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Act II

A fortnight later in the MARCH'S dining-room; a day of violent April showers. Lunch is over and the table littered with, remains-- twelve baskets full.

MR MARCH and MARY have lingered. MR MARCH is standing by the hearth where a fire is burning, filling a fountain pen. MARY sits at the table opposite, pecking at a walnut.


MR MARCH. [Examining his fingers] What it is to have an inky present! Suffer with me, Mary!

MARY. "Weep ye no more, sad Fountains! Why need ye flow so fast?"

MR MARCH. [Pocketing his pen] Coming with me to the British Museum? I want to have a look at the Assyrian reliefs.

MARY. Dad, have you noticed Johnny?

MR MARCH. I have.

MARY. Then only Mother hasn't.

MR MARCH. I've always found your mother extremely good at seeming not to notice things, Mary.

MARY. Faith! She's got on very fast this fortnight.

MR MARCH. The glad eye, Mary. I got it that first morning.

MARY. You, Dad?

MR MARCH. No, no! Johnny got it, and I got him getting it.

MARY. What are you going to do about it?

MR MARCH. What does one do with a glad eye that belongs to some one else?

MARY. [Laughing] No. But, seriously, Dad, Johnny's not like you and me. Why not speak to Mr Bly?

MR MARCH. Mr Bly's eyes are not glad.

MARY. Dad! Do be serious! Johnny's capable of anything except a sense of humour.

MR MARCH. The girl's past makes it impossible to say anything to her.

MARY. Well, I warn you. Johnny's very queer just now; he's in the "lose the world to save your soul" mood. It really is too bad of that girl. After all, we did what most people wouldn't.

MR MARCH. Come! Get your hat on, Mary, or we shan't make the Tube before the next shower.

MARY. [Going to the door] Something must be done.

MR MARCH. As you say, something--Ah! Mr Bly!

MR BLY, in precisely the same case as a fortnight ago, with his pail and cloths, is coming in.

BLY. Afternoon, sir! Shall I be disturbing you if I do the winders here?

MR MARCH. Not at all.

MR BLY crosses to the windows.

MARY. [Pointing to MR BLY's back] Try!

BLY. Showery, sir.

MR MARCH. Ah!

BLY. Very tryin' for winders. [Resting] My daughter givin' satisfaction, I hope?

MR MARCH. [With difficulty] Er--in her work, I believe, coming on well. But the question is, Mr Bly, do--er--any of us ever really give satisfaction except to ourselves?

BLY. [Taking it as an invitation to his philosophical vein] Ah! that's one as goes to the roots of 'uman nature. There's a lot of disposition in all of us. And what I always say is: One man's disposition is another man's indisposition.

MR MARCH. By George! Just hits the mark.

BLY. [Filling his sponge] Question is: How far are you to give rein to your disposition? When I was in Durban, Natal, I knew a man who had the biggest disposition I ever come across. 'E struck 'is wife, 'e smoked opium, 'e was a liar, 'e gave all the rein 'e could, and yet withal one of the pleasantest men I ever met.

MR MARCH. Perhaps in giving rein he didn't strike you.

BLY. [With a big wipe, following his thought] He said to me once: "Joe," he said, "if I was to hold meself in, I should be a devil." There's where you get it. Policemen, priests, prisoners. Cab'net Ministers, any one who leads an unnatural life, see how it twists 'em. You can't suppress a thing without it swellin' you up in another place.

MR MARCH. And the moral of that is--?

BLY. Follow your instincts. You see--if I'm not keepin' you--now that we ain't got no faith, as we were sayin' the other day, no Ten Commandments in black an' white--we've just got to be 'uman bein's-- raisin' Cain, and havin' feelin' hearts. What's the use of all these lofty ideas that you can't live up to? Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Democracy--see what comes o' fightin' for 'em! 'Ere we are-wipin' out the lot. We thought they was fixed stars; they was only comets--hot air. No; trust 'uman nature, I say, and follow your instincts.

MR MARCH. We were talking of your daughter--I--I--

BLY. There's a case in point. Her instincts was starved goin' on for three years, because, mind you, they kept her hangin' about in prison months before they tried her. I read your article, and I thought to meself after I'd finished: Which would I feel smallest--if I was--the Judge, the Jury, or the 'Ome Secretary? It was a treat, that article! They ought to abolish that in'uman "To be hanged by the neck until she is dead." It's my belief they only keep it because it's poetry; that and the wigs--they're hard up for a bit of beauty in the Courts of Law. Excuse my 'and, sir; I do thank you for that article.

He extends his wiped hand, which MR MARCH shakes with the feeling that he is always shaking Mr. BLY's hand.

MR MARCH. But, apropos of your daughter, Mr Bly. I suppose none of us ever change our natures.

