THE PRUDE'S PROGRESS

A Comedy

In Three Acts

By Jerome K. Jerome
and Eden Phillpotts

London:

Chatto & Windus

1895






PERSONS IN THE PLAY.

Jack Medbury

Ted Morris.

Adam Cherry,

Theodore Travers

Ben Dixon L.C.C., M.V.A.

Footman.

Mrs. Wheedles

Nelly Morris.

Primrose Deane

Mrs. Ben Dixon






CONTENTS

THE FIRST ACT.
THE SECOND ACT.
THE THIRD ACT.






THE FIRST ACT.

The scene represents a room high up in a Bloomsbury lodging-house. It is poorly, but not sordidly, furnished; and here and there are touches of taste, and some attempt at comfort. Nelly Morris, a young girl, dressed in a very old frock, the shabbiness of which she has attempted to hide by various feminine devices, is discovered sitting L. of table. A pile of medical books, topped by a skull, faces her. She is sitting with her elbows on table, her head in her hands, looking up at, and talking to, the skull.

NELLY MORRIS.

Did you ever know what it was to be poor-real poor I mean? Do you know what Ted and I have got for dinner? Three sausages between us! That's one and a half—no, two for him because he's working, and one for me. And do you know what I am longing for more than anything else in the world? A great plate of roast beef—heaps of beef—and Yorkshire pudding and potatoes—large potatoes. (Sniffs in the air.) Did you ever feel like that? Did you ever try studying for an exam, on bread-and-butter for breakfast, bread-and-butter for dinner (when it won't run to the sausages), and bread, without butter, for supper, like poor Ted has to? Do you think he'll be able to learn enough on it to pass? Do you? (Breaking down.) Ah! you only grin at it all. 'Tis funny, isn't it? (Laughing hysterically.) I suppose we shall grin at it all when we are as old as you.

(The door at back opens, and Mrs. Wheedles, an old lady of the Mrs. Gummidge type, enters. Nelly hastily wipes away her tears.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Oh! my dear, you gave me quite a turn. I made sure you'd got someone here.

NELLY MORRIS.

Only old Tapley, Mrs. Wheedles. I talk to him about my worries and he teaches me to laugh at them. Do you see how he's smiling? (Takes skull and shows its face to Mrs Wheedles.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Pushing it away.) Oh, my dear, don't. You make me feel quite creepy. I do wish your brother wouldn't leave his bones about as he does. It's really hardly decent.

NELLY MORRIS.

We'll put something over him. (Takes the skull to mantelpiece and ties pocket-handkerchief round it.) You are shocking the susceptibilities of the British Matron, Mr. Tapley. You must be dressed.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

He doesn't look very well to-day, does he?

NELLY MORRIS.

What, Mr. Tapley? Oh, much the same as——

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Lor', no, my dear! how your mind does run on that nasty things I was speaking of your brother.

NELLY MORRIS.

You don't think he's going to break down?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Oh no, my dear—at least we'll hope for the best. He seemed a bit pale, that's all.

(Nelly takes books from the table and puts them away in case, and in other ways tidies up the room while talking.)

NELLY MORRIS.

He's working so hard you see—so terribly hard. He'll be able to rest a bit when he's passed his exam.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Yes, of course—that is if he does pass it.

NELLY MORRIS.

Don't say "if," Mrs. Wheedles, please. You don't know what it means to us. He must pass—he must. He's worked so hard.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Ah, it's never those who know the most that do pass. I've had a few medicos, as they call themselves, through my hands, and it's always the ones that will never know the difference between croup and rheumatism that get through.

NELLY MORRIS.

I'm afraid that doesn't promise very well for Ted.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

No, my dear, I am sorely afraid he won't pass—sorely afraid. But there, you can never tell, and one should always look on the bright side of things, they say. (Beginning to cry.)

NELLY MORRIS.

You don't help one to do so very much, Mrs. Wheedles.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

I never like to see anyone too sanguine, my dear. He doesn't eat enough to keep himself well, and you won't let me send a little bit of anything up now and then.

NELLY MORRIS.

How can we, you kind old soul, when we owe you as much as we do already? And Heaven knows how we shall ever be able to pay you if he doesn't pass.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Ah, you don't like to feel that you owe anything to a poor old lodging-house keeper. I only wish all of them were as considerate. I'd be better off than I am. But suppose, now, it didn't come out of my pocket, but from someone who could well afford it—who—was rich—and who——

NELLY MORRIS.

What do you mean, Mrs. Wheedles? Have you been telling anyone of our poverty? Have you been asking for charity for us?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Lord help the child, no! How you do flare up. I haven't said a word to anyone. (Aside.) That's the truth anyhow.

NELLY MORRIS.

Please forgive me. I didn't mean to be cross. I know how kindly you meant it, but you don't understand. We're not so very poor, you know. Ted can't work if he eats heavily, and——(Turns away, choking a sob.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Ah, poor dears—and both as proud as lucifers, so that nobody can help 'em. Ah, well, my dear, I only just looked in to cheer you up a bit. There's nothing I can do for you, I suppose?

NELLY MORRIS.

No, thank you, Mrs. Wheedles. I'll get you to let Martha boil me a few potatoes later on.

(Knock heard at door, which Mrs. Wheedles has left open.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Looking in.) Can I come in?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

It's Mr. Cherry, my dear.

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh yes, come in, Mr. Cherry.

(Enter Cherry. He is a dapper little man of about fifty-five, but dresses, and tries to look younger. He carries a book in his hand which he seems anxious to keep out of sight.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, Mrs. Wheedles, you here?

ADAM CHERRY.

(He looks from one to the other.) I suppose you've been cheering up Miss Morris?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Crying.) Yes, Mr. Cherry. I just looked in to comfort her a bit, you know. I'm sure the poor child needs it.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, I'll tell you what it is, Mrs. Wheedles. Wheedles must have had a damp time of it. I don't wonder at his leaving you.

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh, do you think it wise to start her on Wheedles?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

I don't expect anyone to, Mr. Cherry, I'm sure. He was a fine-looking man, and there were those that lured him away. Not that I think it right that a man who's once promised to——

ADAM CHERRY.

No, no! of course not! I didn't mean that. He was a villain, Mrs. Wheedles—a villain. (He bustles her, still crying, towards the door.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

No, I won't say that.

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, I would, Mrs. Wheedles, if I were you. Only I'd go downstairs where I could have a good cry about it all to myself, and not come up again till I felt better.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Ah, no, Mr. Cherry, crying won't mend matters. We must grin and bear things in this world. (She is still crying.) You bring down those potatoes whenever you're ready, dear. (She goes off crying.)

NELLY MORRIS.

Thank you, Mrs. Wheedles.

ADAM CHERRY.

(He closes the door and returns to Nelly.) That woman never wants to go to the seaside, you know. She has a salt-water bath every day.

NELLY MORRIS.

Poor old soul. I think she gets all her enjoyment out of being miserable.

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, and you can't say she's selfish with it either. Oh, I just came up to bring you this (showing book in his hand)—"Gray's Anatomy." I came across it in turning over some old books of mine. It's—it's the book your brother was saying he wanted, isn't it?

NELLY MORRIS.

(Smiling as she looks at the palpably new volume.) You keep your "old books" nice and clean, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

(A little confused.) Yes. I—I'm very careful of my books.

NELLY MORRIS.

(Opening and reading title-page.) Tenth edition, London, 1893. (She goes up to him, and without speakings gives him her hand very quietly. He takes it in both his and pats it gently.)

ADAM CHERRY.

How is Ted?

NELLY MORRIS.

Very overworked, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, well, the examination is only six weeks off now, and then he must have a long rest.

NELLY MORRIS.

Yes, if he passes; if he doesn't, it means the old struggle all over again, only with less heart and (Aside) less bread-and-butter.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, now, that old woman has been doing that. You mustn't think about his not passing. He's bound to pass. I do wish she'd keep downstairs.

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh, it's better to be ready to face a thing, I suppose, than to be crushed by it when it does come. There are plenty do fail, and they are not always those that deserve to. And you see he's not strong and well just now, and it is such a hard fight. (Vehemently) Oh, if I could only do something to help him instead of being a drag upon him. It is so hard. Other girls can earn money—I haven't been brought up to do anything. There's nothing I can do—nothing, nothing.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Earnestly.) Nothing! (Nelly, startled by his earnest tone, turns and looks at him.) Suppose, my dear, there—there was something you could do—which would enable somebody else to help him—something which mightn't even be very unpleasant for you, either, and that only wanted a kind, loving, little heart. Suppose, my dear, some old fellow—not very old, you know, but just old enough to—to know your value, my dear—should say to you: I love you very, very dearly, my dear—and it would make me very, very happy to make you happy. Will you try to love me, my dear? Will you give me the right to—to take away all this trouble from you—to—to help you both. (Nelly slowly crosses to fire, and stands looking into it.) Don't you see, my dear I should be one of the family, and he couldn't mind my helping him then. You see—I—I've been working all my life, and making money, and now I've no one that I care for to spend it on. It would be so pleasant for me to—to feel that I was helping some brave, clever young fellow to get on in the world. It would make me so proud and happy to be helping those you cared for—to be taking care of you.

NELLY MORRIS.

(She still looks into fire and Cherry stands waiting At length she turns with a calm face and firm, closed lips.) Yes, I will be your wife, Mr. Cherry—if you will be content with me as I am.

ADAM CHERRY.

My dear——

NELLY MORRIS.

You don't misunderstand me, do you Mr. Cherry? You have been the only friend that we have had, and I like you and respect you very, very much, but I do not——

ADAM CHERRY.

(Checking her.) Never mind that, my dear. I know what you are going to say. But don't say it. That will come all right. Why, you've only known me six months, and half that time as only as Mrs. Wheedles' first floor lodger. I must win that, my dear. Oh, I'm going to begin to make love now; I'm not so very old, you know. Why, bless you, I feel as if I were just beginning life. We shall be as happy as can be, my dear. You'll just try to love me a little, dear, that's all.

NELLY MORRIS.

I'll try to make you a good wife, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

I know you will, my dear. I know you will. Won't you call me Adam, dear? (Seeing her trouble over this.) Ah, not just yet—never mind. It will come in time, dear. And I may begin to make things a little smoother for you—and—and for Ted at once, mayn't I?

NELLY MORRIS.

(A little wearily.) Yes, Mr. Cherry, thank you. You are very kind and good.

ADAM CHERRY.

Tut, tut, my dear. I'm pleasing myself, that's all. And now you'd like me to run away, I know, so that you can think it all over by yourself. I can't tell you, my dear, how very happy you've made me. I—I never felt like this before, and I don't know what to say. I can feel it, but I can't tell it to you. May I——? (She involuntarily shrinks away.) Ah, not yet, dear—not till you've learnt to love me a little more, eh? (Kisses her hand.) Good-bye for a little while, my dear. (He goes out.)

NELLY MORRIS.

(Left alone, she stands for awhile where he has left her, then, slouly crossing to fire, she takes from round her neck a locket, and, opening it, takes out a small picture and looks at it.) Poor Jack! Poor me!

(She tears the miniature in two and lets the pieces fall into the fire. Ted's voice is faintly heard, and Jack's in answer to it. Nelly goes out L., closing door behind her and taking her work-box off table with her. There is a moment's pause, and then door at back opens and Ted enters, followed by Jack. They are both young fellows of three or four and twenty. Both are poorly dressed, Ted is ill and worn looking, but gay and boyish in his manner; Jack is an older and graver man. Both men are smoking pipes.)

TED MORRIS.

Come in, old man. (Calling.) Are you in, Nelly?

NELLY MORRIS.

(Calling from the inner room.) Yes, I'll be out in a minute, dear.

TED MORRIS.

Take your coat off, old man. You'll stop and have a bit of lunch?

JACK MEDBURY.

No, I won't, Ted, thanks—can't stop. Oughtn't to have come out at all—clear morning like this.

TED MORRIS.

(At cupboard.) Oh you can't be always at work. Have some whiskey?

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, just a——(Sees that bottle in Ted's hand is empty.) No—no I won't. Can't stand it in the morning.

TED MORRIS.

(Much relieved, puts bottle away.) Perhaps you're right. Bad habit to get into. How's the picture getting on?

JACK MEDBURY.

Which one? That churchyard thing?

TED MORRIS.

No, no,—the big one—the Enid and Geraint. Ought to make a very pretty picture that, Jack.

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes—yes. I should like to be getting on with that. I want a face for the Enid, you know.

TED MORRIS.

Yes, I should say she'd look all the better for one.

JACK MEDBURY.

I was wondering if Nelly would mind sitting for it.

TED MORRIS.

Nelly! But you want someone very beautiful for that, don't you?

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, and don't you call—— No, you wouldn't, of course. I expect Helen of Troy's brothers never could understand what Paris saw in her.

TED MORRIS.

Oh, she's a dear little soul; but, seriously now, Jack, as an artist, is she beautiful?

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh, you're a fool, Ted. I don't mean to be insulting. (Laughs.) But fancy your sitting opposite Nelly every day of your life, and then asking somebody else "If she's beautiful!"

TED MORRIS.

Um! I must have another look at her.

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes, I should—with your eyes open on this occasion. Look at her closely, Ted. You'll see one of the fairest, noblest little women God ever made—who'd just lay down her life for you—who keeps a bonny face and a brave word for you—and a sore heart for herself sometimes. Look at her a little oftener, old man—let her see that you understand and love her for it and—you don't mind my coming the family friend over you, do you, old fellow?

TED MORRIS.

Of course not, Jack. But you've worried me about Nelly.

JACK MEDBURY.

How?

TED MORRIS.

Why, it never occurred to me before, but here——

Beautiful as you say she is, and just growing up into womanhood, I'll just tell you what will be happening before long.

JACK MEDBURY.

What?

TED MORRIS.

Why, we shall have some young idiot falling in love with her.

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes; it's not altogether impossible.

TED MORRIS.

It's not at all improbable—and what the deuce shall I do?

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh, you come and tell me. I'll show you what to do.

TED MORRIS.

It's no chaffing matter, Jack. It's a serious responsibility upon a fellow when you come to think of it. I'm beginning to understand the feelings of a "stern parent."

JACK MEDBURY.

What sort of a fellow do you fancy for a brother-in-law?

TED MORRIS.

(Laughs.) What she fancies will be more to the point, I expect. You know she's a bit headstrong; I'll tell you who it will be.

JACK MEDBURY.

(Quickly.) Who?

TED MORRIS.

Why some poor devil without a penny to bless himself with. You bet your bottom dollar on that.

JACK MEDBURY.

And what do you intend saying to this impecunious suitor when he does turn up?

TED MORRIS.

I must think it over seriously, and be prepared for him.

JACK MEDBURY.

Better think it over now.

TED MORRIS.

Why?

