ANGELS AND MINISTERS
AND OTHER VICTORIAN PLAYS
Angels and Ministers AND Possession WERE FIRST
The Victorian era has ceased to be a thing of yesterday; it has become
history; and the fixed look of age, no longer contemporary in character,
which now grades the period, grades also the once living material which
went to its making.
With this period of history those who were once participants in its life
can deal more intimately and with more verisimilitude than can those whose
literary outlook comes later. We can write of it as no sequent generation
will find possible; for we are bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh;
and when we go, something goes with us which will require for its
reconstruction, not the natural piety of a returned native, such as I
claim to be, but the cold, calculating art of literary excursionists whose
domicile is elsewhere.
Some while ago, before Mr. Strachey had made the name of Victoria to
resound as triumphantly as it does now, a friend asked why I should
trouble to resuscitate these Victorian remains. My answer is because I
myself am Victorian, and because the Victorianism to which I belong is now
passing so rapidly into history, henceforth to present to the world a
colder aspect than that which endears it to my own mind.
The bloom upon the grape only fully appears when it is ripe for death.
Then, at a touch, it passes, delicate and evanescent as the frailest
blossoms of spring. Just at this moment the Victorian age has that bloom
upon it—autumnal, not spring-like—which, in the nature of things, cannot
last. That bloom I have tried to illumine before time wipes it away.
Under this rose-shaded lamp of history, domestically designed, I would
have these old characters look young again, or not at least as though they
belonged to another age. This wick which I have kindled is short, and will
not last; but, so long as it does, it throws on them the commentary of a
contemporary light. In another generation the bloom which it seeks to
irradiate will be gone; nor will anyone then be able to present them to us
as they really were.
PART ONE: ANGELS AND MINISTERS
I. THE QUEEN: GOD BLESS HER!
(A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands)
II. HIS FAVOURITE FLOWER
(A Political Myth Explained)
III. THE COMFORTER
(A Political Finale)
(A Peep-Show in Paradise)
PART THREE: DETHRONEMENTS
V. THE KING-MAKER
VI. THE MAN OF BUSINESS
VII. THE INSTRUMENT
Part One: Angels and Ministers
The Queen: God Bless Her!
MR. JOHN BROWN
The Queen: God Bless Her!
A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands
The august Lady is sitting in a garden-tent on the lawn of Balmoral
Castle. Her parasol leans beside her. Writing-materials are on the table
before her, and a small fan, for it is hot weather; also a dish of
peaches. Sunlight suffuses the tent interior, softening the round contours
of the face, and caressing pleasantly the small plump hand busy at
letter-writing. The even flow of her penmanship is suddenly disturbed;
picking up her parasol, she indulgently beats some unseen object, lying
concealed against her skirts.
QUEEN. No: don't scratch! Naughty! Naughty!
(She then picks up a hand-bell, rings it, and continues her writing.
Presently a fine figure of a man in Highland costume appears in the
tent-door. He waits awhile, then speaks in the strong Doric of his native
MR. J. BROWN. Was your Majesty wanting anything, or were you ringing only
for the fun?
(To this brusque delivery her Majesty responds with a cosy smile, for
the special function of Mr. John Brown is not to be a courtier; and,
knowing what is expected of him, he lives up to it.)
QUEEN. Bring another chair, Brown. And take Mop with you: he wants his
MR. J.B. What kind of a chair are you wanting, Ma'am? Is it to put your
QUEEN. No, no. It is to put a visitor on. Choose a nice one with a
MR. J.B. With a lean back? Ho! Ye mean one that you can lean back in. What
talk folk will bring with them from up south, to be sure! Yes, I'll get it
for ye, Ma'am. Come, Mop, be a braw little wee mon, and tak' your walk!
(And while his Royal Mistress resumes her writing, taking Mop by his
"lead" he prepares for departure.)
Have ye seen the paper this morning yet? Ma'am.
(The address of respect is thrown in by way of afterthought, or, as it
were, reluctantly. Having to be in character, his way is to tread heavily
on the border-line which divides familiarity from respect.)
QUEEN. Not yet.
MR. J.B. (departing). I'll bring it for ye, now.
QUEEN. You had better send it.
J.B. (turning about). What did ye say? … Ma'am.
QUEEN. "Send it," Brown, I said. Mop mustn't be hurried. Take him round by
(He goes: and the Queen, with a soft, indulgent smile, that slowly
flickers out as the labour of composition proceeds, resumes her
(Presently ENTERS a liveried Footman, who stands at attention
with the paper upon a salver. Touching the table at her side as an
indication, the Queen continues to write. With gingerly reverence the man
lays down the paper and goes. Twice she looks at it before taking it up;
then she unfolds it; then lays it down, and takes out her glasses; then
begins reading. Evidently she comes on something she does not like; she
pats the table impatiently, then exclaims:)
(A wasp settles on the peaches.)
And I wish one could kill all wicked pests as easily as you.
(She makes a dab with the paper-knife, the wasp escapes.)
(Relinquishing the pursuit of wasps, she resumes her reading.)
(In a little while Mr. John Brown returns, both hands occupied. The
chair he deposits by the tent door, and hitches Mop's "lead" to the back
of that on which the Queen is sitting. With the small beginnings of a
smile she lowers the paper, and looks at him and his accompaniments.)
QUEEN. Well, Brown? Oh, yes; that's quite a nice one…. I'm sure there's
a wasps' nest somewhere; there are so many of them about.
J.B. Eh, don't fash yourself! Wasps have a way of being aboot this time of
year. It's the fruit they're after.
QUEEN. Yes: like Adam and Eve.
J.B. That's just it, Ma'am.
QUEEN. You'd better take it away, Brown, or cover it; it's too tempting.
J.B. (removing the fruit). Ah! Now if God had only done that, maybe
we'd still all be running aboot naked.
QUEEN. I'm glad He didn't, then.
J.B. Ye're right, Ma'am.
QUEEN. The Fall made the human race decent, even if it did no good
otherwise. Brown, I've dropped my glasses.
(He picks them up and returns them.)
QUEEN. Thank you, Brown,
J.B. So you're expecting a visitor, ye say?
QUEEN. Yes. You haven't seen Lord Beaconsfield yet, I suppose?
J.B. Since he was to arrive off the train, you mean, Ma'am? No: he came
early. He's in his room.
QUEEN. I hope they have given him a comfortable one.
J.B. It's the one I used to have. There's a good spring-bed in it, and a
kettle-ring for the whisky.
QUEEN. Oh, that's all right, then.
J.B. Will he be staying for long? Ma'am.
QUEEN. Only for a week, I'm afraid. Why?
J.B. It's about the shooting I was thinking: whether it was the deer or
the grouse he'd want to be after.
QUEEN. I don't think Lord Beaconsfield is a sportsman.
J.B. I know that, Ma'am, well enough. But there's many who are not
sportsmen that think they've got to do it—when they come north of the
QUEEN. Lord Beaconsfield will not shoot, I'm sure. You remember him,
Brown, being here before?
J.B. Eh! Many years ago, that was; he was no but Mr. Disraeli then. But he
was the real thing, Ma'am: oh, a nice gentleman.
QUEEN. He is always very nice to me.
J.B. I remember now, when he first came, he put a tip into me hand. And
when I let him know the liberty he had taken, "Well, Mr. Brown," he said,
"I've made a mistake, but I don't take it back again!"
QUEEN. Very nice and sensible.
J.B. And indeed it was, Ma'am. Many a man would never have had the wit to
leave well alone by just apologising for it. But there was an
understandingness about him, that often you don't find. After that he
always talked to me like an equal-just like yourself might do. But Lord,
Ma'am, his ignorance, it was surprising!
QUEEN. Most extraordinary you should think that, Brown!
J.B. Ah! You haven't talked to him as I have, Ma'am: only about politics,
and poetry, and things like that, where, maybe, he knows a bit more than I
do (though he didn't know his Burns so well as a man ought that thinks to
make laws for Scotland!). But to hear him talking about natural facts,
you'd think he was just inventing for to amuse himself! Do you know,
Ma'am, he thought stags had white tails like rabbits, and that 'twas only
when they wagged them so as to show, that you could shoot them. And he
thought that you pulled a salmon out o' the water as soon as you'd hooked
him. And he thought that a haggis was made of a sheep's head boiled in
whisky. Oh, he's very innocent, Ma'am, if you get him where he's not
QUEEN. Well, Brown, there are some things you can teach him, I don't
doubt; and there are some things he can teach you. I'm sure he has taught
me a great deal.
J.B. Ay? It's a credit to ye both, then.
QUEEN. He lets me think for myself, Brown; and that's what so many of my
ministers would rather I didn't. They want me to be merely the receptacle
of their own opinions. No, Brown, that's what we Stewarts are never going
J.B. Nor would I, Ma'am, if I were in your shoes. But believe me, you can
do more, being a mere woman, so to speak, than many a king can do.
QUEEN. Yes; being a woman has its advantages, I know.
J.B. For you can get round 'em, Ma'am; and you can put 'em off; and you
can make it very awkward for them—very awkward—to have a difference of
opinion with you.
QUEEN (good-humouredly). You and I have had differences of opinion
J.B. True, Ma'am; that has happened; I've known it happen. And I've
never regretted it, never! But the difference there is, Ma'am, that I'm
not your Prime Minister. Had I been—you'd 'a been more stiff about giving
in—naturally! Now there's Mr. Gladstone, Ma'am; I'm not denying he's a
great man; but he's got too many ideas for my liking, far too many! I'm
not against temperance any more than he is—put in its right place. But
he's got that crazy notion of "local option" in his mind; he's coming to
it, gradually. And he doesn't think how giving "local option," to them
that don't take the wide view of things, may do harm to a locality. You
must be wide in your views, else you do somebody an injustice.
QUEEN. Yes, Brown; and that is why I like being up in the hills, where the
views are wide.
J.B. I put it this way, Ma'am. You come to a locality, and you find you
can't get served as you are accustomed to be served. Well! you don't go
there again, and you tell others not to go; and so the place gets a bad
name. I've a brother who keeps an inn down at Aberlochy on the coach
route, and he tells me that more than half his customers come from outside
QUEEN. Of course; naturally!
J.B. Well now, Ma'am, it'll be for the bad locality to have half the
custom that comes to it turned away, because of local option! And believe
me, Ma'am, that's what it will come to. People living in it won't see till
the shoe pinches them; and by that time my brother, and others like him,
will have been ruined in their business.
QUEEN. Local option is not going to come yet, Brown.
J.B. (firmly). No, Ma'am, not while I vote conservative, it won't.
But I was looking ahead; I was talking about Mr. Gladstone.
QUEEN. Mr. Gladstone has retired from politics. At least he is not going
to take office again.
J.B. Don't you believe him, Ma'am. Mr. Gladstone is not a retiring
character. He's in to-day's paper again—columns of him; have ye seen?
QUEEN. Yes; quite as much as I wish to see.
J.B. And there's something in what he says, I don't deny.
QUEEN. There's a great deal in what he says, I don't understand, and that
I don't wish to.
J.B. Now you never said a truer thing than that in your life, Ma'am!
That's just how I find him. Oh, but he's a great man; and it's wonderful
how he appreciates the Scot, and looks up to his opinion.
(But this is a line of conversation in which his Royal Mistress
declines to be interested. And she is helped, at that moment, by something
which really does interest her.)
QUEEN. Brown, how did you come to scratch your leg?
J.B. 'Twas not me, Ma'am; 'twas the stable cat did that—just now while
Mop was having his walk.
QUEEN. Poor dear Brown! Did she fly at you?
J.B. Well, 'twas like this, Ma'am; first Mop went for her, then she went
for him. And I tell ye she'd have scraped his eyes out if I'd left it to a
QUEEN. Ferocious creature! She must be mad.
J.B. Well, Ma'am, I don't know whether a cat-and-dog fight is a case of
what God hath joined together; but it's the hard thing for man to put
asunder! And that's the scraping I got for it, when I tried.
QUEEN. You must have it cauterised, Brown. I won't have you getting
J.B. You generally get that from dogs.
QUEEN. Oh, from cats too; any cat that a mad dog has bitten.
J.B. They do say, Ma'am, that if a mad dog bites you—you have to die
barking. So if it's a cat-bite I'm going to die of, you'll hear me mewing
the day, maybe.
QUEEN. I don't like cats: I never did. Treacherous, deceitful creatures!
Now a dog always looks up to you.
J.B. Yes, Ma'am; they are tasteful, attractive animals; and that, maybe,
is the reason. They give you a good conceit of yourself, dogs do. You
never have to apologise to a dog. Do him an injury—you've only to say you
forgive him, and he's friends again.
(Accepting his views with a nodding smile, she resumes her pen, and
QUEEN. Now, Brown, I must get to work again. I have writing to do. See
that I'm not disturbed.
J.B. Then when were you wanting to see your visitor, Ma'am? There's his
QUEEN. Ah, yes, to be sure. But I didn't want to worry him too soon. What
is the time?
J.B. Nearly twelve, Ma'am.
QUEEN. Oh! then I think I may. Will you go and tell him: the Queen's
compliments, and she would like to see him, now?
J.B. I will go and tell him, Ma'am.
QUEEN. And then I shan't want you any more—till this afternoon.
J.B. Then I'll just go across and take lunch at home, Ma'am.
QUEEN. Yes, do! That will be nice for you. And Brown, mind you have that
leg seen to!
(Mr. John Brown has started to go, when his step is arrested.)
J.B. His lordship is there in the garden, Ma'am, talking to the Princess.
QUEEN. What, before he has seen me? Go, and take him away from the
Princess, and tell him to come here!
J.B. I will, Ma'am.
QUEEN. And you had better take Mop with you. Now, dear Brown, do have your
poor leg seen to, at once!
J.B. Indeed, and I will, Ma'am. Come, Mop, man! Come and tell his lordship
(EXIT Mr. John Brown, nicely accompanied by Mop.)
(_Left to herself the Queen administers a feminine touch or two to dress
and cap and hair; then with dignified composure she resumes her writing,
and continues to write even when the shadow of her favourite minister
crosses the entrance, and he stands hat in hand before her, flawlessly
arrayed in a gay frock suit suggestive of the period when male attire was
still not only a fashion but an art.
Despite, however, the studied correctness of his costume, face and
deportment give signs of haggard fatigue; and when he bows it is the droop
of a weary man, slow in the recovery. Just at the fitting moment for full
acceptance of his silent salutation, the Royal Lady lays down her
QUEEN. Oh, how do you do, my dear Lord Beaconsfield! Good morning; and
welcome to, Balmoral.
LORD B. (as he kisses the hand extended to him). That word from
your Majesty brings all its charms to life! What a prospect of beauty I
see around me!
QUEEN. You arrived early? I hope you are sufficiently rested.
LORD B. Refreshed, Madam; rest will come later.
QUEEN. You have had a long, tiring journey, I fear.
LORD B. It was long, Madam.
QUEEN. I hope that you slept upon the train?
LORD B. I lay upon it, Ma'am. That is all I can say truly.
QUEEN. Oh, I'm sorry!
LORD B. There were compensations, Ma'am. In my vigil I was able to look
forward—to that which is now before me. The morning is beautiful! May I
be permitted to enquire if your Majesty's health has benefited?
QUEEN. I'm feeling "bonnie," as we say in Scotland. Life out of doors
LORD B. Ah! This tent light is charming! Then my eyes had not deceived me;
your Majesty is already more than better. The tempered sunlight, so tender
in its reflections, gives—an interior, one may say—of almost floral
delicacy; making these canvas walls like the white petals of an enfolding
QUEEN. Are you writing another of your novels, Lord Beaconsfield? That
sounds like composition.
LORD B. Believe me, Madam, only an impromptu.
QUEEN. Now, my dear Lord, pray sit down! I had that chair specially
brought for you. Generally I sit here quite alone.
LORD B. Such kind forethought, Madam, overwhelms me! Words are inadequate.
I accept, gratefully, the repose you offer me.
(He sinks into the chair, and sits motionless and mute, in a weariness
that is not the less genuine because it provides an effect. But from one
seated in the Royal Presence much is expected; and so it is in a tone of
sprightly expectancy that his Royal Mistress now prompts him to his task
of entertaining her.)
QUEEN. Well? And how is everything?
LORD B. (rousing himself with an effort). Oh! Pardon! Your Majesty
would have me speak on politics, and affairs of State? I was rapt away for
QUEEN. Do not be in any hurry, dear Prime Minister.
LORD B. Ah! That word from an indulgent Mistress spurs me freshly to my
task. But, Madam, there is almost nothing to tell: politics, like the rest
of us, have been taking holiday.
QUEEN. I thought that Mr. Gladstone had been speaking.
LORD B. (with an airy flourish of courtly disdain). Oh, yes! He has
QUEEN. In Edinburgh, quite lately.
LORD B. And in more other places than I can count. Speaking—speaking—
speaking. But I have to confess, Madam, that I have not read his speeches.
They are composed for brains which can find more leisure than yours,
QUEEN. I have read some of them.
LORD B. Your Majesty does him great honour—and yourself some
inconvenience, I fear. Those speeches, so great a strain to understand, or
even to listen to—my hard duty for now some forty years—are a far
greater strain to read.
QUEEN. They annoy me intensely. I have no patience with him!
LORD B. Pardon me, Madam; if you have read one of his speeches,
your patience has been extraordinary.
QUEEN. Can't you stop it?
