The Second Mrs. Tanqueray by Arthur W. Pinero

The Second Mrs. Tanqueray by Arthur W. Pinero

THE FIRST ACT

Aubrey Tanqueray‘s Chambers in the Albany—a richly and tastefully decorated room, elegantly and luxuriously furnished: on the right a large pair of doors opening into another room, on the left at the further end of the room a small door leading to a bedchamber. A circular table is laid for a dinner for four persons which has now reached the stage of dessert and coffee. Everything in the apartment suggests wealth and refinement. The fire is burning brightly.

[2]

Aubrey TanquerayMisquithand Jayne are seated at the dinner-table. Aubrey is forty-two, handsome, winning in manner, his speech and bearing retaining some of the qualities of young-manhood. Misquith is about forty-seven, genial and portly. Jayne is a year or two Misquith‘s senior; soft-speaking and precise—in appearance a type of the prosperous town physician. MorseAubrey‘s servant, places a little cabinet of cigars and the spirit-lamp on the table beside Aubreyand goes out.

Misquith.

Aubrey, it is a pleasant yet dreadful fact to contemplate, but it’s nearly fifteen years since I first dined with you. You lodged in Piccadilly in those days, over a hat-shop. Jayne, I met you at that dinner, and Cayley Drummle.

Jayne.

Yes, yes. What a pity it is that Cayley isn’t here to-night.

Aubrey.

Confound the old gossip! His empty chair has been staring us in the face all through dinner. I ought to have told Morse to take it away.

Misquith.

Odd, his sending no excuse.[3]

Aubrey.

I’ll walk round to his lodgings later on and ask after him.

Misquith.

I’ll go with you.

Jayne.

So will I.

Aubrey.

[Opening the cigar-cabinet.] Doctor, it’s useless to tempt you, I know. Frank—[Misquith and Aubrey smoke.] I particularly wished Cayley Drummle to be one of us to-night. You two fellows and Cayley are my closest, my best friends——

Misquith.

My dear Aubrey!

Jayne.

I rejoice to hear you say so.

Aubrey.

And I wanted to see the three of you round this table. You can’t guess the reason.

Misquith.

You desired to give us a most excellent dinner.[4]

Jayne.

Obviously.

Aubrey.

[Hesitatingly.] Well—I—[glancing at the clock]—Cayley won’t turn up now.

Jayne.

H’m, hardly.

Aubrey.

Then you two shall hear it. Doctor, Frank, this is the last time we are to meet in these rooms.

Jayne.

The last time?

Misquith.

You’re going to leave the Albany?

Aubrey.

Yes. You’ve heard me speak of a house I built in the country years ago, haven’t you?

Misquith.

In Surrey.

Aubrey.

Well, when my wife died I cleared out of that house and let it. I think of trying the place again.[5]

Misquith.

But you’ll go raving mad if ever you find yourself down there alone.

Aubrey.

Ah, but I sha’n’t be alone, and that’s what I wanted to tell you. I’m going to be married.

Jayne.

Going to be married?

Misquith.

Married?

Aubrey.

Yes—to-morrow.

Jayne.

To-morrow?

Misquith.

You take my breath away! My dear fellow, I—I—of course, I congratulate you.

Jayne.

And—and so do I—heartily.

Aubrey.

Thanks—thanks.

[There is a moment or two of embarrassment.

[6]

Misquith.

Er—ah—this is an excellent cigar.

Jayne.

Ah—um—your coffee is remarkable.

Aubrey.

Look here; I daresay you two old friends think this treatment very strange, very unkind. So I want you to understand me. You know a marriage often cools friendships. What’s the usual course of things? A man’s engagement is given out, he is congratulated, complimented upon his choice; the church is filled with troops of friends, and he goes away happily to a chorus of good wishes. He comes back, sets up house in town or country, and thinks to resume the old associations, the old companionships. My dear Frank, my dear good doctor, it’s very seldom that it can be done. Generally, a worm has begun to eat its way into those hearty, unreserved, pre-nuptial friendships; a damnable constraint sets in and acts like a wasting disease; and so, believe me, in nine cases out of ten a man’s marriage severs for him more close ties than it forms.

Misquith.

Well, my dear Aubrey, I earnestly hope—[7]

Aubrey.

I know what you’re going to say, Frank. I hope so, too. In the meantime let’s face dangers. I’ve reminded you of the usual course of things, but my marriage isn’t even the conventional sort of marriage likely to satisfy society. Now, Cayley’s a bachelor, but you two men have wives. By-the-bye, my love to Mrs. Misquith and to Mrs. Jayne when you get home—don’t forget that. Well, your wives may not—like—the lady I’m going to marry.

