The JONES's lodgings, Merthyr Street, at half-past two o'clock.
The bare room, with tattered oilcloth and damp, distempered walls, has an air of tidy wretchedness. On the bed lies JONES, half-dressed; his coat is thrown across his feet, and muddy boots are lying on the floor close by. He is asleep. The door is opened and MRS. JONES comes in, dressed in a pinched black jacket and old black sailor hat; she carries a parcel wrapped up in the "Times." She puts her parcel down, unwraps an apron, half a loaf, two onions, three potatoes, and a tiny piece of bacon. Taking a teapot from the cupboard, she rinses it, shakes into it some powdered tea out of a screw of paper, puts it on the hearth, and sitting in a wooden chair quietly begins to cry.
JONES. [Stirring and yawning.] That you? What's the time?
MRS. JONES. [Drying her eyes, and in her usual voice.] Half-past two.
JONES. What you back so soon for?
MRS. JONES. I only had the half day to-day, Jem.
JONES. [On his back, and in a drowsy voice.] Got anything for dinner?
MRS. JONES. Mrs. BARTHWICK's cook gave me a little bit of bacon. I'm going to make a stew. [She prepares for cooking.] There's fourteen shillings owing for rent, James, and of course I 've only got two and fourpence. They'll be coming for it to-day.
JONES. [Turning towards her on his elbow.] Let 'em come and find my surprise packet. I've had enough o' this tryin' for work. Why should I go round and round after a job like a bloomin' squirrel in a cage. "Give us a job, sir"--"Take a man on"--"Got a wife and three children." Sick of it I am! I 'd sooner lie here and rot. "Jones, you come and join the demonstration; come and 'old a flag, and listen to the ruddy orators, and go 'ome as empty as you came." There's some that seems to like that--the sheep! When I go seekin' for a job now, and see the brutes lookin' me up an' down, it's like a thousand serpents in me. I 'm not arskin' for any treat. A man wants to sweat hisself silly and not allowed that's a rum start, ain't it? A man wants to sweat his soul out to keep the breath in him and ain't allowed--that's justice that's freedom and all the rest of it! [He turns his face towards the wall.] You're so milky mild; you don't know what goes on inside o' me. I'm done with the silly game. If they want me, let 'em come for me!
[MRS. JONES stops cooking and stands unmoving at the table.]
I've tried and done with it, I tell you. I've never been afraid of what 's before me. You mark my words--if you think they've broke my spirit, you're mistook. I 'll lie and rot sooner than arsk 'em again. What makes you stand like that--you long-sufferin', Gawd-forsaken image--that's why I can't keep my hands off you. So now you know. Work! You can work, but you have n't the spirit of a louse!
MRS. JONES. [Quietly.] You talk more wild sometimes when you're yourself, James, than when you 're not. If you don't get work, how are we to go on? They won't let us stay here; they're looking to their money to-day, I know.
JONES. I see this BARTHWICK o' yours every day goin' down to Pawlyment snug and comfortable to talk his silly soul out; an' I see that young calf, his son, swellin' it about, and goin' on the razzle-dazzle. Wot 'ave they done that makes 'em any better than wot I am? They never did a day's work in their lives. I see 'em day after day.
MRS. JONES. And I wish you wouldn't come after me like that, and hang about the house. You don't seem able to keep away at all, and whatever you do it for I can't think, because of course they notice it.
JONES. I suppose I may go where I like. Where may I go? The other day I went to a place in the Edgware Road. "Gov'nor," I says to the boss, "take me on," I says. "I 'aven't done a stroke o' work not these two months; it takes the heart out of a man," I says; "I 'm one to work; I 'm not afraid of anything you can give me!" "My good man," 'e says, "I 've had thirty of you here this morning. I took the first two," he says, "and that's all I want." "Thank you, then rot the world!" I says. "Blasphemin'," he says, "is not the way to get a job. Out you go, my lad!" [He laughs sardonically.] Don't you raise your voice because you're starvin'; don't yer even think of it; take it lyin' down! Take it like a sensible man, carn't you? And a little way down the street a lady says to me: [Pinching his voice] "D' you want to earn a few pence, my man?" and gives me her dog to 'old outside a shop-fat as a butler 'e was--tons o' meat had gone to the makin' of him. It did 'er good, it did, made 'er feel 'erself that charitable, but I see 'er lookin' at the copper standin' alongside o' me, for fear I should make off with 'er bloomin' fat dog. [He sits on the edge of the bed and puts a boot on. Then looking up.] What's in that head o' yours? [Almost pathetically.] Carn't you speak for once?
