Before noon a few days later. The open windows of the dining-room let in the sunlight. On the table a number of newspapers are littered. HELEN is sitting there, staring straight before her. A newspaper boy runs by outside calling out his wares. At the sound she gets up anti goes out on to the terrace. HUBERT enters from the hall. He goes at once to the terrace, and draws HELEN into the room.
HELEN. Is it true--what they're shouting?
HUBERT. Yes. Worse than we thought. They got our men all crumpled up in the Pass--guns helpless. Ghastly beginning.
HELEN. Oh, Hubert!
HUBERT. My dearest girl!
HELEN puts her face up to his. He kisses her. Then she turns quickly into the bay window. The door from the hall has been opened, and the footman, HENRY, comes in, preceding WREFORD and his sweetheart.
HENRY. Just wait here, will you, while I let Mrs. More know. [Catching sight of HUBERT] Beg pardon, sir!
HUBERT. All right, Henry. [Off-hand] Ah! Wreford! [The FOOTMAN withdraws] So you've brought her round. That's good! My sister'll look after her--don't you worry! Got everything packed? Three o'clock sharp.
WREFORD. [A broad faced soldier, dressed in khaki with a certain look of dry humour, now dimmed-speaking with a West Country burr] That's right, zurr; all's ready.
HELEN has come out of the window, and is quietly looking at WREFORD and the girl standing there so awkwardly.
HELEN. [Quietly] Take care of him, Wreford.
HUBERT. We'll take care of each other, won't we, Wreford?
HELEN. How long have you been engaged?
THE GIRL. [A pretty, indeterminate young woman] Six months. [She sobs suddenly.]
HELEN. Ah! He'll soon be safe back.
WREFORD. I'll owe 'em for this. [In a lacy voice to her] Don't 'ee now! Don't 'ee!
HELEN. No! Don't cry, please!
She stands struggling with her own lips, then goes out on to the terrace, HUBERT following. WREFORD and his girl remain where they were, strange and awkward, she muffling her sobs.
WREFORD. Don't 'ee go on like that, Nance; I'll 'ave to take you 'ome. That's silly, now we've a-come. I might be dead and buried by the fuss you're makin'. You've a-drove the lady away. See!
She regains control of herself as the door is opened and KATHERINE appears, accompanied by OLIVE, who regards WREFORD with awe and curiosity, and by NURSE, whose eyes are red, but whose manner is composed.
KATHERINE. My brother told me; so glad you've brought her.
WREFORD. Ye--as, M'. She feels me goin', a bit.
KATHERINE. Yes, yes! Still, it's for the country, isn't it?
THE GIRL. That's what Wreford keeps tellin' me. He've got to go--so it's no use upsettin' 'im. And of course I keep tellin' him I shall be all right.
NURSE. [Whose eyes never leave her son's face] And so you will.
THE GIRL. Wreford thought it'd comfort him to know you were interested in me. 'E's so 'ot-headed I'm sure somethin'll come to 'im.
KATHERINE. We've all got some one going. Are you coming to the docks? We must send them off in good spirits, you know.
OLIVE. Perhaps he'll get a medal.
NURSE. You wouldn't like for him to be hanging back, one of them anti-patriot, stop-the-war ones.
KATHERINE. [Quickly] Let me see--I have your address. [Holding out her hand to WREFORD] We'll look after her.
OLIVE. [In a loud whisper] Shall I lend him my toffee?
KATHERINE. If you like, dear. [To WREFORD] Now take care of my brother and yourself, and we'll take care of her.
WREFORD. Ye--as, M'.
He then looks rather wretchedly at his girl, as if the interview had not done so much for him as he had hoped. She drops a little curtsey. WREFORD salutes.
OLIVE. [Who has taken from the bureau a packet, places it in his hand] It's very nourishing!
WREFORD. Thank you, miss.
Then, nudging each other, and entangled in their feelings and the conventions, they pass out, shepherded by NURSE.
KATHERINE. Poor things!
OLIVE. What is an anti-patriot, stop-the-war one, Mummy?
KATHERINE. [Taking up a newspaper] Just a stupid name, dear--don't chatter!
OLIVE. But tell me just one weeny thing!