Jayne.

Aubrey, forgive me for suggesting that the lady you are going to marry may not like our wives—mine at least; I beg your pardon, Frank.

Aubrey.

Quite so; then I must go the way my wife goes.

Misquith.

Come, come, pray don’t let us anticipate that either side will be called upon to make such a sacrifice.

Aubrey.

Yes, yes, let us anticipate it. And let us make up our minds to have no slow bleeding-to-death[8] of our friendship. We’ll end a pleasant chapter here to-night, and after to-night start afresh. When my wife and I settle down at Willowmere it’s possible that we shall all come together. But if this isn’t to be, for Heaven’s sake let us recognise that it is simply because it can’t be, and not wear hypocritical faces and suffer and be wretched. Doctor, Frank—[holding out his hands, one toMisquiththe other to Jayne]—good luck to all of us!

Misquith.

But—but—do I understand we are to ask nothing? Not even the lady’s name, Aubrey?

Aubrey.

The lady, my dear Frank, belongs to the next chapter, and in that her name is Mrs. Aubrey Tanqueray.

Jayne.

[Raising his coffee-cup.] Then, in an old-fashioned way, I propose a toast. Aubrey, Frank, I give you “The Next Chapter!”

[They drink the toast, saying, “The Next Chapter!”

Aubrey.

Doctor, find a comfortable chair; Frank, you too.[9] As we’re going to turn out by-and-by, let me scribble a couple of notes now while I think of them.

Misquith and Jayne.

Certainly—yes, yes.

Aubrey.

It might slip my memory when I get back.

[Aubrey sits at a writing-table at the other end of the room, and writes.

Jayne.

[To Misquithin a whisper.] Frank—— [Misquith quietly leaves his chair and sits nearer to Jayne.] What is all this? Simply a morbid crank of Aubrey’s with regard to ante-nuptial acquaintances?

Misquith.

H’m! Did you notice one expression he used?

Jayne.

Let me think——

Misquith.

“My marriage is not even the conventional sort of marriage likely to satisfy society.”

Jayne.

Bless me, yes! What does that suggest?[10]

Misquith.

That he has a particular rather than a general reason for anticipating estrangement from his friends, I’m afraid.

Jayne.

A horrible mésalliance! A dairymaid who has given him a glass of milk during a day’s hunting, or a little anæmic shopgirl! Frank, I’m utterly wretched!

Misquith.

My dear Jayne, speaking in absolute confidence, I have never been more profoundly depressed in my life.

Morse enters.

Morse.

[Announcing] Mr. Drummle.

[Cayley Drummle enters briskly. He is a neat little man of about five-and-forty, in manner bright, airy, debonair, but with an undercurrent of seriousness.

[Morse retires.

Drummle.

I’m in disgrace; nobody realises that more thoroughly than I do. Where’s my host?[11]

Aubrey.

[Who has risen.] Cayley.

Drummle.

[Shaking hands with him.] Don’t speak to me till I have tendered my explanation. A harsh word from anybody would unman me.

[Misquith and Jayne shake hands with Drummle.

Aubrey.

Have you dined?

Drummle.

No—unless you call a bit of fish, a cutlet, and a pancake dining.

Aubrey.

Cayley, this is disgraceful.

Jayne.

Fish, a cutlet, and a pancake will require a great deal of explanation.

Misquith.

Especially the pancake. My dear friend, your case looks miserably weak.

Drummle.

Hear me! hear me![12]

Jayne.

Now then!

Misquith.

Come!

Aubrey.

Well!

Drummle.

It so happens that to-night I was exceptionally early in dressing for dinner.

Misquith.

For which dinner—the fish and cutlet?

Drummle.

For this dinner, of course—really, Frank! At a quarter to eight, in fact, I found myself trimming my nails, with ten minutes to spare. Just then enter my man with a note—would I hasten, as fast as cab could carry me, to old Lady Orreyed in Bruton Street?—”sad trouble.” Now, recollect, please, I had ten minutes on my hands, old Lady Orreyed was a very dear friend of my mother’s, and was in some distress.

Aubrey.

Cayley, come to the fish and cutlet?[13]

Misquith and Jayne.

Yes, yes, and the pancake!

Drummle.

Upon my word! Well, the scene in Bruton Street beggars description; the women servants looked scared, the men drunk; and there was poor old Lady Orreyed on the floor of her boudoir like Queen Bess among her pillows.

Aubrey.

What’s the matter?

Drummle.

[To everybody.] You know George Orreyed?

Misquith.

Yes.

Jayne.

I’ve met him.

Drummle.

Well, he’s a thing of the past.

Aubrey.

Not dead!

Drummle.