[There is a knock, and MRS. SEDDON, the landlady, appears, an anxious, harassed, shabby woman in working clothes.]
MRS. SEDDON. I thought I 'eard you come in, Mrs. Jones. I 've spoke to my 'usband, but he says he really can't afford to wait another day.
JONES. [With scowling jocularity.] Never you mind what your 'usband says, you go your own way like a proper independent woman. Here, jenny, chuck her that.
[Producing a sovereign from his trousers pocket, he throws it to his wife, who catches it in her apron with a gasp. JONES resumes the lacing of his boots.]
MRS. JONES. [Rubbing the sovereign stealthily.] I'm very sorry we're so late with it, and of course it's fourteen shillings, so if you've got six that will be right.
[MRS. SEDDON takes the sovereign and fumbles for the change.]
JONES. [With his eyes fixed on his boots.] Bit of a surprise for yer, ain't it?
MRS. SEDDON. Thank you, and I'm sure I'm very much obliged. [She does indeed appear surprised.] I 'll bring you the change.
JONES. [Mockingly.] Don't mention it.
MRS. SEDDON. Thank you, and I'm sure I'm very much obliged. [She slides away.]
[MRS. JONES gazes at JONES who is still lacing up his boots.]
JONES. I 've had a bit of luck. [Pulling out the crimson purse and some loose coins.] Picked up a purse--seven pound and more.
MRS. JONES. Oh, James!
JONES. Oh, James! What about Oh, James! I picked it up I tell you. This is lost property, this is!
MRS. JONES. But is n't there a name in it, or something?
JONES. Name? No, there ain't no name. This don't belong to such as 'ave visitin' cards. This belongs to a perfec' lidy. Tike an' smell it. [He pitches her the purse, which she puts gently to her nose.] Now, you tell me what I ought to have done. You tell me that. You can always tell me what I ought to ha' done, can't yer?
MRS. JONES. [Laying down the purse.] I can't say what you ought to have done, James. Of course the money was n't yours; you've taken somebody else's money.
JONES. Finding's keeping. I 'll take it as wages for the time I 've gone about the streets asking for what's my rights. I'll take it for what's overdue, d' ye hear? [With strange triumph.] I've got money in my pocket, my girl.
[MRS. JONES goes on again with the preparation of the meal, JONES looking at her furtively.]
Money in my pocket! And I 'm not goin' to waste it. With this 'ere money I'm goin' to Canada. I'll let you have a pound.
You've often talked of leavin' me. You 've often told me I treat you badly--well I 'ope you 'll be glad when I 'm gone.
MRS. JONES. [Impassively.] You have, treated me very badly, James, and of course I can't prevent your going; but I can't tell whether I shall be glad when you're gone.
JONES. It'll change my luck. I 've 'ad nothing but bad luck since I first took up with you. [More softly.] And you've 'ad no bloomin' picnic.
MRS. JONES. Of course it would have been better for us if we had never met. We were n't meant for each other. But you're set against me, that's what you are, and you have been for a long time. And you treat me so badly, James, going after that Rosie and all. You don't ever seem to think of the children that I 've had to bring into the world, and of all the trouble I 've had to keep them, and what 'll become of them when you're gone.
JONES. [Crossing the room gloomily.] If you think I want to leave the little beggars you're bloomin' well mistaken.
MRS. JONES. Of course I know you're fond of them.
JONES. [Fingering the purse, half angrily.] Well, then, you stow it, old girl. The kids 'll get along better with you than when I 'm here. If I 'd ha' known as much as I do now, I 'd never ha' had one o' them. What's the use o' bringin' 'em into a state o' things like this? It's a crime, that's what it is; but you find it out too late; that's what's the matter with this 'ere world.
[He puts the purse back in his pocket.]
MRS. JONES. Of course it would have been better for them, poor little things; but they're your own children, and I wonder at you talkin' like that. I should miss them dreadfully if I was to lose them.
JONES. [Sullenly.] An' you ain't the only one. If I make money out there--[Looking up, he sees her shaking out his coat--in a changed voice.] Leave that coat alone!
[The silver box drops from the pocket, scattering the cigarettes upon the bed. Taking up the box she stares at it; he rushes at her and snatches the box away.]
MRS. JONES. [Cowering back against the bed.] Oh, Jem! oh, Jem!
