A cobble-stoned alley, without pavement, behind a suburban theatre. The tall, blind, dingy-yellowish wall of the building is plastered with the tattered remnants of old entertainment bills, and the words: "To Let," and with several torn, and one still virgin placard, containing this announcement: "Stop-the- War Meeting, October 1st. Addresses by STEPHEN MORE, Esq., and others." The alley is plentifully strewn with refuse and scraps of paper. Three stone steps, inset, lead to the stage door. It is a dark night, and a street lamp close to the wall throws all the light there is. A faint, confused murmur, as of distant hooting is heard. Suddenly a boy comes running, then two rough girls hurry past in the direction of the sound; and the alley is again deserted. The stage door opens, and a doorkeeper, poking his head out, looks up and down. He withdraws, but in a second reappears, preceding three black-coated gentlemen.
DOORKEEPER. It's all clear. You can get away down here, gentlemen. Keep to the left, then sharp to the right, round the corner.
THE THREE. [Dusting themselves, and settling their ties] Thanks, very much! Thanks!
FIRST BLACK-COATED GENTLEMAN. Where's More? Isn't he coming?
They are joined by a fourth black-coated GENTLEMAN.
FOURTH BLACK-COATED GENTLEMAN. Just behind. [TO the DOORKEEPER] Thanks.
They hurry away. The DOORKEEPER retires. Another boy runs past. Then the door opens again. STEEL and MORE come out.
MORE stands hesitating on the steps; then turns as if to go back.
STEEL. Come along, sir, come!
MORE. It sticks in my gizzard, Steel.
STEEL. [Running his arm through MORE'S, and almost dragging him down the steps] You owe it to the theatre people. [MORE still hesitates] We might be penned in there another hour; you told Mrs. More half-past ten; it'll only make her anxious. And she hasn't seen you for six weeks.
MORE. All right; don't dislocate my arm.
They move down the steps, and away to the left, as a boy comes running down the alley. Sighting MORE, he stops dead, spins round, and crying shrilly: "'Ere 'e is! That's 'im! 'Ere 'e is!" he bolts back in the direction whence he came.
STEEL. Quick, Sir, quick!
MORE. That is the end of the limit, as the foreign ambassador remarked.
STEEL. [Pulling him back towards the door] Well! come inside again, anyway!
A number of men and boys, and a few young girls, are trooping quickly from the left. A motley crew, out for excitement; loafers, artisans, navvies; girls, rough or dubious. All in the mood of hunters, and having tasted blood. They gather round the steps displaying the momentary irresolution and curiosity that follows on a new development of any chase. MORE, on the bottom step, turns and eyes them.
A GIRL. [At the edge] Which is 'im! The old 'un or the young?
[MORE turns, and mounts the remaining steps.]
TALL YOUTH. [With lank black hair under a bowler hat] You blasted traitor!
MORE faces round at the volley of jeering that follows; the chorus of booing swells, then gradually dies, as if they realized that they were spoiling their own sport.
A ROUGH GIRL. Don't frighten the poor feller!
[A girl beside her utters a shrill laugh.]
STEEL. [Tugging at MORE's arm] Come along, sir.
MORE. [Shaking his arm free--to the crowd] Well, what do you want?
A VOICE. Speech.
MORE. Indeed! That's new.
ROUGH VOICE. [At the back of the crowd] Look at his white liver. You can see it in his face.
A BIG NAVY. [In front] Shut it! Give 'im a chanst!
TALL YOUTH. Silence for the blasted traitor?
A youth plays the concertina; there is laughter, then an abrupt silence.
MORE. You shall have it in a nutshell!
A SHOPBOY. [Flinging a walnut-shell which strikes MORE on the shoulder] Here y'are!
MORE. Go home, and think! If foreigners invaded us, wouldn't you be fighting tooth and nail like those tribesmen, out there?
TALL YOUTH. Treacherous dogs! Why don't they come out in the open?
MORE. They fight the best way they can.
[A burst of hooting is led by a soldier in khaki on the outskirt.]
MORE. My friend there in khaki led that hooting. I've never said a word against our soldiers. It's the Government I condemn for putting them to this, and the Press for hounding on the Government, and all of you for being led by the nose to do what none of you would do, left to yourselves.