Certainly, in the worst sense. He’s married Mabel Hervey.[14]

Misquith.

What!

Drummle.

It’s true—this morning. The poor mother showed me his letter—a dozen curt words, and some of those ill-spelt.

Misquith.

[Walking up to the fireplace.] I’m very sorry.

Jayne.

Pardon my ignorance—who was Mabel Hervey?

Drummle.

You don’t——? Oh, of course not. Miss Hervey—Lady Orreyed, as she now is—was a lady who would have been, perhaps has been, described in the reports of the Police or the Divorce Court as an actress. Had she belonged to a lower stratum of our advanced civilisation she would, in the event of judicial inquiry, have defined her calling with equal justification as that of a dressmaker. To do her justice, she is a type of a class which is immortal. Physically, by the strange caprice of creation, curiously beautiful; mentally, she lacks even the strength of deliberate viciousness. Paint her portrait, it would symbolise a creature perfectly[15] patrician; lance a vein of her superbly-modelled arm, you would get the poorest vin ordinaire! Her affections, emotions, impulses, her very existence—a burlesque! Flaxen, five-and-twenty, and feebly frolicsome; anybody’s, in less gentle society I should say everybody’s, property! That, doctor, was Miss Hervey who is the new Lady Orreyed. Dost thou like the picture?

Misquith.

Very good, Cayley! Bravo!

Aubrey.

[Laying his hand on Drummle’s shoulder.] You’d scarcely believe it, Jayne, but none of us really know anything about this lady, our gay young friend here, I suspect, least of all.

Drummle.

Aubrey, I applaud your chivalry.

Aubrey.

And perhaps you’ll let me finish a couple of letters which Frank and Jayne have given me leave to write. [Returning to the writing-table.] Ring for what you want, like a good fellow!

[Aubrey resumes his writing.

[16]

Misquith.

[To Drummle.] Still, the fish and cutlet remain unexplained.

Drummle.

Oh, the poor old woman was so weak that I insisted upon her taking some food, and felt there was nothing for it but to sit down opposite her. The fool! the blackguard!

Misquith.

Poor Orreyed! Well, he’s gone under for a time.

Drummle.

For a time! My dear Frank, I tell you he has absolutely ceased to be. [Aubreywho has been writing busily, turns his head towards the speakers and listens. His lips are set, and there is a frown upon his face.] For all practical purposes you may regard him as the late George Orreyed. To-morrow the very characteristics of his speech, as we remember them, will have become obsolete.

Jayne.

But surely, in the course of years, he and his wife will outlive——

Drummle.

No, no, doctor, don’t try to upset one of my settled[17] beliefs. You may dive into many waters, but there is one social Dead Sea——!

Jayne.

Perhaps you’re right.

Drummle.

Right! Good God! I wish you could prove me otherwise! Why, for years I’ve been sitting, and watching and waiting.

Misquith.

You’re in form to-night, Cayley. May we ask where you’ve been in the habit of squandering your useful leisure?

Drummle.

Where? On the shore of that same sea.

Misquith.

And, pray, what have you been waiting for?

Drummle.

For some of my best friends to come up. [Aubrey utters a half-stifled exclamation of impatience; then he hurriedly gathers up his papers from the writing-table. The three men turn to him.] Eh?[18]

Aubrey.

Oh, I—I’ll finish my letters in the other room if you’ll excuse me for five minutes. Tell Cayley the news.

[He goes out.

Drummle.

[Hurrying to the door.] My dear fellow, my jabbering has disturbed you! I’ll never talk again as long as I live!

Misquith.

Close the door, Cayley.

[Drummle shuts the door.

Jayne.

Cayley——

Drummle.

[Advancing to the dinner table.] A smoke, a smoke, or I perish!

[Selects a cigar from the little cabinet.

Jayne.

Cayley, marriages are in the air.

Drummle.

Are they? Discover the bacillus, doctor, and destroy it.

Jayne.

I mean, among our friends.[19]

Drummle.

Oh, Nugent Warrinder’s engagement to Lady Alice Tring. I’ve heard of that. They’re not to be married till the spring.

Jayne.

Another marriage that concerns us a little takes place to-morrow.

Drummle.

Whose marriage?

Jayne.

Aubrey’s.

Drummle.

Aub——! [Looking towards Misquith.] Is it a joke?

Misquith.

No.

Drummle.

[Looking from Misquith to Jayne.] To whom?

Misquith.

He doesn’t tell us.

Jayne.

We three were asked here to-night to receive the announcement. Aubrey has some theory that marriage is likely to alienate a man from his friends,[20] and it seems to me he has taken the precaution to wish us good-bye.

Misquith.

No, no.

Jayne.

