The MARCH'S dining-room on the same evening at the end of a perfunctory dinner. MRS MARCH sits at the dining-table with her back to the windows, MARY opposite the hearth, and MR MARCH with his back to it. JOHNNY is not present. Silence and gloom.
MR MARCH. We always seem to be eating.
MRS MARCH. You've eaten nothing.
MR MARCH. [Pouring himself out a liqueur glass of brandy but not drinking it] It's humiliating to think we can't exist without. [Relapses into gloom.]
MRS MARCH. Mary, pass him the walnuts.
MARY. I was thinking of taking them up to Johnny.
MR MARCH. [Looking at his watch] He's been there six hours; even he can't live on faith.
MRS MARCH. If Johnny wants to make a martyr of himself, I can't help it.
MARY. How many days are you going to let him sit up there, Mother?
MR MARCH. [Glancing at MRS MARCH] I never in my life knew anything so ridiculous.
MRS MARCH. Give me a little glass of brandy, Geof.
MR MARCH. Good! That's the first step towards seeing reason.
He pours brandy into a liqueur glass from the decanter which stands between them. MRS MARCH puts the brandy to her lips and makes a little face, then swallows it down manfully. MARY gets up with the walnuts and goes. Silence. Gloom.
MRS MARCH. Horrid stuff!
MR MARCH. Haven't you begun to see that your policy's hopeless, Joan? Come! Tell the girl she can stay. If we make Johnny feel victorious--we can deal with him. It's just personal pride--the curse of this world. Both you and Johnny are as stubborn as mules.
MRS MARCH. Human nature is stubborn, Geof. That's what you easy--going people never see.
MR MARCH gets up, vexed, and goes to the fireplace.
MR MARCH. [Turning] Well! This goes further than you think. It involves Johnny's affection and respect for you.
MRS MARCH nervously refills the little brandy glass, and again empties it, with a grimacing shudder.
MR MARCH. [Noticing] That's better! You'll begin to see things presently.
MARY. He's been digging himself in. He's put a screen across the head of the stairs, and got Cook's blankets. He's going to sleep there.
MRS MARCH. Did he take the walnuts?
MARY. No; he passed them in to her. He says he's on hunger strike. But he's eaten all the chocolate and smoked himself sick. He's having the time of his life, mother.
MR MARCH. There you are!
MRS MARCH. Wait till this time to-morrow.
MARY. Cook's been up again. He wouldn't let her pass. She'll have to sleep in the spare room.
MR MARCH. I say!
MARY. And he's got the books out of her room.
MRS MARCH. D'you know what they are? "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "The Wide Wide World," and the Bible.
MARY. Johnny likes romance.
She crosses to the fire.
MR MARCH. [In a low voice] Are you going to leave him up there with the girl and that inflammatory literature, all night? Where's your common sense, Joan?
MRS MARCH starts up, presses her hand over her brow, and sits down again. She is stumped.
[With consideration for her defeat] Have another tot! [He pours it out] Let Mary go up with a flag of truce, and ask them both to come down for a thorough discussion of the whole thing, on condition that they can go up again if we don't come to terms.
MRS MARCH. Very well! I'm quite willing to meet him. I hate quarrelling with Johnny.
MR MARCH. Good! I'll go myself. [He goes out.]
MARY. Mother, this isn't a coal strike; don't discuss it for three hours and then at the end ask Johnny and the girl to do precisely what you're asking them to do now.
MRS MARCH. Why should I?
MARY. Because it's so usual. Do fix on half-way at once.
MRS MARCH. There is no half-way.
MARY. Well, for goodness sake think of a plan which will make you both look victorious. That's always done in the end. Why not let her stay, and make Johnny promise only to see her in the presence of a third party?
MRS MARCH. Because she'd see him every day while he was looking for the third party. She'd help him look for it.
MARY. [With a gurgle] Mother, I'd no idea you were so--French.
MRS MARCH. It seems to me you none of you have any idea what I am.