JONES. [Dropping the box onto the table.] You mind what you're sayin'! When I go out I 'll take and chuck it in the water along with that there purse. I 'ad it when I was in liquor, and for what you do when you 're in liquor you're not responsible-and that's Gawd's truth as you ought to know. I don't want the thing--I won't have it. I took it out o' spite. I 'm no thief, I tell you; and don't you call me one, or it'll be the worse for you.
MRS. JONES. [Twisting her apron strings.] It's Mr. Barthwick's! You've taken away my reputation. Oh, Jem, whatever made you?
JONES. What d' you mean?
MRS. JONES. It's been missed; they think it's me. Oh! whatever made you do it, Jem?
JONES. I tell you I was in liquor. I don't want it; what's the good of it to me? If I were to pawn it they'd only nab me. I 'm no thief. I 'm no worse than wot that young Barthwick is; he brought 'ome that purse that I picked up--a lady's purse--'ad it off 'er in a row, kept sayin' 'e 'd scored 'er off. Well, I scored 'im off. Tight as an owl 'e was! And d' you think anything'll happen to him?
MRS. JONES. [As though speaking to herself.] Oh, Jem! it's the bread out of our mouths!
JONES. Is it then? I'll make it hot for 'em yet. What about that purse? What about young BARTHWICK?
[MRS. JONES comes forward to the table and tries to take the box; JONES prevents her.] What do you want with that? You drop it, I say!
MRS. JONES. I 'll take it back and tell them all about it. [She attempts to wrest the box from him.]
JONES. Ah, would yer?
[He drops the box, and rushes on her with a snarl. She slips back past the bed. He follows; a chair is overturned. The door is opened; Snow comes in, a detective in plain clothes and bowler hat, with clipped moustaches. JONES drops his arms, MRS. JONES stands by the window gasping; SNOW, advancing swiftly to the table, puts his hand on the silver box.]
SNOW. Doin' a bit o' skylarkin'? Fancy this is what I 'm after. J. B., the very same. [He gets back to the door, scrutinising the crest and cypher on the box. To MRS. JONES.] I'm a police officer. Are you Mrs. Jones?
MRS. JONES. Yes, Sir.
SNOW. My instructions are to take you on a charge of stealing this box from J. BARTHWICK, Esquire, M.P., of 6, Rockingham Gate. Anything you say may be used against you. Well, Missis?
MRS. JONES. [In her quiet voice, still out of breath, her hand upon her breast.] Of course I did not take it, sir. I never have taken anything that did n't belong to me; and of course I know nothing about it.
SNOW. You were at the house this morning; you did the room in which the box was left; you were alone in the room. I find the box 'ere. You say you did n't take it?
MRS. JONES. Yes, sir, of course I say I did not take it, because I did not.
SNOW. Then how does the box come to be here?
MRS. JONES. I would rather not say anything about it.
SNOW. Is this your husband?
MRS. JONES. Yes, sir, this is my husband, sir.
SNOW. Do you wish to say anything before I take her?
[JONES remains silent, with his head bend down.]
Well then, Missis. I 'll just trouble you to come along with me quietly.
MRS. JONES. [Twisting her hands.] Of course I would n't say I had n't taken it if I had--and I did n't take it, indeed I did n't. Of course I know appearances are against me, and I can't tell you what really happened: But my children are at school, and they'll be coming home--and I don't know what they'll do without me.
SNOW. Your 'usband'll see to them, don't you worry. [He takes the woman gently by the arm.]
JONES. You drop it--she's all right! [Sullenly.] I took the thing myself.
SNOW. [Eyeing him] There, there, it does you credit. Come along, Missis.
JONES. [Passionately.] Drop it, I say, you blooming teck. She's my wife; she 's a respectable woman. Take her if you dare!
SNOW. Now, now. What's the good of this? Keep a civil tongue, and it'll be the better for all of us.
[He puts his whistle in his mouth and draws the woman to the door.]
JONES. [With a rush.] Drop her, and put up your 'ands, or I 'll soon make yer. You leave her alone, will yer! Don't I tell yer, I took the thing myself.
SNOW. [Blowing his whistle.] Drop your hands, or I 'll take you too. Ah, would you?
[JONES, closing, deals him a blow. A Policeman in uniform appears; there is a short struggle and JONES is overpowered. MRS. JONES raises her hands avid drops her face on them.]
The curtain falls.
The BARTHWICKS' dining-room the same evening. The BARTHWICKS are seated at dessert.
MRS. BARTHWICK. John! [A silence broken by the cracking of nuts.] John!