Practically, surely.

Drummle.

[Thoughtfully.] Marriage in general, does he mean, or this marriage?

Jayne.

That’s the point. Frank says——

Misquith.

No, no, no; I feared it suggested——

Jayne.

Well, well. [To Drummle.] What do you think Of it?

Drummle.

[After a slight pause.] Is there a light there? [Lighting his cigar.] He—wraps the lady—in mystery—you say?

Misquith.

Most modestly.[21]

Drummle.

Aubrey’s—not—a very—young man.

Jayne.

Forty-three.

Drummle.

Ah! L’age critique!

Misquith.

A dangerous age—yes, yes.

Drummle.

When you two fellows go home, do you mind leaving me behind here?

Misquith.

Not at all.

Jayne.

By all means.

Drummle.

All right. [Anxiously.] Deuce take it, the man’s second marriage mustn’t be another mistake!

[With his head bent he walks up to the fireplace.

Jayne.

You knew him in his short married life, Cayley. Terribly unsatisfactory, wasn’t it?[22]

Drummle.

Well—— [Looking at the door.] I quite closed that door?

Misquith.

Yes.

[Settles himself on the sofaJayne is seated in an armchair.

Drummle.

[Smoking, with his back to the fire.] He married a Miss Herriott; that was in the year eighteen—confound dates—twenty years ago. She was a lovely creature—by Jove, she was; by religion a Roman Catholic. She was one of your cold sort, you know—all marble arms and black velvet. I remember her with painful distinctness as the only woman who ever made me nervous.

Misquith.

Ha, ha!

Drummle.

He loved her—to distraction, as they say. Jupiter, how fervently that poor devil courted her! But I don’t believe she allowed him even to squeeze her fingers. She was an iceberg! As for kissing, the mere contact would have given him chapped lips. However, he married her and took her away, the latter greatly to my relief.[23]

Jayne.

Abroad, you mean?

Drummle.

Eh? Yes. I imagine he gratified her by renting a villa in Lapland, but I don’t know. After a while they returned, and then I saw how wofully Aubrey had miscalculated results.

Jayne.

Miscalculated——?

Drummle.

He had reckoned, poor wretch, that in the early days of marriage she would thaw. But she didn’t. I used to picture him closing his doors and making up the fire in the hope of seeing her features relax. Bless her, the thaw never set in! I believe she kept a thermometer in her stays and always registered ten degrees below zero. However, in time a child came—a daughter.

Jayne.

Didn’t that——?

Drummle.

Not a bit of it; it made matters worse. Frightened at her failure to stir up in him some sympathetic religious belief, she determined upon strong measures[24] with regard to the child. He opposed her for a miserable year or so, but she wore him down, and the insensible little brat was placed in a convent, first in France, then in Ireland. Not long afterwards the mother died, strangely enough, of fever, the only warmth, I believe, that ever came to that woman’s body.

Misquith.

Don’t, Cayley!

Jayne.

The child is living, we know.

Drummle.

Yes, if you choose to call it living. Miss Tanqueray—a young woman of nineteen now—is in the Loretto convent at Armagh. She professes to have found her true vocation in a religious life, and within a month or two will take final vows.

Misquith.

He ought to have removed his daughter from the convent when the mother died.

Drummle.

Yes, yes, but absolutely at the end there was reconciliation between husband and wife, and she[25] won his promise that the child should complete her conventual education. He reaped his reward. When he attempted to gain his girl’s confidence and affection he was too late; he found he was dealing with the spirit of the mother. You remember his visit to Ireland last month?

Jayne.

Yes.

Drummle.

That was to wish his girl good-bye.

Misquith.

Poor fellow?

Drummle.

He sent for me when he came back. I think he must have had a lingering hope that the girl would relent—would come to life, as it were—at the last moment, for, for an hour or so, in this room, he was terribly shaken. I’m sure he’d clung to that hope from the persistent way in which he kept breaking off in his talk to repeat one dismal word, as if he couldn’t realise his position without dinning this damned word into his head.

Jayne.

What word was that?[26]

Drummle.

Alone—alone.

Aubrey enters.

Aubrey.

A thousand apologies!

Drummle.

[Gaily.] We are talking about you, my dear Aubrey.

[During the telling of the story, Misquith has risen and gone to the fire, and Drummle has thrown himself full-length on the sofa. Aubrey now joins Misquith and Jayne.

Aubrey.

Well, Cayley, are you surprised?

Drummle.

Surp——! I haven’t been surprised for twenty years.

Aubrey.

And you’re not angry with me?

Drummle.