MARY. Well, do remember that there'll be no publicity to make either of you look small. You can have Peace with Honour, whatever you decide. [Listening] There they are! Now, Mother, don't be logical! It's so feminine.
As the door opens, MRS MARCH nervously fortifies herself with the third little glass of brandy. She remains seated. MARY is on her right.
MR MARCH leads into the room and stands next his daughter, then FAITH in hat and coat to the left of the table, and JOHNNY, pale but determined, last. Assembled thus, in a half fan, of which MRS MARCH is the apex, so to speak, they are all extremely embarrassed, and no wonder.
Suddenly MARY gives a little gurgle.
JOHNNY. You'd think it funnier if you'd just come out of prison and were going to be chucked out of your job, on to the world again.
FAITH. I didn't want to come down here. If I'm to go I want to go at once. And if I'm not, it's my evening out, please.
She moves towards the door. JOHNNY takes her by the shoulders.
JOHNNY. Stand still, and leave it to me. [FAITH looks up at him, hypnotized by his determination] Now, mother, I've come down at your request to discuss this; are you ready to keep her? Otherwise up we go again.
MR MARCH. That's not the way to go to work, Johnny. You mustn't ask people to eat their words raw--like that.
JOHNNY. Well, I've had no dinner, but I'm not going to eat my words, I tell you plainly.
MRS MARCH. Very well then; go up again.
MARY. [Muttering] Mother--logic.
MR MARCH. Great Scott! You two haven't the faintest idea of how to conduct a parley. We have--to--er--explore every path to--find a way to peace.
MRS MARCH. [To FAITH] Have you thought of anything to do, if you leave here?
FAITH. I shan't say.
JOHNNY. Of course, she'll just chuck herself away.
FAITH. No, I won't. I'll go to a place I know of, where they don't want references.
MRS MARCH. [To FAITH] I want to ask you a question. Since you came out, is this the first young man who's kissed you?
FAITH has hardly had time to start and manifest what may or may not be indignation when MR MARCH dashes his hands through his hair.
MR MARCH. Joan, really!
JOHNNY. [Grimly] Don't condescend to answer!
MRS MARCH. I thought we'd met to get at the truth.
MARY. But do they ever?
FAITH. I will go out!
JOHNNY. No! [And, as his back is against the door, she can't] I'll see that you're not insulted any more.
MR MARCH. Johnny, I know you have the best intentions, but really the proper people to help the young are the old--like--
FAITH suddenly turns her eyes on him, and he goes on rather hurriedly
--your mother. I'm sure that she and I will be ready to stand by Faith.
FAITH. I don't want charity.
MR MARCH. No, no! But I hope--
MRS MARCH. To devise means.
MR MARCH. [Roused] Of course, if nobody will modify their attitude --Johnny, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, and [To MRS MARCH] so ought you, Joan.
JOHNNY. [Suddenly] I'll modify mine. [To FAITH] Come here--close! [In a low voice to FAITH] Will you give me your word to stay here, if I make them keep you?
JOHNNY. To stay here quietly for the next two years?
FAITH. I don't know.
JOHNNY. I can make them, if you'll promise.
FAITH. You're just in a temper.
During this colloquy the MARCHES have been so profoundly uneasy that MRS MARCH has poured out another glass of brandy.
MR MARCH. Johnny, the terms of the Armistice didn't include this sort of thing. It was to be all open and above-board.
JOHNNY. Well, if you don't keep her, I shall clear out.
At this bombshell MRS MARCH rises.
MARY. Don't joke, Johnny! You'll do yourself an injury.
JOHNNY. And if I go, I go for good.
MR MARCH. Nonsense, Johnny! Don't carry a good thing too far!
JOHNNY. I mean it.
MRS MARCH. What will you live on?
JOHNNY. Not poetry.
MRS MARCH. What, then?
JOHNNY. Emigrate or go into the Police.
MR MARCH. Good Lord! [Going up to his wife--in a low voice] Let her stay till Johnny's in his right mind.
FAITH. I don't want to stay.
JOHNNY. You shall!
