Angels & Ministers
Part 2 out of 3
SCENE.--_The Everlasting Habitations_
_It is evening (or so it seems), and to the comfortably furnished
Victorian drawing-room a middle-aged maid-servant in cap and apron brings
a lamp, and proceeds to draw blinds and close curtains. To do this she
passes the fire-place, where before a pleasantly bright hearth sits,
comfortably sedate, an elderly lady whose countenance and attitude suggest
the very acme of genteel repose. She is a handsome woman, very conscious
of herself, but carrying the burden of her importance with an ease which,
in her own mind, leaves nothing to be desired. The once-striking outline
of her features has been rounded by good feeding to a softness which is
merely physical; and her voice, when she speaks, has a calculated
gentleness very caressing to her own ear, and a little irritating to
others who are not of an inferior class. Menials like it, however. The
room, though over-upholstered, and not furnished with any more individual
taste than that which gave its generic stamp to the great Victorian
period, is the happy possessor of some good things. Upon the mantel-shelf,
backed by a large mirror, stands old china in alternation with alabaster
jars, under domed shades, and tall vases encompassed by pendant ringlets
of glass-lustre. Rose-wood, walnut, and mahogany make a well-wooded
interior; and in the dates thus indicated there is a touch of Georgian.
But, over and above these mellowing features of a respectable ancestry,
the annunciating Angel of the Great Exhibition of_ 1851 _has spread a
brooding wing. And while the older articles are treasured on account of
family association, the younger and newer stand erected in places of
honour by reason of an intrinsic beauty never previously attained to.
Through this chamber the dashing crinoline has wheeled the too vast orb of
its fate, and left fifty years after (if we may measure the times of
Heaven by the ticks of an earthly chronometer) a mark which nothing is
likely to erase. Upon the small table, where Hannah the servant deposits
the lamp, lies a piece of crochet-work. The fair hands that have been
employed on it are folded on a lap of corded silk representing the
fashions of the nineties, and the grey-haired beauty (that once was) sits
contemplative, wearing a cap of creamish lace, tastefully arranged, not
unaware that in the entering lamp-light, and under the fire's soft glow of
approval, she presents to her domestic's eye an improving picture of
gentility. It is to Miss Julia Robinson's credit--and she herself places
it there emphatically--that she always treats servants humanly, though at
a distance. And when she now speaks she confers her slight remark just a
little as though it were a favour_.
JULIA. How the days are drawing out, Hannah.
HANNAH. Yes, Ma'am; nicely, aren't they?
(_For Hannah, being old-established, may say a thing or two not in the
strict order. In fact, it may be said that, up to a well-understood point,
character is encouraged in her, and is allowed to peep through in her
JULIA. What time is it?
HANNAH (_looking with better eyes than her mistress at the large ormolu
clock which records eternally the time of the great Exhibition_).
Almost a quarter to six, Ma'am.
JULIA. So late? She ought to have been here long ago.
HANNAH. Who, Ma'am, did you say, Ma'am?
JULIA. My sister, Mrs. James. You remember?
HANNAH. What, Miss Martha, Ma'am? Well!
JULIA. No, it's Miss Laura this time: you didn't know she had married, I
HANNAH (_with a world of meaning, well under control_). No, Ma'am.
(_A pause_.) I made up the bed in the red room; was that right,
JULIA (_archly surprised_). What? Then you knew someone was coming?
Why did you pretend, Hannah?
HANNAH. Well, Ma'am, you see, you hadn't _told_ me before.
JULIA. I couldn't. One cannot always be sure. (_This mysteriously_.)
But something tells me now that she is to be with us. I have been
expecting her over four days.
HANNAH (_picking her phrases a little, as though on doubtful
ground_). It must be a long way, Ma'am. Did she make a comfortable
JULIA. Very quietly, I'm told. No pain.
HANNAH. I wonder what she'll be able to eat now, Ma'am. She was always
TULIA. I daresay you will be told soon enough. (_Thus in veiled words
she conveys that Hannah knows something of Mrs. James's character_.)
HANNAH (_resignedly_). Yes, M'm.
JULIA. I don't think I'll wait any longer. If you'll bring in tea now.
Make enough for two, in case: pour it off into another pot, and have it
under the tea-cosy.
HANNAH. Yes, Ma'am.
(_Left alone, the dear lady enjoys the sense of herself and the small
world of her own thoughts in solitude. Then she sighs indulgently_.)
JULIA. Yes, I suppose I would rather it had been Martha. Poor Laura!
(_She puts out her hand for her crochet, when it is arrested by the
sound of a knock, rather rapacious in character_.) Ah, that's Laura all
(_Seated quite composedly and fondling her well-kept hands, she awaits
the moment of arrival. Very soon the door opens, and the over-expected
Mrs. James--a luxuriant garden of widow's weeds, enters. She is a lady
more strongly and sharply featured than her sister, but there is nothing
thin-lipped about her; with resolute eye and mouth a little grim, yet
pleased at so finding herself, she steps into this chamber of old memories
and cherished possessions, which translation to another and a better world
has made hers again. For a moment she sees the desire of her eyes and is
satisfied; but for a moment only. The apparition of another already in
possession takes her aback_.)
JULIA (_with soft effusiveness_). Well, Laura!
LAURA (_startled_). Julia!
JULIA. _Here_ you are!
LAURA. Whoever thought of finding you?
JULIA (_sweetly_). Didn't you?
(_They have managed to embrace: but Laura continues to have her
LAURA. No! not for a moment. I really think they might have told me. What
JULIA. Our old home, Laura. It was a natural choice, I think: as one was
allowed to choose. I suppose you were?
LAURA (_her character showing_.) I didn't ask anyone's leave to come.
JULIA. And how are you?
LAURA. I don't know; I want my tea.
JULIA. Hannah is just bringing it.
LAURA. Who's Hannah?
JULIA. _Our_ Hannah: our old servant. Didn't _she_ open the door
LAURA. What? Come back, has she?
JULIA. I found her here when I came, seven years ago. I didn't ask
questions. Here she is.
(Enter _Hannah with the tea-tray_.)
LAURA (_with a sort of grim jocosity_). How d'ye do, Hannah?
HANNAH. Nicely, thank you, Ma'am. How are you, Ma'am?
(_Hannah, as she puts down the tray, is prepared to have her hand
shaken: for it is a long time (thirty years or so in earthly measure)
since they met. But Mrs. James is not so cordial as all that_.)
LAURA. I'm very tired.
JULIA. You've come a long way.
(_But Laura's sharp attention has gone elsewhere_.)
LAURA. Hannah, what have you got my best tray for? You know that is not to
be used every day.
JULIA. It's all right, Laura. You don't understand.
LAURA. What don't I understand?
JULIA. Here one always uses the best. Nothing wears out or gets broken.
LAURA. Then where's the pleasure of it? If one always uses them and they
never break--'best' means nothing!
JULIA. It is a little puzzling at first. You must be patient.
LAURA. I'm not a child, Julia.
JULIA (_beautifully ignoring_). A little more coal, please, Hannah.
(_Then to her sister as she pours out the tea_.) And how did you
LAURA. Oh, pretty much as usual. Most of them having colds. That's how I
got mine. Mrs. Hilliard came to call and left it behind her. I went out
with it in an east wind and that finished me.
JULIA. Oh, but how provoking! (_She wishes to be sympathetic; but this
is a line of conversation she instinctively avoids_!)
LAURA. _No_, Julia! ... (_This, delivered with force, arrests the
criminal intention_.) _No_ sugar. To think of your forgetting
JULIA (_most sweetly_). Milk?
LAURA. Yes, you know I take milk.
(_Crossing over, but sitting away from the tea-table, she lets her
sister wait on her_.)
JULIA. Did Martha send me any message?
LAURA. How could she? She didn't know I was coming.
JULIA. Was it so sudden?
LAURA. I sent for her and she didn't come. Think of that!
JULIA. Oh! She would be sorry. Tea-cake?
LAURA (_taking the tea-cake that is offered her_). I'm not so sure.
She was nursing Edwin's boy through the measles, so of course _I_
didn't count. (_Nosing suspiciously_.) Is this China tea?
