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Act III

SCENE I:


HILLCRIST'S study next morning.

JILL coming from Left, looks in at the open French window.

JILL. [Speaking to ROLF, invisible] Come in here. There's no one.

[She goes in. ROLF joins her, coming from the garden.]

ROLF. Jill, I just wanted to say--Need we?

[JILL. nodes.]

Seeing you yesterday--it did seem rotten.

JILL. We didn't begin it.

ROLF. No; but you don't understand. If you'd made yourself, as father has----

JILL. I hope I should be sorry.

ROLF. [Reproachfully] That isn't like you. Really he can't help thinking he's a public benefactor.

JILL. And we can't help thinking he's a pig. Sorry!

ROLF. If the survival of the fittest is right----

JILL. He may be fitter, but he's not going to survive.

ROLF. [Distracted] It looks like it, though.

JILL. Is that all you came to say?

ROLF. Suppose we joined, couldn't we stop it?

JILL. I don't feel like joining.

ROLF. We did shake hands.

JILL. One can't fight and not grow bitter.

ROLF. I don't feel bitter.

JILL. Wait; you'll feel it soon enough.

ROLF. Why? [Attentively] About Chloe? I do think your mother's manner to her is----

JILL. Well?

ROLF. Snobbish. [JILL laughs.] She may not be your class; and that's just why it's snobbish.

JILL. I think you'd better shut up.

ROLF. What my father said was true; your mother's rudeness to her that day she came here, has made both him and Charlie ever so much more bitter.

[JILL whistles the Habanera from "Carmen."]

[Staring at her, rather angrily]

Is it a whistling matter?

JILL. No.

ROLF. I suppose you want me to go?

JILL. Yes.

ROLF. All right. Aren't we ever going to be friends again?

JILL. [Looking steadily at him] I don't expect so.

ROLF. That's very-horrible.

JILL. Lots of horrible things in the world.

ROLF. It's our business to make them fewer, Jill.

JILL. [Fiercely] Don't be moral.

ROLF. [Hurt] That's the last thing I want to be.--I only want to be friendly.

JILL. Better be real first.

ROLF. From the big point of view----

JILL. There isn't any. We're all out, for our own. And why not?

ROLF. By jove, you have got----

JILL. Cynical? Your father's motto--"Every man for himself." That's the winner--hands down. Goodbye!

ROLF. Jill! Jill!

JILL. [Putting her hands behind her back, hums]-- "If auld acquaintance be forgot And days of auld lang syne"----

ROLF. Don't!

[With a pained gesture he goes out towards Left, through the French window.]

[JILL, who has broken off the song, stands with her hands clenched and her lips quivering.]

[FELLOWS enters Left.]

FELLOWS. Mr. Dawker, Miss, and two gentlemen.

JILL. Let the three gentlemen in, and me out.

[She passes him and goes out Left. And immediately. DAWKER and the two STRANGERS come in.]

FELLOWS. I'll inform Mrs. Hillcrist, sir. The Squire is on his rounds. [He goes out Left.]

[The THREE MEN gather in a discreet knot at the big bureau, having glanced at the two doors and the open French window.]

DAWKER. Now this may come into Court, you know. If there's a screw loose anywhere, better mention it. [To SECOND STRANGE] You knew her personally?

SECOND S. What do you think? I don't, take girls on trust for that sort of job. She came to us highly recommended, too; and did her work very well. It was a double stunt--to make sure--wasn't it, George?

FIRST S. Yes; we paid her for the two visits.

SECOND S. I should know her in a minute; striking looking girl; had something in her face. Daresay she'd seen hard times.

FIRST S. We don't want publicity.

DAWKER. Not Likely. The threat'll do it; but the stakes are heavy --and the man's a slugger; we must be able to push it home. If you can both swear to her, it'll do the trick.

SECOND S. And about--I mean, we're losing time, you know, coming down here.

DAWKER. [With a nod at FIRST STRANGER] George here knows me. That'll be all right. I'll guarantee it well worth your while.

SECOND S. I don't want to do the girl harm, if she's married.

DAWKER. No, no; nobody wants to hurt her. We just want a cinch on this fellow till he squeals.

[They separate a little as MRS. HILLCRIST enters from Right.]

DAWKER. Good morning, ma'am. My friend's partner. Hornblower coming?

MRS. H. At eleven. I had to send up a second note, Dawker.

DAWKER. Squire not in?

MRS. H. I haven't told him.

DAWKER. [Nodding] Our friends might go in here [Pointing Right] and we can use 'em as the want 'em.

MRS. H. [To the STRANGERS] Will you make yourselves comfortable?

[She holds the door open, and they pass her into the room, Right.]

