English Literature

Mrs. Dot by William Somerset Maugham

Mrs. Dot by William Somerset Maugham.jpg

THE FIRST ACT

SceneGerald’s rooms in Grafton Street. A man’s room, pleasantly furnished, with very comfortable arm-chairs, and prints on the walls. Books are lying about, and smoking utensils.

CharlesGerald Halstane’s servant, opens the doorMr. Wright comes in, a dapper young man, smartly dressed.

Charles.

There, you can see for yourself that Mr. Halstane is not at home.

Mr. Wright.

Very well, I’ll wait for him.

Charles.

You’ll have to wait till midnight, because I don’t expect him in.

Mr. Wright.

Last time I came you said he’d be back in half an hour, and when I returned you said he’d just gone out. You don’t catch me napping a second time.

Charles.

The governor don’t take impertinence lying down, Mr. Wright, and he’ll look upon it as a great liberty your dunning him in this way.

Mr. Wright.

I don’t know about taking impertinence, but he’ll have to take a summons if my account is not settled at once.

[There is a ring at the bell.

Charles.

[Ironically.] Make yourself quite at home, won’t you?

Mr. Wright.

Thank you. I will.

[Charles goes out and leaves the door open so that the conversation with Rixonthe solicitor, is heard.

Rixon.

[Outside.] Is Mr. Halstane in?

Charles.

No, sir. He’s gone to his club.

Rixon.

Well, I’ll ring him up. I must see him on a matter of the very greatest importance. You’re on the telephone, aren’t you?

Charles.

Yes, sir. But there’s a person waiting to see him.

Rixon.

[Coming in.] Oh, never mind.

[Rixon is a short, rubicund man, with white whiskers and a hearty manner.

Mr. Wright.

[Going towards him.] Mr. Rixon. [Rixon looks at him without recognising him.] Don’t you remember me, sir? I’m the junior partner in Andrews and Wright.

Rixon.

Of course I do. I saw your father on business the other day. [To Charles.] Where’s the telephone book?

Charles.

I’ll just go and fetch it, sir. Mr. Halstane lent it to the gentleman upstairs.

Rixon.

Be as quick as you can.

[Charles goes out.

Rixon.

[To Mr. Wright.] What are you doing here?

Mr. Wright.

Well, the fact is, we’ve got a very large account with Halstane, and I’m told he’s in queer street. I want to get the money before the crash comes.

Rixon.

Queer street? The man’s just come into seven thousand a year.

Mr. Wright.

What!

Rixon.

That’s why I’m running all over the place to find him. You know he’s a relation of the Hollingtons. I was at her ladyship’s not half an hour ago—the Dowager, you know—my firm has acted for the whole family for the last hundred years. Well, I’d hardly arrived before a message came from the War Office to say that her grandson, the present lord, had been killed in India. So as soon as I could, I bolted round here. Mr. Halstane is the next heir, and he comes into seven thousand a year and the title.

Mr. Wright.

My gracious, that’s a piece of luck.

Rixon.

I don’t mind telling you now that he’d pretty well come to the end of his tether. Your money was all right because he’d have paid everything up, but he wouldn’t have had much left.

Mr. Wright.

Of course he doesn’t know anything about this yet?

Rixon.

Not a word. For all he knows, he’s a ruined man, and here am I trying to get him on the telephone to tell him he’s come into a peerage and a very handsome income.

[Charles enters with the telephone book.

Charles.

7869 Gerrard, sir.

Rixon.

Thanks.

[He rings up and asks for the number.

Rixon.

7869 Gerrard, please, Miss…. What? Confound it, the line’s engaged…. I must go round to his club in a cab. I suppose you don’t want to wait here now, Wright?

Mr. Wright.

No, sir. I’ll get back to the shop.

Charles.

I ’ope you’ll suit your own convenience, sir. [Charles shows them out and comes back.] I don’t know what these tradespeople are coming to when they expect gentlemen to pay their bills.

[He seats himself in the most comfortable chair in the room and puts his feet on the table. His back is to the door. The newspaper is lying by his side. He shuts his eyes and dozes.

[Gerald enters silently, followed immediately by Blenkinsop and Freddie Perkins.

[Gerald is a handsome man of seven or eight and twenty, simple in his manners, carefully dressed but without exaggerationFreddie is a vivacious boy of two and twentyBlenkinsop is an old bachelor of five and forty; he is well-preserved and takes a good deal of care of his appearance. He is dressed in the height of fashion.

[For a moment they look silently at Charleswho wakes with a start and jumps up in confusion.

Charles.

I beg your pardon, sir; I didn’t hear you come in.

Gerald.

[With an ironical politeness which he preserves during all his remarks to Charles.] Pray don’t let us disturb you. I shall never forgive myself if I think I’ve interrupted your nap.

Charles.

Shall I take your hat, sir?

Gerald.

It’s very kind of you. I shouldn’t like you to put yourself out.

Freddie.

[Sitting down.] By Jove, what a ripping chair! No wonder that Charles went to sleep.

Charles.

Mr. Rixon has just been, sir. He’s gone on to the club.

Gerald.

[With a laugh.] I’m not sorry to miss him. One’s solicitor seldom has any good news to bring one.

Charles.

Will you have the whiskey and soda, sir?

Gerald.

If it wouldn’t give you too much trouble.

[Charles goes out, and Gerald hands the cigarette box to Blenkinsop and Freddie.

Gerald.

Sit down and make yourself comfortable, James.

Blenkinsop.

