It is between lights, the following day, in the dining-room of MORE's house. The windows are closed, but curtains are not drawn. STEEL is seated at the bureau, writing a letter from MORE's dictation.
STEEL. [Reading over the letter] "No doubt we shall have trouble. But, if the town authorities at the last minute forbid the use of the hall, we'll hold the meeting in the open. Let bills be got out, and an audience will collect in any case."
MORE. They will.
STEEL. "Yours truly"; I've signed for you.
STEEL. [Blotting and enveloping the letter] You know the servants have all given notice--except Henry.
MORE. Poor Henry!
STEEL. It's partly nerves, of course--the windows have been broken twice--but it's partly----
MORE. Patriotism. Quite! they'll do the next smashing themselves. That reminds me--to-morrow you begin holiday, Steel.
STEEL. Oh, no!
MORE. My dear fellow--yes. Last night ended your sulphur cure. Truly sorry ever to have let you in for it.
STEEL. Some one must do the work. You're half dead as it is.
MORE. There's lots of kick in me.
STEEL. Give it up, sir. The odds are too great. It isn't worth it.
MORE. To fight to a finish; knowing you must be beaten--is anything better worth it?
STEEL. Well, then, I'm not going.
MORE. This is my private hell, Steel; you don't roast in it any longer. Believe me, it's a great comfort to hurt no one but yourself.
STEEL. I can't leave you, sir.
MORE. My dear boy, you're a brick--but we've got off by a miracle so far, and I can't have the responsibility of you any longer. Hand me over that correspondence about to-morrow's meeting.
STEEL takes some papers from his pocket, but does not hand them.
MORE. Come! [He stretches out his hand for the papers. As STEEL still draws back, he says more sharply] Give them to me, Steel! [STEEL hands them over] Now, that ends it, d'you see?
They stand looking at each other; then STEEL, very much upset, turns and goes out of the room. MORE, who has watched him with a sorry smile, puts the papers into a dispatch-case. As he is closing the bureau, the footman HENRY enters, announcing: "Mr. Mendip, sir." MENDIP comes in, and the FOOTMAN withdraws. MORE turns to his visitor, but does not hold out his hand.
MENDIP. [Taking MORE'S hand] Give me credit for a little philosophy, my friend. Mrs. More told me you'd be back to-day. Have you heard?
MENDIP. There's been a victory.
MORE. Thank God!
MENDIP. Ah! So you actually are flesh and blood.
MENDIP. Take off the martyr's shirt, Stephen. You're only flouting human nature.
MORE. So--even you defend the mob!
MENDIP. My dear fellow, you're up against the strongest common instinct in the world. What do you expect? That the man in the street should be a Quixote? That his love of country should express itself in philosophic altruism? What on earth do you expect? Men are very simple creatures; and Mob is just conglomerate essence of simple men.
MORE. Conglomerate excrescence. Mud of street and market-place gathered in a torrent--This blind howling "patriotism"--what each man feels in here? [He touches his breast] No!
MENDIP. You think men go beyond instinct--they don't. All they know is that something's hurting that image of themselves that they call country. They just feel something big and religious, and go it blind.
MORE. This used to be the country of free speech. It used to be the country where a man was expected to hold to his faith.
MENDIP. There are limits to human nature, Stephen.
MORE. Let no man stand to his guns in face of popular attack. Still your advice, is it?
MENDIP. My advice is: Get out of town at once. The torrent you speak of will be let loose the moment this news is out. Come, my dear fellow, don't stay here!
MORE. Thanks! I'll see that Katherine and Olive go.
MENDIP. Go with them! If your cause is lost, that's no reason why you should be.
MORE. There's the comfort of not running away. And--I want comfort.
MENDIP. This is bad, Stephen; bad, foolish--foolish. Well! I'm going to the House. This way?
MORE. Down the steps, and through the gate. Good-bye?
KATHERINE has come in followed by NURSE, hatted and cloaked, with a small bag in her hand. KATHERINE takes from the bureau a cheque which she hands to the NURSE. MORE comes in from the terrace.
MORE. You're wise to go, Nurse.
