It is evening; a full yellow moon is shining through the branches of the hollow tree. The Chinese lanterns are alight. There is dancing in the house; the music sounds now loud, now soft. MISS BEECH is sitting on the rustic seat in a black bunchy evening dress, whose inconspicuous opening is inlaid with white. She slowly fans herself.
DICK comes from the house in evening dress. He does not see Miss BEECH.
DICK. Curse! [A short silence.] Curse!
MISS BEECH. Poor young man!
DICK. [With a start.] Well, Peachey, I can't help it [He fumbles off his gloves.]
MISS BEECH. Did you ever know any one that could?
DICK. [Earnestly.] It's such awfully hard lines on Joy. I can't get her out of my head, lying there with that beastly headache while everybody's jigging round.
MISS BEECH. Oh! you don't mind about yourself--noble young man!
DICK. I should be a brute if I did n't mind more for her.
MISS BEECH. So you think it's a headache, do you?
DICK. Did n't you hear what Mrs. Gwyn said at dinner about the sun? [With inspiration.] I say, Peachey, could n't you--could n't you just go up and give her a message from me, and find out if there 's anything she wants, and say how brutal it is that she 's seedy; it would be most awfully decent of you. And tell her the dancing's no good without her. Do, Peachey, now do! Ah! and look here!
[He dives into the hollow of the tree, and brings from out of it a pail of water in which are placed two bottles of champagne, and some yellow irises--he takes the irises.]
You might give her these. I got them specially for her, and I have n't had a chance.
MISS BEECH. [Lifting a bottle.] What 's this?
DICK. Fizz. The Colonel brought it from the George. It 's for supper; he put it in here because of--[Smiling faintly]--Mrs. Hope, I think. Peachey, do take her those irises.
MISS. BEECH. D' you think they'll do her any good?
DICK. [Crestfallen.] I thought she'd like--I don't want to worry her--you might try.
[MISS BEECH shakes her head.]
MISS BEECH. The poor little creature won't let me in.
DICK. You've been up then!
MISS BEECH. [Sharply.] Of course I've been up. I've not got a stone for my heart, young man!
DICK. All right! I suppose I shall just have to get along somehow.
MISS BEECH. [With devilry.] That's what we've all got to do.
DICK. [Gloomily.] But this is too brutal for anything!
MISS BEECH. Worse than ever happened to any one!
DICK. I swear I'm not thinking of myself.
MISS BEECH. Did y' ever know anybody that swore they were?
DICK. Oh! shut up!
MISS BEECH. You'd better go in and get yourself a partner.
DICK. [With pale desperation.] Look here, Peachey, I simply loathe all those girls.
MISS BEECH. Ah-h! [Ironically.] Poor lot, are n't they?
DICK. All right; chaff away, it's good fun, isn't it? It makes me sick to dance when Joy's lying there. Her last night, too!
MISS BEECH. [Sidling to him.] You're a good young man, and you 've got a good heart.
[She takes his hand, and puts it to her cheek.]
DICK. Peachey--I say, Peachey d' you think there 's--I mean d' you think there'll ever be any chance for me?
MISS BEECH. I thought that was coming! I don't approve of your making love at your time of life; don't you think I 'm going to encourage you.
DICK. But I shall be of age in a year; my money's my own, it's not as if I had to ask any one's leave; and I mean, I do know my own mind.
MISS BEECH. Of course you do. Nobody else would at your age, but you do.
DICK. I would n't ask her to promise, it would n't be fair when she 's so young, but I do want her to know that I shall never change.
MISS BEECH. And suppose--only suppose--she's fond of you, and says she'll never change.
DICK. Oh! Peachey! D' you think there's a chance of that--do you?
MISS BEECH. A-h-h!
DICK. I wouldn't let her bind herself, I swear I wouldn't. [Solemnly.] I'm not such a selfish brute as you seem to think.
MISS BEECH. [Sidling close to him and in a violent whisper.] Well-- have a go!
DICK. Really? You are a brick, Peachey!
[He kisses her.]
MISS BEACH. [Yielding pleasurably; then remembering her principles.] Don't you ever say I said so! You're too young, both of you.