To do that is one of the few principles I’ve adhered to in the course of an easy and unadventurous life.

[Charles enters with a tray on which are glasses, whiskey and sodas.

Charles.

Is there anything else you want, sir?

Gerald.

If you can spare me two minutes of your valuable time, I should like to make a few observations to you.

Freddie.

Collect yourself, Charles, to receive the words of wisdom that fall from Mr. Halstane’s lips.

Charles.

Things is very bad on the Stock Exchange, sir.

Gerald.

Charles, I have no objection to your sitting in my arm-chair and putting your feet on my table. I am willing to ignore the fact that you smoke my cigars and drink my whiskey.

Blenkinsop.

[Sipping.] You show excellent judgment, Charles. The whiskey’s capital.

Charles.

[Imperturbably.] Pot-still, sir. Fifteen years in bottle.

Gerald.

I can even bear with equanimity that you should read my letters. For the most part they’re excessively tedious, and they will only show you how deplorable is the education of the upper classes. But I must insist on your not reading my paper till I’ve done with it.

Charles.

I’m very sorry, sir. I thought there was no objection.

Gerald.

A newspaper, a suit of clothes, and a bottle of wine are three things at which I prefer….

Charles.

To ’ave the first cut in, sir.

Gerald.

I thank you, Charles; I couldn’t have expressed my meaning more idiomatically.

Freddie.

[Laughing.] You’d better have a drink.

Charles.

Allow me, sir.

[He mixes a whiskey and soda.

Gerald.

You need not pour out the whiskey with such a generous hand as when you help yourself. Thank you.

Charles.

Them mining shares of yours is very low, sir.

Gerald.

They are.

Charles.

If you’ll remember, sir, I was all against them at the time you bought.

Blenkinsop.

You are a jewel, Charles, if besides administering to your master’s wants you advise him in his financial transactions.

Gerald.

Unless I’m mistaken, Charles strongly recommended me to invest my money in public-houses.

Charles.

Them being frequented in peace and war, and not subject to clandestine removals. In peace men drink to celebrate their ’appiness, and in war to drown their sorrow.

Gerald.

[Smiling.] You are a philosopher, Charles, and it cuts me to the quick that I should be forced to deny myself the charm of your conversation.

Charles.

[Astonished.] I beg your pardon, sir?

Gerald.

I am endeavouring to give you notice in such a manner as not to outrage your susceptibilities.

Charles.

Me, sir? I’m sorry if I don’t give satisfaction.

Gerald.

On the contrary, you give every satisfaction. It has never been my good fortune to run across a servant who had an equal talent for blacking boots and for repartee. I am grateful for the care with which you have kept my wardrobe, and the encouragement you have offered to my attempts at humour. I have never seen you perturbed by a rebuke, or discouraged by ill-temper. Your merits, in fact, are overwhelming, but I’m afraid I must ask you to find another place.

Blenkinsop.

You really shouldn’t be so abrupt, Gerald. Look at him staggering under the blow.

Charles.

I’m very comfortable here, sir. Can you give me no reason for this decision?

Gerald.

You gave it yourself, Charles. As you justly observed, them mining shares is very low. You are sufficiently acquainted with my correspondence to be aware that my creditors have passed with singular unanimity from the stage of remonstrance to that of indignation.

Blenkinsop.

I say, I’m sorry to hear this, old man.

Charles.

If it’s just a matter of wages, sir, I shall be ’appy to wait till it suits your convenience to pay me.

Gerald.

[With a smile of thanks.] I’m grateful to you for that, Charles; but, honestly, do you think half-measures can be of any use to me?

Charles.

Well, sir, so far as I’m acquainted with your circumstances….

Gerald.

Come, come, this modesty ill becomes you. Is there a bill in this room, or a solicitor’s letter, with which you are not intimately acquainted?

Charles.

Well, sir, if you ask me outright—things is pretty bad.

Freddie.

I say, don’t play the ass any more. What the deuce does it all mean?

Gerald.

I’m sorry the manner in which I’m imparting to you an interesting piece of information, doesn’t meet with your approval. Would you like me to tear my hair in handfuls?

Blenkinsop.

It would be picturesque, but painful.

Freddie.

Are you really broke?

Gerald.

So much so that I’ve to-day sublet my rooms. In a week, Charles, I shall cast the dust of London off my feet, a victim to the British custom of primogeniture.

Charles.

Yes, sir.

Gerald.

Have you the least idea what I mean?

Charles.

No, sir.

Gerald.

Well, I feel certain that during some of the many leisure moments you have enjoyed in my service, you have cast an eye upon that page in Burke upon which my name figures—insignificantly.

Charles.

Begging your pardon, sir, I looked you up in the Peerage before I accepted the situation.

Gerald.

It rejoices me to learn that your investigations were satisfactory.

Charles.

Well, sir, always having lived before with titled gentlemen, I felt I owed it to myself to be careful.

Gerald.

I am overpowered by your condescension, Charles. It never occurred to me that you were taking my character while I was taking yours.

Charles.

If servants wanted as good characters from masters as masters want from servants, I ’ave an idea that many gentlemen would ’ave to clean their own boots.

Gerald.

You scintillate, Charles, but I deplore your tendency to digress.

Charles.

I beg pardon, sir. As you was the second son of an honourable and very well connected, I didn’t mind stretching a point. If I may say so, your father was almost a nobleman.

Gerald.

The consequence is, however, that I was brought up without in the least knowing how to earn my living. I belong to that vast army of younger sons whose sole means of livelihood is a connection with a peer of the realm and such mother-wit as Dame Nature has provided them with.