The TALL YOUTH leads a somewhat unspontaneous burst of execration.
MORE. I say not one of you would go for a weaker man.
VOICES IN THE CROWD.
ROUGH VOICE. Tork sense!
GIRL'S VOICE. He's gittin' at you!
TALL YOUTH'S VOICE. Shiny skunk!
A NAVVY. [Suddenly shouldering forward] Look 'ere, Mister! Don't you come gaflin' to those who've got mates out there, or it'll be the worse for you-you go 'ome!
COCKNEY VOICE. And git your wife to put cottonwool in yer ears.
[A spurt of laughter.]
A FRIENDLY VOICE. [From the outskirts] Shame! there! Bravo, More! Keep it up!
[A scuffle drowns this cry.]
MORE. [With vehemence] Stop that! Stop that! You---!
TALL YOUTH. Traitor!
AN ARTISAN. Who black-legged?
MIDDLE-AGED MAN. Ought to be shot-backin' his country's enemies!
MORE. Those tribesmen are defending their homes.
TWO VOICES. Hear! hear!
[They are hustled into silence.]
TALL YOUTH. Wind-bag!
MORE. [With sudden passion] Defending their homes! Not mobbing unarmed men!
[STEEL again pulls at his arm.]
ROUGH. Shut it, or we'll do you in!
MORE. [Recovering his coolness] Ah! Do me in by all means! You'd deal such a blow at cowardly mobs as wouldn't be forgotten in your time.
STEEL. For God's sake, sir!
MORE. [Shaking off his touch] Well!
There is an ugly rush, checked by the fall of the foremost figures, thrown too suddenly against the bottom step. The crowd recoils.
There is a momentary lull, and MORE stares steadily down at them.
COCKNEY VOICE. Don't 'e speak well! What eloquence!
Two or three nutshells and a piece of orange-peel strike MORE across the face. He takes no notice.
ROUGH VOICE. That's it! Give 'im some encouragement.
The jeering laughter is changed to anger by the contemptuous smile on MORE'S face.
A TALL YOUTH. Traitor!
A VOICE. Don't stand there like a stuck pig.
A ROUGH. Let's 'ave 'im dahn off that!
Under cover of the applause that greets this, he strikes MORE across the legs with a belt. STEEL starts forward. MORE, flinging out his arm, turns him back, and resumes his tranquil staring at the crowd, in whom the sense of being foiled by this silence is fast turning to rage.
THE CROWD. Speak up, or get down! Get off! Get away, there--or we'll make you! Go on!
[MORE remains immovable.]
A YOUTH. [In a lull of disconcertion] I'll make 'im speak! See!
He darts forward and spits, defiling MORES hand. MORE jerks it up as if it had been stung, then stands as still as ever. A spurt of laughter dies into a shiver of repugnance at the action. The shame is fanned again to fury by the sight of MORES scornful face.
TALL YOUTH. [Out of murmuring] Shift! or you'll get it!
A VOICE. Enough of your ugly mug!
A ROUGH. Give 'im one!
Two flung stones strike MORE. He staggers and nearly falls, then rights himself.
A GIRL'S VOICE. Shame!
FRIENDLY VOICE. Bravo, More! Stick to it!
A ROUGH. Give 'im another!
A VOICE. No!
A GIRL'S VOICE. Let 'im alone! Come on, Billy, this ain't no fun!
Still looking up at MORE, the whole crowd falls into an uneasy silence, broken only by the shuffling of feet. Then the BIG NAVVY in the front rank turns and elbows his way out to the edge of the crowd.
THE NAVVY. Let 'im be!
With half-sullen and half-shamefaced acquiescence the crowd breaks up and drifts back whence it came, till the alley is nearly empty.
MORE. [As if coming to, out of a trance-wiping his hand and dusting his coat] Well, Steel!
And followed by STEEL, he descends the steps and moves away. Two policemen pass glancing up at the broken glass. One of them stops and makes a note.
THE CURTAIN FALLS.