Angry! [Rising.] Because you considerately withhold[27] the name of a lady with whom it is now the object of my life to become acquainted? My dear fellow, you pique my curiosity, you give zest to my existence! And as for a wedding, who on earth wants to attend that familiar and probably draughty function? Ugh! My cigar’s out.

Aubrey.

Let’s talk about something else.

Misquith.

[Looking at his watch.] Not to-night, Aubrey.

Aubrey.

My dear Frank!

Misquith.

I go up to Scotland to-morrow, and there are some little matters——

Jayne.

I am off too.

Aubrey.

No, no.

Jayne.

I must: I have to give a look to a case in Clifford Street on my way home.[28]

Aubrey.

[Going to the door.] Well! [Misquith and Jayne exchange looks with DrummleOpening the door and calling.] Morse, hats and coats! I shall write to you all next week from Genoa or Florence. Now, doctor, Frank, remember, my love to Mrs. Misquith and to Mrs. Jayne!

Morse enters with hats and coats.

Misquith and Jayne.

Yes, yes—yes, yes.

Aubrey.

And your young people!

[As Misquith and Jayne put on their coats there is the clatter of careless talk.

Jayne.

Cayley, I meet you at dinner on Sunday.

Drummle.

At the Stratfields’. That’s very pleasant.

Misquith.

[Putting on his coat with Aubrey‘s aid.] Ah-h!

Aubrey.

What’s wrong?[29]

Misquith.

A twinge. Why didn’t I go to Aix in August?

Jayne.

[Shaking hands with Drummle.] Good-night, Cayley.

Drummle.

Good-night, my dear doctor!

Misquith.

[Shaking hands with Drummle.] Cayley, are you in town for long?

Drummle.

Dear friend, I’m nowhere for long. Good-night.

Misquith.

Good-night.

[AubreyJayneand Misquith go out, followed by Morsethe hum of talk is continued outside.

Aubrey.

A cigar, Frank?

Misquith.

No, thank you.

Aubrey.

Going to walk, doctor?[30]

Jayne.

If Frank will.

Misquith.

By all means.

Aubrey.

It’s a cold night.

[The door is closed. Drummle remains standing with his coat on his arm and his hat in his hand.

Drummle.

[To himself, thoughtfully.] Now then! What the devil——!

[Aubrey returns.

Aubrey.

[Eyeing Drummle a little awkwardly.] Well, Cayley?

Drummle.

Well, Aubrey?

[Aubrey walks up to the fire and stands looking into it.

Aubrey.

You’re not going, old chap?

Drummle.

[Sitting.] No.

Aubrey.

[After a slight pause, with a forced laugh.] Hah![31] Cayley, I never thought I should feel—shy—with you.

Drummle.

Why do you?

Aubrey.

Never mind.

Drummle.

Now, I can quite understand a man wishing to be married in the dark, as it were.

Aubrey.

You can?

Drummle.

In your place I should very likely adopt the same course.

Aubrey.

You think so?

Drummle.

And if I intended marrying a lady not prominently in Society, as I presume you do—as I presume you do——

Aubrey.

Well?

Drummle.

As I presume you do, I’m not sure that I should tender her for preliminary dissection at afternoon tea-tables.[32]

Aubrey.

No?

Drummle.

In fact, there is probably only one person—were I in your position to-night—with whom I should care to chat the matter over.

Aubrey.

Who’s that?

Drummle.

Yourself, of course. [Going to Aubrey and standing beside him.] Of course, yourself, old friend.

Aubrey.

[After a pause.] I must seem a brute to you, Cayley. But there are some acts which are hard to explain, hard to defend——

Drummle.

To defend——?

Aubrey.

Some acts which one must trust to time to put right.

[Drummle watches him for a moment, then takes up his hat and coat.

Drummle.

Well, I’ll be moving.[33]

Aubrey.

Cayley! Confound you and your old friendship! Do you think I forget it? Put your coat down! Why did you stay behind here? Cayley, the lady I am going to marry is the lady—who is known as—Mrs. Jarman.

[There is a pause.

Drummle.

[In a low voice] Mrs. Jarman! are you serious?

[He walks up to the fireplace, where he leans upon the mantelpiece uttering something like a groan.

Aubrey.

As you’ve got this out of me I give you leave to say all you care to say. Come, we’ll be plain with each other. You know Mrs. Jarman?

Drummle.

I first met her at—what does it matter?

Aubrey.

Yes, yes, everything! Come!

Drummle.

I met her at Homburg, two—three seasons ago.[34]

Aubrey.

Not as Mrs. Jarman?

Drummle.

No.

Aubrey.

She was then——?

Drummle.

Mrs. Dartry.

Aubrey.

Yes. She has also seen you in London, she says.

Drummle.

Certainly.