JACK MEDBURY.

He may be down on you sooner than you expect. The truth is there's a very impecunious young man very much in love with your sister already, and I—I rather fancy she—she doesn't mind it.

TED MORRIS.

Oh! impossible.

JACK MEDBURY.

I don't quite see why.

TED MORRIS.

Why, she hasn't seen anybody for the last eighteen months. We never go out, and there hasn't been a soul here—except yourself.

JACK MEDBURY.

And which do you consider as "impossible"—my falling in love with her, or her not objecting to it?

TED MORRIS.

You? You and Nelly in love with each other? How long has it all been going on?

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, as far as I am concerned I don't think I lost much time since you first brought me here last Christmas twelve-month.

TED MORRIS.

Funny I've never noticed anything.

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, I don't really think it's been our fault, old man—'pon my soul, I don't.

TED MORRIS.

Are you engaged?

JACK MEDBURY.

No, no, we shouldn't have done that without saying anything to you, but I think we understand one another.

TED MORRIS.

Hum! I don't seem much good at this duenna business.

JACK MEDBURY.

It's not your strong point, Ted. (Both men laugh.) Well, what do you think, old fellow? I ought to have spoken to you before, of course. But somehow it seemed odd talking to another fellow about it. You know all about me. We are both a couple of poor devils. You're fighting the world with bones and bottles; I'm tackling it with a paint-brush. If I get licked, of course I shall clear out, but I shall daub a good deal better if I fancy I see Nelly waiting for me behind the canvas, and I may win. Come, you know I'll try to be good to her. What do you say?

TED MORRIS.

That it's the grandest bit of news I've heard, Jack, for many a long month.

JACK MEDBURY.

You don't mind?

I mind a good deal, old man—I can't tell you how much—I'm glad—awfully glad. (He puts both hands on Jack's shoulders.)

Why, Jack, I feel as if I'd got a new heart in me. We'll put Nelly between us, old man, and face the world together—and, damn it all, we'll win!

JACK MEDBURY.

Brothers!

TED MORRIS.

Brothers!

JACK MEDBURY.

Thanks, old fellow, thanks.

TED MORRIS.
TED MORRIS.

Jack! This demands a drink of some sort. Have you ever tackled methylated spirit?

JACK MEDBURY.

No, I've heard of people drinking it. They say you can't tell it from gin.

TED MORRIS.

Let's try it. It's the very best methylated, this brand.

(He goes up to cupboard and brings it down in two glasses. Jack at the same time gets water from window-sill, and brings it and fills glasses.) Shoulder to shoulder, old man.

JACK MEDBURY.

And our Nelly.

(A knock is heard at door. Both men pause and listen. Knock is repeated. They put their glasses down on table.)

TED MORRIS.

Come in.

(Theodore Travers enters. He is a man about twenty-five, but looks any age. He is well-dressed, well-groomed.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Good morning. Mr. Edward Morris, I believe?

TED MORRIS.

I—I don't think I have the pleasure of knowing you.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Not hitherto. I have come on purpose to remove that reproach from you. I believe you have the distinction of being a cousin of mine. My name is Travers—Theodore Travers.

JACK MEDBURY.

What, the Theodore Travers? The author?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Well I know of no other. I rather think one of us is sufficient for this sized world. (Turns aside and writes covertly on his cuff.) Books everywhere—microscope—smokes briar—shaves at intervals.

TED MORRIS.

Well, I'm very glad to see you, and I'm very glad to learn you're my cousin, though I don't quite understand how.

THEODORE. TRAVERS.

(Sitting.) Don't you? Oh, it's simple enough. My mother having accomplished the exceedingly satisfactory life's work of introducing me into the world, dies, poor lady. My father, feeling the sole responsibility of bringing up so extraordinary an infant as myself too much for him, marries a charming lady of whom I have always very much approved, a Miss Belinda Greggs, better known as Mdlle. Silvia, the beauteous and world-renowned skipping-rope artiste. This lady, upon the death of my father, marries your uncle. Thus Art becomes the golden link connecting the Morris to the Travers family. (About to drink from one of the glasses.) Gin?

TED MORRIS.

No; an experiment. I don't fancy you'd care for it. (Takes glasses away and puts them back in cupboard.) O yes, I recollect now. Mrs. Ben Dixon was a Mrs. Travers, of course. (Noticing that Theo is again writing on his cuff.) Your cuff is getting rather full, isn't it? Don't you carry a note-book?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes, but you know some people object to it, so I generally make short memoranda on my cuff and copy them out afterwards.

TED MORRIS.

Very considerate of you, I'm sure. But don't you trouble about it in this case. If you can make anything out of us you go ahead. It's more than we can do ourselves.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Takes out note-book,) Well now, that's really very kind of you. I will. To tell you the truth, that's partly why I came here. I'm giving the medical students a turn in my next book, and I wanted to get material. (Writing.) Hard up, of course? (Ted nods.) Loud tie. (Sniffs.) Shag! (Turns to Jack.) Friend an artist? Also hard up? Coloured shirt!

JACK MEDBURY.

They last clean so much longer than the white ones.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Quite so—blunt and careless. Gentleman on mantelpiece seems to be suffering from toothache.

TED MORRIS.

(Laughs.) Oh, that's Nelly's nonsense, I suppose. This is Mr. Tapley. We call him Mr. Tapley because he is always so jolly.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Shutting book.) Thanks. Now that will be really useful to me. You see I'm a realist. We don't imagine, we study; the world's my scenery, mankind my characters. I write as I run.

JACK MEDBURY.

Do you ever get your head punched?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Did once.

TED MORRIS.

What did you do?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Made a note of the experience while it was fresh in my mind, and then hit him back.

JACK MEDBURY.

You don't waste your experiences?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Never. Experience is the cypher that explains the universe. I've been everything, done everything, made a note of everything, and understand everything. I've fought in Russia and made love in Spain, edited a newspaper in Calcutta, and ran a company in New York. Been imprisoned in Japan, and married in Egypt. I've studied mankind from the Equator to the Pole and I flatter myself I know the poor thing inside and out.

TED MORRIS.

You're rather young to know so much. Aren't you afraid of overdoing it, and injuring yourself?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

My dear fellow, I never was young. Age is a question of senses, not of seasons. I was born pretty much as you see me now. I told my first lie before most children can lisp the truth. I posed before most children can stand. I drank brandy at an age when most children lick sherbet, and made love while my co-temporaries were making mudpies.

JACK MEDBURY.

I wonder you care to stop on any longer in this world.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Duty, my dear fellow. I'm wanted down here. The age requires me. Great men are scarce.

TED MORRIS.

And modest—I always thought.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

A popular delusion. They pretend to be. In reality they all think of themselves exactly as I think of myself; I am setting them an example of naturalness and candour.

TED MORRIS.

(Laughs.) You certainly can't be accused of the "pride that apes humility." Well, and how are my respected aunt and uncle?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Mr. and Mrs. Ben Dixon? Oh, they are getting on very well now. I've gone to live with them.

TED MORRIS.

Awfully good of you. How do you get on with the old man?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Ben Dixon? Well, I like him. He amuses me.

TED MORRIS.

Is he still in the philanthropic line?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes, doing a bigger business than ever. I'm afraid he won't live long. They'll be wanting him for an angel when the next vacancy occurs. He is a County Councillor already. By-the-bye, he landed you pretty heavily, didn't he?

TED MORRIS.

Oh, that was my fault. I let him invest all our money in some cast-iron affair that was going to pay a hundred per cent. He had influence with the Directors, and got them to let us into it—as a favour.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Um! and a very pretty little "let in" it was. Well, it's all experience, my dear boy—all.

(Enter Nelly. Theodore rises.)

TED MORRIS.

This is my sister.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

I envy you, my dear boy. How do you do, Miss Morris? I'm Theodore Travers, your cousin, you know.

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh, yes, I remember. How did you manage to find us?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Oh, the step-mater's been on your track ever since you disappeared. She'll be here in a minute.

TED MORRIS.

(Aghast.) Mrs. Ben Dixon coming here!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes, and he's coming too. I ought to have told you before, only I've been so taken up with your interesting conversation.

TED MORRIS.

(Aside, savagely.) Why the deuce can't they wait till they're asked?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

And if you would permit me, as a practical stage-manager, I would suggest a rearrangement of the props. (Looking round room.) Let me see. Step-mater will take the centre of the stage, of course; she always does, from force of habit.

NELLY MORRIS.

(Putting flimsy chair R. of table, and smiling.) There!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes, that's the place, but it's not the chair. (Shaking and testing it.)

JACK MEDBURY.

(Bringing a big one over from window.) This one?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

That's more the thing, and then, let me see, the old man—he won't sit anywhere, he'll stand in front of the fire and try to look like a stained-glass window; and then the girl——

TED MORRIS.

What girl!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Oh, a protégée of the step-mater's—a dear little thing—suggests roses and old Chippendale. (Takes chair to window.) She can sit over here near me. (At window, he looks out.) Ah, there's the carriage going away now. They are here evidently—all on the stairs in different degrees of exhaustion.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Without.) Well, we can't go any higher; it must be this. (Door opens, and in bustles breezily Mrs. Ben Dixon. She is a kindly, blunt, slightly vulgar woman of about forty. Her style in dress is pronounced.) Yes. Here they are, both of them. The young villains! Oh, you bad boy! Oh, you bad girl! I'll never forgive you, neither of you. Come and kiss me. (She embraces Nelly.)

(She is followed in by Mr. Ben Dixon and Primrose Deane. Mr. Ben Dixon is an unctuous, plausible, smiling old humbug. He is dressed with the nicest regard to ostentatious respectability. Primrose is a sweet, childish girl.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

So we have run you to earth at last, you young rogues. (He kisses Nelly and introduces her to Primrose.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Run them to earth! Run them to air you mean. (Referring to Tea's proffered hand.) Lord help the boy, I don't want that. I want a kiss. What's the good of being an aunt if you can't kiss your good-looking young nephews? (Embraces him.) Oh, I am cross with you. I'm going to tell you both what I think of you as soon as I get my breath back.

NELLY MORRIS.

Don't be angry, aunt. We were only waiting for Ted to pass.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Pass what? The Bankruptcy Court?

NELLY MORRIS.

No; his final examination. He's nearly a full-blown surgeon.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

What! Ted going in for doctoring!

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Standing before the fire.) A noble and useful profession! Also, I believe, exceedingly remunerative.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

And one which atones for its folly in assisting people into the world by its efficacy in assisting them out of it again.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh, do you be quiet, Theo; I got you to go on in front on purpose that you should have a quiet twenty minutes' talk all to yourself, and so give us a chance when we came.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

All right, mater—all right, if you think this is your scene, I'll talk aside up stage Right. There's not room for the two of us I know.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(To Nelly.) Wonderful boy that, if only he wouldn't fancy that God Almighty made the universe just to hear what he would say about it. (Nelly laughs.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, I think it must be so beautiful to be a doctor, and to help people in pain and sickness. I should so like to be a nurse.

TED MORRIS.

I'm sure you'd make a very sweet and helpful one.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Well, I must say they are very becoming, those bonnets. I thought of it myself when I was a girl. It was a toss up at one time between that and the skipping-rope.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Ahem—my dear.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Well, everybody here knows all about it—except this young man—I—— (Looking at Jack.)

TED MORRIS.

My chum, Jack Medbury—an artist, aunt.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

An artiste? I—I'm glad to meet you, young man. What's your line?

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh—oh, I paint, you know,

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh, that! Ah, well, they're all good of their kind. And now when are you young folks coming down to see me? Some country air in your lungs, and some good food in your stomachs won't do either of you any harm, I should say from the look of you.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Yes, you must come down to us. Come and spend a—an afternoon.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

An afternoon! Bless the man, I want them for a month.

TED MORRIS.

It's awfully good of you, aunt, but the exam's in six weeks. I daren't leave my work.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Well, bring it with you, can't you?

TED MORRIS.

No, aunt. You see it isn't only studying. I must attend the hospital. I want practice.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Practice! Well, there's all the village for you to practice on. Why it will be just what they'll love. Medicine given away gratis and no questions asked.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Oh, you must come. I insist upon it, and you know you really owe me something, you young people, for all the terrible anxiety your money affairs have caused me.

TED MORRIS.

Oh, I'm sorry they've done that.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Ah, my dear Edward, I can never tell you the agony of mind the loss of that £4,000 has given me.

TED MORRIS.

Yes, it annoyed us a bit.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Ah, yes, that was natural. It was your money. But it was no business of mine at all, and yet, ah, how I've suffered.

NELLY MORRIS.

Ah, well, you meant for the best, uncle. Don't fret about it.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

We must make it up to them you know, Ben. We must look after them a bit and help them.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I'm sure I shall always feel it my duty to give them the very best advice in my power.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, and I guess we'll supplement that by something a little more useful. Don't you fear about that, young folks.

TED MORRIS.

It's very good of you, aunt. I know you mean kindly

—both of you, but——(Puts his arm round Nelly,)

Nelly and I have fought the worst of this fight by ourselves, and— we'll win it or lose it alone.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He shakes Ted by the hand.) A noble resolution. You are a brave boy. I admire you for it. (Aside.) I hope he'll stick to it.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ah, you're your father's boy, Ted—both of you—but while you're sticking up for your independence don't you forget my rights. I am your aunt. I loved your poor dead mother, and I've a right to love her two headstrong young brats, and I'm going to do it. (There is the slightest suggestion of tears in her voice by this time.)

NELLY MORRIS.

I'm sure we both want you to, aunt. Ted didn't mean that, he didn't. Did you, Ted?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

All the same to me, my dear, if he did. I can be as obstinate as he can. Your Aunt Bella's going to be your friend, and you can just lump it or like it—both of you.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Still you know, my dear, an independent spirit is a beautiful trait in anyone. I really don't think we ought to do anything to undermine it.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ah, your solicitors didn't talk like that to mine, Ben, when our marriage settlements were being discussed.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(To Ted.) Ah, that's the worst of women. They will always drag in the personal element.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Now come, Ted. Don't you be an unkind nephew to your old aunt just because she's got no chicks of her own and wants to love you.

TED MORRIS.

You're a dear good soul, aunt. Let me come down for a day or two and bring my books with me—and if ever I do want help from anyone—why—why, you know I should rather take it from you than from anybody else.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Aside, disgusted.) I thought he wouldn't stick to it.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ah, well, come, that's a bit more sensible. Mind you come as soon as you can, and stop as long as you can, and as for any bit of help, lad, to start you, why you could make that up to a couple of broken-down invalids like Ben and me in less than a year, what with physic and stuff.

TED MORRIS.

(Laughs.) I shall be sorry for my practice if my patients all look like you, aunt.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ah, that's like you all. I get no sympathy. (Glances round to Jack, and then draws Ted aside.) Ted, that artist chum of yours looks as if a change would do him good. Do you think he'd like to come?

