Supper-time in a small room at "The Gascony" on Derby Day. Through the windows of a broad corridor, out of which the door opens, is seen the dark blue of a summer night. The walls are of apricot-gold; the carpets, curtains, lamp-shades, and gilded chairs, of red; the wood-work and screens white; the palms in gilded tubs. A doorway that has no door leads to another small room. One little table behind a screen, and one little table in the open, are set for two persons each. On a service-table, above which hangs a speaking-tube, are some dishes of hors d'ouvres, a basket of peaches, two bottles of champagne in ice-pails, and a small barrel of oysters in a gilded tub. ARNAUD, the waiter, slim, dark, quick, his face seamed with a quiet, soft irony, is opening oysters and listening to the robust joy of a distant supper-party, where a man is playing the last bars of: "Do ye ken John Peel" on a horn. As the sound dies away, he murmurs: "Tres Joli!" and opens another oyster. Two Ladies with bare shoulders and large hats pass down the corridor. Their talk is faintly wafted in: "Well, I never like Derby night! The boys do get so bobbish!" "That horn--vulgar, I call it!"
ARNAUD'S eyebrows rise, the corners of his mouth droop. A Lady with bare shoulders, and crimson roses in her hair, comes along the corridor, and stops for a second at the window, for a man to join her. They come through into the room. ARNAUD has sprung to attention, but with: "Let's go in here, shall we?" they pass through into the further room. The MANAGER, a gentleman with neat moustaches, and buttoned into a frock-coat, has appeared, brisk, noiseless, his eyes everywhere; he inspects the peaches.
MANAGER. Four shillin' apiece to-night, see?
ARNAUD. Yes, Sare.
From the inner room a young man and his partner have come in. She is dark, almost Spanish-looking; he fair, languid, pale, clean-shaved, slackly smiling, with half-closed eyes-one of those who are bred and dissipated to the point of having lost all save the capacity for hiding their emotions. He speaks in a----
LANGUID VOICE. Awful row they're kickin' up in there, Mr. Varley. A fellow with a horn.
MANAGER. [Blandly] Gaddesdon Hunt, my lord--always have their supper with us, Derby night. Quiet corner here, my lord. Arnaud!
ARNAUD is already at the table, between screen and palm. And, there ensconced, the couple take their seats. Seeing them safely landed, the MANAGER, brisk and noiseless, moves away. In the corridor a lady in black, with a cloak falling open, seems uncertain whether to come in. She advances into the doorway. It is CLARE.
ARNAUD. [Pointing to the other table as he flies with dishes] Nice table, Madame.
CLARE moves to the corner of it. An artist in observation of his clients, ARNAUD takes in her face--very pale under her wavy, simply-dressed hair; shadowy beneath the eyes; not powdered; her lips not reddened; without a single ornament; takes in her black dress, finely cut, her arms and neck beautifully white, and at her breast three gardenias. And as he nears her, she lifts her eyes. It is very much the look of something lost, appealing for guidance.
ARNAUD. Madame is waiting for some one? [She shakes her head] Then Madame will be veree well here--veree well. I take Madame's cloak?
He takes the cloak gently and lays it on the back of the chair fronting the room, that she may put it round her when she wishes. She sits down.
LANGUID VOICE. [From the corner] Waiter!
LANGUID VOICE. The Roederer.
ARNAUD. At once, Milord.
CLARE sits tracing a pattern with her finger on the cloth, her eyes lowered. Once she raises them, and follows ARNAUD's dark rapid figure.
ARNAUD. [Returning] Madame feels the 'eat? [He scans her with increased curiosity] You wish something, Madame?
CLARE. [Again giving him that look] Must I order?
ARNAUD. Non, Madame, it is not necessary. A glass of water. [He pours it out] I have not the pleasure of knowing Madame's face.
CLARE. [Faintly smiling] No.
ARNAUD. Madame will find it veree good 'ere, veree quiet.
LANGUID VOICE. Waiter!
ARNAUD. Pardon! [He goes]
The bare-necked ladies with large hats again pass down the corridor outside, and again their voices are wafted in: "Tottie! Not she! Oh! my goodness, she has got a pride on her!" "Bobbie'll never stick it!" "Look here, dear----" Galvanized by those sounds, CLARE has caught her cloak and half-risen; they die away and she subsides.
ARNAUD. [Back at her table, with a quaint shrug towards the corridor] It is not rowdy here, Madame, as a rule--not as in some places. To-night a little noise. Madame is fond of flowers? [He whisks out, and returns almost at once with a bowl of carnations from some table in the next room] These smell good!