[A ring is heard.

Charles.

There’s some one at the door, sir. Are you at home?

Gerald.

No, I expect two ladies to tea in half an hour, but you must admit no one else. These gentlemen will be forced to deprive me of their society in twenty-five minutes.

Blenkinsop.

Not at all. Not at all.

Gerald.

I repeat with considerable firmness that these gentlemen will be compelled by a previous engagement to leave me in twenty minutes.

Blenkinsop.

It’ll be difficult after that to make our departure seem perfectly natural, won’t it?

[A second ring is heard.

Gerald.

Nobody’s to come in.

Charles.

Very good, sir.

[He goes out.

Blenkinsop.

I say, old man, I’m awfully sorry to hear this bad news of yours. Can’t I do anything to help you?

Gerald.

No, thanks.

[The bell is rung continuously, with the greatest impatience.

Freddie.

By Jove, whoever your visitor is, he doesn’t like being kept waiting.

Mrs. Dot.

[Outside.] Is Mr. Halstane at home?

Freddie.

[Softly.] Why, it’s my aunt.

Blenkinsop.

Mrs. Dot.

Gerald.

Ssh!

Charles.

Not at home, madam.

Mrs. Dot.

[Outside.] Nonsense. I want to see him very particularly.

Charles.

I’m very sorry, madam. Mr. Halstane went out not five minutes ago. I almost wonder you didn’t meet him on the stairs.

Mrs. Dot.

Yes, I know all about that.

[Mrs. Worthley comes in. She is a pretty little woman, very wonderfully gowned. She is frank, open and full of spirits. Charles follows her into the room.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh! Three of you. Charles, how can you tell such stories?

Charles.

[Very gravely.] Mr. Halstane is not at home, madam.

Gerald.

[Coming forward and taking her hand.] Charles is shocked at your lack of decorum.

Mrs. Dot.

Run away, Charles. And don’t do it again…. I suppose you think this sort of thing isn’t done in the best families?

Charles.

[Stiffly.] No, madam.

Mrs. Dot.

I saw one of my drays outside, so I thought I’d just look in to see how you liked it.

Charles.

[Icily.] I beg your pardon, madam?

Mrs. Dot.

The beer, my good man, the beer! Don’t you know that I’m Worthley’s Entire?

Charles.

I never gave the subject a thought, madam.

Mrs. Dot.

And very good our half-crown family ale is, although I say it as shouldn’t.

Gerald.

You may go, Charles.

[Without a word, much on his dignity Charles departs.

Gerald.

[Gaily.] It’s fortunate I’ve just given him notice, because Charles would certainly never stay in a house where he’d been so grossly insulted.

Mrs. Dot.

I love shocking Charles. He’s so genteel. Whenever I come here I see him obviously trying not to show that he’s perfectly well aware that I have anything to do with trade.

Blenkinsop.

The world is so degenerate that it’s only among domestic servants that you find any respect for landed gentry and any contempt for commerce.

Mrs. Dot.

[To Freddie.] I’m glad to see that you’re not ruining your health by working too hard as my secretary.

Freddie.

I’ve been lunching with Blenkinsop. I answered about fifty begging letters before I came out this morning.

Mrs. Dot.

[To Gerald.] You’ve not said you’re glad to see me yet.

Gerald.

I’m not sure that I am, very.

Mrs. Dot.

[Not at all disconcerted.] Then say you like my frock.

Gerald.

Yes, it’s very nice.

Mrs. Dot.

Very nice! I should think it was very nice. There’s no one in London who’d venture to wear anything half so outrageous. And as for the hat….

Blenkinsop.

The hat’s hideous. But I suppose it’s fashionable.

Mrs. Dot.

My dear James, where were you educated?

Blenkinsop.

At Eton.

Mrs. Dot.

Well, they taught you nothing about clothes.

Blenkinsop.

I wish sometimes that nice women wouldn’t get themselves up as if they were no better than they should be.

Mrs. Dot.

Don’t be so absurd. The ideal of a woman who takes any pains about her frocks is to look as like an abandoned hussy as she possibly can.

[Mrs. Dot chooses the most comfortable chair in the room.

Gerald.

I’m afraid I can’t ask you to sit down.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh, don’t trouble. I’m perfectly capable of doing that of my own accord…. If you think I’m going before you’ve answered a hundred and fifty questions you’re very much mistaken. First, I want to know why you’ve not been near me for the last week? Then why you try to keep me out of the place? And lastly, why you show every desire to get rid of me when I’m here?

Gerald.

I’ve not seen you because I’ve been uncommonly busy. I said I was not at home because I’m in the worst possible temper. And I want to get rid of you because I’m expecting somebody else.

Mrs. Dot.

I suppose if I were a thoroughly tactful person I should now ring for my carriage?

Gerald.

I daresay you would ask me to ring for it.

Mrs. Dot.

Well, I shall neither do the one nor the other. In the first place your answers are all nonsense and in the second I want to know who’s coming? If it’s some one I know, I shall stop and say, How d’you do, and if it isn’t I want to see what it’s like.

Gerald.

I suppose you know I’m perfectly capable of turning you out by main force.

Mrs. Dot.

If you touch me I shall scream.

[She looks quickly at Freddie and Blenkinsopthen gives a smile.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh, Freddie, I quite forgot. I’ve got a pile of letters that I found on my way out this afternoon. There are three poor clergymen who can’t pay their bills, and there are five elderly spinsters who don’t know which way to turn for their quarter’s rent, and there are seven deserving ladies with a starving husband each and sixteen children.