DAWKER. [Showing document] I've had this drawn and engrossed. Pretty sharp work. Conveys the Centry, and Longmeadow; to the Squire at four thousand five hundred: Now, ma'am, suppose Hornblower puts his hand to that, hell have been done in the eye, and six thousand all told out o' pocket.--You'll have a very nasty neighbour here.

MRS. H. But we shall still have the power to disclose that secret at any time.

DAWKER. Yeh! But things might happen here you could never bring home to him. You can't trust a man like that. He isn't goin' to forgive me, I know.

MRS. H. [Regarding him keenly] But if he signs, we couldn't honourably----

DAWKER. No, ma'am, you couldn't; and I'm sure I don't want to do that girl a hurt. I just mention it because, of course, you can't guarantee that it doesn't get out.

MRS. H. Not absolutely, I suppose.

[A look passes between them, which neither of them has quite sanctioned.]

[There's his car. It always seems to make more noise than any other.]

DAWKER. He'll kick and flounder--but you leave him to ask what you want, ma'am; don't mention this [He puts the deed back into his pocket]. The Centry's no mortal good to him if he's not going to put up works; I should say he'd be glad to save what he can.

[MRS. HILLCRIST inclines her head. FELLOWS enters Left.]

FELLOWS. [Apologetically] Mr. Hornblower, ma'am; by appointment, he says.

MRS. H. Quite right, Fellows.

[HORNBLOWER comes in, and FELLOWS goes out.]

HORNBLOWER. [Without salutation] I've come to ask ye point bleak what ye mean by writing me these letters. [He takes out two letters.] And we'll discus it in the presence of nobody, if ye, please.

MRS. H. Mr. Dawker knows all that I know, and more.

HORNBLOWER. Does he? Very well! Your second note says that my daughter-in-law has lied to me. Well, I've brought her, and what ye've got to say--if it's not just a trick to see me again--ye'll say to her face. [He takes a step towards the window.]

MRS. H. Mr. Hornblower, you had better, decide that after hearing what it is--we shall be quite ready to repeat it in her presence; but we want to do as little harm as possible.

HORNBLOWER. [Stopping] Oh! ye do! Well, what lies have ye been hearin'? Or what have ye made up? You and Mr. Dawker? Of course ye know there's a law of libel and slander. I'm, not the man to stop at that.

MRS. H. [Calmly] Are you familiar with the law of divorce, Mr. Hornblower?

HORNBLOWER. [Taken aback] No, I'm not. That is-----.

MRS. H. Well, you know that misconduct is required. And I suppose you've heard that cases are arranged.

HORNBLOWER. I know it's all very shocking--what about it?

MRS. H. When cases are arranged, Mr. Hornblower, the man who is to be divorced often visits an hotel with a strange woman. I am extremely sorry to say that your daughter-in-law, before her marriage, was in the habit of being employed as such a woman.

HORNBLOWER. Ye dreadful creature!

DAWKER. [Quickly] All proved, up to the hilt!

HORNBLOWER. I don't believe a word of it. Ye're lyin' to save your skins. How dare ye tell me such monstrosities? Dawker, I'll have ye in a criminal court.

DAWKER. Rats! You saw a gent with me yesterday? Well, he's employed her.

HORNBLOWER. A put-up job! Conspiracy!

MRS. H. Go and get your daughter-in-law.

HORNBLOWER. [With the first sensation of being in a net] It's a foul shame--a lying slander!

MRS. H. If so, it's easily disproved. Go and fetch her.

HORNBLOWER. [Seeing them unmoved] I will. I don't believe a word of it.

MRS. H. I hope you are right.

[HORNBLOWER goes out by the French window, DAWKER slips to the door Right, opens it, and speaks to those within. MRS. HILLCRIST stands moistening her lips, and passim her handkerchief over them. HORNBLOWER returns, preceding CHLOE, strung up to hardness and defiance.]

HORNBLOWER. Now then, let's have this impudent story torn to rags.

CHLOE. What story?

HORNBLOWER. That you, my dear, were a woman--it's too shockin--I don't know how to tell ye----

CHLOE. Go on!

HORNBLOWER. Were a woman that went with men, to get them their divorce.

CHLOE. Who says that?

HORNBLOWER. That lady [Sneering] there, and her bull-terrier here.

CHLOE. [Facing MRS. HILLCRIST] That's a charitable thing to say, isn't it?

MRS. H. Is it true?

CHLOE. No.

HORNBLOWER. [Furiously] There! I'll have ye both on your knees to her!

DAWKER. [Opening the door, Right] Come in.

[The FIRST STRANGER comes in. CHLOE, with a visible effort, turns to face him.]

FIRST S. How do you do, Mrs. Vane?

CHLOE. I don't know you.