BLY. [Again responding to the appeal that he senses to his philosophical vein] Ah! but 'oo can see what our natures are? Why, I've known people that could see nothin' but theirselves and their own families, unless they was drunk. At my daughter's trial, I see right into the lawyers, judge and all. There she was, hub of the whole thing, and all they could see of her was 'ow far she affected 'em personally--one tryin' to get 'er guilty, the other tryin' to get 'er off, and the judge summin' 'er up cold-blooded.

MR MARCH. But that's what they're paid for, Mr Bly.

BLY. Ah! But which of 'em was thinkin' "'Ere's a little bit o' warm life on its own. 'Ere's a little dancin' creature. What's she feelin', wot's 'er complaint?"--impersonal-like. I like to see a man do a bit of speculatin', with his mind off of 'imself, for once.

MR MARCH. "The man that hath not speculation in his soul."

BLY. That's right, sir. When I see a mangy cat or a dog that's lost, or a fellow-creature down on his luck, I always try to put meself in his place. It's a weakness I've got.

MR MARCH. [Warmly] A deuced good one. Shake--

He checks himself, but MR BLY has wiped his hand and extended it.

While the shake is in progress MARY returns, and, having seen it to a safe conclusion, speaks.

MARY. Coming, Dad?

MR MARCH. Excuse me, Mr Bly, I must away.

He goes towards the door, and BLY dips his sponge.

MARY. [In a low voice] Well?

MR MARCH. Mr Bly is like all the greater men I know--he can't listen.

MARY. But you were shaking--

MR MARCH. Yes; it's a weakness we have--every three minutes.

MARY. [Bubbling] Dad--Silly!

MR MARCH. Very!

As they go out MR BLY pauses in his labours to catch, as it were, a philosophical reflection. He resumes the wiping of a pane, while quietly, behind him, FAITH comes in with a tray. She is dressed now in lilac-coloured linen, without a cap, and looks prettier than ever. She puts the tray down on the sideboard with a clap that attracts her father's attention, and stands contemplating the debris on the table.

BLY. Winders! There they are! Clean, dirty! All sorts--All round yer! Winders!

FAITH. [With disgust] Food!

BLY. Ah! Food and winders! That's life!

FAITH. Eight times a day four times for them and four times for us. I hate food!

She puts a chocolate into her mouth.

BLY. 'Ave some philosophy. I might just as well hate me winders.

FAITH. Well!

She begins to clear.

BLY. [Regarding her] Look 'ere, my girl! Don't you forget that there ain't many winders in London out o' which they look as philosophical as these here. Beggars can't be choosers.

FAITH. [Sullenly] Oh! Don't go on at me!

BLY. They spoiled your disposition in that place, I'm afraid.

FAITH. Try it, and see what they do with yours.

BLY. Well, I may come to it yet.

FAITH. You'll get no windows to look out of there; a little bit of a thing with bars to it, and lucky if it's not thick glass. [Standing still and gazing past MR BLY] No sun, no trees, no faces--people don't pass in the sky, not even angels.

BLY. Ah! But you shouldn't brood over it. I knew a man in Valpiraso that 'ad spent 'arf 'is life in prison-a jolly feller; I forget what 'e'd done, somethin' bloody. I want to see you like him. Aren't you happy here?

FAITH. It's right enough, so long as I get out.

BLY. This Mr March--he's like all these novel-writers--thinks 'e knows 'uman nature, but of course 'e don't. Still, I can talk to 'im--got an open mind, and hates the Gover'ment. That's the two great things. Mrs March, so far as I see, 'as got her head screwed on much tighter.

FAITH. She has.

BLY. What's the young man like? He's a long feller.

FAITH. Johnny? [With a shrug and a little smile] Johnny.

BLY. Well, that gives a very good idea of him. They say 'es a poet; does 'e leave 'em about?

FAITH. I've seen one or two.

BLY. What's their tone?

FAITH. All about the condition of the world; and the moon.

BLY. Ah! Depressin'. And the young lady?

FAITH shrugs her shoulders.

Um--'ts what I thought. She 'asn't moved much with the times. She thinks she 'as, but she 'asn't. Well, they seem a pleasant family. Leave you to yourself. 'Ow's Cook?

FAITH. Not much company.

BLY. More body than mind? Still, you get out, don't you?

FAITH. [With a slow smile] Yes. [She gives a sudden little twirl, and puts her hands up to her hair before the mirror] My afternoon to-day. It's fine in the streets, after-being in there.