MARY. Johnny, don't be a lunatic!
COOK enters, flustered.
COOK. Mr Bly, ma'am, come after his daughter.
MR MARCH. He can have her--he can have her!
COOK. Yes, sir. But, you see, he's--Well, there! He's cheerful.
MR MARCH. Let him come and take his daughter away.
But MR BLY has entered behind him. He has a fixed expression, and speaks with a too perfect accuracy.
BLY. Did your two Cooks tell you I'm here?
MR MARCH. If you want your daughter, you can take her.
JOHNNY. Mr Bly, get out!
BLY. [Ignoring him] I don't want any fuss with your two cooks. [Catching sight of MRS MARCH] I've prepared myself for this.
MRS MARCH. So we see.
BLY. I 'ad a bit o' trouble, but I kep' on till I see 'Aigel walkin' at me in the loo-lookin' glass. Then I knew I'd got me balance.
They all regard MR BLY in a fascinated manner.
FAITH. Father! You've been drinking.
BLY. [Smiling] What do you think.
MR MARCH. We have a certain sympathy with you, Mr Bly.
BLY. [Gazing at his daughter] I don't want that one. I'll take the other.
MARY. Don't repeat yourself, Mr Bly.
BLY. [With a flash of muddled insight] Well! There's two of everybody; two of my daughter; an' two of the 'Ome Secretary; and two-two of Cook --an' I don't want either. [He waves COOK aside, and grasps at a void alongside FAITH] Come along!
MR MARCH. [Going up to him] Very well, Mr Bly! See her home, carefully. Good-night!
BLY. Shake hands!
He extends his other hand; MR MARCH grasps it and turns him round towards the door.
MR MARCH. Now, take her away! Cook, go and open the front door for Mr Bly and his daughter.
BLY. Too many Cooks!
MR MARCH. Now then, Mr Bly, take her along!
BLY. [Making no attempt to acquire the real FAITH--to an apparition which he leads with his right hand] You're the one that died when my girl was 'ung. Will you go--first or shall--I?
The apparition does not answer.
MARY. Don't! It's horrible!
FAITH. I did die.
BLY. Prepare yourself. Then you'll see what you never saw before.
He goes out with his apparition, shepherded by MR MARCH.
MRS MARCH drinks off her fourth glass of brandy. A peculiar whistle is heard through the open door, and FAITH starts forward.
JOHNNY. Stand still!
FAITH. I--I must go.
MARY. Johnny--let her!
FAITH. There's a friend waiting for me.
JOHNNY. Let her wait! You're not fit to go out to-night.
MARY. Johnny! Really! You're not the girl's Friendly Society!
JOHNNY. You none of you care a pin's head what becomes of her. Can't you see she's on the edge? The whistle is heard again, but fainter.
FAITH. I'm not in prison now.
JOHNNY. [Taking her by the arm] All right! I'll come with you.
FAITH. [Recoiling] No.
Voices are heard in the hall.
MARY. Who's that with father? Johnny, for goodness' sake don't make us all ridiculous.
MR MARCH'S voice is heard saying: "Your friend in here." He enters, followed by a reluctant young man in a dark suit, with dark hair and a pale square face, enlivened by strange, very living, dark, bull's eyes.
MR MARCH. [To FAITH, who stands shrinking a little] I came on this--er --friend of yours outside; he's been waiting for you some time, he says.
MRS MARCH. [To FAITH] You can go now.
JOHNNY. [Suddenly, to the YOUNG MAN] Who are you?
YOUNG M. Ask another! [To FAITH] Are you ready?
JOHNNY. [Seeing red] No, she's not; and you'll just clear out.
MR MARCH. Johnny!
YOUNG M. What have you got to do with her?
YOUNG M. I'll quit with her, and not before. She's my girl.
JOHNNY. Are you his girl?
MRS MARCH sits down again, and reaching out her left hand, mechanically draws to her the glass of brandy which her husband had poured out for himself and left undrunk.
JOHNNY. Then why did you--[He is going to say: "Kiss me," but checks himself]--let me think you hadn't any friends? Who is this fellow?