NURSE. You've treated my poor dear badly, sir. Where's your heart?
MORE. In full use.
NURSE. On those heathens. Don't your own hearth and home come first? Your wife, that was born in time of war, with her own father fighting, and her grandfather killed for his country. A bitter thing, to have the windows of her house broken, and be pointed at by the boys in the street.
[MORE stands silent under this attack, looking at his wife.]
NURSE. It's unnatural, sir--what you're doing! To think more of those savages than of your own wife! Look at her! Did you ever see her look like that? Take care, sir, before it's too late!
MORE. Enough, please!
NURSE stands for a moment doubtful; looks long at KATHERINE; then goes.
MORE. [Quietly] There has been a victory.
[He goes out. KATHERINE is breathing fast, listening to the distant hum and stir rising in the street. She runs to the window as the footman, HENRY, entering, says: "Sir John Julian, Ma'am!" SIR JOHN comes in, a newspaper in his hand.]
KATHERINE. At last! A victory!
SIR JOHN. Thank God! [He hands her the paper.]
KATHERINE. Oh, Dad!
[She tears the paper open, and feverishly reads.]
KATHERINE. At last!
The distant hum in the street is rising steadily. But SIR JOHN, after the one exultant moment when he handed her the paper, stares dumbly at the floor.
KATHERINE. [Suddenly conscious of his gravity] Father!
SIR JOHN. There is other news.
KATHERINE. One of the boys? Hubert?
[SIR JOHN bows his head.]
[SIR JOHN again bows his head.]
KATHERINE. The dream! [She covers her face] Poor Helen!
They stand for a few seconds silent, then SIR JOHN raises his head, and putting up a hand, touches her wet cheek.
SIR JOHN. [Huskily] Whom the gods love----
SIR JOHN. And hulks like me go on living!
KATHERINE. Dear Dad!
SIR JOHN. But we shall drive the ruffians now! We shall break them. Stephen back?
KATHERINE. Last night.
SIR JOHN. Has he finished his blasphemous speech-making at last? [KATHERINE shakes her head] Not?
[Then, seeing that KATHERINE is quivering with emotion, he strokes her hand.]
SIR JOHN. My dear! Death is in many houses!
KATHERINE. I must go to Helen. Tell Stephen, Father. I can't.
SIR JOHN. If you wish, child.
[She goes out, leaving SIR JOHN to his grave, puzzled grief, and in a few seconds MORE comes in.]
MORE. Yes, Sir John. You wanted me?
SIR JOHN. Hubert is killed.
SIR JOHN. By these--whom you uphold. Katherine asked me to let you know. She's gone to Helen. I understand you only came back last night from your----No word I can use would give what I feel about that. I don't know how things stand now between you and Katherine; but I tell you this, Stephen: you've tried her these last two months beyond what any woman ought to bear!
[MORE makes a gesture of pain.]
SIR JOHN. When you chose your course----
SIR JOHN. You placed yourself in opposition to every feeling in her. You knew this might come. It may come again with another of my sons.
MORE. I would willingly change places with any one of them.
SIR JOHN. Yes--I can believe in your unhappiness. I cannot conceive of greater misery than to be arrayed against your country. If I could have Hubert back, I would not have him at such a price--no, nor all my sons. 'Pro patri mori'--My boy, at all events, is happy!
SIR JOHN. Yet you can go on doing what you are! What devil of pride has got into you, Stephen?
MORE. Do you imagine I think myself better than the humblest private fighting out there? Not for a minute.
SIR JOHN. I don't understand you. I always thought you devoted to Katherine.
MORE. Sir John, you believe that country comes before wife and child?
SIR JOHN. I do.
MORE. So do I.
SIR JOHN. [Bewildered] Whatever my country does or leaves undone, I no more presume to judge her than I presume to judge my God. [With all the exaltation of the suffering he has undergone for her] My country!
MORE. I would give all I have--for that creed.
SIR JOHN. [Puzzled] Stephen, I've never looked on you as a crank; I always believed you sane and honest. But this is--visionary mania.
MORE. Vision of what might be.
