English Literature

Plays Lady Frederick, The Explorer, A Man of Honor by William Somerset Maugham

Plays Lady Frederick, The Explorer, A Man of Honor by William Somerset Maugham

THE FIRST ACT

SceneDrawing-room of the Hotel Splendide at Monte Carlo. A large, handsomely furnished room, with doors right and left, and French windows at the back leading to a terrace. Through these is seen the starry southern night. On one side is a piano, on the other a table with papers neatly laid out on it. There is a lighted stove.

Lady Merestonin evening dress, rather magnificently attired, is reading the papers. She is a handsome woman of forty. She puts down the paper impatiently and rings the bell. A servant answers. He has a French accent.

Lady Mereston.

Did Mr. Paradine Fouldes come this evening?

Servant.

Yes, miladi.

Lady Mereston.

Is he in the hotel now?

Servant.

Yes, miladi.

Lady Mereston.

Will you send some one up to his room to say I’m waiting to see him?

Servant.

Pardon, miladi, but the gentleman say ‘e was on no account to be disturbed.

Lady Mereston.

Nonsense. Mr. Fouldes is my brother. You must go to him immediately.

Servant.

Mr. Fouldes his valet is in the ‘all. Will your ladyship speak with him?

Lady Mereston.

Mr. Fouldes is more difficult to see than a cabinet minister. Send his servant to me.

Servant.

Very good, miladi.

[Exit Servant, and presently Thompson, Mr. Fouldes’ man, comes in.

Thompson.

Your ladyship wished to see me.

Lady Mereston.

Good evening, Thompson. I hope you had a comfortable journey.

Thompson.

Yes, my lady. Mr. Fouldes always has a comfortable journey.

Lady Mereston.

Was the sea calm when you crossed?

Thompson.

Yes, my lady. Mr. Fouldes would look upon it as a great liberty if the sea was not calm.

Lady Mereston.

Will you tell Mr. Fouldes that I should like to see him at once?

Thompson.

[Looking at his watch.] Excuse me, my lady, but Mr. Fouldes said no one was to disturb him till ten o’clock. It’s more than my place is worth to go to him at five minutes to.

Lady Mereston.

But what on earth’s he doing?

Thompson.

I don’t know at all, my lady.

Lady Mereston.

How long have you been with Mr. Fouldes?

Thompson.

Twenty-five years, my lady.

Lady Mereston.

I should have thought you knew how he spent every minute of his day.

[Paradine comes in. He is a very well-dressed
man of forty-odd. Self-possessed, worldly,
urbane. He is never at a loss or put out
of countenance. He overhears
 Lady
Mereston’s
 last words.

Fouldes.

When I engaged Thompson I told him the first thing he must learn was the very difficult feat of keeping his eyes open and shut at one and the same time.

Lady Mereston.

My dear Paradine, I’ve been waiting to see you for the last two hours. How tiresome you are.

Fouldes.

You may give me a kiss, Maud, but don’t be rough.

Lady Mereston.

[Kissing his cheek.] You ridiculous creature. You really might have come to see me at once.

Fouldes.

My dear, you cannot grudge me a little repose after a long and tedious journey. I had to repair the ravages to my person caused by twenty-seven hours in the train.

Lady Mereston.

Don’t be so absurd. I’m sure your person is never ravished.

Fouldes.

Ravaged, my dear, ravaged. I should look upon it as an affectation at my age if I were not a little upset by the journey from London to Monte Carlo.

Lady Mereston.

I’ll be bound you ate a very hearty dinner.

Fouldes.

Thompson, did I eat any dinner at all?

Thompson.

[Stolidly.] Soup, sir.

Fouldes.

I remember looking at it.

Thompson.

Fish, sir.

Fouldes.

I trifled with a fried sole.

Thompson.

Bouchées à la Reine, sir.

Fouldes.

They have left absolutely no impression upon me.

Thompson.

Tournedos à la Splendide.

Fouldes.

They were distinctly tough, Thompson. You must lodge a complaint in the proper quarter.

Thompson.

Roast pheasant, sir.

Fouldes.

Yes, yes, now you mention it, I do remember the pheasant.

Thompson.

Chocolate ice, sir.

Fouldes.

It was too cold, Thompson. It was distinctly too cold.

Lady Mereston.

My dear Paradine, I think you dined uncommonly well.

Fouldes.

I have reached an age when love, ambition and wealth pale into insignificance beside a really well-grilled steak. That’ll do, Thompson.

Thompson.

Very well, sir.

[He goes out.

Lady Mereston.

It’s too bad of you, Paradine, to devour a substantial meal when I’m eating out my very heart with anxiety.

Fouldes.

It seems to agree with you very well. I’ve not seen you look better for years.

Lady Mereston.

For heaven’s sake be serious and listen to me.

Fouldes.

I started immediately I got your telegram. Pray tell me what I can do for you?

Lady Mereston.

My dear Paradine, Charlie’s head over ears in love.

Fouldes.

It’s not altogether an unexpected condition for a young man of twenty-two. If the lady’s respectable, marry him and resign yourself to being a dowager. If she’s not, give her five hundred pounds and pack her off to Paris or London or wherever else she habitually practises her arts and graces.

Lady Mereston.

I wish I could. But who d’you think it is?

