Part 2 out of 2
MISS STARKEY. This one.
CULVER. Put it in the fire. (Miss Starkey _obeys. Both the women show
satisfaction in their different ways_.) Give me the acceptance. (_He
takes the letter of acceptance and reads it_.)
MRS. CULVER (_while he is reading the letter_). Miss Starkey, you look
very pale. Have you had any dinner?
MISS STARKEY. Not yet, madam.
MRS. CULVER. You poor dear! (_She strokes_ Miss Starkey. _They both look
at the tyrannical male_.) I'll order something for you at once.
MISS STARKEY. I shall have to go to the post first.
CULVER (_glancing up_). I'll go to the post myself. I must have air,
air! Where's the envelope? (_Exit_ Miss Starkey _quickly, back_.) (Mrs.
Culver _gently takes the letter from her husband and reads it_. Culver
_drops into a chair_.)
MRS. CULVER (_putting down the letter_). Darling!
CULVER. I thought I was a brute?
MRS. CULVER (_caressing and kissing him_). I do so love my brute, and I
am so happy. Darling! But you are a silly old darling, wasting all this
CULVER. Wasting all what time?
MRS. CULVER. Why, the moment I came in again I could see you'd decided
to give way. (_With a gesture of delight_.) I must run and tell the
children. (_Exit, L_.)
_Enter_ Miss Starkey _back_.
MISS STARKEY. Here's the envelope.
CULVER (_taking it_). Tell them to get me my hat and overcoat.
MISS STARKEY. Yes, Sir Arthur. (Culver _starts_.) (_Exit_ Miss Starkey,
CULVER (_as he puts the letter in the envelope; with an air of
discovery_). I suppose I _do_ like being called 'Sir Arthur.'
_Enter_ Hildegard _and_ John _both disgusted, back_.
JOHN (_to_ Hildegarde, _as they come in_). I told you last night he
couldn't control even the mater. However, I'll be even with her yet.
CULVER. What do you mean, boy?
JOHN. I mean I'll be even with the mater yet. You'll see.
HILDEGARDE. Papa, you've behaved basely. Basely! What an example to us!
I intend to leave this house and live alone.
CULVER. You ought to marry Mr. Sampson Straight. (Hildegarde _starts and
JOHN. Fancy me having to go back to school the son of a rotten baronet,
and with the frightful doom of being a rotten baronet myself. What price
the anti-hereditary-principle candidate! Dad, I hope you won't die just
yet--it would ruin my political career. Stay me with flagons!
CULVER. Me too!
_The next day, before lunch_. Hildegarde _and_ John _are together_.
JOHN (_nervously impatient_). I wish she'd come.
HILDEGARDE. She'll be here in a moment. She's fussing round dad.
JOHN. Is he really ill?
HILDEGARDE. Well of course. It came on in the night, after he'd had time
to think things over. Why?
JOHN. I read in some paper about the Prime Minister having only a
_political_ chill. So I thought perhaps the pater--under the circs--
HILDEGARDE (_shaking her head_). You can't have political dyspepsia.
Can't fake the symptoms. Who is to begin this affair, you or me?
JOHN. Depends. What line are you going on with her?
HILDEGARDE. I'm going to treat her exactly as she treats me. I've just
thought of it. Only I shan't lose my temper.
JOHN. You'll never be able to keep it up.
HILDEGARDE. O yes I shall. Somehow I feel much more mature than I did
JOHN. More mature? Stay me with flagons! I was always mature. If you
knew what rot I think school is...! Well, anyway, you can begin.
HILDEGARDE. You're very polite to-day, Johnnie.
JOHN. Don't mention it. My argument 'll be the best, and I want to keep
it for the end, that's all.
HILDEGARDE. Thanks. But I bet you we shall both fail.
JOHN. Well, if we do, I've still got something else waiting for her
ladyship. A regular startler, my child.
HILDEGARDE. What is it?
_Enter_ Mrs. Culver, _back_.
JOHN (_to_ Hildegarde, _as_ Mrs. Culver _enters_). Wait and see.
MRS. CULVER (_cheerful and affectionate, to_ John). So you've come in.
(_To_ Hildegarde.) You _are_ back early to-day! Well, my darlings, what
do you want me for?
HILDEGARDE (_imitating her mothers manner_). Well, mamma darling, we
hate bothering you. We know you've got quite enough worries, without
having any more. But it's about this baronetcy business. (Mrs. Culver
_starts_.) Do be an angel and listen to us.
MRS. CULVER (_with admirable self-control_). Of course, my pet. But you
know the matter is quite, quite settled. Your father and I settled it
together last night, and the letter of acceptance is in the hands of the
Government by this time.
JOHN. It isn't, mater. It's here. (_Pulls the letter out of his
MRS. CULVER. John! What--
JOHN. Now, now, mater! Keep calm. This is really your own doing. Pater
wanted to go to the post himself, but it was raining a bit, and you're
always in such a fidget about his getting his feet wet you wouldn't let
him go, and so I went instead.
HILDEGARDE. Yes, mummy darling, you must acknowledge that you were
putting temptation in Johnnie's way.
JOHN. Soon as I got outside, I said to myself: 'I think the pater ought
to have a night to think over this affair. It's very important. And he
can easily send round an answer by hand in the morning.' So I didn't
post the letter. I should have told you earlier, but you weren't down
for breakfast, and I had to go out afterwards on urgent private
MRS. CULVER. But--but--(_Controlling herself, grieved, but kind_.) Your
father will be terribly angry. I daren't face him.