TED MORRIS.

I—(puts his arm round Nelly)—I think he'd like to be where Nelly was.

(Nelly, with an alarmed, troubled look, slips out of the room almost unnoticed).

MRS. BEN DIXON.

No!

TED MORRIS.

Yes; another good-looking young nephew for you to kiss, aunt.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Don't you be impudent! That's the worst of it, when we poor women allow you young men any liberties, you get so saucy over it. Are they engaged?

TED MORRIS.

Not yet—not formally, you know, but——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Nods.) So much the better. We'll have him down, and then I can judge him for myself. Mr. Medbury.

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes? (He comes to her.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Will you come down and spend a week at our place in the country? Ted and Nelly will be coming. Come with them.

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh—Oh, thanks. I shall be delighted.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That's right. I shall expect you. Do you do portraits?

I try to.

JACK MEDBURY.
TED MORRIS.

It's his leading line, aunt.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Good. Bring your props with you, and paint me a portrait of Nelly. Will you?

JACK MORRIS.

With the greatest pleasure imaginable. It will be a labour of love.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh no, it won't. It will be a fifty pound job, or I shan't have it. Is it a bargain?

JACK MEDBURY.

(Laughs). Very well. I won't beat you down. You shall have your own terms, and—thank you very much.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Not at all. It will be very cheap at the price, I know. (Crosses L. to Ben Dixon.) Well, I've asked them all down, Ben.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Yes, I thought you would, my dear. I hope they've all accepted.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh yes, they're all coming.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Oh, that is nice. Are you ready to go now, dear, or do you think there might be anybody else about the place you'd like to——

(Cherry knocks at door. Ted goes up and opens it.)

ADAM CHERRY.

May I—— Oh, oh! I beg pardon. I didn't know you had anyone here. I——— (He is about to retire.)

TED MORRIS.

Come on in, Mr. Cherry, come on in—the more the merrier. We've got a regular reception on. Aunt, let me introduce you to——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(She and Cherry, the moment they see each other, stand aghast.)

Don't tell me it's Adam Cherry!

ADAM CHERRY.

It isn't—it isn't Sylvia!

MR. BEN DIXON.

Certainly not. You are quite right, my dear sir, it is not. That lady is buried.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Not yet, Ben. Don't you get anticipating history to that extent.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I mean, my dear, that she is sunk in Mrs. Ben Dixon.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, it is a bit of a come down. (Mr. Ben Dixon, crestfallen, retires to the fire.) Well, I am glad to see you. Why, you don't seem to have altered a day. Bless the man, you look quite young. (Cherry chuckles and plumes himself. She puts up her glass and examines him). Until one looks into you a bit. (He coughs drily). Well, and what have you been doing with yourself all these years?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, I gave up the stage, you know, when I came into my aunt's money.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Um! Well, I think it was a good thing for both of you. You never were much good at it, you know, Adam.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, perhaps not—perhaps not.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

You never had the legs for it. It's no good saying——

ADAM CHERRY.

Legs are not everything.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

No, but they make a good foundation. Lord, I shall never forget the first night of that burlesque when you played Apollo to my Terps. You wore three pairs of tights, one over the other, and the underneath ones worked up into rucks. (Cherry laughs uncomfortably.) And the gallery told you to go home and get yourself ironed. (Laughs.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Aside to Theodore.) Now we shall have reminiscences of all your step-mother's early life.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Ah, well, it might be worse, Ben. It might be your own.

ADAM CHERRY.

I heard of your second marriage.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ah, yes; bad news travels fast, they say.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Looking over at Ben Dixon.) But, you know, somehow or other, I pictured such a different sort of man.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, so did I. (Leaning over and speaking confidentially.) An inordinate craving for respectability has been the ruin of me. Don't you ever give way to it. (Cherry looks puzzled.) You see, Travers——

ADAM CHERRY.

Your first?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

My première. He was a bit wild, and when he died, poor man, and left me with a pot of money, I said to myself, "Now, Belinda Travers, nee Greggs, you've lived long enough in Bohemia. We'll just go in now for respectability; none of your mere Kensington or Hampstead sort, but the downright solid stuff." And so I just set to work to look for respectability, and (with a motion towards Ben Dixon) I found that! (Looks across at him. He is standing in a beautiful attitude, beaming, his hands folded together, talking to Nelly.) That's not a respectable man. That's potted respectability. They must have boiled down a church to make that. I never thought that there was so much respectability in the world. I'd never come across so much before, all at one time.

ADAM CHERRY.

And how do you like it?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I don't like it. There's too much of it for me. I ought to have begun with small doses. My system can't stand it. I live in an atmosphere of respectability, and it's killing me. I never go anywhere that isn't respectable. I never do anything that isn't respectable. Until this blessed moment I haven't set eyes on anyone who isn't respectable.

ADAM CHERRY.

It must be very monotonous.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Monotonous! It's suffocating! (Suddenly.) Cherry, you always were a good sort. You said you loved me once.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Alarmed) It was a long time ago, Belinda.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I know it—fifteen years, if it's a day—but you can't have ceased to care for me altogether. Come and help me now. I'm going to the good man as fast as ever I can. For old love's sake come and hold me back a bit. Come down and spend a week with me. Come down and let me talk to you about the days when you and I and the rest of the crowd used to have sheep's-head suppers sent round from the local tripe-shop, and sit up till four o'clock in the morning, playing penny nap.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, they were jolly times, those, after all. Do you remember your first cigar?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That's it—that's it! That's the sort of thing I want to remember. That's the sort of thing I want to talk to you about. Will you come?

ADAM CHERRY.

Why, of course I will. Shall enjoy it. Where are you, and when shall—— (Knock heard at door).

TED MORRIS.

(Who has been talking to Primrose.) Come in.

(Enter a waiter carrying a tray on which are two champagne bottles and some glasses.)

WAITER.

(At door.) Meester Sherry?

TED MORRIS.

Yes, he's here—but this is not his room.

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, it's all right, my dear Ted. (To waiter.) Yes, yes, put them down. I'll explain—I'll explain.

WAITER.

(Putting down tray on table.) Shall I open zem, zir?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes. And have you a few more glasses, Ted? I—I didn't know your friends would be here. They are all friends, aren't they?

TED MORRIS.

Some of them—the others are relations.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, yes, that will be all right then. All the better—all the better. Where's Nelly?

TED MORRIS.

Nelly? Oh——

MR. BEN DIXON.

Oh, she's just gone to fetch an atlas. I'm explaining a mission route to her. She'll be back in an instant.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah! (Aside to Ted.) Has—has she told you anything?

TED MORRIS.

What about?

ADAM CHERRY.

(With a chuckle.) Ah, evidently not. Never mind, never mind. (Waves Ted away. Ted goes to cupboard to get glasses. The first cork goes "pop.")

JACK MEDBURY.

(Who has been talking to Theodore.) What's up? Another birthday?

TED MORRIS.

Mr. Cherry has a birthday about once a month, and we help him to celebrate it.

ADAM CHERRY.

No, no; now you are exaggerating, my dear boy. The last occasion was the anniversary of my poor aunt's death. (The second bottle pops.) You know I told you so.

JACK MED BURY.

We had a very jolly dinner over it.

(The waiter goes out.)

ADAM CHERRY.

But this—this, my dear Ted, is to celebrate something very much more important than—than anything we have celebrated before.

JACK MEDBURY.

More important than birth or death?

ADAM CHERRY.

Very much. Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends, all of you, I want—I want you to drink to a—to a wedding.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

A wedding! What! Not your own?

ADAM CHERRY.

Why not, Bella? Why not?

TED MORRIS.

What, Cherry going to get married?

JACK MEDBURY.

Good luck to you, my boy. Good luck to you. Quite right. (He says this heartily and goes on laughing and talking to Theodore.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Who's the bride?

ADAM CHERRY.

The—the niece, Mrs. Ben Dixon, of a—of a most charming aunt. The sister of a brave, clever young friend of mine—the sweetest lady in the land—Miss Nelly Morris.

(Nelly has re-entered and stands L. near door. Jack gives a half-suppressed cry of "Nell!" and a start. No one notices this but Theodore, but he notices it very clearly.)

TED MORRIS.

Nelly! Is this true, Nelly?

NELLY MORRIS.

(She crosses and stands by Cherry. She is deadly pale and quiet.) Quite true. (As she says this she gives one look over to Jack and then turns away. Jack looks at her and the glass in his hand trembles. Theodore notices all these things. He looks from Jack to Nelly, then back to Jack. Then he covertly takes a pencil from his pocket, draws his cuff down and writes.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(After a rather awkward pause.) It's—it's a bit of a surprise for you all.

MR. BEN DIXON.

A very pleasant one, Mr. Cherry. I am delighted—delighted. (Aside.) He'll take them both off our hands now— really quite providential.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Coming forward and taking Nelly's hands.) I do so hope you will be happy, dear. You often hear of these sort of things turning out quite well, and—and——

NELLY MORRIS.

(Smiling and kissing her.) Thank you, dear.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Very interesting; quite worth the stairs.

MRS. KEN DIXON.

(Aside to him.) I believe you'd make notes at your dearest friend's death-bed!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Why not? It couldn't hurt him, and might amuse other people. Well, may all the joys of the world be yours, young people. Bless you both. (He drinks.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Rising.) May the Lord help you both. Ben, if you're ready, we'll go.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Quite ready, my dear.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(To Nelly.) Good-bye, my dear. (Kisses her.) You and I must have a long chat when you come down. Goodbye, Ted. This is what comes of your hiding yourself to starve away from your old aunt. Good-bye, Mr. Medbury. Good-bye, Cherry. Go on, Prim. (Primrose goes out) I want to get out of this and have a think. It's old fools and young fools all making fools of themselves together here. (She goes out.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(To Cherry.) We are both charmed, my dear sir, charmed. I shall feel now that there is someone to look after them, and see that they never want for anything. I can't tell you what a relief it is to me. Good-bye, good-bye. (He follows out.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Well, good-bye, good-bye all. I'll look you up again soon. Shall be interested to know how you all get on. (He goes out.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(To Nelly.) You didn't mind my telling it, did you, dear? It had to come out sooner or later of course. You—you're not vexed?

NELLY MORRIS.

No, Mr. Ch—Adam. Of course not.

ADAM CHERRY.

I felt as if I could not believe it myself till everybody else knew it. (To Jack.) Jack you haven't congratulated me.

JACK MEDBURY.

You have every reason to be congratulated, Mr. Cherry, I'm sure. (Aside to Nelly.) I understand, Nell. Don't worry about me. It will make me paint all the better. (Aside to Ted as he goes out.) Try and forget all that nonsense I talked to you, Ted. It's better as it is. Poor devils like you and I have no business to indulge in such luxuries as love, and I shall—— Goodbye, old fellow. (Grips Ted's hand and goes out.)

ADAM CHERRY.

And now, my dear Ted, that we are alone——

TED MORRIS.

I would rather be still more alone, Mr. Cherry, if you don't mind. Forgive me, but I want to talk to Nelly about this thing. It's rather taken me by surprise.

ADAM CHERRY.

Certainly, my dear boy. Certainly—very natural. I'll go. You and Nelly will come down and dine with me this evening, won't you, and we'll have a talk then.

TED MORRIS.

Thank you. I'll let you know.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah yes. Do; do. (To Nelly.) Au revoir, my dear. Good-bye, Ted. Good-bye. (Goes out.)

TED MORRIS.

(He closes the door, and then returns. Nelly has gone to mantelpiece. He comes to her, and, putting his hands on her shoulders, speaks very gently.) You've done this for me, little woman, but it must not be, dear. Do you think that if I wouldn't ask dear old Aunt Bella for help that I'd take it for this price?

NELLY MORRIS.

One has a right to take what one has paid for. The price has been given.

TED MORRIS.

No, dear, only promised—by someone who did not know the value of what she was offering. You must let me cancel the bargain, Nell. It was a bad one to make—in every sense of the word.

NELLY MORRIS.

Perhaps. But bad bargains have to be kept when made, as well as good ones. Don't let us talk about it any more, dear. The thing's done now. It cannot be undone.

TED MORRIS.

Yes it can, Nell, and must. It makes it a little awkward, his having announced it in that ridiculous theatrical way, but when I tell him everything. When I tell him that you love dear old Jack——

NELLY MORRIS.

But you never will do that, Ted—for my sake—for all our sakes.

TED MORRIS.

You must get out of it somehow, Nell.

NELLY MORRIS.

I cannot. I do not wish to. I have pledged my word, and I'll keep it. Come, it isn't so very terrible (with a smile). I'm not the first girl, dear, who's had to say good bye to an impracticable little romance, and take the sober reality offered her by an elderly gentleman. He is a gentleman, Ted, and he's very fond of me I know, and I shall try and make him a good wife. (Puts her hands on Ted's shoulders.) It's a grey old world, brother. We must be content with grey lives.

TED MORRIS.

Nell, Nell, I won't have it. You are sacrificing yourself—you are sacrificing Jack—and all for me. I won't let you do it. Let me go down and see Cherry now, and end the matter at once. (Breaking away from her)

NELLY MORRIS.

(Staying him) Please don't, Ted. You are only making it harder for me.

TED MORRIS.

Nelly, what an obstinate little thing you are. (With a gesture of impatience) Do look at the thing reasonably. You've made a rash promise, that the next moment you regret.

NELLY MORRIS.

I do not regret it. (Ted stares at her.) Listen to me. Ted. When Adam Cherry asked me to marry him to let him make our lives smooth, I thought of you.

TED MORRIS.

I know. That's——

NELLY MORRIS.

(Checking him.) And of myself. (A pause.) I'm tired of this life, Ted. I'm tired of living in an attic. I'm tired of being ashamed to go out into the streets until it's dark because of my clothes. I'm tired of feeling hungry. It's such a vulgar feeling. We have no one to help us. You talk about aunt. You know that man has all her money, and he's not likely to let us have any of it—even if we cared to take it. As for Jack—poor boy—what could he give me? What could I bring him but the same weary sordid struggle? (She puts her arms about him.) Don't be shocked at me, old boy. I used to have plenty of sentiment, as you know, but somehow it doesn't thrive on ten shillings a week. (She moves away a few steps. Then pausings turns to him, stretching out her arms to him.) Are you very angry with me, Ted?

TED MORRIS.

(He does not turn to her, but goes to the window and stands looking out)

No, dear. Only a little disappointed.

(Nelly stands thus for a moment, then takes the empty glasses from the table and crosses with them towards the cupboard.)

Curtain.








THE SECOND ACT.

A large sunny drawing-room, handsomely and somewhat showily furnished, opening on garden. Adam Cherry and Mr. Ben Dixon are sitting talking.

MR. BEN DIXON.