LORD B. Stop?—stop what, Madam? Niagara, the Flood? That which has no
beginning, no limit, has also no end: till, by the operation of nature, it
QUEEN. But, surely, he should be stopped when he speaks on matters which
may, any day, bring us into war!
LORD B. Then he would be stopped. When the British nation goes to war,
Madam, it ceases to listen to reason. Then it is only the beating of its
own great heart that it hears: to that goes the marching of its armies,
with victory as the one goal. Then, Madam, above reason rises instinct.
Against that he will be powerless.
QUEEN. You think so?
LORD B. I am sure, Madam. If we are drawn into war, his opposition becomes
futile. If we are not: well, if we are not, it will not be his doing that
we escape that—dire necessity.
QUEEN, But you do think it necessary, don't you?
(To the Sovereign's impetuous eagerness, so creditable to her heart, he
replies with the oracular solemnity by which caution can be
LORD B. I hope it may not be, Madam. We must all say that—up till the
last moment. It is the only thing we can say, to testify the
pacifity of our intention when challenged by other Powers.
QUEEN (touching the newspaper). This morning's news isn't good, I'm
afraid. The Russians are getting nearer to Constantinople.
LORD B. They will never enter it, Madam.
QUEEN. No, they mustn't! We will not allow it.
LORD B. That, precisely, is the policy of your Majesty's Government.
Russia knows that we shall not allow it; she knows that it will never be.
Nevertheless, we may have to make a demonstration.
QUEEN. Do you propose to summon Parliament?
LORD B. Not Parliament; no, Madam. Your Majesty's Fleet will be
(This lights a spark; and the royal mind darts into strategy)
QUEEN. If I had my way, Lord Beaconsfield, my Fleet would be in the Baltic
to-morrow; and before another week was over, Petersburg would be under
LORD B. (considerately providing this castle in the air with its
necessary foundations). And Cronstadt would have fallen.
QUEEN (puzzled for a moment at this naming of a place which had not
entered her calculations). Cronstadt? Why Cronstadt?
LORD B. Merely preliminary, Madam. When that fortified suburb has
crumbled—the rest will be easy.
QUEEN. Yes! And what a good lesson it will teach them! The Crimea wasn't
enough for them, I suppose.
LORD B. The Crimea! Ah, what memories-of heroism—that word evokes!
"Magnificent, but not war!"
QUEEN. Oh! There is one thing, Lord Beaconsfield, on which I want your
LORD B. Always at your Majesty's disposal.
QUEEN. I wish to confer upon the Sultan of Turkey my Order of the Garter.
LORD B. Ah! how generous, how generous an instinct! How like you, Madam,
to wish it!
QUEEN. What I want to know is, whether, as Prime Minister, you have any
LORD B. "As Prime Minister." How hard that makes it for me to answer! How
willingly would I say "None"! How reluctantly, on the contrary, I have to
say, "It had better wait."
QUEEN. Wait? Wait till when? I want to do it now.
LORD B. Yes, so do I. But can you risk, Madam, conferring that most
illustrious symbol of honour, and chivalry, and power, on a defeated
monarch? Your royal prestige, Ma'am, must be considered Great and generous
hearts need, more than most, to take prudence into their counsels.
QUEEN. But do you think, Lord Beaconsfield, that the Turks are going to be
LORD B. The Turks are beaten, Madam…. But England will never be
beaten. We shall dictate terms—moderating the demands of Russia; and
under your Majesty's protection the throne of the Kaliphat will be safe—
once more. That, Madam, is the key to our Eastern policy: a grateful
Kaliphat, claiming allegiance from the whole Mahometan world, bound to us
by instincts of self-preservation—and we hold henceforth the gorgeous
East in fee with redoubled security. His power may be a declining power;
but ours remains. Some day, who knows? Egypt, possibly even Syria, Arabia,
may be our destined reward.
(Like a cat over a bowl of cream, England's Majesty sits lapping all
this up. But, when he has done, her commentary is shrewd and to the
QUEEN. The French won't like that!
LORD B. They won't, Madam, they won't. But has it ever been England's
policy, Madam, to mind what the French don't like?
QUEEN (with relish). No, it never has been, has it? Ah! you are the
true statesman, Lord Beaconsfield. Mr. Gladstone never talked to me like
LORD B.(courteously surprised at what does not at all surprise
him). No?… You must have had interesting conversations with him,
Madam, in the past.
QUEEN (very emphatically). I have never once had a conversation
with Mr. Gladstone, in all my life, Lord Beaconsfield. He used to talk to
me as if I were a public meeting—and one that agreed with him, too!
LORD B. Was there, then, any applause, Madam?
QUEEN. No, indeed! I was too shy to say what I thought. I used to cough
LORD B. Rather like coughing at a balloon, I fear. I have always admired
his flights-regarded as a mere tour de force—so buoyant, so
sustained, so incalculable! But, as they never touch earth to any
serviceable end, that I could discover—of what use are they? Yet if there
is one man who has helped me in my career—to whom, therefore, I should
owe gratitude—it is he.
QUEEN. Indeed? Now that does surprise me! Tell me, Lord Beaconsfield, how
has he ever helped you?
LORD B. In our party system, Madam, we live by the mistakes of our
opponents. The balance of the popular verdict swings ever this way and
that, relegating us either to victory or defeat, to office or to
opposition. Many times have I trodden the road to power, or passed from it
again, over ruins the origin of which I could recognise either as my own
work or that of another; and most of all has it been over the
disappointments, the disaffections, the disgusts, the disillusionments—
chiefly among his own party—which my great opponent has left me to profit
by. I have gained experience from what he has been morally blind to;
what he has lacked in understanding of human nature he has left for me
to discover. Only to-day I learn that he has been in the habit of
addressing—as you, Madam, so wittily phrased it—of addressing, "as
though she were a public meeting," that Royal Mistress, whom it has ever
been my most difficult task not to address sometimes as the most charming,
the most accomplished, and the most fascinating woman of the epoch which
bears her name. (He pauses, then resumes.) How strange a fatality
directs the fate of each one of us! How fortunate is he who knows the
limits that destiny assigns to him: limits beyond which no word must be
(His oratorical flight, so buoyant and sustained, having come to its
calculated end, he drops deftly to earth, encountering directly for the
first time the flattered smile with which the Queen has listened to
Madam, your kind silence reminds me, in the gentlest, the most considerate
way possible, that I am not here to relieve the tedium of a life made
lonely by a bereavement equal to your own, in conversation however
beguiling, or in quest of a sympathy of which, I dare to say, I feel
assured. For, in a sense, it is as to a public assembly, or rather as to a
great institution, immemorially venerable and august that I have to
address myself when, obedient to your summons, I come to be consulted as
your Majesty's First Minister of State. If, therefore, your royal mind
have any inquiries, any further commands to lay upon me, I am here, Madam,
to give effect to them in so far as I can.
(This time he has really finished, but with so artful an abbreviation
at the point where her interest has been most roused that the Queen would
fain have him go on. And so the conversation continues to flow along
QUEEN. No, dear Lord Beaconsfield, not to-day! Those official matters can
wait. After you have said so much, and said it so beautifully, I would
rather still talk with you as a friend. Of friends you and I have not
many; those who make up our world, for the most part, we have to keep at a
distance. But while I have many near relatives, children and descendants,
I remember that you have none. So your case is the harder.
LORD B. Ah, no, Madam, indeed! I have my children—descendants who will
live after me, I trust—in those policies which, for the welfare of my
beloved country, I confide to the care of a Sovereign whom I revere and
love….I am not unhappy in my life, Madam; far less in my fortune; only,
as age creeps on, I find myself so lonely, so solitary, that sometimes I
have doubt whether I am really alive, or whether the voice, with which now
and then I seek to reassure myself, be not the voice of a dead man.
QUEEN (almost tearfully). No, no, my dear Lord Beaconsfield, you
mustn't say that!
LORD B.(gallantly). I won't say anything, Madam, that you forbid,
or that you dislike. You invited me to speak to you as a friend; so I have
done, so I do. I apologise that I have allowed sadness, even for a moment,
to trouble the harmony-the sweetness—of our conversation.
QUEEN. Pray, do not apologise! It has been a very great privilege; I beg
that you will go on! Tell me—you spoke of bereavement—I wish you would
tell me more—about your wife.
(The sudden request touches some latent chord; and it is with genuine
emotion that he answers.)
LORD B. Ah! My wife! To her I owed everything.
QUEEN. She was devoted to you, wasn't she?
LORD B. I never read the depth of her devotion-till after her death. Then,
Madam—this I have told to nobody but yourself—then I found among her
papers—addressed "to my dear husband"—a message, written only a few days
before her death, with a hand shaken by that nerve-racking and fatal
malady which she endured so patiently—begging me to marry again.
(The Queen is now really crying, and finds speech difficult.)
QUEEN. And you, you—? Dear Lord Beaconsfield; did you mean—had you ever
LORD B. I did not then, Madam; nor have I ever done so since. It is enough
if I allow myself—to love.
QUEEN. Oh, yes, yes; I understand—better than others would. For that has
always been my own feeling.
LORD B. In the history of my race, Madam, there has been a great tradition
of faithfulness between husbands and wives. For the hardness of our
hearts, we are told, Moses permitted us to give a writing of divorcement.
But we have seldom acted on it. In my youth I became a Christian; I
married a Christian. But that was no reason for me to desert the nobler
traditions of my race—for they are in the blood and in the heart. When my
wife died I had no thought to marry again; and when I came upon that
tender wish, still I had no thought for it; my mind would not change.
Circumstances that have happened since have sealed irrevocably my
resolution-never to marry again.
QUEEN. Oh, I think that is so wise, so right, so noble of you!
(The old Statesman rises, pauses, appears to hesitate, then in a voice
charged with emotion says)
LORD B. Madam, will you permit me to kiss your hand?
(The hand graciously given, and the kiss fervently implanted, he falls
back once more to a respectful distance. But the emotional excitement of
the interview has told upon him, and it is in a wavering voice of
weariness that he now speaks.)
LORD B. You have been very forbearing with me, Madam, not to indicate that
I have outstayed either my welcome or your powers of endurance. Yet so
much conversation must necessarily have tired you. May I then crave
permission, Madam, to withdraw. For, to speak truly, I do need some rest.
QUEEN. Yes, my dear friend, go and rest yourself! But before you go, will
you not wait, and take a glass of wine with me?
(He bows, and she rings.)
And there is just one other thing I wish to say before we part.
LORD B. Speak, Madam, for thy servant heareth.
(The other servant is now also standing to attention, awaiting
QUEEN. Bring some wine.
(The Attendant GOES.)
That Order of the Garter which I had intended to onfer upon the Sultan—
have you, as Prime Minister, any objection if I bestow it nearer home, on
one to whom personally—I cannot say more—on yourself, I mean.
(At that pronouncement of the royal favour, the Minister stands,
exhausted of energy, in an attitude of drooping humility. The eloquent
silence is broken presently by the Queen.)
QUEEN. Dear Lord Beaconsfield, I want your answer.
LORD B. Oh, Madam! What adequate answer can these poor lips make to so
magnificent an offer? Yet answer I must. We have spoken together briefly
to-day of our policies in the Near East. Madam, let me come to you again
when I have saved Constantinople, and secured once more upon a firm basis
the peace of Europe. Then ask me again whether I have any objection, and I
will own—"I have none!"
(RE-ENTERS Attendant. He deposits a tray with decanter and glasses, and
QUEEN. Very well, Lord Beaconsfield. And if you do not remind me, I shall
remind you. (She points to the tray.) Pray, help yourself!
(He takes up the decanter.)
LORD B. I serve you, Madam?
QUEEN. Thank you.
(He fills the two glasses; presents hers to the Queen, and takes up his
LORD B. May I propose for myself—a toast, Madam?
(The Queen sees what is coming, and bows graciously.)
LORD B. The Queen! God bless her!
(He drains the glass, then breaks it against the pole of the tent, and
throws away the stem.)
An old custom, Madam, observed by loyal defenders of the House of Stewart,
so that no lesser health might ever be drunk from the same glass. To my
old hand came a sudden access of youthful enthusiasm—an ardour which I
could not restrain. Your pardon, Madam!
QUEEN (very gently). Go and lie down, Lord Beaconsfield; you need
LORD B. Adieu, Madam.
QUEEN. Draw your curtains, and sleep well!
(For a moment he stands gazing at her with a look of deep emotion; he
tries to speak. Ordinary words seem to fail; he falters into poetry.)
"When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering Angel, thou!"
(It has been beautifully said, they both feel. Silent and slow, with
head reverentially bowed, he backs from the Presence.)
(The Queen sits and looks after the retreating figure, then at the
broken fragments of glass. She takes up the hand-bell and rings. The
QUEEN. Pick up that broken glass.
(The Attendant collects it on the hand-tray which he carries)
Bring it to me! … Leave it!
(The Attendant deposits the tray before her, and GOES. Gently
the Queen handles the broken pieces. Then in a voice of tearful emotion
Such devotion! Most extraordinary! Oh! Albert! Albert!
(And in the sixteenth year of her widowhood and the fortieth of her
reign the Royal Lady bends her head over the fragments of broken glass,
and weeps happy tears.)
His Favourite Flower
His Favourite Flower
A Political Myth Explained
The eminent old Statesman has not been at all well. He is sitting up in
his room, and his doctor has come to see him for the third time in three
days. This means that the malady is not yet seriously regarded: once a day
is still sufficient. Nevertheless, he is a woeful wreck to look at; and
the doctor looks at him with the greatest respect, and listens to his
querulous plaint patiently. For that great dome of silence, his brain,
repository of so many state-secrets, is still a redoubtable instrument:
its wit and its magician's cunning have not yet lapsed into the dull inane
of senile decay. Though fallen from power, after a bad beating at the
polls, there is no knowing but that he may rise again, and hold once more
in those tired old hands, shiny with rheumatic gout, and now twitching
feebly under the discomfort of a superimposed malady, the reins of
democratic and imperial power. The dark, cavernous eyes still wear their
look of accumulated wisdom, a touch also of visionary fire. The sparse
locks, dyed to a raven black, set off with their uncanny sheen the
clay-like pallor of the face. He sits in a high-backed chair, wrapped in
an oriental dressing-gown, his muffled feet resting on a large hot-water
bottle; and the eminent physician, preparatory to taking a seat at his
side, bends solicitously over him.
DOCTOR. Well, my dear lord, how are you to-day? Better? You look better.
STATESMAN. Yes, I suppose I am better. But my sleep isn't what it ought to
be. I have had a dream, Doctor; and it has upset me.
DOCTOR. A dream?
STATESMAN. You wonder that I should mention it? Of course, I—I don't
believe in dreams. Yet they indicate, sometimes—do they not?-certain
disorders of the mind.
DOCTOR. Generally of the stomach.
STATESMAN. Ah! The same thing, Doctor. There's no getting away from that
in one's old age; when one has lived as well as I have.
DOCTOR. That is why I dieted you.
STATESMAN. Oh, I have nothing on my conscience as to that. My housekeeper
is a dragon. Her fidelity is of the kind that will even risk dismissal.
DOCTOR. An invaluable person, under the circumstances.
STATESMAN. Yes; a nuisance, but indispensable. No, Doctor. This dream
didn't come from the stomach. It seemed rather to emanate from that outer
darkness which surrounds man's destiny. So real, so horribly real!
DOCTOR. Better, then, not to brood on it.
STATESMAN. Ah! Could I explain it, then I might get rid of it. In the
ancient religion of my race dreams found their interpretation. But have
DOCTOR. Medical science is beginning to say "Yes"; that in sleep the
subconscious mind has its reactions.
STATESMAN. Well, I wonder how my "subconscious mind" got hold of
DOCTOR. Primroses? Did they form a feature in your dream?
STATESMAN. A feature? No. The whole place was alive with them! As the
victim of inebriety sees snakes, I saw primroses. They were everywhere:
they fawned on me in wreaths and festoons; swarmed over me like parasites;
flew at me like flies; till it seemed that the whole world had conspired
to suffocate me under a sulphurous canopy of those detestable little
atoms. Can you imagine the horror of it, Doctor, to a sane—a hitherto
sane mind like mine?
DOCTOR. Oh! In a dream any figment may excite aversion.
STATESMAN. This wasn't like a dream. It was rather the threat of some new
disease, some brain malady about to descend on me: possibly delirium
tremens. I have not been of abstemious habits, Doctor. Suppose—?
DOCTOR. Impossible! Dismiss altogether that supposition from your mind!
STATESMAN. Well, Doctor, I hope—I hope you may be right. For I assure you
that the horror I then conceived for those pale botanical specimens in
their pestiferous and increscent abundance, exceeded what words can
describe. I have felt spiritually devastated ever since, as though some
vast calamity were about to fall not only on my own intellect, but on that
of my country. Well, you shall hear.
(He draws his trembling bands wearily over his face, and sits thinking
With all the harsh abruptness of a soul launched into eternity by the jerk
of the hangman's rope, so I found myself precipitated into the midst of
this dream. I was standing on a pillory, set up in Parliament Square,
facing the Abbey. I could see the hands of St. Margaret's clock pointing
to half-past eleven; and away to the left the roof of Westminster Hall
undergoing restoration. Details, Doctor, which gave a curious reality to a
scene otherwise fantastic, unbelievable. There I stood in a pillory,
raised up from earth; and a great crowd had gathered to look at me. I can
only describe it as a primrose crowd. The disease infected all, but not so
badly as it did me. The yellow contagion spread everywhere; from all the
streets around, the botanical deluge continued to flow in upon me. I felt
a pressure at my back; a man had placed a ladder against it; he mounted
and hung a large wreath of primroses about my neck. The sniggering crowd
applauded the indignity. Having placed a smaller wreath upon my head, he
descended…. A mockery of a May Queen, there I stood!