JOHN (_only half-suppressing his amusement at the last remark_). Don't
let that worry you. I'll face him. He'll be delighted. He'll write
another letter, and quite a different one.
MRS. CULVER (_getting firmer_). But don't I tell you, my dearest boy,
that the affair is settled, quite settled?
JOHN. It isn't settled so long as I've got this letter, anyway.
HILDEGARDE. Of course it isn't settled. Mother darling, we simply must
look the facts in the face. Fact one, the letter is here. Fact two, the
whole family is most frightfully upset. Dad's ill--
MRS. CULVER. That was the lobster.
JOHN. It wasn't.
MRS. CULVER. Yes, dear. Lobster always upsets him.
JOHN. It didn't this time.
MRS. CULVER. How do you know?
JOHN. I know, because _I_ ate all his lobster. He shoved it over to me.
You couldn't see for the fruit-bowl.
HILDEGARDE. No, mamma sweetest. It's this baronetcy business that's
knocked poor papa over. And it's knocked over Johnnie and me too. I'm
perfectly, perfectly sure you acted for the best, but don't you think
you persuaded father against his judgment? Not to speak of our judgment!
MRS. CULVER. I've only one thought--
HILDEGARDE (_caressing and kissing
her mother_). I know! I know! Father's happiness. Our happiness. Mamma,
please don't imagine for a single instant that we don't realise that.
You're the most delicious darling of an old mater--
MRS. CULVER (_slightly suspicious_). Hildegarde, you're quite a
different girl to-day.
HILDEGARDE (_nods_). I've aged in a single night. I've become ever so
serious. This baronetcy business has shown me that I've got
convictions--and deep convictions. I admit I'm a different girl to-day.
But then everything's different to-day. The whole house is different.
Johnnie's different. Papa's missed going to the office for the first
time in eight months. (_Very sweetly_.) Surely you must see, mamma, that
something ought to be done, and that you alone can do it.
MRS. CULVER. What? What ought I to do?
HILDEGARDE. Go upstairs and tell dad you've changed your mind about the
title, and advise him to write off instantly and refuse it. You know you
always twist him round your little finger.
MRS. CULVER (_looking at her little finger_). I shouldn't dream of
trying to influence your father once he had decided. And he _has_
HILDEGARDE (_sweetly_). Mamma, you're most tremendously clever--far
cleverer than any of us--but I'm not sure if you understand the attitude
of the modern girl towards things that affect her convictions.
MRS. CULVER (_sweetly_). Are you the modern girl.
MRS. CULVER. Well, I'm the ancient girl. And I can tell you this--you're
very like me, and we're both very like somebody else.
HILDEGARDE. Who's that.
MRS. CULVER. Eve.
JOHN. Come, mater. Eve would never have learnt typewriting. She'd have
gone on the land.
MRS. CULVER. John, your sister and I are not jesting.
HILDEGARDE. I'm so glad you admit I'm serious, mamma. Because I
am--very. I don't want to threaten--
MRS. CULVER. Threaten, darling?
HILDEGARDE (_firmly, but quite lightly and sweetly_). No, darling.
_Not_ to threaten. The mere idea of threatening is absurd. But it would
be extremely unfair to you not to tell you that unless you agree to
father refusing the title, I shall have to leave the house and live by
myself. I really shall. Of course I can easily earn my own living. I
quite see that you have principles. But I also have principles. If they
clash--naturally it's my place to retire. And I shall, mamma dearest.
MRS. CULVER. Is that final?
HILDEGARDE. Final, mummy darling.
MRS. CULVER. Then, my dearest child, you must go.
HILDEGARDE (_still sweetly_). Is that final?
MRS. CULVER (_still sweetly_). Final, my poor pet.
JOHN (_firmly_). Now let _me_ say a word.
MRS. CULVER (_benignly_). And what have you got to say in the matter?
You've already been very naughty about that letter. Do try not to be
ridiculous. Give me the letter. This affair has nothing to do with you.
JOHN (_putting the letter in his pocket_). Nothing whatever to do with
me! Mater, you really are a bit too thick. If it was a knighthood, I
wouldn't care. You could have your blooming knighthood. Knighthoods do
come to an end. Baronetcies go on for ever. I've told the dad, and I'll
tell you, that _I will not have_ my political career ruined by any
baronetcy. And if you insist--may I respectfully inform you what I shall
do? May I respectfully inform you--may I?
MRS. CULVER. John!
JOHN. I shall chuck Siege and go into the Flying Corps. And that's flat.
If you really want to shorten my life, all you have to do is to stick to
that bally baronetcy.
MRS. CULVER. Your father won't allow you to join the Flying Corps.
JOHN. My father can't stop me. I know the mess is expensive, but the
pay's good, and I've got L150 of my own. Not a fortune! Not a fortune!
But enough, quite enough. _A short life and a merry one_. I went to see
Captain Skewes at the Automobile this morning. One of our old boys. He's
delighted. He gave me Lanchester's 'Aircraft in Warfare' to read. Here
it is. (_Picking up the book_.) Here it _is_! I shall be sitting up all
night to-night reading it. _A short life and a merry one_.
MRS. CULVER. You don't mean it!
JOHN. I absolutely do.
MRS. CULVER (_after a pause_). John, you're trying to bully your mother.