DICK. But it is exceptional--I mean in my case, is n't it?
[The COLONEL and MRS. GWYN are coming down the lawn.]
MISS BEECH. Oh! very!
[She sits beneath the tree and fans herself.]
COLONEL. The girls are all sitting out, Dick! I've been obliged to dance myself. Phew!
[He mops his brow.]
[DICK swinging round goes rushing off towards the house.]
[Looking after him.] Hallo! What's the matter with him? Cooling your heels, Peachey? By George! it's hot. Fancy the poor devils in London on a night like this, what? [He sees the moon.] It's a full moon. You're lucky to be down here, Molly.
MRS. GWYN. [In a low voice.] Very!
MISS BEECH. Oh! so you think she's lucky, do you?
COLONEL. [Expanding his nostrils.] Delicious scent to-night! Hay and roses--delicious.
[He seats himself between them.]
A shame that poor child has knocked up like this. Don't think it was the sun myself--more likely neuralgic--she 's subject to neuralgia, Molly.
MRS. GWYN. [Motionless.] I know.
COLONEL. Got too excited about your coming. I told Nell not to keep worrying her about her frock, and this is the result. But your Aunt --you know--she can't let a thing alone!
MISS BEECH. Ah! 't isn't neuralgia.
[MRS. GWYN looks at her quickly and averts her eyes.]
COLONEL. Excitable little thing. You don't understand her, Peachey.
MISS BEECH. Don't I?
COLONEL. She's all affection. Eh, Molly? I remember what I was like at her age, a poor affectionate little rat, and now look at me!
MISS BEECH. [Fanning herself.] I see you.
COLONEL. [A little sadly.] We forget what we were like when we were young. She's been looking forward to to-night ever since you wrote; and now to have to go to bed and miss the, dancing. Too bad!
MRS. GWYN. Don't, Uncle Tom!
COLONEL. [Patting her hand.] There, there, old girl, don't think about it. She'll be all right tomorrow.
MISS BEECH. If I were her mother I'd soon have her up.
COLONEL. Have her up with that headache! What are you talking about, Peachey?
MISS BEECH. I know a remedy.
COLONEL. Well, out with it.
MISS BEECH. Oh! Molly knows it too!
MRS. GWYN. [Staring at the ground.] It's easy to advise.
COLONEL. [Fidgetting.] Well, if you're thinking of morphia for her, don't have anything to do with it. I've always set my face against morphia; the only time I took it was in Burmah. I'd raging neuralgia for two days. I went to our old doctor, and I made him give me some. "Look here, doctor," I said, "I hate the idea of morphia, I 've never taken it, and I never want to."
MISS BEECH. [Looking at MRS. GWYN.] When a tooth hurts, you should have it out. It 's only puttin' off the evil day.
COLONEL. You say that because it was n't your own.
MISS BEECH. Well, it was hollow, and you broke your principles!
COLONEL. Hollow yourself, Peachey; you're as bad as any one!
MISS BEECH [With devilry.] Well, I know that! [She turns to MRS. GWYN.] He should have had it out! Shouldn't he, Molly?
MRS. GWYN. I--don't--judge for other people.
[She gets up suddenly, as though deprived of air.]
COLONEL. [Alarmed.] Hallo, Molly! Are n't you feeling the thing, old girl?
MISS BEECH. Let her get some air, poor creature!
COLONEL. [Who follows anxiously.] Your Aunt's got some first-rate sal volatile.
MRS. GWYN. It's all right, Uncle Tom. I felt giddy, it's nothing, now.
COLONEL. That's the dancing. [He taps his forehead.] I know what it is when you're not used to it.
MRS. GWYN. [With a sudden bitter outburst.] I suppose you think I 'm a very bad mother to be amusing myself while joy's suffering.
COLONEL. My dear girl, whatever put such a thought into your head? We all know if there were anything you could do, you'd do it at once, would n't she, Peachey?
[MISS BEECH turns a slow look on MRS. GWYN.]
MRS. GWYN. Ah! you see, Peachey knows me better.