JULIA. If you like to think it. You have as you choose. How is our
LAURA. His wife's more trying than ever. Julia, what a fool that woman is!
JULIA. Well, let's hope he doesn't know it.
LAURA. He must know. I've told him. She sent a wreath to my funeral, 'With
love and fond affection, from Emily.' Fond fiddlesticks! Humbug! She knows
I can't abide her.
JULIA. I suppose she thought it was the correct thing.
LAURA. And I doubt if it cost more than ten shillings. Now Mrs.
Dobson--you remember her: she lives in Tudor Street with a daughter one
never sees--something wrong in her head, and has fits--she sent me a cross
of lilies, white lilac, and stephanotis, as handsome as you could wish;
and a card--I forget what was on the card.... Julia, when you died--
JULIA. Oh, don't Laura!
LAURA. Well, you did die, didn't you?
JULIA. Here one doesn't talk of it. That's over. There are things you will
have to learn.
LAURA. What I was going to say was--when I died I found my sight was much
better. I could read all the cards without my glasses. Do _you_ use
JULIA. Sometimes, for association. I have these of our dear Mother's in
her tortoise-shell case.
LAURA. That reminds me. Where is our Mother?
JULIA. She comes--sometimes.
LAURA. Why isn't she here always?
JULIA (_with pained sweetness_). I don't know, Laura. I never ask
LAURA. Really, Julia, I shall be afraid to open my mouth presently!
JULIA (_long-suffering still_). When you see her you will understand.
I told her you were coming, so I daresay she will look in.
LAURA. 'Look in'!
JULIA. Perhaps. That is her chair, you remember. She always sits there,
(ENTER _Hannah with the coal_.)
Just a little on, please, Hannah--only a little.
LAURA. This isn't China tea: it's Indian, three and sixpenny.
JULIA. Mine is ten shilling China.
LAURA. Lor', Julia! How are you able to afford it?
JULIA. A little imagination goes a long way here, you'll find. Once I
tasted it. So now I can always taste it.
LAURA. Well! I wish I'd known.
JULIA. Now you _do_.
LAURA. But I never tasted tea at more than three-and-six. Had I known, I
could have got two ounces of the very best, and had it when----
JULIA. A lost opportunity. Life is full of them.
LAURA. Then you mean to tell me that if I had indulged more then, I could
indulge more now?
JULIA. Undoubtedly. As I never knew what it was to wear sables, I have to
be content with ermine.
LAURA. Lor', Julia, how paltry!
(_While this conversation has been going on, a gentle old lady has
appeared upon the scene, unnoticed and unannounced. One perceives, that is
to say, that the high-backed arm-chair beside the fire, sheltered by a
screen from all possibility of draughts, has an occupant. Dress and
appearance show a doubly septuagenarian character: at the age of seventy,
which in this place she retains as the hall-mark of her earthly
pilgrimage, she belongs also to the 'seventies' of the last century, wears
watered silk, and retains under her cap a shortened and stiffer version of
the side-curls with which she and all 'the sex' captivated the hearts of
Charles Dickens and other novelists in their early youth. She has soft and
indeterminate features, and when she speaks her voice, a little shaken by
the quaver of age, is soft and indeterminate also. Gentle and lovable, you
will be surprised to discover that she, also, has a will of her own; but
for the present this does not show. From the dimly illumined corner behind
the lamp her voice comes soothingly to break the discussion_.)
OLD LADY. My dear, would you move the light a little nearer? I've dropped
LAURA (_starting up_). Why, Mother dear, when did you come in?
JULIA (_interposing with arresting hand_). Don't! You mustn't try to
touch her, or she goes.
JULIA. I can't explain. She is not quite herself. She doesn't always hear
what one says.
LAURA (_assertively_). She can hear me. (_To prove it, she raises
her voice defiantly._) Can't you, Mother?
MRS. R. (_the voice perhaps reminding her_). Jane, dear, I wonder
what's become of Laura, little Laura: she was always so naughty and
difficult to manage, so different from Martha--and the rest.
LAURA. Lor', Julia! Is it as bad as that? Mother, 'little Laura' is here,
sitting in front of you. Don't you know me?
MRS. R. Do you remember, Jane, one day when we'd all started for a walk,
Laura had forgotten to bring her gloves, and I sent her back for them? And
on the way she met little Dorothy Jones, and she took her gloves off her,
and came back with them just as if they were her own.
LAURA. What a good memory you have, Mother! I remember it too. She was an
odious little thing, that Dorothy--always so whiney-piney.
JULIA. More tea, Laura?
(_Laura pushes her cup at her without remark, for she has been kept
waiting; then, in loud tones, to suit the one whom she presumes to be
LAURA. Mother! Where are you living now?
MRS. R. I'm living, my dear.
LAURA. I said 'where?'
JULIA. We live where it suits us, Laura.
LAURA. Julia, I wasn't addressing myself to you. Mother, where _are_
you living?... Why, _where_ has she gone to?
(_For now we perceive that this gentle Old Lady so devious in her
conversation has a power of self-possession, of which, very retiringly,
she avails herself._)
JULIA (_improving the occasion, as she hands back the cup, with that
touch of superiority so exasperating to a near relative_). Now you see!
If you press her too much, she goes.... You'll have to accommodate
LAURA (_imposing her own explanation_). I think you gave me
_green_ tea, Julia ... or have had it yourself.
JULIA (_knowing better_). The dear Mother seldom stays long, except
when she finds me alone.
(_Having insinuated this barb into the flesh of her 'dear sister,' she
takes up her crochet with an air of great contentment. Mrs. James,
meanwhile, to make herself more at home, now that tea is finished, undoes
her bonnet-strings with a tug, and lets them hang. She is not in the best
LAURA. I don't believe she recognised me. Why did she keep on calling me
JULIA. She took you for poor Aunt Jane, I fancy.
LAURA (_infuriated at being taken for anyone 'poor'_).
Why should she do that, pray?
JULIA. Well, there always was a likeness, you know; and you are older than
you were, Laura.
LAURA (_crushingly_). Does 'poor Aunt Jane' wear widow's weeds?
(_This reminds her not only of her own condition, but of other things as
well. She sits up and takes a stiller bigger bite into her new world_.)
Julia!... Where's William?
JULIA. I haven't inquired.
LAURA (_self-importance and a sense of duty consuming her_.) I wish
to see him.
JULIA. Better not, as it didn't occur to you before.
LAURA. Am I not to see my own husband, pray?
JULIA. He didn't ever live _here_, you know.
LAURA. He can come, I suppose. He has got legs like the rest of us.
JULIA. Yes, but one can't force people: at least, not here. You should
remember that--before he married you--he had other ties.
(_Mrs. James preserves her self-possession, but there is battle in her
LAURA. He was married to me longer than he was to Isabel.
JULIA. They had children.
LAURA. I could have had children if I chose. I didn't choose.... Julia,
how am I to see him?
JULIA (_Washing her hands of it_). You must manage for yourself,
LAURA. I'm puzzled! Here are we in the next world just as we expected, and
where are all the--? I mean, oughtn't we to be seeing a great many more
things than we do?
JULIA. What sort of things?
LAURA. Well,... have you seen Moses and the Prophets?
JULIA. I haven't looked for them, Laura. On Sundays, I still go to hear
LAURA. That's you all over! You never would go o the celebrated preachers.
But I mean to. (_Pious curiosity awakens._) What happens here, on
JULIA (_smiling_). Oh, just the same.
LAURA. No _High_ Church ways, I hope? If they go in for that here, I
shall go out!
JULIA (_patiently explanatory_). You will go out if you wish to go
out. You can choose your church. As I tell you, I always go to hear Mr.
Moore; you can go and hear Canon Farrar.
LAURA. Dean Farrar, I _suppose_ you mean.
JULIA. He was not Dean in my day.
LAURA. He ought to have been a Bishop--_Arch_bishop, _I_ think--
so learned, and such a magnificent preacher. But I still wonder why we
don't see Moses and the Prophets.
JULIA. Well, Laura, it's the world as we knew it-that for the present. No
doubt other things will come in time, gradually. But I don't know: I don't
LAURA (_doubtfully_). I suppose it _is_ Heaven, in a way,
JULIA. Dispensation has its own ways, Laura; and we have ours.