JOHN. Not in the least, mater. I'm merely telling you what will happen
if father accepts that piffling baronetcy.
MRS. CULVER (_checking a tear; very sweetly_). Well, my pets, you make
life just a little difficult for me. I live only for you and your
father. I think first of your father, and then of you two. For myself, I
am perfectly indifferent. I consider all politics extremely silly. There
never were any in my family, nor in your father's. And to me it's most
extraordinary that your father should catch them so late in life. I
always supposed that after thirty people were immune. (_To_ John.) You,
I suppose, were bound to have them sooner or later, but that _Hilda_
should go out of her way to contract them--well, it passes me. It passes
me. However, I've no more to say. Your father had made up his mind to
accept the title. You want him to refuse it. I hate to influence him
(Hildegarde _again hides a cynical smile_) but for your sakes I'll try
to persuade him to alter his decision and refuse it.
JOHN (_taking her arm_). Come along then--now! I'll go with you to see
fair play. (_He opens the door, L, and_ Mrs. Culver _passes out. Then
stopping in the doorway, to_ Hildegarde) Who did the trick? I say--who
did the trick?
HILDEGARDE (_nicely_). Pooh! You may be a prefect at school. But here
you're only mamma's wee lamb! (_She drops on to the sofa_.)
JOHN (_singing triumphantly_). Stay--me--with fla--gons! (_Exit_ John,
_Enter_ Tranto, _back, shown in by the_ Parlourmaid.
TRANTO. How d'ye do, Miss Hilda. I'm in a high state of nerves.
HILDEGARDE (_shaking hands weakly_). We all are.
TRANTO (_ignoring what she says_). I've come specially to see you.
HILDEGARDE. But how did you know I should be here--at this time? I'm
supposed to be at the Food Ministry till one o'clock?
TRANTO. I called for you at the Ministry.
HILDEGARDE (_leaning forward_). That's quite against the rules. The
rules are made for the moral protection of the women-clerks.
TRANTO. They told me you'd left early.
HILDEGARDE. Why did you call?
TRANTO. Shall I be frank?
HILDEGARDE. Are you ever?
TRANTO. I wanted to walk home with you.
HILDEGARDE. Are you getting frightened about that next article of mine?
TRANTO. No. I've lost all interest in articles.
HILDEGARDE. Even in my articles?
TRANTO. Even in yours. I'm only interested in the writer of your
articles. (_Agitated_.) Miss Hilda, the hour is about to strike.
HILDEGARDE. What hour?
TRANTO. Listen, please. Let me explain. The situation is this. Instinct
has got hold of me. When I woke up this morning something inside me
said: 'You must call at the Ministry for that young woman and walk home
with her.' This idea seemed marvellously beautiful to me; it seemed one
of the most enchanting ideas that had ever entered the heart of man. I
thought of nothing else all the morning. When I reached the Ministry and
you'd gone, I felt as if I'd been shot. Then I rushed here. If you
hadn't been at home I don't know what I should have done. My fever has
been growing every moment. Providentially you _are_ here. I give you
fair warning that I'm utterly in the grip of an instinct which is
ridiculously unconventional and which will brook no delay. I repeat, the
hour is about to strike.
HILDEGARDE (_rousing herself_). Before it actually strikes, I want to
ask a question.
TRANTO. But that's just what _I_ want to do.
HILDEGARDE. Please. One moment of your valuable time.
TRANTO. The whole of my life.
HILDEGARDE. Last night, why did you advise papa to give way to mamma and
accept the baronetcy?
TRANTO. Did I?
HILDEGARDE. It seems so.
HILDEGARDE. You know it's quite against his principles, and against mine
and Johnnie's, not to speak of yours.
TRANTO. The fact is, you yourself had given me such an account of your
mother's personality that I felt sure she'd win anyhow; and--and--for
reasons of my own, I wished to be on the winning side. No harm in that,
surely. And as regards principles, I have a theory about principles.
Your father was much struck by it when I told him.
TRANTO. There are no principles in married life.
HILDEGARDE. Oh, indeed! Well, there may not be any principles in your
married life, but there most positively will be in mine, if I ever have
a married life. And let me tell you that you aren't on the winning side
after all--you're on the losing side.
TRANTO. How? Has your--
HILDEGARDE. Johnnie and I have had a great interview with mamma, and
she's yielded. She's abandoned the baronetcy. In half an hour from now
the baronetcy will have been definitely and finally refused.
TRANTO. Great Scott!
HILDEGARDE. You're startled?
TRANTO. No! After all, I might have foreseen that you'd come out on top.
The day before yesterday your modesty was making you say that your
mother could eat you. I, on the contrary, insisted that you could eat
your mother. Who was right? I ask: who was right? When it really comes
to the point--well, you have a serious talk with your mother, and she
HILDEGARDE (_gloomily_). No! _I_ didn't do it. I tried, and failed. Then
Johnnie tried, and did it without the slightest trouble. A schoolboy!
That's why I'm so upset.
TRANTO (_shaking his head_). You musn't tell me that, Miss Hilda. Of
course it was you that did it.
HILDEGARDE (_impatiently; standing up_). But I _do_ tell you.
TRANTO. Sorry! Sorry! Do be merciful! My feelings about you at this very
moment are so, if I may use the term, unbridled--
HILDEGARDE (_with false
gentle calm_). And that's not all. I suppose you haven't by any chance
told father that I'm Sampson Straight?
TRANTO. Certainly not.