BLY. Well! Don't follow your instincts too much, that's all! I must get on to the drawin' room now. There's a shower comin'. [Philosophically] It's 'ardly worth while to do these winders. You clean 'em, and they're dirty again in no time. It's like life. And people talk o' progress. What a sooperstition! Of course there ain't progress; it's a world-without-end affair. You've got to make up your mind to it, and not be discouraged. All this depression comes from 'avin' 'igh 'opes. 'Ave low 'opes, and you'll be all right.

He takes up his pail and cloths and moves out through the windows.

FAITH puts another chocolate into her mouth, and taking up a flower, twirls round with it held to her nose, and looks at herself in the glass over the hearth. She is still looking at herself when she sees in the mirror a reflection of JOHNNY, who has come in. Her face grows just a little scared, as if she had caught the eye of a warder peering through the peep-hole of her cell door, then brazens, and slowly sweetens as she turns round to him.

JOHNNY. Sorry! [He has a pipe in his hand and wears a Norfolk jacket] Fond of flowers?

FAITH. Yes. [She puts back the flower] Ever so!

JOHNNY. Stick to it. Put it in your hair; it'll look jolly. How do you like it here?

FAITH. It's quiet.

JOHNNY. Ha! I wonder if you've got the feeling I have. We've both had hell, you know; I had three years of it, out there, and you've had three years of it here. The feeling that you can't catch up; can't live fast enough to get even.

FAITH nods.

Nothing's big enough; nothing's worth while enough--is it?

FAITH. I don't know. I know I'd like to bite. She draws her lips back.

JOHNNY. Ah! Tell me all about your beastly time; it'll do you good. You and I are different from anybody else in this house. We've lived they've just vegetated. Come on; tell me!

FAITH, who up to now has looked on him as a young male, stares at him for the first time without sex in her eyes.

FAITH. I can't. We didn't talk in there, you know.

JOHNNY. Were you fond of the chap who--?

FAITH. No. Yes. I suppose I was--once.

JOHNNY. He must have been rather a swine.

FAITH. He's dead.

JOHNNY. Sorry! Oh, sorry!

FAITH. I've forgotten all that.

JOHNNY. Beastly things, babies; and absolutely unnecessary in the present state of the world.

FAITH. [With a faint smile] My baby wasn't beastly; but I--I got upset.

JOHNNY. Well, I should think so!

FAITH. My friend in the manicure came and told me about hers when I was lying in the hospital. She couldn't have it with her, so it got neglected and died.

JOHNNY. Um! I believe that's quite common.

FAITH. And she told me about another girl--the Law took her baby from her. And after she was gone, I--got all worked up-- [She hesitates, then goes swiftly on] And I looked at mine; it was asleep just here, quite close. I just put out my arm like that, over its face--quite soft-- I didn't hurt it. I didn't really. [She suddenly swallows, and her lips quiver] I didn't feel anything under my arm. And--and a beast of a nurse came on me, and said "You've smothered your baby, you wretched girl!"

I didn't want to kill it--I only wanted to save it from living. And when I looked at it, I went off screaming.

JOHNNY. I nearly screamed when I saved my first German from living. I never felt the same again. They say the human race has got to go on, but I say they've first got to prove that the human race wants to. Would you rather be alive or dead?

FAITH. Alive.

JOHNNY. But would you have in prison?

FAITH. I don't know. You can't tell anything in there. [With sudden vehemence] I wish I had my baby back, though. It was mine; and I--I don't like thinking about it.

JOHNNY. I know. I hate to think about anything I've killed, really. At least, I should--but it's better not to think.

FAITH. I could have killed that judge.

JOHNNY. Did he come the heavy father? That's what I can't stand. When they jaw a chap and hang him afterwards. Or was he one of the joking ones?

FAITH. I've sat in my cell and cried all night--night after night, I have. [With a little laugh] I cried all the softness out of me.

JOHNNY. You never believed they were going to hang you, did you?

FAITH. I didn't care if they did--not then.

JOHNNY. [With a reflective grunt] You had a much worse time than I. You were lonely--

FAITH. Have you been in a prison, ever?

JOHNNY. No, thank God!

FAITH. It's awfully clean.

JOHNNY. You bet.

FAITH. And it's stone cold. It turns your heart.

JOHNNY. Ah! Did you ever see a stalactite?

FAITH. What's that?

JOHNNY. In caves. The water drops like tears, and each drop has some sort of salt, and leaves it behind till there's just a long salt petrified drip hanging from the roof.

FAITH. Ah! [Staring at him] I used to stand behind my door. I'd stand there sometimes I don't know how long. I'd listen and listen--the noises are all hollow in a prison. You'd think you'd get used to being shut up, but I never did.

JOHNNY utters a deep grunt.

It's awful the feeling you get here-so tight and chokey. People who are free don't know what it's like to be shut up. If I'd had a proper window even--When you can see things living, it makes you feel alive.

JOHNNY. [Catching her arm] We'll make you feel alive again.