CLARE. You are very kind.
ARNAUD. [With courtesy] Not at all, Madame; a pleasure. [He bows]
A young man, tall, thin, hard, straight, with close-cropped, sandyish hair and moustache, a face tanned very red, and one of those small, long, lean heads that only grow in Britain; clad in a thin dark overcoat thrown open, an opera hat pushed back, a white waistcoat round his lean middle, he comes in from the corridor. He looks round, glances at CLARE, passes her table towards the further room, stops in the doorway, and looks back at her. Her eyes have just been lifted, and are at once cast down again. The young man wavers, catches ARNAUD's eye, jerks his head to summon him, and passes into the further room. ARNAUD takes up the vase that has been superseded, and follows him out. And CLARE sits alone in silence, broken by the murmurs of the languid lord and his partner, behind the screen. She is breathing as if she had been running hard. She lifts her eyes. The tall young man, divested of hat and coat, is standing by her table, holding out his hand with a sort of bashful hardiness.
YOUNG MAN. How d'you do? Didn't recognize you at first. So sorry --awfully rude of me.
CLARE'S eyes seem to fly from him, to appeal to him, to resign herself all at once. Something in the YOUNG MAN responds. He drops his hand.
CLARE. [Faintly] How d'you do?
YOUNG MAN. [Stammering] You--you been down there to-day?
YOUNG MAN. [With a smile] The Derby. What? Don't you generally go down? [He touches the other chair] May I?
CLARE. [Almost in a whisper] Yes.
As he sits down, ARNAUD returns and stands before them.
ARNAUD. The plovers' eggs veree good to-night, Sare. Veree good, Madame. A peach or two, after. Veree good peaches. The Roederer, Sare--not bad at all. Madame likes it frappe, but not too cold--yes?
[He is away again to his service-table.]
YOUNG MAN. [Burying his face in the carnations] I say--these are jolly, aren't they? They do you pretty well here.
CLARE. Do they?
YOUNG MAN. You've never been here? [CLARE shakes her head] By Jove! I thought I didn't know your face. [CLARE looks full at him. Again something moves in the YOUNG MAN, and he stammers] I mean--not----
CLARE. It doesn't matter.
YOUNG MAN. [Respectfully] Of course, if I--if you were waiting for anybody, or anything--I----
[He half rises]
CLARE. It's all right, thank you.
The YOUNG MAN sits down again, uncomfortable, nonplussed. There is silence, broken by the inaudible words of the languid lord, and the distant merriment of the supper-party. ARNAUD brings the plovers' eggs.
YOUNG MAN. The wine, quick.
ARNAUD. At once, Sare.
YOUNG MAN. [Abruptly] Don't you ever go racing, then?
[ARNAUD pours out champagne]
YOUNG MAN. I remember awfully well my first day. It was pretty thick--lost every blessed bob, and my watch and chain, playin' three cards on the way home.
CLARE. Everything has a beginning, hasn't it?
[She drinks. The YOUNG MAN stares at her]
YOUNG MAN. [Floundering in these waters deeper than he had bargained for] I say--about things having beginnings--did you mean anything?
YOUNG MAN. What! D'you mean it's really the first----?
CLARE nods. The champagne has flicked her courage.
YOUNG MAN. By George! [He leans back] I've often wondered.
ARNAUD. [Again filling the glasses] Monsieur finds----
YOUNG MAN. [Abruptly] It's all right.
He drains his glass, then sits bolt upright. Chivalry and the camaraderie of class have begun to stir in him.
YOUNG MAN. Of course I can see that you're not--I mean, that you're a--a lady. [CLARE smiles] And I say, you know--if you have to-- because you're in a hole--I should feel a cad. Let me lend you----?
CLARE. [Holding up her glass] 'Le vin est tire, il faut le boire'!
She drinks. The French words, which he does not too well understand, completing his conviction that she is a lady, he remains quite silent, frowning. As CLARE held up her glass, two gentlemen have entered. The first is blond, of good height and a comely insolence. His crisp, fair hair, and fair brushed-up moustache are just going grey; an eyeglass is fixed in one of two eyes that lord it over every woman they see; his face is broad, and coloured with air and wine. His companion is a tall, thin, dark bird of the night, with sly, roving eyes, and hollow cheeks. They stand looking round, then pass into the further room; but in passing, they have stared unreservedly at CLARE.
YOUNG MAN. [Seeing her wince] Look here! I'm afraid you must feel me rather a brute, you know.