OLIVE. Is Daddy one?
KATHERINE. Olive! How much do you know about this war?
OLIVE. They won't obey us properly. So we have to beat them, and take away their country. We shall, shan't we?
KATHERINE. Yes. But Daddy doesn't want us to; he doesn't think it fair, and he's been saying so. People are very angry with him.
OLIVE. Why isn't it fair? I suppose we're littler than them.
OLIVE. Oh! in history we always are. And we always win. That's why I like history. Which are you for, Mummy--us or them?
OLIVE. Then I shall have to be. It's a pity we're not on the same side as Daddy. [KATHERINE shudders] Will they hurt him for not taking our side?
KATHERINE. I expect they will, Olive.
OLIVE. Then we shall have to be extra nice to him.
KATHERINE. If we can.
OLIVE. I can; I feel like it.
HELEN and HUBERT have returned along the terrace. Seeing KATHERINE and the child, HELEN passes on, but HUBERT comes in at the French window.
OLIVE. [Catching sight of him-softly] Is Uncle Hubert going to the front to-day? [KATHERINE nods] But not grandfather?
KATHERINE. No, dear.
OLIVE. That's lucky for them, isn't it?
HUBERT comes in. The presence of the child give him self-control.
HUBERT. Well, old girl, it's good-bye. [To OLIVE] What shall I bring you back, chick?
OLIVE. Are there shops at the front? I thought it was dangerous.
HUBERT. Not a bit.
OLIVE. [Disillusioned] Oh!
KATHERINE. Now, darling, give Uncle a good hug.
[Under cover of OLIVE's hug, KATHERINE repairs her courage.]
KATHERINE. The Dad and I'll be with you all in spirit. Good-bye, old boy!
They do not dare to kiss, and HUBERT goes out very stiff and straight, in the doorway passing STEEL, of whom he takes no notice. STEEL hesitates, and would go away.
KATHERINE. Come in, Mr. Steel.
STEEL. The deputation from Toulmin ought to be here, Mrs. More. It's twelve.
OLIVE. [Having made a little ball of newspaper-slyly] Mr. Steel, catch!
[She throws, and STEEL catches it in silence.]
KATHERINE. Go upstairs, won't you, darling?
OLIVE. Mayn't I read in the window, Mummy? Then I shall see if any soldiers pass.
KATHERINE. No. You can go out on the terrace a little, and then you must go up.
[OLIVE goes reluctantly out on to the terrace.]
STEEL. Awful news this morning of that Pass! And have you seen these? [Reading from the newspaper] "We will have no truck with the jargon of the degenerate who vilifies his country at such a moment. The Member for Toulmin has earned for himself the contempt of all virile patriots." [He takes up a second journal] "There is a certain type of public man who, even at his own expense, cannot resist the itch to advertise himself. We would, at moments of national crisis, muzzle such persons, as we muzzle dogs that we suspect of incipient rabies . . . ." They're in full cry after him!
KATHERINE. I mind much more all the creatures who are always flinging mud at the country making him their hero suddenly! You know what's in his mind?
STEEL. Oh! We must get him to give up that idea of lecturing everywhere against the war, Mrs. More; we simply must.
KATHERINE. [Listening] The deputation's come. Go and fetch him, Mr. Steel. He'll be in his room, at the House.
[STEEL goes out, and KATHERINE Stands at bay. In a moment he opens the door again, to usher in the deputation; then retires. The four gentlemen have entered as if conscious of grave issues. The first and most picturesque is JAMES HOME, a thin, tall, grey-bearded man, with plentiful hair, contradictious eyebrows, and the half-shy, half-bold manners, alternately rude and over polite, of one not accustomed to Society, yet secretly much taken with himself. He is dressed in rough tweeds, with a red silk tie slung through a ring, and is closely followed by MARK WACE, a waxy, round-faced man of middle-age, with sleek dark hair, traces of whisker, and a smooth way of continually rubbing his hands together, as if selling something to an esteemed customer. He is rather stout, wears dark clothes, with a large gold chain. Following him comes CHARLES SHELDER, a lawyer of fifty, with a bald egg-shaped head, and gold pince-nez. He has little side whiskers, a leathery, yellowish skin, a rather kind but watchful and dubious face, and when he speaks seems to have a plum in his mouth, which arises from the preponderance of his shaven upper lip. Last of the deputation comes WILLIAM BANNING, an energetic-looking, square-shouldered, self-made country-man, between fifty and sixty, with grey moustaches, ruddy face, and lively brown eyes.]