Blenkinsop.

How very immoral!

Mrs. Dot.

It would be much more immoral if they had a starving child each and sixteen husbands.

Blenkinsop.

I suppose it’s never occurred to you that you do a great deal more harm than good by your indiscriminate charity?

Mrs. Dot.

Don’t be such an old frump. If it gives me a certain amount of pleasure to give money away, why on earth shouldn’t I? I daresay that nineteen out of every twenty people I help are thoroughly worthless, but it’s only by doing something for them all that I can be quite certain of not missing the twentieth.

Freddie.

D’you want me to write to them at once?

Mrs. Dot.

This very minute.

Freddie.

[With a smile.] But that’ll only get rid of me, you know. Blenkinsop will still be here.

Mrs. Dot.

[Coolly.] James, do go and see that Freddie writes his letters nicely. He’s only just come down from Oxford, and his spelling is rather shaky.

Blenkinsop.

[With a grunt.] You can give us a shout when you’ve had your talk.

Mrs. Dot.

Now mind, Freddie. I before E except after C.

[They go out.

Gerald.

[Laughing.] You’re a very bold woman, Mrs. Dot.

Mrs. Dot.

[With a change of tone.] What’s the matter, Gerald?

Gerald.

[Surprised.] With me?

Mrs. Dot.

Won’t you tell an old friend?

Gerald.

[After a very short pause.] Nothing that you can help me in, Mrs. Dot.

Mrs. Dot.

Won’t you leave the Mrs. out? It makes me feel so five and thirtyish.

Gerald.

You’re a ripping good sort, and we’ve had some charming times together. I’m glad that you came to-day, because it’s given me an opportunity to thank you for all your kindness to me.

Mrs. Dot.

My dear boy, what are you talking about?

Gerald.

Well, the fact is, I’ve been spending a good deal of money lately, and I’m rather broke.

Mrs. Dot.

How stupid of me! I’ve always had such lots myself it never occurs to me that any one else may be hard up. And I’ve let you pay all sorts of things for me, theatres and dinners and heaven knows what. I must owe you a perfect fortune.

Gerald.

Nonsense! You don’t owe me a penny.

Mrs. Dot.

Well then, in future I insist on paying for everything. I’m not going to give up our little dinners at the Savoy and our suppers and all the rest of it. Don’t be so silly. You know I have ten times more money than I know what to do with.

Gerald.

Yes, I can see you furtively slipping your purse into my hand so that I should pay for a luncheon, and giving me a shilling over for the cab. No, thank you.

Mrs. Dot.

Then we’ll economise together. It only means going to the pit of a theatre instead of taking a box. Well, I like the pit much better. You see all the women come in and you criticise their back hair. And you suck delicious oranges all the time. It makes my mouth water to think of it. And we’ll go on a bus instead of taking cabs. They’re much safer, and I like sitting on the front seat and talking to the driver. Bus-drivers are always such handsome men.

Gerald.

It’s not a question of driving in buses, but of walking on my flat feet.

Mrs. Dot.

Very well. You shall walk on your flat feet, and I’ll trip along by your side on my arched instep.

Gerald.

Things have come to such a pass that I must either beg, steal, or work.

Mrs. Dot.

Then tell me exactly how matters stand.

Gerald.

It would only bore you, and besides you wouldn’t understand.

Mrs. Dot.

Now you’re talking through your hat, my friend. You’re simply talking through your hat. I flatter myself there are few men who have a better head for business than I have. Why, since my husband died I’ve almost doubled our profits. The brewery has never been so flourishing. I’ve told the British People on fifty thousand hoardings to drink Worthley’s Half-crown Family Ale, and by Jove, the British People do.

Gerald.

You funny little thing.

Mrs. Dot.

Well, now tell me all about it, and let’s see if things can’t be put straight.

Gerald.

Oh, my dear, I’m afraid they’re in a most awful mess. I never had much money to start with, and I got into debt. Then I tried a flutter on the Stock Exchange, and the confounded shares went down steadily from the day I bought.

Mrs. Dot.

It’s a way shares have when fools buy them.

Gerald.

But I daresay I could have weathered that, only a pal of mine got into a hole, and I backed a bill for him.

Mrs. Dot.

You don’t mean to say you did that?

Gerald.

I was obliged to. I couldn’t let him go under without trying to do something.

Mrs. Dot.

You donkey, you perfect donkey!

Gerald.

He swore he’d be able to pay the money.

Mrs. Dot.

I never knew a man yet, or a woman either for that matter, who’d stick at a thundering lie when he wanted money. And what’s the result?

Gerald.

Well, the result is that after I’ve paid everything up, I shall have about five hundred pounds left. I’m proposing to go out to America and rough it a bit.

Mrs. Dot.

Pardon my asking, but do you think a handsome face, a talent for small talk, and a certain charm of manner will enable you to earn your daily bread?

Gerald.

[Laughing.] I don’t want to seem vain, but although I’ve done my best to conceal them, I fancy I have two or three other qualifications which will be of more service.

Mrs. Dot.

Then the long and the short of it is that you’re ruined.

Gerald.

Absolutely.

Mrs. Dot.

I’m delighted to hear it.

Gerald.

Dot!

Mrs. Dot.

I am. I can’t help it. But I think your plan of going to the States is simply foolish.

Gerald.

What else can I do? The Cape’s entirely played out.

Mrs. Dot.

You stupid creature.

Gerald.

I beg your pardon!