FIRST S. Your memory is bad, ma'am: You knew me yesterday well enough. One day is not a long time, nor are three years.

CHLOE. Who are you?

FIRST S. Come, ma'am, come! The Caster case.

CHLOE. I don't know you, I say. [To MRS. HILLCRIST] How can you be so vile?

FIRST S. Let me refresh your memory, ma'am. [Producing a notebook] Just on three years ago; "Oct.3. To fee and expenses Mrs. Vane with Mr. C----, Hotel Beaulieu, Twenty pounds. Oct. 10, Do., Twenty pounds." [To HORNBLOWER] Would you like to glance at this book, sir? You'll see they're genuine entries.

[HORNBLOWER makes a motion to do so, but checks himself and looks at CHLOE.]

CHLOE. [Hysterically] It's all lies--lies!

FIRST S. Come, ma'am, we wish you no harm.

CHLOE. Take me away. I won't be treated like this.

MRS. H. [In a low voice] Confess.

CHLOE. Lies!

HORNBLOWER. Were ye ever called Vane?

CHLOE. No, never.

[She makes a movement towards the window, but DAWKER is in the way, and she halts. FIRST S. [Opening the door, Right] Henry.]

[The SECOND STRANGER comes in quickly. At sight of him CHLOE throws up her hands, gasps, breaks down, stage Left, and stands covering her face with her hands. It is so complete a confession that HORNBLOWER stands staggered; and, taking out a coloured handkerchief, wipes his brow.]

DAWKER. Are you convinced?

HORNBLOWER. Take those men away.

DAWKER. If you're not satisfied, we can get other evidence; plenty.

HORNBLOWER. [Looking at CHLOE] That's enough. Take them out. Leave me alone with her.

[DAWKER takes them out Right. MRS. HILLCRIST passes HORNBLOWER and goes out at the window. HORNBLOWER moves down a step or two towards CHLOE.]

HORNBLOWER. My God!

CHLOE. [With an outburst] Don't tell Charlie! Don't tell Charlie!

HORNBLOWER. Chearlie! So, that was your manner of life.

[CHLOE utters a moaning sound.]

So that's what ye got out of by marryin' into my family! Shame on ye, ye Godless thing!

CHLOE. Don't tell Charlie!

HORNBLOWER. And that's all ye can say for the wreck ye've wrought. My family, my works, my future! How dared ye!

CHLOE. If you'd been me!----

HORNBLOWER. An' these Hillcrists. The skin game of it!

CHLOE. [Breathless] Father!

HORNBLOWER. Don't call me that, woman!

CHLOE. [Desperate] I'm going to have a child.

HORNBLOWER. God! Ye are!

CHLOE. Your grandchild. For the sake of it, do what these people want; and don't tell anyone--DON'T TELL CHARLIE!

HORNBLOWER. [Again wiping his forehead] A secret between us. I don't know that I can keep it. It's horrible. Poor Chearlie!

CHLOE. [Suddenly fierce] You must keep it, you shall! I won't have him told. Don't make me desperate! I can be--I didn't live that life for nothing.

HORNBLOWER. [Staring at her resealed in a new light] Ay; ye look a strange, wild woman, as I see ye. And we thought the world of ye!

CHLOE. I love Charlie; I'm faithful to him. I can't live without him. You'll never forgive me, I know; but Charlie----! [Stretching out her hands.]

[HORNBLOWER makes a bewildered gesture with his large hands.]

HORNBLOWER. I'm all at sea here. Go out to the car and wait for me.

[CHLOE passes him and goes out, Left.]

[Muttering to himself] So I'm down! Me enemies put their heels upon me head! Ah! but we'll see yet!

[He goes up to the window and beckons towards the Right.]

[MRS. HILLCRIST comes in.]

What d'ye want for this secret?

MRS. H. Nothing.

HORNBLOWER. Indeed! Wonderful!--the trouble ye've taken for-- nothing.

MRS. H. If you harm us we shall harm you. Any use whatever of the Centry.

HORNBLOWER. For which ye made me pay nine thousand five hundred pounds.

MRS. H. We will buy it from you.

HORNBLOWER. At what price?

MRS. H. The Centry at the price Miss Muffins would have taken at first, and Longmeadow at the price you--gave us--four thousand five hundred altogether.

HORNBLOWER. A fine price, and me six thousand out of pocket. Na, no! I'll keep it and hold it over ye. Ye daren't tell this secret so long as I've got it.

MRS. H. No, Mr. Hornblower. On second thoughts, you must sell. You broke your word over the Jackmans. We can't trust you. We would rather have our place here ruined at once, than leave you the power to ruin it as and when you like. You will sell us the Centry and Longmeadow now, or you know what will happen.

HORNBLOWER. [Writhing] I'll not. It's blackmail.