BARTHWICK. I wish you'd speak about the nuts they're uneatable. [He puts one in his mouth.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. It's not the season for them. I called on the Holyroods.
[BARTHWICK fills his glass with port.]
JACK. Crackers, please, Dad.
[BARTHWICK passes the crackers. His demeanour is reflective.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. Lady Holyrood has got very stout. I 've noticed it coming for a long time.
BARTHWICK. [Gloomily.] Stout? [He takes up the crackers--with transparent airiness.] The Holyroods had some trouble with their servants, had n't they?
JACK. Crackers, please, Dad.
BARTHWICK. [Passing the crackers.] It got into the papers. The cook, was n't it?
MRS. BARTHWICK. No, the lady's maid. I was talking it over with Lady Holyrood. The girl used to have her young man to see her.
BARTHWICK. [Uneasily.] I'm not sure they were wise----
MRS. BARTHWICK. My dear John, what are you talking about? How could there be any alternative? Think of the effect on the other servants!
BARTHWICK. Of course in principle--I wasn't thinking of that.
JACK. [Maliciously.] Crackers, please, Dad.
[BARTHWICK is compelled to pass the crackers.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. Lady Holyrood told me: "I had her up," she said; "I said to her, 'You'll leave my house at once; I think your conduct disgraceful. I can't tell, I don't know, and I don't wish to know, what you were doing. I send you away on principle; you need not come to me for a character.' And the girl said: 'If you don't give me my notice, my lady, I want a month's wages. I'm perfectly respectable. I've done nothing.'"'--Done nothing!
MRS. BARTHWICK. Servants have too much license. They hang together so terribly you never can tell what they're really thinking; it's as if they were all in a conspiracy to keep you in the dark. Even with Marlow, you feel that he never lets you know what's really in his mind. I hate that secretiveness; it destroys all confidence. I feel sometimes I should like to shake him.
JACK. Marlow's a most decent chap. It's simply beastly every one knowing your affairs.
BARTHWICK. The less you say about that the better!
MRS. BARTHWICK. It goes all through the lower classes. You can not tell when they are speaking the truth. To-day when I was shopping after leaving the Holyroods, one of these unemployed came up and spoke to me. I suppose I only had twenty yards or so to walk to the carnage, but he seemed to spring up in the street.
BARTHWICK. Ah! You must be very careful whom you speak to in these days.
MRS. BARTHWICK. I did n't answer him, of course. But I could see at once that he wasn't telling the truth.
BARTHWICK. [Cracking a nut.] There's one very good rule--look at their eyes.
JACK. Crackers, please, Dad.
BARTHWICK. [Passing the crackers.] If their eyes are straight-forward I sometimes give them sixpence. It 's against my principles, but it's most difficult to refuse. If you see that they're desperate, and dull, and shifty-looking, as so many of them are, it's certain to mean drink, or crime, or something unsatisfactory.
MRS. BARTHWICK. This man had dreadful eyes. He looked as if he could commit a murder. "I 've 'ad nothing to eat to-day," he said. Just like that.
BARTHWICK. What was William about? He ought to have been waiting.
JACK. [Raising his wine-glass to his nose.] Is this the '63, Dad?
[BARTHWICK, holding his wine-glass to his eye, lowers it and passes it before his nose.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. I hate people that can't speak the truth. [Father and son exchange a look behind their port.] It 's just as easy to speak the truth as not. I've always found it easy enough. It makes it impossible to tell what is genuine; one feels as if one were continually being taken in.
BARTHWICK. [Sententiously.] The lower classes are their own enemies. If they would only trust us, they would get on so much better.
MRS. BARTHWICK. But even then it's so often their own fault. Look at that Mrs. Jones this morning.
BARTHWICK. I only want to do what's right in that matter. I had occasion to see Roper this afternoon. I mentioned it to him. He's coming in this evening. It all depends on what the detective says. I've had my doubts. I've been thinking it over.
MRS. BARTHWICK. The woman impressed me most unfavourably. She seemed to have no shame. That affair she was talking about--she and the man when they were young, so immoral! And before you and Jack! I could have put her out of the room!
BARTHWICK. Oh! I don't want to excuse them, but in looking at these matters one must consider----
MRS. BARTHWICK. Perhaps you'll say the man's employer was wrong in dismissing him?
BARTHWICK. Of course not. It's not there that I feel doubt. What I ask myself is----
JACK. Port, please, Dad.