Aubrey.

In Aldford Street. Go on.

Drummle.

Please!

Aubrey.

I insist.

Drummle.

[With a slight shrug of the shoulders.] Some time last year I was asked by a man to sup at his house, one night after the theatre.

Aubrey.

Mr. Selwyn Ethurst—a bachelor.[35]

Drummle.

Yes.

Aubrey.

You were surprised therefore to find Mr. Ethurst aided in his cursed hospitality by a lady.

Drummle.

I was unprepared.

Aubrey.

The lady you had known as Mrs. Dartry? [Drummle inclines his head silently.] There is something of a yachting cruise in the Mediterranean too, is there not?

Drummle.

I joined Peter Jarman’s yacht at Marseilles, in the Spring, a month before he died.

Aubrey.

Mrs. Jarman was on board?

Drummle.

She was a kind hostess.

Aubrey.

And an old acquaintance?

Drummle.

Yes.[36]

Aubrey.

You have told your story.

Drummle.

With your assistance.

Aubrey.

I have put you to the pain of telling it to show you that this is not the case of a blind man entrapped by an artful woman. Let me add that Mrs. Jarman has no legal right to that name, that she is simply Miss Ray—Miss Paula Ray.

Drummle.

[After a pause.] I should like to express my regret, Aubrey, for the way in which I spoke of George Orreyed’s marriage.

Aubrey.

You mean you compare Lady Orreyed with Miss Ray? [Drummle is silent.] Oh, of course! To you, Cayley, all women who have been roughly treated, and who dare to survive by borrowing a little of our philosophy, are alike. You see in the crowd of the Ill-used only one pattern; you can’t detect the shades of goodness, intelligence, even nobility there.[37] Well, how should you? The crowd is dimly lighted! And, besides, yours is the way of the world.

Drummle.

My dear Aubrey, I live in the world.

Aubrey.

The name we give our little parish of St. James’s.

Drummle.

[Laying a hand on Aubrey‘s shoulder.] And you are quite prepared, my friend, to forfeit the esteem of your little parish?

Aubrey.

I avoid mortification by shifting from one parish to another. I give up Pall Mall for the Surrey hills; leave off varnishing my boots and double the thickness of the soles.

Drummle.

And your skin—do you double the thickness of that also?

Aubrey.

I know you think me a fool, Cayley—you needn’t infer that I’m a coward into the bargain. No! I know what I’m doing, and I do it deliberately, defiantly. I’m alone; I injure no living soul by the[38] step I’m going to take; and so you can’t urge the one argument which might restrain me. Of course, I don’t expect you to think compassionately, fairly even, of the woman whom I—whom I am drawn to——

Drummle.

My dear Aubrey, I assure you I consider Mrs.—Miss Jarman—Mrs. Ray—Miss Ray—delightful. But I confess there is a form of chivalry which I gravely distrust, especially in a man of—our age.

Aubrey.

Thanks. I’ve heard you say that from forty till fifty a man is at heart either a stoic or a satyr.

Drummle.

[Protestingly.] Ah! now——

Aubrey.

I am neither. I have a temperate, honourable affection for Mrs. Jarman. She has never met a man who has treated her well—I intend to treat her well. That’s all. And in a few years, Cayley, if you’ve not quite forsaken me, I’ll prove to you that it’s possible to rear a life of happiness, of good repute, on a—miserable foundation.[39]

Drummle.

[Offering his hand.] Do prove it!

Aubrey.

[Taking his hand.] We have spoken too freely of—of Mrs. Jarman. I was excited—angry. Please forget it!

Drummle.

My dear Aubrey, when we next meet I shall remember nothing but my respect for the lady who bears your name.

Morse enters, closing the door behind him carefully.

Aubrey.

What is it?

Morse.

[Hesitatingly.] May I speak to you, Sir? [In an undertone.] Mrs. Jarman, sir.

Aubrey.

[Softly to Morse.] Mrs. Jarman! Do you mean she is at the lodge in her carriage?

Morse.

No, sir—here. [Aubrey looks towards Drummleperplexed.] There’s a nice fire in your—in that room,[40] sir. [Glancing in the direction of the door leading to the bedroom.]

Aubrey.

[Between his teeth, angrily.] Very well.

[Morse retires.

Drummle.

[Looking at his watch.] A quarter to eleven—horrible! [Taking up his hat and coat.] Must get to bed—up late every night this week. [Aubrey assists Drummlewith his coat.] Thank you. Well, good-night, Aubrey. I feel I’ve been dooced serious, quite out of keeping with myself; pray overlook it.

Aubrey.

[Kindly.] Ah, Cayley!

Drummle.