You see, my dear sir, this is not an ordinary worldly speculation. We are promoting this company—myself and a few Christian friends—not merely to earn an income for our shareholders—though that we shall do, Mr. Cherry, that we shall do—but also to benefit humanity at large. Think, Mr. Cherry, what a grand thing it will be to be helping the good cause—to be doing good among one's fellow-creatures—and at a profit, Mr. Cherry—at a very handsome profit—that's the beauty of the scheme. Mr. Cherry, as a man not altogether inexperienced in these matters, I say that never—never before has such an opportunity been presented to the investing public of combining the earthly comfort of a certain 15 per cent, dividend with the ennobling—I say the ennobling—satisfaction of furthering the cause of Heaven.

ADAM CHERRY.

Well, to be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Ben Dixon, I am thinking more of the earthly than of the heavenly part of it. I hope I try to do my bit of good in the world, but I never mix the two things up. When I invest my money, what I think about is the return.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Quite right, Mr. Cherry, quite right. We—myself and the other directors—are, perhaps, a little too etherial in these matters. We need among us such a man as yourself, Mr. Cherry—you will join our hoard, Mr. Cherry? You will give us the benefit of your experience— of your grasp of business?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Pleased.) Well, if you really think I could be of any help——

MR. BEN DIXON.

Think it! My dear sir, you are the very man we want. I think, Mr. Cherry—I think you suggested put-ting £8,000 into the affair?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, Mr. Ben Dixon. It is a big sum for me. In fact—in fact, it represents nearly all my savings. But the scheme seems a very safe one.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Mr. Cherry do you think that I would allow you to put your money in this thing if I did not know that it was safe? How can we fail! We have the Lord Mayor. (Confidentially.) I am even in hopes of having the Archbishop of Canterbury. Besides, look at the scheme itself. We buy up and amalgamate all the leading manufactories of temperance drinks throughout the kingdom. My dear sir, do you know the amount that is spent every year in this country on lemonade and ginger-beer alone?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, I am quite with you, Mr. Ben Dixon. The business ought to be a good one.

MR. BEN DIXON.

It is a good one. It shall be a better one. Mr. Cherry, in a few years' time we shall not be earning our 15 per cent., no, nor our 30 per cent., but our 100 per cent., and you shall be with us. Here, Mr. Cherry, is an application form. (He has put it all ready.) I will make it a personal matter that the full number of shares shall be allotted to you.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Who has risen, comes to desk. Ben Dixon puts a pen into his hand. He hesitates.) They—they do say one should not put all one's eggs into one basket.

MR. BEN DIXON.

It depends upon the basket I suppose. I should say it would be better to put them all into one sound basket than in half-a-dozen risky ones. (Laughs.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, that's quite right—quite right. You see I do want a big dividend.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Of course you do—we all do—I mean it is very natural for you to do so.

ADAM CHERRY.

Of course, before it did not matter. But now, Mr. Ben Dixon—now that I'm going to be married I wish if possible to be able to retire from business altogether, and that, of course, with my small capital I could not do unless—

MR. PEN DIXON.

(Stopping him.) Mr. Cherry, I will be frank with you. You speak of the very matter that has been in my mind. If you had come to us two or three months ago, and had asked for these shares I should have said "No." I should have said to my brother directors: This is a safe and brilliant scheme, let us keep it to ourselves. Why should we admit this man among us? Let him be content with his two and a half Goschens, his three per cent, debentures. But now, Mr. Cherry, I think of Nelly—my dear little Nelly—and I say, "Come." Come and share with us. That is the line for signature, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

I have every confidence, Mr. Ben Dixon, both in you and the scheme. (Signs). Adam Cherry.

MR. PEN DIXON.

(Blots paper and takes it up and examines it.) Let me see. The full amount is payable on allotment. Shall we telegraph your brokers at the same time?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh yes—perhaps that will be the simplest way (takes form which Ben Dixon hands to him, and writes.) Yes, I'll do so.

MR. BEN DIXON.

It doesn't matter, you know—doesn't matter at all. I will make myself responsible for the amount if it's any convenience to you, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

May just as well settle the matter now and have done with it. (Finishes telegram.) That will fix it all right I think.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He has folded up the application and has placed it in one of the stamped directed envelopes he has ready. He now crosses and takes telegram and looks at it.) Ah, one can always tell the man of business, Mr. Cherry—one can always tell the man of business. (Ben Dixon has previously rung, and now a footman enters.) Take this letter to the post at once, and send this telegram off at the same time. Don't stop for anything.

FOOTMAN.

Yes, sir. (Goes out.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Well, you don't want me any more I suppose, Mr. Ben Dixon? I think I'll take a stroll in your pleasant garden.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Do, Mr. Cherry, do. (Glances out of window. Then turns and shakes his finger playfully at Adam Cherry.) Ah, you rogue—you rogue. I think I see what makes that garden so particularly pleasant just at this moment —Eh?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Chuckling.) Well, I——

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Pushes him towards windows.) Run along to her,

Mr. Cherry. Run along, I don't believe you are a day older than five-and-twenty.

ADAM CHERRY.

A little—little—I'm afraid.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Don't believe it. I don't believe it. (Cherry goes out, laughing. Ben Dixon watches him out, and then turns round again. He says nothing, but his face expresses his huge satisfaction.)

(Enter Theodore Travers.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

Ah, my dear boy, so you've come down to see the old folks again—come back to the old nest.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Well, you've done it, Ben.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Done what?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

You are famous at last. You've beaten me. I'm not in it with you this week.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I have for some time enjoyed a certain reputation, I believe.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Among the few that really knew you, yes. Spreading; that's the awkward part of it.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Wh—what do you mean? (Beginning to grow anxious.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Have you seen The Illustrated Police News this week?

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear Theodore, you know I do not countenance such publications.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Um! You've countenanced it this time right enough. (Takes "Illustrated Police News" from his pocket, and, opening it, holds it up.) "The Councillor and the Strong Woman. Amusing Scene at the Aquarium."

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Aghast.) Oh, my——

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Fixing paper in front of fable.) It's such an excellent likeness of you, too. I've had friends of mine in this thing before, but it's never been a bit like 'em. This is a genuine portrait of you. No one could mistake it.

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear Theodore, I can explain—I can explain everything.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

You generally can. The question is, step-father, will anybody believe you?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Let me tell you the truth.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Don't you waste time, Ben, I know it. You set to work and invent a plausible lie before the mater finds out about it.

MR. BEN DIXON.

No, no, my dear boy. You must hear me. It—it was this way. It was the last day we were in town. I started to go to Exeter Hall.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes—many do.

MR. BEN DIXON

But passing the Aquarium, it—it occurred to me——

THEODORE TRAVERS.

That it was a much more attractive place.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Virtuously.) No, Theo—that it was my duty as a member of the National Vigilance Society to look in and see if—if——

THEODORE TRAVERS.

If something could not be found out against it.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Precisely. I stopped the cab and went in. I mingled with the godless throng. I even sacrificed myself so far as to speak to one or two of them.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Ladies?

MR. BEN DIXON.

They may have been. I stood them drinks—if that be the correct expression. Not to excite suspicion, I even sipped a little here and there myself. I endeavoured to acquire the spirit of the place.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

From all accounts, you did so to a pretty considerable extent.

MR. BEN DIXON.

It was necessary to my purpose. I went from bar to bar accumulating material. The case was almost complete. Thinking I had had enough—done enough for one evening, I was about to leave when somebody—who said he was a friend of mine—suggested that we should go "behind the scenes." He introduced me to a not unprepossessing young woman, whom he described as the "Female Hercules." I was on the point of putting a few questions to her, when all of a sudden a strange feeling of dizziness came over me. To save myself from falling, I flung out my arms—as any man might have done—and caught hold of the thing nearest to me. Unfortunately, it was the Hercules lady. Mistaking my action, she took me up, and, before I could explain matters, carried me out, and deposited me in the main transept.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(He again takes up the paper.) The artist represents her as assisting you by the scruff of the neck, and other things.

MR. BEN DIXON.

It may have been so. I was too much upset to notice details.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

And then the Aquarium attendants completed the business by chucking you out into the street.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I deny it. I was not chucked. 'They perceived that I was unwell, and led me out into the air.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Where my excellent friend, the door-keeper at the Hanoverian, found you putting pennies into a life boat box and trying to get out cigarettes. Ben, that explanation's too thin. I expected something better from you.

MR. BEN DIXON.

You—you don't think it will do?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Afraid not.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Perhaps you are right, Theo. The world is ever prone to think evil.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes; you see it's had a good deal of experience, Ben.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Dear me, it's a very awkward affair—very awkward. Does it mention the name?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

No. Merely refers to you as "a certain guardian of the public morals." (Looking at the picture again.) Hardly any need to put the name in this case. It would be an insult to the artist.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Looking over his shoulder.) It is like me. I can see that myself.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

They've even got your smile.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Don't gloat, my boy; don't gloat over it.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

I won't. It is hard lines on you. (Throws paper down on easy-chair.) What will you do?

MR. BEN DIXON.

I don't know. I must think. I wonder if your stepmother's seen it?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Some friend of yours will send it to her, you bet.

MR. BEN DIX N.

It may not be noticed. You see, fortunately, it is not a paper that circulates much in religious circles.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Not as a rule. This week will probably be an exception.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I wish you wouldn't harp so on the gloomy side of it, Theo. We will put our trust in Providence.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

I should. I've noticed that it's generally on the side of the rogues. (Strolls towards window.) Don't let the thing lie about. Where's the mater? (Ben Dixon does not answer.) In the garden?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Yes—no. I don't know—I don't know where she is.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Poor old Ben! (Goes out into garden.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

If this gets about I'm done for. What can I do? If it only weren't such a good likeness, or if there was only another member of the Vigilance Society something like me I might put it on to him.

(Mrs. Ben Dixon has entered. She has sat down, without noticing it, on the paper in arm-chair.)

I do hope Belinda won't—— (Turns round and sees Mrs. Ben Dixon.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I want a business chat with you, Ben.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Where's that paper? (Looks frantically about for the paper.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

What's the matter? Lost anything?

MR. BEN DIXON.

No, oh no, my dear, nothing at all. (Aside.) Did he take it with him—or is she sitting on it?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I want something settled about Ted and Nelly.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Certainly, my dear, certainly. Won't you sit over here, my dear? That chair looks so uncomfortable.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

The chair's all right. It's you who seem to be uncomfortable. (Looks round and sees him leaning over the back of the chair looking down into it.) What is it? Am I sitting on anything? (About to rise.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Rather alarmed.) No, my dear, nothing whatever. Don't you rise. It's all right. You were speaking about those dear children, Ted and Nelly?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Difficult to remember what one is talking about with you pirouetting all over the place like a pantomime fairy. I wanted to talk to you about what we could do for them.

They are going back to-morrow morning, and—— (He peers under the table for the paper.) I'll tell you what it is, Ben, you are doing too much work on that Vigilance Association. It's sapping your brain. Do give the world a rest. Let it go wrong for a bit if it wants to.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I wish I could, my dear. I worry myself too much about others, I know.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, and I expect that's what the others think too. This is a case where you can trouble yourself about other folks to some advantage—to them. We must do something for those children, Ben. It was your fault they lost their money. We must see that they get some thing back again.

MR. BEN DIXON.

But, you see, my dear, they are both so proud. To offer them help would only be to wound them. We should never, Belinda, do anything to wound the susceptibilities of others.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Growing irritable.) I shall do something that will wound yours, Ben, in a minute, if you've got any. There are more ways of offering people help than by slapping them in the face with it. If the thing's done in the right spirit they won't refuse it. I'll see to that.

MR. BEN DIXON.

But, my dear, why should we interfere at all? Dear Mr. Cherry is only too anxious to help them. Why should we deprive that worthy man of the exquisite pleasure of assisting them? My dear, we have no right to —it's his first call—I mean his privilege——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ben, you're either a fool or you're pretending to be one. What do you think induced that girl to accept him?

MR. BEN DIXON.

The usual thing, I suppose, my dear. Love that comes to——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Fiddlesticks! Girls of nineteen don't marry men of fifty-five for love.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Forty-three, my dear. He told me so himself.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Forty-three, and the rest. I'm not a chicken, and he wore his own beard when he played Macbeth to my child's head. He's fifty-five if he's a day, and she's accepted him because they were both starving—small blame to her for it. What we've got to do is to lift them out of this poverty and give them a start, and then there'll be no need for the poor girl to sacrifice herself.

MR. BEN DIXON.

But think of Mr. Cherry.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh, Cherry's an old fool, as good and kind a one as ever lived—that's better than some of them are—but an old fool all the same. Now come, Ben, I'm going to do my duty by poor dead Hetty's bairns, and you've got to help me. If they were cannibals or converted acrobats with no claim upon you whatever, you'd be eager enough to.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Precisely so, my dear. That is just it. You see, a public philanthropist has no right to indulge in private charities. He is meant for all alike. He embraces mankind. I embrace mankind. You find me two hundred poor medical students with their sisters, needing assistance, and I shall be delighted to receive subscriptions on their behalf. (Aside.) Oh, he must have taken it with him.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I don't doubt it. In this case, you're going to give something to one poor medical student. The other 199 you can find for yourself.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Belinda, I cannot. It grieves me, but I cannot depart from my principles. Charity should be like the sun——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yours is, Ben. We hear a good deal about it, but don't often see it. We won't argue the matter. My mind's made up. I want £4,000.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Then I'm very much afraid, my dear, you will have to do what a great many other people who want money have to do.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Do you mean, Ben, that you won't let me have it?

MR. BEN DIXON.

I mean, my dear, I cannot.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

What have you done—blued the lot?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Belinda, your vulgar expressions pain me. There is no need to be violent. Your own little fortune is undoubtedly somewhat involved, but so long as I have a crust——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I don't want your crusts. I want to know what you've done with all my money. There was a tidy bit of it, and you've had the entire control of it—more fool me. What have you done with it?

MR. BEN DIXON.

I manipulated it, my dear, to the best of my poor ability. Unfortunately, Heaven has not——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh! drop that. I'm tired of your Heaven. It's enough to set anyone against the place always hearing of it in your company. Let's understand the thing plainly. Haven't I got a penny of my own?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that, my dear, but——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

But not much more, I expect. Oh, you villain! You

old—— (He has been standing in one of his customary stained-glass attitudes close to door. Mrs. Ben Dixon with her last sentence rises as if to come to him. In an instant he slips through door, and closes it behind him softly.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

It serves me right. It serves me right. (Enter Primrose from window.) Oh, my dear child, don't you ever marry. It's only your money they want to get hold of.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, I'm sure he doesn't.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

He! Lord help the child, you haven't done it already, have you?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Confused.) Oh no—no—I—I meant——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Don't trust him. Don't trust any of 'em. Have it all settled on yourself, and keep your own eye on it. Oh, to think what a fool I've been!