HILDEGARDE. You're sure?
HILDEGARDE. Well, I'm sorry.
HILDEGARDE (_quietly sarcastic_). Because papa told me you did tell him.
Therefore father is a liar. I don't like being the daughter of a liar. I
TRANTO. Aren't you rather cutting yourself off from mankind?
HILDEGARDE (_going straight on_). For the last day or two father had
been giving me such queer little digs every now and then that I began to
suspect he knew who Sampson Straight was. So I asked him right out this
morning--he was in bed--and he had to acknowledge he did know and that
you told him.
TRANTO. Well, I didn't exactly tell him. He sort of guessed, and
HILDEGARDE (_calmly, relentlessly_). You told him.
TRANTO. No. I merely admitted it. You think I ought to have denied it?
HILDEGARDE. Of course you ought to have denied it.
TRANTO. But it was true.
HILDEGARDE. And if it was?
TRANTO. If it was true, how could I deny it? You've just said you hate
HILDEGARDE (_losing self-control_). Please don't be absurd.
TRANTO (_a little nettled_). I apologise.
HILDEGARDE. What for?
TRANTO. For having put you in the wrong. It's such shocking bad
diplomacy for any man to put any woman in the wrong.
HILDEGARDE (_angrily_). Man--woman! Man--woman! There you are! It's
always the same with you males. Sex! Sex! Sex!
TRANTO (_quite conquering his annoyance; persuasively_). But I'm fatally
in love with you. HILDEGARDE. Well, of course there you have the
advantage of me.
TRANTO. Don't you care a little--
HILDEGARDE (_letting herself go_). Why should I care? What have I done
to make you imagine I care? It's quite true that I've saved your
newspaper from an early grave. It was suffering from rickets, spinal
curvature, and softening of the brain; and I've performed a miraculous
cure on it with my articles. I'm Sampson Straight. But that's not enough
for you. You can't keep sentiment out of business. No man ever could.
You'd like Sampson Straight to wear blouses and bracelets for you, and
loll on sofas for you, and generally offer you the glad eye. It's an
insult. And then on the top of all, you go and give the whole show away
to papa, in spite of our understanding; and if papa hadn't been the
greatest dear in the world you might have got me into the most serious
TRANTO (_equably, after a pause_), I don't think I'll ask myself to stay
HILDEGARDE. Good morning.
TRANTO (_near the door_). I suppose I'd better announce that he's died
very suddenly under mysterious circumstances?
TRANTO. Sampson Straight.
HILDEGARDE. And what about my new article, that you've got in hand?
TRANTO. It can be a posthumous article, in a black border.
HILDEGARDE. Indeed! And why shouldn't Sampson Straight transfer his
services to another paper? There are several who'd jump at him.
TRANTO. I never thought of that.
TRANTO. He shall live.
(_A pause_. Tranto _bows, and exit, back_.)
(Hildegarde _subsides once more on to the sofa_.)
_Enter_ Culver, _in his velvet coat, L_.
CULVER (_softly, with sprightliness_). Hello, Sampson!
HILDEGARDE. Dad, please don't call me that.
CULVER. Not when we're alone? Why?
HILDEGARDE. I--I--Dad, I'm in a fearful state of nerves just now. Lost
my temper and all sorts of calamities.
CULVER. Really! I'd no idea. I gathered that the interview between you
and your mother had passed quite smoothly.
HILDEGARDE. Oh! _That!_
CULVER. What do you mean--'Oh! _That!_'?
HILDEGARDE (_standing; in a new, less gloomy tone_). Papa, what are you
doing out of bed? You're very ill.
CULVER. Well, I'd managed to dress before your mother and Johnnie came.
As soon as they imparted to me the glad tidings that baronetcies were
off I felt so well I decided to come down and thank you for your
successful efforts on behalf of the family well-being. I'm no longer
your father. I'm your brother.
HILDEGARDE. It was Johnnie did it.
CULVER. It wasn't--_I_ know.
HILDEGARDE (_exasperated_). I say it _was!_ (_Apologetically_). So
sorry, dad. (_Kisses him_). Where are they, those two? (_Sits_).
CULVER. Mother and John? Don't know. I fancy somebody called as I came
HILDEGARDE. Called! Before lunch! Who was it?
CULVER. Haven't the faintest.
_Enter_ John, _back_.
JOHN (_proudly_). I say, good people! New acquaintance of mine! Just
looked in. Met him at the Automobile this morning with Skewes. I was
sure you'd all give your heads to see the old chap, so I asked him to
lunch on the chance. Dashed if he didn't accept! You see we'd been
talking a bit about politics. He's the most celebrated man in London. I
doubt if there's a fellow I admire more in the whole world--or you
either. He's knocked the mater flat already. Between ourselves, I really
asked him because I thought he might influence her on this baronetcy
business. However, that's all off now. What are you staring at?
CULVER. We're only bursting with curiosity to hear the name of this
paragon of yours. As a general rule I like to know beforehand whom I'm
going to lunch with in my own house.
JOHN. It's Sampson Straight.
HILDEGARDE (_springing up_). _Sampson Str_--
CULVER (_calmly_). Keep your nerve, Hilda. Keep your nerve.