Fouldes.

My dear, there’s nothing I detest more than riddles. I can imagine quite a number of fair ladies who would look without disdain upon a young marquess with fifty thousand a year.

Lady Mereston.

Lady Frederick Berolles.

Fouldes.

By Jupiter!

Lady Mereston.

She’s fifteen years older than he is.

Fouldes.

Then she’s not old enough to be his mother, which is a distinct advantage.

Lady Mereston.

She dyes her hair.

Fouldes.

She dyes it uncommonly well.

Lady Mereston.

She paints.

Fouldes.

Much better than a Royal Academician.

Lady Mereston.

And poor Charlie’s simply infatuated. He rides with her all the morning, motors with her all the afternoon, and gambles with her half the night. I never see him.

Fouldes.

But why should you think Lady Frederick cares two straws for him?

Lady Mereston.

Don’t be ridiculous, Paradine. Every one knows she hasn’t a penny, and she’s crippled with debts.

Fouldes.

One has to keep up appearances in this world. Life nowadays for the woman of fashion is a dilemma of which one horn is the Bankruptcy Court and the other—dear Sir Francis Jeune.

Lady Mereston.

I wish I knew how she manages to dress so beautifully. It’s one of the injustices of fate that clothes only hang on a woman really well when she’s lost every shred of reputation.

Fouldes.

My dear, you must console yourself with the thought that she’ll probably frizzle for it hereafter.

Lady Mereston.

I hope I’m not wicked, Paradine, but to wear draperies and wings in the next world offers me no compensation for looking dowdy in a Paquin gown in this.

Fouldes.

I surmised she was on the verge of bankruptcy when I heard she’d bought a new motor. And you seriously think Charlie wants to marry her?

Lady Mereston.

I’m sure of it.

Fouldes.

And what d’you want me to do?

Lady Mereston.

Good heavens, I want you to prevent it. After all he has a magnificent position; he’s got every chance of making a career for himself. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be Prime Minister—it’s not fair to the boy to let him marry a woman like that.

Fouldes.

Of course you know Lady Frederick?

Lady Mereston.

My dear Paradine, we’re the greatest friends. You don’t suppose I’m going to give her the advantage of quarrelling with me. I think I shall ask her to luncheon to meet you.

Fouldes.

Women have such an advantage over men in affairs of this sort. They’re troubled by no scruples, and, like George Washington, never hesitate to lie.

Lady Mereston.

I look upon her as an abandoned creature, and I tell you frankly I shall stop at nothing to save my son from her clutches.

Fouldes.

Only a thoroughly good woman could so calmly announce her intention of using the crookedest ways to gain her ends.

Lady Mereston.

[Looking at him.] There must be some incident in her career which she wouldn’t like raked up. If we could only get hold of that….

Fouldes.

[Blandly.] How d’you imagine I can help you?

Lady Mereston.

A reformed burglar is always the best detective.

Fouldes.

My dear, I wish you could be frank without being sententious.

Lady Mereston.

You’ve run through two fortunes, and if we all got our deserts you would be starving now instead of being richer than ever.

Fouldes.

My second cousins have a knack of dying at the psychological moment.

Lady Mereston.

You’ve been a horrid, dissipated wretch all your life, and heaven knows the disreputable people who’ve been your bosom friends.

Fouldes.

With my knowledge of the world and your entire lack of scruple we should certainly be a match for one defenceless woman.

Lady Mereston.

[Looking at him sharply.] Common report says that at one time you were very much in love with her.

Fouldes.

Common report is an ass whose long ears only catch its own braying.

Lady Mereston.

I was wondering how far things went. If you could tell Charlie of the relations between you….

Fouldes.

My good Maud, there were no relations—unfortunately.

Lady Mereston.

Poor George was very uneasy about you at the time.

Fouldes.

Your deceased husband, being a strictly religious man, made a point of believing the worst about his neighbours.

Lady Mereston.

Don’t, Paradine; I know you didn’t like one another, but remember that I loved him with all my heart. I shall never get over his death.

Fouldes.

My dear girl, you know I didn’t mean to wound you.

Lady Mereston.

After all, it was largely your fault. He was deeply religious, and as the president of the Broad Church Union he couldn’t countenance your mode of life.

Fouldes.

[With great unction.] Thank God in my day I’ve been a miserable sinner!

Lady Mereston.

[Laughing.] You’re quite incurable, Paradine. But you will help me now. Since his father’s death, the boy and I have lived a very retired life, and now we’re quite helpless. It would break my heart if Charlie married that woman.

Fouldes.

I’ll do my best. I think I can promise you that nothing will come of it.

[The door is flung open, and Lady Frederick
enters, followed by Merestona young
boyish man of twenty-two; by her brother
,
Sir Gerald O’Maraa handsome fellow of
six-and-twenty; by
 Captain Montgomerie,
Admiral Carlisleand Rosehis daughter.
Lady Frederick is a handsome Irish
woman of thirty to thirty-five, beautifully
dressed. She is very vivacious, and light-hearted.
She has all the Irish recklessness
and unconcern for the morrow. Whenever
she wants to get round anybody she falls
into an Irish brogue, and then, as she knows
very well, she is quite irresistible.
 Captain
Montgomerie
 is a polished, well-groomed
man of thirty-five, with suave manners
.
The Admiral is bluff and downright.
Rose is a pretty ingénue of nineteen.