YOUNG M. A little more civility, please.
JOHNNY. You look a blackguard, and I believe you are.
MR MARCH. [With perfunctory authority] I really can't have this sort of thing in my house. Johnny, go upstairs; and you two, please go away.
YOUNG M. [To JOHNNY] We know the sort of chap you are--takin' advantage of workin' girls.
JOHNNY. That's a foul lie. Come into the garden and I'll prove it on your carcase.
YOUNG M. All right!
FAITH. No; he'll hurt you. He's been in the war.
JOHNNY. [To the YOUNG MAN] You haven't, I'll bet.
YOUNG M. I didn't come here to be slanged.
JOHNNY. This poor girl is going to have a fair deal, and you're not going to give it her. I can see that with half an eye.
YOUNG M. You'll see it with no eyes when I've done with you.
JOHNNY. Come on, then.
He goes up to the windows.
MR MARCH. For God's sake, Johnny, stop this vulgar brawl!
FAITH. [Suddenly] I'm not a "poor girl" and I won't be called one. I don't want any soft words. Why can't you let me be? [Pointing to JOHNNY] He talks wild. [JOHNNY clutches the edge of the writing-table] Thinks he can "rescue" me. I don't want to be rescued. I--[All the feeling of years rises to the surface now that the barrier has broken] --I want to be let alone. I've paid for everything I've done--a pound for every shilling's worth.
And all because of one minute when I was half crazy. [Flashing round at MARY] Wait till you've had a baby you oughtn't to have had, and not a penny in your pocket! It's money--money--all money!
YOUNG M. Sst! That'll do!
FAITH. I'll have what I like now, not what you think's good for me.
MR MARCH. God knows we don't want to--
FAITH. You mean very well, Mr March, but you're no good.
MR MARCH. I knew it.
FAITH. You were very kind to me. But you don't see; nobody sees.
YOUNG M. There! That's enough! You're gettin' excited. You come away with me.
FAITH's look at him is like the look of a dog at her master.
JOHNNY. [From the background] I know you're a blackguard--I've seen your sort.
FAITH. [Firing up] Don't call him names! I won't have it. I'll go with whom I choose! [Her eyes suddenly fix themselves on the YOUNG MAN'S face] And I'm going with him!
MR MARCH. What now, Cook?
COOK. A Mr Barnabas in the hall, sir. From the police.
Everybody starts. MRS MARCH drinks off her fifth little glass of brandy, then sits again.
MR MARCH. From the police?
He goes out, followed by COOK. A moment's suspense.
YOUNG M. Well, I can't wait any longer. I suppose we can go out the back way?
He draws FAITH towards the windows. But JOHNNY stands there, barring the way. JOHNNY. No, you don't.
FAITH. [Scared] Oh! Let me go--let him go!
JOHNNY. You may go. [He takes her arm to pull her to the window] He can't.
FAITH. [Freeing herself] No--no! Not if he doesn't.
JOHNNY has an evident moment of hesitation, and before it is over MR MARCH comes in again, followed by a man in a neat suit of plain clothes.
MR MARCH. I should like you to say that in front of her.
P. C. MAN. Your service, ma'am. Afraid I'm intruding here. Fact is, I've been waiting for a chance to speak to this young woman quietly. It's rather public here, sir; but if you wish, of course, I'll mention it. [He waits for some word from some one; no one speaks, so he goes on almost apologetically] Well, now, you're in a good place here, and you ought to keep it. You don't want fresh trouble, I'm sure.
FAITH. [Scared] What do you want with me?
P. C. MAN. I don't want to frighten you; but we've had word passed that you're associating with the young man there. I observed him to-night again, waiting outside here and whistling.
YOUNG M. What's the matter with whistling?
P. C. MAN. [Eyeing him] I should keep quiet if I was you. As you know, sir [To MR MARCH] there's a law nowadays against soo-tenors.
MR MARCH. Soo--?
JOHNNY. I knew it.