MRS. H. Very well then! Go your own way and we'll go ours. There is no witness to this conversation.

HORNBLOWER. [Venomously] By heaven, ye're a clever woman. Will ye swear by Almighty God that you and your family, and that agent of yours, won't breathe a word of this shockin' thing to mortal soul.

MRS. H. Yes, if you sell.

HORNBLOWER. Where's Dawker?

MRS. H. [Going to the door, Right] Mr. Dawker

[DAWKER comes in.]

HORNBLOWER. I suppose ye've got your iniquity ready.

[DAWKER grins and produces the document.]

It's mighty near conspiracy, this. Have ye got a Testament?

MRS. H. My word will be enough, Mr. Hornblower.

HORNBLOWER. Ye'll pardon me--I can't make it solemn enough for you.

MRS. H. Very well; here is a Bible.

[She takes a small Bible from the bookshelf.]

DAWKER. [Spreading document on bureau] This is a short conveyance of the Centry and Longmeadow--recites sale to you by Miss Mulling, of the first, John Hillcrist of the second, and whereas you have agreed for the sale to said John Hillcrist, for the sum of four thousand five hundred pounds, in consideration of the said sum, receipt whereof, you hereby acknowledge you do convey all that, etc. Sign here. I'll witness.

HORNBLOWER [To MRS. HILLCRIST] Take that Book in your hand, and swear first. I swear by Almighty God never to breathe a word of what I know concerning Chloe Hornblower to any living soul.

MRS. H. No, Mr. Hornblower; you will please sign first. We are not in the habit of breaking our word.

[HORNBLOWER after a furious look at them, seizes a pen, runs his eye again over the deed, and signs, DAWKER witnessing.]

To that oath, Mr. Hornblower, we shall add the words, "So long as the Hornblower family do us no harm."

HORNBLOWER. [With a snarl] Take it in your hands, both of ye, and together swear.

MRS. H. [Taking the Book] I swear that I will breathe no word of what I know concerning Chloe Hornblower to any living soul, so long as the Hornblower family do us no harm.

DAWKER. I swear that too.

MRS. H. I engage for my husband.

HORNBLOWER. Where are those two fellows?

DAWKER. Gone. It's no business of theirs.

HORNBLOWER. It's no business of any of ye what has happened to a woman in the past. Ye know that. Good-day!

[He gives them a deadly look, and goes out, left, followed by DAWKER.]

MRS. H. [With her hand on the Deed] Safe!

[HILLCRIST enters at the French window, followed by JILL.]

[Holding up the Deed] Look! He's just gone! I told you it was only necessary to use the threat. He caved in and signed this; we are sworn to say nothing. We've beaten him.

[HILLCRIST studies the Deed.]

JILL. [Awed] We saw Chloe in the car. How did she take it, mother?

MRS. H. Denied, then broke down when she saw our witnesses. I'm glad you were not here, Jack.

JILL. [Suddenly] I shall go and see her.

MRS. H. Jill, you will not; you don't know what she's done.

JILL. I shall. She must be in an awful state.

HILLCRIST. My dear, you can do her no good.

JILL. I think I can, Dodo.

MRS. H. You don't understand human nature. We're enemies for life with those people. You're a little donkey if you think anything else.

JILL. I'm going, all the same.

MRS. H. Jack, forbid her.

HILLCRIST. [Lifting an eyebrow] Jill, be reasonable.

JILL. Suppose I'd taken a knock like that, Dodo, I'd be glad of friendliness from someone.

MRS. H. You never could take a knock like that.

JILL. You don't know what you can do till you try, mother.

HILLCRIST. Let her go, Amy. Im sorry for that young woman.

MRS. H. You'd be sorry for a man who picked your pocket, I believe.

HILLCRIST. I certainly should! Deuced little he'd get out of it, when I've paid for the Centry.

MRS. H. [Bitterly] Much gratitude I get for saving you both our home!

JILL. [Disarmed] Oh! Mother, we are grateful. Dodo, show your gratitude.

HILLCRIST. Well, my dear, it's an intense relief. I'm not good at showing my feelings, as you know. What d'you want me to do? Stand on one leg and crow?

JILL. Yes, Dodo, yes! Mother, hold him while I [Suddenly she stops, and all the fun goes out of her] No! I can't--I can't help thinking of her.


CURTAIN falls for a minute.



SCENE II:


When it rises again, the room is empty and dark, same for moonlight coming in through the French window, which is open.

The figure of CHLOE, in a black cloak, appears outside in the moonlight; she peers in, moves past, comes bank, hesitatingly enters. The cloak, fallen back, reveals a white evening dress; and that magpie figure stands poised watchfully in the dim light, then flaps unhappily Left and Right, as if she could not keep still. Suddenly she stands listening.