LAURA (_who is not going to be theologically dictated to by anyone lower
than Dean Farrar_). Julia, I shall start washing the old china again.
JULIA. As you like; nothing ever gets soiled here.
LAURA. It's all very puzzling. The world seems cut in half. Things don't
JULIA. _More_ real, I should say. We have them--as we wish them to
LAURA. Then why can't we have our Mother, like other things?
JULIA. Ah, with persons it is different. We all belong to ourselves now.
That one has to accept.
LAURA (_stubbornly_). Does William belong to _him_self?
JULIA. I suppose.
LAURA. It isn't Scriptural!
JULIA. It's better.
LAURA. Julia, don't be blasphemous!
JULIA. To consult William's wishes, I meant.
LAURA. But I want him. I've a right to him. If he didn't mean to belong to
me, he ought not to have married me.
JULIA. People make mistakes sometimes.
LAURA. Then they should stick to them. It's not honourable. Julia, I mean
to have William!
JULIA (_resignedly_). You and he must arrange that between you.
LAURA (_making a dash for it_). William! William, I say! William!
JULIA. Oh, Laura, you'll wake the dead! (_She gasps, but it is too late:
the hated word is out._)
LAURA (_as one who will be obeyed_). William!
(_The door does not open; but there appears through it the indistinct
figure of an elderly gentleman with a weak chin and a shifting eye. He
stands irresolute and apprehensive; clearly his presence there is
perfunctory. Wearing his hat and carrying a hand-bag, he seems merely to
have looked in while passing._)
JULIA. Apparently you are to have your wish. (_She waves an introductory
hand; Mrs. James turns, and regards the unsatisfactory apparition with
LAURA. William, is that you?
WILLIAM (_nervously_). Yes, my dear; it's me.
LAURA. Can't you be more distinct than that?
WILLIAM. Why do you want me?
LAURA. Have you forgotten I'm your wife?
WILLIAM. I thought you were my widow, my dear.
LAURA. William, don't prevaricate. I am your wife, and you know it.
WILLIAM. Does a wife wear widow's weeds? A widow is such a distant
relation: no wonder I look indistinct.
LAURA. How did I know whether I was going to find you here?
WILLIAM. Where else? But you look very nice as you are, my dear. Black
(_But Mrs. James is not to be turned off by compliments._)
LAURA. William, who are you living with?
WILLIAM. With myself, my dear.
LAURA. Anyone else?
WILLIAM. Off and on I have friends staying.
LAURA. Are you living with Isabel?
WILLIAM. She comes in occasionally to see how I'm getting on.
LAURA. And how are you 'getting on'--without me?
WILLIAM. Oh, I manage--somehow.
LAURA. Are you living a proper life, William?
WILLIAM. Well, I'm _here_, my dear; what more do you want to know?
LAURA. There's a great deal I want to know. But I wish you'd come in and
shut the door, instead of standing out there in the passage.
JULIA. The door _is_ shut, Laura.
LAURA. Then I don't call it a door.
WILLIAM (_trying to make things pleasant_). When is a door not a
door? When it's a parent.
LAURA. William, I want to talk seriously. Do you know that when you died
you left a lot of debts I didn't know about?
WILLIAM. I didn't know about them either, my dear. But if you had, it
wouldn't have made any difference.
LAURA. Yes, it would! I gave you a very expensive funeral.
WILLIAM. That was to please yourself, my dear; it didn't concern me.
LAURA. Have you no self-respect? I've been at my own funeral to-day, let
me tell you!
WILLIAM. Have you, my dear? Rather trying, wasn't that?
LAURA. Yes, it was. They've gone and put me beside you; and now I begin to
wish they hadn't!
WILLIAM. Go and haunt them for it!
(_At this Julia deigns a slight chuckle._)
LAURA (_abruptly getting back to her own_). I had to go into a
smaller house, William. And people knew it was because you'd left me badly
WILLIAM. That reflected on me, my dear, not on you.
LAURA. It reflected on me for ever having married you.
WILLIAM. I've often heard you blame yourself. Well, now you're free.
LAURA. I'm _not_ free.
WILLIAM. You can be if you like. Hadn't you better?
LAURA (_sentimentally_). Don't you see I'm still in mourning for you,
WILLIAM. I appreciate the compliment, my dear. Don't spoil it,
LAURA. Don't be heartless!
WILLIAM. I'm not: far from it. (_He looks at his watch)_ I'm afraid I
must go now.
LAURA. Why must you go?
WILLIAM. They are expecting me--to dinner.
LAURA. Who's 'they'?
WILLIAM. The children and their mother. They've invited me to stay the
(_Mrs. James does her best to conceal the shock this gives her. She
delivers her ultimatum with judicial firmness_!)
LAURA. William, I wish you to come and live here with me.
(_William vanishes. Mrs. James in a fervour of virtuous indignation
hastens to the door, opens it, and calls 'William!' but there is no
(_Julia, meanwhile, has rung the bell. Mrs. James stills stands
glowering in the doorway when she hears footsteps, and moves majestically
aside for the returned penitent to enter; but alas! it is only Hannah,
obedient to the summons of the bell. Mrs. James faces round and fires a
shot at her_.)
LAURA. Hannah, you _are_ an ugly woman.
JULIA (_faint with horror_). Laura!
HANNAH (_imperturbably)._ Well, Ma'am, I'm as God made me.
JULIA. Yes, please, take the tea-things. (_Sotto voce, as Hannah
approaches_.) I'm sorry, Hannah!
HANNAH. It doesn't matter, Ma'am. (_She picks up the tray expeditiously
and carries it off_)
(_Mrs. James eyes the departing tray, and is again reminded of
LAURA. Julia, where is the silver tea-pot?
JULIA. Which, Laura?
LAURA. Why, that beautiful one of our Mother's.
JULIA. When we shared our dear Mother's things between us, didn't Martha
LAURA. Yes, she did. But she tells me she doesn't know what's become of
it. When I ask, what did she do with it in the first place? she loses her
temper. But once she told me she left it here with _you_.
(_The fierce eye and the accusing tone make no impression on that
cushioned fortress of gentility. With suave dignity Miss Robinson makes
LAURA (_insistent)._ Yes; in a box.
JULIA. In a box? Oh, she may have left anything in a box.
LAURA. It was that box she always travelled about with and never opened.
Well, I looked in it once (never mind how), and the tea-pot wasn't there.
JULIA (_gently, making allowance_). Well, I _didn't_ look in it,
(_Like a water-lily folding its petals she adjusts a small shawl about
her shoulders, and sinks composedly into her chair_.)
LAURA. The more fool you!... But all the other things she had of our
Mother's _were_ there: a perfect magpie's nest! And she, living in
her boxes, and never settling anywhere. What did she want with them?
JULIA. I can't say, Laura.
LAURA. No--no more can I; no more can anyone! Martha has got the miser
spirit. She's as grasping as a caterpillar. _I_ ought to have had
LAURA. Because I had a house of my own, and people coming to tea. Martha
never had anyone to tea with her in her life--except in lodgings.
JULIA. We all like to live in our own way. Martha liked going about.
LAURA. Yes. She promised _me_, after William--I suppose I had better
say 'evaporated' as you won't let me say 'died'--she promised always to
stay with me for three months in the year. She never did. Two, and some
little bits, were the most. And I want to know where was that tea-pot all
JULIA (_a little jocosely_). Not in the box, apparently.
LAURA (_returning to her accusation_). I thought you had it.
JULIA. You were mistaken. Had I had it here, you would have found it.
LAURA. Did Martha never tell _you_ what she did with it?
JULIA. I never asked, Laura.
LAURA. Julia, if you say that again I shall scream.
JULIA. Won't you take your things off?
LAURA. Presently. When I feel more at home. (_Returning to the
charge_) But most of our Mother's things are here.
JULIA. Your share and mine.
LAURA. How did you get mine here?
JULIA. You brought them. At least, they _came_, a little before you
did. Then I knew you were on your way.
LAURA (_impressed)._ Lor'! So that's how things happen?
(_She goes and begins to take a look round, and Julia takes up her
crochet again. As she does so her eye is arrested by a little
old-fashioned hour-glass standing upon the table from which the tea-tray
has been taken, the sands of which are still running_.)