KATHERINE. How do you do, Mr. Home?
HOME. [Bowing rather extravagantly over her hand, as if to show his independence of women's influence] Mrs. More! We hardly expected-- This is an honour.
WACE. How do you do, Ma'am?
KATHERINE. And you, Mr. Wace?
WACE. Thank you, Ma'am, well indeed!
SHELDER. How d'you do, Mrs. More?
KATHERINE. Very well, thank you, Mr. Shelder.
BANNING. [Speaking with a rather broad country accent] This is but a poor occasion, Ma'am.
KATHERINE. Yes, Mr. Banning. Do sit down, gentlemen.
Seeing that they will not settle down while she is standing, she sits at the table. They gradually take their seats. Each member of the deputation in his own way is severely hanging back from any mention of the subject in hand; and KATHERINE as intent on drawing them to it.
KATHERINE. My husband will be here in two minutes. He's only over at the House.
SHELDER. [Who is of higher standing and education than the others] Charming position--this, Mrs. More! So near the--er--Centre of-- Gravity um?
KATHERINE. I read the account of your second meeting at Toulmin.
BANNING. It's bad, Mrs. More--bad. There's no disguising it. That speech was moon-summer madness--Ah! it was! Take a lot of explaining away. Why did you let him, now? Why did you? Not your views, I'm sure!
[He looks at her, but for answer she only compresses her lips.]
BANNING. I tell you what hit me--what's hit the whole constituency-- and that's his knowing we were over the frontier, fighting already, when he made it.
KATHERINE. What difference does it make if he did know?
HOME. Hitting below the belt--I should have thought--you'll pardon me!
BANNING. Till war's begun, Mrs. More, you're entitled to say what you like, no doubt--but after! That's going against your country. Ah! his speech was strong, you know--his speech was strong.
KATHERINE. He had made up his mind to speak. It was just an accident the news coming then.
BANNING. Well, that's true, I suppose. What we really want is to make sure he won't break out again.
HOME. Very high-minded, his views of course--but, some consideration for the common herd. You'll pardon me!
SHELDER. We've come with the friendliest feelings, Mrs. More--but, you know, it won't do, this sort of thing!
WACE. We shall be able to smooth him down. Oh! surely.
BANNING. We'd be best perhaps not to mention about his knowing that fighting had begun.
[As he speaks, MORE enters through the French windows. They all rise.]
MORE. Good-morning, gentlemen.
[He comes down to the table, but does not offer to shake hands.]
BANNING. Well, Mr. More? You've made a woeful mistake, sir; I tell you to your face.
MORE. As everybody else does, Banning. Sit down again, please.
[They gradually resume their seats, and MORE sits in KATHERINE's chair. She alone remains standing leaning against the corner of the bay window, watching their faces.]
BANNING. You've seen the morning's telegrams? I tell you, Mr. More--another reverse like that, and the flood will sweep you clean away. And I'll not blame it. It's only flesh and blood.
MORE, Allow for the flesh and blood in me, too, please. When I spoke the other night it was not without a certain feeling here. [He touches his heart.]
BANNING. But your attitude's so sudden--you'd not been going that length when you were down with us in May.
MORE. Do me the justice to remember that even then I was against our policy. It cost me three weeks' hard struggle to make up my mind to that speech. One comes slowly to these things, Banning.
SHELDER. Case of conscience?
MORE. Such things have happened, Shelder, even in politics.
SHELDER. You see, our ideals are naturally low--how different from yours!
KATHERINE, who has drawn near her husband, moves back again, as if relieved at this gleam of geniality. WACE rubs his hands.
BANNING. There's one thing you forget, sir. We send you to Parliament, representing us; but you couldn't find six men in the whole constituency that would have bidden you to make that speech.
MORE. I'm sorry; but I can't help my convictions, Banning.
SHELDER. What was it the prophet was without in his own country?