ROLF'S VOICE. [Outside] Chloe! Chloe!

[He appears]

CHLOE. [Going to the window] What are you doing here?

ROLF. What are you? I only followed you.

CHLOE. Go away.

ROLF. What's the matter? Tell me!

CHLOE. Go away, and don't say anything. Oh! The roses! [She has put her nose into some roses in a bowl on a big stand close to the window] Don't they smell lovely?

ROLF. What did Jill want this afternoon?

CHLOE. I'll tell you nothing. Go away!

ROLF. I don't like leaving you here in this state.

CHLOE. What state? I'm all right. Wait for me down in the drive, if you want to.

[ROLF starts to go, stops, looks at her, and does go. CHLOE, with a little moaning sound, flutters again, magpie-like, up and down, then stands by the window listening. Voices are heard, Left. She darts out of the window and away to the Right, as HILLCRIST and JILL come in. They have turned up the electric light, and come down in frond of the fireplace, where HILLCRIST sits in an armchair, and JILL on the arm of it. They are in undress evening attire.]

HILLCRIST. Now, tell me.

JILL. There isn't much, Dodo. I was in an awful funk for fear I should meet any of the others, and of course I did meet Rolf, but I told him some lie, and he took me to her room-boudoir, they call it --isn't boudoir a "dug-out" word?

HILLCRIST. [Meditatively] The sulking room. Well?

JILL. She was sitting like this. [She buries her chin in her hands, wide her elbows on her knees] And she said in a sort of fierce way: "What do you want?" And I said: "I'm awfully sorry, but I thought you might like it."

HILLCRIST. Well?

JILL. She looked at me hard, and said: "I suppose you know all about it." And I Said: "Only vaguely," because of course I don't. And she said: "Well, it was decent of you to come." Dodo, she looks like a lost soul. What has she done?

HILLCRIST. She committed her real crime when she married young Hornblower without telling him. She came out of a certain world to do it.

JILL. Oh! [Staring in front of her] Is it very awful in that world, Dodo?

HILLCRIST. [Uneasy] I don't know, Jill. Some can stand it, I suppose; some can't. I don't know which sort she is.

JILL. One thing I'm sure of: she's awfully fond of Chearlie.

HILLCRIST. That's bad; that's very bad.

JILL. And she's frightened, horribly. I think she's desperate.

HILLCRIST. Women like that are pretty tough, Jill; don't judge her too much by your own feelings.

JILL. No; only----Oh! it was beastly; and of course I dried up.

HILLCRIST. [Feelingly] H'm! One always does. But perhaps it was as well; you'd have been blundering in a dark passage.

JILL. I just said: "Father and I feel awfully sorry; if there's anything we can do----"

HILLCRIST. That was risky, Jill.

JILL. (Disconsolately) I had to say something. I'm glad I went, anyway. I feel more human.

HILLCRIST. We had to fight for our home. I should have felt like a traitor if I hadn't.

JILL. I'm not enjoying home tonight, Dodo.

HILLCRIST. I never could hate proper; it's a confounded nuisance.

JILL. Mother's fearfully' bucked, and Dawker's simply oozing triumph. I don't trust him. Dodo; he's too--not pugilistic--the other one with a pug-naceous.

HILLCRIST. He is rather.

JILL. I'm sure he wouldn't care tuppence if Chloe committed suicide.

HILLCRIST. [Rising uneasily] Nonsense! Nonsense!

JILL. I wonder if mother would.

HILLCRIST. [Turning his face towards the window] What's that? I thought I heard--[Louder]--Is these anybody out there?

[No answer. JILL, springs up and runs to the window.]

JILL. You!

[She dives through to the Right, and returns, holding CHLOE'S hand and drawing her forward]

Come in! It's only us! [To HILLCRIST] Dodo!

HILLCRIST. [Flustered, but making a show of courtesy] Good evening! Won't you sit down?

JILL. Sit down; you're all shaky.

[She makes CHLOE sit down in the armchair, out of which they have risen, then locks the door, and closing the windows, draws the curtains hastily over them.]

HILLCRIST. [Awkward and expectant] Can I do anything for you?

CHLOE. I couldn't bear it he's coming to ask you----

HILLCRIST. Who?

CHLOE. My husband. [She draws in her breath with a long shudder, then seem to seize her courage in her hands] I've got to be quick. He keeps on asking--he knows there's something.

HILLCRIST. Make your mind easy. We shan't tell him.

CHLOE. [Appealing] Oh! that's not enough. Can't you tell him something to put him back to thinking it's all right? I've done him such a wrong. I didn't realise till after--I thought meeting him was just a piece of wonderful good luck, after what I'd been through. I'm not such a bad lot--not really.