The window-end of KATHERINE'S bedroom, panelled in cream-coloured wood. The light from four candles is falling on KATHERINE, who is sitting before the silver mirror of an old oak dressing-table, brushing her hair. A door, on the left, stands ajar. An oak chair against the wall close to a recessed window is all the other furniture. Through this window the blue night is seen, where a mist is rolled out flat amongst trees, so that only dark clumps of boughs show here and there, beneath a moonlit sky. As the curtain rises, KATHERINE, with brush arrested, is listening. She begins again brushing her hair, then stops, and taking a packet of letters from a drawer of her dressing-table, reads. Through the just open door behind her comes the voice of OLIVE.
OLIVE. Mummy! I'm awake!
But KATHERINE goes on reading; and OLIVE steals into the room in her nightgown.
OLIVE. [At KATHERINE'S elbow--examining her watch on its stand] It's fourteen minutes to eleven.
KATHERINE. Olive, Olive!
OLIVE. I just wanted to see the time. I never can go to sleep if I try--it's quite helpless, you know. Is there a victory yet? [KATHERINE, shakes her head] Oh! I prayed extra special for one in the evening papers. [Straying round her mother] Hasn't Daddy come?
KATHERINE. Not yet.
OLIVE. Are you waiting for him? [Burying her face in her mother's hair] Your hair is nice, Mummy. It's particular to-night.
KATHERINE lets fall her brush, and looks at her almost in alarm.
OLIVE. How long has Daddy been away?
KATHERINE. Six weeks.
OLIVE. It seems about a hundred years, doesn't it? Has he been making speeches all the time?
OLIVE. To-night, too?
OLIVE. The night that man was here whose head's too bald for anything--oh! Mummy, you know--the one who cleans his teeth so termendously--I heard Daddy making a speech to the wind. It broke a wine-glass. His speeches must be good ones, mustn't they!
OLIVE. It felt funny; you couldn't see any wind, you know.
KATHERINE. Talking to the wind is an expression, Olive.
OLIVE. Does Daddy often?
KATHERINE. Yes, nowadays.
OLIVE. What does it mean?
KATHERINE. Speaking to people who won't listen.
OLIVE. What do they do, then?
KATHERINE. Just a few people go to hear him, and then a great crowd comes and breaks in; or they wait for him outside, and throw things, and hoot.
OLIVE. Poor Daddy! Is it people on our side who throw things?
KATHERINE. Yes, but only rough people.
OLIVE. Why does he go on doing it? I shouldn't.
KATHERINE. He thinks it is his duty.
OLIVE. To your neighbour, or only to God?
KATHERINE. To both.
OLIVE. Oh! Are those his letters?
OLIVE. [Reading from the letter] "My dear Heart." Does he always call you his dear heart, Mummy? It's rather jolly, isn't it? "I shall be home about half-past ten to-morrow night. For a few hours the fires of p-u-r-g-a-t-or-y will cease to burn--" What are the fires of p-u-r-g-a-t-o-r-y?
KATHERINE. [Putting away the letters] Come, Olive!
OLIVE. But what are they?
KATHERINE. Daddy means that he's been very unhappy.
OLIVE. Have you, too?
OLIVE. [Cheerfully] So have I. May I open the window?
KATHERINE. No; you'll let the mist in.
OLIVE. Isn't it a funny mist-all flat!
KATHERINE. Now, come along, frog!
OLIVE. [Making time] Mummy, when is Uncle Hubert coming back?
KATHERINE. We don't know, dear.
OLIVE. I suppose Auntie Helen'll stay with us till he does.
OLIVE. That's something, isn't it?
KATHERINE. [Picking her up] Now then!
OLIVE. [Deliciously limp] Had I better put in the duty to your neighbour if there isn't a victory soon? [As they pass through the door] You're tickling under my knee! [Little gurgles of pleasure follow. Then silence. Then a drowsy voice] I must keep awake for Daddy.
KATHERINE comes back. She is about to leave the door a little open, when she hears a knock on the other door. It is opened a few inches, and NURSE'S voice says: "Can I come in, Ma'am?" The NURSE comes in.
KATHERINE. [Shutting OLIVE's door, and going up to her] What is it, Nurse?