COLONEL. [Following up his thoughts.] I always think women are wonderful. There's your Aunt, she's very funny, but if there's anything the matter with me, she'll sit up all night; but when she's ill herself, and you try to do anything for her, out she raps at once.
MRS. GWYN. [In a low voice.] There's always one that a woman will do anything for.
COLONEL. Exactly what I say. With your Aunt it's me, and by George! Molly, sometimes I wish it was n't.
MISS BEECH, [With meaning.] But is it ever for another woman!
COLONEL. You old cynic! D' you mean to say Joy wouldn't do anything on earth for her Mother, or Molly for Joy? You don't know human nature. What a wonderful night! Have n't seen such a moon for years, she's like a great, great lamp!
[MRS. GWYN hiding from Miss BEECH's eyes, rises and slips her arm through his; they stand together looking at the moon.]
Don't like these Chinese lanterns, with that moon-tawdry! eh! By Jove, Molly, I sometimes think we humans are a rubbishy lot--each of us talking and thinking of nothing but our own petty little affairs; and when you see a great thing like that up there--[Sighs.] But there's your Aunt, if I were to say a thing like that to her she 'd-- she'd think me a lunatic; and yet, you know, she 's a very good woman.
MRS. GWYN. [Half clinging to him.] Do you think me very selfish, Uncle Tom?
COLONEL. My dear--what a fancy! Think you selfish--of course I don't; why should I?
MRS. GWYN. [Dully.] I don't know.
COLONEL. [Changing the subject nervously.] I like your friend, Lever, Molly. He came to me before dinner quite distressed about your Aunt, beggin' me not to take those shares. She 'll be the first to worry me, but he made such a point of it, poor chap--in the end I was obliged to say I wouldn't. I thought it showed very' nice feeling. [Ruefully.] It's a pretty tight fit to make two ends meet on my income--I've missed a good thing, all owing to your Aunt. [Dropping his voice.] I don't mind telling you, Molly, I think they've got a much finer mine there than they've any idea of.
[MRS. GWYN gives way to laughter that is very near to sobs.]
[With dignity.] I can't see what there is to laugh at.
MRS. GWYN. I don't know what's the matter with me this evening.
MISS BEECH. [In a low voice.] I do.
COLONEL. There, there! Give me a kiss, old girl! [He kisses her on the brow.] Why, your forehead's as hot as fire. I know--I know-you 're fretting about Joy. Never mind--come! [He draws her hand beneath his arm.] Let's go and have a look at the moon on the river. We all get upset at times; eh! [Lifting his hand as if he had been stung.] Why, you 're not crying, Molly! I say! Don't do that, old girl, it makes me wretched. Look here, Peachey. [Holding out the hand on which the tear has dropped.] This is dreadful!
MRS. GWYN. [With a violent effort.] It's all right, Uncle Tom!
[MISS BEECH wipes her own eyes stealthily. From the house is heard the voice of MRS. HOPE, calling "Tom."]
MISS BEECH. Some one calling you.
COLONEL. There, there, my dear, you just stay here, and cool yourself--I 'll come back--shan't be a minute. [He turns to go.]
[MRS. HOPE'S voice sounds nearer.]
[Turning back.] And Molly, old girl, don't you mind anything I said. I don't remember what it was--it must have been something, I suppose.
[He hastily retreats.]
MRS. GWYN. [In a fierce low voice.] Why do you torture me?
MISS BEECH. [Sadly.] I don't want to torture you.
MRS. GWYN, But you do. D' you think I haven't seen this coming--all these weeks. I knew she must find out some time! But even a day counts----
MISS BEECH. I don't understand why you brought him down here.
MRS. GWYN. [After staring at her, bitterly.] When day after day and night after night you've thought of nothing but how to keep them both, you might a little want to prove that it was possible, mightn't you? But you don't understand--how should you? You've never been a mother! [And fiercely.] You've never had a lov----
[MISS BEECH raises her face-it is all puckered.]
[Impulsively.] Oh, I did n't mean that, Peachey!
MISS BEECH. All right, my dear.
MRS. GWYN. I'm so dragged in two! [She sinks into a chair.] I knew it must come.
MISS BEECH. Does she know everything, Molly?
MRS. GWYN. She guesses.