[She stops from the over-quivering of her lips. JILL, standing beside the chair, strokes her shoulder. HILLCRIST stands very still, painfully biting at a finger.]

You see, my father went bankrupt, and I was in a shop----

HILLCRIST. [Soothingly, and to prevent disclosures] Yes, yes; Yes, yes!

CHLOE. I never gave a man away or did anything I was ashamed of--at least--I mean, I had to make my living in all sorts of ways, and then I met Charlie.

[Again she stopped from the quivering of her lips.]

JILL. It's all right.

CHLOE. He thought I was respectable, and that was such a relief, you can't think, so--so I let him.

JILL. Dodo! It's awful

HILLCRIST. It is!

CHLOE. And after I married him, you see, I fell in love. If I had before, perhaps I wouldn't have dared only, I don't know--you never know, do you? When there's a straw going, you catch at it.

JILL. Of course you do.

CHLOE. And now, you see, I'm going to have a child.

JILL. [Aghast] Oh! Are you?

HILLCRIST. Good God!

CHLOE. [Dully] I've been on hot bricks all this month, ever since that day here. I knew it was in the wind. What gets in the wind never gets out. [She rises and throws out her arms] Never! It just blows here and there [Desolately] and then--blows home. [Her voice changes to resentment] But I've paid for being a fool-- 'tisn't fun, that sort of life, I can tell you. I'm not ashamed and repentant, and all that. If it wasn't for him! I'm afraid he'll never forgive me; it's such a disgrace for him--and then, to have his child! Being fond of him, I feel it much worse than anything I ever felt, and that's saying a good bit. It is.

JILL. [Energetically] Look here! He simply mustn't find out.

CHLOE. That's it; but it's started, and he's bound to keep on because he knows there's something. A man isn't going to be satisfied when there's something he suspects about his wife, Charlie wouldn't never. He's clever, and he's jealous; and he's coming here.

[She stops, and looks round wildly, listening.]

JILL. Dodo, what can we say to put him clean off the scent?

HILLCRIST. Anything--in reason.

CHLOE. [Catching at this straw] You will! You see, I don't know what I'll do. I've got soft, being looked after--he does love me. And if he throws me off, I'll go under--that's all.

HILLCRIST. Have you any suggestion?

CHLOE. [Eagerly] The only thing is to tell him something positive, something he'll believe, that's not too bad--like my having been a lady clerk with those people who came here, and having been dismissed on suspicion of taking money. I could get him to believe that wasn't true.

JILL. Yes; and it isn't--that's splendid! You'd be able to put such conviction into it. Don't you think so, Dodo?

HILLCRIST. Anything I can. I'm deeply sorry.

CHLOE. Thank you. And don't say I've been here, will you? He's very suspicious. You see, he knows that his father has re-sold that land to you; that's what he can't make out--that, and my coming here this morning; he knows something's being kept from him; and he noticed that man with Dawker yesterday. And my maid's been spying on me. It's in the air. He puts two and two together. But I've told him there's nothing he need worry about; nothing that's true.

HILLCRIST. What a coil!

CHLOE. I'm very honest and careful about money. So he won't believe that about me, and the old man wants to keep it from Charlie, I know.

HILLCRIST. That does seem the best way out.

CHLOE. [With a touch of defiance] I'm a true wife to him.

CHLOE. Of course we know that.

HILLCRIST. It's all unspeakably sad. Deception's horribly against the grain--but----

CHLOE. [Eagerly] When I deceived him, I'd have deceived God Himself--I was so desperate. You've never been right down in the mud. You can't understand what I've been through.

HILLCRIST. Yes, Yes. I daresay I'd have done the same. I should be the last to judge.

[CHLOE covers her eyes with her hands.]

There, there! Cheer up! [He puts his hand on her arm.]

CHLOE. [To herself] Darling Dodo!

CHLOE. [Starting] There's somebody at the door. I must go; I must go.

[She runs to the window and slips through the curtains.]

[The handle of the door is again turned.]

JILL. [Dismayed] Oh! It's locked--I forgot.

[She spring to the door, unlocks and opens it, while HILLCRIST goes to the bureau and sits down.]

It's all right, Fellows; I was only saying something rather important.

FELLOWS. [Coming in a step or two and closing the door behind him] Certainly, Miss. Mr. Charles 'Ornblower is in the hall. Wants to see you, sir, or Mrs. Hillcrist.

JILL. What a bore! Can you see him, Dodo?

HILLCRIST. Er--yes. I suppose so. Show him in here, Fellows.

[As FELLOWS goes out, JILL runs to the window, but has no time to do more than adjust the curtains and spring over to stand by her father, before CHARLES comes in. Though in evening clothes, he is white and disheveled for so spruce a young mean.]