P. C. MAN. [Deprecating] I don't want to use any plain English--with ladies present--
YOUNG M. I don't know you. What are you after? Do you dare--?
P. C. MAN. We cut the darin', 'tisn't necessary. We know all about you.
FAITH. It's a lie!
P. C. MAN. There, miss, don't let your feelings--
FAITH. [To the YOUNG MAN] It's a lie, isn't it?
YOUNG M. A blankety lie.
MR MARCH. [To BARNABAs] Have you actual proof?
YOUNG M. Proof? It's his job to get chaps into a mess.
P. C. MAN. [Sharply] None of your lip, now!
At the new tone in his voice FAITH turns and visibly quails, like a dog that has been shown a whip.
MR MARCH. Inexpressibly painful!
YOUNG M. Ah! How would you like to be insulted in front of your girl? If you're a gentleman you'll tell him to leave the house. If he's got a warrant, let him produce it; if he hasn't, let him get out.
P. C. MAN. [To MR MARCH] You'll understand, sir, that my object in speakin' to you to-night was for the good of the girl. Strictly, I've gone a bit out of my way. If my job was to get men into trouble, as he says, I'd only to wait till he's got hold of her. These fellows, you know, are as cunning as lynxes and as impudent as the devil.
YOUNG M. Now, look here, if I get any more of this from you--I--I'll consult a lawyer.
JOHNNY. Fellows like you--
MR MARCH. Johnny!
P. C. MAN. Your son, sir?
YOUNG M. Yes; and wants to be where I am. But my girl knows better; don't you?
He gives FAITH a look which has a certain magnetism.
P. C. MAN. If we could have the Court cleared of ladies, sir, we might speak a little plainer.
MR MARCH. Joan!
But MRS MARCH does not vary her smiling immobility; FAITH draws a little nearer to the YOUNG MAN. MARY turns to the fire.
P. C. MAN. [With half a smile] I keep on forgettin' that women are men nowadays. Well!
YOUNG M. When you've quite done joking, we'll go for our walk.
MR MARCH. [To BARNABAS] I think you'd better tell her anything you know.
P. C. MAN. [Eyeing FAITH and the YOUNG MAN] I'd rather not be more precise, sir, at this stage.
YOUNG M. I should think not! Police spite! [To FAITH] You know what the Law is, once they get a down on you.
P. C. MAN. [To MR MARCH] It's our business to keep an eye on all this sort of thing, sir, with girls who've just come out.
JOHNNY. [Deeply] You've only to look at his face!
YOUNG M. My face is as good as yours.
FAITH lifts her eyes to his.
P. C. MAN. [Taking in that look] Well, there it is! Sorry I wasted my time and yours, Sir!
MR MARCH. [Distracted] My goodness! Now, Faith, consider! This is the turning-point. I've told you we'll stand by you.
FAITH. [Flashing round] Leave me alone! I stick to my friends. Leave me alone, and leave him alone! What is it to you?
P. C. MAN. [With sudden resolution] Now, look here! This man George Blunter was had up three years ago--for livin' on the earnings of a woman called Johnson. He was dismissed with a caution. We got him again last year over a woman called Lee--that time he did--
YOUNG M. Stop it! That's enough of your lip. I won't put up with this --not for any woman in the world. Not I!
FAITH. [With a sway towards him] It's not--!
YOUNG M. I'm off! Bong Swore la Companee! He tarns on his heel and walks out unhindered.
P. C. MAN. [Deeply] A bad hat, that; if ever there was one. We'll be having him again before long.
He looks at FAITH. They all look at FAITH. But her face is so strange, so tremulous, that they all turn their eyes away.
FAITH. He--he said--he--!
On the verge of an emotional outbreak, she saves herself by an effort. A painful silence.
P. C. MAN. Well, sir--that's all. Good evening! He turns to the door, touching his forehead to MR MARCH, and goes.
As the door closes, FAITH sinks into a chair, and burying her face in her hands, sobs silently. MRS MARCH sits motionless with a faint smile. JOHNNY stands at the window biting his nails. MARY crosses to FAITH.