FAITH stares at him; sex comes back to her eyes. She looks down.

I bet you used to enjoy life, before.

FAITH. [Clasping her hands] Oh! yes, I did. And I love getting out now. I've got a fr-- [She checks herself] The streets are beautiful, aren't they? Do you know Orleens Street?

JOHNNY. [Doubtful] No-o. . . . Where?

FAITH. At the corner out of the Regent. That's where we had our shop. I liked the hair-dressing. We had fun. Perhaps I've seen you before. Did you ever come in there?

JOHNNY. No.

FAITH. I'd go back there; only they wouldn't take me--I'm too conspicuous now.

JOHNNY. I expect you're well out of that.

FAITH. [With a sigh] But I did like it. I felt free. We had an hour off in the middle of the day; you could go where you liked; and then, after hours--I love the streets at night--all lighted. Olga--that's one of the other girls--and I used to walk about for hours. That's life! Fancy! I never saw a street for more than two years. Didn't you miss them in the war?

JOHNNY. I missed grass and trees more--the trees! All burnt, and splintered. Gah!

FAITH. Yes, I like trees too; anything beautiful, you know. I think the parks are lovely--but they might let you pick the flowers. But the lights are best, really--they make you feel happy. And music--I love an organ. There was one used to come and play outside the prison--before I was tried. It sounded so far away and lovely. If I could 'ave met the man that played that organ, I'd have kissed him. D'you think he did it on purpose?

JOHNNY. He would have, if he'd been me.

He says it unconsciously, but FAITH is instantly conscious of the implication.

FAITH. He'd rather have had pennies, though. It's all earning; working and earning. I wish I were like the flowers. [She twirls the dower in her hand] Flowers don't work, and they don't get put in prison.

JOHNNY. [Putting his arm round her] Never mind! Cheer up! You're only a kid. You'll have a good time yet.

FAITH leans against him, as it were indifferently, clearly expecting him to kiss her, but he doesn't.

FAITH. When I was a little girl I had a cake covered with sugar. I ate the sugar all off and then I didn't want the cake--not much.

JOHNNY. [Suddenly, removing his arm] Gosh! If I could write a poem that would show everybody what was in the heart of everybody else--!

FAITH. It'd be too long for the papers, wouldn't it?

JOHNNY. It'd be too strong.

FAITH. Besides, you don't know.

Her eyelids go up.

JOHNNY. [Staring at her] I could tell what's in you now.

FAITH. What?

JOHNNY. You feel like a flower that's been picked.

FAITH's smile is enigmatic.

FAITH. [Suddenly] Why do you go on about me so?

JOHNNY. Because you're weak--little and weak. [Breaking out again] Damn it! We went into the war to save the little and weak; at least we said so; and look at us now! The bottom's out of all that. [Bitterly] There isn't a faith or an illusion left. Look here! I want to help you.

FAITH. [Surprisingly] My baby was little and weak.

JOHNNY. You never meant--You didn't do it for your own advantage.

FAITH. It didn't know it was alive. [Suddenly] D'you think I'm pretty?

JOHNNY. As pie.

FAITH. Then you'd better keep away, hadn't you?

JOHNNY. Why?

FAITH. You might want a bite.

JOHNNY. Oh! I can trust myself.

FAITH. [Turning to the window, through which can be seen the darkening of a shower] It's raining. Father says windows never stay clean.

They stand dose together, unaware that COOK has thrown up the service shutter, to see why the clearing takes so long. Her astounded head and shoulders pass into view just as FAITH suddenly puts up her face. JOHNNY'S lips hesitate, then move towards her forehead. But her face shifts, and they find themselves upon her lips. Once there, the emphasis cannot help but be considerable. COOK'S mouth falls open.

COOK. Oh!

She closes the shutter, vanishing.

FAITH. What was that?

JOHNNY. Nothing. [Breaking away] Look here! I didn't mean--I oughtn't to have--Please forget it!

FAITH. [With a little smile] Didn't you like it?

JOHNNY. Yes--that's just it. I didn't mean to It won't do.

FAITH. Why not?

JOHNNY. No, no! It's just the opposite of what--No, no!

He goes to the door, wrenches it open and goes out.

FAITH, still with that little half-mocking, half-contented smile, resumes the clearing of the table. She is interrupted by the entrance through the French windows of MR MARCH and MARY, struggling with one small wet umbrella.

MARY. [Feeling his sleeve] Go and change, Dad.

MR MARCH. Women's shoes! We could have made the Tube but for your shoes.

MARY. It was your cold feet, not mine, dear. [Looking at FAITH and nudging him] Now!

She goes towards the door, turns to look at FAITH still clearing the table, and goes out.