BARTHWICK. [Circulating the decanter in religious imitation of the rising and setting of the sun.] I ask myself whether we are sufficiently careful in making inquiries about people before we engage them, especially as regards moral conduct.
JACK. Pass the-port, please, Mother!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Passing it.] My dear boy, are n't you drinking too much?
[JACK fills his glass.]
MARLOW. [Entering.] Detective Snow to see you, Sir.
BARTHWICK. [Uneasily.] Ah! say I'll be with him in a minute.
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Without turning.] Let him come in here, Marlow.
[SNOW enters in an overcoat, his bowler hat in hand.]
BARTHWICK. [Half-rising.] Oh! Good evening!
SNOW. Good evening, sir; good evening, ma'am. I 've called round to report what I 've done, rather late, I 'm afraid--another case took me away. [He takes the silver box out o f his pocket, causing a sensation in the BARTHWICK family.] This is the identical article, I believe.
BARTHWICK. Certainly, certainly.
SNOW. Havin' your crest and cypher, as you described to me, sir, I 'd no hesitation in the matter.
BARTHWICK. Excellent. Will you have a glass of [he glances at the waning port]--er--sherry-[pours out sherry]. Jack, just give Mr. Snow this.
[JACK rises and gives the glass to SNOW; then, lolling in his chair, regards him indolently.]
SNOW. [Drinking off wine and putting down the glass.] After seeing you I went round to this woman's lodgings, sir. It's a low neighborhood, and I thought it as well to place a constable below --and not without 'e was wanted, as things turned out.
SNOW. Yes, Sir, I 'ad some trouble. I asked her to account for the presence of the article. She could give me no answer, except to deny the theft; so I took her into custody; then her husband came for me, so I was obliged to take him, too, for assault. He was very violent on the way to the station--very violent--threatened you and your son, and altogether he was a handful, I can till you.
MRS. BARTHWICK. What a ruffian he must be!
SNOW. Yes, ma'am, a rough customer.
JACK. [Sipping his mine, bemused.] Punch the beggar's head.
SNOW. Given to drink, as I understand, sir.
MRS. BARTHWICK. It's to be hoped he will get a severe punishment.
SNOW. The odd thing is, sir, that he persists in sayin' he took the box himself.
BARTHWICK. Took the box himself! [He smiles.] What does he think to gain by that?
SNOW. He says the young gentleman was intoxicated last night
[JACK stops the cracking of a nut, and looks at SNOW.]
[BARTHWICK, losing his smile, has put his wine-glass down; there is a silence--SNOW, looking from face to face, remarks]
--took him into the house and gave him whisky; and under the influence of an empty stomach the man says he took the box.
MRS. BARTHWICK. The impudent wretch!
BARTHWICK. D' you mean that he--er--intends to put this forward to-morrow?
SNOW. That'll be his line, sir; but whether he's endeavouring to shield his wife, or whether [he looks at JACK] there's something in it, will be for the magistrate to say.
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Haughtily.] Something in what? I don't understand you. As if my son would bring a man like that into the house!
BARTHWICK. [From the fireplace, with an effort to be calm.] My son can speak for himself, no doubt. Well, Jack, what do you say?
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Sharply.] What does he say? Why, of course, he says the whole story's stuff!
JACK. [Embarrassed.] Well, of course, I--of course, I don't know anything about it.
MRS. BARTHWICK. I should think not, indeed! [To Snow.] The man is an audacious ruffian!
BARTHWICK. [Suppressing jumps.] But in view of my son's saying there's nothing in this--this fable--will it be necessary to proceed against the man under the circumstances?
SNOW. We shall have to charge him with the assault, sir. It would be as well for your son to come down to the Court. There'll be a remand, no doubt. The queer thing is there was quite a sum of money found on him, and a crimson silk purse.
[BARTHWICK starts; JACK rises and sits dozen again.]
I suppose the lady has n't missed her purse?
BARTHWICK. [Hastily.] Oh, no! Oh! No!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Dreamily.] No! [To SNOW.] I 've been inquiring of the servants. This man does hang about the house. I shall feel much safer if he gets a good long sentence; I do think we ought to be protected against such ruffians.
BARTHWICK. Yes, yes, of course, on principle but in this case we have a number of things to think of. [To SNOW.] I suppose, as you say, the man must be charged, eh?
SNOW. No question about that, sir.
BARTHWICK. [Staring gloomily at JACK.] This prosecution goes very much against the grain with me. I have great sympathy with the poor. In my position I 'm bound to recognise the distress there is amongst them. The condition of the people leaves much to be desired. D' you follow me? I wish I could see my way to drop it.