Mrs. Dot.

You belong to a class whose chief resource when it has squandered its money is a rich marriage. The custom is so well recognised that when a man of good family emigrates rather than have recourse to it, society is outraged and suspicious.

Gerald.

Thanks. I don’t think I can see myself marrying for money.

Mrs. Dot.

Don’t be so absurd. I never heard that the course of true love ran any less smoothly because a charming widow had sixty thousand a year.

Gerald.

What do you mean?

Mrs. Dot.

My dear boy, I’m not a perfect fool. A man thinks a woman never sees anything unless she looks at it with both eyes at once wide open. Don’t you know that she can see things through the back of her head with a stone wall in between?

Gerald.

What have you seen, then?

Mrs. Dot.

I’ve seen a thousand things. I’ve seen your eyes light up when I came into the room, I’ve seen you watch me when you thought I wasn’t looking. I’ve seen you scowl at any young fool who paid me an outrageous compliment. I’ve seen the pleasure it gave you to do me any trifling service. I’ve seen you watch for the opportunity of putting my cloak on my shoulders after the play. And—I’m sorry—but I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re in love with me. I dare say the fact has escaped your notice, but that’s only because men are so deplorably stupid.

Gerald.

[Gravely.] D’you think it’s quite kind to laugh at me now?

Mrs. Dot.

But I’m not laughing at you, my dear. I’m so pleased, and so flattered and so touched. At first I thought I was only a fool, and that I saw those things only because I wanted to. And when your hand trembled a little as it took mine, I was afraid it was only my hand that was trembling. And at last when I was certain that you were just as much in love with me as I was with you, I was so glad that I cried for two hours. And I had to use a whole box of powder before I could make myself presentable again.

Gerald.

[Grimly.] I’m afraid you’ll think me an utter brute. I ought to have told you long ago that I’m engaged to be married.

Mrs. Dot.

Gerald!

Gerald.

I’ve been engaged to Nellie Sellenger for the last three years.

Mrs. Dot.

Why didn’t you tell me?

Gerald.

No one was supposed to know anything about it. And—I was afraid of losing you. Oh, Dot, Dot, I love you with all my heart. And I’m so glad to be forced to tell you at last.

Mrs. Dot.

But I don’t understand in the least.

Gerald.

You know Nellie Sellenger is an old friend of mine.

Mrs. Dot.

Yes, it was at the Sellengers’ I first met you.

Gerald.

Well, three years ago we were staying at the same place in the country, and I was a young fool.

Mrs. Dot.

You mean that there was no other girl there, and so you flirted with her. But you need not have asked her to marry you.

Gerald.

[Apologetically.] It was the merest accident. It came to pieces in my ’ands, so to speak.

Mrs. Dot.

Really?

Gerald.

We were taking a walk in the garden after dinner, and a perfectly absurd moon was shining. It seemed the obvious thing to do.

Mrs. Dot.

And of course she accepted. The girl of eighteen always does.

Gerald.

But Lady Sellenger refused to hear of it. She thought me most ineligible.

Mrs. Dot.

Lady Sellenger’s a sensible woman. She was quite right.

Gerald.

I’m not so sure. If she’d given us her blessing and told us to do as we liked, we should probably have broken it off in three weeks. But she was really rather offensive about it. She refused to let Nellie see me, and the result was that we were always running across one another in Bond Street tea-shops.

Mrs. Dot.

Monstrous! And so bad for the digestion.

Gerald.

Some time ago Lady Sellenger found out that we were writing to one another and so on, so she came to see me and said she’d made up her mind to take Nellie abroad for a year. She made me promise to hold no communication with her during that time, and agreed that if we were still of the same mind when they came back, she would withdraw the opposition and let us be properly engaged.

Mrs. Dot.

An announcement in the Morning Post and all that sort of thing?

Gerald.

I suppose so.

Mrs. Dot.

And when are they coming back?

Gerald.

They came back last week. But I haven’t had a chance of speaking to Nellie yet. The year is up to-day, and this morning I had a note from Lady Sellenger asking if they might come to tea.

Mrs. Dot.

And what are you going to say to her?

Gerald.

Good heavens! What can I say? I was poor enough a year ago, but now I’m penniless. I’m bound to ask for my release.

Mrs. Dot.

Then why on earth have you been trying to make me utterly miserable?

Gerald.

You know, I don’t want to seem an awful prig, but I don’t think I should much like doing anything shabby. If Nellie wants me to keep my promise I shan’t draw back.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh, but she won’t. She’ll be only too glad to get rid of you.

Gerald.

I’m afraid there’s something else I must tell you.

Mrs. Dot.

More? Don’t say you’ve got a horrible past, because I shan’t turn a hair.

Gerald.

No, it’s not that. You know that Lord Hollington is a relation of mine.

Mrs. Dot.

Only a fifteenth cousin, isn’t he? Far too distant to brag about.

Gerald.

A year ago three lives stood between me and the peerage. It seemed impossible that I could ever come into anything.

Mrs. Dot.

Well?

Gerald.

But last winter my cousin George unfortunately broke his neck in the hunting-field, and his poor old father died of the shock. If anything happened to my cousin Charles everything would come to me.

Mrs. Dot.

And Lady Sellenger would doubtless withdraw her opposition to your marriage.

Gerald.

She’s a very nice woman, but she has rather a keen eye for the main chance.

Mrs. Dot.

Even her best friend would hesitate to call her disinterested. But why should anything happen to Lord Hollington? He’s quite young, isn’t he? I saw his engagement announced in the Morning Post a little while ago.