DOCTOR (laying a soothing hand on him). A dream, my dear lord, only
STATESMAN. Doctor, imagine my feelings! My sense of ridicule was keen; but
keener my sense of the injustice—not to be allowed to know why the
whole world was thus making mock of me. For this was in the nature of a
public celebration, its malignity was organised and national; a new fifth
of November had been sprung upon the calendar. Around me I saw the
emblematic watchwords of the great party I had once led to triumph:
"Imperium et Libertas," "Peace with Honour," "England shall reign where'er
the sun," and other mottoes of a like kind; and on them also the floral
disease had spread itself. The air grew thick and heavy with its sick-room
odour. Doctor, I could have vomited.
DOCTOR. Yes, yes; a touch of biliousness, I don't doubt.
STATESMAN. With a sudden flash of insight—"This," I said to myself, "is
my Day of Judgment. Here I stand, judged by my fellow-countrymen, for the
failures and shortcomings of my political career. The good intentions with
which my path was strewn are now turned to my reproach. But why do they
take this particular form? Why—why primroses?"
DOCTOR. "The primrose way" possibly?
STATESMAN. Ah! That occurred to me. But has it, indeed, been a primrose
way that I have trodden so long and so painfully? I think not. I cannot so
accuse myself. But suppose the Day of Judgment which Fate reserves for us
were fundamentally this: the appraisement of one's life and character—not
by the all-seeing Eye of Heaven (before which I would bow), but by the
vindictively unjust verdict of the people one has tried to serve—the
judgment not of God, but of public opinion. That is a judgment of which
all who strive for power must admit the relevancy!
DOCTOR. You distress yourself unnecessarily, dear lord. Your reputation is
safe from detraction now.
STATESMAN. With urgency I set my mind to meet the charge. If I could
understand the meaning of that yellow visitation, then I should no longer
have to fear that I was going mad!
(At this point the door is discreetly opened, and the Housekeeper,
mild, benign, but inflexible, ENTERS, carrying a cup and toast-rack
upon a tray.)
HOUSEKEEPER. I beg pardon, my lord; but I think your lordship ought to
have your beef-tea now.
STATESMAN. Yes, yes, Mrs. Manson; come in.
DOCTOR. You are right, Mrs. Manson; he ought.
HOUSEKEEPER (placing the tray on a small stand).
Where will you have it, my lord?
STATESMAN. In my inside, Mrs. Manson—presently—he, he!
DOCTOR. Now, let me take your pulse…Yes, yes. Pretty good, you know.
(Mrs. Manson stands respectfully at attention with interrogation in her
STATESMAN. Yes, you may bring me my cap now.
(Then to the Doctor). I generally sleep after this.
(Mrs. Manson brings a large tasselled fez of brilliant colour, and
adjusts it to his head while he drinks. She then, goes to the door, takes
a hot-water bottle from the bands of an unseen servant and effects the
necessary changes. All this is done so unobtrusively that the Statesman
resumes his theme without regarding her. When she has done she goes.)
Ah! Where was I?
DOCTOR. If you "could understand," you said.
STATESMAN. Ah, yes; understand. Again a strange faculty of divination came
upon me. I stood upon the international plane, amid a congress of Powers,
and let my eye travel once more over the Alliances of Europe. I looked,
Doctor, and truly I saw, then, surprising shifts and changes in the
political and diplomatic fabric which I had helped to frame. Time, and
kingdoms had passed. I saw, at home and abroad, the rise of new parties
into power, strange coalitions, defections, alliances; old balances
destroyed, new balances set up in their place. I saw frontiers annulled,
treaties violated, world-problems tumbling like clowns, standing on their
heads and crying, "Here we are again!" Power—after all, had solved
My eye travelled over that problem of the Near East, which, for some
generations at least, we thought to have settled, to Vienna, Petersburg,
Constantinople—and away farther East to Teheran and—that other place
whose name I have forgotten. And, as I looked, a Recording Angel came, and
cried to me in a voice strangely familiar, the voice of one of my most
detested colleagues—trusted, I mean—"You have put your money on the
And I had, Doctor; if what I saw then was true—I had! Yes, if ever man
blundered and fooled his countrymen into a false and fatal position—I was
that man! It wasn't a question of right or wrong. In politics that doesn't
really matter; you decide on a course, and you invent moral reasons for it
afterwards. No, what I had done was much worse than any mere wrongdoing.
All my political foresight and achievements were a gamble that had gone
wrong; and for that my Day of Judgment had come, and I stood in the
pillory, a peepshow for mockery. But why for their instrument of torture
did they choose primroses? Oh, I can invent a reason! It was Moses
Primrose, cheated of his horse with a gross of green spectacles cased in
shagreen. But that was not the reason. For then came new insight, and a
fresh humiliation. As I looked more intently I saw that I was not
being mocked; I was being worshipped, adulated, flattered; I had become a
god—for party purposes perhaps—and this was my day, given in my honour,
for national celebration. And I saw, by the insight given me, that they
were praising me for having put their money on the wrong horse!
Year by year the celebration had gone on, until they had so got into the
habit that they could not leave off! All my achievements, all my policies,
all my statecraft were in the dust; but the worship of me had become a
national habit—so foolish and meaningless, that nothing, nothing but some
vast calamity—some great social upheaval, was ever going to stop it.
DOCTOR. My dear lord, it is I who must stop it now. You mustn't go on.
STATESMAN. I have done, Doctor. There I have given you the essentials of
my dream; material depressing enough for the mind of an old man, enfeebled
by indisposition, at the end of a long day's work. But I tell you, Doctor,
that nothing therein which stands explainable fills me with such repulsion
and aversion as that one thing which I cannot explain—why, why primroses?
DOCTOR. A remarkable dream, my lord; rendered more vivid—or, as you say,
"real"—by your present disturbed state of health. As to that part of it
which you find so inexplicable, I can at least point toward where the
explanation lies. It reduces itself to this: primroses had become
associated for you—in a way which you have forgotten—with something you
wished to avoid. And so they became the image, or symbol, of your
aversion; and as such found a place in your dream.
(So saying the doctor rises and moves toward the window, where his
attention suddenly becomes riveted.)
STATESMAN. Perhaps, Doctor, perhaps, as you say, there is some such
explanation. But I don't feel like that.
DOCTOR. Why, here are primroses! This may be the clue? Where do they come
STATESMAN. Ah, those! Indeed, I had forgotten them. At least; no, I could
not have done that.
DOCTOR. There is a written card with them, I see.
STATESMAN. Her Gracious Majesty did me the great honour, hearing that I
was ill, to send and inquire. Of course, since my removal from office, the
opportunity of presenting my personal homage has not been what it used to
be. That, I suppose, is as well.
DOCTOR. And these are from her Majesty?
STATESMAN. They came yesterday, brought by a special messenger, with a
note written by her own hand, saying that she had picked them herself. To
so great a condescension I made with all endeavour what return I could. I
wrote—a difficult thing for me to do, Doctor, just now—presented my
humble duty, my thanks; and said they were my favourite flower.
DOCTOR. And were they?
STATESMAN. Of course, Doctor, under those circumstances any flower would
have been. It just happened to be that.
DOCTOR. Well, my lord, there, then, the matter is explained. You
had primroses upon your mind. The difficulty, the pain even, of
writing with your crippled hand, became associated with them. You would
have much rather not had to write; and the disinclination, in an
exaggerated form, got into your dream. Now that, I hope, mitigates for you
the annoyance—the distress of mind.
STATESMAN. Yes, yes. It does, as you say, make it more understandable.
Bring them to me, Doctor; let me look my enemy in the face.
(The Doctor carries the bowl across and sets it beside him. Very feebly
he reaches out a hand and takes some.)
My favourite flower. He—he! My favourite flower.
(Lassitude overtakes him—his head nods and droops as he speaks.)
A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.
Who was it wrote that?—Byron or Dr. Watts? My memory isn't what it used
to be. No matter. It all goes into the account.
My favourite flower!
"For I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May!"
(The Doctor takes up his hat, and tiptoes to the door.)
Tell me, where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
(He breaks, and lets the petals fall one by one.)
(The Doctor goes out.)
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it—Ding-dong bell,
(He goes to sleep.)
MR. JOHN MORLEY
A Political Finale
The Scene is a sitting-room in Downing Street. The date March, 1894.
The time 10.30 p.m.
Mrs. Gladstone sits before the fire, on a sofa comfortable for two,
finishing off a piece of knitting. Apparently she has just rung the bell,
on the arrival from the dining-room of her husband and his two guests, for
presently the door opens and the footman presents himself for orders. Mr.
Gladstone takes down from the bookshelf a backgammon board, which he opens
upon a small table somewhat distant from the fireplace.
GLADSTONE. Well, Armitstead, draughts, or backgammon?
ARMITSTEAD. It was backgammon you promised me.
GLADSTONE. A rubber?
ARMITSTEAD. I shall be delighted.
(They seat themselves, and begin to set the board. Mr. Morley stands
detached looking on, grave, not quite at ease.)
MRS. G. (to the footman). James, bring up the wine and some
JAMES. Whisky, madam?
MRS. G. No, no; biscuits. Soft biscuits for the other gentlemen, and some
hard ones for the master.
JAMES. Yes, madam.
(He goes, and in a few minutes returns, sets wine and biscuits on the
side-table, and retires?)
MORLEY (to GLADSTONE). Now?
GLADSTONE. If you will be so good, my dear Morley, I shall be much
(Slowly and thoughtfully Mr. Morley goes over to fireplace, where he
stands looking at Mrs. Gladstone, who is now beginning to "cast-off" a
completed piece of knitting. The rattle of the dice is heard.)
GLADSTONE. You play.
(Thereafter, as the game proceeds, the dice are heard constantly.)
MORLEY. Well, dear lady?
MRS. G. Well, Mr. Morley? So Mr. Gladstone is at his game, and has sent
you to talk to me.
MORLEY. Precisely. You have guessed right.
MRS. G. He always thinks of me.
MRS. G. Won't you sit down, Mr. Morley?
MORLEY. By you? With pleasure.
MRS. G. And how is the world using you?
MORLEY. Like Balaam's ass. The angel of the Lord stands before me with a
drawn sword, and my knees quail under me.
MRS. G. I thought you didn't believe in angels, Mr. Morley.
MORLEY. In the scriptural sense, no. In the political, they are rare; but
one meets them—sometimes.
MRS. G. And then they frighten you?
MORLEY. They make a coward of me. I want to temporise—put off the
inevitable. But it's no good. Angels have to be faced. That's the demand
they make on us.
MRS. G. You have something on your mind.
MORLEY. Yes. But we'll not talk about it—yet.
MRS. G. I have something on mine.
MORLEY. Anything serious?
MRS. G. It concerns you, Mr. Morley. Would you very much mind accepting a
gift not originally intended for you?
MORLEY. I have accepted office on those terms before now.
MRS. G. Ah! Mr. Gladstone has always so trusted you.
MRS. G. More than he has most people.
MORLEY. I have been finding that out. It has become a habit, I'm afraid. I
can't cure him.
MRS. G. What I had on my mind, Mr. Morley, was this: I have knitted this
comforter for you; at least, it's for you if you would like it.
MRS. G. Does that mean that you don't want it?
MORLEY. Oh, no! It will be very good discipline for me; made by you, I
shall have to wear it.
MRS. G. But you know, it's a very remarkable thing that I can offer
it you. Ever since we married I have been knitting comforters for Mr.
Gladstone, which he has always either been losing or giving away. This is
the first time I have been able to get ahead of him. He still has two.
Isn't that a triumph?
MORLEY. It is, indeed.
MRS. G. He's more careful now, and doesn't lose them. He begins to feel, I
suppose, that he's getting old—and needs them.
MORLEY. You surprise me! Why, he is not yet ninety!
MRS. G. Do you know, he still sleeps like a child! Sometimes I lie awake
to watch him. It's wonderful.
MORLEY. It's habit, madam; that, and force of will.
MRS. G. And really it is only then I can feel that he quite belongs to me.
All the rest of the time it's a struggle.
MORLEY. In which you have won.
MRS. G. Have I?
MORLEY. Every time.
MRS. G. (wistfully). Do I, Mr. Morley?
MORLEY. It is you, more than anything, who have kept him young.
MRS. G. Oh, no! I'm the ageing influence.
MORLEY. I don't believe it.
MRS. G. Yes; I stand for caution, prudence. He's like a great boy…. You
don't think so; you see the other side of his character. But here have I
been, sixty years, trying to make him take advice!
MORLEY. And sometimes succeeding. Gods, and their makers! What a strange
MRS. G. Spending one's life feeding a god on beef-tea, that's been my
work. (The dear lady sighs.)
MORLEY. And making comforters for him.
MRS. G. It's terrible when he won't take it!
MORLEY. The beef-tea?
MRS. G. No, the advice. For I'm generally right, you know.
MORLEY. I can well believe it. Strange to think how the welfare and
destiny of the nation have sometimes lain here—in this gentle hand.
MRS. G. We do jump in the dark so, don't we? Who can say what is really
best for anyone?
MORLEY. And prescribing for a god is more difficult.
MRS. G. Much more.
MORLEY. So when he comes to ask a mere mortal for advice—well, now you
must judge how difficult it has been for me.
MRS. G. Have you been giving him advice?
MORLEY. In a way; yes.
MRS. G. And has he taken it?
MORLEY. A few days ago he told me of a resolution he had come to. I could
not disapprove. But now I wonder how it is going to strike you?
MRS. G. Has anything special happened? He has not told me.
MORLEY (gravely). To-morrow, or the day after, he will be going
down to Windsor.
MRS. G. Oh, I'm sorry! That always depresses him. He and the Queen don't
get on very well together.
MORLEY. They will get on well enough this time, I imagine.
MRS. G. (a little bit alarmect). Does that mean—any change of
MORLEY. Of policy—I hope not. Of person—yes.
MRS. G. Is anyone leaving the Cabinet?
MORLEY. We may all be leaving it, very soon. He asked me to tell you; he
had promised Armitstead a game. Look how he is enjoying it!
MRS. G. (shrewdly). Ah! then I expect he is winning.
MORLEY. Oh? I should not have called him a bad loser.
MRS. G. No; but he likes winning better—the excitement of it.
MORLEY. That is only human. Yes, he has been a great winner—sometimes.
MRS. G. When has he ever lost—except just for the time? He always knows
MORLEY. Ah, yes! To quote your own sprightly phrase, we—he and the party
with him—are always "popping up again."
MRS. G. When did I say that?
MORLEY. Seven years ago, when we began to win bye-elections on the Irish
question. The bye-elections are not going so well for us just now.
MRS. G. But the General Election will.
MORLEY. Perhaps one will—in another seven years or so.
MRS. G. But isn't there to be one this year?
MORLEY (gravely). The Cabinet has decided against it.
MRS. G. But Mr. Morley! Now the Lords have thrown out the Irish Bill there
must be an election.
MORLEY. That was Mr. Gladstone's view.
MRS. G. Wasn't it yours, too?
MORLEY. Yes; but we couldn't—we couldn't carry the others.
MRS. G. Then you mean Mr. Gladstone is going to form a new Cabinet?
MORLEY. No. A new Cabinet is going to be formed, but he will not be in it.
That is his resolution. I was to tell you.
(At this news of the downfall of her hopes the gentle face becomes
piteously woeful; full of wonder also.)
MRS. G. He asked you—to tell me that!
MRS. G. Oh! Then he really means it! Had he been in any doubt he would
have consulted me.
(Tears have now come to sustain the dear lady in her sense of
desolation. Mr. Morley, with quiet philosophy, does his best to give
MORLEY. It was the only thing to do. Ireland kept him in politics; if that
goes, he goes with it.
MRS. G. But Ireland—doesn't go.
MORLEY. As the cause for a General Election it goes, I'm afraid.
MRS. G. But that isn't honest, Mr. Morley!
MORLEY. I agree.
MRS. G. And it won't do any good—not in the end.
MORLEY. To that also, I agree. Ireland remains; and the problem will get
MRS. G. But, indeed, you are wrong, Mr. Morley! It was not Ireland that
kept my husband in politics; it was Mr. Chamberlain.
MORLEY. That is a view which, I confess, had not occurred to me.
MRS. G. No one could have kept Mr. Chamberlain from leading the Liberal
party, except Mr. Gladstone. And now he never will!
MORLEY. That, certainly, is a triumph, of a kind. You think that
influenced him? Chamberlain was a friend of mine once—is still, in a way.
(He pauses, then adds ruefully) Politics are a cruel game!
(He sighs and sits depressed. But mention of her husband's great
antagonist has made the old lady brisk again.)
MRS. G. Do you know, Mr. Morley, that if Mr. Gladstone had not made me
pray for that man every night of my life, I should positively have hated
MORLEY (with a touch of mischief). You do that?—still?
Tell me—(I am curious)—do you pray for him as plain "Joe Chamberlain,"
or do you put in the "Mister"?