[Putting on a neck-handkerchief.] And remember that, after all, I’m merely a spectator in life; nothing more than a man at a play, in fact; only, like the old-fashioned playgoer, I love to see certain characters happy and comfortable at the finish. You understand?

Aubrey.

I think I do.[41]

Drummle.

Then, for as long as you can, old friend, will you—keep a stall for me?

Aubrey.

Yes, Cayley.

Drummle.

[Gaily.] Ah, ha! Good-night! [Bustling to the door.] Don’t bother! I’ll let myself out! Good-night! God bless yer!

[He goes outAubrey follows him. Morse enters by the other door, carrying some unopened letters which after a little consideration he places on the mantelpiece against the clock. Aubreyreturns.

Aubrey.

Yes?

Morse.

You hadn’t seen your letters that came by the nine o’clock post, sir; I’ve put ’em where they’ll catch your eye by-and-by.

Aubrey.

Thank you.

Morse.

[Hesitatingly.] Gunter’s cook and waiter have gone, sir. Would you prefer me to go to bed?[42]

Aubrey.

[Frowning.] Certainly not.

Morse.

Very well, sir.

[He goes out.

Aubrey.

[Opening the upper door] Paula! Paula!

Paula enters and throws her arms round his neck. She is a young woman of about twenty-seven: beautiful, fresh, innocent-looking. She is in superb evening dress.

Paula.

Dearest!

Aubrey.

Why have you come here?

Paula.

Angry?

Aubrey.

Yes—no. But it’s eleven o’clock.

Paula.

[Laughing.] I know.

Aubrey.

What on earth will Morse think?[43]

Paula.

Do you trouble yourself about what servants think?

Aubrey.

Of course.

Paula.

Goose! They’re only machines made to wait upon people—and to give evidence in the Divorce Court. [Looking round.] Oh, indeed! A snug little dinner!

Aubrey.

Three men.

Paula.

[Suspiciously.] Men?

Aubrey.

Men.

Paula.

[Penitently.] Ah! [Sitting at the table.] I’m so hungry.

Aubrey.

Let me get you some game pie, or some——

Paula.

No, no, hungry for this. What beautiful fruit! I love fruit when it’s expensive. [He clears a space on the table, places a plate before her, and helps her to fruit.] I haven’t dined, Aubrey dear.[44]

Aubrey.

My poor girl! Why?

Paula.

In the first place, I forgot to order any dinner, and my cook, who has always loathed me, thought he’d pay me out before he departed.

Aubrey.

The beast!

Paula.

That’s precisely what I——

Aubrey.

No, Paula!

Paula.

What I told my maid to call him. What next will you think of me?

Aubrey.

Forgive me. You must be starved.

Paula.

[Eating fruit.I didn’t care. As there was nothing to eat, I sat in my best frock, with my toes on the dining-room fender, and dreamt, oh, such a lovely dinner-party.[45]

Aubrey.

Dear lonely little woman!

Paula.

It was perfect. I saw you at the end of a very long table, opposite me, and we exchanged sly glances now and again over the flowers. We were host and hostess, Aubrey, and had been married about five years.

Aubrey.

[Kissing her hand.] Five years.

Paula.

And on each side of us was the nicest set imaginable—you know, dearest, the sort of men and women that can’t be imitated.

Aubrey.

Yes, yes. Eat some more fruit.

Paula.

But I haven’t told you the best part of my dream.

Aubrey.

Tell me.

Paula.

Well, although we had been married only such a[46] few years, I seemed to know by the look on their faces that none of our guests had ever heard anything—anything—anything peculiar about the fascinating hostess.

Aubrey.

That’s just how it will be, Paula. The world moves so quickly. That’s just how it will be.

Paula.

[With a little grimace.] I wonder! [Glancing at the fire.] Ugh! do throw another log on.

Aubrey.

[Mending the fire.] There. But you mustn’t be here long.

Paula.

Hospitable wretch! I’ve something important to tell you. No, stay where you are. [Turning from him, her face averted.] Look here, that was my dream, Aubrey; but the fire went out while I was dozing, and I woke up with a regular fit of the shivers. And the result of it all was that I ran upstairs and scribbled you a letter.

Aubrey.

Dear baby![47]

Paula.

Remain where you are. [Taking a letter from her pocket.] This is it. I’ve given you an account of myself, furnished you with a list of my adventures since I—you know. [Weighing the letter in her hand.] I wonder if it would go for a penny. Most of it you’re acquainted with; I’ve told you a good deal, haven’t I?

Aubrey.

Oh, Paula!

Paula.

What I haven’t told you I daresay you’ve heard from others. But in case they’ve omitted anything—the dears—it’s all here.

Aubrey.