JOHN. I thought I wouldn't say anything till he'd actually arrived. He
mightn't have come at all. Then what a fool I should have looked if I'd
told you he _was_ coming! Tranto himself doesn't know him. Tranto
pooh-poohed the idea of me ever meeting him, Tranto did. Well, I've met
him, and he's here. I haven't let on to him that I know Tranto. I'm
going to bring them together and watch them both having the surprise of
CULVER. John, this is a great score for you. I admit I've never been
more interested in meeting anyone. Never!
_Enter_ Parlourmaid, _back_.
PARLOURMAID. Miss Starkey, sir.
CULVER (_cheerfully_). I'll see her soon. (_Pulling himself up suddenly;
in an alarmed, gloomy tone_.) No, no! I can't possibly see her.
PARLOURMAID. Miss Starkey says there are several important letters, sir.
CULVER. No, no! I'm not equal to it.
HILDEGARDE (_confidentially_). What's wrong, dad?
CULVER (_to_ Hildegarde). She'll give me notice the minute she knows she
can't call me Sir Arthur. (_Shudders_.) I quail.
_Enter_ Mrs. Culver _and_ Sampson Straight, _back_.
(_The_ Parlourmaid _holds the door for them, and then exit_.)
MRS. CULVER. This is my husband. Arthur, dear--Mr. Sampson Straight. And
this is my little daughter. (Hilda _bows_, John _surveys the scene with
CULVER (_recovering his equipoise; shaking hands heartily_). Mr.
Straight. Delighted to meet you. I simply cannot tell you how unexpected
this pleasure is.
STRAIGHT. You're too kind.
CULVER (_gaily_). I doubt it. I doubt it.
STRAIGHT. I ought to apologise for coming in like this. But I've been so
charmingly received by Mrs. Culver--
MRS. CULVER. You've been so charming about my boy, Mr. Straight.
STRAIGHT. I was so very greatly impressed by your son this morning at
the Club that I couldn't resist the opportunity he gave me of visiting
his home. What I say is: like parents, like child. I'm an old-fashioned
MRS. CULVER. No one would guess that from your articles in _The Echo_.
Of course they're frightfully clever, but you know I don't quite agree
with all your opinions.
STRAIGHT. Neither do I. You see--there's always a difference between
what one thinks and what one has to write.
MRS. CULVER. I'm so glad. (Culver _starts and looks round_.) What is it,
CULVER. Nothing! I thought I heard the ice cracking. (Hildegarde _begins
STRAIGHT (_looking at the floor; simply_). Ice?
MRS. CULVER. Arthur!
STRAIGHT. It was still thawing when I came in. As I was saying, I'm an
old-fashioned man. And I'm a provincial--and proud of it.
MRS. CULVER. But my dear Mr. Straight, really, if you'll excuse me, you
look as if you never left the pavement of Piccadilly. CULVER. Say the
windows of the Turf club, darling.
STRAIGHT (_serenely_). No. I live very, very quietly on my little place,
and when I feel the need of contact with the great world I run over for
the afternoon to--St. Ives.
MRS. CULVER. How remarkable! Then that explains how it is you're so
STRAIGHT. Do you mean my face?
MRS. CULVER. I meant you don't seem at all to realise that you're a very
great celebrity in London; very great indeed. A lion of the first order.
STRAIGHT (_simply_). Lion?
CULVER. You're expected to roar, Mr. Straight.
MRS. CULVER. It may interest you to know that my little daughter also
writes articles in _The Echo_. Yes, about war cookery. But of course you
wouldn't notice them. (Hildegarde _moves away_.) I'm afraid
(_apologetically_) your mere presence is making her just a wee bit
nervous. HILDEGARDE (_from a distance, striving to control herself_).
Oh, Mr. Sampson Straight. There's one question I've been longing to ask
you. I always ask it of literary lions--and tigers.
HILDEGARDE. Do you write best in the morning or do you burn the midnight
MRS. CULVER. Do sit down, Mr. Straight. (_She goes imploringly to_
Hildegarde, _who has lost control of herself and is getting a little
hysterical with mirth. Aside to_ Hildegarde.) Hilda! (John, _puzzled and
threatening, also approaches_ Hildegarde.)
CULVER (_sitting down by_ Straight.) And so, although you prefer a
country life, the lure of London has been too strong for you in the end.
STRAIGHT. I came to town on business.
STRAIGHT. The fact is, business of the utmost importance. Perhaps I may
be able to interest you in it.
CULVER. Now we're getting hotter.
CULVER. Go on, go on, Mr. Straight.
STRAIGHT. To tell you the truth--
CULVER. Always a wise thing to do.
STRAIGHT. One of my reasons for accepting your son's kind invitation was
that I thought that conceivably you might be willing to help in a great
patriotic scheme of mine. Naturally you show surprise.
CULVER. Do I? Then I'm expressing myself badly. I'm not in the least
surprised. It is the contrary that would have surprised me.
STRAIGHT. We may possibly discuss it later.
CULVER. Later? Why later? Why not at once? I'm full of curiosity. I hate
to let the grass grow under my feet.
STRAIGHT (_looking at the floor_). Grass? (_With a faint mechanical
laugh_.) Ah yes, I see. Figure of speech. Well, I'm starting a little
limited liability syndicate.
CULVER. Precisely what I thought. Yes?
STRAIGHT. The End-the-war Syndicate.
JOHN (_approaching_). But surely you aren't one of those pacifists, Mr.
Straight! You've always preached fighting it out to a finish.
STRAIGHT. The object of my syndicate is certainly to fight to a finish,
but to finish in about a week--by means of my little syndicate.