CLARE. No, I don't; really.
YOUNG MAN. Are you absolute stoney? [CLARE nods] But [Looking at her frock and cloak] you're so awfully well----
CLARE. I had the sense to keep them.
YOUNG MAN. [More and more disturbed] I say, you know--I wish you'd let me lend you something. I had quite a good day down there.
CLARE. [Again tracing her pattern on the cloth--then looking up at him full] I can't take, for nothing.
YOUNG MAN. By Jove! I don't know-really, I don't--this makes me feel pretty rotten. I mean, it's your being a lady.
CLARE. [Smiling] That's not your fault, is it? You see, I've been beaten all along the line. And I really don't care what happens to me. [She has that peculiar fey look on her face now] I really don't; except that I don't take charity. It's lucky for me it's you, and not some----
The supper-party is getting still more boisterous, and there comes a long view holloa, and a blast of the horn.
YOUNG MAN. But I say, what about your people? You must have people of some sort.
He is fast becoming fascinated, for her cheeks have begun to flush and her eyes to shine.
CLARE. Oh, yes; I've had people, and a husband, and--everything---- And here I am! Queer, isn't it? [She touches her glass] This is going to my head! Do you mind? I sha'n't sing songs and get up and dance, and I won't cry, I promise you!
YOUNG MAN. [Between fascination and chivalry] By George! One simply can't believe in this happening to a lady.
CLARE. Have you got sisters? [Breaking into her soft laughter] My brother's in India. I sha'n't meet him, anyway.
YOUNG MAN. No, but--I say-are you really quite cut off from everybody? [CLARE nods] Something rather awful must have happened?
She smiles. The two gentlemen have returned. The blond one is again staring fixedly at CLARE. This time she looks back at him, flaming; and, with a little laugh, he passes with his friend into the corridor.
CLARE. Who are those two?
YOUNG MAN. Don't know--not been much about town yet. I'm just back from India myself. You said your brother was there; what's his regiment?
CLARE. [Shaking her head] You're not going to find out my name. I haven't got one--nothing.
She leans her bare elbows on the table, and her face on her hands.
CLARE. First of June! This day last year I broke covert--I've been running ever since.
YOUNG MAN. I don't understand a bit. You--must have had a--a--some one----
But there is such a change in her face, such rigidity of her whole body, that he stops and averts his eyes. When he looks again she is drinking. She puts the glass down, and gives a little laugh.
YOUNG MAN. [With a sort of awe] Anyway it must have been like riding at a pretty stiff fence, for you to come here to-night.
CLARE. Yes. What's the other side?
The YOUNG MAN puts out his hand and touches her arm. It is meant for sympathy, but she takes it for attraction.
CLARE. [Shaking her head] Not yet please! I'm enjoying this. May I have a cigarette?
[He takes out his case, and gives her one]
CLARE. [Letting the smoke slowly forth] Yes, I'm enjoying it. Had a pretty poor time lately; not enough to eat, sometimes.
YOUNG MAN. Not really! How damnable! I say--do have something more substantial.
CLARE gives a sudden gasp, as if going off into hysterical laughter, but she stifles it, and shakes her head.
YOUNG MAN. A peach?
[ARNAUD brings peaches to the table]
CLARE. [Smiling] Thank you.
[He fills their glasses and retreats]
CLARE. [Raising her glass] Eat and drink, for tomorrow we--Listen!
From the supper-party comes the sound of an abortive chorus: "With a hey ho, chivy, hark forrard, hark forrard, tantivy!" Jarring out into a discordant whoop, it sinks.
CLARE. "This day a stag must die." Jolly old song!
YOUNG MAN. Rowdy lot! [Suddenly] I say--I admire your pluck.
CLARE. [Shaking her head] Haven't kept my end up. Lots of women do! You see: I'm too fine, and not fine enough! My best friend said that. Too fine, and not fine enough. [She laughs] I couldn't be a saint and martyr, and I wouldn't be a soulless doll. Neither one thing nor the other--that's the tragedy.
YOUNG MAN. You must have had awful luck!
CLARE. I did try. [Fiercely] But what's the good--when there's nothing before you?--Do I look ill?
YOUNG MAN. No; simply awfully pretty.
CLARE. [With a laugh] A man once said to me: "As you haven't money, you should never have been pretty!" But, you see, it is some good. If I hadn't been, I couldn't have risked coming here, could I? Don't you think it was rather sporting of me to buy these [She touches the gardenias] with the last shilling over from my cab fare?
YOUNG MAN. Did you really? D---d sporting!