MR MARCH. [In front of the hearth] Nasty spring weather, Faith.

FAITH. [Still in the mood of the kiss] Yes, Sir.

MR MARCH. [Sotto voce] "In the spring a young man's fancy." I--I wanted to say something to you in a friendly way.

FAITH regards him as he struggles on. Because I feel very friendly towards you.

FAITH. Yes.

MR MARCH. So you won't take what I say in bad part?

FAITH. No.

MR MARCH. After what you've been through, any man with a sense of chivalry--

FAITH gives a little shrug.

Yes, I know--but we don't all support the Government.

FAITH. I don't know anything about the Government.

MR MARCH. [Side-tracked on to his hobby] Ah I forgot. You saw no newspapers. But you ought to pick up the threads now. What paper does Cook take?

FAITH. "COSY."

MR MARCH. "Cosy"? I don't seem-- What are its politics?

FAITH. It hasn't any--only funny bits, and fashions. It's full of corsets.

MR MARCH. What does Cook want with corsets?

FAITH. She likes to think she looks like that.

MR MARCH. By George! Cook an idealist! Let's see!--er--I was speaking of chivalry. My son, you know--er--my son has got it.

FAITH. Badly?

MR MARCH. [Suddenly alive to the fact that she is playing with him] I started by being sorry for you.

FAITH. Aren't you, any more?

MR MARCH. Look here, my child!

FAITH looks up at him. [Protectingly] We want to do our best for you. Now, don't spoil it by-- Well, you know!

FAITH. [Suddenly] Suppose you'd been stuffed away in a hole for years!

MR MARCH. [Side-tracked again] Just what your father said. The more I see of Mr Bly, the more wise I think him.

FAITH. About other people.

MR MARCH. What sort of bringing up did he give you?

FAITH smiles wryly and shrugs her shoulders.

MR MARCH. H'm! Here comes the sun again!

FAITH. [Taking up the flower which is lying on the table] May I have this flower?

MR MARCH. Of Course. You can always take what flowers you like--that is--if--er--

FAITH. If Mrs March isn't about?

MR MARCH. I meant, if it doesn't spoil the look of the table. We must all be artists in our professions, mustn't we?

FAITH. My profession was cutting hair. I would like to cut yours.

MR MARCH'S hands instinctively go up to it.

MR MARCH. You mightn't think it, but I'm talking to you seriously.

FAITH. I was, too.

MR MARCH. [Out of his depth] Well! I got wet; I must go and change.

FAITH follows him with her eyes as he goes out, and resumes the clearing of the table. She has paused and is again smelling at the flower when she hears the door, and quickly resumes her work. It is MRS MARCH, who comes in and goes to the writing table, Left Back, without looking at FAITH. She sits there writing a cheque, while FAITH goes on clearing.

MRS MARCH. [Suddenly, in an unruffled voice] I have made your cheque out for four pounds. It's rather more than the fortnight, and a month's notice. There'll be a cab for you in an hour's time. Can you be ready by then?

FAITH. [Astonished] What for--ma'am?

MRS MARCH. You don't suit.

FAITH. Why?

MRS MARCH. Do you wish for the reason?

FAITH. [Breathless] Yes.

MRS MARCH. Cook saw you just now.

FAITH. [Blankly] Oh! I didn't mean her to.

MRS MARCH. Obviously.

FAITH. I--I--

MRS MARCH. Now go and pack up your things.

FAITH. He asked me to be a friend to him. He said he was lonely here.

MRS MARCH. Don't be ridiculous. Cook saw you kissing him with p--p--

FAITH. [Quickly] Not with pep.

MRS MARCH. I was going to say "passion." Now, go quietly.

FAITH. Where am I to go?

MRS MARCH. You will have four pounds, and you can get another place.

FAITH. How?

MRS MARCH. That's hardly my affair.

FAITH. [Tossing her head] All right!

MRS MARCH. I'll speak to your father, if he isn't gone.

FAITH. Why do you send me away--just for a kiss! What's a kiss?

MRS MARCH. That will do.

FAITH. [Desperately] He wanted to--to save me.

MRS MARCH. You know perfectly well people can only save themselves.

FAITH. I don't care for your son; I've got a young--[She checks herself] I--I'll leave your son alone, if he leaves me.

MRS MARCH rings the bell on the table.

[Desolately] Well? [She moves towards the door. Suddenly holding out the flower] Mr March gave me that flower; would you like it back?

MRS MARCH. Don't be absurd! If you want more money till you get a place, let me know.

FAITH. I won't trouble you.

She goes out.

MRS MARCH goes to the window and drums her fingers on the pane.

COOK enters.

MRS MARCH. Cook, if Mr Bly's still here, I want to see him. Oh! And it's three now. Have a cab at four o'clock.