Gerald.

He’s out in India at this moment. He’s a soldier, you know. It appears there’s some trouble on the North-West Frontier, and he’s in command of the expedition.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh, but nothing is going to happen to him. He’ll live till he’s eighty.

Gerald.

I’m sure I hope he will.

Mrs. Dot.

Say again that you love me, Gerald.

Gerald.

[Smiling.] I oughtn’t to yet.

Mrs. Dot.

You know, you’ve got to marry me. I insist upon it. After all, you’ve been trifling with my affections shamefully. Oh, we shall be so happy, Gerald. And we’ll never grow any older than we are now. You know, I’m an awfully good sort, really. I talk a lot of nonsense, but I don’t mean it. I very seldom listen to it myself. I’m sick of society. I want to settle down and be domesticated. I’ll sit at home and darn your socks. And I shall hate it, and I shall be so happy. And if you want to be independent you can have a job at the brewery. We want a smart energetic man to keep us up to the times. And we’ll have a lovely box at the opera, and you can always get away for the shooting.

[A ring is heard.

Gerald.

There they are.

Mrs. Dot.

Good heavens! I quite forgot about those wretched people in there.

[She opens the door of the dining-room.

Mrs. Dot.

I don’t want to disturb you, but if you’ve quite finished your conversation perhaps you’d like to come and have tea.

[Blenkinsop and Freddie come in and go to the fire.

Blenkinsop.

I observe with interest that your remark is facetious.

Freddie.

I’m simply freezing.

Mrs. Dot.

You didn’t mind being shut up in there, did you?

Blenkinsop.

Not at all. I rather like sitting in an arctic room without a fire, with a window looking on a blank wall, and the society of your nephew and theSporting Times of the week before last as my only means of entertainment.

[Charles enters to announce the SellengersHe goes out and brings in the tea.

Charles.

Lady and Miss Sellenger.

[Enter Lady Sellenger and NellieLady Sellenger is a pompous woman of fifty, stout, alert and cleverNellie is very pretty and graceful, and fashionably gowned. She appears to be much under her mother’s influence.

Lady Sellenger.

How d’you do? Ah, Mrs. Worthley! Delightful!

Gerald.

[Shaking hands.] How d’you do? I think you know Mr. Blenkinsop?

Lady Sellenger.

Of course. But I don’t approve of him.

Blenkinsop.

Why not?

Lady Sellenger.

Because you’re a cynic, a millionaire, and a bachelor. And no man has the right to be all three.

Mrs. Dot.

And how did you like Italy?

Lady Sellenger.

A grossly over-rated place. So many marriageable daughters and so few eligible men.

Gerald.

[Introducing.] Mr. Perkins, Lady Sellenger—Miss Sellenger.

Mrs. Dot.

My nephew and my secretary.

Lady Sellenger.

Really. How very interesting! Almost romantic.

Freddie.

How d’you do?

Lady Sellenger.

Dear Mrs. Worthley, what a charming gown! You always wear such—striking things.

Mrs. Dot.

It advertises the beer, don’t you know.

Lady Sellenger.

I wish I could drink it, Mrs. Worthley, but it’s so fattening. I understand you always have it on your table.

Mrs. Dot.

I think that’s the least I can do, as it’s only on account of the beer that I can have a table at all.

Nellie.

[To Mrs. Dot.] May I give you some tea?

Mrs. Dot.

[Going to the tea-table.] Thanks so much.

[Gerald comes over to Lady Sellenger with a cup. She takes it. The others are gathered round the tea-table, which is right at the back, and talk among themselves.

Lady Sellenger.

Come and sit by me, Gerald. I’ve not had a word with you since we came back from Italy.

Gerald.

[Lightly.] What are you going to say to me?

Lady Sellenger.

You can guess why I wrote to ask if we might come and see you to-day?

Gerald.

[Rising.] Yes.

Lady Sellenger.

Now do sit down. And look as if you were talking of the weather.

Gerald.

It’s a little difficult to discuss the matter quite indifferently.

Lady Sellenger.

My dear boy, it’s the little difficulties of life which prevent it from being dull. We should be no better than the beasts of the field if we had no anxieties about our soul and our position in society.

Gerald.

I see.

Lady Sellenger.

[Rather impatiently.] My dear Gerald, why don’t you help me? What I have to say is so very unpleasant. You know I have always had a most sincere affection for you. Under other circumstances I would have wanted no better son-in-law.

Gerald.

It’s very kind of you to say so.

Lady Sellenger.

I’ve assured you for the last three years that a marriage was absurd, and now I want to tell you that it’s impossible. Love is all very well in its way, but it doesn’t make up for a shabby house in the suburbs.

Gerald.

You’re not romantic, Lady Sellenger.

Lady Sellenger.

My dear, when you reach my age you’ll agree with me that it’s only the matter of fact which really signifies. Love in a cottage is a delusion of youth. It’s difficult enough after ten years of solid matrimony in Grosvenor Square.

Gerald.

You married for love, Lady Sellenger.

Lady Sellenger.

I’m anxious that my daughter shouldn’t make the same mistake. Now let us be quite frank with one another…. Are you sure they’re not listening?

Gerald.

[Glancing at the others.] They seem very much occupied with their own affairs. What is your ultimatum?

Lady Sellenger.

Well, Gerald, I’m not in the least mercenary. I know that money can’t give happiness. But I do feel that unless you have at least two thousand a year you can’t make my daughter even comfortable.

Gerald.

I’m sure that’s very modest.