Lady Mereston.

Here they are.

Lady Frederick.

[Enthusiastically going to him with open arms.] Paradine! Paradine! Paradine!

Mererston.

Oh, my prophetic soul, mine uncle!

Fouldes.

[Shaking hands with Lady Frederick.] I heard you were at the Casino.

Lady Frederick.

Charlie lost all his money, so I brought him away.

Lady Mereston.

I wish you wouldn’t gamble, Charlie dear.

Mererston.

My dear mother, I’ve only lost ten thousand francs.

Lady Frederick.

[To Paradine Fouldes.] I see you’re in your usual robust health.

Fouldes.

You needn’t throw it in my face. I shall probably be very unwell to-morrow.

Lady Frederick.

D’you know Admiral Carlisle? This is my brother Gerald.

Fouldes.

[Shaking hands.] How d’you do?

Lady Frederick.

[Introducing.] Captain Montgomerie.

Captain Montgomerie.

I think we’ve met before.

Fouldes.

I’m very pleased to hear it. How d’you do. [To Mererston.] Are you having a good time in Monte Carlo, Charles?

Mererston.

A 1, thanks.

Fouldes.

And what do you do with yourself?

Mererston.

Oh, hang about generally, you know—and there’s always the tables.

Fouldes.

That’s right, my boy; I’m glad to see that you prepare yourself properly for your duties as a hereditary legislator.

Mererston.

[Laughing.] Oh, shut it, Uncle Paradine.

Fouldes.

I rejoice also to find that you have already a certain command of the vernacular.

Mererston.

Well, if you can browbeat a London cabby and hold your own in repartee with a barmaid, it oughtn’t to be difficult to get on all right in the House of Lords.

Fouldes.

But let me give you a solemn warning. You have a magnificent chance, dear boy, with all the advantages of wealth and station. I beseech you not to throw it away by any exhibition of talent. The field is clear and the British people are waiting for a leader. But remember that the British people like their leaders dull. Capacity they mistrust, versatility they cannot bear, and wit they utterly abhor. Look at the fate of poor Lord Parnaby. His urbanity gained him the premiership, but his brilliancy overthrew him. How could the fortunes of the nation be safe with a man whose speeches were pointed and sparkling, whose mind was so quick, so agile, that it reminded you of a fencer’s play? Every one is agreed that Lord Parnaby is flippant and unsubstantial; we doubt his principles and we have grave fears about his morality. Take warning, my dear boy, take warning. Let the sprightly epigram never lighten the long periods of your speech nor the Attic salt flavour the roast beef of your conversation. Be careful that your metaphors show no imagination and conceal your brains as you would a discreditable secret. Above all, if you have a sense of humour, crush it. Crush it.

Mereston.

My dear uncle, you move me very much. I will be as stupid as an owl.

Fouldes.

There’s a good, brave boy.

Mereston.

I will be heavy and tedious.

Fouldes.

I see already the riband of the Garter adorning your shirt-front. Remember, there’s no damned merit about that.

Mereston.

None shall listen to my speeches without falling into a profound sleep.

Fouldes.

[Seizing his hand.] The premiership itself is within your grasp.

Lady Mereston.

Dear Paradine, let us take a stroll on the terrace before we go to bed.

Fouldes.

And you shall softly whisper all the latest scandal in my ear.

[He puts on her cloak and they go out.

Lady Frederick.

May I speak to you, Admiral?

Admiral.

Certainly, certainly. What can I do for you?

[While Lady Frederick and the Admiral talk,
the others go slowly out. Through the
conversation she uses her Irish brogue.

Lady Frederick.

Are you in a good temper?

Admiral.

Fairly, fairly.

Lady Frederick.

I’m glad of that because I want to make you a proposal of marriage.

Admiral.

My dear Lady Frederick, you take me entirely by surprise.

Lady Frederick.

[Laughing.] Not on my own behalf, you know.

Admiral.

Oh, I see.

Lady Frederick.

The fact is, my brother Gerald has asked your daughter to marry him, and she has accepted.

Admiral.

Rose is a minx, Lady Frederick, and she’s much too young to marry.

Lady Frederick.

Now don’t fly into a passion. We’re going to talk it over quite calmly.

Admiral.

I tell you I won’t hear of it. The boy’s penniless.

Lady Frederick.

That’s why it’s so lucky you’re rich.

Admiral.

Eh?

Lady Frederick.

You’ve been talking of buying a place in Ireland. You couldn’t want anything nicer than Gerald’s—gravel soil, you know. And you simply dote on Elizabethan architecture.

Admiral.

I can’t bear it.

Lady Frederick.

How fortunate, then, that the house was burnt down in the eighteenth century and rebuilt in the best Georgian style.

Admiral.

Ugh.

Lady Frederick.

And you’d love to have little grandsons to dandle on your knee.

Admiral.

How do I know they wouldn’t be girls?

Lady Frederick.

Oh, it’s most unusual in our family.

Admiral.

I tell you I won’t hear of it.

Lady Frederick.

You know, it’s not bad to have the oldest baronetcy in the country but one.

Admiral.

I suppose I shall have to pack Rose off to England.

Lady Frederick.

And break her heart?