MISS BEECH. [Mournfully.] It's either him or her then, my dear; one or the other you 'll have to give up.
MRS. GWYN. [Motionless.] Life's very hard on women!
MISS BEECH. Life's only just beginning for that child, Molly.
MRS. GWYN. You don't care if it ends for me!
MISS BEECH. Is it as bad as that?
MRS. GWYN. Yes.
MISS BEECH. [Rocking hey body.] Poor things! Poor things!
MRS. GWYN. Are you still fond of me?
MISS BEECH. Yes, yes, my dear, of course I am.
MRS. GWYN. In spite of my-wickedness?
MISS BEECH. Who am I to tell what's wicked and what is n't? God knows you're both like daughters to me!
MRS. GWYN. [Abruptly.] I can't.
MISS BEECH. Molly.
MRS. GWYN. You don't know what you're asking.
MISS BEECH. If I could save you suffering, my dear, I would. I hate suffering, if it 's only a fly, I hate it.
MRS. GWYN. [Turning away from her.] Life is n't fair. Peachey, go in and leave me alone.
[She leans back motionless.]
[Miss BEECH gets off her seat, and stroking MRS. GWYN's arm in passing goes silently away. In the opening of the wall she meets LEVER who is looking for his partner. They make way for each other.]
LEVER. [Going up to MRS. GWYN--gravely.] The next is our dance, Molly.
MRS. GWYN. [Unmoving.] Let's sit it out here, then.
[LEVER sits down.]
LEVER. I've made it all right with your Uncle.
MRS. GWYN. [Dully.] Oh?
LEVER. I spoke to him about the shares before dinner.
MRS. GWYN. Yes, he told me, thank you.
LEVER. There 's nothing to worry over, dear.
MRS. GWYN. [Passionately.] What does it matter about the wretched shares now? I 'm stifling.
[She throws her scarf off.]
LEVER. I don't understand what you mean by "now."
MRS. GWYN. Don't you?
LEVER. We were n't--Joy can't know--why should she? I don't believe for a minute----
MRS. GWYN. Because you don't want to.
LEVER. Do you mean she does?
MRS. GWYN. Her heart knows.
[LEVER makes a movement of discomfiture; suddenly MRS. GWYN looks at him as though to read his soul.]
I seem to bring you nothing but worry, Maurice. Are you tired of me?
LEVER. [Meeting her eyes.] No, I am not.
MRS. GWYN. Ah, but would you tell me if you were?
LEVER. [Softly.] Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
[MRS. GWYN struggles to look at him, then covers her face with her hands.]
MRS. GWYN. If I were to give you up, you'd forget me in a month.
LEVER. Why do you say such things?
MRS. GWYN. If only I could believe I was necessary to you!
LEVER. [Forcing the fervour of his voice.] But you are!
MRS. GWYN. Am I? [With the ghost of a smile.] Midsummer day!
[She gives a laugh that breaks into a sob.]
[The music o f a waltz sounds from the house.]
LEVER. For God's sake, don't, Molly--I don't believe in going to meet trouble.
MRS. GWYN. It's staring me in the face.
LEVER. Let the future take care of itself!
[MRS. GWYN has turned away her face, covering it with her hands.]
Don't, Molly! [Trying to pull her hands away.] Don't!
MRS. GWYN. Oh! what shall I do?
[There is a silence; the music of the waltz sounds louder from the house.]
[Starting up.] Listen! One can't sit it out and dance it too. Which is it to be, Maurice, dancing--or sitting out? It must be one or the other, must n't it?
LEVER. Molly! Molly!
MRS. GWYN. Ah, my dear! [Standing away from him as though to show herself.] How long shall I keep you? This is all that 's left of me. It 's time I joined the wallflowers. [Smiling faintly.] It's time I played the mother, is n't it? [In a whisper.] It'll be all sitting out then.
LEVER. Don't! Let's go and dance, it'll do you good.
[He puts his hands on her arms, and in a gust of passion kisses her lips and throat.]
MRS. GWYN. I can't give you up--I can't. Love me, oh! love me!
[For a moment they stand so; then, with sudden remembrance of where they are, they move apart.]