JULIA (_softly, almost to herself_). Oh, but how strange! That was
Martha's. Is Martha coming too? (_She picks up the glass, looks at it,
and sets it down again_)
LAURA (_who is examining the china on a side-table)._ Why, I declare,
Julia! Here is your Dresden that was broken--without a crack in it!
JULIA. No, Laura, it was yours that was broken.
LAURA. It was _not_ mine; it was yours...Don't you remember _I_
JULIA. When you broke it you said it was mine. Until you broke it, you
said it was yours.
LAURA. Very well, then: as you wish. It isn't broken now, and it's mine.
JULIA. That's satisfactory. I get my own back again. It's the better one.
(ENTER _Hannah with a telegram on a salver._)
HANNAH (_in a low voice of mystery_). A telegram, Ma'am.
(_Julia opens it. The contents evidently startle her, but she retains
her presence of mind_)
JULIA. No answer.
JULIA. Laura, Martha is coming!
LAURA. Here? Well, I wonder how she has managed that!
(_Her sister hands her the telegram, which she reads.)_
'Accident. Quite safe. Arriving by the 6.30.' Why, it's after that now!
JULIA (_sentimentally)._ Oh, Laura, only think! So now we shall be
all together again.
LAURA. Yes, I suppose we shall.
JULIA. It will be quite like old days.
LAURA (_warningly, as she sits down again and prepares for
narrative_). Not _quite_, Julia. (_She leans forward, and speaks
with measured emphasis_) Martha's temper has got very queer! She never
had a very good temper, as you know: and it's grown on her.
(_A pause. Julia remains silent_)
I could tell you some things; but--(_Seeing herself unencouraged)_
oh, you'll find out soon enough! (_Then, to stand right with
herself_) Julia, _am_ I difficult to get on with?
JULIA. Oh well, we all have our little ways, Laura.
LAURA. But Martha: she's so rude! I can't introduce her to people! If
anyone comes, she just runs away.
JULIA (_changing the subject_). D'you remember, Laura, that charming
young girl we met at Mrs. Somervale's, the summer Uncle Fletcher stayed
LAURA (_snubbingly_). I can't say I do.
JULIA. I met her the other day: married, and with three children--and just
as pretty and young-looking as ever.
(_All this is said with the most ravishing air, but Laura is not to be
LAURA. Ah! I daresay. When Martha behaves like that, I hold my tongue and
say nothing. But what people must think, I don't know. Julia, when you
first came here, did you find old friends and acquaintances? Did anybody
JULIA. A few called on me: nobody I didn't wish to see.
LAURA. Is that odious man who used to be our next-door neighbour--the one
who played on the 'cello--here still?
JULIA. Mr. Harper? I see him occasionally. I don't find him odious.
LAURA. _Don't you_?
JULIA. It was his wife who was the--She isn't here: and I don't think he
LAURA. Where is she?
JULIA. I didn't ask, Laura.
(_Mrs. James gives a jerk of exasperation, but at that moment the bell
rings and a low knock is heard_.)
JULIA (_ecstatically)._ Here she is!
LAURA. Julia, I wonder how it is Martha survived us. She's much the
JULIA (_pleasantly palpitating_). Does it matter? Does it matter?
(_The door opens and in comes Martha. She has neither the distinction of
look nor the force of character which belongs to her two sisters. Age has
given a depression to the plain kindliness of her face, and there is a
harassed look about her eyes. She peeps into the room a little anxiously,
then enters, carrying a large flat box covered in purple paper which, in
her further progress across the room she lays upon the table. She talks in
short jerks and has a quick, hurried way of doing things, as if she liked
to get through and have done with them. It is the same when she submits
herself to the embrace of her relations_)
LAURA. Oh, so you've come at last. Quite time, too!
MARTHA. Yes, here I am.
JULIA. My dear Martha, welcome to your old home! (_Embracing her_)
How are you?
MARTHA. I'm cold. Well, Laura.
(_Between these two the embrace is less cordial, but it takes place_)
LAURA. How did you come?
MARTHA. I don't know.
JULIA (_seeing harassment in her sister's eye_). Arrived safely, at
MARTHA. I think I was in a railway accident, but I can't be sure. I only
heard the crash and people shouting. I didn't wait to see. I just put my
fingers in my ears, and ran away.
LAURA. Why do you think it was a railway accident?
MARTHA. Because I was in a railway carriage. I was coming to your funeral.
If you'd told me you were ill I'd have come before. I was bringing you a
wreath. And then, as I tell you, there was a crash and a shout; and that's
all I know about it.
LAURA. Lor', Martha! I suppose they'll have an inquest on you.
MARTHA (_stung)._ I think they'd better mind their own business, and
you mind yours!
JULIA. Laura! Here we don't talk about such things. They don't concern us.
Would you like tea, Martha, or will you wait for supper?
MARTHA (_who has shaken her head at the offer of tea, and nodded a
preference for supper_). You know how I've always dreaded death.
JULIA. Oh, don't, my dear Martha! It's past.
MARTHA. Yes; but it's upset me. The relief, that's what I can't get over:
JULIA. Presently you will be more used to it.
(_She helps her off with her cloak_.)
MARTHA. There were people sitting to right and to left of me and opposite;
and suddenly a sort of crash of darkness seemed to come all over me, and I
saw nothing more. I didn't feel anything: only a sort of a jar here.
(_She indicates the back of her neck. Julia finds these anatomical
details painful, and holds her hands deprecatingly; but Laura has no such
qualms. She is now undoing the parcel which, she considers, is hers_.)
LAURA. I daresay it was only somebody's box from the luggage-rack. I've
known that happen. I don't suppose for a minute that it was a railway
(_She unfurls the tissue paper of the box and takes out the wreath_)
JULIA. Why talk about it?
LAURA. Anyway, nothing has happened to these. 'With fondest love from
Martha.' H'm. Pretty!
JULIA. Martha, would you like to go upstairs with your things? And you,
MARTHA. I will presently, when I've got warm.
LAURA. Not yet. Martha, why was I put into that odious shaped coffin? More
like a canoe than anything. I said it was to be straight,
MARTHA. I'd nothing to do with it, Laura. I wasn't there. You know I
LAURA. If you'd come when I asked you, you could have seen to it.
MARTHA. You didn't tell me you were dying.
LAURA. Do people tell each other when they are dying? They don't
_know_. I told you I wasn't well.
MARTHA. You always told me that, just when I'd settled down somewhere
else.... Of course I'd have come if I'd known! (_testily)._
JULIA. Oh, surely we needn't go into these matters now! Isn't it better to
LAURA. I like to have my wishes attended to. What was going to be done
about the furniture? (_This to Martha_.) You know, I suppose, that I
left it to the two of you--you and Edwin?
MARTHA. We were going to give it to Bella, to set up house with.
LAURA. _That's_ not what I intended. I meant you to keep on the house
and live there. Why couldn't you?
MARTHA (_with growing annoyance_). Well, _that's_ settled now!
LAURA. It wasn't for Arabella. Arabella was never a favourite of mine. Why
should Arabella have my furniture?
MARTHA. Well, you'd better send word, and have it stored up for you till
doomsday! Edwin doesn't want it; he's got enough of his own.
LAURA (_in a sleek, injured voice_). Julia, I'm going upstairs to
take my things off.
JULIA. Very well, Laura. (_And Laura makes her injured exit_.)
So you've been with Edwin, and his family?
MARTHA. Yes. I'm never well there; but I wanted the change.
JULIA. You mean, you had been staying with Laura?
MARTHA. I always go and stay with her, as long as I can--three months, I'm
supposed to. But this year--well, I couldn't manage with it.
JULIA. Is she so much more difficult than she used to be?
MARTHA. Of course, I don't know what she's like here.
JULIA. Oh, she has been very much herself--_poor_ Laura!
MARTHA. I know! Julia, I know! And I try to make allowances. All her life
she's had her own way with somebody. Poor William! Of course I know he had
his faults. But he used to come and say to me: 'Martha, I _can't_
please her.' Well, poor man, he's at peace now, let's hope! Oh, Julia,
I've just thought: whatever will poor William do? He's here, I suppose,
JULIA. Oh yes, He's here, Martha.