BANNING. Ah! but we're not funning, Mr. More. I've never known feeling run so high. The sentiment of both meetings was dead against you. We've had showers of letters to headquarters. Some from very good men--very warm friends of yours.
SHELDER. Come now! It's not too late. Let's go back and tell them you won't do it again.
MORE. Muzzling order?
BANNING. [Bluntly] That's about it.
MORE. Give up my principles to save my Parliamentary skin. Then, indeed, they might call me a degenerate! [He touches the newspapers on the table.]
KATHERINE makes an abrupt and painful movement, then remains as still as before, leaning against the corner of the window-seat.
BANNING. Well, Well! I know. But we don't ask you to take your words back--we only want discretion in the future.
MORE. Conspiracy of silence! And have it said that a mob of newspapers have hounded me to it.
BANNING. They won't say that of you.
SHELDER. My dear More, aren't you rather dropping to our level? With your principles you ought not to care two straws what people say.
MORE. But I do. I can't betray the dignity and courage of public men. If popular opinion is to control the utterances of her politicians, then good-bye indeed to this country!
BANNING. Come now! I won't say that your views weren't sound enough before the fighting began. I've never liked our policy out there. But our blood's being spilled; and that makes all the difference. I don't suppose they'd want me exactly, but I'd be ready to go myself. We'd all of us be ready. And we can't have the man that represents us talking wild, until we've licked these fellows. That's it in a nutshell.
MORE. I understand your feeling, Banning. I tender you my resignation. I can't and won't hold on where I'm not wanted.
BANNING. No, no, no! Don't do that! [His accent broader and broader] You've 'ad your say, and there it is. Coom now! You've been our Member nine years, in rain and shine.
SHELDER. We want to keep you, More. Come! Give us your promise --that's a good man!
MORE. I don't make cheap promises. You ask too much.
[There is silence, and they all look at MORE.]
SHELDER. There are very excellent reasons for the Government's policy.
MORE. There are always excellent reasons for having your way with the weak.
SHELDER. My dear More, how can you get up any enthusiasm for those cattle-lifting ruffians?
MORE. Better lift cattle than lift freedom.
SHELDER. Well, all we'll ask is that you shouldn't go about the country, saying so.
MORE. But that is just what I must do.
[Again they all look at MORE in consternation.]
HOME. Not down our way, you'll pardon me.
WACE. Really--really, sir----
SHELDER. The time of crusades is past, More.
MORE. Is it?
BANNING. Ah! no, but we don't want to part with you, Mr. More. It's a bitter thing, this, after three elections. Look at the 'uman side of it! To speak ill of your country when there's been a disaster like this terrible business in the Pass. There's your own wife. I see her brother's regiment's to start this very afternoon. Come now--how must she feel?
MORE breaks away to the bay window. The DEPUTATION exchange glances.
MORE. [Turning] To try to muzzle me like this--is going too far.
BANNING. We just want to put you out of temptation.
MORE. I've held my seat with you in all weathers for nine years. You've all been bricks to me. My heart's in my work, Banning; I'm not eager to undergo political eclipse at forty.
SHELDER. Just so--we don't want to see you in that quandary.
BANNING. It'd be no friendliness to give you a wrong impression of the state of feeling. Silence--till the bitterness is overpast; there's naught else for it, Mr. More, while you feel as you do. That tongue of yours! Come! You owe us something. You're a big man; it's the big view you ought to take.
MORE. I am trying to.
HOME. And what precisely is your view--you'll pardon my asking?
MORE. [Turning on him] Mr. Home a great country such as ours--is trustee for the highest sentiments of mankind. Do these few outrages justify us in stealing the freedom of this little people?
BANNING. Steal--their freedom! That's rather running before the hounds.
MORE. Ah, Banning! now we come to it. In your hearts you're none of you for that--neither by force nor fraud. And yet you all know that we've gone in there to stay, as we've gone into other lands--as all we big Powers go into other lands, when they're little and weak. The Prime Minister's words the other night were these: "If we are forced to spend this blood and money now, we must never again be forced." What does that mean but swallowing this country?
SHELDER. Well, and quite frankly, it'd be no bad thing.
HOME. We don't want their wretched country--we're forced.