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Sharply.] John! it's simply not fair to other people. It's putting property at the mercy of any one who likes to take it.
BARTHWICK. [Trying to make signs to her aside.] I 'm not defending him, not at all. I'm trying to look at the matter broadly.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Nonsense, John, there's a time for everything.
SNOW. [Rather sardonically.] I might point out, sir, that to withdraw the charge of stealing would not make much difference, because the facts must come out [he looks significantly at JACK] in reference to the assault; and as I said that charge will have to go forward.
BARTHWICK. [Hastily.] Yes, oh! exactly! It's entirely on the woman's account--entirely a matter of my own private feelings.
SNOW. If I were you, sir, I should let things take their course. It's not likely there'll be much difficulty. These things are very quick settled.
BARTHWICK. [Doubtfully.] You think so--you think so?
JACK. [Rousing himself.] I say, what shall I have to swear to?
SNOW. That's best known to yourself, sir. [Retreating to the door.] Better employ a solicitor, sir, in case anything should arise. We shall have the butler to prove the loss of the article. You'll excuse me going, I 'm rather pressed to-night. The case may come on any time after eleven. Good evening, sir; good evening, ma'am. I shall have to produce the box in court to-morrow, so if you'll excuse me, sir, I may as well take it with me.
[He takes the silver box and leaves them with a little bow.]
[BARTHWICK makes a move to follow him, then dashing his hands beneath his coat tails, speaks with desperation.]
BARTHWICK. I do wish you'd leave me to manage things myself. You will put your nose into matters you know nothing of. A pretty mess you've made of this!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Coldly.] I don't in the least know what you're talking about. If you can't stand up for your rights, I can. I 've no patience with your principles, it's such nonsense.
BARTHWICK. Principles! Good Heavens! What have principles to do with it for goodness sake? Don't you know that Jack was drunk last night!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [In horror rising.] Jack!
JACK. Look here, Mother--I had supper. Everybody does. I mean to say--you know what I mean--it's absurd to call it being drunk. At Oxford everybody gets a bit "on" sometimes----
MRS. BARTHWICK. Well, I think it's most dreadful! If that is really what you do at Oxford?
JACK. [Angrily.] Well, why did you send me there? One must do as other fellows do. It's such nonsense, I mean, to call it being drunk. Of course I 'm awfully sorry. I 've had such a beastly headache all day.
BARTHWICK. Tcha! If you'd only had the common decency to remember what happened when you came in. Then we should know what truth there was in what this fellow says--as it is, it's all the most confounded darkness.
JACK. [Staring as though at half-formed visions.] I just get a-- and then--it 's gone----
MRS. BARTHWICK. Oh, Jack! do you mean to say you were so tipsy you can't even remember----
JACK. Look here, Mother! Of course I remember I came--I must have come----
BARTHWICK. [Unguardedly, and walking up and down.] Tcha!--and that infernal purse! Good Heavens! It'll get into the papers. Who on earth could have foreseen a thing like this? Better to have lost a dozen cigarette-boxes, and said nothing about it. [To his wife.] It's all your doing. I told you so from the first. I wish to goodness Roper would come!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Sharply.] I don't know what you're talking about, John.
BARTHWICK. [Turning on her.] No, you--you--you don't know anything! [Sharply.] Where the devil is Roper? If he can see a way out of this he's a better man than I take him for. I defy any one to see a way out of it. I can't.
JACK. Look here, don't excite Dad--I can simply say I was too beastly tired, and don't remember anything except that I came in and [in a dying voice] went to bed the same as usual.
BARTHWICK. Went to bed? Who knows where you went--I 've lost all confidence. For all I know you slept on the floor.
JACK. [Indignantly.] I did n't, I slept on the----
BARTHWICK. [Sitting on the sofa.] Who cares where you slept; what does it matter if he mentions the--the--a perfect disgrace?
MRS. BARTHWICK. What? [A silence.] I insist on knowing.
JACK. Oh! nothing.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Nothing? What do you mean by nothing, Jack? There's your father in such a state about it!
JACK. It's only my purse.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Your purse! You know perfectly well you have n't got one.
JACK. Well, it was somebody else's--it was all a joke--I did n't want the beastly thing.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Do you mean that you had another person's purse, and that this man took it too?
BARTHWICK. Tcha! Of course he took it too! A man like that Jones will make the most of it. It'll get into the papers.