(Nelly has entered, followed by Cherry.)

NELLY MORRIS.

What's the matter, aunt? You're worried about something?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Worried! I'm not worried. I'm mad!

NELLY MORRIS.

What's wrong, aunt?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

What's wrong! Ask what's right! That's the shortest question to answer. Oh, my dear child, your uncle's a villain, and I'm a born idiot, and everything's going wrong for everybody, and I can't help anybody. (Leans on Nelly's shoulder and begins to half cry.)

NELLY MORRIS.

What is it, auntie, dear?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Don't ask me, my dear. Don't anybody ask me anything. I can't tell you. Oh that Belinda Greggs could ever develop into such a first prize fool!

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(She has been sitting on arm of easy-chair, and has taken up the paper) Oh, here's a portrait of Mr. Ben Dixon.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Glances round and sees a paper in Primrose's hand) What in? The Young Man's Christian Herald, I suppose, under the heading of "Shining Lights"?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No—no, it's (reading) The Illustrated Police News.

The what?

MRS. BEN DIXON.
NELLY MORRIS.

Oh, impossible, Primrose, you must——

(Takes the paper and suddenly becomes silent)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Snatches it from Nelly, looks at it, then crosses over to Cherry) Cherry, what do you make of this?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Takes paper and reads) "The Councillor and the Strong Woman." The—the gentleman is certainly very much like him.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

The whole thing is like him.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(To Nelly.) Do you think it is Mr. Ben Dixon?

NELLY MORRIS.

I can't say. I didn't look at it very closely. Come upstairs, dear, and show me your new hat, will you?

(The two girls go off talking.)

ADAM CHERRY.

It can't be, you know.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

But there he is. What does it say about it?

ADAM CHERRY.

"The Councillor at the Aquarium. A shameful spectacle (see illustration) was witnessed by our artist at the Aquarium on Monday evening last. A certain guardian of the public morals, well known as a philanthropist, and a member of the Vigilance Society——"

MRS. BEN DIXON

That's Ben right enough. There can't be two of 'em. Go on.

ADAM CHERRY

"Appears to have thought fit to visit this place of entertainment on the evening in question. Not content with insulting various respectable people among the audience, he proceeded, in company with his degraded companions, to force his way behind the scenes. There, meeting Mdlle. Bruno, the Female Hercules, and pretending to recognise her as his long-lost cousin, he immediately threw his arms around the lady's neck, and endeavoured to kiss her. Fortunately, Mdlle. Bruno is a lady well able to protect herself. Taking the villain up by the collar of his coat and the——— (Sinks his voice.) she promptly carried him out and handed him over to the Aquarium officials, who finally rid the building of his presence by the simple but effective process known as chucking. We trust that——"

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That will do. That's enough. I wonder if I'm going to find out anything more about him to-day?

ADAM CHERRY.

It's impossible. There's been a mistake.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

There has been, and I'm the poor ninny that's made it.

ADAM CHERRY.

If anyone had asked me for my ideal of respectability—

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Respectability! Man alive, don't talk about it. The very sound of the word makes me ill. It's been my curse from a child. I refused to play hopscotch at eight years old because I thought it wasn't respectable, and went sliding instead and was nearly drowned. It was I who persuaded poor father to give up the fried-fish shop because fried fish wasn't respectable, and he went into oysters and ruined himself in a year. I was earning twenty pounds a week at the Halls, and what did I do? Threw it up and went on the stage as principal boy at five pounds—all to be respectable. And then the stage wasn't respectable enough for me, so I married Travers, and he wasn't respectable enough for me. And what has it all ended in? What has this insatiable craving for respectability brought me to? Why, I'm the wife of a man who has been chucked—chucked from the Aquarium.

ADAM CHERRY

It is certainly very disappointing

MRS. BEN DIXON.

And that's not all.

ADAM CHERRY

What! Has he been chucked from somewhere else too?

MRS. BEN DIXON

No—at least, not that I know of. I mean that's not the worst that I've found out. I couldn't tell that poor child, but, Cherry, I'm ruined. He's swindled me out of all my fortune—all the money that Travers left me. I haven't a penny left to call my own.

ADAM CHERRY.

Belinda! For Heaven's sake don't say he's a swindler.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Why not? He is my own husband. I suppose I can say what I like about him. Let's have some consolation. (Noticing Cherry's distraction.) What's the matter with you?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Wildly.) He's got £8,000 of my money. Nearly all I have. I've put it all into a company of his.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Aghast.) You? Oh, why did I bring you down here? Oh, you poor lamb! Oh, what a miserable woman I am!

(Enter Theodore.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Ah, step-mater, I've been looking all over the place for you. (Noticing the open paper on the floor where Cherry has dropped it, and, taking in the facts, he looks from one to the other. Then picks up paper, folds it, and puts in his pocket.) Finding out the truth about Ben, I see. Always a very painful matter finding out the truth about people.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Theodore, your step-father's a scoundrel.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Don't put him down to me, mater. He wasn't my selection. You chose him for me.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Why did you ever let me marry him? You must have seen through him. You're the old experienced person. Why didn't you warn your poor silly step-mother? Why didn't you stop me?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

My dear Bella, if I were to advise everybody, and they were to follow my advice, the world would become so intensely sensible as to be utterly uninteresting. Besides, there's really nothing much to be upset about. You see, fortunately, the lady was a strong woman. Now, if she had been a weak one, why——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That's not all, Theodore. I could have got over that. I shouldn't have been the first woman to find out that a man's respectable only so long as he thinks you can see him. But he's ruined me, Theodore. He's lost all my money for me.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Whistles.) And found it for himself, I suppose.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That's just what I suppose too. And not content with that, he's cheated poor old Cherry here out of £8,000.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Looks across at Cherry, who is standing utterly crushed.) "The Anti-Alcoholic and Mineral Water Union, Limited?"

ADAM CHERRY.

(With a groan.) Yes, I signed the application for 200 shares not an hour ago. He said he'd see that they were allotted to me.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

I should say you could rely upon them. Are they settled for?

ADAM CHERRY.

I expect so by now. He suggested that I should telegraph to my brokers at the same time.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

And you did so? Of course, you would. (Looks at watch). Four o'clock—too late to do anything to-day. I will go up first thing to-morrow morning and see if anything can be done. Not that I expect anything can. Ben's got his failings, but he is a good business man. I'll give a look into your affairs at the same time, mater. I don't suppose you'll get anything back, but it will be interesting to find out where it's all gone to.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Rising with grunt of disgust) Ah! and to think I've got to live with it, and to call it "my dear" when company's present. I'll make up for it in private. Theo, keep an eye on me for a bit. Don't let me get at him unless you want to see me doing my six months' hard for wringing his neck. (Goes out)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

You trust him, mater. He won't let you get at him. (To Cherry) Don't let Ben see that you suspect anything, or he'll——

(Primrose appears at window)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Looking in) Come on, Theodore. I'm waiting for you.

THEODORE TRAVERS,

I know you are. You shall be rewarded anon. I've just got to talk a little business with Mr. Cherry (Puts his hand on Cherry's shoulder, and takes him towards door.) Come up to my study. We shan't be interrupted there.

It's so very kind of you.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Not at all—not at all. (Aside.) Good material for a financial novel. (They go off.)

(Primrose and Nelly come in from garden.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Nelly! something very serious is going on here. Mr. Ben Dixon's been doing something that he oughtn't.

(She sits before piano, touching the keys softly, making a faint suggestion of music here and there throughout the conversation). I'm afraid it's a common failing, dear.

Yes—but he's been doing it more than usual. I don't like that man. Ted doesn't like him either. He says he is an oily old scoundrel.

NELLY MORRIS.

Ted might speak a little more respectfully of his host.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, he's not our host. It's Mrs. Ben Dixon—and besides that was only to me, you know.

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh!

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I never could make out why Mrs. Ben Dixon married him. She's so jolly. (Musingly.) One does come across some very ill-assorted couples—very. When are you going to be married, Nelly?

NELLY MORRIS.

Very soon, I think

PRIMROSE DEANE.

May I be bridesmaid?

NELLY MORRIS.

Oh, there won't be any bridesmaids, dear, or anything of that sort. We shall just go into the church, our two selves, come out, and go away.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No breakfast?

NELLY MORRIS.

( Shakes her head and smiles.) No fuss of any kind.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No dress! No flowers! No presents! No people!

No cake! (Nell shakes her head.) How will you know that you're married?

NELLY MORRIS.

(A little bitterly.) I shall wake to the fact soon enough.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Nelly, didn't you ever have a young lover? Mr. Cherry's awfully nice and good, but you know what I mean—somebody handsome, and big, and impudent. Who—— (With a girl's quickness notices the trembling of Nelly's lip.) Was it very long ago?

NELLY MORRIS.

(Very low.) I think so—very, very long ago.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

What happened? Did you quarrel?

NELLY MORRIS.

No, dear. Only like Jamie in the ballad, he hadn't any siller and Ted and I hadn't any siller, and——

PRIMROSE DEANE.

And so you're going to marry "Auld Robin Gray." Oh, Nelly, is it too late? There's a lot of siller in the world, but there isn't much love. Is it too late, dear?

NELLY MORRIS.

Yes.

(Enter Jack, with hat and stick in hand, ushered in by servant.)

SERVANT.

Mrs. Ben Dixon won't be long, sir. (Goes out.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, Mr. Medbury! (Advances to him and shakes hands.)

JACK MEDBURY.

How d'you do, Miss Deane? (Shaking hands with Nelly, who has risen, a little constrainedly.) How are you, Miss Morris?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Mrs. Ben Dixon will be so glad to see you, I know. She was saying only this morning how sorry she was you hadn't been able to come down.

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, I'm ashamed to say I haven't come to see Mrs. Ben Dixon now. (The girls look surprised.) I've really come more to see Ted. Is he here?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Anxiously.) There's nothing happened?

JACK MEDBURY.

Nothing to do with him. It's a matter I wanted to consult him about, that's all.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I'll go and find him for you.

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh, it's a shame to trouble you.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

It's brutal, isn't it? (She goes out laughing.)

JACK MEDBURY.

(After a pause; he and Nelly seem careful not to look at one another.) How is Ted? All right?

NELLY MORRIS.

Yes, he's very much better. He seems more cheerful.

JACK MEDBURY.

Ah, yes, things are looking a bit brighter for him, I hope. Change of luck's better even than change of air for putting new life into a man, I should think.

NELLY MORRIS.

How—how are you getting on?

JACK MEDBURY.

Me? Oh, much the same as usual. I suppose I ought to be a little luckier now, if there's any truth in the old adage.

NELLY MORRIS.

(Still not looking at him—after a pause.) Jack, can you forgive me?

JACK MEDBURY.

There's nothing to forgive, Nelly.

NELLY MORRIS.

Yes there is, Jack—a lot. I've used you very badly. Any other man would hate me and despise me. But—but I don't want you to, Jack. (Leans over over her book. A pause.)

JACK MEDBURY.

There's not much fear of that, Nelly. I can never tell you—I had better not try to, perhaps—what I feel—what I shall always feel towards you. It isn't hate, Nelly. We shall be drifting farther and farther apart, out of sight of one another. Think of me—when you do think of me—as kindly as I shall ever think of you. It will be a help to me to know that you are doing so.

(Nelly has risen, and they stand facing each other. Yielding to a sudden impulse, she raises her face to his and their lips meet. Then with a low cry she pushes him from her, and goes out.)

(Enter Ted and Cherry.)

TED MORRIS.

Hulloa, Jack, old man, anything up?

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes, something rather important. I thought I'd just run down and see you about it. (Shaking hands with Cherry.) You're not looking too well, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

I'm a little worried, my dear boy—a little worried.

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh, I'm so sorry. Well, look here, I'll talk about this matter to Ted, then. I won't trouble you with it.

ADAM CHERRY.

No, dear boy; no. If it's about anybody else's worries it will help me to forget my own. What is it? Nothing wrong with you, I hope?

JACK MEDBURY.

No, it's about other people. (Commencing to take paper from his pocket.) Have you seen The Illustrated Police News this week?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Grasping what is coming.) Yes—I have. What do you know about it?

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh! Oh, nothing (unfolding paper), except that the portrait of the gentleman in the centre picture—drawn by a chum of mine who happened to be present, and sent to the paper for a joke—seems to me an excellent likeness of your friend Mr. Ben Dixon. Who do you say it is? (Hands paper to Cherry.)

TED MORRIS.

(Taking paper from Cherry.) Great Scott! it must be Ben Dixon.

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, it is. There's no question of doubt. Young Travers knows all about the matter. It is Mr. Ben Dixon.

JACK MEDBURY

Mrs. Wheedles says it isn't.

TED MORRIS.

Mrs. Wheedles? What does she know about it?

JACK MEDBURY.

She says she knows the party very well indeed, and that his name is—Wheedles!

TED MORRIS

Wheedles!

JACK MEDBURY.

The long-lost Wheedles!

ADAM CHERRY.

Impossible!

JACK MEDBURY.

So I explained to her. I told her that he was an eminent philanthropist and that his name was Ben Dixon. She said she didn't care what he was or what he was called: his real name was Wheedles, he was her lawful married husband, and if we would bring her face to face with him she would precious soon prove it.

(A pause. The three men look at one another.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Well, from what I've found out to-day, I should say he was villain enough for anything.

TED MORRIS.

And from what I've suspected for a pretty long time, I should say the same.

JACK MEDBURY.

What are we to do? Mrs. Wheedles says she'll have the law on him.

TED MORRIS.

Why, do all we can as good citizens to assist Mrs. Wheedles and the law. It will be a precious good thing for aunt to get rid of the old humbug.

ADAM CHERRY.

We must go to work cautiously you know, Ted, or we may only make matters more unpleasant for your aunt than they are. Mrs. Wheedles may be mistaken.

TED MORRIS.

I hope to goodness she isn't. I wonder how we can find out?

JACK MEDBURY.

Oh, by-the-bye, she gave me this too (produces photo and shows it). The last portrait of Wheedles—taken four years ago. (Ted takes paper, and compares photo with paper.) Should you say 'twas the same man?

TED MORRIS.

(Examining.) The whiskers make such a difference. Hadn't she got a photo of him with some hair on his face?

JACK MEDBURY.

No. I asked her that. Wheedles seems to have always lived a clean-shaven life.

TED MORRIS.

I wish we could get Ben Dixon to shave himself.

JACK MEDBURY.

Yes; that would be the thing

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes; but it's no good talking about that. He's hardly likely to do that to please us. No, this is a matter that we must go to work about cautiously. Now, you come with me, Jack, and we will talk it over with young Travers (moving with Jack towards door). You stop here, Ted. We'd better not be all together. It will look as if something was the matter and we must keep the thing quiet. (Cherry and Jack go off talking.)