NURSE. [Speaking in a low voice] I've been meaning to--I'll never do it in the daytime. I'm giving you notice.
KATHERINE. Nurse! You too!
She looks towards OLIVE'S room with dismay. The NURSE smudges a slow tear away from her cheek.
NURSE. I want to go right away at once.
KATHERINE. Leave Olive! That is the sins of the fathers with a vengeance.
NURSE. I've had another letter from my son. No, Miss Katherine, while the master goes on upholdin' these murderin' outlandish creatures, I can't live in this house, not now he's coming back.
KATHERINE. But, Nurse----!
NURSE. It's not like them [With an ineffable gesture] downstairs, because I'm frightened of the mob, or of the window's bein' broke again, or mind what the boys in the street say. I should think not-- no! It's my heart. I'm sore night and day thinkin' of my son, and him lying out there at night without a rag of dry clothing, and water that the bullocks won't drink, and maggots in the meat; and every day one of his friends laid out stark and cold, and one day--'imself perhaps. If anything were to 'appen to him. I'd never forgive meself--here. Ah! Miss Katherine, I wonder how you bear it--bad news comin' every day--And Sir John's face so sad--And all the time the master speaking against us, as it might be Jonah 'imself.
KATHERINE. But, Nurse, how can you leave us, you?
NURSE. [Smudging at her cheeks] There's that tells me it's encouragin' something to happen, if I stay here; and Mr. More coming back to-night. You can't serve God and Mammon, the Bible says.
KATHERINE. Don't you know what it's costing him?
NURSE. Ah! Cost him his seat, and his reputation; and more than that it'll cost him, to go against the country.
KATHERINE. He's following his conscience.
NURSE. And others must follow theirs, too. No, Miss Katherine, for you to let him--you, with your three brothers out there, and your father fair wasting away with grief. Sufferin' too as you've been these three months past. What'll you feel if anything happens to my three young gentlemen out there, to my dear Mr. Hubert that I nursed myself, when your precious mother couldn't? What would she have said --with you in the camp of his enemies?
KATHERINE. Nurse, Nurse!
NURSE. In my paper they say he's encouraging these heathens and makin' the foreigners talk about us; and every day longer the war lasts, there's our blood on this house.
KATHERINE. [Turning away] Nurse, I can't--I won't listen.
NURSE. [Looking at her intently] Ah! You'll move him to leave off! I see your heart, my dear. But if you don't, then go I must!
She nods her head gravely, goes to the door of OLIVE'S room, opens it gently, stands looking for a-moment, then with the words "My Lamb!" she goes in noiselessly and closes the door.
KATHERINE turns back to her glass, puts back her hair, and smooths her lips and eyes. The door from the corridor is opened, and HELEN's voice says: "Kit! You're not in bed?"
HELEN too is in a wrapper, with a piece of lace thrown over her head. Her face is scared and miserable, and she runs into KATHERINE's arms.
KATHERINE. My dear, what is it?
HELEN. I've seen--a vision!
KATHERINE. Hssh! You'll wake Olive!
HELEN. [Staring before her] I'd just fallen asleep, and I saw a plain that seemed to run into the sky--like--that fog. And on it there were--dark things. One grew into a body without a head, and a gun by its side. And one was a man sitting huddled up, nursing a wounded leg. He had the face of Hubert's servant, Wreford. And then I saw--Hubert. His face was all dark and thin; and he had--a wound, an awful wound here [She touches her breast]. The blood was running from it, and he kept trying to stop it--oh! Kit--by kissing it [She pauses, stifled by emotion]. Then I heard Wreford laugh, and say vultures didn't touch live bodies. And there came a voice, from somewhere, calling out: "Oh! God! I'm dying!" And Wreford began to swear at it, and I heard Hubert say: "Don't, Wreford; let the poor fellow be!" But the voice went on and on, moaning and crying out: "I'll lie here all night dying--and then I'll die!" And Wreford dragged himself along the ground; his face all devilish, like a man who's going to kill.
KATHERINE. My dear! HOW ghastly!