MARY. [Softly] Don't. You weren't really fond of him?
FAITH bends her head.
MARY. But how could you? He--
FAITH. I--I couldn't see inside him.
MARY. Yes; but he looked--couldn't you see he looked--?
FAITH. [Suddenly flinging up her head] If you'd been two years without a word, you'd believe anyone that said he liked you.
MARY. Perhaps I should.
FAITH. But I don't want him--he's a liar. I don't like liars.
MARY. I'm awfully sorry.
FAITH. [Looking at her] Yes--you keep off feeling--then you'll be happy! [Rising] Good-bye!
MARY. Where are you going?
FAITH. To my father.
MARY. With him in that state?
FAITH. He won't hurt me.
MARY. You'd better stay. Mother, she can stay, can't she?
MRS MARCH nods.
MARY. Why not? We're all sorry. Do! You'd better.
FAITH. Father'll come over for my things tomorrow.
MARY. What are you going to do?
FAITH. [Proudly] I'll get on.
JOHNNY. [From the window] Stop!
All turn and look at him. He comes down. Will you come to me?
FAITH stares at him. MRS MARCH continues to smile faintly.
MARY. [With a horrified gesture] Johnny!
JOHNNY. Will you? I'll play cricket if you do.
MR MARCH. [Under his breath] Good God!
He stares in suspense at FAITH, whose face is a curious blend of fascination and live feeling.
FAITH. [Softly] Don't be silly! I've got no call on you. You don't care for me, and I don't for you. No! You go and put your head in ice. [She turns to the door] Good-bye, Mr March! I'm sorry I've been so much trouble.
MR MARCH. Not at all, not at all!
FAITH. Oh! Yes, I have. There's nothing to be done with a girl like me. She goes out.
JOHNNY. [Taking up the decanter to pour himself out a glass of brandy] Empty!
COOK. [Who has entered with a tray] Yes, my dearie, I'm sure you are.
JOHNNY. [Staring at his father] A vision, Dad! Windows of Clubs--men sitting there; and that girl going by with rouge on her cheeks--
COOK. Oh! Master Johnny!
JOHNNY. A blue night--the moon over the Park. And she stops and looks at it.--What has she wanted--the beautiful--something better than she's got--something that she'll never get!
COOK. Oh! Master Johnny!
She goes up to JOHNNY and touches his forehead. He comes to himself and hurries to the door, but suddenly MRS MARCH utters a little feathery laugh. She stands up, swaying slightly. There is something unusual and charming in her appearance, as if formality had dropped from her.
MRS MARCH. [With a sort of delicate slow lack of perfect sobriety] I see--it--all. You--can't--help--unless--you--love!
JOHNNY stops and looks round at her.
MR MARCH. [Moving a little towards her] Joan!
MRS MARCH. She--wants--to--be--loved. It's the way of the world.
MARY. [Turning] Mother!
MRS MARCH. You thought she wanted--to be saved. Silly! She--just-- wants--to--be--loved. Quite natural!
MR MARCH. Joan, what's happened to you?
MRS MARCH. [Smiling and nodding] See--people--as--they--are! Then you won't be--disappointed. Don't--have--ideals! Have--vision--just simple --vision!
MR MARCH. Your mother's not well.
MRS MARCH. [Passing her hand over her forehead] It's hot in here!
MR MARCH. Mary!
MARY throws open the French windows.
MRS MARCH. [Delightfully] The room's full of GAS. Open the windows! Open! And let's walk--out--into the air!
She turns and walks delicately out through the opened windows; JOHNNY and MARY follow her. The moonlight and the air flood in.
COOK. [Coming to the table and taking up the empty decanter] My Holy Ma!
MR MARCH. Is this the Millennium, Cook?
COOK. Oh! Master Geoffrey--there isn't a millehennium. There's too much human nature. We must look things in the face.
MR MARCH. Ah! Neither up--nor down--but straight in the face! Quite a thought, Cook! Quite a thought!