MRS. G. I never mention his name at all; I leave that to Providence—to be
MORLEY. Well, it has been understood, and answered—abundantly;
Chamberlain's star is in the ascendant again. It's strange; he and Mr.
Gladstone never really got on together.
MRS. G. I don't think he ever really tried—much.
MORLEY. Didn't he? Oh, you don't mean Mr. Gladstone?
MRS. G. And then, you see, the Queen never liked him. That has counted for
a good deal.
MORLEY. It has—curiously.
MRS. G. Now why should it, Mr. Morley? She ought not to have such
power—any more than I.
MORLEY. How can it be kept from either of you? During the last decade this
country has been living on two rival catchwords, which in the field of
politics have meant much—the "Widow at Windsor," and the "Grand Old Man."
And these two makers of history are mentally and temperamentally
incompatible. That has been the tragedy. This is her day, dear
lady; but it won't always be so.
MRS. G. Mr. Morley, who is going to be—who will take Mr. Gladstone's
MORLEY. Difficult to say: the Queen may make her own choice. Spencer,
perhaps; though I rather doubt it; probably Harcourt.
MRS. G. Shall you serve under him?
MORLEY. I haven't decided.
MRS. G. You won't.
MORLEY. Possibly not. We are at the end of a dispensation. Whether I
belong to the new one, I don't yet know.
MRS. G. The Queen will be pleased, at any rate.
MRS. G. Will she offer him a peerage, do you think?
MORLEY. Oh, of course.
MRS. G. Yes. And she knows he won't accept it. So that gives her the
advantage of seeming—magnanimous!
MORLEY. Dear lady, you say rather terrible things—sometimes! You pray for
the Queen, too, I suppose; or don't you?
MRS. G. Oh yes; but that's different. I don't feel with her that it's
personal. She was always against him. It was her bringing up; she couldn't
MORLEY. So was Chamberlain; so was Harcourt; so was everybody. He is the
loneliest man, in a great position, that I have ever known.
MRS. G. Till he met you, Mr. Morley.
MORLEY. I was only speaking of politics. Sixty years ago he met
MRS. G. Nearly sixty-three.
MORLEY. Three to the good; all the better!
MRS. G. (having finished off the comforter). There! that is
MORLEY. A thousand thanks; so it is to be mine, is it?
MRS. G. I wanted to say, Mr. Morley, how good I think you have always been
MORLEY. I, dear lady? I?
MRS. G. I must so often have been in the way without knowing it. You see,
you and I think differently. We belong to different schools.
MORLEY. If you go on, I shall have to say "angel," again. That is all I
MRS. G. (tremulously). Oh, Mr. Morley, you will tell me! Is this
the end? Has he—has he, after all, been a failure?
MORLEY. My dear lady, he has been an epoch.
MRS. G. Aren't epochs failures, sometimes?
MORLEY. Even so, they count; we have to reckon with them. No, he is no
failure; though it may seem like it just now. Don't pay too much attention
to what the papers will say. He doesn't, though he reads them. Look at him
now!—does that look like failure?
(He points to the exuberantly energetic figure intensely absorbed in
MRS. G. He is putting it on to-night a little, for me, Mr. Morley.
He knows I am watching him. Tell me how he seemed when he first spoke to
you. Was he feeling it—much?
MORLEY. Oh, deeply, of course! He believes that on a direct appeal we
could win the election.
MRS. G. And you?
MORLEY. I don't. But all the same I hold it the right thing to do. Great
causes must face and number their defeats. That is how they come to
MRS. G. And now that will be in other hands, not his. Suppose he should
not live to see it. Oh, Mr. Morley, Mr. Morley, how am I going to bear it!
MORLEY. Dear lady, I don't usually praise the great altitudes. May I speak
in his praise, just for once, to-night? As a rather faithless man myself—
not believing or expecting too much of human nature—I see him now,
looking back, more than anything else as a man of faith.
MRS. G. Ah, yes. To him religion has always meant everything.
MORLEY. Faith in himself, I meant.
MRS. G. Of course; he had to have that, too.
MORLEY. And I believe in him still, more now than ever. They can remove
him; they cannot remove Ireland. He may have made mistakes and misjudged
characters; he may not have solved the immediate problem either wisely or
well. But this he has done, to our honour and to his own: he has given us
the cause of liberty as a sacred trust. If we break faith with that, we
ourselves shall be broken—and we shall deserve it.
MRS. G. You think that—possible?
MORLEY. I would rather not think anything just now. The game is over; I
must be going. Good night, dear friend; and if you sleep only as well as
you deserve, I could wish you no better repose. Good-bye.
(He moves toward the table from which the players are now rising.)
GLADSTONE. That is a game, my dear Armitstead, which came to this country
nearly eight hundred years ago from the Crusades. Previously it had been
in vogue among the nomadic tribes of the Arabian desert for more than a
thousand years. Its very name, "backgammon," so English in sound, is but a
corruption from the two Arabic words bacca, and gamma (my
pronunciation of which stands subject to correction), meaning—if I
remember rightly—"the board game." There, away East, lies its origin; its
first recorded appearance in Europe was at the Sicilian Court of the
Emperor Frederick II; and when the excommunication of Rome fell on him in
the year 1283, the game was placed under an interdict, which, during the
next four hundred years, was secretly but sedulously disregarded within
those impregnably fortified places of learning and piety, to which so much
of our Western civilisation is due, the abbeys and other scholastic
foundations of the Benedictine order. The book-form, in which the board
still conceals itself, stands as a memorial of its secretive preservation
upon the shelves of the monastic libraries. I keep my own, with a certain
touch of ritualistic observance, between this seventeenth century edition
of the works of Roger Bacon and this more modern one, in Latin, of the
writings of Thomas Aquinas; both of whom may not improbably have been
practitioners of the game.
ARMITSTEAD. Very interesting, very interesting.
(During this recitation Mr. Gladstone has neatly packed away the
draughts and the dice, shutting them into their case finally and restoring
it to its place upon the bookshelf.)
GLADSTONE. My dear, I have won the rubber.
MRS. G. Have you, my dear? I'm very glad, if Mr. Armitstead does not mind.
ARMITSTEAD. To be beaten by Mr. Gladstone, ma'am, is a liberal education
MORLEY (to his host). I must say good-night, now, sir.
GLADSTONE. What, my dear Morley, must you be going?
MORLEY. For one of my habits it is almost late—eleven.
ARMITSTEAD. In that case I must be going, too. Can I drop you anywhere,
MORLEY. Any point, not out of your way, in the direction of my own door, I
shall be obliged.
ARMITSTEAD. With pleasure. I will come at once. And so—good-night, Mrs.
Gladstone. Mr. Prime Minister, good-night.
GLADSTONE. Good-night, Armitstead.
MORLEY (aside to Mr. Gladstone). I have done what you asked of me,
GLADSTONE. I thank you. Good-night.
(The two guests have gone; and husband and wife are left alone. He
approaches, and stands near.)
So Morley has told you, my dear?
MRS. G. That you are going down to Windsor to-morrow? Yes, William. You
will want your best frock-suit, I suppose?
GLADSTONE. My best and my blackest would be seemly under the
circumstances, my love. This treble-dated crow will keep the obsequies as
strict as Court etiquette requires, or as his wardrobe may allow. I have a
best suit, I suppose?
MRS. G. Yes, William. I keep it put away for you.
GLADSTONE (after a meditative pause begins to recite).
"Come, thou who art the wine and wit
Of all I've writ:
The grace, the glory, and the best
Piece of the rest,
Thou art, of what I did intend,
The all and end;
And what was made, was made to meet
Thee, thee, my sheet!"
Herrick, to his shroud, my dear! A poet who has the rare gift of being
both light and spiritual in the same breath. Read Herrick at his gravest,
when you need cheering; you will always find him helpful.
MRS. G. Then—will you read him to me to-night, William?
GLADSTONE. Why, certainly, my love, if you wish.
(He stoops and kisses her.)
MRS. G. (speaking very gently). I was waiting for that.
GLADSTONE. And I was waiting—for what you have to say.
MRS. G. I can say nothing.
GLADSTONE. Why, nothing?
MRS. G. Because I can't be sure of you, my dear. You've done this before.
GLADSTONE. This time it has been done for me. My own say in the matter has
been merely to acquiesce.
MRS. G. Ah! so you say! And others—others may say it for you; but—
GLADSTONE. Anno Domini says it, my dear.
MRS. G. Anno Domini has been saying it for the last twenty years. Much
heed you paid to Anno Domini.
GLADSTONE. You never lent it the weight of your counsels, my own love—
MRS. G. I know, William, when talking is useless.
GLADSTONE. Ah! I wonder—if I do.
MRS. G. No; that's why I complain. Twenty years ago you said you were
going to retire from politics and take up theology again—that you were
old, and had come to an end. Why, you were only just beginning! And it
will always be the same; any day something may happen—more Bulgarian
atrocities, or a proposal for Welsh disestablishment. Then you'll break
GLADSTONE. But I am in favour of Welsh disestablishment, my dear—when it
MRS. G. Are you? Oh, yes; I forgot. You are in favour of so many things
you didn't used to be. Well, then, it will be something else. You will
always find an excuse; I shall never feel safe about you.
GLADSTONE (in moved tone). And if you could feel safe about me—
MRS. G. Oh, my dear, my dear, if I could! Always I've seen you neglecting
yourself—always putting aside your real interests—the things that you
most inwardly cared about, the things which you always meant to do when
you "had time." And here I have had to sit and wait for the time that
never came. Isn't that true?
GLADSTONE. There is an element of truth in it, my dear.
MRS. G. Well, twenty years have gone like that, and you've "had no time."
Oh, if you could only go back to the things you meant to do, twenty years
ago—and take them up, just where you left off—why, I should see you
looking—almost young again. For you've been looking tired lately, my
GLADSTONE. Tired? Yes: I hoped not to have shown it. But three weeks ago I
had to own to myself that I was beginning to feel tired. I went to
Crichton Browne (I didn't tell you, my love); he said there was nothing
the matter with me—except old age.
MRS. G. You should have come to me, my dear; I could have told you the
only thing to do.
GLADSTONE. Is it too late to tell me now?
MRS. G. Yes; because now you've done it, without my advice, William. Think
of that! For the first time!
GLADSTONE (gravely surprised). So you have been wishing it, have
(And the devoted wife, setting her face, and steadying her voice,
struggles on to give him what comfort she may, in the denial of her most
MRS. G. I've been waiting, waiting, waiting for it to come. But it was the
one thing I couldn't say, till you—till you thought of it yourself!
GLADSTONE. Did I do so? Or did others think of it for me? I'm not sure;
I'm not sure. My judgment of the situation differed from theirs. I
couldn't carry them with me. In my own Cabinet I was a defeated man. Only
Morley stood by me then.
(Deep in the contemplation of his last political defeat, he is not
looking at her face; and that is as well. Her voice summons him almost
cheerfully from his reverie.)
MRS. G. William dear, can you come shopping with me to-morrow? Oh, no,
to-morrow you are going to Windsor. The day after, then.
GLADSTONE. What is that for, my dear?
MRS. G. We have to get something for Dorothy's birthday, before we go
home. You mustn't forget things like that, you know. Dorothy is important.
GLADSTONE. Not merely important, my love; she is a portent—of much that
we shall never know. Dorothy will live to see the coming of the new age.
MRS. G. The new age? Well, so long as you let it alone, my dear, it may be
as new as it likes; I shan't mind.
GLADSTONE. We will leave Dorothy to manage it her own way.
MRS. G. Then you will shop with me—not to-morrow—Thursday?
GLADSTONE. Piccadilly, or Oxford Street?
MRS. G. I thought Gamage's.
GLADSTONE. Holborn? That sounds adventurous. Yes, my love, I will shop
with you on Thursday—if all goes well at Windsor to-morrow—with all the
contentment in the world. (They kiss.) Now go to bed; and presently
I will come and read Herrick to you.
(She gets up and goes toward the door, when her attention is suddenly
arrested by the carpet.)
MRS. G. William! Do you see how this carpet is wearing out? We shall have
to get a new one.
GLADSTONE. It won't be necessary now. Those at Hawarden, if I remember
rightly, are sufficiently new to last out our time.
MRS. G. I wish I could think so, my dear. They would if you didn't give
them such hard wear, walking about on them. The way you wear things out
has been my domestic tragedy all along!
GLADSTONE (standing with folded hands before her). My love, I have
just remembered; I have a confession to make.
MRS. G. What, another? Oh, William!
GLADSTONE. I cannot find either of my comforters. I'm afraid I have lost
them. I had both this morning, and now both are gone.
MRS. G. Why, you are worse than ever, my dear! Both in one day! You have
not done that for twenty years.
GLADSTONE. I am sorry. I won't do it again.
MRS. G. Ah! so you say! Poor Mr. Morley will have to wait now. I had
promised him this. There!
(Making him sit down, she puts the comforter round his neck, and gives
him a parting kiss.)
And now I'm going.
GLADSTONE. Go, my love! I will come presently.
(But he has not quite got rid of her. Her hands are now reaching down
to the back of the sofa behind him.)
What are you looking for?
MRS. G. My knitting-needles. You are sitting on them. Now mind, you are
not to sit up!
GLADSTONE. I won't sit up long.
(Quietly and serenely she goes to the door, looks back for a moment,
then glides through it, leaving behind a much-deceived husband, who will
not hear the sound of her solitary weeping, or see any signs of it on her
face when presently he comes to read Herrick at her bedside.)
(For a while he sits silent, peacefully encompassed in the thoughts
with which she has provided him; then very slowly he speaks.)
GLADSTONE. Well, if it pleases her—I suppose it must be right!
JULIA ROBINSON Sisters
LAURA JAMES Sisters
MARTHA ROBINSON Sisters
SUSAN ROBINSON Their Mother
THOMAS ROBINSON Their Father
WILLIAM JAMES Husband to Laura James
HANNAH The family servant
The Everlasting Habitations
"All hope abandon ye who enter here."
"Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that,
when ye jail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations"
A Peep-Show in Paradise
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
fate of men or of nations whose will is set to be free. No accident there!
That you were tied to a man you wouldn't live with, who wouldn't live with
you—was an accident. But our love was no accident; it was waiting for us
before we knew anything. You and I had each a star which shone at the
KATHARINE. Your star was mine, dearest. I hadn't one of my own.
PARNELL. Well, if nations wish to be fooled, let them go to the devil
their own way, not laying the blame of their own folly on others! But
having got you—would I ever have let you go for any power under
Heaven? Why (as soon as you were free) did I marry you? I knew that,
politically, it was a blunder: that over there it would go against us—
prove the case. Half Ireland cared nothing for the verdict of an English
jury. But when we married, they had to believe it then…. Well, I wanted
them to believe it. I know my love would have waited, had I asked her. And
it wasn't—it wasn't honour, my dear; it was much more pride: for I am a
proud man, that I own: and not less since I have won you.
KATHARINE. If you hadn't been proud, dearest, you would never have got my
PARNELL. Oh, yes, I should. Those who love, don't love for qualities good
or bad. They love them in the person they love—that's all. You have
qualities which I didn't care about till I found them in you. To love is
to see life—new!
KATHARINE. And whole. Some day—alone by ourselves—we will!
PARNELL. Don't we already?
KATHARINE. Yes, if only—these other things didn't interfere. But I
promised; so they must.
PARNELL. My dear, when they have quite broken me—they will in time—then
KATHARINE. You promise to go right away?
PARNELL. I promise, sweetheart.
(Moving toward each other they are about to embrace, when the door
opens, and the Servant enters carrying a card upon a tray.)
SERVANT. If you please, sir.
(Parnell takes the card; there is a pause while he looks at the
PARNELL. Will you say I am engaged.
(The Servant goes. Parnell hands the card to his wife.)
I don't know the man. Do you?
KATHARINE. No. And yet I seem to remember. Yes; Willie had a man-servant
of that name.
(The Servant returns, bearing a folded note upon her tray)
SERVANT. If you please, sir, I was to give you this.
PARNELL (having read the note). Is the man still there?
SERVANT. Yes, sir.
(There is a pause.)
PARNELL. Show him in.
(As the Servant goes he hands the note to Katharine, and watches while
she reads it.)
So—you remember him?
KATHARINE. Only the name…. I may have seen him, now and then.
(And then enters a smooth-shaven man, sprucely dressed, with the
irreproachable manners of a well-trained servant. First, with a murmured
apology, he bows to the lady; then, having respectfully waited till the
silence becomes marked, says:)
MAN. Good evening, sir.
PARNELL (glancing again at the note). You are a valet?
MAN. Yes, sir.
PARNELL. Are you wanting a place?
MAN. No, sir. I have a place.
MAN. That gentleman, sir—my last employer, dismissed me without a
(His reference is to the note which Parnell still holds open in his
MAN. That's all, sir.
PARNELL. Then what have you come here for?
MAN. To give you this, sir.
(He draws out and presents a letter, rather soiled by keeping, which
has already been opened. There is a pause, while Parnell looks first at
the address, then runs his eye over the contents)
PARNELL. May I show it to—this lady?
MAN. Oh, yes, sir.
PARNELL. Whom, I take it, you recognise?
MAN. Yes, sir. (And meeting her glance, he bows once more)
(Parnell hands over the letter, and while Katharine reads there is a
PARNELL. Did you bring me this expecting money for it?
MAN. No, sir.
PARNELL. I see it has a date. You could have let me have it before?