COOK. [Almost tearful] Oh, ma'am--anybody but Master Johnny, and I'd 'ave been a deaf an' dummy. Poor girl! She's not responsive, I daresay. Suppose I was to speak to Master Johnny?

MRS MARCH. No, no, Cook! Where's Mr Bly?

COOK. He's done his windows; he's just waiting for his money.

MRS MARCH. Then get him; and take that tray.

COOK. I remember the master kissin' me, when he was a boy. But then he never meant anything; so different from Master Johnny. Master Johnny takes things to 'eart.

MRS MARCH. Just so, Cook.

COOK. There's not an ounce of vice in 'im. It's all his goodness, dear little feller.

MRS MARCH. That's the danger, with a girl like that.

COOK. It's eatin' hearty all of a sudden that's made her poptious. But there, ma'am, try her again. Master Johnny'll be so cut up!

MRS MARCH. No playing with fire, Cook. We were foolish to let her come.

COOK. Oh! dear, he will be angry with me. If you hadn't been in the kitchen and heard me, ma'am, I'd ha' let it pass.

MRS MARCH. That would have been very wrong of you.

COOK. Ah! But I'd do a lot of wrong things for Master Johnny. There's always some one you'll go wrong for!

MRS MARCH. Well, get Mr Bly; and take that tray, there's a good soul.

COOK goes out with the tray; and while waiting, MRS MARCH finishes clearing the table. She has not quite finished when MR BLY enters.

BLY. Your service, ma'am!

MRS MARCH. [With embarrassment] I'm very sorry, Mr Bly, but circumstances over which I have no control--

BLY. [With deprecation] Ah! we all has them. The winders ought to be done once a week now the Spring's on 'em.

MRS MARCH. No, no; it's your daughter--

BLY. [Deeply] Not been given' way to'er instincts, I do trust.

MRS MARCH. Yes. I've just had to say good-bye to her.

BLY. [Very blank] Nothing to do with property, I hope?

MRS MARCH. No, no! Giddiness with my son. It's impossible; she really must learn.

BLY. Oh! but 'oo's to learn 'er? Couldn't you learn your son instead?

MRS MARCH. No. My son is very high-minded.

BLY. [Dubiously] I see. How am I goin' to get over this? Shall I tell you what I think, ma'am?

MRS MARCH. I'm afraid it'll be no good.

BLY. That's it. Character's born, not made. You can clean yer winders and clean 'em, but that don't change the colour of the glass. My father would have given her a good hidin', but I shan't. Why not? Because my glass ain't as thick as his. I see through it; I see my girl's temptations, I see what she is--likes a bit o' life, likes a flower, an' a dance. She's a natural morganatic.

MRS MARCH. A what?

BLY. Nothin'll ever make her regular. Mr March'll understand how I feel. Poor girl! In the mud again. Well, we must keep smilin'. [His face is as long as his arm] The poor 'ave their troubles, there's no doubt. [He turns to go] There's nothin' can save her but money, so as she can do as she likes. Then she wouldn't want to do it.

MRS MARCH. I'm very sorry, but there it is.

BLY. And I thought she was goin' to be a success here. Fact is, you can't see anything till it 'appens. There's winders all round, but you can't see. Follow your instincts--it's the only way.

MRS MARCH. It hasn't helped your daughter.

BLY. I was speakin' philosophic! Well, I'll go 'ome now, and prepare meself for the worst.

MRS MARCH. Has Cook given you your money?

BLY. She 'as.

He goes out gloomily and is nearly overthrown in the doorway by the violent entry of JOHNNY.

JOHNNY. What's this, Mother? I won't have it--it's pre-war.

MRS MARCH. [Indicating MR BLY] Johnny!

JOHNNY waves BLY out of the room and doses the door.

JOHNNY. I won't have her go. She's a pathetic little creature.

MRS MARCH. [Unruffled] She's a minx.

JOHNNY. Mother!

MRS MARCH. Now, Johnny, be sensible. She's a very pretty girl, and this is my house.

JOHNNY. Of course you think the worst. Trust anyone who wasn't in the war for that!

MRS MARCH. I don't think either the better or the worse. Kisses are kisses!

JOHNNY. Mother, you're like the papers--you put in all the vice and leave out all the virtue, and call that human nature. The kiss was an accident that I bitterly regret.

MRS MARCH. Johnny, how can you?

JOHNNY. Dash it! You know what I mean. I regret it with my--my conscience. It shan't occur again.

MRS MARCH. Till next time.

JOHNNY. Mother, you make me despair. You're so matter-of-fact, you never give one credit for a pure ideal.

MRS MARCH. I know where ideals lead.

JOHNNY. Where?

MRS MARCH. Into the soup. And the purer they are, the hotter the soup.