LEVER. Are you all right now, darling?
MRS. GWYN. [Trying to smile.] Yes, dear--quite.
LEVER. Then let 's go, and dance. [They go.]
[For a few seconds the hollow tree stands alone; then from the house ROSE comes and enters it. She takes out a bottle of champagne, wipes it, and carries it away; but seeing MRS. GWYN's scarf lying across the chair, she fingers it, and stops, listening to the waltz. Suddenly draping it round her shoulders, she seizes the bottle of champagne, and waltzes with abandon to the music, as though avenging a long starvation of her instincts. Thus dancing, she is surprised by DICK, who has come to smoke a cigarette and think, at the spot where he was told to "have a go." ROSE, startled, stops and hugs the bottle.]
DICK. It's not claret, Rose, I should n't warm it.
[ROSE, taking off the scarf, replaces it on the chair; then with the half-warmed bottle, she retreats. DICK, in the swing, sits thinking of his fate. Suddenly from behind the hollow tree he sees Joy darting forward in her day dress with her hair about her neck, and her skirt all torn. As he springs towards her, she turns at bay.]
JOY. I want Uncle Tom.
DICK. [In consternation.] But ought you to have got up--I thought you were ill in bed; oughtn't you to be lying down?
JOY. If have n't been in bed. Where's Uncle Tom?
DICK. But where have you been?-your dress is all torn. Look! [He touches the torn skirt.]
JOY. [Tearing it away.] In the fields. Where's Uncle Tom?
DICK. Are n't you really ill then?
[Joy shakes her head.]
DICK, [showing her the irises.] Look at these. They were the best I could get.
JOY. Don't! I want Uncle Tom!
DICK. Won't you take them?
JOY. I 've got something else to do.
DICK. [With sudden resolution.] What do you want the Colonel for?
JOY. I want him.
DICK. Joy, what is the matter?
JOY. I 've got something to tell him.
DICK. What? [With sudden inspiration.] Is it about Lever?
JOY. [In a low voice.] The mine.
DICK. The mine?
JOY. It 's not--not a proper one.
DICK. How do you mean, Joy?
JOY. I overheard. I don't care, I listened. I would n't if it had been anybody else, but I hate him.
DICK. [Gravely.] What did you hear?
JOY. He 's keeping back something Uncle Tom ought to know.
DICK. Are you sure?
[Joy makes a rush to pass him.]
[Barring the way.] No, wait a minute--you must! Was it something that really matters?--I don't want to know what.
JOY. Yes, it was.
DICK. What a beastly thing--are you quite certain, Joy?
JOY. [Between her teeth.] Yes.
DICK. Then you must tell him, of course, even if you did overhear. You can't stand by and see the Colonel swindled. Whom was he talking to?
JOY. I won't tell you.
DICK. [Taking her wrist.] Was it was it your Mother?
[Joy bends her head.]
But if it was your Mother, why does n't she----
JOY. Let me go!
DICK. [Still holding her.] I mean I can't see what----
JOY. [Passionately.] Let me go!
DICK. [Releasing her.] I'm thinking of your Mother, Joy. She would never----
JOY. [Covering her face.] That man!
DICK. But joy, just think! There must be some mistake. It 's so queer--it 's quite impossible!
JOY. He won't let her.
DICK. Won't let her--won't let her? But [Stopping dead, and in a very different voice.] Oh!
JOY. [Passionately.] Why d' you look at me like that? Why can't you speak?
[She waits for him to speak, but he does not.]
I'm going to show what he is, so that Mother shan't speak to him again. I can--can't I--if I tell Uncle Tom?--can't I----?
DICK. But Joy--if your Mother knows a thing like--that----
JOY. She wanted to tell--she begged him--and he would n't.
DICK. But, joy, dear, it means----
JOY. I hate him, I want to make her hate him, and I will.
DICK. But, Joy, dear, don't you see--if your Mother knows a thing like that, and does n't speak of it, it means that she--it means that you can't make her hate him--it means----If it were anybody else-- but, well, you can't give your own Mother away!
JOY. How dare you! How dare you! [Turning to the hollow tree.] It is n't true--Oh! it is n't true!