CULVER. Splendid! But there is one draw-back. New capital issues are
forbidden under the Defence of the Realm Act.
STRAIGHT. Even when the object is to win the war?
CULVER. My dear sir, the Treasury would never permit such a thing.
STRAIGHT. Well, we needn't have a limited company. Perhaps after all it
would be better to keep it quite private.
CULVER. Oh! It would. And what is the central idea of this charming
STRAIGHT. The idea is--(_looking round cautiously_)--a new explosive.
CULVER. Again, precisely what I thought. Your own invention?
STRAIGHT. No. A friend of mine. It truly is the most marvellous explosive.
CULVER. I suppose it bangs everything.
STRAIGHT (_simply_). Oh, it does. A development of trinitrotoluol on new
lines. I needn't say that my interest in the affair is purely patriotic.
CULVER. Of course. Of course.
STRAIGHT. I can easily get all the capital I need.
CULVER. Of course. Of course.
STRAIGHT. But I'm not in close touch with the official world, and in a
matter of this kind official influence is absolutely essential to
success. Now you _are_ in touch with the official world. I shouldn't ask
you to subscribe, though if you cared to do so there would be no
objection. And I may say that the syndicate can't help making a
tremendous lot of money. When I tell you that the new explosive is
forty-seven times as powerful as trinitrotoluol itself--
CULVER. When you tell me that, Mr. Straight, I can only murmur the hope
that you haven't got any of it in your pocket.
STRAIGHT (_simply_). Oh, no! Please don't be alarmed. But you see the
immense possibilities. You see how this explosive would end the war
practically at once. And you'll understand, of course, that although my
articles in _The Echo_ have apparently caused considerable commotion in
London, and given me a position which I am glad to be able to use for
the service of the Empire, my interest in mere journalism as such has
almost ceased since my friend asked me to be secretary and treasurer of
CULVER. And so you're the secretary _and_ treasurer?
STRAIGHT. Yes. We don't want to have subscribers of less than L100 each.
If you cared to look into the matter--I know you're very busy, but a
CULVER. Just so--a mere glance.
_Enter_ Tranto _excitedly_.
HILDEGARDE (_nearer the door than the rest_). Again?
TRANTO (_rather loudly and not specially to_ Hildegarde). Terrible news!
I've just heard and I rushed back to tell you. Sampson Straight has died
very suddenly in Cornwall. Bright's disease. He breathed his last in
his own potato patch. (_Aside to_ Hildegarde, _in response to a gesture
from her_) I'm awfully sorry. The poor fellow simply had to expire.
MRS. CULVER (_to_ Tranto). Now this just shows how the most absurd
rumours _do_ get abroad! Here _is_ Mr. Sampson Straight. I'm _so_ glad
you've come, because you've always wanted to meet him in the flesh.
TRANTO (_to_ Straight). Are you Sampson Straight?
STRAIGHT. I am, sir.
TRANTO. The Sampson Straight who lives in Cornwall?
STRAIGHT. Just so.
STRAIGHT. Pardon me. One moment. I was told there was a danger of my
being inconvenienced in London by one of these military raids for
rounding up slackers, and as I happen to have a rather youthful
appearance, I took the precaution of bringing with me my
birth-certificate and registration card. (_Produces them_.)
TRANTO (_glancing at the card_). And it's really you who write those
brilliant articles in _The Echo_?
STRAIGHT. 'Brilliant'--I won't say. But I do write them.
TRANTO. Well, this is the most remarkable instance of survival after
death that I ever came across.
STRAIGHT. I beg your pardon.
TRANTO. You're dead, my fine fellow. Your place isn't here. You ought to
be in the next world. You're a humbug.
STRAIGHT (_to_ Mrs. Culver). I'm not quite sure that I understand. Will
you kindly introduce me?
MRS. CULVER. I'm so sorry. This is Mr. Tranto, proprietor and editor of
_The Echo_--(_apologetically, with an uneasy smile_) a great humourist.
STRAIGHT (_thunderstruck; aside_). Well, I'm damned! (_His whole
demeanour changes. Nevertheless, while tacitly admitting that he is
found out, he at once resumes his mild calmness. To_ Culver.) I've just
remembered an appointment of vital importance. I'm afraid our little
talk about the syndicate must be adjourned.
CULVER. I feared you might have to hurry away.
(Straight _bows as a preliminary to departure_.)
(John, _deeply humiliated, averts his glance from everybody_.)
TRANTO. Here! But you can't go off like this.
STRAIGHT. Why? Have you anything against me?
TRANTO. Nothing (_casually_) except that you're an impostor.
STRAIGHT. I fail to see it.
TRANTO. But haven't you just said that you write those articles in my
STRAIGHT. Oh! _That_! Well, of course, if I'd known who you were I
shouldn't have dreamed of saying any such thing. I always try to suit my
talk to my company.
TRANTO. This time you didn't quite bring it off.
STRAIGHT. Perhaps I owe you some slight explanation (_looking round
CULVER. Do you really think so?
STRAIGHT. The explanation is simplicity itself. (_A sudden impulse_.)
Nothing but that. Put yourselves in my place. I come to London. I hear a
vast deal of chatter about some articles in a paper called _The Echo_ by
some one calling himself 'Sampson Straight.' I also hear that nobody in
London knows who Sampson Straight is. As I happen to _be_ Sampson
Straight, and as I have need of all possible personal prestige for the
success of my purely patriotic mission, it occurs to me--in a flash!--to
assert that I am the author of the famous articles.... Well, what more
CULVER. What indeed?