MRS. BARTHWICK. I don't understand. What on earth is all the fuss about? [Bending over JACK, and softly.] Jack now, tell me dear! Don't be afraid. What is it? Come!
JACK. Oh, don't Mother!
MRS. BARTHWICK. But don't what, dear?
JACK. It was pure sport. I don't know how I got the thing. Of course I 'd had a bit of a row--I did n't know what I was doing--I was--I Was--well, you know--I suppose I must have pulled the bag out of her hand.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Out of her hand? Whose hand? What bag--whose bag?
JACK. Oh! I don't know--her bag--it belonged to--[in a desperate and rising voice] a woman.
MRS. BARTHWICK. A woman? Oh! Jack! No!
JACK. [Jumping up.] You would have it. I did n't want to tell you. It's not my fault.
[The door opens and MARLOW ushers in a man of middle age, inclined to corpulence, in evening dress. He has a ruddy, thin moustache, and dark, quick-moving little eyes. His eyebrows aye Chinese.]
MARLOW. Mr. Roper, Sir. [He leaves the room.]
ROPER. [With a quick look round.] How do you do?
[But neither JACK nor MRS. BARTHWICK make a sign.]
BARTHWICK. [Hurrying.] Thank goodness you've come, Roper. You remember what I told you this afternoon; we've just had the detective here.
ROPER. Got the box?
BARTHWICK. Yes, yes, but look here--it was n't the charwoman at all; her drunken loafer of a husband took the things--he says that fellow there [he waves his hand at JACK, who with his shoulder raised, seems trying to ward off a blow] let him into the house last night. Can you imagine such a thing.
[Roper laughs. ]
BARTHWICK. [With excited emphasis.]. It's no laughing matter, Roper. I told you about that business of Jack's too--don't you see the brute took both the things--took that infernal purse. It'll get into the papers.
ROPER. [Raising his eyebrows.] H'm! The purse! Depravity in high life! What does your son say?
BARTHWICK. He remembers nothing. D--n! Did you ever see such a mess? It 'll get into the papers.
MRS. BARTHWICK. [With her hand across hey eyes.] Oh! it's not that----
[BARTHWICK and ROPER turn and look at her.]
BARTHWICK. It's the idea of that woman--she's just heard----
[ROPER nods. And MRS. BARTHWICK, setting her lips, gives a slow look at JACK, and sits down at the table.]
What on earth's to be done, Roper? A ruffian like this Jones will make all the capital he can out of that purse.
MRS. BARTHWICK. I don't believe that Jack took that purse.
BARTHWICK. What--when the woman came here for it this morning?
MRS. BARTHWICK. Here? She had the impudence? Why was n't I told?
[She looks round from face to face--no one answers hey, there is a pause.]
BARTHWICK. [Suddenly.] What's to be done, Roper?
ROPER. [Quietly to JACK.] I suppose you did n't leave your latch-key in the door?
JACK. [Sullenly.] Yes, I did.
BARTHWICK. Good heavens! What next?
MRS. BARTHWICK. I 'm certain you never let that man into the house, Jack, it's a wild invention. I'm sure there's not a word of truth in it, Mr. Roper.
ROPER. [Very suddenly.] Where did you sleep last night?
JACK. [Promptly.] On the sofa, there--[hesitating]--that is--I----
BARTHWICK. On the sofa? D' you mean to say you did n't go to bed?
BARTHWICK. If you don't remember anything, how can you remember that?
JACK. Because I woke up there in the morning.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Oh, Jack!
BARTHWICK. Good Gracious!
JACK. And Mrs. Jones saw me. I wish you would n't bait me so.
ROPER. Do you remember giving any one a drink?
JACK. By Jove, I do seem to remember a fellow with--a fellow with [He looks at Roper.] I say, d' you want me----?
ROPER. [Quick as lightning.] With a dirty face?
JACK. [With illumination.] I do--I distinctly remember his----
[BARTHWICK moves abruptly; MRS. BARTHWICK looks at ROPER angrily, and touches her son's arm.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. You don't remember, it's ridiculous! I don't believe the man was ever here at all.
BARTHWICK. You must speak the truth, if it is the truth. But if you do remember such a dirty business, I shall wash my hands of you altogether.
JACK. [Glaring at them.] Well, what the devil----
MRS. BARTHWICK. Jack!
JACK. Well, Mother, I--I don't know what you do want.
MRS. BARTHWICK. We want you to speak the truth and say you never let this low man into the house.