MAN. Yes, sir.
PARNELL. More than—six months ago?
MAN. More than a year ago, sir.
PARNELL. Quite so. And you did not?
MAN (eyeing him steadfastly). No, sir. I was still comfortable in
his service then, sir.
PARNELL (ironically, after a pause of scrutiny eye to eye). I am
singularly obliged to you…. How did you come by it, may I ask?
MAN. Well, sir, he'd been dining out, sir. Left it in his pocket—hadn't
PARNELL. I see…. Had your dismissal anything to do with this?
MAN. Oh, no, sir. That only happened quite recently.
PARNELL. And then—he dismissed you without a character, you say? Do you
think you deserved one?
MAN. From him, sir?—yes, sir.
PARNELL (coldly amused). That is a good answer. Have you been put
to any expense coming here?
MAN. Just my return fare, sir.
PARNELL. And were you expecting me to—?
MAN. No, sir; I could have sent it in the post, if I'd wished.
PARNELL (surprised). Do you mean, then, that I may keep this
MAN. Yes, sir.
PARNELL. I may do what I like with it?
MAN. Just what you like, sir.
PARNELL. Thank you.
(After a pause of meditation he very deliberately tears up the letter
and puts it into the fire. Then, with rather icy politeness:)
I am much obliged to you; and I wish you a good evening.
(A little crestfallen, but with quiet self possession, the man accepts
the termination of the interview.)
MAN. Good evening, sir. (He moves to the door.)
(The man turns as the other goes towards him, and they meet face to
You haven't given yourself a very good character, coming here, my man; but
you might have done worse. Anyway, you've washed your hands of it now.
Don't do things like that again.
MAN. No, sir.
(And as he stands hesitating, Parnell opens the door.)
Thank you, sir.
(The man goes. Parnell closes the door after him, comes meditatively
across, and sits down. There is a long pause)
KATHARINE. What are you—thinking?
PARNELL. A year ago! … If he had come to me with that a year ago—what
should I have done?
KATHARINE. You would have done just the same.
PARNELL. Torn it up? And put it in the fire?—I'm not so sure.
KATHARINE. But I am. Hadn't he the same right as I had, to live his own
PARNELL. My dear, I said "a year ago." That means before the case came
on. That would have stopped it—for good…. If I had had it—I might have
(Watching him, she sees him smile.)
KATHARINE (rather tremulously). Are you glad—that you didn't have
PARNELL. And use it? Yes: I am—glad!
KATHARINE (throwing herself into his arms). Oh, my dear! Why, that
means everything. You're glad! You're glad!
PARNELL (clasping her). Oh, my own love, my own dear sweet!
KATHARINE. You regret—nothing?
PARNELL. Nothing. Haven't I made you sure of that—yet?
KATHARINE. Oh, my King!—my King!
(And just then the paper in the grate kindling into flame, he points to
PARNELL. Look! there goes—our proof.
KATHARINE. It doesn't matter.
PARNELL. It never did.
KATHARINE. That's what I mean.
PARNELL. But, politically, it might have made a world of difference.
KATHARINE. Yes—to the world; not to us. We wanted to be as we are, didn't
PARNELL. As we are, and as we were—how long is it?—eleven years ago.
There's been no change since. When I go back to my star, I shall have
found what I came for. That's what matters most. Souls either find or lose
themselves—live or die. I lived: I shouldn't have done, on this earth,
but for you—but for you.
(There is a pause. He sits meditating.)
KATHARINE. And of what—now?
PARNELL. The next generation—possibly the next but one: you and I gone,
and Ireland free. In this last year we may have done more for that—than
we could ever have planned. We've given them a bone to bite on: and
there's meat on it—real meat. And because of that, they call you my ruin,
eh? I look rather like one, I suppose, just now. But as I came home
to-night, all my mind was filled with you; and I knew that to me you were
worth far more than all the rest. And then suddenly I thought—what am I
worth to you?
KATHARINE. This—that if now you told me to go—because it was for your
good—I'd go—glad—yes glad that you'd made me do for you, at last,
something that was hard to do—for the first time, dearest, for the first
PARNELL (deeply moved). That so? Not an accident, then, eh?
KATHARINE (embracing him). Oh, my dear, my dear, my dear!
PARNELL. How true to life love makes everything!—so clear and straight—
looking back now. Through you I've learned this truth at any rate—that
there are two things about which a man must never compromise—first his
own soul, the right to be himself—no matter what others may think or do.
KATHARINE. And the other?
PARNELL. His instinct, of trust or distrust, in the character of others. I
hadn't any real doubt, but I compromised with instinct to gain my end: did
things I didn't believe were any good—accepted the word of men I didn't
trust. Home Rule itself was a compromise that I made myself accept. But I
never really believed in it. For you can't limit the liberty of a nation,
if it's really alive. Then came the smash—that woke me. And that I was
awake at last our love came to be the proof…Something different has got
to be now. Ireland will have to become more real—more herself, more of a
rebel than ever she has been yet. If, thirty years hence, my failure shall
have helped to bring that about—an Ireland really free—then I've won….
(The words come quietly, confidently; but it is the voice of an
exhausted man, whose physical resources are nearly at an end. For a long
time he sits quite still, holding his wife's hand, saying nothing, for he
has nothing more to say. A high screen behind the couch on which they rest
cuts off the gaslight; only the firelight plays fitfully upon the two
faces. Suddenly the brightness falls away, and over that foreshadowing of
death, now only three days distant, the scene closes.)
The Man of Business
JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Ex-Minister)
JESSE COLLINGS (His Friend)
A DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
The Man of Business
SCENE: Highbury. August 1913.
Between double-doors, opening from living-room to conservatory, sits
the shadow of the once great and powerful Minister, State Secretary for
the Colonies. To the dark, sombre tones of the heavily furnished chamber
the gorgeous colours of the orchids, hanging in trails and festoons under
their luminous dome of glass, offer a vivid contrast. Yet even greater is
that which they present to the drawn and haggard features of the
catastrophically aged man whose public career is now over. In wheeled
chair, with lower limbs wrapped in a shawl and supported by a foot-rest,
he sits bent and almost motionless; and when he moves head or hand, it is
head or hand only, and the motion is slow, painful, and hesitating, as
though mind functioned on body with difficulty, uncertain of its ground.
Nevertheless, when the door opens, and the small squat figure of a very
old and dear friend advances towards him, his face lights instantly. With
tender reverence and affection the newcomer takes hold of his hand, lifts,
presses it, lays it back again. And when he has seated himself, the Shadow
CHAMBERLAIN. Well, Collings? Well?
JESSE COLLINGS. Well, my dear Chamberlain, how are you? I'm a little late,
CHAMBERLAIN. I hadn't noticed. Time doesn't matter to me now.
JESSE COLLINGS. No; but I like to be punctual. It's my nature.
CHAMBERLAIN. Habit…Habit and nature are different things, Collings. I've
been finding that out.
(At this, for a diversion, Collings, readjusting his pince-nez, tilts
his head bird-like, and takes a genial look at his friend)
JESSE COLLINGS. Joe, you are looking better to-day.
CHAMBERLAIN. Well, even looks are not to be despised, I suppose, when one
has nothing else left.
JESSE COLLINGS. Come, come!
JESSE COLLINGS. Nothing else left, indeed! Don't—don't be so down,
CHAMBERLAIN. Dear old friend!… Just now you called me "Joe." You don't
often do that. Why did you?
JESSE COLLINGS. A reversion to old habits, I suppose. One does as one gets
JESSE COLLINGS (genially making conversation, which he sees to be
advisable). I was reading only the other day that, as we get on in
years and begin to forget other things, our childhood comes back to us.
JESSE COLLINGS. Now I wonder if that's true?
CHAMBERLAIN. I wonder.
JESSE COLLINGS. Mine hasn't begun to come back to me.
CHAMBERLAIN. You aren't old yet.
JESSE COLLINGS. I'm over eighty.
CHAMBERLAIN. Good for another twenty years. And once you were my senior.
We weren't quite boys together, Collings; but we've been good friends.
JESSE COLLINGS. Thank God for that!—Joe.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, I do. More now than I used to.
JESSE COLLINGS. All the same, you haven't so much cause to thank Him as we
(The listless monotone makes the little old man fear that he is not
JESSE COLLINGS. Is my talk tiring you?
CHAMBERLAIN. Not at all…. Please go on!
JESSE COLLINGS. I only want to say what I said just now: Don't be down,
dear friend. Your record will stand the test better than that of others.
Your work is still going on; it hasn't finished just because you are—laid
CHAMBERLAIN. "Laid up" is a kind way of putting it, Collins.
JESSE COLLINGS. Why, I needn't even have said that; when here—it's
sitting up I find you.
CHAMBERLAIN. Sitting out.
JESSE COLLINGS. Well, "sitting out," if you like, for the time being. But
do you imagine that this phrase or that phrase (true for the moment)
states the case, counts, is worth troubling about?
CHAMBERLAIN. Do I imagine? No, I don't. I don't imagine anything. I was
never a man of imagination.
JESSE COLLINGS. You are, when you say that!
CHAMBERLAIN. No, Collings. When I've done anything, it has been because
I've had it in my hands to do…. My hands are empty now. Some men manage
to think with their heads only; others do it—with their stomachs you
might almost say. I've never been able to think properly unless I had hold
of things—had them here in my hands…. Look at them, now! (With a
slow, faint gesture he indicates their helplessness; then continues:)
I was the man of business,… and now, I'm out of business; so I can't
JESSE COLLINGS. But that business, as you call it, Chamberlain, which you
made so many of us understand for the first time—I was a "Little
Englander" myself, once—that's still going on.
CHAMBERLAIN (bitterly). Yes, it's a fine business!
JESSE COLLINGS (startled). Don't you still believe in it?
CHAMBERLAIN. As a business? Yes. But it's going to fail all the same.
There's nobody to run it now.
JESSE COLLINGS. We mean to run it, Chamberlain! You'll see!
CHAMBERLAIN. I know you do, Collings. You are loyalty itself.
JESSE COLLINGS. There are others too. I'm not the only one.
CHAMBERLAIN. You are the best of them.
JESSE COLLINGS. No, I won't admit that.
JESSE COLLINGS. The best? Probably some one we don't yet even know. The
best are still to come. Time's with us.
CHAMBERLAIN. Is it?
JESSE COLLINGS. Don't you think so yourself?
CHAMBERLAIN. Not now. I did once.
JESSE COLLINGS. You always said so.
CHAMBERLAIN. I said it as long as I believed it: till the stars in their
courses turned against me. That broke me, Collings. If I could have gone
on having faith in myself, I shouldn't be—as I am now.
JESSE COLLINGS. But what—what made you lose it?
CHAMBERLAIN. Can't you guess?
(Collings shakes his head, remains valiantly incredulous; and there is
I saw somebody else—whose cards weren't so good—playing with a better
hand. It was the hand beat me. My head's all right still, though it
sleeps. But I've lost my hand. Look at it! (Again the gesture
illustrative of defeat.) Threw it away. You know who I mean?
JESSE COLLINGS (_cautiously, rather reluctantly). I suppose I do.
CHAMBERLAIN (watching to see the effect of his news).
He's coming to-day: to see me.
COLLINGS (surprised). Coming here?
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, it's all been nicely arranged—just a call in passing.
To-morrow's papers will describe it as "a pathetic meeting." Well, when a
man has to meet his executioner on friendly terms, I suppose it is
"pathetic" for one of them.
(All this is very disconcerting to poor Collings. He helps himself to a
half-sentence, and stops.)
JESSE COLLINGS. Did he himself——?
CHAMBERLAIN. Propose it? Oh, yes—in the most charming way possible. Isn't
it amazing how a man with charm can do things that nobody else dare? I
never managed to charm anybody.
JESSE COLLINGS. You made friends—and kept them.
CHAMBERLAIN. So does he. He has been successful all round: art, politics,
letters, society—he has friends in all. I've only been successful in
JESSE COLLINGS. My dear friend, aren't you forgetting yourself? You came
out of business.
CHAMBERLAIN. No, I only changed to business on a larger scale—carried it
on under a bigger name. That's how I found myself. I had to make things
into a business in order to make a success of them. That was my method,
Collings: glorify it as much as you like. And up to a point it was good
business, I don't deny. That's how we ran local politics, invented the
Caucus: Corporation Street is the result. That's how we managed to run
Unionism: made a hard and fast contract of it, and made them stick to it.
That's how I ran the Colonies—and the Boer War. That's how I was going to
run the Empire on a Preferential Tariff. That came just too late. I'd made
JESSE COLLINGS. What mistake?
CHAMBERLAIN. Collings, the Boer War wasn't good business. It might have
been; but it lasted too long. Any modern war that isn't over in six months
now is a blunder, you'll find. They were able to hold out too long. That
did for me. There have been bees in my bonnet ever since—all because of
it. Boers first; then Bannerman; then—Balfour. Just once my business
instinct betrayed me, and I was done!
JESSE COLLINGS. But—wasn't the war necessary?
CHAMBERLAIN. To put the "business" on a sound footing? Yes, I thought so;
it looked like it. No, it wasn't! But before I quite knew, there'd come a
point where we couldn't go back; and so we just had to go on—and on.
D'you know what was the cleverest thing said or done during that war?…
You'd never guess … but it's true. Campbell-Bannerman's "methods of
barbarism" speech. We downed him for it at the time, but it caught on—it
stuck. And it was on the strength of it (with C.-B. as their hope for the
future) that the Boers were persuaded to make peace: saved our face for
us. They might have gone on, till we got sick of it, and the world too.
JESSE COLLINGS. I don't—I can't think you are right, Chamberlain. You are
CHAMBERLAIN. No—I've had difficulty about thinking so myself; but, it has
come to me.
(And so he sits and meditates over the point in his career where as a
business man he first jailed. Presently he resumes:)
When two men, whose qualifications I used rather to despise, beat me at
business, Collings—it was a facer!
JESSE COLLINGS. Bannerman; and—the other?
CHAMBERLAIN. Comes to see me to-day. But it won't be a business meeting.
He'll not say anything about it—if he can help.
JESSE COLLINGS. And you?
CHAMBERLAIN. Perhaps I shall succumb to his charm. I've done so before
JESSE COLLINGS. Have you and he—had words ever?
CHAMBERLAIN. Differences of opinion, of course. "Words"? How should we? He
was always so wonderfully accommodating, so polite, so apologetic even.
Nobody ever had a finer contempt for his party than he—not even old
Dizzy, or Salisbury, or Churchill. So he could always say the handsome
thing to one—behind its back—even when he was making burnt-offerings to
JESSE COLLINGS. And when you left him?
CHAMBERLAIN. When I left him he did the thing beautifully. So genuinely
sorry to lose me; so sure of having me with him again, before long. How
could I have gone out and worked against him after that? But it's what—as
a business politician—I ought to have done.
JESSE COLLINGS. If you had—should we have won, straight away?
CHAMBERLAIN. We should have won the party, and the party-machine too. For
the rest it wouldn't have mattered waiting a year or two. Yes, we should
have won. But here's this, Collings: we should have won then; we shan't
win now. Times are changing: the time for it is over. Something else is
coming along—what, I don't know. My old fox-scent has gone: wind's
against me. The Colonies are growing up too fast. They won't separate, but
they mean to stand on their own feet all the same: in their own way—not
mine. We ought to have got them when they were a bit younger: we could
have done it then. Once it flattered them to be called "Dominions "; now
they are going to be "Sovereign States." And he—he doesn't mind. He is
never for big constructive ideas—only for contrivances: takes things as
they come, makes the best of them—philosophically—and gets round them;
and sometimes does it brilliantly.
JESSE COLLINGS. What will he talk about?
CHAMBERLAIN. Anything that comes into his head: the weather, the garden,
the greenhouses, the theatres. He'll tell me, perhaps, of a book or two
that I ought to read, that he hasn't had time for. He'll say, as you said,
that I'm looking better than he expected. He'll say something handsome
about Austen—quite genuinely meaning it. Then he'll say he's afraid of
tiring me; then he'll go…. Have you noticed how he shakes hands? He
hasn't much of a hand—not a real hand—but he does it, like everything
JESSE COLLINGS (a little crestfallen). I thought you really liked
CHAMBERLAIN. So I do. Because he has beaten me, is that any reason for
hating him? If it were—after a lifetime of polls and politics, one would
have to be at hate with half the world. No, from his point of view he had
to beat me, and he has done it. What I stick at is that he has proved the
better business man! As I used head and hand—and heart (and heart,
JESSE COLLINGS. Yes, yes, I know you did.
CHAMBERLAIN. Some people thought I hadn't a heart: "hard as nails" they
called me…. Well, as I used those, so he used his defeats, his doubts,
his indecision, his charm—and left his heart out. That was the real
business-stroke. That did for me…. I liked him: he knew it. Whether he
ever liked me, to this day, I don't know—for certain. If he did, it made
no difference. That's what I call business.
JESSE COLLINGS (warmly). But you've always been honourable.
CHAMBERLAIN. So has he. Don't be sentimental, Collings! But some men
manage in public life to give you a certain view of their character: so
that you count on it. And then, on occasion, they play another—and get
wonderful results. If I'd had that gift, I should have used it and done
better. He has used it, and he has done better. I don't whine about it.
But I'd rather, Collings (I suppose I'm prejudiced), I'd rather he hadn't
asked himself here—just now: not just now.