Admiral.

Women’s hearts are like old china, none the worse for a break or two.

Lady Frederick.

Did you ever know my husband, Admiral?

Admiral.

Yes.

Lady Frederick.

I was married to him at seventeen because my mother thought it a good match, and I was desperately in love with another man. Before we’d been married a fortnight he came home blind drunk, and I had never seen a drunken man before. Then I found out he was a confirmed tippler. I was so ashamed. If you only knew what my life was for the ten years I lived with him. I’ve done a lot of foolish things in my time, but, my God, I have suffered.

Admiral.

Yes, I know, I know.

Lady Frederick.

And believe me, when two young things love one another it’s better to let them marry. Love is so very rare in this world. One really ought to make the most of it when it’s there.

Admiral.

I’m very sorry, but I’ve made up my mind.

Lady Frederick.

Ah, but won’t you alter it—like Nelson. Don’t be hard on Rose. She’s really in love with Gerald. Do give them a chance. Won’t you? Ah, do—there’s a dear.

Admiral.

I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but Sir Gerald is about the most ineligible young man that I’ve ever come across.

Lady Frederick.

[Triumphantly.] There, I knew we should agree. That’s precisely what I told him this morning.

Admiral.

I understand his place is heavily mortgaged.

Lady Frederick.

No one will lend a penny more on it. If they would Gerald would borrow it at once.

Admiral.

He’s got nothing but his pay to live upon.

Lady Frederick.

And his tastes are very extravagant.

Admiral.

He’s a gambler.

Lady Frederick.

Yes, but then he’s so good looking.

Admiral.

Eh?

Lady Frederick.

I’m glad that we agree so entirely about him. Now there’s nothing left but to call the young things in, join their hands and give them our united blessing.

Admiral.

Before I consent to this marriage, madam, I’ll see your brother——

Lady Frederick.

Damned?

Admiral.

Yes, madam, damned.

Lady Frederick.

Now listen to me quietly, will you?

Admiral.

I should warn you, Lady Frederick, that when I once make up my mind about a thing, I never change it.

Lady Frederick.

Now that is what I really admire. I like a man of character. You know, I’ve always been impressed by your strength and determination.

Admiral.

I don’t know about that. But when I say a thing, I do it.

Lady Frederick.

Yes, I know. And in five minutes you’re going to say that Gerald may marry your pretty Rose.

Admiral.

No, no, no.

Lady Frederick.

Now look here, don’t be obstinate, I don’t like you when you’re obstinate.

Admiral.

I’m not obstinate. I’m firm.

Lady Frederick.

After all, Gerald has lots of good qualities. He’s simply devoted to your daughter. He’s been a little wild, but you know you wouldn’t give much for a young man who hadn’t.

Admiral.

[Gruffly.] I don’t want a milksop for a son-in-law.

Lady Frederick.

As soon as he’s married, he’ll settle into a model country squire.

Admiral.

Well, he’s a gambler, and I can’t get over that.

Lady Frederick.

Shall he promise you never to play cards again? Now, don’t be horrid. You don’t want to make me utterly wretched, do you?

Admiral.

[Unwillingly.] Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do—they shall marry if he doesn’t gamble for a year.

Lady Frederick.

Oh, you duck. [She impulsively throws her arms round his neck and kisses him. He is a good deal taken aback.] I beg your pardon, I couldn’t help it.

Admiral.

I don’t altogether object, you know.

Lady Frederick.

Upon my word, in some ways you’re rather fascinating.

Admiral.

D’you think so, really?

Lady Frederick.

I do indeed.

Admiral.

I rather wish that proposal of marriage had been on your own behalf.

Lady Frederick.

Ah, with me, dear Admiral, experience triumphs over hope. I must tell the children. [Calling.] Gerald, come here. Rose.

[Gerald and Rose come in.

Lady Frederick.

I always knew your father was a perfect darling, Rose.

Rose.

Oh, papa, you are a brick.

Admiral.

I thoroughly disapprove of the marriage, my dear, but—it’s not easy to say no to Lady Frederick.

Gerald.

It’s awfully good of you, Admiral, and I’ll do my best to make Rose a ripping husband.

Admiral.

Not so fast, young man, not so fast. There’s a condition.

Rose.

Oh, father!

Lady Frederick.

Gerald is to behave himself for a year, and then you may marry.

Rose.

But won’t Gerald grow very dull if he behaves himself?

Lady Frederick.

I have no doubt of it. But dullness is the first requisite of a good husband.

Admiral.

Now you must pack off to bed, my dear. I’m going to smoke my pipe before turning in.

Rose.

[Kissing Lady Frederick.] Good-night, dearest. I’ll never forget your kindness.

Lady Frederick.

You’d better not thank me till you’ve been married a few years.

Rose.

[Holding out her hand to GERALD.] Good-night.

Gerald.

[Taking it and looking at her.] Good-night.

Admiral.

[Gruffly.] You may as well do it in front of my face as behind my back.

Rose.

[Lifting up her lips.] Good-night.

[He kisses her, and the Admiral and Rose go out.

Lady Frederick.

Oh lord, I wish I were eighteen.

[She sinks into a chair, and an expression of utter weariness comes over her face.

Gerald.

I say, what’s up?

Lady Frederick.