MARTHA. She'll rout him out, depend on it.
JULIA. She has routed him out.
MARTHA (_awe-struck)._ Has she?
JULIA (_shaking her head wisely_). William won't live with her; he
MARTHA. Who will live with her, then? She's bound to get hold of somebody.
JULIA. Apparently she means to live here.
MARTHA. Then it's going to be me! I know it's going to be me! When we
lived here before, it used to be poor Mamma.
JULIA. The dear Mother is quite capable of looking after herself, you'll
find. You needn't belong to Laura if you don't like, Martha. I never let
her take possession of _me_.
MARTHA. She seems never to want to. I don't know how you manage it.
JULIA. Oh, we've had our little tussles. But here you will find it much
easier. You can vanish.
MARTHA. What do you mean?
JULIA. I mean--vanish. It takes the place of wings. One does it almost
MARTHA. How do you do it?
JULIA. You just wish yourself elsewhere; and you come back when you like.
MARTHA. Have _you_ ever done it?
JULIA (_with a world of meaning_). Not yet.
MARTHA. She won't like it. One doesn't belong to one's self, when she's
about--nor does anything. I've had to hide my own things from her
JULIA. I shouldn't wonder.
MARTHA. Do you remember the silver tea-pot?
JULIA. I've been reminded of it.
MARTHA. It was mine, wasn't it?
JULIA. Oh, of course.
MARTHA. Laura never would admit it was mine. She wanted it; so I'd no
right to it.
JULIA. I had a little idea that was it.
MARTHA. For years she was determined to have it: and I was determined she
shouldn't have it. And she didn't have it!
JULIA. Who did have it?
MARTHA. Henrietta _was_ to. I sent it her as a wedding-present, and
told her Laura was never to know. And, as she was in Australia, that
seemed safe. Well, the ship it went out in was wrecked--all because of
that tea-pot, I believe! So now it's at the bottom of the sea!
MARTHA. She searched my boxes to try and find it: stole my keys! I missed
them, but I didn't dare say anything. I used to wrap it in my night-gown
and hide it in the bed during the day, and sleep with it under my pillow
at night. And I was so thankful when Henrietta got married; so as to be
rid of it!
(RE-ENTER _Mrs. James, her bonnet still on, with the strings dangling,
and her cloak on her arm_.)
LAURA. Julia I've been looking at your room in there.
JULIA (_coldly)._ Have you, Laura?
LAURA. It used to be our Mother's room.
JULIA. I don't need to be reminded of that: it is why I chose it.
(_Rising gracefully from her chair, she goes to attend to the fire_.)
LAURA. Don't you think it would be much better for you to give it up, and
let our Mother come back and live with us?
JULIA. She has never expressed the wish.
LAURA. Of course not, with you in it.
JULIA. She was not in it when I came.
LAURA. How could you expect it, in a house all by herself?
JULIA. I gave her the chance: I began by occupying my own room.
LAURA (_self-caressingly). I_ wasn't here then. That didn't occur to
you, I suppose? You seem to forget you weren't the only one.
JULIA. Kind of you to remind me.
JULIA. Martha, will you excuse me?
(_Polite to the last, she vanishes gracefully away from the vicinity of
the coal-box. The place where she has been stooping knows her no
LAURA (_rushing round the intervening table to investigate_). Julia!
(_Martha is quite as much surprised as Mrs. James, but less
MARTHA. Well! Did you ever?
LAURA (_facing about after vain search_). Does she think that is the
proper way to behave to _me?_ Julia!
MARTHA. It's no good, Laura. You know Julia, as well as I do. If she makes
up her mind to a thing--
LAURA. Yes. She's been waiting here to exercise her patience on me, and
now she's happy! Well, she'll have to learn that this house doesn't belong
to _her_ any longer. She has got to accommodate herself to living
with others.... I wonder how she'd like me to go and sit in that pet chair
JULIA (_softly reappearing in the chair which the 'dear Mother' usually
occupies_). You can go and sit in it if you wish, Laura.
LAURA (_ignoring her return_). Martha, do you remember that odious
man who used to live next door, who played the 'cello on Sundays?
MARTHA. Oh yes, I remember. They used to hang out washing in the garden,
LAURA (_very scandalously_). Julia is friends with him! They call on
each other. His wife doesn't live with him any longer.
(_Julia rises and goes slowly and majestically out of the room_.)
LAURA (_after relishing what she conceives to be her rout of the
enemy_). Martha, what do you think of Julia?
MARTHA. Oh, she's--What do you want me to think?
LAURA. High and mighty as ever, isn't she? She's been here by herself so
long she thinks the whole place is hers.
MARTHA. I daresay we shall settle down well enough presently. Which room
are you sleeping in?
LAURA. Of course, I have my old one. Where do you want to go?
MARTHA. The green room will suit me.
LAURA. And Julia means to keep our Mother's room: I can see that. No
wonder she won't come and stay,
MARTHA. Have you seen her?
LAURA. She just 'looked in,' as Julia calls it. I could see she'd hoped to
find me alone. Julia always thought _she_ was the favourite. I knew
MARTHA. How was she?
LAURA. Just her old self; but as if she missed something. It wasn't a
_happy_ face, until I spoke to her: then it all brightened up.... Oh,
thank you for the wreath, Martha. Where did you get it?
MARTHA. Emily made it.
LAURA. That fool! Then she made her own too, I suppose?
MARTHA. Yes. That went the day before, so you got it in time.
LAURA. I thought it didn't look up to much. (_She is now contemplating
Emily's second effort with a critical eye_.) Now a little maiden-hair
fern would have made a world of difference.
MARTHA. I don't hold with flowers myself. I think it's wasteful. But, of
course, one has to do it.
LAURA (_with pained regret_). I'm sorry, Martha; I return it--with
MARTHA. What's the good of that? I can't give it back to Emily, now!
LAURA (_with quiet grief_). I don't wish to be a cause of waste.
MARTHA. Well, take it to pieces, then; and put them in water--or wear it
round your head!
LAURA. Ten beautiful wreaths my friends sent me. They are all lying on my
grave now! A pity that love is so wasteful! Well, I suppose I must go now
and change into my cap. (_Goes to the door, where she encounters
Julia_.) Why, Julia, you nearly knocked me down!
JULIA (_ironically)._ I beg your pardon, Laura; it comes of using the
same door. Hannah has lighted a fire in your room.
LAURA. That's sensible at any rate.
(EXIT _Mrs. James_)
JULIA. Well? And how do you find Laura?
MARTHA. Julia, I don't know whether I can stand her.
JULIA. She hasn't got quite--used to herself yet.
MARTHA (_explosively)._ Put that away somewhere! (_She gives an
angry shove to the wreath_)
JULIA. Put it away! Why?
MARTHA (_furiously)._ Emily made it: and it didn't cost anything; and
it hasn't got any maiden-hair fern in it; and it's too big to wear with
her cap. So it's good for nothing! Put it on the fire! She doesn't want to
see it again.
JULIA (_comprehending the situation, restores the wreath to its
box_). Why did you bring it here, Martha?
MARTHA (_miserably)._ I don't know. I just clung on to it. I suppose
it was on my mind to look after it, and see it wasn't damaged. So I found
I'd brought it with me.... I believe, now I think of it, I've brought some
sandwiches, too. (_She routs in a small hand-bag.)_ Yes, I have.
Well, I can have them for supper.... Emily made those too.
JULIA. Then I think you'd better let Hannah have them--for the sake of
MARTHA (_woefully)._ I thought I _was_ going to have peace here.
JULIA. It will be all right, Martha--presently.
MARTHA. Well, I don't want to be uncharitable; but I do wish--I must say
it--I do wish Laura had been cremated.
(_This is the nearest she can do for wishing her sister in the place to
which she thinks she belongs. But the uncremated Mrs. James now re-enters
in widow's cap_.)
LAURA. Julia, have you ever seen Papa, since you came here?
JULIA (_frigidly)._ No, I have not.
LAURA. Has our Mother seen him?
JULIA. I haven't--(_About to say the forbidden thing, she checks
herself_.) Mamma has _not_ seen him: nor does she know his
LAURA. Does nobody know?