(There is a pause, and Collings feels that he must say something; but
finding nothing of any value to say, he merely commentates with a
JESSE COLLINGS. What has "just now" to do with it?
CHAMBERLAIN. "Just now," dear Collings, only means the next few months or
so—possibly a year. That's all. I had rather he'd waited, and then just
sent a wreath with the right sort of inscription on it. He could have done
that charmingly too. And I haven't got wreaths here for him, for I
don't think that even a posy of these would really interest him.
(And with a weary gesture he points to the orchids, as though they were
things of which, not impossibly, "posies" might be made.)
JESSE COLLINGS (a little perplexed by this introduction of wreaths and
flowers into political affairs). What does really interest him? He's
so interesting himself.
CHAMBERLAIN. You've hit it, Collings. It's himself. Not selfishly. He
stands for so many things that he values—that he thinks good for the
world—necessary for the stability of the social order. He is their
embodiment: he is the most emblematic figure in the modern world that I
know—in this country, at any rate—representing so much that is good in
the great traditions which have got to go. And to stave off that day he
will do almost anything. He would even—if he thought it would enable him
the better to prick some of his bubbles—he would even take office under
(At this point, unobtrusively, a Nurse enters and stands waiting.)
JESSE COLLINGS. I don't think we shall live to see that!
CHAMBERLAIN. I shall not; you may.
JESSE COLLINGS (impulsively). Chamberlain, I don't want to live
CHAMBERLAIN (cajolingly). Oh, yes, you do! Anyway—I want you to.
You will send me a wreath that will be worth having.
(Whereat his quaint little companion leans forward, and, putting his
two hands pleadingly on the swathed knees, wants to speak but cannot.
Slowly the sick man lets down his own and covers them. And so, hand
resting on hand, he continues speaking:)
Say what you like about the business man—the man who failed: he has known
how to make friends—good ones. And you, Jesse Collings, have been one of
the best: I couldn't have had a better. There's someone been waiting
behind you to give you a hint that you are tiring me—staying too long.
But you haven't: you never have. Perhaps, in the future, I shan't see
enough of you; perhaps, from now on, my doctor will have to measure even
my friends for me: three a day before meals. But I shall get life in bits
still—as long as you are allowed to come. Yes, Nurse, you make take him
(Jesse Collings rises, and stands by his friend with moist eyes.)
JESSE COLLINGS. Good-bye, my dear Joe, and—God bless you.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes … good-bye!
(Hands press and part, and Jesse Callings tip-toes meekly out,
apologising for the length of his stay by the softness of his going.
Chamberlain's head drops, his face becomes more drawn, his hands more
rigid and helpless. Without a word, his Nurse arranges his pillows,
preparing him for the sleep to which his unresisting body gradually
* * * * *
(Two hours later he is awake again, and the Nurse is removing a tray
from which he has just taken some nourishment. He lifts his head and looks
at her. At this sign that he is about to speak, she pauses. Presently the
CHAMBERLAIN. Is he in there, waiting to see me?
NURSE. Yes, sir.
CHAMBERLAIN. Ask him to come in.
NURSE. You want to see him alone, sir? (There is a pause.)
CHAMBERLAIN. I think only one at a time is enough—better for me: don't
NURSE. It would be less tiring for you, sir.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes. Ask him to come in.
(So that being settled, she goes, and he sits waiting. The afternoon
sunlight is making the orchids look more resplendently themselves than
ever. So still, so vivid, so alive, they hang their snake-like heads in
long pendulous clusters; and among them all there is not a single one
which shows the slightest sign of falling-off or decay. Presently the door
is softly opened, and the Nurse, entering only to retire again, ushers in
the Distinguished Visitor, whose brow, venerable with intellect, and grey
with the approach of age, crowns a figure still almost youthful in its
elasticity and grace, and perfect in the deliberate ease and deportment of
its entry into a situation which many would find difficult. As he
approaches the wheeled chair, the kindness, modesty, and distinction of
his bearing prepare the way before him, and his silence has already said
the nicest of nice things, in the nicest possible way, before he actually
speaks. This he does not do till he has already taken and held the hand
which the other has tried to offer.)
DISTINGUISHED VISITOR. My dear Chamberlain, how very good of you to let me
CHAMBERLAIN. Not too much out of your way, I hope?
DIST. V. On the contrary, I could wish it were more, if that might help to
express my pleasure in seeing you again.
CHAMBERLAIN. Well, what there is of me, you see. You are looking well.
DIST. V. And you—much better than I expected.
CHAMBERLAIN. Did you expect anything?
DIST. V. I was told that you had bad days occasionally, and were unable to
see anybody. I hope I am fortunate, and that this is one of your good
CHAMBERLAIN. Well, as they've let you see me, I suppose so. I don't find
much difference between my good and bad days. (Won't you sit down?) I'm
still in the possession of my faculties; I sleep well, and I don't have
DIST. V. (seating himself). And my staying with you for a little is
not going to tire you?
CHAMBERLAIN. It's far more likely to tire you, I'm afraid.
DIST. V. No, indeed not! Apart from anything else it is a welcome respite
on the journey. Motoring bores me terribly.
CHAMBERLAIN. Then you had really meant coming this way, in any case?
DIST. V. I had been long intending to; and when, last week, Hewell
proposed itself, all fitted together perfectly.
CHAMBERLAIN. Are they having a house-party?
DIST. v. I think not: I trust not. No, I believe a hint was dropped to
them that it wasn't to be—that I was feeling far too stale for any such
CHAMBERLAIN. Are you? You don't look like it.
DIST. V. In politics one tries not to look like anything; but how at the
end of the session can one be otherwise?
CHAMBERLAIN. Is all going on there—as usual?
DIST. V. Yes…yes. I don't find being in opposition makes as much
difference as I expected, as regards work. One misses the permanent
official who always did it for one. Wonderful creatures—who first
invented them? Pitt, or was it Pepys? Oh, no, he was one of them. A
product, perhaps, of the seventeenth century.
CHAMBERLAIN. In Tudor times Prime Ministers were permanent, weren't they?
DIST. V. Their heads weren't. Executions took the place of elections in
those days. And there's something to be said for it.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes. There was more dignity about it; it gave a testimonial
of character; the other doesn't.
DIST. V. Still, electoral defeat is very refreshing. Rejection by one's
own constituents is sometimes a blessing in disguise: it saves one from
undue familiarity…. That has never happened to you, has it?
CHAMBERLAIN. It depends what one means by—constituents. In the strict
(And now there is a pause, for something has been said that is not
merely conversation. Very charmingly, and with a wonderful niceness of
tone, the Distinguished Visitor accepts the opening that has been given
DIST. V. Chamberlain, I have been wanting to come and see you for a long
CHAMBERLAIN. Thank you. So I—guessed.
DIST. V. I wrote to you—a letter which you did not answer. Perhaps it did
not seem to require an answer. But I hoped for one. So, after not hearing,
I made up my mind to come and see you.
CHAMBERLAIN. That was very kind of you.
DIST. V. No, it wasn't; it was natural. We've worked together—so long.
And I wanted to assure myself that there was, personally—that there is
now—no cloud between us; no ill-feeling about anything. If I thought that
remotely possible, I should regret it more than I can say. Speaking for
CHAMBERLAIN. If you had not thought it possible—should you have come?
DIST. V. I cannot conceive how that would have made any difference.
CHAMBERLAIN. Still, if you had not thought it possible, you would hardly
have asked the question.
DIST. V. Well, now I have asked it. Speech is an overrated means of
communication—especially between friends; but it has to serve sometimes.
And you, at least, Chamberlain, have never used it as—Talleyrand, was it
not?—recommended that it should be used—for concealment.
CHAMBERLAIN. So you think that—in words at any rate—I've been honest?
DIST. V. I should say pre-eminently.
DIST. V. I have never had differences—political divergences—with any man
more loyal than you, Chamberlain.
CHAMBERLAIN. Thank you. I value that—from you. So the question's
answered. On my side there is no cloud, as you tell me I have nothing with
which to reproach myself.
DIST. V. Thank you for the reassurance. In that case the heavens are
CHAMBERLAIN. I hope they are properly grateful. Such a testimonial—from
two men looking in opposite directions—is an embracing one.
DIST. V. Opposite? Oh, I had hoped—though we may not see eye to eye in
everything—that still, in the main, we were in general agreement.
CHAMBERLAIN. Possibly. I daresay "a half-sheet of note-paper" might still
cover our "general agreement," so long as we only talked about it. That
served us for—two years, did it not? But I wasn't meaning—as to our
political opinions. I meant that you are still looking to the future; I
can only look back.
DIST. V. That, for you, must be a retrospect of deep satisfaction. It has
made much history.
CHAMBERLAIN. Catastrophes make history—sometimes.
DIST. V. You helped to avert them.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, for a time. But another may be coming, and I shan't be
here then. And if I were, I should be no use.
DIST. V. Oh, don't say that! Nor can I agree, either. No use? Your good
word is a power we still depend on. No, Chamberlain, we cannot do without
CHAMBERLAIN. You did—when you accepted my resignation.
DIST. V. For a fixed and an agreed purpose. In a way that only bound us
CHAMBERLAIN. I thought so then. But it has turned out differently.
DIST. V. Has it? I should not have said so. Am I not to count on you
CHAMBERLAIN. As a diminishing force? Yes; I shan't disappoint you.
DIST. V. Oh! (Deprecatingly, as of something that need not have been
said.) But not that at all!
CHAMBERLAIN (rubbing it in). Necessarily: one who, as I said, can
only look backward. Forward, I am nothing. Believe me, I have measured
myself at last. This is no miscalculation—like the other.
DIST. V. The other?
CHAMBERLAIN. My resignation.
DIST. V. Was that one?
CHAMBERLAIN. It certainly had not the effect I intended.
DIST. V. Surely you were not then intending to force me against my own
CHAMBERLAIN. No; but I thought you, and the rest, would follow.
DIST. V. I think we did: I think we still do. But sometimes, with
followers, following takes time.
CHAMBERLAIN. It will take more than my time. That is where I
DIST. V. But, my dear Chamberlain—if one may be personal—you are
maintaining your strength, are you not? The doctors—are hopeful?
CHAMBERLAIN. The regulation paragraphs are supplied to the papers, if
that's what you mean.
DIST. V. But I had this from members of your own family.
CHAMBERLAIN. Quite so; it is they who supply them.
DIST. V. Then, if the source is so authoritative, surely it must be true.
CHAMBERLAIN. Are newspaper paragraphs in such cases—ever true?
DIST. V. Perhaps I am no judge. As you know, I seldom read them.
CHAMBERLAIN. Aren't the probabilities that they will always overstate the
case—as far as possible?
DIST. V. That is a course which, as an old politician,—speaking
generally—I must own has its advantages. So often, when things are
uncertain, one has to act as if one were sure.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, you've done that—sometimes. Sometimes you haven't. I
shouldn't call you an old politician, though. Being old is the thing
you've always managed to avoid. And yet, you've been in at a good many
political deaths first and last.
DIST. V. That, in itself, is an ageing experience.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes? … I wonder.
DIST. V. Oh, but surely!
CHAMBERLAIN. I wasn't sure; but I take your word for it.
DIST. V. In politics, somehow, the deaths seem always to exceed the
births: those who go have become more intimate: one has got to know them.
Yes, the departures do certainly overshadow the arrivals.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yet sometimes they must have come to you as a relief.
DIST. V. My dear Chamberlain, don't say that! It isn't true.
CHAMBERLAIN. Oh! I wasn't thinking of myself just then.
DIST. V. You were thinking, then, of somebody?
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, I was. I was thinking of George Wyndham. What a
beautiful fellow he was! so clever, so handsome, so charming: a man cut
out for success, by the very look of him. And then, all at once, down and
out: the old pack had got him! How they hunted him! "Devolution!" Wouldn't
they be glad to get that now?
DIST. V. At the time it was impossible.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, you accepted that, I know. … It broke his heart. …
Did you go and see him—when he was dying?
DIST. V. I used to go and see him when I could—yes, frequently; we had
been great friends. Not immediately—a month or two before, was the last
time, I think.
CHAMBERLAIN. And so with him, too, you could say that you remained friends
to the last! You have had a wonderful career: friends, enemies, they all
loved you. Gladstone (who hadn't as a rule much love for his political
opponents) made an exception in your case.
DIST. V. Yes, I owed a great deal to his generous friendship. It gave me
CHAMBERLAIN. Harcourt, too, always spoke of you with affection.
DIST. V. Oh, yes; we had a brotherly feeling about Rosebery, you know.
CHAMBERLAIN (ignoring his diversion). Randolph hadn't though. He
DIST. V. Randolph was a performer who just once exceeded his promise, and
then could never get back to it. That was his tragedy. Strange how, when
he lost his following, his brilliancy all went with it.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, it was strange, in one so independent of others. He had
a great faculty, at one time, for not caring, for being (or seeming)
ruthless. It's a gift that a politician must envy. It hasn't been my way
to lose my heart in politics: it's not safe. But—you charmed me.
(There is an implication here that the quiet tone has not obscured. And
so the direct question comes:)
DIST. V. Chamberlain, I must ask. What is there between us?
CHAMBERLAIN. Nothing—nothing now at all—or very little.
DIST. V. No, no; you are too sincere to pretend to misunderstand me like
CHAMBERLAIN. In politics can one afford to be quite—sincere? Openly, I
DIST. V. You have been—far more than others I could name.
CHAMBERLAIN. That is a friendly judgment. Others wouldn't say so. If a man
stays in politics till he ceases to be important, while others remain
important, there's bound to be a change of relations.
DIST. V. In our case I don't admit that it has happened.
CHAMBERLAIN. Don't you? You were our partyleader. I broke away; so you had
to break me. From your point of view you were right. I thought I knew the
game better than you. I made a mistake.
DIST. V. Do you mean, then, that you intended to break me?
CHAMBERLAIN. Oh, no. But I meant to—persuade you.
DIST. V. My view is that you did—very thoroughly. Surely I went a long
way—conceded a great deal.
CHAMBERLAIN. "Half a sheet of note-paper" was the measure of it. Yes, that
speech was a great success, and you remained our leader. But your halving
of that sheet was the beginning of—my defeat, your victory.
DIST. V. I don't recognise either. At this moment we are both defeated, in
a sense: out of office, that is to say.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, but you will come back. I shan't.
DIST. V. But—in all its essentials—what you stand for will.
CHAMBERLAIN. As a hang-fire, perhaps, while parties temporise and readjust
themselves to a new balance. But never the same thing again. The time for
it has gone. I missed it.
DIST. V. You mustn't be depressed, Chamberlain. Great policies, new
orientations, need careful nursing—testing too. Conditions are changing
CHAMBERLAIN. Mine are getting worse. I have two nurses now—night and day:
and I obey orders.
DIST. V. You do well to remind me. You shouldn't have let me tire you.
(And so saying he rises.)
CHAMBERLAIN. You don't. You used to, now and then, when we didn't agree.
You had the deliberate mind, your own fixed rate of progression: one
couldn't hurry you. And your semitones, and semicircles, and semi-quavers
used sometimes to worry me, I own. They don't now: having become a
monotone myself, I acquiesce. I'm the slow one, now: you've set me
my pace…. Here I sit, stock still.
DIST. V. (lightly diverting the conversation from its impending
embarrassment). With your old associates still round you, I see!
(And he touches a trail of blossom admiringly, as he continues:)
They, at least, in their reflected glory, look flourishing; for they, too,
have had a share in your career, have they not?
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, they helped me to get into Punch, I suppose, if
not into Parliament. Yet, I never thought of it, till it happened—'twas a
mere accident. Would you like to take one with you?
DIST. V. I don't usually so efface myself, but I will with pleasure. This
one is quite exquisite. May I? Thanks (and the glory of it goes to his
buttonhole). I notice, too, that it has a scent.
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes, that is a new kind, hard to rear. There are very few of
it in England yet, and nowhere growing so well as they do here.
DIST. V. That is so like you, Chamberlain—you are the born expert;
everything you touch—it's in your blood. Whatever you have done, you have
CHAMBERLAIN. So I have your word for it. I was saying to Collins this
morning that as a type of the really successful man you had beaten me.
DIST. V. I—a type of success? My dear Chamberlain! In my wildest dreams,
I aim only at safety; and if my hesitations have sometimes distressed you,
they have been far more distressing to myself. You yourself, in a moment
of friendly candour, once described me (so I was told) as the champion
CHAMBERLAIN. So I did, and it's true. But I said "champion." If you hadn't
been such a champion at it, the mud would have swallowed you up alive.
Instead of that, you have made it a tower of defence against your enemies.
That's why I regard you not only as so successful, but so British.
DIST. V. May I, at least, claim that even for self-defence I have not
slung it at my opponents?
CHAMBERLAIN. No. Why waste it? It's your use, not your misuse of it that I
so admire. If you hadn't been such a wonderful politician, you might have
been a great statesman.
DIST. V. Doesn't that rather indicate failure?
CHAMBERLAIN. No. Sometimes the political world has no use for statesmen—
except to down them. Sometimes it prefers politicians, and perhaps
rightly. Every age makes its own peculiar requirements; and those who find
out when the political line is the better one to follow, are the
successful ones. You and I have been—politicians; let's be honest and own
it. And now my particular politics are over. Circumstances have emptied me
out. That's different from mere failure. Great statesmen have been
failures; we've seen them go down, you and I—too big, too far-seeing for
their day. But they went down full, with all the weight of their
great convictions and principles still to their credit. I'm empty. Time
has played me out. That's the difference.