TED MORRIS.

(Crosses, and sitting on the easy chair enjoying the paper.) By Jove! Old Ben at the Aquarium—drunk and——

(Ben Dixon is heard whistling "There is a happy land." Ted, hearing him, pushes paper under cushion. Crosses to fire whistling "Get your hair cut." Enter Ben Dixon.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Looking about.) You haven't seen my spectacles anywhere, have you, Ted?

TED MORRIS.

No, Mr. Ben Dixon. Did you leave them here?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Yes, I wish you'd look on the garden seat. I may have left them there. Do you mind?

TED MORRIS.

Oh, certainly. (Goes out through window. Ben Dixon hastily darts to chair and, moving cushion, finds paper.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Seizing it with a cry of joy.) Ah! So it was here all the time. Theo must have slipped it there when he heard Bella coming. What a bit of luck. They've none of them seen it. (Looking at it) Oh, it is like me. If I could only disguise myself for a little while, till——

(Re-enter Ted. Ben Dixon hides paper under his coat.)

TED MORRIS.

No, I can't see them.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Oh, it's all right, my dear boy. I've found them, thanks. They were in my pocket all the time. So silly of me, wasn't it? (Laughs, and goes out, whistling.)

(Enter Primrose by window.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Looking in) Business over?

TED MORRIS.

For the present—could it stay for a moment when pleasure in the person of Miss Deane presents herself? (Bows.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Curtseying.) I thank you, fair sir. How very agreeable we've become all of a sudden.

TED MORRIS.

"Become!" Ain't I always agreeable?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No. Not when you talk about going away and never coming back, and say you hope it will be a long while before you see any of us again.

TED MORRIS.

I—I don't think I said I "hoped" it would be a long while. I think I said I feared it might be.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, well, it's all the same. You needn't go away at all unless you liked.

TED MORRIS.

(Apologetically.) You see my examination is coming on pretty soon now.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Well, anyhow, you could come down again afterwards. (A pause—pettishly as she crosses to window.) But there! of course if you want to avoid any chance of ever seeing any of us any more why—— (Turns her back on him.)

TED MORRIS.

(Speaking low and earnestly.) It would be better perhaps if I did avoid seeing—— one of you any more.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, what an unkind thing to say! Which one? Why?

TED MORRIS.

Because I'm afraid that if I saw very much more of her——

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Of her!

TED MORRIS.

Of her—I might make a fool of myself. (A pause.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Who shows she fully understands his drift—coquettishly.) In—in any particular sort of away?

TED MORRIS.

In a way that men often do make fools of themselves, Miss Deane. Perhaps we'd better change the conversation.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I—Ithink it's ra-rather interesting.

TED MORRIS.

(With sudden eager excitement.) Miss Deane—Primrose—do you mean that you could ever——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Without.) Primrose—Primrose. (Ted stops. Primrose starts, and seems irritated.) (Calling louder.) Primrose.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Calling.) Yes, Mrs. Ben Dixon, I'm coming. (To Ted.) Don't go away. I'll be back again in a minute. (Runs off.)

TED MORRIS.

By Jove! Am I awake or dreaming! She must have meant she——

(Enter Theo.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(He is smoking a cigarette.) Oh, I thought Primrose was here.

TED MORRIS.

Yes. She—she'll be back in a minute, I think.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Oh. Just give her that. (Hands him a letter.) Tell her not to be alarmed at the seal. It's only from her guardian—the Lord Chancellor.

TED MORRIS.

The Lord Chancellor!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes; didn't you know? She's a ward in Chancery.

TED MORRIS.

No—I—I thought it was only heiresses who were wards in Chancery.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Well, you'd call her an heiress, I suppose. She'll be worth about two thousand a year. (A pause.)

TED MORRIS.

(With a slight laugh, and by a great effort, speaking in natural easy tones.) I—I thought she was a poor little penniless orphan—dependent on Aunt Bella.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

No; she doesn't suggest the heiress a bit, does she? Just as well she doesn't, perhaps. One doesn't have to be keeping such a continual look out for the fortune-hunting crew. She'll want to see me about that letter, I expect. I shall be down on the Putting Green. (Goes out.)

TED MORRIS.

(Bitterly.) Yes, I was dreaming. This is the awakening. An heiress with two thousand a year, and I with hardly a second coat to my back! A smart pair they'd have said we were—Nelly and I. Damn the money!

(Enter Primrose.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Running over to him.) I haven't been long, have I?

TED MORRIS.

(Turning away from her.) Haven't you? It's seemed a long time. (Handing her the letter without looking at her.) I think Theodore wants to see you about this letter. He's in the garden.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(She takes the letter but hardly glances at it.) Don't—don't you want to see me? You—you were going to ask me if—if I meant—something or other.

TED MORRIS.

(Desperately.) Miss Deane, I—I acted a little strangely just now. Please try to forget it. I—I don't think I quite knew what I was doing.

PRIMROSE DEANE

I will try to forget it, Mr. Morris.

(Enter Mrs. Ben Dixon and Jack.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(As they come on.) Well, drat the boy, you'll stop and have a cup of tea, and a bit of seed cake. You've got time for that?

JACK MEDBURY.

Well, I won't say no to that.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Um—well, it's surprising that you don't. (To Primrose.) Ring the bell, dear, and let's have some tea up. Lord help the child, what's the matter with you?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Nothing, Mrs. Ben Dixon.

(Cherry and Nelly enter.)

MRS. BEN DIXON,

For goodness sake, look it then. There's no need for the whole house to be like a funeral party. Ted, do go and find Theodore. That tongue of his will be of some use for once in a way. Tell him that if he'll come in he can have all the conversation to himself—that ought to bring him. (Ted goes out by window.) We'll have somebody cheerful about.

NELLY MORRIS.

Shall I see to the tea, aunt? You are looking so worried.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

No—no, child. Let me be doing something, then

I don't think. What's brought that artist friend of yours down in such a hurry? There's nothing wrong with Ted, is there?

NELLY MORRIS.

No—I don't think so, aunt.

MRS. BEN DIXON:

Um—just the afternoon for it to happen if there was. Troubles always come together in this world, and they don't even make the usual reduction for taking a quantity.

(Enter Theodore and Ted by window.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Want me, mater?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, I do—look at us all. Did you ever see a collection of people looking more as if they'd just been fined forty shillings all round? We want some of your light philosophical conversation. Make us a bit cheerful.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Looks round.) Too big an order for me, mater. You want a soothing and elevating influence here. Where's Ben?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Don't you try to irritate me with that step-father of yours, Theodore, or you and I——

(Enter servant.)

SERVANT.

Did you ring, ma'am?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Yes, bring the tea, and tell Davis to——

(Enter Ben Dixon. He has shaved himself. He enters singing. The servant remains, staring at his master.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Staring aghast at Ben Dixon.) Lord save us all! What's the man done to himself!

(Cherry, Jack, and Ted have been talking together. They have not yet looked at Ben Dixon. On hearing this, Cherry starts and looks rounds then whips out the photo of Wheedles from his pocket, and looks from it to Ben Dixon. Ted and Jack look over Cherry's shoulder.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Sweetly.) Only shaved, Sweety. (Looks round at them all). How do you like me?

TED MORRIS.

(In an excited whisper). By Jove! it is——

ADAM CHERRY.

Quiet.

Curtain.








THE THIRD ACT.

Cherry's sitting-room at Mrs. Wheedles'. A comfortable, old-fashioned room furnished in good substantial style. Cherry and Mrs. Wheedles discovered. Cherry smoking pipe in his easy chair before fire. Mrs. Wheedles sits uncomfortably on extreme edge of the other easy-chair.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

And you really think, he'll come?

ADAM CHERRY.

Tolerably sure of it, Mrs. Wheedles. I flatter myself I baited the hook pretty artfully. I wrote him that if he could call here about four o'clock to-day I could introduce him to a lady who I knew took great interest in his schemes, and that I thought some advantage might result from the meeting. (Chuckles.) And so I hope it will.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

And he said he would?

ADAM CHERRY.

He replied that he would not allow such an opportunity for benefiting the human race to escape him for worlds, and that he would be here to the minute.

MRS. WHEEDLES,

(Glances at clock over mantel.) It's twenty minutes to four now.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Looks at his watch.) Ah, that's five minutes fast. Mrs. Ben Dixon's rather late though. She said she'd be here at half-past three.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

How has she taken it, poor woman?

ADAM CHERRY.

Well, of course it's a very unpleasant position for her, but, between ourselves, I fancy she will be very glad if it turns out that he is your husband, and, consequently, not hers. I expect that's why she's so anxious to be in the "show," as she calls it. She says she wants to see the truth for herself, and fix him down.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

She hasn't said a word to him about it, I suppose?

ADAM CHERRY.

She hasn't had a chance—yet. They quarrelled over money matters (groans to himself) and other things, and she left him before she ever heard of this.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Ah, she could never really have loved him, Mr. Cherry. (Wipes away a tear.)

ADAM CHERRY.

I'm inclined to agree with you there, Mrs. Wheedles. (He crosses to window, looking at his watch.) I wish she'd come.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Crying.) Such a good man as he was—before he went wrong. (Bell heard.) She starts up. Oh Lord, that's him, I feel it in my bones.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Looking out of window.) Your bones have misled you, Mrs. Wheedles. It's Mr. Travers, and—(looking out further), no, it isn't big enough for Mrs. Ben Dixon.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Oh dear, it gave me quite a spasm. I wish I didn't feel in such a fluster.

(The door at back is opened by a maid, and Theodore enters followed by Primrose. Mrs. Wheedles slips quietly out.)

ADAM CHERRY

(Greeting Theodore.) Where's Mrs. Ben Dixon?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

She'll be here in a minute. It occurred to her when we got to Paddington Station that she hadn't had any lunch, and that this wasn't a scene to be gone through on an empty stomach. So we left her there laying in a beefsteak and a bottle of stout. Miss Deane has come with us. She thought she would like to see Nelly.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Advancing and shaking hands with Cherry.) Yes, Mr. Cherry. Do you know if she's in?

ADAM CHERRY.

She's upstairs all alone, my dear. She'll be so pleased to see you, I know.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Oh, I'll run up to her, then. (Moves towards door.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, do, my dear. (Following her.) Let me——

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Stopping him.) No, don't trouble, Mr. Cherry. I know my way. (Opens door, and goes out.)

THEODORE TRAVERS.

I say—I suppose there's no where in this room where I could hide, is there? (Looks round.) It will be a lovely scene, you know—quite a family group, Ben and his two wives. (Enthusiastically.) Why, such an opportunity may not occur again for years. Can't you put me behind these curtains? (He is by window.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, my dear boy, impossible!

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Um! 'Twould be awkward I suppose. Pity! (hopefully,) What sort of a keyhole have you got? (Crossing to door, Right.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Laughs.) Not much good to you, I'm afraid. You can't get the key out.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Who has opened the door—the key being outside—trying it.) Ah, no encouragement to an artist anywhere here. I shall have to pump the scene out of the mater afterwards, and her accounts are always so painfully idealistic.

(Ted enters.)

Hulloa, Ted!

TED MORRIS.

Hulloa! You here?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes. (Looks at him.) You've been ploughed then?

TED MORRIS.

Who told you?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

You did, by your face. What does it feel like?

TED MORRIS.

(With a cynical laugh) Do you want to make notes?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Taking out his note-book) If you are sure you don't mind.

TED MORRIS.

Not at all. Delighted to be of service to the cause of literature. Now let me see how does a man feel. Well, at first he feels sick and dazed.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Writing) Yes.

TED MORRIS.

And then he gets mad and curses himself and the world and everybody in it; and feels——

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Half a minute, old chap, I am not a typewriter.

TED MORRIS.

——and feels that he'd like to go to the devil only he hasn't got the travelling expenses.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Quite right. The expensiveness of vice I have always considered to be virtue's greatest safeguard. Poor people can only afford to go as far as the dogs. Yes?

TED MORRIS.

Oh, and then—oh, then he feels very weary of the whole thing and wishes that he could get away from it all, and go to sleep—for a long time. (Throws himself in chair.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, come, you mustn't despair. You've only been "spun," as you fellows call it, for a few months.

TED MORRIS.

Oh, no, it's nothing very terrible to be "spun," if you've got anything to spin on.

THEODORE TRAVERS

Yes—a top spins best when it's full of air—a man doesn't.

ADAM CHERRY.

You see, you won't let anybody help you, Ted

TED MORRIS.

(Rising.) Oh, that's only my nonsense, Mr. Cherry. We're not paupers. (To Theodore.) Are you coming upstairs to see Nelly?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Yes, yes; I'll come up with you now. How is she?

TED MORRIS.

Oh, not too jolly. You'll be able to make a few notes. (They go out.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Poor boy! Ah, well, he won't be able to help my helping him when I'm his brother-in-law! (He takes up a photo of Nelly lying on table.) Dear, dear me, fancy me a married man, with somebody to call "my dear!" You're a lucky dog, Adam Cherry—a lucky dog, even if you have been swindled out of all your savings, and have to go on working for your living! Bah! what's work when you've got somebody to work for? Why—— (Notices Theodore's note-book left on table and pauses.) Hulloa! Our literary friend's note-book. (Takes it up and turns it about in his hand, musing.) I wonder if there'd be any harm now in looking inside? I should like to see how he goes to work—oh, it's only just the same as an artist's sketch-book, and nobody minds looking into that. (Opens it at end and reads.) "June 28th, Brussels. Good idea for farcical comedy. N.B. Will probably need toning down for English market. Married lady starts to call on elderly gentleman of irreproachable character, she——"(Reads on with broadening smile extending to chuckle—suddenly checks himself.) Yes—it probably would (Turns over more leaves.) Hulloa, what's this marked "Unfinished. Novel or comedy. Characters: Good-hearted, but chuckle-headed old man, knows himself fifty-five, calls himself forty-five, fancies himself thirty-five." (Chuckles): Ah, yes, I know that class of man—very clever, very clever! "Young artist, somewhat conventional type, see page 3. Girl, cross between the romantically heroic and the quaintly practical. Girl loves artist. Artist loves girl. But both are poor. Old chap, well off, proposes to girl. She, tired of poverty, throws love to the dogs and accepts. Old fellow suspects nothing and tells himself that he will soon win her love by his devotion and all that sort of thing. Will he ever find out the truth?" Ah, yes, that ought to make a capital story. I wonder what will happen? (Putting down book.) I feel quite sorry for that old man. A very interesting little story indeed. I wonder where he got it from now? (Takes up book again.) He's dated it June 14th—June 14th—why—— Yes, that's the day I proposed to Nelly—and—he was here that day. (Sits thinking. Suddenly a suspicion of the truth flashes across him. He hurriedly takes the book and reads again, this time in a trembling voice.) "Chuckle-headed old man—Young artist." (Thinks). Jack Medbury. "Girl loves artist—artist loves girl—old chap well off—proposes to girl. She, tired of poverty, throws love to the dogs and accepts. Old fellow suspects nothing—tells himself he will soon win her love by his devotion, and—and all that sort of thing." (Lets his hand with book fall on table.) That's the true story. It's I who have been building up the romance. Jack used to be here every day. He's never been near the place since. Nelly never smiles even now. I've fancied it was because she was ill and worried, and that I should be able to make her happy as soon as I had her all to myself and could take care of her. (Irritably pushing the book away from him.) I wish people wouldn't leave their things about. (Bows his head between his hands.)