DICK. [In deep distress.] Joy, dear, I never meant, I didn't really!
[He tries to pull her hands down from her face.]
JOY. [Suddenly.] Oh! go away, go away!
[MRS. GWYN is seen coming back. JOY springs into the tree. DICK quickly steals away. MRS. GWYN goes up to the chair and takes the scarf that she has come for, and is going again when JOY steals out to her.]
[MRS. GWYN stands looking at her with her teeth set on her lower lip.]
Oh! Mother, it is n't true?
MRS. GWYN. [Very still.] What is n't true?
JOY. That you and he are----
[Searching her Mother's face, which is deadly still. In a whisper.]
Then it is true. Oh!
MRS. GWYN. That's enough, Joy! What I am is my affair--not yours-- do you understand?
JOY. [Low and fierce.] Yes, I do.
MRS. GWYN. You don't. You're only a child.
JOY. [Passionately.] I understand that you've hurt [She stops.]
MRS. GWYN. Do you mean your Father?
JOY. [Bowing her head.] Yes, and--and me. [She covers her face.] I'm--I'm ashamed.
MRS. GWYN. I brought you into the world, and you say that to me? Have I been a bad mother to you?
JOY. [In a smothered voice.] Oh! Mother!
MRS. GWYN. Ashamed? Am I to live all my life like a dead woman because you're ashamed? Am I to live like the dead because you 're a child that knows nothing of life? Listen, Joy, you 'd better understand this once for all. Your Father has no right over me and he knows it. We 've been hateful to each other for years. Can you understand that? Don't cover your face like a child--look at me.
[Joy drops her hands, and lifts her face. MRS. GWYN looks back at her, her lips are quivering; she goes on speaking with stammering rapidity.]
D' you think--because I suffered when you were born and because I 've suffered since with every ache you ever had, that that gives you the right to dictate to me now? [In a dead voice.] I've been unhappy enough and I shall be unhappy enough in the time to come. [Meeting the hard wonder in Joy's face.] Oh! you untouched things, you're as hard and cold as iron!
JOY. I would do anything for you, Mother.
MRS. GWYN. Except--let me live, Joy. That's the only thing you won't do for me, I quite understand.
JOY. Oh! Mother, you don't understand--I want you so; and I seem to be nothing to you now.
MRS. GWYN. Nothing to me? [She smiles.]
JOY. Mother, darling, if you're so unhappy let's forget it all, let's go away and I 'll be everything to you, I promise.
MRS. GWYN. [With the ghost of a laugh.] Ah, Joy!
JOY. I would try so hard.
MRS. GWYN. [With the same quivering smile.] My darling, I know you would, until you fell in love yourself.
JOY. Oh, Mother, I wouldn't, I never would, I swear it.
MRS. GWYN. There has never been a woman, joy, that did not fall in love.
JOY. [In a despairing whisper.] But it 's wrong of you it's wicked!
MRS. GWYN. If it's wicked, I shall pay for it, not you!
JOY. But I want to save you, Mother!
MRS. GWYN. Save me? [Breaking into laughter.]
JOY. I can't bear it that you--if you 'll only--I'll never leave you. You think I don't know what I 'm saying, but I do, because even now I--I half love somebody. Oh, Mother! [Pressing her breast.] I feel--I feel so awful--as if everybody knew.
MRS. GWYN. You think I'm a monster to hurt you. Ah! yes! You'll understand better some day.
JOY. [In a sudden outburst of excited fear.] I won't believe it-- I--I--can't--you're deserting me, Mother.
MRS. GWYN. Oh, you untouched things! You----
[Joy' looks up suddenly, sees her face, and sinks down on her knees.]
JOY. Mother--it 's for me!
GWYN. Ask for my life, JOY--don't be afraid.
[Joy turns her face away. MRS. GWYN bends suddenly and touches her daughter's hair; JOY shrinks from that touch.]
[Recoiling as though she had been stung.] I forgot--I 'm deserting you.
[And swiftly without looking back she goes away. Joy, left alone under the hollow tree, crouches lower, and her shoulders shake. Here DICK finds her, when he hears no longer any sound o f voices. He falls on his knees beside her.]