JOHNNY. And you married father!

MRS MARCH. I did.

JOHNNY. Well, that girl is not to be chucked out; won't have her on my chest.

MRS MARCH. That's why she's going, Johnny.

JOHNNY. She is not. Look at me!

MRS MARCH looks at him from across the dining-table, for he has marched up to it, till they are staring at each other across the now cleared rosewood.

MRS MARCH. How are you going to stop her?

JOHNNY. Oh, I'll stop her right enough. If I stuck it out in Hell, I can stick it out in Highgate.

MRS MARCH. Johnny, listen. I've watched this girl; and I don't watch what I want to see--like your father--I watch what is. She's not a hard case--yet; but she will be.

JOHNNY. And why? Because all you matter-of-fact people make up your minds to it. What earthly chance has she had?

MRS MARCH. She's a baggage. There are such things, you know, Johnny.

JOHNNY. She's a little creature who went down in the scrum and has been kicked about ever since.

MRS MARCH. I'll give her money, if you'll keep her at arm's length.

JOHNNY. I call that revolting. What she wants is the human touch.

MRS MARCH. I've not a doubt of it.

JOHNNY rises in disgust.

Johnny, what is the use of wrapping the thing up in catchwords? Human touch! A young man like you never saved a girl like her. It's as fantastic as--as Tolstoi's "Resurrection."

JOHNNY. Tolstoi was the most truthful writer that ever lived.

MRS MARCH. Tolstoi was a Russian--always proving that what isn't, is.

JOHNNY. Russians are charitable, anyway, and see into other people's souls.

MRS MARCH. That's why they're hopeless.

JOHNNY. Well--for cynicism--

MRS MARCH. It's at least as important, Johnny, to see into ourselves as into other people. I've been trying to make your father understand that ever since we married. He'd be such a good writer if he did--he wouldn't write at all.

JOHNNY. Father has imagination.

MRS MARCH. And no business to meddle with practical affairs. You and he always ride in front of the hounds. Do you remember when the war broke out, how angry you were with me because I said we were fighting from a sense of self-preservation? Well, weren't we?

JOHNNY. That's what I'm doing now, anyway.

MRS MARCH. Saving this girl, to save yourself?

JOHNNY. I must have something decent to do sometimes. There isn't an ideal left.

MRS MARCH. If you knew how tired I am of the word, Johnny!

JOHNNY. There are thousands who feel like me--that the bottom's out of everything. It sickens me that anything in the least generous should get sat on by all you people who haven't risked your lives.

MRS MARCH. [With a smile] I risked mine when you were born, Johnny. You were always very difficult.

JOHNNY. That girl's been telling me--I can see the whole thing.

MRS MARCH. The fact that she suffered doesn't alter her nature; or the danger to you and us.

JOHNNY. There is no danger--I told her I didn't mean it.

MRS MARCH. And she smiled? Didn't she?

JOHNNY. I--I don't know.

MRS MARCH. If you were ordinary, Johnny, it would be the girl's look-out. But you're not, and I'm not going to have you in the trap she'll set for you.

JOHNNY. You think she's a designing minx. I tell you she's got no more design in her than a rabbit. She's just at the mercy of anything.

MRS MARCH. That's the trap. She'll play on your feelings, and you'll be caught.

JOHNNY. I'm not a baby.

MRS MARCH. You are--and she'll smother you.

JOHNNY. How beastly women are to each other!

MRS MARCH. We know ourselves, you see. The girl's father realises perfectly what she is.

JOHNNY. Mr Bly is a dodderer. And she's got no mother. I'll bet you've never realised the life girls who get outed lead. I've seen them--I saw them in France. It gives one the horrors.

MRS MARCH. I can imagine it. But no girl gets "outed," as you call it, unless she's predisposed that way.

JOHNNY. That's all you know of the pressure of life.

MRS MARCH. Excuse me, Johnny. I worked three years among factory girls, and I know how they manage to resist things when they've got stuff in them.

JOHNNY. Yes, I know what you mean by stuff--good hard self-preservative instinct. Why should the wretched girl who hasn't got that be turned down? She wants protection all the more.

MRS MARCH. I've offered to help with money till she gets a place.

JOHNNY. And you know she won't take it. She's got that much stuff in her. This place is her only chance. I appeal to you, Mother--please tell her not to go.

MRS MARCH. I shall not, Johnny.

JOHNNY. [Turning abruptly] Then we know where we are.

MRS MARCH. I know where you'll be before a week's over.

JOHNNY. Where?

MRS MARCH. In her arms.

JOHNNY. [From the door, grimly] If I am, I'll have the right to be!

MRS MARCH. Johnny! [But he is gone.]