SIR JOHN. Why can't you be content with what the grandest nation-- the grandest men on earth--have found good enough for them? I've known them, I've seen what they could suffer, for our country.
MORE. Sir John, imagine what the last two months have been to me! To see people turn away in the street--old friends pass me as if I were a wall! To dread the post! To go to bed every night with the sound of hooting in my ears! To know that my name is never referred to without contempt----
SIR JOHN. You have your new friends. Plenty of them, I understand.
MORE. Does that make up for being spat at as I was last night? Your battles are fool's play to it.
The stir and rustle of the crowd in the street grows louder. SIR JOHN turns his head towards it.
SIR JOHN. You've heard there's been a victory. Do you carry your unnatural feeling so far as to be sorry for that? [MORE shakes his head] That's something! For God's sake, Stephen, stop before it's gone past mending. Don't ruin your life with Katherine. Hubert was her favourite brother; you are backing those who killed him. Think what that means to her! Drop this--mad Quixotism--idealism--whatever you call it. Take Katherine away. Leave the country till the thing's over--this country of yours that you're opposing, and--and-- traducing. Take her away! Come! What good are you doing? What earthly good? Come, my boy! Before you're utterly undone.
MORE. Sir John! Our men are dying out there for, the faith that's in them! I believe my faith the higher, the better for mankind--Am I to slink away? Since I began this campaign I've found hundreds who've thanked me for taking this stand. They look on me now as their leader. Am I to desert them? When you led your forlorn hope-- did you ask yourself what good you were doing, or, whether you'd come through alive? It's my forlorn hope not to betray those who are following me; and not to help let die a fire--a fire that's sacred-- not only now in this country, but in all countries, for all time.
SIR JOHN. [After a long stare] I give you credit for believing what you say. But let me tell you whatever that fire you talk of--I'm too old-fashioned to grasp--one fire you are letting die--your wife's love. By God! This crew of your new friends, this crew of cranks and jays, if they can make up to you for the loss of her love--of your career, of all those who used to like and respect you--so much the better for you. But if you find yourself bankrupt of affection-- alone as the last man on earth; if this business ends in your utter ruin and destruction--as it must--I shall not pity--I cannot pity you. Good-night!
He marches to the door, opens it, and goes out. MORE is left standing perfectly still. The stir and murmur of the street is growing all the time, and slowly forces itself on his consciousness. He goes to the bay window and looks out; then rings the bell. It is not answered, and, after turning up the lights, he rings again. KATHERINE comes in. She is wearing a black hat, and black outdoor coat. She speaks coldly without looking up.
KATHERINE. You rang!
MORE. For them to shut this room up.
KATHERINE. The servants have gone out. They're afraid of the house being set on fire.
MORE. I see.
KATHERINE. They have not your ideals to sustain them. [MORE winces] I am going with Helen and Olive to Father's.
MORE. [Trying to take in the exact sense of her words] Good! You prefer that to an hotel? [KATHERINE nods. Gently] Will you let me say, Kit, how terribly I feel for you--Hubert's----
KATHERINE. Don't. I ought to have made what I meant plainer. I am not coming back.
MORE. Not? Not while the house----
KATHERINE. Not--at all.
KATHERINE. I warned you from the first. You've gone too far!
MORE. [Terribly moved] Do you understand what this means? After ten years--and all--our love!
KATHERINE. Was it love? How could you ever have loved one so unheroic as myself!
MORE. This is madness, Kit--Kit!
KATHERINE. Last night I was ready. You couldn't. If you couldn't then, you never can. You are very exalted, Stephen. I don't like living--I won't live, with one whose equal I am not. This has been coming ever since you made that speech. I told you that night what the end would be.
MORE. [Trying to put his arms round her] Don't be so terribly cruel!
KATHERINE. No! Let's have the truth! People so wide apart don't love! Let me go!
MORE. In God's name, how can I help the difference in our faiths?
KATHERINE. Last night you used the word--bargain. Quite right. I meant to buy you. I meant to kill your faith. You showed me what I was doing. I don't like to be shown up as a driver of bargains, Stephen.
MORE. God knows--I never meant----
KATHERINE. If I'm not yours in spirit--I don't choose to be your-- mistress.