DIST. V. I am confident that history will give a different verdict.
CHAMBERLAIN. Will it? When exactly does history begin to get written? Is a
man's reputation for statesmanship safe, even after a hundred years? What
about Pitt? Can one be so sure of him now? His European policy may have
been a blunder; his great work in Ireland may yet have to be reversed.
DIST. V. In reversed circumstances, that may become logical. But what has
held good for a hundred year, I should incline to regard as statesmanship.
CHAMBERLAIN. "Held good"? Fetters a man can't break "hold good "; but they
make a prisoner of him all the same. Policies have done that to nations
before now. But would you, on that score, say of them that they have held
DIST. V. But let me understand, my dear Chamberlain, what exactly in
Pitt's policy you now question?
CHAMBERLAIN. Nothing: I can't see far enough ahead to question anything. I
only say, when does history begin to get written? We don't know.
DIST. V. What more can one do than direct it for the generation in which
one lives? That, it seems to me, is our main responsibility.
CHAMBERLAIN. Well, that's what you and I have done. How? Mainly by pulling
down bigger men than ourselves. Randolph, Parnell, Gladstone—we got the
better of them, didn't we? Have you never wondered why men of genius get
sent into the world—only to be defeated? Gladstone was a bigger man
than the whole lot of us; but we pulled him down—and I enjoyed doing it.
Parnell, for all his limitations, was a great man. Well, we got him down
too. And I confess that gave me satisfaction. You helped to pull Randolph
down; but you didn't enjoy doing it. That's where you and I were
DIST. V. I helped?
CHAMBERLAIN. Yes; it had to be done. And you were sorry for him while you
did it—just as you were sorry for Wyndham.
DIST. V. But I did nothing!
CHAMBERLAIN. Quite so. He came down here to fight us in the Central
division, and the Conservatives were keen for it. It was touch and go:
Unionists were not in such close alliance then; he might have succeeded.
You did nothing; wouldn't back him. (Quite right, from my point of view.)
Randolph went down: never the same man again.
DIST. V. But, my dear Chamberlain, we had our agreed compact.
CHAMBERLAIN. An official understanding, certainly. But that didn't prevent
me from going to the Round-Table conference. That also was touch and go;
it might have succeeded. Where would our compact have been, then?
DIST. V. The Round-Table was merely an interrogation covering a forlorn
hope. It failed because you remained loyal to your convictions.
CHAMBERLAIN. It failed because one day two of us lost our tempers—one
bragged, the other bullied. That was the real reason. If Gladstone had
given me a large enough hand over his first Bill, d'you suppose I
shouldn't have been a Home Ruler? I was to begin with, remember.
DIST. V. Standing for a very different Bill, I imagine.
CHAMBERLAIN. Which you would still have opposed. But I should have won.
DIST. V. Certainly, if we had lost you, it would have made a difference.
CHAMBERLAIN. I was younger then: I'd more push in me. But you would have
let me go, all the same. Yes, I've always admired your courage when the
odds were against you…So, when the time for it came, you pulled me down
too. It had to be done. …And here I am.
DIST. V. My dear Chamberlain, you distress me deeply!
CHAMBERLAIN. Of course I do. D'you think I haven't distressed myself too?
Do I look like a man who hasn't been through anything?
DIST. V. Then—there is a cloud between us, after all.
CHAMBERLAIN. No. I see you clearly; I see myself clearly. There's no cloud
about it; it's all sharp, and clear, and hard—hard as nails. And
I've been able to put it into words—that now you understand. Poor
Randolph! Do you remember how his tongue stumbled, and tripped him, the
last time he spoke in the House? And I saw you looking on, pitying him.
You'd got a kind side to you, for all your efficiency. Men like you for
that—that charm…It's been a great asset to you. Parnell, how he tried
all his life to make a speech and couldn't. But what he said didn't
matter—there was the man! What a force he might have been—was! What a
Samson, when he pulled the whole Irish Party down—got them all on top of
him to pull with him. What d'you think he was doing then? Trying to give
his Irish nation a soul! It looked like pride, pique, mere wanton
destruction; but it was a great idea. And if ever they rise to it—if ever
the whole Irish nation puts its back to the wall as Parnell wanted it to
do then—shakes off dependence, alliance, conciliation, compromise, it may
beat us yet! They were afraid of defeat. That's why we won. A cause or a
nation that fears no defeat—nor any number of them—that's what wins in
the long run. But does any such nation—any such cause exist? I'm not
sure…I'm not really sure of anything now, only this: that it's better
not to live too long after one has failed. To go on living then—is the
worst failure of all.
(As be thus talks himself out, his auditor's solicitous concern has
continually increased; and now when, for the first time, the voice breaks
with exhaustion and emotion, the other, half-rising from his seat,
interposes with gentle but insistent urgency.)
DIST. V. My dear Chamberlain, you are overtaxing your strength; you are
doing yourself harm. You ought not to go on. Stop, I do beg of you!
CHAMBERLAIN. Stop? Why stop? What does it matter now?
(But even as he speaks, mind and will cease to contest the point where
physical energy fails. His manner changes, his voice becomes dull and
listless of tone)
Oh, yes…yes. You are quite right. It's time. I'm under orders now. Would
you mind—the bell?
(Then, as the other is about to rise, he perceives that the Nurse has
already entered, and now stands, unobtrusive but firm, awaiting the moment
to reassert her sway.)
Oh, it's not necessary. There's the Nurse come again, to remind me that I
mustn't tire myself in tiring you.
(And so, under the presiding eye of professional attendance, the
Visitor rises and advances to take his leave.)
Thank you—for coming. Thank you—for hearing me so patiently…You always
did that, even though it made no difference…I wonder—shall I ever see
DIST. V. You shall. I promise.
CHAMBERLAIN. I wonder.
DIST. V. I assure you, I shall make a point of it. Believe me, I am very
grateful for this opportunity you have given me; and even more am I
grateful for all your long loyalty in the past. Through all differences,
through all difficulties, I have felt that you were indeed a friend. So,
till we meet again, my dear Chamberlain, good-bye!
(The two hands meet and part, while the Nurse moves forward to resume
her professional duties. The Distinguished Visitor begins to retire.)
CHAMBERLAIN. Good-bye…You can find your way?
DIST. V. (turning gracefully as be goes). Perfectly!
(And treating the door with the same perfection of courtesy as be
treats all with whom he comes in contact, be goes to take his leave of
other members of the family. The door closes; the Nurse is punching the
pillows; Chamberlain speaks:)
CHAMBERLAIN. So that's the end, eh?… Charming fellow!
(And so saying, be settles back to the inattention of life to which he
has become accustomed.)
WOODROW WILSON (Ex-President of the United States of America)
MR. TUMULTY (His Secretary)
A GRACIOUS PRESENCE
SCENE; Washington. March 4th, 1921.
_Through, the large windows of this rather stiffly composed sitting-room
Washington conveys an ample and not unimpressive view of its official
character. The distant architecture, rising out of trees, is almost
beautiful, and would be quite, if only it could manage to look a little
less self-satisfied and prosperous. Outside is a jubilant spring day;
inside something which much more resembles the wintering of autumn. For
though this is an entry over which the door has just opened and closed, it
is in fact an exit, final and complete, from the stage of world-politics,
made by one who in his day occupied a commanding position of authority and
power. That day is now over. In the distance an occasional blare of brass
and the beat of drums tells that processions are still moving through the
streets of the capital, celebrating the inauguration of the new President.
It is the kind of noise which America knows how to make; a sound of
triumph insistent and strained, having in it no beauty and no joy.
The Ex-President moves slowly across the room, bearing heavily to one
side upon his stick, to the other upon the proudly protecting arm of his
friend, Mr. Secretary Tumulty. Into the first comfortable chair that
offers he lets himself down by slow and painful degrees, lay's his stick
carefully aside, then begins very deliberately to pull off his gloves.
When that is done, only then allowing himself complete relaxation, he
sinks back in his chair, and in a voice of resigned weariness speaks_.
EX-PRES. So … that's over!
TUMULTY. It hasn't tired you too much, I hope?
EX-PRES. Too much for what, my dear Tumulty? I've time to be tired now.
What else, except to be tired, is there left for me to do?
TUMULTY. Obey doctor's orders.
EX-PRES. He let me go.
TUMULTY (shrewdly). You would have gone in any case.
(Tumulty adjusts the cushions at his back.)
TUMULTY (seating himself). Well, Governor, now you've seen him in
place, what do you think of him?
EX-PRES. Oh, I find him—quite—what I expected him to be. I think he
TUMULTY. A new President always does.
EX-PRES. (slowly pondering his words). Yes … that's true …
TUMULTY (tactfully providing diversion). The big crowd outside was
very friendly, I thought.
EX-PRES. Yes … couldn't have been friendlier….It let me alone.
TUMULTY. Well, of course, they'd come mainly to see the new President.
EX-PRES. Of course. So had I. Yes, I believe Harding's a good man. He was
very kind, very considerate. I feel grateful.
TUMULTY (with rich emotion). That's how a good many of us are
feeling to you, Governor: to-day very specially. It's what I've come back
EX-PRES. That's very good of you. We've had—differences of opinion; but
you've always been loyal.
TUMULTY. I think, President—Forgive me; the word slipped out.
EX-PRES. No matter.
TUMULTY. I think there's been more loyalty—at heart—than you know.
Behind all our differences, in the party (as, with such big issues,
couldn't be avoided)—well; they didn't cut so deep as they seemed to.
They were all proud of you, even though we couldn't always agree. Of
course there've been exceptions.
EX-PRES. I don't want to judge the exceptions now (as perhaps I have done
in the past) more hardly than I judge myself … Tumulty, I've failed.
TUMULTY (extenuatingly.) In a way—yes: for a time, no doubt.
TUMULTY. I don't agree.
EX-PRES. Because you don't know.
TUMULTY. Governor, I know a good deal.
EX-PRES. Oh, yes; you've been a right hand to me—all through. Others
weren't. So I had to leave them alone, and—be alone. When I made that
choice, it seemed not to matter: my case was so strong—and I had such
faith in it! It was that did for me!
TUMULTY. Chief, I'm not out to argue with you—to make you more tired than
you are already. But if I don't say anything, please don't think I'm
agreeing with you.
EX-PRES. I'm accustomed to people not agreeing with me, Tumulty…. Yes:
too much faith—not in what I stood for, but in myself: perhaps—though
there I'm not so sure—perhaps too little in others. To some I gave too
much: and the mischief was done before I knew.
TUMULTY. You don't need to name him, President.
EX-PRES. I don't need to name anyone now. Sometimes a man may know his own
points of weakness too well—guard against them to excess, be overcautious
because of them; and then, trying to correct himself, just for once he's
not cautious enough. But where I failed was in getting the loyalty and
cooperation of those who didn't agree with me so thoroughly as you did.
And I ought to have done it; for that is a part of government. Your good
executive is the man who gets all fish into his net. I failed: I caught
some good men, but I let others go. There was fine material to my hand
which I didn't recognise, or didn't use so well as I should have done. I
hadn't the faculty of letting others think for me: when I tried, it went
badly; they didn't respond. So—I did all myself.
TUMULTY (airing himself a little). You always listened to
EX-PRES. Yes, Tumulty, yes. And you weren't offended when I—didn't pay
TUMULTY. When you had paid attention, you mean.
EX-PRES. Perhaps I do. My way of paying attention has struck others
differently. They think I'm one who doesn't listen—who doesn't want to
listen. It's a terrible thing, Tumulty, when one sees and knows the truth
so absolutely, but cannot convince others. That's been my fate: to be so
sure that I was right (I'm as sure of that now as ever) and yet to fail.
Here—there—it has been always the same. I went over to Paris thinking to
save the Peace: there came a point when I thought it was saved; it would
have been had the Senate backed me—it could have been done then. But when
I put the case to which already we stood pledged, I convinced nobody. They
did not want justice to be done.
TUMULTY. But you had a great following, Governor. You had a wonderful
reception when you got to Paris.
EX-PRES. Yes: in London too. It seemed then as if people were only waiting
to be led. But I'm talking of the politicians now. There was no room for
conviction there; each must stick to his brief. That's what wrecked us.
Not one—not one could I get to own that the right thing was the wise
thing to do: that to be just and fear not was the real policy which would
have saved Europe—and the world…. Look at it now! Step by step, their
failure is coming home to them; but still it is only as failure that they
see it—mere human inability to surmount insuperable difficulties: the
greed, the folly, the injustice, the blindness, the cruelty of it they
don't see. And the people don't teach it them. They can't. No nation—no
victorious nation—has gotten it at heart to say, "We, too, have sinned."
Lest such a thing should ever be said or thought, one of the terms of
peace was to hand over all the blame; so, when the enemy signed the
receipt of it, the rest were acquitted. And in that solemn farce the
Allies found satisfaction! What a picture for posterity!
And when they point and laugh, I shall be there with the rest. It's our
self-righteousness has undone us, Tumulty; it's that which has made us
blind and hard—and dishonest: for there has been dishonesty too. Because
we were exacting reparations for a great wrong, we didn't mind being
unjust to the wrongdoer. And so, in Paris, we spent months, arguing,
prevaricating, manoeuvring, so as to pretend that none had had any share
in bringing the evil about. When I spoke for considerate justice, there
was no living force behind me in that council of the Nations. They wanted
their revenge, and now they've got it: and look what it is costing them!
(And then the door opens, and an Attendant enters, carrying a, covered
cup upon a tray. Upon this intrusion the Ex-President turns a little
grimly; but before he can speak, Tumulty interposes.)
TUMULTY. You'll forgive this little interruption, Governor: I got domestic
orders to see that you took it…. You will?
(The dictatorial expression softens: with a look of mild resignation
the Ex-President touches the table for the tray to be set down. And when
the Attendant has gone, he continues:)
EX-PRES. No, they wouldn't believe me when I said that to be revengeful
would cost more than to be forgiving. And still they won't believe that
the trouble they are now in comes—not from the destructiveness of the
War, but from their own destruction of the Peace. I had the truth in me;
but I failed. I was a voice crying into the void—a President without a
people to back me: a dictator—of words! And they knew that my time was
short, and that I had no power of appeal—because the heart of my people
was not with me! If they had any doubt before, the vote of the Senate told
TUMULTY. You said "the people," Governor?
EX-PRES. The people's choice, Tumulty. The vote for the Senate, and
the vote of the Senate: where's the difference?
TUMULTY. Still, I don't think you know how many were with you right
through: and I'm not speaking only of our own people. Over there it was
your stand gave hope to the best of them, so long as hope was possible.
But they were all so busy holding their breath, maybe they didn't make
noise enough. Anyway—seems you didn't hear 'em.
EX-PRES. You can't reproach me with it, Tumulty——
TUMULTY (expostulant). I'm not doing that, Governor!
EX-PRES. ——more than I reproach myself. If that were true, then it was
my business to know it. But what I ought to have known I realised too
late. When I heard those shouting crowds—yes, then, for a while, I
thought it did mean—victory. But in the Conference at Versailles—Paris—
I was in another world: the shouting died out, and I was alone…. I
hadn't expected to be alone—in there, I mean. I had reckoned—was it
wrong?—on honour counting among those in high places of authority for
more than it did. We went in pledged up to the hilt: not in detail, not in
legal terms, not as politicians, perhaps; but as men of honour—speaking
each for the honour of our own nation. And that wasn't enough; for whom
people stand pledged twice over—first in secret, then publicly—it's
difficult to make them face where honour lies.
TUMULTY. You mean the secret treaties, Governor. That's been a puzzle to
many of us: what you knew about them, I mean.
EX-PRES. Tumulty, I willed not to know them. Rumour of them reached me, of
course. Had I then given them a Hearing, I might have been charged with
complicity, the silence which gave consent. Many were anxious that I
should know of them—at a time when opposition would have been very
difficult—premature, outside my province. And so—by not knowing—I was
free: and when I stated the basis of the Peace terms, I stated them (and I
was secure then in my power to do so) in terms which should in honour have
made those secret treaties no longer tenable. There was my first great
error—I acknowledge it, Tumulty: that I believed in honour.
TUMULTY (reluctantly). Yes … I see that. But it's the sort of
thing one can only see after it has happened. You must have got a pretty
deep-down insight into character, Governor, when you came to the top of
things over there, to the top people, I mean.
EX PRES. (after a pause reflectively). Yes. it was very
interesting, when one got accustomed to it: highly selected humanity,
representative of things—it was afraid of. There daily sat four of us—if
one counts heads only; but we were, in fact, six, or seven, or eight
characters. And the characters sprang up and choked us. Patriots,
statesmen? oh yes! but also "careerists." Men whose future depends on
the popular vote can't always be themselves—at least, it seemed not; for
we should then have ceased to be "representative," and it was as
representatives that we had come. And so one would sit and listen, and
watch—one person, and two characters. Lloyd George, when his imagination
was not swamped in self-satisfaction, was quite evangelical to listen to—
sometimes. But there he was representative—not of principles, nor of
those visionary sparks which he struck so easily and threw off like
matches, but of a successful election cry for "hanging the Kaiser" and
"making Germany pay." And having got his majority, he and his majority had
become one. But for that, he might—he just might … yet who can tell?
That tied him. I was alone.