Lady Sellenger.

It’s not love in a cottage. It’s not love in a palace. It’s just—matrimony in Onslow Gardens.

Gerald.

I may as well tell you at once that I’ve had very bad luck. I wanted to make money, and I’ve come an absolute cropper.

Lady Sellenger.

My dear Gerald, I’m very sorry. Is it as bad as all that?

Gerald.

It couldn’t be much worse.

Lady Sellenger.

Dear me, that’s very sad. But, of course, it simplifies matters, doesn’t it?

Gerald.

Enormously. It puts marriage entirely out of the question and leaves only one course open to me. I’ll take the earliest opportunity to ask Nellie for my release.

Lady Sellenger.

What a pity it is you’re so poor! Your principles are really excellent.

Gerald.

But what about Nellie? How will she take it?

Lady Sellenger.

She’s so reserved, poor dear! She never speaks of her feelings. But after three London seasons most girls have learnt to bow to the inevitable. And how is Lord Hollington?

Gerald.

He’s to be married as soon as he comes back from India.

Lady Sellenger.

It was dreadfully sad that his uncle and his cousin should die within a year. If anything happened to him you’d be in very different circumstances. But, of course, it would be wicked to wish it. I hope you never do.

Gerald.

Never. I trust he’ll live to a hundred.

Lady Sellenger.

And I daresay he’ll have fifteen children. Those delicate men often do…. Why don’t you speak to Nellie now and get it over?

Gerald.

This very minute? With others in the room?

Lady Sellenger.

That’s just it, I want to give neither of you any opportunity for sentiment.

Gerald.

You’re certainly very practical.

Lady Sellenger.

No woman can afford to be sentimental when she has a marriageable daughter…. For heaven’s sake don’t make Nellie cry, we’re dining out to-night.

Gerald.

I’ll do my best to be very matter of fact.

Lady Sellenger.

[Raising her voice.] Mr. Blenkinsop, I want to quarrel with you!

Blenkinsop.

[Coming forward.] You fill me with consternation.

Lady Sellenger.

You passed us in Pall Mall this afternoon and you cut us dead.

Blenkinsop.

I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you. I’d just been to the War Office to inquire if there was any news of those fellows out in India. By the way, Halstane, isn’t Hollington a relation of yours?

Gerald.

Yes, why?

Blenkinsop.

Haven’t you seen anything in the paper?

Gerald.

No.

Blenkinsop.

Oh, but surely. There’s sure to be something about it in the Westminster.

[He takes up the paper.

Gerald.

That’s an early one.

[Faintly are heard the cries of “Special.”

Freddie.

Listen, there’s the last edition coming along.

Lady Sellenger.

But what is it, Mr. Blenkinsop?

Blenkinsop.

A small force was sent out to punish some local people up in the hills, who’d been making themselves troublesome, and it hasn’t been heard of since. The idea is that there may have been some trouble and they’ve all got cut up.

Mrs. Dot.

But how does it concern Lord Hollington?

Blenkinsop.

He was in command of it.

Gerald.

Good God!

Blenkinsop.

When I was there a couple of hours ago the War Office had no news at all.

Gerald.

But why didn’t you tell me about it?

Blenkinsop.

I thought you knew. I’d forgotten for the moment that Hollington had anything to do with you. He’s a very distant relation, isn’t he?

Gerald.

Yes, I hardly know him.

Lady Sellenger.

But if anything has happened to him….

[Cries outside of “Special, Special.”

Mrs. Dot.

Why don’t you get a paper? Freddie, run and get one, will you?

Gerald.

No, Charles can go.

[He rings, and Charles immediately comes in.

Gerald.

Oh, Charles, get a paper at once. Hurry up!

Charles.

Very good, sir.

[He goes out. Outside, cries of “Terrible catastrophe in India.”

Gerald.

By Jove, did you hear that?

[Cries of “Special, Special.”

Lady Sellenger.

Why doesn’t he make haste?

Gerald.

Nonsense. It can’t have anything to do with Hollington.

Mrs. Dot.

[With her hand on his arm, anxiously.] Gerald.

[Freddie Perkins is looking out of the window.

Freddie.

Here’s Charles. By Jove, he isn’t hurrying himself much.

Gerald.

Has he got a newsboy?

Freddie.

Yes. What the deuce is he doing?

Gerald.

[At the window.] Good lord, he’s reading the paper.

Lady Sellenger.

The suspense is too awful.

Freddie.

There’s another newsboy running down the street.

[Cries of “Special, Special.”

Gerald.

Thank God, he’s coming upstairs at last. I should like to kick him.

[Cries of “Terrible catastrophe in India. ’Eroic death of Lord ’Ollington.”

Good God!

[They all remain in silence, full of consternation. Charles enters with the paper.

Hurry up, man! What the deuce have you been doing?

[He snatches the paper from him.

Charles.

[With dignity.] I made all the ’aste I could, my lord.

[Gerald stops for a moment from looking up and down the paper, and stares at him.

Gerald.

What the dickens d’you mean?

[He looks at the paper, reads, and drops it.

Mrs. Dot.

Is it true, Gerald?

[He looks at her and nods.

Gerald.

Poor chap. And just as he was going to be married.

Charles.

Shall I bring your hat and coat, my lord?

Gerald.

What on earth are you talking about?

Charles.

I thought your lordship would like to go round to the War Office.

Gerald.

Shut up!

[Exit Charles.

Lady Sellenger.

My dear boy, I congratulate you with all my heart.

Gerald.