(Primrose pushes open the door gently and enters. Seeing Cherry in this attitude, she comes softly over and lays her hand on his shoulder.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Are you ill, Mr. Cherry?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Starting.) No, my dear; no. I was only thinking. How—how do you think Nelly's looking?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(She has brought in some flowers and is arranging them in vase.) Oh, pretty well.

ADAM CHERRY.

It—it doesn't seem to you, my dear, does it, that she's fretting herself about anything?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Puzzled how to answer.) Oh no; I expect she's worried about her brother, you know, Mr. Cherry, and poor Mrs. Ben Dixon.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah, yes, yes; but don't you think there may be something else besides—something more nearly concerning herself?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Why do you ask, Mr. Cherry? (She comes to him.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Rising and taking both her hands.) Because, my dear, I'm a very inexperienced old man, and I want some shrewd little person who understands these matters better than I do to advise me. (Very earnestly.) Do you think, my dear, I shall be making Nelly happy by marrying her?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Truthfully, Mr. Cherry?

ADAM CHERRY.

Truthfully, my dear, for both our sakes.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Then I don't, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

You—you think there's somebody else who could do it better? (Primrose nods her head.) Thank you, my dear (releases her hands).

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I'm so sorry, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.

There'd be more to be sorry for still, my dear, if were too late to mend matters (turning away). We won't talk about it any more. Have you seen Ted?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

N-no.

ADAM CHERRY.

Not! Why he's just gone upstairs.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Awkwardly.) Y-yes—I—I heard him come in. I was in Nelly's room. I came out by the other door.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Looking at her with surprise.) I thought you and he were such good friends?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

This world's friendships are very fleeting.

ADAM CHERRY.

(With a smile.) My dear, there's some mistake here. I said just now that I was inexperienced. But there are some things that even dim eyes cannot help seeing, and I'm sure that—forgive me, my dear, I'm only an old fellow—that he cared for you very much.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Looking out of window.) He—he made me think so.

ADAM CHERRY.

And then you quarrelled?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No—he changed—all of a sudden just as—as if he had found out something bad against me—and—and I've never done anything bad—not, not very bad (choking a sob). Do you think anybody could have said anything to set him against me?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, impossible! What could—— Wait a minute, though. There's one thing somebody might have told him about you that would have been enough to send Master Ted off at double quick march.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

What?

ADAM CHERRY.

Can't you think?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

N-no. Is there anything very dreadful about me, then?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, my dear—to a young fellow as proud as he is poor—your money.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

My money! Won't anybody ever lo—like me then because I've got some money?

ADAM CHERRY.

Plenty, my dear. But pennyless young men who fall in love with heiresses are liable to be dubbed "fortune-hunters," and our high-spirited young friend——

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Interrupting petulantly.) Rather than risk that, would sacrifice all his life's happiness. I call it very horrid and—and very selfish of him.

ADAM CHERRY.

It's very silly, my dear, but depend upon it that's the explanation. You——

(Primrose, when she entered, left the door a little open, and now Ted is heard whistling as he comes downstairs. Primrose is in front of easy-chair. Cherry pushes her down into it and stands before her.)

ADAM CHERRY.

Tell him what you think of him.

(Enter Ted, still smoking his pipe.)

TED MORRIS.

Do you mind my sitting down here for a little while, Cherry? I'm tired of walking about the streets, and I'm not feeling in good enough condition to sit out Travers' wit and humour. I've left him upstairs with Nelly.

ADAM CHERRY.

Certainly, my dear boy. Stop here as long as ever you like and make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a few minutes. (He goes out.)

TED MORRIS.

(He strolls to window, whistling, and looks out.) It's a damned world.

(Primrose coughs.)

TED MORRIS.

(Startled, he looks round and sees Primrose.) I—I beg your pardon, Miss Deane. I had no idea you were here.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Is that the way you usually talk when I'm not here?

TED MORRIS.

(Smiling.) Not always (Gloomily again.) The truth is I'm a bit down on my luck just now, and——

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Kindly) I know. Nelly has been telling me. I am so very sorry.

TED MORRIS.

Thank you, Miss Deane, I knew you would be.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Frigidly.) Oh, did you? I don't think you had any right to assume it after your conduct at out last interview. I suppose you know that I'm excessively angry with you.

TED MORRIS.

(Dismally.) You have every right to be. (A pause—Ted goes to window.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I think if I were a gentleman, and had behaved exceedingly rudely to a lady, I should take the first opportunity of begging her pardon, and asking her to—to try and forgive me.

TED MORRIS.

(Still at window.) I do beg your pardon, Miss Deane, from the bottom of my heart. And I should like you to forgive me—if you ever could.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I don't think that's at all the way anybody ought to ask anybody else's pardon (looks across at him) all that way off. And I can't forgive you until I know why you did it. (A pause.) Why—why did you do it?

TED MORRIS.

I—I cannot tell you. Please don't ask me.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I suppose then I must think what I like?

TED MORRIS.

(Gloomily.) I'm afraid so.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I—I thought at one time it might be because—(looking slyly at him) because I had lost all my money.

TED MORRIS.

(Turning suddenly mid eagerly.) Lost all your money?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Looking carefully away.) Yes. I thought somebody might have told you—people are so fond of telling bad news—and that you didn't care to have anything more to do with me after that. Of course, when people have lost all their money they can't expect people to be so nice as—as they were before.

TED MORRIS.

(Who has stood rooted to the ground.) Then that was what that letter was about. It came just at that very time. And—and you have been thinking that of me! (Rushes across and kneels down beside her, and takes her hands.) Miss Deane—Primrose—let me work for you. Let me take care of you all your life. I can do it now. I feel like a new man. I can face the whole College of Surgeons and the world too, and lick them both. (His manner grows more and more enthusiastic and joyous.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

You—you're not very sympathetic.

TED MORRIS.

I know I'm a selfish brute. I can't help it. You shan't regret it. I'll make another fortune for you and you shall have it all. Primrose, dear, I love you, I love you. I could not speak when you were rich, but now you are poor I can. You—you do care for me a little, dear.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

A little, Ted.

TED MORRIS.

Enough to be my wife?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Yes, I think it's enough for that. (Ted draws her face down and kisses her.) And you don't mind the money either way?

TED MORRIS.

Of course not, dear.

PRIMROSE DEANE,

And you care for me just the same, rich or poor?

TED MORRIS.

(He sits on arm of chair beside her.) Now and always, sweetheart, rich or poor.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

I'm glad of that. I shouldn't like to be cared for merely because I was poor. It would be so awkward if—if one wasn't poor.

TED MORRIS.

But you are poor?

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Not—not very, I'm afraid, dear.

TED MORRIS.

You said you'd lost all your money!

PRIMROSE DEANE.

No, I didn't, Ted. I said somebody might have told you I had. People do tell things about other people that are not true sometimes. (Ted rises and stands by table, looking troubled. Primrose breaks into a ringing laugh.) You can't get out of it now, Ted. I could bring a breach of promise case against you. (Ted still looks stern. Primrose rises and comes to him, playing with one of his coat buttons.) I've deceived and trapped you into it, haven't I? Please forgive me. It—it isn't so very much, and I could give it away to the Salvation Army if you liked, or we could let Mr. Ben Dixon lay it out for us. (Laughs.)

TED MORRIS.

You don't understand, dear.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Seriously.) Yes—I do, dear. You're a silly stuck-up old thing. You never would have spoken so long as you thought I was rich—and I—(nestling against him) wanted you.

TED MORRIS.

(Relenting.) They'll say I married you for your money.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Don't you care for me sufficiently, dear, not to mind what "they" say? (Looking him earnestly in the face.)

TED MORRIS.

(Looks at her, and then takes her face in his hands and kisses her.) Yes, dear, forgive me. (After this, in loverlike fashion, they commence walking about the room and talking with their arms round each other's waists.)

TED MORRIS.

Let me see. I shall pass my examination in November.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

And then we must look about for a nice little practice. We'll have one somewhere in the country, shall we?

TED MORRIS.

Yes. (Musing.) I wish I hadn't been fool enough to let that Ben Dixon have all——

(A knock at front door heard. Primrose runs to window and looks out.)

PRIMROSE DEANE.

Yes, I thought so. It's Mrs. Ben Dixon. (Running to door and holding out her hand to Ted.) Let's go upstairs to Nelly. (Ted catches her hand, and they run off, leaving the door wide open behind them. A wait. Then enters Mrs. Ben Dixon, shown in by servant.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Is Adam Cherry in? (Cherry follows in.) Oh, here you are. I ain't late, am I?

ADAM CHERRY.

No—not as it happens. But I'm expecting him every minute. (To servant.) Ask Mrs. Wheedles to step up, will you? (Servant goes out.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I was bound to stop and get a snack. This is going to be a trying scene, you know, Cherry. What does—what's the poor woman's name—Mrs. Wheedles —think about it now?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, much the same. She's still sure he's the man.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I hope to goodness she's right. We shall look silly, you know, Cherry, if he isn't.

ADAM CHERRY.

And he will look silly if he is. (Enter Mrs. Wheedles. She is nervous but tries to be confident and to behave, as she would term it, "as a lady") Oh here you are, Mrs. Wheedles. This is Mrs.—— (pauses—awkwardly.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Well, we're not sure who I am at present. That's just what I've come to find out. I suppose there'll be no doubt about your knowing this beauty if he is the man?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Stiffly.) I think not, madam. I was his wife for ten years.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Ten! Ah, poor soul, no wonder you look sad. I've been it for eighteen months. I hope you mean to be firm, Mrs. Wheedles?

MRS. WHEEDLES. I shall do my duty as a woman.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I'm glad to hear you say so. I hope he'll get two years.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Sighing.) Ah, so happy as we used to be, too.

ADAM CHERRY.

If you take my advice, you'll make him fork out something to divide between you, and then let him go.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Now look here, Cherry, don't you suggest anything of the kind. Don't you interfere between us and our husband.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

My husband, madam.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh, all right, your husband. I'm sure you're quite welcome to him. I've saved a good deal more out of the wreck than I expected to, thanks to Theodore; and we shouldn't get anything out of him if we tried. He's deceived me and he's deceived Mrs. Wheedles—as simple and trusting a woman as ever breathed, I should say, from the look of her. I want to think of him as doing some hard work for once in his life.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

You're quite right, ma'am. He doesn't deserve any mercy at our hands—a good wife I was to him—none of your flighty sort. (Begins to cry. Bell heard.)

ADAM CHERRY.

There he is, I expect. I must see him first. You just step in there (indicating door) and wait till I've gone out and closed the door behind me. That will be your cue. (The two women retire towards inner room.) I shall be in the little room the other side of the passage if you want me. (Ben Dixon's voice is heard in passage. Cherry nods and signs the two women to disappear. They do so, closing the door behind them.)

(Enter Ben Dixon. He is dressed for travelling, bag and umbrella. He enters, beaming as usual, and laying down his hat, bag, and umbrella on chair by door, advances to Cherry and shakes hands with him with one hand while holding his watch in the other. )

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear Cherry, I've only just ten minutes. Is the lady here?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, yes, but—but I'm afraid she'll want to talk to you for more than ten minutes.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Makes a clicking noise with his tongue.) I'm really afraid I cannot spare her any more. I must catch the afternoon mail from Charing Cross.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Quickly.) Going abroad?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Yes, Mr. Cherry.

ADAM CHERRY.'

Anything to do with the "Anti-Alcoholic and Mineral Water Union?"

MR. BEN DIXON.

Partly so.

ADAM CHERRY.

Ah! I thought you'd be having to travel soon in connection with that affair. I'll send the lady to you at once, anyhow. (Moving towards door at back.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

Do, Mr. Cherry; do. And if she's got the cash ready—or a cheque, it really ought not to take long, you know.

ADAM CHERRY.

I'll leave you to explain the situation to her yourself.

(Cherry goes out slamming the door behind him. Ben Dixon goes to his bag and takes out a prospectus and crossing and standing facing windows begins to read it to himself. While he is doing this Mrs. Ben Dixon and Mrs. Wheedles enter quietly.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

(With prospectus in his hand rehearsing to himself in soft voice what he intends to say to his supposed client.) You will be assisting, my dear madam, in saving many poor souls from destruction; you will also get 15 per cent, for your money. For myself——

(He turns and sees the two women. The paper drops from his hand and he stands looking from one to the other like a trapped rat. For an instant he thinks of escape. He makes a step towards the door at back, but Mrs. Ben Dixon makes a movement to cut him off, then towards door Right, before which Mrs Wheedles stands. Then he makes a movement as if thinking of the window. Then seeing the hopelessness of his case and understanding the situation, he makes up his mind. With an expression of wonder and joy, he advances with outstretched arms towards Mrs. Wheedles.)

MR. BEN DIXON.

What, Gerty! And you're not dead! Oh, why did they tell me that you were! Why——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Intercepts him.) Here, that won't do. That's a bit too thin, Ben. You described yourself when you married me as a bachelor.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I know I did, my dear, but I can explain—I can explain everything.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

You will have the opportunity of doing so—before the magistrate (regarding him with concentrated disgust), you sanctimonious old scoundrel.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

A good wife as I was to you, Henery, how could you do it?

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear Gertrude, I can explain.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Explain! You'll explain yourself into heaven if they're not sharp. Can you explain why you humbugged and lied an unfortunate fool of a woman into marrying you?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

And broke your poor wife's heart.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

And tried to swindle her out of every penny she possessed.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

And deserted a poor harmless babe as was the very image of him.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I'm sorry for the child; but we'll make him pay for it, Mrs. Wheedles.

MR. BEN DIXON.

If you will only allow me to explain.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Explain? What is there to explain? Do you deny that you are married to Mrs. Wheedles, there?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Virtuously). No, Bella, I do not! No consideration of consequence to myself shall induce me to deny it. I am proud—as anyone might be—to be the husband of this noble lady! (Crosses over to Mrs. Wheedles' side.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Oh, well you've been pretty modest about it of late. And do you deny that eighteen months ago you married me?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(More in sorrow than in anger.) No, Bella, much as I may regret it—I do not, I will not deny the truth.