MORE, as if lashed by a whip, has thrown up his hands in an attitude of defence.
KATHERINE. Yes, that's cruel! It shows the heights you live on. I won't drag you down.
MORE. For God's sake, put your pride away, and see! I'm fighting for the faith that's in me. What else can a man do? What else? Ah! Kit! Do see!
KATHERINE. I'm strangled here! Doing nothing--sitting silent--when my brothers are fighting, and being killed. I shall try to go out nursing. Helen will come with me. I have my faith, too; my poor common love of country. I can't stay here with you. I spent last night on the floor--thinking--and I know!
MORE. And Olive?
KATHERINE. I shall leave her at Father's, with Nurse; unless you forbid me to take her. You can.
MORE. [Icily] That I shall not do--you know very well. You are free to go, and to take her.
KATHERINE. [Very low] Thank you! [Suddenly she turns to him, and draws his eyes on her. Without a sound, she puts her whole strength into that look] Stephen! Give it up! Come down to me!
The festive sounds from the street grow louder. There can be heard the blowing of whistles, and bladders, and all the sounds of joy.
MORE. And drown in--that?
KATHERINE turns swiftly to the door. There she stands and again looks at him. Her face is mysterious, from the conflicting currents of her emotions.
MORE. So--you're going?
KATHERINE. [In a whisper] Yes.
She bends her head, opens the door, and goes. MORE starts forward as if to follow her, but OLIVE has appeared in the doorway. She has on a straight little white coat and a round white cap.
OLIVE. Aren't you coming with us, Daddy?
[MORE shakes his head.]
OLIVE. Why not?
MORE. Never mind, my dicky bird.
OLIVE. The motor'll have to go very slow. There are such a lot of people in the street. Are you staying to stop them setting the house on fire? [MORE nods] May I stay a little, too? [MORE shakes his head] Why?
MORE. [Putting his hand on her head] Go along, my pretty!
OLIVE. Oh! love me up, Daddy!
[MORE takes and loves her up]
MORE. Trot, my soul!
[She goes, looks back at him, turns suddenly, and vanishes.]
MORE follows her to the door, but stops there. Then, as full realization begins to dawn on him, he runs to the bay window, craning his head to catch sight of the front door. There is the sound of a vehicle starting, and the continual hooting of its horn as it makes its way among the crowd. He turns from the window.
MORE. Alone as the last man on earth!
[Suddenly a voice rises clear out of the hurly-burly in the street.]
VOICE. There 'e is! That's 'im! More! Traitor! More!
A shower of nutshells, orange-peel, and harmless missiles begins to rattle against the glass of the window. Many voices take up the groaning: "More! Traitor! Black-leg! More!" And through the window can be seen waving flags and lighted Chinese lanterns, swinging high on long bamboos. The din of execration swells. MORE stands unheeding, still gazing after the cab. Then, with a sharp crack, a flung stone crashes through one of the panes. It is followed by a hoarse shout of laughter, and a hearty groan. A second stone crashes through the glass. MORE turns for a moment, with a contemptuous look, towards the street, and the flare of the Chinese lanterns lights up his face. Then, as if forgetting all about the din outside, he moves back into the room, looks round him, and lets his head droop. The din rises louder and louder; a third stone crashes through. MORE raises his head again, and, clasping his hands, looks straight before him. The footman, HENRY, entering, hastens to the French windows.
MORE. Ah! Henry, I thought you'd gone.
FOOTMAN. I came back, sir.
MORE. Good fellow!
FOOTMAN. They're trying to force the terrace gate, sir. They've no business coming on to private property--no matter what!