BARTHWICK. Of course if you think that you really gave this man whisky in that disgraceful way, and let him see what you'd been doing, and were in such a disgusting condition that you don't remember a word of it----
ROPER. [Quick.] I've no memory myself--never had.
BARTHWICK. [Desperately.] I don't know what you're to say.
ROPER. [To JACK.] Say nothing at all! Don't put yourself in a false position. The man stole the things or the woman stole the things, you had nothing to do with it. You were asleep on the sofa.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Your leaving the latch-key in the door was quite bad enough, there's no need to mention anything else. [Touching his forehead softly.] My dear, how hot your head is!
JACK. But I want to know what I 'm to do. [Passionately.] I won't be badgered like this.
[MRS. BARTHWICK recoils from him.]
ROPER. [Very quickly.] You forget all about it. You were asleep.
JACK. Must I go down to the Court to-morrow?
ROPER. [Shaking his head.] No.
BARTHWICK. [In a relieved voice.] Is that so?
BARTHWICK. But you'll go, Roper.
JACK. [With wan cheerfulness.] Thanks, awfully! So long as I don't have to go. [Putting his hand up to his head.] I think if you'll excuse me--I've had a most beastly day. [He looks from his father to his mother.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Turning quickly.] Goodnight, my boy.
JACK. Good-night, Mother.
[He goes out. MRS. BARTHWICK heaves a sigh. There is a silence.]
BARTHWICK. He gets off too easily. But for my money that woman would have prosecuted him.
ROPER. You find money useful.
BARTHWICK. I've my doubts whether we ought to hide the truth----
ROPER. There'll be a remand.
BARTHWICK. What! D' you mean he'll have to appear on the remand.
BARTHWICK. H'm, I thought you'd be able to----Look here, Roper, you must keep that purse out of the papers.
[ROPER fixes his little eyes on him and nods.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. Mr. Roper, don't you think the magistrate ought to be told what sort of people these Jones's are; I mean about their immorality before they were married. I don't know if John told you.
ROPER. Afraid it's not material.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Not material?
ROPER. Purely private life! May have happened to the magistrate.
BARTHWICK. [With a movement as if to shift a burden.] Then you'll take the thing into your hands?
ROPER. If the gods are kind. [He holds his hand out.]
BARTHWICK. [Shaking it dubiously.] Kind eh? What? You going?
ROPER. Yes. I've another case, something like yours--most unexpected.
[He bows to MRS. BARTHWICK, and goes out, followed by BARTHWICK, talking to the last. MRS. BARTHWICK at the table bursts into smothered sobs. BARTHWICK returns.]
BARTHWICK. [To himself.] There'll be a scandal!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Disguising her grief at once.] I simply can't imagine what Roper means by making a joke of a thing like that!
BARTHWICK. [Staring strangely.] You! You can't imagine anything! You've no more imagination than a fly!
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Angrily.] You dare to tell me that I have no imagination.
BARTHWICK. [Flustered.] I--I 'm upset. From beginning to end, the whole thing has been utterly against my principles.
MRS. BARTHWICK. Rubbish! You have n't any! Your principles are nothing in the world but sheer fright!
BARTHWICK. [Walking to the window.] I've never been frightened in my life. You heard what Roper said. It's enough to upset one when a thing like this happens. Everything one says and does seems to turn in one's mouth--it's--it's uncanny. It's not the sort of thing I've been accustomed to. [As though stifling, he throws the window open. The faint sobbing of a child comes in.] What's that?
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Sharply.] I can't stand that crying. I must send Marlow to stop it. My nerves are all on edge. [She rings the bell.]
BARTHWICK. I'll shut the window; you'll hear nothing. [He shuts the window. There is silence.]
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Sharply.] That's no good! It's on my nerves. Nothing upsets me like a child's crying.
[MARLOW comes in.]
What's that noise of crying, Marlow? It sounds like a child.
BARTHWICK. It is a child. I can see it against the railings.
MARLOW. [Opening the window, and looking out quietly.] It's Mrs. Jones's little boy, ma'am; he came here after his mother.
MRS. BARTHWICK. [Moving quickly to the window.] Poor little chap! John, we ought n't to go on with this!
BARTHWICK. [Sitting heavily in a chair.] Ah! but it's out of our hands!
[MRS. BARTHWICK turns her back to the window. There is an expression of distress on hey face. She stands motionless, compressing her lips. The crying begins again. BARTHWICK coveys his ears with his hands, and MARLOW shuts the window. The crying ceases.]
The curtain falls.