STRAIGHT (_to_ Tranto). And may I say that I'm the only genuine Sampson
Straight in the United Kingdom, and that in my opinion it was a gross
impertinence on the part of your contributor to steal my name? Why did
you let him do it?
TRANTO (_beginning reflectively_). Now _I_ hit on that name--not my
contributor. It was when I was down in Cornwall. I caught sight of it in
an old yellow newspaper in an old yellow hotel, and it struck me at once
what a fine signature it would make at the bottom of a slashing article.
By the way, have you ever been in the dock?
TRANTO. I only ask because I seem to remember I saw your splendid name
in a report of the local Assizes.
TRANTO. A, double s (_pause_) i-z-e-s.
STRAIGHT. I can afford to be perfectly open. I was--at one period of my
career--in prison, but for a quite respectable crime. Bigamy--with
MRS. CULVER (_greatly upset_). Dear, dear!
STRAIGHT. It might happen to any man.
CULVER (_looking at_ Mrs. Culver). So it might.
STRAIGHT. Do you wish to detain me?
TRANTO. I simply haven't the heart to do it.
STRAIGHT. Then, ladies and gentlemen, I'll say good morning.
HILDEGARDE (_stopping_ Straight _near the door as he departs with more
bows_). Good-bye! (_She holds out her hand with a smile_!) And good
STRAIGHT (_taking her hand_). Madam, I thank you. You evidently
appreciate the fact that when one lives solely on one's wits, little
mishaps are _bound_ to occur from time to time, and that too much
importance ought not to be attached to them. This is only my third slip,
and I am fifty-five.
MRS. CULVER (_to_ Hildegarde, _gently surprised_). Darling, surely you
need not have been quite so effusive!
HILDEGARDE. You see, I thought I owed him something, (_with meaning and
effect_) as it was I who stole his name.
MRS. CULVER (_utterly puzzled for a moment; then, when she understands,
rushing to_ Hildegarde _and embracing her_). Oh! My wonderful girl!
JOHN (_feebly and still humiliated_). Stay me with flagons!
HILDEGARDE (_to her mother_). How nice you are about it, mamma!
MRS. CULVER. But I'm very proud, my pet. Of course I think you might
have let me into the secret--
CULVER. None of us were let into the secret,
Hermione--I mean until comparatively recent times. It was a matter
between Hilda's conscience and her editor.
MRS. CULVER. Oh! I'm not complaining. I'm so relieved she didn't write
those dreadful cookery articles.
HILDEGARDE. But do you mean to say you aren't frightfully shocked by my
advanced politics, mamma?
MRS. CULVER. My child, how naive you are, after all! A woman is never
shocked, though of course at times it may suit her to pretend to be.
Only men are capable of being shocked. As for your advanced politics, as
you call them, can't you see that it doesn't matter what you write so
long as you are admired by the best people. It isn't views that are
disreputable, it's the persons that hold them.
CULVER. I hope that's why you so gracefully gave way over the baronetcy,
MRS. CULVER (_continuing to_ Hildegarde). There's just one thing I
should venture to suggest, and that is, that you cease at once to be a
typist and employ one yourself instead. It's most essential that you
should live up to your position. Oh! I'm very proud of you.
HILDEGARDE. I don't quite know what my position is. According to the
latest news I'm dead. (_Challengingly to_ Tranto.) Mr. Tranto, you're
keeping rather quiet, nearly as quiet as John (John _changes his seat_),
but don't you think you owe me some explanation? Not more than a quarter
of an hour ago in this very room it was distinctly agreed between us
that you would not kill Sampson Straight, and now you rush back in a
sort of homicidal mania.
MRS. CULVER. Oh! I'd no idea Mr. Tranto had called already this morning!
HILDEGARDE. Yes. I told him all about everything, and we came to a
MRS. CULVER. Oh!
TRANTO. I'm only too anxious to explain. I killed Sampson for the most
urgent of all possible reasons. The Government is thinking of giving him
CULVER. Not _my_ baronetcy?
MRS. CULVER. But this is the most terrible thing I ever heard of.
TRANTO. It is. I met one of my chaps in the street. He was coming here
to see me. (_To_ Culver.) Your answer was expected this morning. It
didn't arrive. Evidently your notions about titles had got abroad, and
the Government has decided to offer a title to Sampson Straight this
afternoon if you refuse.
CULVER. But how delightfully stupid of the Government.
TRANTO. On the contrary it was a really brilliant idea. Sampson Straight
is a great literary celebrity, and he'd look mighty well in the Honours
List. Literature's always a good card to play for Honours. It makes
people think that Cabinet Ministers are educated.
HILDEGARDE. But I've spent half my time in attacking the Government!
TRANTO. Do you suppose the Government doesn't know that? In creating you
a baronet (_gazes at her_) it would gain two advantages--it would prove
how broad-minded it is, and it would turn an enemy into a friend.
HILDEGARDE. But surely the silly Government would make some enquiries
CULVER. Hilda, do remember what your mother said, and try to live up to
your position. This isn't the Government that makes enquiries. It's the
Government that gets things done.
TRANTO. You perceive the extreme urgency of the crisis. I had to act
instantly. I did act. I slew the fellow on the spot, and his obituary
will be in my late extra. The danger was awful--greater even than I
realised at the moment, because I didn't know till I got back here that
there was a genuine and highly unscrupulous Sampson Straight floating
MRS. CULVER. Danger? What danger?