[Starting.] I thought you’d gone. Nothing.

Gerald.

Come, out with it.

Lady Frederick.

Oh, my poor boy, if you only knew. I’m so worried that I don’t know what on earth to do.

Gerald.

Money?

Lady Frederick.

Last year I made a solemn determination to be economical. And it’s ruined me.

Gerald.

My dear, how could it?

Lady Frederick.

I can’t make it out. It seems very unfair. The more I tried not to be extravagant, the more I spent.

Gerald.

Can’t you borrow?

Lady Frederick.

[Laughing.] I have borrowed. That’s just it.

Gerald.

Well, borrow again.

Lady Frederick.

I’ve tried to. But no one’s such a fool as to lend me a penny.

Gerald.

Did you say I’d sign anything they liked?

Lady Frederick.

I was so desperate I said we’d both sign anything. It was Dick Cohen.

Gerald.

Oh lord, what did he say?

Lady Frederick.

[Imitating a Jewish accent.] What’s the good of wathting a nithe clean sheet of paper, my dear lady?

Gerald.

[Shouting with laughter.] By George, don’t I know it.

Lady Frederick.

For heaven’s sake don’t let’s talk of my affairs. They’re in such a state that if I think of them at all I shall have a violent fit of hysterics.

Gerald.

But look here, what d’you really mean?

Lady Frederick.

Well, if you want it—I owe my dressmaker seven hundred pounds, and last year I signed two horrid bills, one for fifteen hundred and the other for two thousand. They fall due the day after to-morrow, and if I can’t raise the money I shall have to go through the Bankruptcy Court.

Gerald.

By George, that’s serious.

Lady Frederick.

It’s so serious that I can’t help thinking something will happen. Whenever I’ve got in a really tight fix something has turned up and put me on my legs again. Last time, Aunt Elizabeth had an apoplectic fit. But of course it wasn’t really very profitable because mourning is so desperately expensive.

Gerald.

Why don’t you marry?

Lady Frederick.

Oh, my dear Gerald, you know I’m always unlucky at games of chance.

Gerald.

Charlie Mereston’s awfully gone on you.

Lady Frederick.

That must be obvious to the meanest intelligence.

Gerald.

Well, why don’t you have him?

Lady Frederick.

Good heavens, I’m old enough to be his mother.

Gerald.

Nonsense. You’re only ten years older than he is, and nowadays no nice young man marries a woman younger than himself.

Lady Frederick.

He’s such a good fellow. I couldn’t do him a nasty turn like that.

Gerald.

How about Montgomerie? He simply stinks of money, and he’s not a bad sort.

Lady Frederick.

[Surprised.] My dear boy, I hardly know him.

Gerald.

Well, I’m afraid it means marriage or bankruptcy.

Lady Frederick.

Here’s Charlie. Take him away, there’s a dear. I want to talk to Paradine.

Enter Paradine Fouldes with Mereston.

Fouldes.

What, still here, Lady Frederick?

Lady Frederick.

As large as life.

Fouldes.

We’ve been taking a turn on the terrace.

Lady Frederick.

[To Mereston.] And has your astute uncle been pumping you, Charlie?

Fouldes.

Eh, what?

Mereston.

I don’t think he got much out of me.

Fouldes.

[Good-naturedly.] All I wanted, dear boy. There’s no one so transparent as the person who thinks he’s devilish deep. By the way, what’s the time?

Gerald.

About eleven, isn’t it?

Fouldes.

Ah! How old are you, Charlie?

Mereston.

Twenty-two.

Fouldes.

Then it’s high time you went to bed.

Lady Frederick.

Charlie’s not going to bed till I tell him. Are you?

Mereston.

Of course not.

Fouldes.

Has it escaped your acute intelligence, my friend, that I want to talk to Lady Frederick?

Mereston.

Not at all. But I have no reason to believe that Lady Frederick wants to talk to you.

Gerald.

Let’s go and have a game of pills, Charlie.

Mereston.

D’you want to be left alone with the old villain?

Fouldes.

You show no respect for my dyed hairs, young man.

Lady Frederick.

I’ve not seen him for years, you know.

Mereston.

Oh, all right. I say, you’re coming for a ride to-morrow, aren’t you?

Lady Frederick.

Certainly. But it must be in the afternoon.

Fouldes.

I’m sorry, but Charles has arranged to motor me over to Nice in the afternoon.

Mereston.

[To Lady Frederick.] That’ll suit me A 1. I had an engagement, but it was quite unimportant.

Lady Frederick.

Then that’s settled. Good-night.

Mereston.

Good-night.

[He goes out with GeraldLady Frederick
turns and good-humouredly scrutinises
Paradise Fouldes.

Lady Frederick.

Well?

Fouldes.

Well?

Lady Frederick.

You wear excellently, Paradine.

Fouldes.

Thanks.

Lady Frederick.

How do you manage it?

Fouldes.

By getting up late and never going to bed early, by eating whatever I like and drinking whenever I’m thirsty, by smoking strong cigars, taking no exercise, and refusing under any circumstances to be bored.

Lady Frederick.

I’m sorry you had to leave town in such a hurry. Were you amusing yourself?

Fouldes.

I come to the Riviera every year.

Lady Frederick.

I daresay, but not so early.

Fouldes.