DICK. Oh! Joy; dear, don't cry. It's so dreadful to see you! I 'd do anything not to see you cry! Say something.
[Joy is still for a moment, then the shaking of the shoulders begins again.]
Joy, darling! It's so awful, you 'll make yourself ill, and it is n't worth it, really. I 'd do anything to save you pain--won't you stop just for a minute?
[Joy is still again.]
Nothing in the world 's worth your crying, Joy. Give me just a little look!
JOY. [Looking; in a smothered voice.] Don't!
DICK. You do look so sweet! Oh, Joy, I'll comfort you, I'll take it all on myself. I know all about it.
[Joy gives a sobbing laugh]
I do. I 've had trouble too, I swear I have. It gets better, it does really.
JOY. You don't know--it's--it's----
DICK. Don't think about it! No, no, no! I know exactly what it's like. [He strokes her arm.]
JOY. [Shrinking, in a whisper.] You mustn't.
[The music of a waltz is heard again.]
DICK. Look here, joy! It's no good, we must talk it over calmly.
JOY. You don't see! It's the--it 's the disgrace----
DICK. Oh! as to disgrace--she's your Mother, whatever she does; I'd like to see anybody say anything about her--[viciously]--I'd punch his head.
JOY. [Gulping her tears.] That does n't help.
DICK. But if she doesn't love your Father----
JOY. But she's married to him!
DICK. [Hastily.] Yes, of course, I know, marriage is awfully important; but a man understands these things.
[Joy looks at him. Seeing the impression he has made, he tries again.]
I mean, he understands better than a woman. I've often argued about moral questions with men up at Oxford.
JOY. [Catching at a straw.] But there's nothing to argue about.
DICK. [Hastily.] Of course, I believe in morals.
[They stare solemnly at each other.]
Some men don't. But I can't help seeing marriage is awfully important.
JOY. [Solemnly.] It's sacred.
DICK. Yes, I know, but there must be exceptions, Joy.
Joy. [Losing herself a little in the stress of this discussion.] How can there be exceptions if a thing 's sacred?
DICK. [Earnestly.] All rules have exceptions; that's true, you know; it's a proverb.
JOY. It can't be true about marriage--how can it when----?
DICK. [With intense earnestness.] But look here, Joy, I know a really clever man--an author. He says that if marriage is a failure people ought to be perfectly free; it isn't everybody who believes that marriage is everything. Of course, I believe it 's sacred, but if it's a failure, I do think it seems awful--don't you?
JOY. I don't know--yes--if--[Suddenly] But it's my own Mother!
DICK. [Gravely.] I know, of course. I can't expect you to see it in your own case like this. [With desperation.] But look here, Joy, this'll show you! If a person loves a person, they have to decide, have n't they? Well, then, you see, that 's what your Mother's done.
JOY. But that does n't show me anything!
DICK. But it does. The thing is to look at it as if it was n't yourself. If it had been you and me in love, Joy, and it was wrong, like them, of course [ruefully] I know you'd have decided right. [Fiercely.] But I swear I should have decided wrong. [Triumphantly.] That 's why I feel I understand your Mother.
JOY. [Brushing her sleeve across her eyes.] Oh, Dick, you are so sweet--and--and--funny!
DICK. [Sliding his arm about her.] I love you, Joy, that 's why, and I 'll love you till you don't feel it any more. I will. I'll love you all day and every day; you shan't miss anything, I swear it. It 's such a beautiful night--it 's on purpose. Look' [JOY looks; he looks at her.] But it 's not so beautiful as you.
JOY. [Bending her head.] You mustn't. I don't know--what's coming?
DICK. [Sidling closer.] Are n't your knees tired, darling? I--I can't get near you properly.
JOY. [With a sob.] Oh! Dick, you are a funny--comfort!
DICK. We'll stick together, Joy, always; nothing'll matter then.
[They struggle to their feet-the waltz sounds louder.]
You're missing it all! I can't bear you to miss the dancing. It seems so queer! Couldn't we? Just a little turn?
JOY. No, no?
DICK. Oh! try!