MRS. WHEEDLES. Why did you do it, Henery?

MR. BEN DIXON.

It was wrong of me. I own it. We are none of us perfect. The woman tempted me, and I fell.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I tempted you?

MR. BEN DIXON.

You, Bella. I do not blame you. You loved me—at least you said you did—and you dangled your purse before me. I thought of all the good that I could do to others with your money. I always do think of others—it is my weakness. I sacrificed myself for the good of humanity.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Too staggered for words). Well, I'm——

MRS. WHEEDLES.

You never thought of poor me, Henery.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(With an air of sweet sadness.) Not think of you, Gertrude? Ah, how often have I not longed to seek you—to come to you with outstretched arms and say, "Gertrude, let us forgive and forget, let us be happy again as we were in the dear old days gone by." (Stifles a sob.)

MRS. BEN DIXON. Why didn't you do it?

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear Bella, do not interrupt. There were reasons rendering it necessary for me to control my longing—you were one of them.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

And did you never think of what had become of me—of how I was getting on?

MR. BEN DIXON.

Do you think I could have lived a moment in doubt? I made enquiries. They told me you were well and——

MRS. BEN DIXON.

You said just now they told you she was dead.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Irritably.) My good woman, do be quiet. I'm not addressing you. I'm talking to my wife.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Do let the man explain.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Explain! And do you mean to say you're going to be fool enough to listen to him—you poor ninny-hammer?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Bridling.) Don't you call me names, ma'am. I'm a respectable married woman, which is more than some people are.

MRS. BEN DIXON

And whose fault if they're not, I should like to know? Why couldn't you keep him when you'd got him?—not let him loose to prey on poor fools like me.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Why did you come with your arts and your tricks and lure him away, ma'am?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

I! I lure away that! You silly old woman!

MRS. WHEEDLES.

No more a silly old woman than you are, ma'am. He was a loving Christian husband till you came between us with your painted face.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Close to her.) You say I paint my face, and I'll pull your false front off.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He has hitherto remained standing between them in an attitude expressive of pious indifference, his finger-tips pressed against each other.) Ladies! ladies!

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Turns fiercely on him.) You be quiet (he skips out of her way), and keep your breath to bamboozle that poor fool with. You take him back again, my dear, you haven't had enough of him as yet. I shan't interfere I am only too glad to be rid of him. Only if he makes a fool of you a second time, don't you come to me for sympathy. I've done with you both, and I've done with respectability. I've paid enough for being a prude. For the future give me something wholesome and disreputable. (She sweeps out by door at back which she slams behind her.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Calling after her.) Hussy!

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Soothing her.) Don't take any notice of her, dearest; she's a little excited, that's all.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Clinging to him.) I feel so upset, Henery (crying).

MR. BEN DIXON.

Of course you do. You're not strong, Gertrude. We must take more care of you. (Puts his arm round her while slyly looking at his watch.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Looking up lovingly at him!) You won't leave me again?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He hastily slips watch out of sight.) Leave you! Not now that I have you once again. (Squeezes her to him tenderly—then with joyful playfulness.) And I'll tell you what we'll do, Gerty, to celebrate this joyful reunion. We'll have one of our dear little old evenings out together—do you remember them? The little dinner at the little restaurant with the little bottle of wine, and the Adelphi afterwards. (Mrs. Wheedles answers with a look and a coy laugh.) Run and put your bonnet on and we'll trot off together this very minute and get away from them all.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

I must just change my dress, Henery.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Of course, of course you must, you long will it?

But it won't take

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Not more than ten minutes.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He edges her towards the door.) Ah, well, be as quick as you can, dear. I'll wait down here for you.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

You—you will wait, Henery?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Offended.) Gertrude!

MRS. WHEEDLES.

No—I didn't mean that, dear.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I know you didn't. I know you didn't (pushing her playfully out.) And, Gerty! (she stops) you haven't got the cherry coloured one still by you?—the one you used to look so saucy in?

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(At open door.) Yes, I have, Henery. I've never worn it since the day you left me.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Put that one on, will you? Eh? (They both laugh playfully and he pats her cheek and she goes off—he watches her off then closes the door.) Poor old soul! (Looks at watch and collects his bag, umbrella, hat, etc.) Now if that fool of a cab isn't gone I can just—— (He has his hat on and with his watch in his hand is opening door when—Enter Cherry, who stands blocking his exit.)

Can't stop a minute, my dear Cherry; so sorry. Good-bye! (Tries to pass.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Coming in and closing door.) Don't you say goodbye till you're clear off. You've got to have a chat with me first.

MR. BEN DIXON.

My dear sir, I positively decline. I am not at all pleased with you; I consider you have acted in a most unchristianlike manner. I am disappointed in you, Mr. Cherry. More disappointed that I can say.

ADAM CHERRY.

Then don't say it. The less you say, the sooner you'll get off, and I take it you want to get clear off before Mrs. Wheedles comes downstairs again.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Mr. Cherry, I do. I frankly admit it. Mrs. Wheedles is an excellent woman—a worthy woman, but—well, I put it to you, would you like to live with her—as a husband?

ADAM CHERRY.

Mr. Wheedles!

MR. BEN DIXON.

Don't be absurd, sir. How dare you misunderstand me? I mean am I to blame for not wanting to?

ADAM CHERRY.

We won't go into that question. I am with you so far as to think that she will be much better off without you, and I also admit that I have no wish to lodge an information against you on my own account—if we can come to terms.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Come to terms! What do you mean?

ADAM CHERRY.

I mean I want £4,000 in notes or gold out of you before you leave this house.

MR. BEN DIXON.

£4,000! Do you think, sir, that I'm a travelling bank?

ADAM CHERRY.

I know that you've made arrangements to go straight from this house on an absconding tour to the continent, and it's not unreasonable to suppose that under the circumstances you've got about you all the cash you could scrape together. Anyhow, if I don't have the satisfaction of getting the £4,000 out of you I'll have the satisfaction of handing you over to the police.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Mounting the high horse.) My good sir, do you know the legal term for what you are doing? "Endeavouring to extort money by threats." Are you aware that that is an indictable offence?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Putting his hands in his pockets.) All right. Indict away.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Looks at watch.) Damn it, here's five minutes gone already. My dear sir, do be reasonable.

ADAM CHERRY.

My dear Mr. Ben Dixon—or Wheedles—or whatever your name really is, don't argue You are getting off uncommonly cheap. I say nothing about the money you've swindled Mrs. Ben Dixon out of. I say nothing about the money you've swindled me out of. But I want the money you've swindled that poor boy and girl upstairs out of—and I mean to have it.

MR. BEN DIXON.

But if I haven't got it?

ADAM CHERRY.

Then you'll get five years' penal servitude for bigamy.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Dear, dear me, how Providence does seem against me to-day. Oh, this is a beast of a house (savagely.) What is it you do want? Be quick about it? (Slams down bag and umbrella and seats himself at table.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(He has brought writing materials from sideboard and placed them.) I want you to write a pleasant little note to Ted and Nelly, explaining the circumstances, and enclosing the £4,000, that's all.

MR. BEN DIXON.

Say £2,000, Mr. Cherry—£2,000 and a little something for yourself. I should like to give you a little something for yourself.

ADAM CHERRY.

£4,000—or Bow Street. You'd better be quick. You wouldn't look well with your hair short.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Gives him a look of intense malevolence and begins to write) '.—"My dear children, before leaving England, under circumstances needless to be stated here, my thoughts naturally revert to my beloved ones."—Mr. Cherry, I consider you to be a damned scoundrel.—"It has all along been my intention to make good to you, my dear children, the loss you sustained when Providence ceased to smile upon the Nonconformist Building Society, Limited (with concentrated rage.) My doing so leaves me a comparative pauper, but do not grieve for me."

ADAM CHERRY.

(Who is standing beside him, looking over.) That's rather needless, isn't it?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Savagely.) Shut up! (Writing.) "Committing you, my dear beloved ones, to the care of Providence, and trusting that one day we may be all reunited in the bourne of the righteous, I remain your loving and affectionate uncle, Henry." (Lays letter down and addresses envelope.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Taking up and looking at letter.) Very good—very good indeed.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Snatching letter away, and putting it in envelope.) Hypocrite! (Takes out pocket-book and begins counting notes—pausing half-way through.) It's a lot of money, Mr. Cherry, to put all at once into the hands of two inexperienced young persons. Wouldn't it be better for us to give them £2,000 now, and let me send them the rest later on?

ADAM CHERRY.

Don't be silly! You're wasting time. Mrs. Wheedles will be down in a minute.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He gives Cherry another savage look and goes on counting; having finished he puts them in an envelope.) All my little savings, and me an old man. (Is about to close envelope.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(Taking it from him.) You don't mind my counting them?

MR. BEN DIXON.

(Wounded.) Do you mistrust me?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Counting.) Merely a matter of form. £3,995 here, Mr. Wheedles.

MR. BEN DIXON.

(He has collected his baggage, and is on the point of slipping off. He now draws forth and hands Cherry another note.) I look upon you as a common thief, sir, and if I was a young man, I'd——

ADAM CHERRY.

There's nothing further that need detain you, Mr. Wheedles.

MR. BEN DIXON.

I am going, sir. I shake the dust of this house off my feet. (Opens door at back and glances out, then turns towards Cherry and speaks in a suppressed voice.) I should never have thought it possible that any man could be so deceived in another as I have been in you. (Looks out again and then round.) I have no hesitation in describing you, Mr. Cherry, as a blackleg—an experienced blackleg, sir. (Looks out as before.) I only hope that——- (Hears noise, looks out, slips round door, and disappears.)

ADAM CHERRY.

(He follows to door and looks after him.) Ah, well, I think that counts one to you, Adam Cherry.

(Enter Nelly.)

NELLY MORRIS.

Will you come upstairs and see my aunt before she goes, Adam?

ADAM CHERRY.

Oh, tell her, my dear, she can come down. It's all right now. Come in a minute I want to speak to you. (He closes door.)

NELLY MORRIS.

Is he gone?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, my dear.

NELLY MORRIS.

For good?

ADAM CHERRY.

Let us hope so. He is on his way to the continent. And (giving to her letter) he left this letter, my dear, for you and Ted. I think you will find the contents very satisfactory.

NELLY MORRIS.

It's the best thing that could happen, undoubtedly. I suppose he's walked off with nearly all aunt's money?

ADAM CHERRY.

A good deal of it I'm afraid, dear. And he's not the only old man who's had the idea of walking off with other people's property.

NELLY MORRIS.

(With a laugh.) Have you been finding out any more of them?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, my dear (turning towards her). An old gentleman, my dear, (taking her hand and stroking it) that was about to walk off with a beautiful young lady who, by all the laws of love, was the rightful property of somebody else. Only, fortunately, he was stopped in time. (Nelly looks at him and is about to speak. Stopping her, kindly.) Don't say anything, my dear, it will be less painful for both of us. I was an old fool; and you—you thought of others more than of yourself, my dear. (Lightly) The property must be restored to its real owner, and I must leave you, my dear, to make all necessary compensation for temporary loss. See Jack and tell him you are free.

(Enter Mrs. Ben Dixon, followed by Theodore.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

We saw that old scoundrel sneak off. Is he coming back?

I fancy not.

ADAM CHERRY.
MRS. BEN DIXON.

Did Mrs. Wheedles let him go?

ADAM CHERRY.

I don't think she knows as yet. She's got to learn it poor woman.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Poor soul! I must stop and say a kind word to her. I've been calling her a lot of bad names. (Suddenly) Here, do you know what Ted's done?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Alarmed.) Nothing rash?

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Well, it all depends upon how you look at it. He's, got himself engaged to Primrose.

ADAM CHERRY.

(Smiling meaningly.) Rather a good thing for him, isn't it?

(Enter Primrose and Ted.)

PRIMROSE.

(Who has overheard Cherry's remark as she enters.) No, it isn't. You mustn't think that at all, Mr. Cherry.

I haven't any money, we're going to give it all away. Ted doesn't want me to have any.

MRS. BEN DIXON.

(Aside to her.) Put it by, quietly, my dear, and hear what he says two years after marriage.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

(Who has been occupying an unobtrusive position, taking notes.) You know I think it extremely uncivil of you; Ted, I had always regarded Primrose as my own personal property. I had been "nursing" her, as we say in the political world, for years.

TED MORRIS.

(Laughing!) I should have thought that a man of your age would have got over all ideas of that kind.

PRIMROSE DEANE.

(Laughing.) Besides, Theodore, I'm not literary. You know I read the Family Herald.

THEODORE TRAVERS.

My dear Primrose, that's a great mistake people make. A literary man doesn't want a literary wife. It would be like living with a critic. A clever man wants a wife foolish enough to always admire him. We should have got on admirably together. (To Cherry.) You haven't seen my pocket-book about anywhere, have you, Cherry?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Taking it from his pocket and giving it to him.) Yes, you left it on the table. I took the liberty of glancing into it; you don't mind I suppose?

THEODORE TRAVERS.

Not at all. Learnt how to write a comedy?

ADAM CHERRY.

Yes, and (turning away) how to live one.

NELLY MORRIS

(Who has been reading letter.) Ted. (He comes to her.) Mr. Ben Dixon left this addressed to us. (Gives it him.) Read it.

TED MORRIS

Moral advice, I suppose. Why what—why here's notes for——

NELLY MORRIS.

It's the money you let him have to put in that building society.

TED MORRIS.

What, the whole £4,000! Nelly, we're rich! Primrose! (She comes to him.) Poor old Ben, he wasn't so bad. (Nelly, Primrose, and ted talk together near window.)

MRS. BEN DIXON.

That was very clever of you, Adam. I never thought of that. You're a good sort, Cherry.

(Enter Mrs. Wheedles, dressed somewhat extravagantly. She comes in eagerly, then pauses at door and looks round. Her heart sinks.)

MRS. WHEEDLES.

Where's——

ADAM CHERRY.

Gone, Mrs Wheedles. It was only a dodge to get you out of the room that he might bolt. Don't think any more about him.

(Mrs. Wheedles sinks into a chair. )

MRS. BEN DIXON.

Believe me, Mrs. Wheedles, it was the kindest thing he could do for you. We are both well rid of him.

MRS. WHEEDLES.

(Crying softly.) I believe you're right, ma'am.

TED MORRIS.

(At window looking out.) Hulloa, here's Jack. (To Cherry.) Shall I ask him in here?

ADAM CHERRY.

(Moving towards door at back. ) No, dear boy. I'll send him up to you myself.

NELLY MORRIS.

(Who has exchanged glances with Cherry at the mention of Jack's name, slips across quietly and meets him at door just as he is going out.) I shall always love you, Mr. Cherry. You're such a grand little gentleman.

(Cherry, taking her face between his hands, kisses her and goes out.)