JULIA. Nobody that I know of.
LAURA. Well, but he must be somewhere. Is there no way of finding him?
JULIA. Perhaps you can devise one. I suppose, if we chose, we could go to
him; but I'm not sure--as he doesn't come to us.
LAURA. Lor', Julia! Suppose he should be----
JULIA (_deprecatingly_). Oh, Laura!
LAURA. But, Julia, it's very awkward, not to know where one's own father
is. Don't people ever ask?
JULIA. Never, I'm thankful to say.
LAURA. Why not?
JULIA. Perhaps _they_ know better.
LAURA (_after a pause_). I'm afraid he didn't lead a good life.
MARTHA. Oh, why can't you let the thing be? If you don't remember him, I
do. I was fond of him. He was always very kind to us as children; and if
he did run away with the governess it was a good riddance--so far as she
was concerned. We hated her.
LAURA. I wonder whether they are together still. You haven't inquired
after _her_, I suppose?
JULIA (_luxuriating in her weariness_). I--have--_not_, Laura!
LAURA. Don't you think it's our solemn duty to inquire? I shall ask our
JULIA. I hope you will do nothing of the sort.
LAURA. But we ought to know: otherwise we don't know how to think of him,
whether with mercy and pardon for his sins, or with reprobation.
MARTHA (_angrily_). Why need you think? Why can't you leave him
LAURA. An immortal soul, Martha. It's no good leaving him alone: that
won't alter facts.
JULIA. I don't think this is quite a nice subject for discussion.
LAURA. Nice? Was it ever intended to be nice? Eternal punishment wasn't
provided as a consolation prize for anybody, so far as I know.
MARTHA. I think it's very horrible--for us to be sitting here--by the
fire, and--(_But theology is not Martha's strong point_). Oh! why
can't you leave it?
LAURA. Because it's got to be faced; and I mean to face it. Now, Martha,
don't try to get out of it. We have got to find our Father.
JULIA. I think, before doing anything, we ought to consult Mamma.
LAURA. Very well; call her and consult her! You were against it just now.
JULIA. I am against it still. It's all so unnecessary.
MARTHA. Lor', there _is_ Mamma!
(_Old Mrs. Robinson is once more in her place. Martha makes a move
JULIA. Don't, Martha. She doesn't like to be---
MRS. R. I've heard what you've been talking about. No, I haven't seen him.
I've tried to get him to come to me, but he didn't seem to want. Martha,
my dear, how are you?
MARTHA. Oh, I'm--much as usual. And you, Mother?
MRS. R. Well, what about your Father? Who wants him?
LAURA. I want him, Mother.
MRS. R. What for?
LAURA. First we want to know what sort of a life he is leading. Then we
want to ask him about his will.
JULIA. Oh, Laura!
MARTHA. _I_ don't. I don't care if he made a dozen.
LAURA. So I thought if we all _called_ him. _You_ heard when I
called, didn't you? Oh no, that was William.
MRS. R. Who's William?
LAURA. Didn't you know I was married?
MRS. R. No. Did he die?
LAURA. Well, now, couldn't we call him?
MRS. R. I daresay. He won't like it.
LAURA. He must. He belongs to us.
MRS. R. Yes, I suppose--as I wouldn't divorce him, though he wanted me to.
I said marriages were made in Heaven.
A VOICE. Luckily, they don't last there.
(_Greatly startled, they look around, and perceive presently in the
mirror over the mantelpiece the apparition of a figure which they seem
dimly to recognise. A tall, florid gentleman of the Dundreary type, with
long side-whiskers, and dressed in the fashion of sixty years ago, has
taken up his position to one side of the ormolu clock; standing, eye-glass
in eye, with folded arms resting on the mantel-slab and a stylish hat in
one hand, be gazes upon the assembled family with quizzical
MRS. R. (_placidly_). What, is that you, Thomas?
THOMAS (_with the fashionable lisp of the fifties, always substituting
'th' for 's'_). How do you do, Susan?
(_There follows a pause, broken courageously by Mrs. James_.)
LAURA. Are _you_ my Father?
THOMAS. I don't know. Who are _you_? Who are all of you?
LAURA. Perhaps I had better explain. This is our dear Mother: her you
recognise. You are her husband; we are your daughters. This is Martha,
this is Julia, and I'm Laura.
THOMAS. Is this true, Susan? Are these our progeny?
MRS. R. Yes--that is--yes, Thomas.
THOMAS. I should not have known it. They all look so much older.
LAURA. Than when you left us? Naturally!
THOMAS. Than _me_> I meant. But you all seem flourishing.
LAURA. Because we lived longer. Papa, when did you die?
JULIA. Oh! Laura!
THOMAS. I don't know, child.
LAURA. Don't know? How don't you know?
THOMAS. Because in prisons, and other lunatic asylums, one isn't allowed
to know anything.
MRS. R. A lunatic asylum! Oh, Thomas, what brought you there?
THOMAS. A damned life, Susan--with you, and others.
JULIA. Oh, Laura, why did you do this?
MARTHA. If this goes on, I shall leave the room.
LAURA. Where are those _others_ now?
THOMAS. Three of them I see before me. You, Laura, used to scream
horribly. When you were teething, I was sleepless. Your Mother insisted on
having you in the room with us. No wonder I went elsewhere.
MARTHA. I'm going!
THOMAS. Don't, Martha! You were the quietest of the lot. When you were two
years old I even began to like you. You were the exception.
LAURA. Haven't you any affection for your old home?
THOMAS. None. It was a prison. You were the gaolers and the turnkeys. To
keep my feet in the domestic way you made me wool-work slippers, and I had
to wear them. You gave me neckties, which I wouldn't wear. You gave me
affection of a demanding kind, which I didn't want. You gave me a moral
atmosphere which I detested. And at last I could bear it no more, and I
LAURA (_deaf to instruction_). Papa, we wish you and our dear Mother
to come back and live with us.
THOMAS. Live with my grandmother! How could I live with any of you?
LAURA. Where _are_ you living?
THOMAS. Ask no questions, and you will be told no lies.
LAURA. Where is _she_?
THOMAS. Which she?
LAURA. The governess.
THOMAS. Which governess?
LAURA. The one you went away with.
THOMAS. D'you want her back again? You can have her. She'll teach you a
thing or two. She did _me_.
LAURA. Then--you have repented, Papa?
THOMAS. God! why did I come here?
MRS. R. Yes; why did you come? It was weak of you.
THOMAS. Because I never could resist women.
LAURA. Were you really mad when you died, Papa?
THOMAS. Yes, and am still: stark, staring, raving, mad, like all the rest
LAURA. I am not aware that _I_ am mad.
THOMAS. Then you are a bad case. Not to know it, is the worst sign of all.
It's in the family: you can't help being. Everything you say and do proves
it.... You were mad to come here. You are mad to remain here. You were mad
to want to see me. I was mad to let you see me. I was mad at the mere
sight of you; and I'm mad to be off again! Goodbye, Susan. If you send for
me again, I shan't come!
(_He puts on his hat with a flourish_!)
LAURA. Where are you going, Father?
THOMAS. To Hell, child! Your Hell, my Heaven!
(_He spreads his arms and rises up through the looking-glass; you
see his violet frock-coaty his check trousers, his white spats, and
patent-leather boots ascending into and passing from view. He twiddles his
feet at them and vanishes_.)
JULIA. And now I hope you are satisfied, Laura?
MARTHA. Where's Mamma gone?
JULIA. So you've driven her away, too. Well, that finishes it.
(_Apparently it does. Robbed of her parental prey, Mrs. James reverts to
the next dearest possession she is concerned about_.)
LAURA. Martha, where is the silver tea-pot?
MARTHA. I don't know, Laura.
LAURA. You said Julia had it.
MARTHA. I didn't say anything of the sort! You said--you supposed Julia
had it; and I said--suppose she had! And I left it at that.
LAURA. Julia says she hasn't got it, so you _must_ have it.
MARTHA. I haven't!
LAURA. Then where is it?
MARTHA. I don't know any more than Julia knows.