CHARLES. Is my wife here?

HILLCRIST. No, sir.

CHARLES. Has she been?

HILLCRIST. This morning, I believe, Jill?

JILL. Yes, she came this morning.

CHARLES. [staring at her] I know that--now, I mean?

JILL. No.

[HILLCRIST shakes has head.]

CHARLES. Tell me what was said this morning.

HILLCRIST. I was not here this morning.

CHARLES. Don't try to put me off. I know too much. [To JILL] You.

JILL. Shall I, Dodo?

HILLCRIST. No; I will. Won't you sit down?

CHARLES. No. Go on.

HILLCRIST. [Moistening his lips] It appears, Mr. Hornblower, that my agent, Mr. Dawker--

[CHARLES, who is breathing hard, utters a sound of anger.]

--that my agent happens to know a firm, who in old days employed your wife. I should greatly prefer not to say any more, especially as we don't believe the story.

JILL. No; we don't.

CHARLES. Go on!

HILLCRIST. [Getting up] Come! If I were you, I should refuse to listen to anything against my wife.

CHARLES. Go on, I tell you.

HILLCRIST. You insist? Well, they say there was some question about the accounts, and your wife left them under a cloud. As I told you, we don't believe it.

CHARLES. [Passionately] Liars!

[He makes a rush for the door.]

HILLCRIST. [Starting] What did you say?

JILL. [Catching his arm] Dodo! [Sotto voce] We are, you know.

CHARLES. [Turning back to them] Why do you tell me that lie? When I've just had the truth out of that little scoundrel! My wife's been here; she put you up to it.

[The face of CHLOE is seen transfixed between the curtains, parted by her hands.]

She--she put you up to it. Liar that she is--a living lie. For three years a living lie!

[HILLCRIST whose face alone is turned towards the curtains, sees that listening face. His hand goes up from uncontrollable emotion.]

And hasn't now the pluck to tell me. I've done with her. I won't own a child by such a woman.

[With a little sighing sound CHLOE drops the curtain and vanishes.]

HILLCRIST. For God's sake, man, think of what you're saying. She's in great distress.

CHARLES. And what am I?

JILL. She loves you, you know.

CHARLES. Pretty love! That scoundrel Dawker told me--told me-- Horrible! Horrible!

HILLCRIST. I deeply regret that our quarrel should have brought this about.

CHARLES. [With intense bitterness] Yes, you've smashed my life.

[Unseen by them, MRS. HILLCRIST has entered and stands by the door, Left.]

MRS. H. Would you have wished to live on in ignorance? [They all turn to look at her.]

CHARLES. [With a writhing movement] I don't know. But--you--you did it.

MRS. H. You shouldn't have attacked us.

CHARLES. What did we do to you--compared with this?

MRS. H. All you could.

HILLCRIST. Enough, enough! What can we do to help you?

CHARLES. Tell me where my wife is.

[JILL draws the curtains apart--the window is open--JILL looks out. They wait in silence.]

JILL. We don't know.

CHARLES. Then she was here?

HILLCRIST. Yes, sir; and she heard you.

CHARLES. All the better if she did. She knows how I feel.

HILLCRIST. Brace up; be gentle with her.

CHARLES. Gentle? A woman who--who----

HILLCRIST. A most unhappy creature. Come!

CHARLES. Damn your sympathy!

[He goes out into the moonlight, passing away.]

JILL. Dodo, we ought to look for her; I'm awfully afraid.

HILLCRIST. I saw her there--listening. With child! Who knows where things end when they and begin? To the gravel pit, Jill; I'll go to the pond. No, we'll go together. [They go out.]

[MRS. HILLCRIST comes down to the fireplace, rings the bell and stands there, thinking. FELLOWS enters.]

MRS. H. I want someone to go down to Mr. Dawker's.

FELLOWS. Mr. Dawker is here, ma'am, waitin' to see you.

MRS. H. Ask him to come in. Oh! and Fellows, you can tell the Jackmans that they can go back to their cottage.

FELLOWS. Very good, ma'am. [He goes out.]

[MRS. HILLCRIST searches at the bureau, finds and takes out the deed. DAWKERS comes in; he has the appearance of a man whose temper has been badly ruffled.]

MRS. H. Charles Hornblower--how did it happen?

DAWKER. He came to me. I said I knew nothing. He wouldn't take it; went for me, abused me up hill and down dale; said he knew everything, and then he began to threaten me. Well, I lost my temper, and I told him.

MRS. H. That's very serious, Dawker, after our promise. My husband is most upset.

DAWKER. [Sullenly] It's not my fault, ma'am; he shouldn't have threatened and goaded me on. Besides, it's got out that there's a scandal; common talk in the village--not the facts, but quite enough to cook their goose here. They'll have to go. Better have done with it, anyway, than have enemies at your door.