I’ve never surrendered so far to middle age as to make habits.

Lady Frederick.

My dear Paradine, the day before yesterday, Lady Mereston, quite distracted, went to the post office and sent you the following wire: “Come at once, your help urgently needed. Charlie in toils designing female, Maud.” Am I right?

Fouldes.

I never admit even to myself that a well-dressed woman is mistaken.

Lady Frederick.

So you started post-haste, bent upon protecting your nephew, and were infinitely surprised to learn that the designing female was no other than your humble servant.

Fouldes.

You’d be irresistible, Lady Frederick, if you didn’t know you were so clever.

Lady Frederick.

And now what are you going to do?

Fouldes.

My dear lady, I’m not a police officer, but a very harmless, inoffensive old bachelor.

Lady Frederick.

With more wiles than the mother of many daughters and the subtlety of a company promoter.

Fouldes.

Maud seems to think that as I’ve racketted about a little in my time, I’m just the sort of man to deal with you. Set a thief to catch a thief, don’t you know? She’s rather fond of proverbs.

Lady Frederick.

She should have thought rather of: When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war. I hear Lady Mereston has been saying the most agreeable things about me.

Fouldes.

Ah, that’s women’s fault; they always show their hand. You’re the only woman I ever knew who didn’t.

Lady Frederick.

[With a brogue.] You should have avoided the Blarney Stone when you went to Ireland.

Fouldes.

Look here, d’you want to marry Charlie?

Lady Frederick.

Why should I?

Fouldes.

Because he’s got fifty thousand a year, and you’re head over ears in debt. You’ve got to raise something like four thousand pounds at once, or you go under. You’ve got yourself a good deal talked about during the last ten years, but people have stood you because you had plenty of money. If you go broke they’ll drop you like a hot potato. And I daresay it wouldn’t be inconvenient to change Lady Frederick Berolles into Lady Mereston. My sister has always led me to believe that it is rather attractive to be a Marchioness.

Lady Frederick.

Unlike a duchess, its cheap without being gaudy.

Fouldes.

You asked me why you might want to marry a boy from ten to fifteen years younger than yourself, and I’ve told you.

Lady Frederick.

And now perhaps you’ll tell me why you’re going to interfere in my private concerns?

Fouldes.

Well, you see his mother happens to be my sister, and I’m rather fond of her. It’s true her husband was the most sanctimonious prig I’ve ever met in my life.

Lady Frederick.

I remember him well. He was president of the Broad Church Union and wore side-whiskers.

Fouldes.

But she stuck to me through thick and thin. I’ve been in some pretty tight places in my day, and she’s always given me a leg up when I wanted it. I’ve got an idea it would just about break her heart if Charlie married you.

Lady Frederick.

Thanks.

Fouldes.

You know, I don’t want to be offensive, but I think it would be a pity myself. And besides, unless I’m much mistaken, I’ve got a little score of my own that I want to pay off.

Lady Frederick.

Have you?

Fouldes.

You’ve got a good enough memory not to have forgotten that you made a blithering fool of me once. I swore I’d get even with you, and by George, I mean to do it.

Lady Frederick.

[Laughing.] And how do you propose to stop me if I make up my mind that I’m going to accept Charlie?

Fouldes.

Well, he’s not proposed yet, has he?

Lady Frederick.

Not yet, but I’ve had to use every trick and device I can think of to prevent him.

Fouldes.

Look here, I’m going to play this game with my cards on the table.

Lady Frederick.

Then I shall be on my guard. You’re never so dangerous as when you pretend to be frank.

Fouldes.

I’m sorry you should think so badly of me.

Lady Frederick.

I don’t. Only it was a stroke of genius when Nature put the soul of a Jesuit priest into the body of a Yorkshire squire.

Fouldes.

I wonder what you’re paying me compliments for. You must be rather afraid of me.

[They look at one another for a moment.

Lady Frederick.

Well, let’s look at these cards.

Fouldes.

First of all, there’s this money you’ve got to raise.

Lady Frederick.

Well?

Fouldes.

This is my sister’s suggestion.

Lady Frederick.

That means you don’t much like it.

Fouldes.

If you’ll refuse the boy and clear out—we’ll give you forty thousand pounds.

Lady Frederick.

I suppose you’d be rather surprised if I boxed your ears.

Fouldes.

Now, look here, between you and me high falutin’s rather absurd, don’t you think so? You’re in desperate want of money, and I don’t suppose it would amuse you much to have a young hobbledehoy hanging about your skirts for the rest of your life.

Lady Frederick.

Very well, we’ll have no high falutin! You may tell Lady Mereston that if I really wanted the money I shouldn’t be such an idiot as to take forty thousand down when I can have fifty thousand a year for the asking.

Fouldes.

I told her that.

Lady Frederick.

You showed great perspicacity. Now for the second card.

Fouldes.

My dear, it’s no good getting into a paddy over it.

Lady Frederick.

I’ve never been calmer in my life.

Fouldes.

You always had the very deuce of a temper. I suppose you’ve not given Charlie a sample of it yet, have you?

Lady Frederick.

[Laughing.] Not yet.

Fouldes.

Well, the second card’s your reputation.

Lady Frederick.

But I haven’t got any. I thought that such an advantage.

Fouldes.