MORE. We are not forced.
SHELDER. My dear More, what is civilization but the logical, inevitable swallowing up of the lower by the higher types of man? And what else will it be here?
MORE. We shall not agree there, Shelder; and we might argue it all day. But the point is, not whether you or I are right--the point is: What is a man who holds a faith with all his heart to do? Please tell me.
[There is a silence.]
BANNING. [Simply] I was just thinkin' of those poor fellows in the Pass.
MORE. I can see them, as well as you, Banning. But, imagine! Up in our own country--the Black Valley--twelve hundred foreign devils dead and dying--the crows busy over them--in our own country, our own valley--ours--ours--violated. Would you care about "the poor fellows" in that Pass?--Invading, stealing dogs! Kill them--kill them! You would, and I would, too!
The passion of those words touches and grips as no arguments could; and they are silent.
MORE. Well! What's the difference out there? I'm not so inhuman as not to want to see this disaster in the Pass wiped out. But once that's done, in spite of my affection for you; my ambitions, and they're not few; [Very low] in spite of my own wife's feeling, I must be free to raise my voice against this war.
BANNING. [Speaking slowly, consulting the others, as it were, with his eyes] Mr. More, there's no man I respect more than yourself. I can't tell what they'll say down there when we go back; but I, for one, don't feel it in me to take a hand in pressing you farther against your faith.
SHELDER. We don't deny that--that you have a case of sorts.
SHELDER. A--man should be free, I suppose, to hold his own opinions.
MORE. Thank you, Shelder.
BANNING. Well! well! We must take you as you are; but it's a rare pity; there'll be a lot of trouble----
His eyes light on Honk who is leaning forward with hand raised to his ear, listening. Very faint, from far in the distance, there is heard a skirling sound. All become conscious of it, all listen.
HOME. [Suddenly] Bagpipes!
The figure of OLIVE flies past the window, out on the terrace. KATHERINE turns, as if to follow her.
[He rises. KATHERINE goes quickly out on to the terrace. One by one they all follow to the window. One by one go out on to the terrace, till MORE is left alone. He turns to the bay window. The music is swelling, coming nearer. MORE leaves the window--his face distorted by the strafe of his emotions. He paces the room, taking, in some sort, the rhythm of the march.]
[Slowly the music dies away in the distance to a drum-tap and the tramp of a company. MORE stops at the table, covering his eyes with his hands.]
[The DEPUTATION troop back across the terrace, and come in at the French windows. Their faces and manners have quite changed. KATHERINE follows them as far as the window.]
HOME. [In a strange, almost threatening voice] It won't do, Mr. More. Give us your word, to hold your peace!
SHELDER. Come! More.
WACE. Yes, indeed--indeed!
BANNING. We must have it.
MORE. [Without lifting his head] I--I----
The drum-tap of a regiment marching is heard.
BANNING. Can you hear that go by, man--when your country's just been struck?
Now comes the scale and mutter of a following crowd.
MORE. I give you----
Then, sharp and clear above all other sounds, the words: "Give the beggars hell, boys!" "Wipe your feet on their dirty country!" "Don't leave 'em a gory acre!" And a burst of hoarse cheering.
MORE. [Flinging up his head] That's reality! By Heaven! No!
SHELDER. In that case, we'll go.
BANNING. You mean it? You lose us, then!
HOME. Good riddance! [Venomously--his eyes darting between MORE and KATHERINE] Go and stump the country! Find out what they think of you! You'll pardon me!
One by one, without a word, only BANNING looking back, they pass out into the hall. MORE sits down at the table before the pile of newspapers. KATHERINE, in the window, never moves. OLIVE comes along the terrace to her mother.
OLIVE. They were nice ones! Such a lot of dirty people following, and some quite clean, Mummy. [Conscious from her mother's face that something is very wrong, she looks at her father, and then steals up to his side] Uncle Hubert's gone, Daddy; and Auntie Helen's crying. And--look at Mummy!
[MORE raises his head and looks.]
OLIVE. Do be on our side! Do!
She rubs her cheek against his. Feeling that he does not rub his cheek against hers, OLIVE stands away, and looks from him to her mother in wonder.
THE CURTAIN FALLS