HELEN. Still that voice went on, and I saw Wreford take up the dead man's gun. Then Hubert got upon his feet, and went tottering along, so feebly, so dreadfully--but before he could reach and stop him, Wreford fired at the man who was crying. And Hubert called out: "You brute!" and fell right down. And when Wreford saw him lying there, he began to moan and sob, but Hubert never stirred. Then it all got black again--and I could see a dark woman--thing creeping, first to the man without a head; then to Wreford; then to Hubert, and it touched him, and sprang away. And it cried out: "A-ai-ah!" [Pointing out at the mist] Look! Out there! The dark things!
KATHERINE. [Putting her arms round her] Yes, dear, yes! You must have been looking at the mist.
HELEN. [Strangely calm] He's dead!
KATHERINE. It was only a dream.
HELEN. You didn't hear that cry. [She listens] That's Stephen. Forgive me, Kit; I oughtn't to have upset you, but I couldn't help coming.
She goes out, KATHERINE, into whom her emotion seems to have passed, turns feverishly to the window, throws it open and leans out. MORE comes in.
Catching sight of her figure in the window, he goes quickly to her.
KATHERINE. Ah! [She has mastered her emotion.]
MORE. Let me look at you!
He draws her from the window to the candle-light, and looks long at her.
MORE. What have you done to your hair?
MORE. It's wonderful to-night.
[He takes it greedily and buries his face in it.]
KATHERINE. [Drawing her hair away] Well?
MORE. At last!
KATHERINE. [Pointing to OLIVE's room] Hssh!
MORE. How is she?
KATHERINE. All right.
MORE. And you?
[KATHERINE shrugs her shoulders.]
MORE. Six weeks!
KATHERINE. Why have you come?
KATHERINE. You begin again the day after tomorrow. Was it worth while?
KATHERINE. It makes it harder for me, that's all.
MORE. [Staring at her] What's come to you?
KATHERINE. Six weeks is a long time to sit and read about your meetings.
MORE. Put that away to-night. [He touches her] This is what travellers feel when they come out of the desert to-water.
KATHERINE. [Suddenly noticing the cut on his forehead] Your forehead! It's cut.
MORE. It's nothing.
KATHERINE. Oh! Let me bathe it!
MORE. No, dear! It's all right.
KATHERINE. [Turning away] Helen has just been telling me a dream she's had of Hubert's death.
MORE. Poor child!
KATHERINE. Dream bad dreams, and wait, and hide oneself--there's been nothing else to do. Nothing, Stephen--nothing!
MORE. Hide? Because of me?
MORE. [With a movement of distress] I see. I thought from your letters you were coming to feel----. Kit! You look so lovely!
[Suddenly he sees that she is crying, and goes quickly to her.]
MORE. My dear, don't cry! God knows I don't want to make things worse for you. I'll go away.
She draws away from him a little, and after looking long at her, he sits down at the dressing-table and begins turning over the brushes and articles of toilet, trying to find words.
MORE. Never look forward. After the time I've had--I thought-- tonight--it would be summer--I thought it would be you--and everything!
While he is speaking KATHERINE has stolen closer. She suddenly drops on her knees by his side and wraps his hand in her hair. He turns and clasps her.
KATHERINE. Ah! yes! But-to-morrow it begins again. Oh! Stephen! How long--how long am I to be torn in two? [Drawing back in his arms] I can't--can't bear it.
MORE. My darling!
KATHERINE. Give it up! For my sake! Give it up! [Pressing closer to him] It shall be me--and everything----
KATHERINE. It shall be--if--if----
MORE. [Aghast] You're not making terms? Bargaining? For God's sake, Kit!
KATHERINE. For God's sake, Stephen!
MORE. You!--of all people--you!
[For a moment MORE yields utterly, then shrinks back.]
MORE. A bargain! It's selling my soul!
He struggles out of her arms, gets up, and stands without speaking, staring at her, and wiping the sweat from his forehead. KATHERINE remains some seconds on her knees, gazing up at him, not realizing. Then her head droops; she too gets up and stands apart, with her wrapper drawn close round her. It is as if a cold and deadly shame had come to them both. Quite suddenly MORE turns, and, without looking back, feebly makes his way out of the room. When he is gone KATHERINE drops on her knees and remains there motionless, huddled in her hair.
THE CURTAIN FALLS