LAURA. Then one of you is not telling the truth. ... (_Very judicially
she begins to examine the two culprits.)_ Julia, when did you last see
JULIA. On the day, Laura, when we shared things between us. It became
Martha's: and I never saw it again.
LAURA. Martha, when did you last see it?
MARTHA. I have not seen it--for I don't know how long.
LAURA. That is no answer to my question.
MARTHA (_vindictively)._ Well, if you want to know, it's at the
bottom of the sea.
LAURA (_deliberately)._ Don't talk--nonsense.
MARTHA. Unless a shark has eaten it.
LAURA. When I ask a reasonable question, Martha, I expect a reasonable
MARTHA. I've given you a reasonable answer! And I wish the Judgment Day
would come, and the sea give up its dead, and then--(_At the end of her
resources, the poor lady begins to gather herself up, so as once for all
to have done with it_.) Now, I am going downstairs to talk to Hannah.
LAURA. You will do nothing of the kind, Martha.
MARTHA. I'm not going to be bullied--not by you or anyone.
LAURA. I must request you to wait and hear what I've got to say.
MARTHA. I don't want to hear it.
LAURA. Julia, are we not to discuss this matter, pray?
(_Julia, who has her eye on Martha, and is quite enjoying this tussle of
the two, says nothing_)
MARTHA. You and Julia can discuss it. I am going downstairs.
(_Mrs. James crosses the room, locks the door, and, standing mistress of
all she surveys, inquires with grim humour_.)
LAURA. And where are you going to be, Julia?
JULIA. I am where I am, Laura. I'm not going out of the window, or up the
chimney, if that's what you mean.
(_She continues gracefully to do her crochet._)
LAURA. Now, Martha, if you please.
MARTHA (_goaded into victory_). I'm sorry, Julia. You'd better
explain. I'm going downstairs.
(_Suiting the action to the word, she commits herself doggedly to the
experiment, descending bluntly and without grace through the carpet into
the room below. Mrs. James stands stupent._)
LAURA. Martha!... Am I to be defied in this way?
JULIA. You brought it on yourself, Laura.
LAURA. You told her to do it!
JULIA. She would have soon found out for herself.
(_Collectedly, she folds up her work and rises_.) And now,
I think, I will go to my room and wash my hands for supper.
(_As she makes her stately move, her ear is attracted by a curious
metallic sound repeated at intervals. Turning about, she perceives, indeed
they both perceive, in the centre of the small table, a handsome silver
tea-pot which opens and shuts its lid at them, as if trying to speak_.)
JULIA. Oh, look, Laura! Martha's tea-pot has arrived.
LAURA. She told a lie, then.
JULIA. No, it was the truth. She wished for it. The sea has given up its
LAURA. Then now I _have_ got it at last!
(_But, as she goes to seize the disputed possession, Martha rises
through the floor, grabs the tea-pot, and descends to the nether regions
LAURA (_glaring at her sister with haggard eye_). Julia, where
JULIA. I don't know what you mean, Laura. (_She reaches out a polite
hand_) The key?
(_Mrs. James delivers up the key as one glad to be rid of it_.)
LAURA. What is this place we've come to?
JULIA (_persuasively)._ Our home.
LAURA. I think we are in Hell!
JULIA (_going to the door, which she unlocks with soft triumph)._ We
are all where we wish to be, Laura. (_A gong sounds_.) That's supper.
(_The gong continues its metallic bumbling_)
(_Julia departs, leaving Mrs. James in undisputed possession of the
situation she has made for herself_.)
IMAGINARY PORTRAITS OF POLITICAL CHARACTERS,
DONE IN DIALOGUE
The written dialogue, as interpretative of character, is but a form of
portraiture, no more personally identified with its subject than drawing
or painting; nor can it claim to have more verisimilitude until it finds
embodiment on the stage. Why then, in this country at any rate, is its
application to living persons only considered legitimate when associated
with caricature? So sponsored, in the pages of _Punch_ and the
composition of Mr. Max Beerbohm, it has become an accepted convention too
habitual for remark. Yet caricature and verbal parody may be as critical
both of personality and character as dialogue more seriously designed, and
may have as important an influence not merely upon a public opinion, but
upon its moral judgment as well.
The defection of _Punch_ was felt by Gladstone to be a serious
set-back to the fortunes of his Home Rule policy; and Tenniel's cartoon
of "the Grand old Janus," saying "Quite right!" to the police who were
bludgeoning an English mob, and "Quite wrong!" to the police who were
bludgeoning an Irish one, was a personal jibe which hit him hard.
The customary device, where contemporaries are concerned, of
disembowelling the victim's name, and leaving it a skeleton of consonants,
is a formal concession which in effect concedes nothing. Nor is there any
reason why it should; for the only valid objection to the medium of
dialogue is in cases where its form might mislead the reader into
mistaking fiction for fact, and the author's invention for the
_ipsissima verba_ of the characters he portrays. I hope that this
book will attract no readers so unintelligent. Having chosen dialogue for
these studies of historical events because I find in it a natural and
direct means to the interpretation of character, my main scruple is
satisfied when I have made it plain that they have no more authenticity
because they happen to be written in dramatic form, than they would have
were they written as political essays. These are imaginary conversations
which never actually took place; and though I think they have a nearer
relation to the minds of the supposed speakers than have King's speeches
to the person who utters them, they must merely be taken as a personal
reading of characters and events, tributes to men for all of whom I have,
in one way or another, a very great respect and admiration; and not least
for the one whom, with a reticence that is symbolical of the part he
played in the downfall of "The Man of Business," I have here left
Readers of this dialogue may need to be reminded, for clearer
understanding, of the following sequence of events. On November 15th,
1890, a _decree nisi_ was pronounced in the undefended divorce suit
O'Shea _v_. O'Shea and Parnell. On November 24th, Gladstone, in a
letter to John Morley, stated that Parnell's retention of the Irish
leadership would be fatal to his own continued advocacy of the Irish
cause. In December, the majority of the Irish Party threw over Parnell
in order to placate the "Nonconformist conscience," and retain the
co-operation of the Liberal Party under Gladstone's leadership. During
the months following, Parnell and his adherents suffered a series of
defeats at by-elections in Ireland. In June 1891, immediately on the
_decree nisi_ being made absolute, Parnell married Katharine O'Shea.
On October 6th he died.
CHARLES STEWART PARNELL (_Dethroned "King" of Ireland_)
KATHARINE PARNELL (_His wife: divorced wife of Captain O'Shea_)
A MAN (_Ex-valet to Captain O'Shea_)
_Brighton. October_ 1891.
_In a comfortably furnished sitting-room, with windows looking upon the
sea-parade, a Woman of distinguished beauty sits reading beside the fire,
so intently occupied that she pays no heed to the entry of the Servant,
who unobtrusively lights the gas, draws down the blinds, and closes the
curtains. Then taking up a tea-tray, served for two, she retires, and the
reader is left alone. But not for long. The slam of the street-door causes
an attention which the coming and going of the Servant has failed to
arouse; and now, as the door opens, the brightened interest of her face
tells that, without seeing, she knows who is there. Quietly, almost
furtively, she lets fall the paper she has been reading, and turns to her
husband eyes of serene welcome, meeting confidently the sharp
interrogation of his glance_.
PARNELL. What are you doing?
KATHARINE. I was reading.
PARNELL. Yes? What?
KATHARINE. Those papers you just brought in.
PARNELL. And I told you not to.
KATHARINE (_smiling_). I was wilful and disobeyed.
PARNELL (_picking up the paper, and looking at it with contemptuous
disgust_). Why did you?
KATHARINE. Isn't "wilful" a sufficient answer, my dear?
(_And with a covert look of amusement she watches him tear and throw the
paper into the fire_.)
Why do you try to make me a coward? You aren't one yourself.
PARNELL. That gutter-stuff! (_And the second paper joins its fellow in
KATHARINE. Now wasn't that just a bit unnecessary? After all, they are
helping to make history. That is public opinion--the voice of the people,
PARNELL. Not _our_ people!
KATHARINE. Oh? Have you brought back any better news--from there?
PARNELL. Nothing special. The result of the election was out.
KATHARINE. You didn't wire it. How much were we to the bad?
PARNELL. A few hundred. What does more or less matter? It's--it's the
priests who are winning now.