In Heaven’s name, why must you talk like this to-night?

Paula.

It may save discussion by-and-by, don’t you think? [Holding out the letter.] There you are.

Aubrey.

No, dear, no.

Paula.

Take it. [He takes the letter.] Read it through[48] after I’ve gone, and then—read it again, and turn the matter over in your mind finally. And if, even at the very last moment, you feel you—oughtn’t to go to church with me, send a messenger to Pont Street, any time before eleven to-morrow, telling me that you’re afraid, and I—I’ll take the blow.

Aubrey.

Why, what—what do you think I am?

Paula.

That’s it. It’s because I know you’re such a dear good fellow that I want to save you the chance of ever feeling sorry you married me. I really love you so much, Aubrey, that to save you that I’d rather you treated me as—as the others have done.

Aubrey.

[Turning from her with a cry.] Oh!

Paula.

[After a slight pause.] I suppose I’ve shocked you. I can’t help it if I have.

[She sits, with assumed languor and indifference. He turns to her, advances, and kneels by her.

Aubrey.

My dearest, you don’t understand me. I—I can’t[49] bear to hear you always talking about—what’s done with. I tell you I’ll never remember it; Paula, can’t you dismiss it? Try. Darling, if we promise each other to forget, to forget, we’re bound to be happy. After all, it’s a mechanical matter; the moment a wretched thought enters your head, you quickly think of something bright—it depends on one’s will. Shall I burn this, dear? [Referring to the letter he holds in his hand.] Let me, let me!

Paula.

[With a shrug of the shoulders.] I don’t suppose there’s much that’s new to you in it—just as you like.

[He goes to the fire and burns the letter.

Aubrey.

There’s an end of it. [Returning to her.] What’s the matter?

Paula.

[Rising, coldly.] Oh, nothing! I’ll go and put my cloak on.

Aubrey.

[Detaining her.] What is the matter?

Paula.

Well, I think you might have said, “You’re very[50] generous, Paula,” or at least, “Thank you, dear,” when I offered to set you free.

Aubrey.

[Catching her in his arms.] Ah!

Paula.

Ah! ah! Ha, ha! It’s all very well, but you don’t know what it cost me to make such an offer. I do so want to be married.

Aubrey.

But you never imagined——?

Paula.

Perhaps not. And yet I did think of what I’d do at the end of our acquaintance if you had preferred to behave like the rest.

[Taking a flower from her bodice.

Aubrey.

Hush!

Paula.

Oh, I forgot!

Aubrey.

What would you have done when we parted?

Paula.

Why, killed myself.[51]

Aubrey.

Paula, dear!

Paula.

It’s true. [Putting the flower in his buttonhole.] Do you know I feel certain I should make away with myself if anything serious happened to me.

Aubrey.

Anything serious! What, has nothing ever been serious to you, Paula?

Paula.

Not lately; not since a long while ago. I made up my mind then to have done with taking things seriously. If I hadn’t, I—— However, we won’t talk about that.

Aubrey.

But now, now, life will be different to you, won’t it—quite different? Eh, dear?

Paula.

Oh yes, now. Only, Aubrey, mind you keep me always happy.

Aubrey.

I will try to.

Paula.

I know I couldn’t swallow a second big dose of[52] misery. I know that if ever I felt wretched again—truly wretched—I should take a leaf out of Connie Tirlemont’s book. You remember? They found her—— [With a look of horror.]

Aubrey.

For God’s sake, don’t let your thoughts run on such things!

Paula.

[Laughing.] Ha, ha, how scared you look! There, think of the time! Dearest, what will my coachman say! My cloak!

[She runs off, gaily, by the upper door. Aubrey looks after her for a moment, then he walks up to the fire and stands warming his feet at the bars. As he does so he raises his head and observes the letters upon the mantelpiece. He takes one down quickly.

Aubrey.

Ah! Ellean! [Opening the letter and reading.] “My dear father,—A great change has come over me. I believe my mother in Heaven has spoken to me, and counselled me to turn to you in your loneliness. At any rate, your words have reached my heart, and I no longer feel fitted for this solemn life.[53] I am ready to take my place by you. Dear father, will you receive me?—Ellean.

Paula re-enters, dressed in a handsome cloak. He stares at her as if he hardly realised her presence.

Paula.

What are you staring at? Don’t you admire my cloak?

Aubrey.

Yes.

Paula.

Couldn’t you wait till I’d gone before reading your letters?

Aubrey.

[Putting the letter away.] I beg your pardon.

Paula.

Take me downstairs to the carriage. [Slipping her arm through his.] How I tease you! To-morrow! I’m so happy!

[They go out.

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Categories: English Literature

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