[He takes her gently by the waist, she shrinks back.]
JOY. [Brokenly.] No-no! Oh! Dick-to-morrow 'll be so awful.
DICK. To-morrow shan't hurt you, Joy; nothing shall ever hurt you again.
[She looks at him, and her face changes; suddenly she buries it against his shoulder.]
[They stand so just a moment in the moon light; then turning to the river move slowly out of sight. Again the hollow tree is left alone. The music of the waltz has stopped. The voices of MISS BEECH and the COLONEL are heard approaching from the house. They appear in the opening of the wall. The COLONEL carries a pair of field glasses with which to look at the Moon.]
COLONEL. Charming to see Molly dance with Lever, their steps go so well together! I can always tell when a woman's enjoying herself, Peachey.
MISS BEECH. [Sharply.] Can you? You're very clever.
COLONEL. Wonderful, that moon! I'm going to have a look at her! Splendid glasses these, Peachy [he screws them out], not a better pair in England. I remember in Burmah with these glasses I used to be able to tell a man from a woman at two miles and a quarter. And that's no joke, I can tell you. [But on his way to the moon, he has taken a survey of the earth to the right along the river. In a low but excited voice] I say, I say--is it one of the maids--the baggage! Why! It's Dick! By George, she's got her hair down, Peachey! It's Joy!
[MISS BEECH goes to look. He makes as though to hand the glasses to her, but puts them to his own eyes instead-- excitedly.]
It is! What about her headache? By George, they're kissing. I say, Peachey! I shall have to tell Nell!
MISS BEECH. Are you sure they're kissing? Well, that's some comfort.
COLONEL. They're at the stile now. Oughtn't I to stop them, eh? [He stands on tiptoe.] We must n't spy on them, dash it all. [He drops the glasses.] They're out of sight now.
MISS BEECH. [To herself.] He said he wouldn't let her.
COLONEL. What! have you been encouraging them!
MISS BEECH. Don't be in such a hurry!
[She moves towards the hollow tree.]
COLONEL. [Abstractedly.] By George, Peachey, to think that Nell and I were once--Poor Nell! I remember just such a night as this
[He stops, and stares before him, sighing.]
MISS BEECH, [Impressively.] It's a comfort she's got that good young man. She's found out that her mother and this Mr. Lever are--you know.
COLONEL. [Losing all traces of his fussiness, and drawing himself up as though he were on parade.] You tell me that my niece?
MISS BEECH. Out of her own mouth!
COLONEL. [Bowing his head.] I never would have believed she'd have forgotten herself.
MISS BEECH. [Very solemnly.] Ah, my dear! We're all the same; we're all as hollow as that tree! When it's ourselves it's always a special case!
[The COLONEL makes a movement of distress, and Miss BEECH goes to him.]
Don't you take it so to heart, my dear!
COLONEL. [Shaking his head.] I couldn't have believed Molly would forget that child.
MISS BEECH. [Sadly.] They must go their own ways, poor things! She can't put herself in the child's place, and the child can't put herself in Molly's. A woman and a girl--there's the tree of life between them!
COLONEL. [Staring into the tree to see indeed if that were the tree alluded to.] It's a grief to me, Peachey, it's a grief! [He sinks into a chair, stroking his long moustaches. Then to avenge his hurt.] Shan't tell Nell--dashed if I do anything to make the trouble worse!
MISS BEECH. [Nodding.] There's suffering enough, without adding to it with our trumpery judgments! If only things would last between them!
COLONEL. [Fiercely.] Last! By George, they'd better----
[He stops, and looking up with a queer sorry look.]
I say, Peachey Life's very funny!
MISS BEECH. Men and women are! [Touching his forehead tenderly.] There, there--take care of your poor, dear head! Tsst! The blessed innocents!
[She pulls the COLONEL'S sleeve. They slip away towards the house, as JOY and DICK come back. They are still linked together, and stop by the hollow tree.]
JOY. [In a whisper.] Dick, is love always like this?
DICK. [Putting his arms around her, with conviction.] It's never been like this before. It's you and me!
[He kisses her on the lips.]
The curtain falls.
* * * * * * * * * * * *