TRANTO. Danger of the Government falling, dear lady. You see, it's like
this. Assuming that the Government offers a baronetcy to Sampson
Straight, and the offer becomes public property, as it infallibly would,
then there are three alternatives. Either the Government has singled out
for honour a person who doesn't exist at all; or it has sought to turn a
woman (_glancing at_ Hilda) into a male creature; or it is holding up to
public admiration an ex-convict. Choose which theory you like. In any
case the exposure would mean the immediate ruin of any Government.
HILDEGARDE (_to_ Tranto). I always thought you _wanted_ the Government
CULVER. Good heavens, my gifted child! No enlightened and patriotic
person wants the Government to fall. All enlightened and patriotic
persons want the Government to be afraid of falling. There you have the
whole of war politics in a nut-shell. If the British Government fell the
effect on the Allied cause would be bad, and might be extremely bad. But
that's not the real explanation. The real explanation is that no one
wants the Government to fall because no one wants to step into the
Government's shoes. However, thanks to Tranto's masterly presence of
mind in afflicting Sampson with a disease that kills like prussic acid,
the Government can no longer give Sampson a title, and the danger to the
Government is therefore over.
TRANTO. Over! I wish it was! Supposing the Government doesn't happen to
see my late extra in time! Supposing the offer of a baronetcy to Sampson
Straight goes forth! The mischief will be done. Worst of all, supposing
the only genuine Sampson Straight hears of it and accepts it! A
baronetcy given to a bigamist! No Government could possibly survive the
MRS. CULVER. Not even if its survival was necessary to the success of
the Allied cause?
CULVER (_gloomily, shaking his head_). My dear, Tranto is right. This
great country has always insisted first of all, and before anything else
whatever, on the unsullied purity of the domestic life of its public
men. Let a baronetcy be given, or even offered, to a bigamist--and this
great country would not hesitate for one second, not one second.
TRANTO. The danger still exists. And only one man in this world can
CULVER. You don't mean me, Tranto?
TRANTO. I understand that you have neither accepted nor refused the
offer. You must accept it instantly. Instantly.
(_A silence_. John _begins to creep towards the door, back, and_
Hildegarde _towards the door, L_.)
MRS. CULVER (_firmly_). John, where are you going?
MRS. CULVER. Have you still got that letter to Lord Woking in which
your father accepts the title?
MRS. CULVER. Come here. Let me see it. (_She inspects the envelope of
the letter and returns it to_ John.) Yes, that's right. Now listen to
me. Get a taxi at once and drive to Lord Woking's, and insist on seeing
Lord Woking, and give him that letter with your own hand. Do you
understand? (_Exit_ Hildegarde, _L_.) The stamp will be wasted, but
never mind. Fly!
JOHN. It's a damned shame. (Mrs. Culver _smiles calmly_.)
CULVER (_shaking_ John's _flaccid hand_). So it is. But let us remember,
my boy, that you and I are--are doing our bit. (_Pushes him violently
towards the door_.) Get along. (_Exit_ John, _back_.)
TRANTO (_looking round_). Where's Hildegarde?
MRS. CULVER. She went in there.
TRANTO. I must just speak to her.
(_Exit_ Tranto, _L_.)
MRS. CULVER (_with a gesture towards the door, L_). There's something
between those two.
CULVER. I doubt it. (_With a sigh_.)
MRS. CULVER. What do you mean--you doubt it?
CULVER. They're probably too close together for there to be anything
MRS. CULVER (_shakes her head, smiling sceptically_). The new generation
has no romance. (_In a new tone_.) Arthur, kiss me.
CULVER. I'm dashed if I do!
MRS. CULVER. Then I'll kiss you! (_She gives him a long kiss_.)
(_The lunch gong sounds during the embrace. Startled, they separate_.)
MRS. CULVER (_with admiring enthusiasm_). You've behaved splendidly.
CULVER. Yes, that's what you always say when you've won and I--haven't.
(_She kisses him again_.)
_Enter the_ Parlourmaid, _back_.
PARLOURMAID. Miss Starkey is still waiting, sir.
CULVER. Inexorable creature! I won't--I will not--(_suddenly
remembering that he has nothing to fear from_ Miss Starkey; _gaily_).
Yes, I'll see her. She must lunch with us. May she lunch with us,
MRS. CULVER (_submissively_). Why, Arthur, _of course!_ (_To_
Parlourmaid.) Miss Starkey can have Master John's place. Some lunch must
be kept warm for Master John. (_As the_ Parlourmaid _is leaving_.) One
moment--bring up some champagne, please.
PARLOURMAID. Yes, Madam.
CULVER. Come along, I'm hungry. (_Leading her towards the door. Then
stopping_.) I say.... Oh well, never mind.
MRS. CULVER. But what?
CULVER. You're a staggering woman, that's all. (_Exit_ Culver _and_ Mrs.
_Enter_ Hildegarde _and_ Tranto.
HILDEGARDE (_plaintively, as they enter_). I told you my nerves were all
upset, and yet you ran off before I--before I--and now it's lunch time!
TRANTO (_facing her suddenly_). Hilda! I now give you my defence. (_He
_Enter_ Culver, _back, in time to interrupt the embrace_.
CULVER. Excuse me. My wife sent me to ask if you'd lunch, Tranto. I
gather that you _will_.
Back to Full Books