You see Charlie is a young fool. He thinks you a paragon of all the virtues, and it’s never occurred to him that you’ve rather gone the pace in your time.

Lady Frederick.

It’s one of my greatest consolations to think that even a hundred horse-power racing motor couldn’t be more rapid than I’ve been.

Fouldes.

Still it’ll be rather a shock to Charlie when he hears that this modest flower whom he trembles to adore has….

Lady Frederick.

Very nearly eloped with his own uncle. But you won’t tell him that story because you hate looking a perfect ass.

Fouldes.

Madam, when duty calls, Paradine Fouldes consents even to look ridiculous. But I was thinking of the Bellingham affair.

Lady Frederick.

Ah, of course, there’s the Bellingham affair. I’d forgotten it.

Fouldes.

Nasty little business that, eh?

Lady Frederick.

Horrid.

Fouldes.

Don’t you think it would choke him off?

Lady Frederick.

I think it very probable.

Fouldes.

Well, hadn’t you better cave in?

Lady Frederick.

[Ringing the bell.] Ah, but you’ve not seen my cards yet. [A servant enters.] Tell my servant to bring down the despatch-box which is on my writing-table.

SERVANT.

Yes, miladi.

[Exit.

Fouldes.

What’s up now?

Lady Frederick.

Well, four or five years ago I was staying at this hotel, and Mimi la Bretonne had rooms here.

Fouldes.

I never heard of the lady, but her name suggests that she had an affectionate nature.

Lady Frederick.

She was a little singer at the Folies Bergères, and she had the loveliest emeralds I ever saw.

Fouldes.

But you don’t know Maud’s.

Lady Frederick.

The late Lord Mereston had a passion for emeralds. He always thought they were such pure stones.

Fouldes.

[Quickly.] I beg your pardon?

Lady Frederick.

Well, Mimi fell desperately ill, and there was no one to look after her. Of course the pious English ladies in the hotel wouldn’t go within a mile of her, so I went and did the usual thing, don’t you know.

[Lady Frederick’s man comes in with a small
despatch-box which he places on a table. He
goes out.
 Lady Frederick as she talks,
unlocks it
.

Fouldes.

Thank God I’m a bachelor, and no ministering angel ever smoothes my pillow when I particularly want to be left alone.

Lady Frederick.

I nursed her more or less through the whole illness, and afterwards she fancied she owed me her worthless little life. She wanted to give me the precious emeralds, and when I refused was so heart-broken that I said I’d take one thing if I might.

Fouldes.

And what was that?

Lady Frederick.

A bundle of letters. I’d seen the address on the back of the envelope, and then I recognised the writing. I thought they’d be much safer in my hands than in hers. [She takes them out of the box and hands them to Paradine.] Here they are.

[He looks and starts violently.

Fouldes.

89 Grosvenor Square. It’s Mereston’s writing. You don’t mean? What! Ah, ah, ah. [He bursts into a shout of laughter.] The old sinner. And Mereston wouldn’t have me in the house, if you please, because I was a dissolute libertine. And he was the president of the Broad Church Union. Good Lord, how often have I heard him say: “Gentlemen, I take my stand on the morality, the cleanliness and the purity of English Family Life.” Oh, oh, oh.

Lady Frederick.

I’ve often noticed that the religious temperament is very susceptible to the charms of my sex.

Fouldes.

May I look?

Lady Frederick.

Well, I don’t know. I suppose so.

Fouldes.

[Reading.] “Heart’s delight”…. And he signs himself, “your darling chickabiddy.” The old ruffian.

Lady Frederick.

She was a very pretty little thing.

Fouldes.

I daresay, but thank heaven, I have some sense of decency left, and it outrages all my susceptibilities that a man in side-whiskers should call himself anybody’s chickabiddy.

Lady Frederick.

Protestations of undying affection are never ridiculous when they are accompanied by such splendid emeralds.

Fouldes.

[Starting and growing suddenly serious.] And what about Maud?

Lady Frederick.

Well?

Fouldes.

Poor girl, it’d simply break her heart. He preached at her steadily for twenty years, and she worshipped the very ground he trod on. She’d have died of grief at his death except she felt it her duty to go on with his work.

Lady Frederick.

I know.

Fouldes.

By Jove, it’s a good card. You were quite right to refuse the emeralds: these letters are twice as valuable.

Lady Frederick.

Would you like to burn them?

Fouldes.

Betsy!

Lady Frederick.

There’s the stove. Put them in.

[He takes them up in both hands and hurries to
the stove. But he stops and brings them
back, he throws them on the sofa.

Fouldes.

No, I won’t.

Lady Frederick.

Why not?

Fouldes.

It’s too dooced generous. I’ll fight you tooth and nail, but it’s not fair to take an advantage over me like that. You’ll bind my hands with fetters.

Lady Frederick.

Very well. You’ve had your chance.

Fouldes.

But, by Jove, you must have a good hand to throw away a card like that. What have you got—a straight flush?

Lady Frederick.

I may be only bluffing, you know.

Fouldes.

Lord, it does me good to hear your nice old Irish brogue again.

Lady Frederick.

Faith, and does it?

Fouldes.

I believe you only put it on to get over people.

Lady Frederick.

[Smiling.] Begorrah, it’s not easy to get over you.

Fouldes.