CLARE. It's no use doing things by halves, is it? I'm--in for it-- wish me luck! [She drinks, and puts her glass down with a smile] In for it--deep! [She flings up her hands above her smiling face] Down, down, till they're just above water, and then--down, down, down, and --all over! Are you sorry now you came and spoke to me?
YOUNG MAN. By Jove, no! It may be caddish, but I'm not.
CLARE. Thank God for beauty! I hope I shall die pretty! Do you think I shall do well?
YOUNG MAN. I say--don't talk like that!
CLARE. I want to know. Do you?
YOUNG MAN. Well, then--yes, I do.
CLARE. That's splendid. Those poor women in the streets would give their eyes, wouldn't they?--that have to go up and down, up and down! Do you think I--shall----
The YOUNG MAN, half-rising, puts his hand on her arm.
YOUNG MAN. I think you're getting much too excited. You look all-- Won't you eat your peach? [She shakes her head] Do! Have something else, then--some grapes, or something?
CLARE. No, thanks.
[She has become quite calm again]
YOUNG MAN. Well, then, what d'you think? It's awfully hot in here, isn't it? Wouldn't it be jollier drivin'? Shall we--shall we make a move?
The YOUNG MAN turns to look for the waiter, but ARNAUD is not in the room. He gets up.
YOUNG MAN. [Feverishly] D---n that waiter! Wait half a minute, if you don't mind, while I pay the bill.
As he goes out into the corridor, the two gentlemen re-appear. CLARE is sitting motionless, looking straight before her.
DARK ONE. A fiver you don't get her to!
BLOND ONE. Done!
He advances to her table with his inimitable insolence, and taking the cigar from his mouth, bends his stare on her, and says: "Charmed to see you lookin' so well! Will you have supper with me here to-morrow night?" Startled out of her reverie, CLARE looks up. She sees those eyes, she sees beyond him the eyes of his companion-sly, malevolent, amused-watching; and she just sits gazing, without a word. At that regard, so clear, the BLOND ONE does not wince. But rather suddenly he says: "That's arranged then. Half-past eleven. So good of you. Good-night!" He replaces his cigar and strolls back to his companion, and in a low voice says: "Pay up!" Then at a languid "Hullo, Charles!" they turn to greet the two in their nook behind the screen. CLARE has not moved, nor changed the direction of her gaze. Suddenly she thrusts her hand into the, pocket of the cloak that hangs behind her, and brings out the little blue bottle which, six months ago, she took from MALISE. She pulls out the cork and pours the whole contents into her champagne. She lifts the glass, holds it before her--smiling, as if to call a toast, then puts it to her lips and drinks. Still smiling, she sets the empty glass down, and lays the gardenia flowers against her face. Slowly she droops back in her chair, the drowsy smile still on her lips; the gardenias drop into her lap; her arms relax, her head falls forward on her breast. And the voices behind the screen talk on, and the sounds of joy from the supper-party wax and wane.
The waiter, ARNAUD, returning from the corridor, passes to his service-table with a tall, beribboned basket of fruit. Putting it down, he goes towards the table behind the screen, and sees. He runs up to CLARE.
ARNAUD. Madame! Madame! [He listens for her breathing; then suddenly catching sight of the little bottle, smells at it] Bon Dieu!
[At that queer sound they come from behind the screen--all four, and look. The dark night bird says: "Hallo; fainted!" ARNAUD holds out the bottle.]
LANGUID LORD. [Taking it, and smelling] Good God! [The woman bends over CLARE, and lifts her hands; ARNAUD rushes to his service-table, and speaks into his tube]
ARNAUD. The boss. Quick! [Looking up he sees the YOUNG MAN, returning] 'Monsieur, elle a fui! Elle est morte'!
LANGUID LORD. [To the YOUNG MAN standing there aghast] What's this? Friend of yours?
YOUNG MAN. My God! She was a lady. That's all I know about her.
LANGUID LORD. A lady!
[The blond and dark gentlemen have slipped from the room; and out of the supper-party's distant laughter comes suddenly a long, shrill: "Gone away!" And the sound of the horn playing the seven last notes of the old song: "This day a stag must die!" From the last note of all the sound flies up to an octave higher, sweet and thin, like a spirit passing, till it is drowned once more in laughter. The YOUNG MAN has covered his eyes with his hands; ARNAUD is crossing himself fervently; the LANGUID LORD stands gazing, with one of the dropped gardenias twisted in his fingers; and the woman, bending over CLARE, kisses her forehead.]
* * * * * * * * * * * *