment. Why, the place must be a den of infamy.
So it is, Craven, so it is.
Exactly. That's what keeps it so select: nobody but people whose reputations are above suspicion dare belong to it. If we once got a good name, we should become a mere whitewashing shop for all the shady characters in London. Better join us, Craven. Let me put you up.
What! Join a club where there's some scoundrel who guaranteed my daughter to be an unwomanly woman! If I weren't an invalid, I'd kick him.
Oh don't say that. It was I who did it.
You! Now upon my soul, Charteris, this is very vexing. Now how could you bring yourself to do such a thing?
She made me. Why, I had to guarantee Cuthbertson as unmanly; and he's the leading representative of manly sentiment in London.
That didn't do Jo any harm: but it took away my Julia's character.
Not at the Ibsen club, quite the contrary. After all, what can we do? You know what breaks up most clubs for men and women. There's a quarrel--a scandal--cherchez la femme--always a woman at the bottom of it. Well, we knew this when we founded the club; but we noticed that the woman at the bottom of it was always a womanly woman. The unwomanly women who work for their living and know how to take care of themselves never give any trouble. So we simply said we wouldn't have any womanly women; and when one gets smuggled in she has to take care not to behave in a womanly way. We get on all right. (He rises.) Come to lunch with me there tomorrow and see the place.
No, he's engaged to me. But you can join us.
Any time after twelve. (To Craven) It's at 90 Cork street, at the other end of the Burlington Arcade.
CRAVEN (making a note)
90, you say. After twelve. (He suddenly relapses into gloom.) By the bye, don't order anything special for me. I'm not allowed wine--only Apollinaris. No meat either--only a scrap of fish occasionally. I'm to have a short life, but not a merry one. (Sighing.) Well, well. (Bracing himself up.) Now, Julia, it's time for us to be off. (Julia rises.)
But where on earth is Grace? I must go and look for her. (He turns to the door.)
JULIA (stopping him)
Oh, pray don't disturb her, Mr. Cuthbertson. She's so tired.
But just for a moment to say good night. (Julia and Charteris look at one another in dismay. Cuthbertson looks quickly at them, perceiving that something is wrong.)
We must make a clean breast of it, I see.
The truth is, Cuthbertson, Mrs. Tranfield, who is, as you know, the most thoughtful of women, took it into her head that I--well, that I particularly wanted to speak to Miss Craven alone. So she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed.
Oho! is that it? Then it's all right. She never goes to bed as early as this. I'll fetch her in a moment. (He goes out confidently, leaving Charteris aghast.)
Now you've done it. (She rushes to the round table and snatches up her mantle and bonnet.) I'm off. (She makes for the door.)
What are you doing, Julia? You can't go until you've said good night to Mrs. Tranfield. It would be horribly rude.
You can stay if you like, Daddy: I can't. I'll wait for you in the hall. (She hurries out.)
CRAVEN (following her)
But what on earth am I to say? (Stopping as she disappears, and turning to Charteris grumbling) Now really you know, Charteris, this is devilish awkward, upon my life it is. That was a most indelicate thing of you to say plump out before us all--that about you and Julia.
I'll explain it all to-morrow. Just at present we'd really better follow Julia's example and bolt. (He starts for the door.)
CRAVEN (intercepting him)
Stop! don't leave me like this: I shall look like a fool. Now I shall really take it in bad part if you run away, Charteris.
All right. I'll stay. (Lifts himself on to the shoulder of the grand piano and sits there swinging his legs and contemplating Craven resignedly.)
CRAVEN (pacing up and down)
I'm excessively vexed about Julia's conduct, I am indeed. She can't bear to be crossed in the slightest thing, poor child. I'll have to apologize for her you know: her going away is a downright slap in the face for these people here. Cuthbertson may be offended already for all I know.
Oh never mind about him. Mrs. Tranfield bosses this establishment.
Ah, that's it, is it? He's just the sort of fellow that would have no control over his daughter. (He goes back to his former place on the hearthrug with his back to the fire.) By the bye, what the dickens did he mean by all that about passing his life amid--what was it?--" scenes of suffering nobly endured and sacrifice willingly rendered by womanly women and manly men" and a lot more of the same sort? I suppose he's something in a hospital.
Hospital! Nonsense: he's a dramatic critic. Didn't you hear me say that he was the leading representative of manly sentiment in London?
You don't say so. Now really, who'd have thought it! How jolly it must be to be able to go to the theatre for nothing! I must ask him to get me a few tickets occasionally. But isn't it ridiculous for a man to talk like that! I'm hanged if he don't take what he sees on the stage quite seriously.
Of course: that's why he's a good critic. Besides, if you take people seriously off the stage, why shouldn't you take them seriously on it, where they're under some sort of decent restraint? (He jumps down off piano and goes up to the window. Cuthbertson comes back.)
CUTHBERTSON (to Craven, rather sheepishly)
The fact is, Grace has gone to bed. I must apologize to you and Miss-- (He turns to Julia's seat, and stops on seeing it vacant.)
It is I who have to apologize for Julia, Jo. She--
She said she was quite sure that if we didn't go, you'd persuade Mrs. Tranfield to get up to say good night for the sake of politeness; so she went straight off.
Very kind of her indeed. I'm really ashamed--
Don't mention it, Jo, don't mention it. She's waiting for me below. (Going.) Good night. Good night, Charteris.
CUTHBERTSON (seeing Craven out)
Goodnight. Say good night and thanks to Miss Craven for me. To-morrow any time after twelve, remember. (They go out; and Charteris with a long sigh crosses to the fireplace, thoroughly tired out.)
Take care of the stairs; they're rather steep. Good night. (The outside door shuts; and Cuthbertson returns. Instead of entering, he stands in the doorway with one hand in the breast of his waistcoat, eyeing Charteris sternly.)
What's the matter?
Charteris: what's been going on here? I insist on knowing. Grace has not gone to bed: I have seen and spoken with her. What is it all about?
Ask your theatrical experience, Cuthbertson. A man, of course.
CUTHBERTSON (coming forward and confronting him)
Don't play the fool with me, Charteris: I'm too old a hand to be amused by it. I ask you, seriously, what's the matter?
I tell you, seriously, I'm the matter, Julia wants to marry me: I want to marry Grace. I came here to-night to sweetheart Grace. Enter Julia. Alarums and excursions. Exit Grace. Enter you and Craven. Subterfuges and excuses. Exeunt Craven and Julia. And here we are. That's the whole story. Sleep over it. Good night. (He leaves.)
CUTHBERTSON (staring after him)
Well I'll be-- (The act drop descends.)