Lord, I was in love with you once, wasn’t I?

Lady Frederick.

Not more than lots of other people have been.

Fouldes.

And you did treat me abominably.

Lady Frederick.

Ah, that’s what they all said. But you got over it very well.

Fouldes.

I didn’t. My digestion was permanently impaired by your brutal treatment.

Lady Frederick.

Is that why you went to Carlsbad afterwards instead of the Rocky Mountains?

Fouldes.

You may laugh, but the fact remains that I’ve only been in love once, and that was with you.

Lady Frederick.

[Smiling as she holds out her hand.] Good-night.

Fouldes.

For all that I’m going to fight you now for all I’m worth.

Lady Frederick.

I’m not frightened of you, Paradine.

Fouldes.

Good-night.

[As he goes outCaptain Montgomerie enters.

Lady Frederick.

[Yawning and stretching her arms.] Oh I’m so sleepy.

Captain Montgomerie.

I’m sorry for that. I wanted to have a talk with you.

Lady Frederick.

[Smiling.] I daresay I can keep awake for five minutes, you know—especially if you offer me a cigarette.

Captain Montgomerie.

Here you are.

[He hands her his case and lights her cigarette.

Lady Frederick.

[With a sigh.] Oh, what a comfort.

Captain Montgomerie.

I wanted to tell you, I had a letter this morning from my solicitor to say that he’s just bought Crowley Castle on my behalf.

Lady Frederick.

Really. But it’s a lovely place. You must ask me to come and stay.

Captain Montgomerie.

I should like you to stay there indefinitely.

Lady Frederick.

[With a quick look.] That’s charming of you, but I never desert my London long.

Captain Montgomerie.

[Smiling.] I have a very nice house in Portman Square.

Lady Frederick.

[Surprised.] Really?

Captain Montgomerie.

And I’m thinking of going into Parliament at the next election.

Lady Frederick.

It appears to be a very delightful pastime to govern the British nation, dignified without being laborious.

Captain Montgomerie.

Lady Frederick, although I’ve been in the service I have rather a good head for business, and I hate beating about the bush. I wanted to ask you to marry me.

Lady Frederick.

It’s nice of you not to make a fuss about it. I’m very much obliged but I’m afraid I can’t.

Captain Montgomerie.

Why not?

Lady Frederick.

Well, you see, I don’t know you.

Captain Montgomerie.

We could spend the beginning of our married life so usefully in making one another’s acquaintance.

Lady Frederick.

It would be rather late in the day then to come to the conclusion that we couldn’t bear the sight of one another.

Captain Montgomerie.

Shall I send my banker’s book so that you may see that my antecedents are respectable and my circumstances—such as to inspire affection.

Lady Frederick.

I have no doubt it would be very interesting—but not to me.

[She makes as if to go.

Captain Montgomerie.

Ah, don’t go yet. Won’t you give me some reason?

Lady Frederick.

If you insist. I’m not in the least in love with you.

Captain Montgomerie.

D’you think that much matters?

Lady Frederick.

You’re a friend of Gerald’s, and he says you’re a very good sort. But I really can’t marry every one that Gerald rather likes.

Captain Montgomerie.

He said he’d put in a good word for me.

Lady Frederick.

If I ever marry again it shall be to please myself, not to please my brother.

Captain Montgomerie.

I hope I shall induce you to alter your mind.

Lady Frederick.

I’m afraid I can give you no hope of that.

Captain Montgomerie.

You know, when I determine to do a thing, I generally do it.

Lady Frederick.

That sounds very like a threat.

Captain Montgomerie.

You may take it as such if you please.

Lady Frederick.

And you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to marry me?

Captain Montgomerie.

Quite.

Lady Frederick.

Well, I’ve made up mine that you shan’t. So we’re quits.

Captain Montgomerie.

Why don’t you talk to your brother about it?

Lady Frederick.

Because it’s no business of his.

Captain Montgomerie.

Isn’t it? Ask him!

Lady Frederick.

What do you mean by that?

Captain Montgomerie.

Ask him? Good-night.

Lady Frederick.

Good-night. [He goes out. Lady Frederick goes to the French window that leads to the terrace and calls.] Gerald!

Gerald.

Hulloa!

[He appears and comes into the room.

Lady Frederick.

Did you know that Captain Montgomerie was going to propose to me?

Gerald.

Yes.

Lady Frederick.

Is there any reason why I should marry him?

Gerald.

Only that I owe him nine hundred pounds.

Lady Frederick.

[Aghast.] Oh, why didn’t you tell me?

Gerald.

You were so worried, I couldn’t. Oh, I’ve been such a fool. I tried to make a coup for Rose’s sake.

Lady Frederick.

Is it a gambling debt?

Gerald.

Yes.

Lady Frederick.

[Ironically.] What they call a debt of honour?

Gerald.

I must pay it the day after to-morrow without fail.

Lady Frederick.

But that’s the day my two bills fall due. And if you don’t?

Gerald.

I shall have to send in my papers, and I shall lose Rosie. And then I shall blow out my silly brains.

Lady Frederick.

But who is the man?

Gerald.

He’s the son of Aaron Levitzki, the money-lender.

Lady Frederick.

[Half-comic, half-aghast.] Oh lord!

END OF THE FIRST ACT

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