MRS. H. Perhaps; but--Oh! Dawker, take charge of this. [She hands him the deed] These people are desperate--and--I'm sot sure of my husband when his feelings are worked on.

[The sound of a car stopping.]

DAWKER. [At the window, looking to the Left] Hornblower's, I think. Yes, he's getting out.

MRS. H. [Bracing herself] You'd better wait, then.

DAWKER. He mustn't give me any of his sauce; I've had enough.

[The door is opened and HORNBLOWER enters, pressing so on the heels of FELLOWS that the announcement of his name is lost.]

HORNBLOWER. Give me that deed! Ye got it out of me by false pretences and treachery. Ye swore that nothing should be heard of this. Why! me own servants know.

MRS. H. That has nothing to do with us. Your son came and wrenched the knowledge out of Mr. DAWKER by abuse and threats; that is all. You will kindly behave yourself here, or I shall ask that you be shown out.

HORNBLOWER. Give me that deed, I say! [He suddenly turns on DAWKER] Ye little ruffian, I see it in your pocket.

[The end indeed is projecting from DAWKER'S breast pocket.]

DAWKER. [Seeing red] Now, look 'ere, 'Ornblower, I stood a deal from your son, and I'll stand no more.

HORNBLOWER. [To MRS. HILLCRIST] I'll ruin your place yet! [To DAWKER] Ye give me that deed, or I'll throttle ye.

[He closes on DAWKER, and makes a snatch at the deed. DAWKER, springs at him, and the two stand swaying, trying for a grip at each other's throats. MRS. HILLCRIST tries to cross and reach the bell, but is shut off by their swaying struggle.]

[Suddenly ROLF appears in the window, looks wildly at the struggle, and seizes DAWKER'S hands, which have reached HORNBLOWER'S throat. JILL, who is following, rushes up to him and clutches his arm.]

JILL. Rolf! All of you! Stop! Look!

[DAWKER'S hand relaxes, and he is swung round. HORNBLOWER staggers and recovers himself, gasping for breath. All turn to the window, outside which in the moonlight HILLCRIST and CHARLES HORNBLOWER have CHLOE'S motionless body in their arms.]

In the gravel pit. She's just breathing; that's all.

MRS. H. Bring her in. The brandy, Jill!

HORNBLOWER. No. Take her to the car. Stand back, young woman! I want no help from any of ye. Rolf--Chearlie--take her up.

[They lift and bear her away, Left. JILL follows.]

Hillcrist, ye've got me beaten and disgraced hereabouts, ye've destroyed my son's married life, and ye've killed my grandchild. I'm not staying in this cursed spot, but if ever I can do you or yours a hurt, I will.

DAWKER. [Muttering] That's right. Squeal and threaten. You began it.

HILLCRIST. Dawker, have the goodness! Hornblower, in the presence of what may be death, with all my heart I'm sorry.

HORNBLOWER. Ye hypocrite!

[He passes them with a certain dignity, and goes out at the window, following to his car.]

[HILLCRIST who has stood for a moment stock-still, goes slowly forward and sits in his swivel chair.]

MRS. H. Dawker, please tell Fellows to telephone to Dr. Robinson to go round to the Hornblowers at once.

[DAWKER, fingering the deed, and with a noise that sounds like "The cur!" goes out, Left.]

[At the fireplace]

Jack! Do you blame me?

HILLCRIST. [Motionless] No.

MRS. H. Or Dawker? He's done his best.

HILLCRIST. No.

MRS. H. [Approaching] What is it?

HILLCRIST. Hypocrite!

[JILL comes running in at the window.]

JILL. Dodo, she's moved; she's spoken. It may not be so bad.

HILLCRIST. Thank God for that!

[FELLOWS enters, Left.]

FELLOWS. The Jackmans, ma'am.

HILLCRIST. Who? What's this?

[The JACKMANS have entered, standing close to the door.]

MRS. J. We're so glad we can go back, sir--ma'am, we just wanted to thank you.

[There is a silence. They see that they are not welcome.]

Thank you kindly, sir. Good night, ma'am.

[They shuffle out. ]

HILLCRIST. I'd forgotten their existence. [He gets up] What is it that gets loose when you begin a fight, and makes you what you think you're not? What blinding evil! Begin as you may, it ends in this --skin game! Skin game!

JILL. [Rushing to him] It's not you, Dodo; it's not you, beloved Dodo.

HILLCRIST. It is me. For I am, or should be, master in this house!

MRS. H. I don't understand.

HILLCRIST. When we began this fight, we had clean hands--are they clean' now? What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?


CURTAIN


THE END.

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John Galsworthy

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