TUMULTY (coming nobly to the rescue). Then take this from me,
Governor: for a man all alone you did wonders.
EX-PRES. I did my best; but I failed. My first mistake was when I believed
in honour; my second, when I let them shut the doors. Yes, to that he got
me to agree. Clever, clever; that was his first win.
TUMULTY. Who, Governor?
EX-PRES. (with a dry laugh). The man who told me he was on my side.
The reason?—a kindly means of saving faces for those whom he and I were
going to "persuade"—of making the "climb-down" easier for them! That
seemed a helpful, charitable sort of reason, didn't it? One it would have
been hard to refuse. I didn't; so the doors were shut to cover defeat and
disappointment over the secret treaties. Then they had me: three against
one! And their weight told—quite apart from mere argument; for each had
behind him the popular voice (and when one lost it—you may remember—
another came, and took his place). But against me the popular voice had
shut its mouth: I, too, was an electioneer—a defeated one. Of my lease of
power then, less than a year remained. After the Senate elections I was
nothing. In Paris they knew it: and I could see in their eyes that they
were glad. Yes, he was glad, too.
(As he speaks, his head sinks in depression. There is a pause.)
TUMULTY (in his best sick-bed manner). Governor, don't you think
that you'd better rest now?
EX-PRES. (ignoring the remark). And so the old secret diplomacy,
balancing for power, with war as the only sure end of it, came back to
life; and I—pledged to its secrecies with the rest—I had to stay dumb. I
was a drowning man, then, Tumulty—clutching at straws, till I became an
adept at it. There, perhaps, as you say, I did do "wonders"—of a kind:
all I could, anyway. That was my plight, while there in Paris we held high
court, and banqueted, and drank healths from dead men's skulls. Did nobody
guess—outside—what was going on? I gave one signal that I thought was
plain enough, when I sent for the George Washington to bring me
home again. But, though I listened for it then, there seemed no response.
People were so busy, you say, holding their breath; and that I
TUMULTY (zealous, in a pause, to show his interest). Well,
EX-PRES. And then, rather than let me so go and spoil the general effect
(the one power still left to me!), they began to make concessions—
concessions which, I see now, didn't amount to much; and so they persuaded
me, and I stayed on, and signed my failure with the rest.
TUMULTY (for a diversion pointing to the covered cup).
Pardon me, Governor, you must obey orders, you know. They are not mine.
EX-PRES. (taking up the cup with a dry smile). Executive authority
has taught me that obeying orders is much simpler than giving them: you
know when you've got them done. (Removing the cover, he drains the cup
and sets it down again.) There! now let your conscience be at rest.
(After a pause he resumes:) Tumulty, when I faced failure, when I
knew that I had failed——Yes; don't trouble to contradict me. I know,
dear friend, I know that you don't agree; and, God bless you! I also know
why.——When I knew that, after the whole thing was over, and I was
out again and free, do you suppose I wasn't tempted to go out and cry the
truth (as some were expecting and wishing for it to be cried) in the ears
of the whole world?—let all know that I had failed, and so—that
way at least—separate myself from the Evil Thing which there sat smiling
at itself in its Hall of Mirrors—seeing no frustrate ghosts, no death's
heads at that feast, as I saw them?… I came out a haunted man—all the
more because those I was amongst didn't believe in ghosts—not then.
People who have been overwhelmingly victorious in a great war find that
difficult. But they will—some day.
TUMULTY. Well, Governor, and supposing you had yielded to this
"Temptation," as you call it, what's the proposition?
EX-PRES. This … I had one power—one weapon, still left to me
unimpaired: to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, so help me God! And the proposition is just this: whether to be
stark honest, even against the apparent interests of the very cause you
are out to plead, is not in the long run the surest way—if it be of God—
to help it make good: whether defeat, with the whole truth told, isn't
better than defeat hidden away and disowned, in the hope that something
may yet come of it. You may get a truer judgment that way in the end;
though at the time it may seem otherwise. Yes, I was tempted to cry
it aloud—to make a clean breast of it—to say, "We, the Governments of
the People, the Democracies, the Free Nations of the world, have failed—
have lost the peace which we could have won, because we would not give up
the things which we loved so much better—profit, revenge, our own too
good opinion of ourselves, our own self-righteous judgment of others."…
I was tempted to it; and yet it has been charged against me that I would
not admit failure because I wanted to save my face.
TUMULTY. You have never been much scared by what people said,
Governor. That didn't count, I reckon.
EX-PRES. No, Tumulty; but this did—that where all seemed dark, I still
saw light. Down there, among the wreckage, something was left—an
instrument of which I thought I saw the full future possibility more
clearly than others. I believe I do still. And my main thought then
was—how best to secure that one thing to which, half blindly, they had
agreed. To win that, I was willing to give up my soul.
TUMULTY. It's the Covenant, you mean, Governor?
EX-PRES. Yes, the Covenant! That at least was won—seemed won—whatever
else was lost. Some of them were willing to let me have it only because
they themselves believed it would prove useless—just to save my face for
all I had to give up in exchange. And so I—let them "save my face" for
me; let them think that it was so—just to give this one thing its chance.
And so, for that, and for that alone, I bound myself to the Treaty—stood
pledged to do my utmost to see it through: a different thing, that, from
telling the truth. Was I wrong, Tumulty—was I wrong?
TUMULTY. No, no, Governor! You did everything a man could—under the
EX-PRES. I have said that often to myself: and I hope, sometimes, that it
may be true. But a man who gives up anything of the truth, as he sees it,
for reasons however good—can he ever be sure of himself again?… It's a
new thing for me to ask another man if I have done wrong. But that's the
way I feel: I don't myself know. And once, once, I was so sure—that I was
right, and that I should win!
(The situation has now become one which the friendly Tumulty would like
to control, but cannot. As a "soul-stirring revelation of character" he
finds it, no doubt, immensely interesting; but to be thus made Father
Confessor of the man whom he has followed with humble and dog-like
devotion, knocks the bottom out of his world altogether. Moreover, he has
received "domestic orders," and is not properly obeying them; and so,
dominated by the stronger will, he glances apprehensively, now and again,
toward the door, hoping that it may open and bring relief, but himself
sits and does nothing. Meanwhile, insistent and remorseless at
self-examination, the Ex-President continues to wear himself out.)
When a man comes really to himself, Tumulty—sees clearly within—does it
help him toward seeing also what lies outside, beyond, and ahead—make him
more sure that, as regards others, he has done right? I don't know—I
would give my life to know—if what I did, when all else had failed, was
best. The political forces, prejudices, antagonisms, the powers of evil
around me, have been so dubiously deceiving and dark, that I do not know
now whether to have been uncompromisingly true to principle would have
done any good. Perhaps after to-day I shall know better; perhaps only now
have I become qualified to judge—a free man at last. Only in the secrecy
of my own heart—now finally removed from all the interests, ambitions,
fears, which gather about a man's public career—I do most earnestly and
humbly pray that in this one thing I did right—not to discredit myself
too utterly in the world's eyes, so that that, at least, might
TUMULTY (doing his best). It will live, Governor!
EX-PRES. It may. But in what hands have I had to leave it? To men
who have no faith in it, to men who dislike it, to men who will try
persistently, sedulously, day in, day out, to turn it back to their own
selfish ends. There, in those hands, its fate will lie—perhaps for a
generation to come. And it is only by faith in the common people, not in
their politicians, that I dare look forward and hope that the instrument—
blunt and one-sided though it be now—may yet become mighty and two-edged
and sharp, a sword in the hand of a giant—of one whose balances are those
of justice, not of power. But I shan't see it, Tumulty; it won't be
in my day. If America had come in, I should! That was the keystone of my
policy: that gone, my policy has failed. That was my faith—is still; for
faith can live on when policies lie dead. Think what it might have been!
America, with that weapon to her hand, could have shaped the world's
future, made it a democracy of free nations—image and superscription no
longer Caesar's—but Man's. That—that was what I saw!
TUMULTY. Perhaps they saw it too, Governor. If they did, it might help to
EX-PRES. The Covenant was the instrument—and would have sufficed. So
organised, America's voice in all future contentions would have been too
strong, and just, and decisive to be gainsayed. Then life would have been
in it, then it would have prospered and become mighty. It would have
meant—within a generation from now—world-peace. Of that I had a sure
sense: it would have come. To make that possible, what I had to yield to
present jealousies, discords, blindness, was of no account—only look far
enough! For there, in the future, was the instrument for correcting them—
the people's vote for the first time internationally applied. And I had in
me such faith that America, secure of her place in the world's councils,
would have wrought to make justice international, and peace no longer a
dream! Was I wrong, Tumulty, was I wrong?
TUMULTY (expanding himself). No man who believes in America as much
as I do will ever say you were wrong, Governor.
EX-PRES. But when America stood out—when the Senate refused to ratify—
then I was wrong. For then, what I had backed—all that remained
then—was a thing of shreds and patches. Nobody can think worse of the
Treaty than I do with America out of it, with the Covenant left the
one-sided and precarious thing it now is. Had we only been in it—the rest
wouldn't have mattered. Call it a dung-heap, if you like; yet out of it
would have sprung life. It may still; but I shan't see it, Tumulty;
and that vision, which was then so clear, has become a doubt. Was I
wrong—was I wrong to pretend that I had won anything worth winning? Would
it not have been better to say "I have failed"?
TUMULTY. Forgive me, Governor: you are looking at things from a tired-out
mind. That's not fair, you know.
EX-PRES. But if you knew, oh, if you knew against what odds I fought even
to get that! They knew that they had got me down; and the only card left
me at last was their own reluctance to let a discredited President go back
to his own people and show them his empty hands, and tell them that he had
failed. So a bargain was struck, and this one thing was given me, that
peradventure it might have life—if I, for my part, would come back here
and plead the ratification of the Treaty which they—and I—had made.
Could I have done that with any effect, had I said that in almost
everything I had failed?
TUMULTY. Chief, I think you did right. But I still feel I'm up a back
street. How could things have come to fail as much as they did? After all,
it was a just war.
EX-PRES. Tumulty, I have been asking myself whether there can be such a
thing as a "just war." There can be—please God!—there must be sometimes
a just cause for war. When one sees great injustice done, sees it
backed by the power of a blindly militarised nation, marching confidently
to victory, then, if justice has any place in the affairs of men, there is
sometimes just cause for war. But can there be—a just war? I mean—when
the will to war takes hold of a people—does it remain the same people?
Does war in its hands remain an instrument that can be justly used? Can it
be waged justly? Can it be won justly? Can it, having been won, make to a
just peace? No! Something happens: there comes a change; war in a people's
mind drives justice out…. Can soldiers fight without "seeing red"—can a
nation? Not when nations have to fight on the tremendous scale of modern
war. Then they are like those monstrous mechanisms of long-range
destructiveness, which we so falsely call "weapons of precision," but
which are in fact so horribly unprecise that, once let loose, we cannot
know what lives of harmlessness, of innocence, of virtue, they are going
to destroy. You find your range, you fix your elevation, you touch a
button: you hear your gun go off. And over there, among the unarmed—the
weak, the defenceless, the infirm—it has done—what? Singled out for
destruction what life or lives; ten, twenty, a hundred?—you do not know.
So with nations, when once they have gone to war; their imprecision
becomes—horrible; though the cause of your war may be just.
(Tumulty gives a profound nod, paying his chief the compliment of
letting it be seen that he is causing him to think deeply.)
That's what happened here. Do you remember, did you realise, Tumulty, what
a power my voice was in the world—till we went in?—that, because I had
the power to keep them back from war (for there my constitutional
prerogative was absolute), even my opponents had to give weight to my
words. They were angry, impatient, but they had to obey. And, because they
could not help themselves, they accepted point by point my building up of
the justice of our cause. They didn't care for justice; but I spoke for
the Nation then; and, with justice as my one end, I drove home my point.
And then—we went in. After that, justice became vengeance. When our men
went over the trenches, fighting with short arms, "Lusitania!" was
their cry: and they took few prisoners—you know that, Tumulty.
(Over that point the Ex-President pauses, though Tumulty sees no
special reason why he should pause.)
The Lusitania had been sunk, and still we had not gone to war, and
no crowds came to cry it madly outside the White House as they might have
done—if that was how they felt then. The Lusitania lies at the
bottom of the sea. There are proposals for salving her; but I think that
there she will remain. The salving might tell too much.
TUMULTY. You mean that talk about fuse caps being on board might have been
true? Would it matter now?
EX-PRES. Yes. It was a horrible thing in any case—disproportionate, like
most other acts of war—and it did immeasurable harm to those who thought
to benefit. But this—I still only guess—might do too much good—bring
things a little nearer to proportion again, which the Treaty did not try
to do…. What I've been realising these last two years is a terrible
thing. You go to war, you get up to it from your knees—God driving you to
it—unable, yes, unable to do else. Your will is to do right, your cause
is just, you are a united nation, a people convinced, glad, selfless, with
hearts heroic and clean. And then war takes hold of it, and it all changes
under your eyes; you see the heart of your people becoming fouled, getting
hard, self-righteous, revengeful. Your cause remains, in theory, what it
was at the beginning; but it all goes to the Devil. And the Devil makes on
it a pile that he can make no otherwise—because of the virtue that is in
it, the love, the beauty, the heroism, the giving-up of so much that man's
heart desires. That's where he scores! Look at all that valiance, that
beauty of life gone out to perish for a cause it knows to be right; think
of the generosity of that giving by the young men; think of the faithful
courage of the women who steel themselves to let them go; think of the
increase of spirit and selflessness which everywhere rises to meet the
claim. All over the land which goes to war that is happening (and in the
enemy's land it is the same), making war a sacred and a holy thing. And
having got it so sanctified, then the Devil can do with it almost what he
likes. That's what he has done, Tumulty. If angels led horses by the
bridle at the Marne (as a pious legend tells), at Versailles the Devil had
his muzzled oxen treading out the corn. And of those—I was one! Yes; war
muzzles you. You cannot tell the truth; if you did, it wouldn't be
believed. And so, finally, comes peace; and over that, too, the Devil runs
up his flag—cross-bones and a skull.
TUMULTY (struggling in the narrow path between wrong and right).
But what else, Governor, is your remedy? We had to go to war; we were left
with no choice in the matter.
EX-PRES. No, we had no choice. And what others had any choice?—
what people, I mean? But that is what everyone—once we were at war—
refused to remember. And so we cried "Lusitania!" against thousands
of men who had no choice in the matter at all. Remedy? There's only one.
Somehow we must get men to believe that Christ wasn't a mad idealist when
He preached His Sermon on the Mount; that what He showed for the world's
salvation then was not a sign only, but the very Instrument itself. We've
got to make men see that there's something in human nature waiting to
respond to a new law. There are two things breeding in the world—love and
hatred; breeding the one against the other. And there's fear making hatred
breed fast, and there's fear making love breed slow. Even as things now
are, it has managed—it has just managed to keep pace; but only just. If
men were not afraid—Love would win.
That, I've come to see, is the simple remedy; but it's going to be the
hardest thing to teach—because all the world is so much afraid.
(And then, the worn, haggard man, having thus talked himself out, there
enters by the benign intervention of Providence a Gracious Presence, more
confident than he in her own ruling power. She moves quietly toward them,
and her voice, when she speaks, is corrective of a situation she does not
THE PRESENCE. Mr. Tumulty … my dear.
(Resting her hands on the back of the Ex-President's chair, she surveys
them benevolently but critically. Then her attention is directed to the
covered cup standing on its tray!)
Have you taken your——
EX-PRES. My medicine? Yes. Your orders came through, and have been obeyed.
THE PRESENCE. It wasn't medicine. I made it myself.
EX-PRES. Then I beg its pardon—and yours.
THE PRESENCE. Will you please to remember that your holiday began at
twelve o'clock to-day? I'm not going to allow any overtime now.
EX-PRES. That settles it, then, Tumulty. And that means you are to go. I
had just been saying, my dear, how much simpler it was to obey orders than
to give and to get them obeyed.
THE PRESENCE. Getting them obeyed is quite simple. It is merely a matter
of how you give them.
EX-PRES. You see, Tumulty—it's all a matter of "how."
THE PRESENCE. There's someone waiting to speak to you on the 'phone: wants
to know how you are. I thought I would come and see first.
EX-PRES. Who is it?
THE PRESENCE (indicating the receiver). He's there.
(The Ex-President reaches out his hand, and Tumulty from an adjoining
table gives him the instrument. As he listens, they stand watching
EX-PRES. Oh, yes…. That's very kind of him…. Please will you tell the
President, with my best thanks, that I am greatly enjoying my holiday….
Thank you…. Good-bye.
(He gives the instrument back to the waiting Tumulty.)
TUMULTY (with swelling-bosom). Governor, that was a great answer!
EX-PRES. Easily said, Tumulty. But is it true?
(But Tumulty's breast is such a platform for the generous emotions that
he does not really care whether it is true or not. And therein, between
himself and his hero, lies the difference. Grasping his fallen leader
forcefully by the hand and murmuring his adieux in a voice of nobly
controlled emotion, he obeys the waiting eye of the Gracious Presence, and
goes. And as she sees him serenely to the door, the Ex-President looks
ruefully at his painfully oversqueezed hand, and begins rubbing it softly.
Even the touch of a friend sometimes hurts.)
(The door closes: the two are alone. She who-must-be-obeyed stands
looking at him with a benevolent eye.)