Oh, don’t remind me of that already.

Lady Sellenger.

I can quite understand you’re a little upset, but after all he was only a very distant relation of yours.

Blenkinsop.

I don’t understand what all this means.

Gerald.

Didn’t you hear that fool of a servant? It was the first thing he thought of.

Mrs. Dot.

Gerald succeeds to the peerage!

Gerald.

Yes.

Mrs. Dot.

Wouldn’t you like us to leave you alone? I’m sure you want to think things out a bit?

Lady Sellenger.

Come, Nellie!

Gerald.

I’m sorry to turn you out. Good-bye. I had something to say to you, Nellie.

Nellie.

We’ve not had a chance of speaking to one another.

Lady Sellenger.

[Unctuously.] It’s very fortunate. Now you’ll have much pleasanter things to talk about.

[He stares at her without understanding.

Lady Sellenger.

Things are very different now, Gerald. It just came in time, didn’t it?

Nellie.

Good-bye.

[Lady Sellenger and Nellie go out.

Blenkinsop.

Good-bye, old man, I’m sorry your cousin has had such an awful death. But after all, we none of us knew him and we do know you. I can’t tell you how glad I am that all your difficulties are at an end.

Gerald.

I would give my right hand to bring Hollington back to life again.

Blenkinsop.

Good-bye.

[He goes out.

Mrs. Dot.

Go away, Freddie. I want to talk to Gerald.

Freddie.

Good-bye, old man. I say, what a nice girl Miss Sellenger is!

Gerald.

Good-bye.

[Freddie goes out.

Mrs. Dot.

Well?

Gerald.

The news has come just an hour too soon. It’s bound me hand and foot.

Mrs. Dot.

What d’you mean by that?

Gerald.

Nellie accepted me when I was poor and of no account. Now that I’m well off I can’t go to her and say: I’ve changed my mind and don’t want to marry you.

Mrs. Dot.

What d’you mean by being well off?

Gerald.

I believe I shall have six or seven thousand a year.

Mrs. Dot.

But you can’t live on that. It’s absurd.

Gerald.

[With a smile.] There are people who live on much less, you know.

Mrs. Dot.

Besides, she doesn’t care for you in the least. I could see that at a glance.

Gerald.

How?

Mrs. Dot.

A girl who loved you wouldn’t have a skirt cut like that.

Gerald.

I can’t draw back now, Dot. You must see that I can’t.

Mrs. Dot.

If you cared for me, you’d easily find some way out of the difficulty.

Gerald.

I must be honest, Dot…. I don’t want to seem a snob, but I’ve got an ancient name, and it’s rather honourable. I’m by way of being the head of the family now. I don’t want to begin by acting like a cad.

Mrs. Dot.

You know, I’m much nicer than Nellie. I’m more amusing, and I’m better dressed, and I’ve got five motor cars. It’s true she’s younger than I am, but I don’t feel a day more than seventeen. [With a little look at him.] And if you had any sense of decency at all you’d say I looked it. You said you loved me just now. Say it again, Gerald. It’s so good to hear.

Gerald.

I don’t see how we can help ourselves.

Mrs. Dot.

[Beginning to lose her temper.] I suppose you just want to finish an awkward scene? I don’t want to harrow you. Why don’t you go to the War Office?

Gerald.

You must see it’s not my fault. If we must part, let us part friends.

Mrs. Dot.

Now, I declare he wants to sentimentalise. Isn’t it enough that you’ve made me frightfully unhappy? D’you want me to say it doesn’t matter at all, as if you’d spilt a cup of tea on me? D’you think I like being utterly wretched?

Gerald.

For heaven’s sake, don’t talk like that. You’re tearing my heart to pieces.

Mrs. Dot.

Your heart? I should like to bang it on the floor and stamp on it. You must expect to suffer a little. You can’t put it all on me.

Gerald.

I don’t want you to suffer.

Mrs. Dot.

[In a temper.] You were willing enough to marry me when you hadn’t got sixpence to bless yourself with. How fortunate your cousin didn’t die a week later!

Gerald.

Do you think I was proposing to marry you for your money?

Mrs. Dot.

Yes.

Gerald.

Really?

Mrs. Dot.

No, of course not.

Gerald.

Thanks.

Mrs. Dot.

Oh, you needn’t take it as a compliment. I’d much sooner have to deal with a clever knave than an honest fool.

Gerald.

Won’t you say that you bear me no ill-will?

Mrs. Dot.

No.

Gerald.

I really must go to the War Office.

Mrs. Dot.

Very well, you can go.

Gerald.

Won’t you come with me?

Mrs. Dot.

No.

Gerald.

I’m afraid you’ll get rather bored here.

[He rings the bell, and Charles comes in.

Charles.

Yes, my lord.

Gerald.

I want my hat and coat.

[Charles goes out.

Mrs. Dot.

Do you care for Nellie Sellenger?

Gerald.

If you don’t mind, I won’t answer that question. Unless she asks for her freedom, I propose to marry her.

[Charles brings in the hat and coatMrs. Dot watches him while he puts them on.

Gerald.

Good-bye.

[He goes out. Mrs. Dot turns round and faces Charles.

Mrs. Dot.

Charles, have you ever been married?

Charles.

Twice, madam.

Mrs. Dot.

And has experience taught you that when a woman wants a thing she generally gets it?

Charles.

[With a sigh.] It has, madam.

Mrs. Dot.

That is my opinion, too, Charles.

[She goes out. Charles begins to clear the tea things away.

END OF THE FIRST ACT

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