KATHARINE. With divided congregations as the result.
PARNELL. Yes. But I'd rather they won than the politicians. They are
honest, at any rate. Poor fools!
KATHARINE. So it's the real country we are seeing now?
PARNELL. Yes. That's the material I've had to work with!
PARNELL. And now--now one gets to the root! But I always knew it.
KATHARINE. So you are not disappointed?
PARNELL. No; only defeated. Yet I did think once that I was going to win.
KATHARINE. So you will.
PARNELL. When I'm dead, no doubt ... some day. You can't fight for a
winning cause, and not know that.
KATHARINE. But you are not going to die yet, dearest.
PARNELL (_with a deep sigh of dejection_). Oh! Wifie, I'm so tired,
KATHARINE. Well, who has a better right? Be tired, my dear! Give yourself
up to it: let everything else go, and just rest! You _are_ tired out.
That's what I've been telling you.
PARNELL. Too much to do yet. Even dying would take more time than I can
spare just now.
KATHARINE. But you must spare time to live, my dear--if you really wish
PARNELL. Wish? I never wished it more--for now I _am_ living. I'm
awake. Doubts are over.
KATHARINE. King ... look at me! Don't take your eyes away, till I've
done.... One of those papers said (what others have been saying) that it
was I ... I ... need I go on?
PARNELL (_with grim tenderness_). Till you've done: you said ...
KATHARINE. I--that have ruined you.
PARNELL. That's just what they would say, of course. It's so easy: and
KATHARINE. All the same--by mere accident--mayn't it be true? It
_has_ happened, you know, sometimes, that love and politics haven't
quite gone together.
PARNELL. Love and politics never do. Do you think I've loved any of my
party-followers: that any of them have loved me?
PARNELL. He's gone now--with the rest.
KATHARINE. Didn't Mr. Biggar?
PARNELL. Dead.... No.
KATHARINE. Still, you love--Ireland.
PARNELL. Not as she is to-day--so narrow and jealous, so stupid, so blind!
Has she anything alive in her now worth saving? That Ireland has got to
die; and, though it doesn't sound like it, this is the death-rattle
beginning. Ireland is going to fail, and deserves to fail. But another
Ireland won't fail. She's learning her lesson--or _will_ learn it, in
the grave. Something like this was bound to come; but if it were to come
again twenty years on, it wouldn't count. She'd know better.
KATHARINE. Twenty years! We shall be an old couple by then.
PARNELL. In the life of a nation twenty years is nothing. No. Ireland was
shaped for failure: she has it in her. It had got to come out. Subjection,
oppression, starvation, haven't taught her enough: she must face betrayal
too, of the most mischievous kind--the betrayal of well-meaning fools.
After that, paralysis, loss of confidence, loss of will, loss of faith--in
false leaders. Then she'll begin to learn.
KATHARINE. Do you mean that everything _has_ failed now?
PARNELL. Yes; if _I_ fail. I'm not thinking of myself as
indispensable: it's the principle. That's what I've been trying to make
them understand. But they won't, they won't! Independence, defiance-they
don't see it as a principle, only as an expedient. They may make it a cry,
they may feel it as their right; but when to insist on it looks like
losing a point in the game--then they give up the principle, to become
parasites! That's what is happening now. It's the slave in the blood
coming out--the crisis of the disease. That's why I'm fighting it: and
will, to the death! And when--when we are dead--some day: she'll come to
her senses again--and see! Then--this will have helped.
KATHARINE. But will it?
PARNELL. Why? Don't you believe that Ireland will be free some day?
KATHARINE. I did when she chose you for her leader.
PARNELL (_bitterly_). A dead leader, one whom she can't hurt, may do
better for her.
KATHARINE. Don't say "dead"!
PARNELL. I shan't be alive in twenty years, my dear. And it may take all
KATHARINE. Without you it will take more.
PARNELL. It won't be "without me." That's what I mean. They may beat me
to-day; but I shall still count. Think of all Ireland's failures!
Grattan's Parliament counts; "Ninety-eight" counts; Fitzgerald counts;
O'Connell counts; her famines, her emigrations, her rebellions--all count.
KATHARINE. Does Butt count?
PARNELL. He wasn't a failure: he didn't try to do anything. If Ireland
needs more failures, to make a case for her conviction, shall I grudge
mine? Yes, all her failures count: they get into the blood! Why, even the
silly statues in her streets mean more than statues can mean here.
Prosperity forgets; adversity remembers. Even hatred has its use: it
grips, and drives men on.
KATHARINE. Did you need--hatred, to do that for you?
PARNELL. Yes: till I got love!... Reason, conviction aren't enough. Morley
said a good thing the other day. The English, he said, meant well by
Ireland: but they didn't mean it much.
KATHARINE. I suppose that's true of some?
PARNELL. Quite true: and what is the most that it amounts to? Compromise.
Morley's an authority on compromise. And yet I like him: I get on with
him. But he's too thick with Gladstone to be honest over this. Curious
_his_ having to back the conventions, eh?
KATHARINE. Why does he?
PARNELL. Because the political salvation of his party and its leader comes
before Ireland. He means well by her: but he doesn't mean it so much as
all that. Still he's the only one of them who doesn't pretend to look on
me as a black sheep. He too has to work with his material. That's
politics. The Nonconformist conscience means votes--so it decides him:
just as the priests decide me.... They would decide him in any case, I
mean. And so-so it goes on.... "Look here upon this picture, and on this":
Ireland trying to please England; England trying, now and then, to please
Ireland! I don't know which is the more ludicrous; but I know that both
equally must fail. And they've got to see it!--and some day they will. It
won't be "Home Rule" then....
(_So for a while he sits and thinks, his hand in hers. Then he
My ruin? What would my ruin matter anyway? Put it, that the making public
of our claim--our right to each other--is to be allowed by any possibility
to affect the cause of a nation--the justice of that cause: doesn't that
fact, if true, show that the whole basis of the political principles they
have so boasted, and on which we have so blindly relied, was utterly and
fantastically false and rotten? Haven't we, providentially, given the
world the proof that it needed of its own lie?
KATHARINE. We didn't give it, my dear.
PARNELL. Well, their proof has satisfied them, anyhow: as they are acting
on it. Oh! When I see what poor, weak things nations really are--so
inadequately equipped for the shaping of their own destinies--I wonder
whether in truth the history we read is not the wrong history--mere side
history, to which a false significance has been given, because so much
blood and treasure have been expended on it, which just a little
expenditure of common sense might have spared.... Think of all the silly
accidents and blunders, in Ireland's great chapter of accidents, which
have counted for so much--even in these last few years!... The Phoenix
Park business--an assassination, for which perhaps only a dozen men were
responsible--and at once, for that one act, more suppression and hatred
and coercion are directed against a whole nation: Crimes Acts, packed
juries, judges without juries, arrests without charge, imprisonments
without trial. So logical, isn't it? What a means for putting a foreign
Government right in the eyes of the people who deny its moral
authority!... And then--Pigott, that shallow fraud, driven to suicide by
those who were at first so eager to believe him: and the exposure of his
silly forgery turns elections, makes Home Rule popular! Coming by such
means, would it be worth it?... Gladstone, honourably hoodwinking himself
all those years, accepting you as our secret go-between--and you making no
pretence, my dear! Oh, I suppose it was the right and gentlemanly thing
for him to pretend not to know. It was also, it seems, good politics.
Chamberlain knew too--must have known; for Chamberlain's no fool; and yet
to his friend, the deceived husband, said nothing! It wasn't politics; not
then. Now--now it's the great stroke, and Home Rule goes down under it....
Is that history, or is it "Alice in Wonderland"?... If you are my ruin
now, you were also my ruin then, when you were helping me to think that I
could win justice for a nation from politicians like these: win it by any
means except by beating them, bringing them to their knees, making them
red with the blood of a people always in revolt, till their reputation
stinks to the whole world! And when they do at last climb down and accept
the inevitable, then their main thought will be only how to save their own
face--and make it look a little less like the defeat they know it to be!
KATHARINE. My dear, you are so tired. Do rest!
PARNELL. I _am_ resting: for now--thanks to you--I have got at the
truth! Political history is a thing made up of accidents; but not so the
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