MRS MARCH follows to call him back, but is met by MARY.

MARY. So you've tumbled, Mother?

MRS MARCH. I should think I have! Johnny is making an idiot of himself about that girl.

MARY. He's got the best intentions.

MRS MARCH. It's all your father. What can one expect when your father carries on like a lunatic over his paper every morning?

MARY. Father must have opinions of his own.

MRS MARCH. He has only one: Whatever is, is wrong.

MARY. He can't help being intellectual, Mother.

MRS MARCH. If he would only learn that the value of a sentiment is the amount of sacrifice you are prepared to make for it!

MARY. Yes: I read that in "The Times" yesterday. Father's much safer than Johnny. Johnny isn't safe at all; he might make a sacrifice any day. What were they doing?

MRS MARCH. Cook caught them kissing.

MARY. How truly horrible!

As she speaks MR MARCH comes in.

MR MARCH. I met Johnny using the most poetic language. What's happened?

MRS MARCH. He and that girl. Johnny's talking nonsense about wanting to save her. I've told her to pack up.

MR MARCH. Isn't that rather coercive, Joan?

MRS MARCH. Do you approve of Johnny getting entangled with this girl?

MR MARCH. No. I was only saying to Mary--

MRS MARCH. Oh! You were!

MR MARCH. But I can quite see why Johnny--

MRS MARCH. The Government, I suppose!

MR MARCH. Certainly.

MRS MARCH. Well, perhaps you'll get us out of the mess you've got us into.

MR MARCH. Where's the girl?

MRS MARCH. In her room-packing.

MR MARCH. We must devise means--

MRS MARCH smiles.

The first thing is to see into them--and find out exactly--

MRS MARCH. Heavens! Are you going to have them X-rayed? They haven't got chest trouble, Geof.

MR MARCH. They may have heart trouble. It's no good being hasty, Joan.

MRS MARCH. Oh! For a man that can't see an inch into human nature, give me a--psychological novelist!

MR MARCH. [With dignity] Mary, go and see where Johnny is.

MARY. Do you want him here?

MR MARCH. Yes.

MARY. [Dubiously] Well--if I can.

She goes out. A silence, during which the MARCHES look at each other by those turns which characterise exasperated domesticity.

MRS MARCH. If she doesn't go, Johnny must. Are you going to turn him out?

MR MARCH. Of course not. We must reason with him.

MRS MARCH. Reason with young people whose lips were glued together half an hour ago! Why ever did you force me to take this girl?

MR MARCH. [Ruefully] One can't always resist a kindly impulse, Joan. What does Mr Bly say to it?

MRS MARCH. Mr Bly? "Follow your instincts" and then complains of his daughter for following them.

MR MARCH. The man's a philosopher.

MRS MARCH. Before we know where we are, we shall be having Johnny married to that girl.

MR MARCH. Nonsense!

MRS MARCH. Oh, Geof! Whenever you're faced with reality, you say "Nonsense!" You know Johnny's got chivalry on the brain.

MARY comes in.

MARY. He's at the top of the servants' staircase; outside her room. He's sitting in an armchair, with its back to her door.

MR MARCH. Good Lord! Direct action!

MARY. He's got his pipe, a pound of chocolate, three volumes of "Monte Cristo," and his old concertina. He says it's better than the trenches.

MR MARCH. My hat! Johnny's made a joke. This is serious.

MARY. Nobody can get up, and she can't get down. He says he'll stay there till all's blue, and it's no use either of you coming unless mother caves in.

MR MARCH. I wonder if Cook could do anything with him?

MARY. She's tried. He told her to go to hell.

MR MARCH. I Say! And what did Cook--?

MARY. She's gone.

MR MARCH. Tt! tt! This is very awkward.

COOK enters through the door which MARY has left open.

MR MARCH. Ah, Cook! You're back, then? What's to be done?

MRS MARCH. [With a laugh] We must devise means!

COOK. Oh, ma'am, it does remind me so of the tantrums he used to get into, dear little feller! Smiles with recollection.

MRS MARCH. [Sharply] You're not to take him up anything to eat, Cook!

COOK. Oh! But Master Johnny does get so hungry. It'll drive him wild, ma'am. Just a Snack now and then!

MRS MARCH. No, Cook. Mind--that's flat!

COOK. Aren't I to feed Faith, ma'am?

MR MARCH. Gad! It wants it!

MRS MARCH. Johnny must come down to earth.

COOK. Ah! I remember how he used to fall down when he was little--he would go about with his head in the air. But he always picked himself up like a little man.

MARY. Listen!

They all listen. The distant sounds of a concertina being played with fury drift in through the open door.

COOK. Don't it sound 'eavenly!

The concertina utters a long wail.


CURTAIN.


John Galsworthy

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