In the surging entrance of the mob the footman, HENRY, who shows fight, is overwhelmed, hustled out into the crowd on the terrace, and no more seen. The MOB is a mixed crowd of revellers of both sexes, medical students, clerks, shop men and girls, and a Boy Scout or two. Many have exchanged hats--Some wear masks, or false noses, some carry feathers or tin whistles. Some, with bamboos and Chinese lanterns, swing them up outside on the terrace. The medley of noises is very great. Such ringleaders as exist in the confusion are a GROUP OF STUDENTS, the chief of whom, conspicuous because unadorned, is an athletic, hatless young man with a projecting underjaw, and heavy coal-black moustache, who seems with the swing of his huge arms and shoulders to sway the currents of motion. When the first surge of noise and movement subsides, he calls out: "To him, boys! Chair the hero!" THE STUDENTS rush at the impassive MORE, swing him roughly on to their shoulders and bear him round the room. When they have twice circled the table to the music of their confused singing, groans and whistling, THE CHIEF OF THE STUDENTS calls out: "Put him down!" Obediently they set him down on the table which has been forced into the bay window, and stand gaping up at him.
CHIEF STUDENT. Speech! Speech!
[The noise ebbs, and MORE looks round him.]
CHIEF STUDENT. Now then, you, sir.
MORE. [In a quiet voice] Very well. You are here by the law that governs the action of all mobs--the law of Force. By that law, you can do what you like to this body of mine.
A VOICE. And we will, too.
MORE. I don't doubt it. But before that, I've a word to say.
A VOICE. You've always that.
[ANOTHER VOICE raises a donkey's braying.]
MORE. You--Mob--are the most contemptible thing under the sun. When you walk the street--God goes in.
CHIEF STUDENT. Be careful, you--sir.
VOICES. Down him! Down with the beggar!
MORE. [Above the murmurs] My fine friends, I'm not afraid of you. You've forced your way into my house, and you've asked me to speak. Put up with the truth for once! [His words rush out] You are the thing that pelts the weak; kicks women; howls down free speech. This to-day, and that to-morrow. Brain--you have none. Spirit--not the ghost of it! If you're not meanness, there's no such thing. If you're not cowardice, there is no cowardice [Above the growing fierceness of the hubbub] Patriotism--there are two kinds--that of our soldiers, and this of mine. You have neither!
CHIEF STUDENT. [Checking a dangerous rush] Hold on! Hold on! [To MORE] Swear to utter no more blasphemy against your country: Swear it!
CROWD. Ah! Ay! Ah!
MORE. My country is not yours. Mine is that great country which shall never take toll from the weakness of others. [Above the groaning] Ah! you can break my head and my windows; but don't think that you can break my faith. You could never break or shake it, if you were a million to one.
A girl with dark eyes and hair all wild, leaps out from the crowd and shakes her fist at him.
GIRL. You're friends with them that killed my lad! [MORE smiles down at her, and she swiftly plucks the knife from the belt of a Boy Scout beside her] Smile, you--cur!
A violent rush and heave from behind flings MORE forward on to the steel. He reels, staggers back, and falls down amongst the crowd. A scream, a sway, a rush, a hubbub of cries. The CHIEF STUDENT shouts above the riot: "Steady!" Another: "My God! He's got it!"
CHIEF STUDENT. Give him air!
The crowd falls back, and two STUDENTS, bending over MORE, lift his arms and head, but they fall like lead. Desperately they test him for life.
CHIEF STUDENT. By the Lord, it's over!
Then begins a scared swaying out towards the window. Some one turns out the lights, and in the darkness the crowd fast melts away. The body of MORE lies in the gleam from a single Chinese lantern. Muttering the words: "Poor devil! He kept his end up anyway!" the CHIEF STUDENT picks from the floor a little abandoned Union Jack and lays it on MORE's breast. Then he, too, turns, and rushes out.
And the body of MORE lies in the streak of light; and flee noises in the street continue to rise.
THE CURTAIN FALLS, BUT RISES AGAIN ALMOST AT ONCE.
A late Spring dawn is just breaking. Against trees in leaf and blossom, with the houses of a London Square beyond, suffused by the spreading glow, is seen a dark life-size statue on a granite pedestal. In front is the broad, dust-dim pavement. The light grows till the central words around the pedestal can be clearly read:
ERECTED To the Memory of STEPHEN MORE "Faithful to his ideal"
High above, the face of MORE looks straight before him with a faint smile. On one shoulder and on his bare head two sparrows have perched, and from the gardens, behind, comes the twittering and singing of birds.
THE CURTAIN FALLS.
* * * * * * * * * * * *