A Family Man by John Galsworthy - HTML preview
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The study of JOHN BUILDER in the provincial town of Breconridge. A panelled room wherein nothing is ever studied, except perhaps BUILDER'S face in the mirror over the fireplace. It is, however, comfortable, and has large leather chairs and a writing table in the centre, on which is a typewriter, and many papers. At the back is a large window with French outside shutters, overlooking the street, for the house is an old one, built in an age when the homes of doctors, lawyers and so forth were part of a provincial town, and not yet suburban. There are two or three fine old prints on the walls, Right and Left; and a fine, old fireplace, Left, with a fender on which one can sit. A door, Left back, leads into the dining-room, and a door, Right forward, into the hall.
JOHN BUILDER is sitting in his after-breakfast chair before the fire with The Times in his hands. He has breakfasted well, and is in that condition of first-pipe serenity in which the affairs of the. nation seem almost bearable. He is a tallish, square, personable man of forty-seven, with a well-coloured, jowly, fullish face, marked under the eyes, which have very small pupils and a good deal of light in them. His bearing has force and importance, as of a man accustomed to rising and ownerships, sure in his opinions, and not lacking in geniality when things go his way. Essentially a Midlander. His wife, a woman of forty-one, of ivory tint, with a thin, trim figure and a face so strangely composed as to be almost like a mask (essentially from Jersey) is putting a nib into a pen- holder, and filling an inkpot at the writing-table.
As the curtain rises CAMILLE enters with a rather broken-down cardboard box containing flowers. She is a young woman with a good figure, a pale face, the warm brown eyes and complete poise of a Frenchwoman. She takes the box to MRS BUILDER.
MRS BUILDER. The blue vase, please, Camille.
[CAMILLE fetches a vase. MRS BUILDER puts the flowers into the vase. CAMILLE gathers up the debris; and with a glance at BUILDER goes out.]
BUILDER. Glorious October! I ought to have a damned good day's shooting with Chantrey tomorrow.
MRS BUILDER. [Arranging the flowers] Aren't you going to the office this morning?
BUILDER. Well, no, I was going to take a couple of days off. If you feel at the top of your form, take a rest--then you go on feeling at the top. [He looks at her, as if calculating] What do you say to looking up Athene?
MRS BUILDER. [Palpably astonished] Athene? But you said you'd done with her?
BUILDER. [Smiling] Six weeks ago; but, dash it, one can't have done with one's own daughter. That's the weakness of an Englishman; he can't keep up his resentments. In a town like this it doesn't do to have her living by herself. One of these days it'll get out we've had a row. That wouldn't do me any good.
MRS BUILDER. I see.
BUILDER. Besides, I miss her. Maud's so self-absorbed. It makes a big hole in the family, Julia. You've got her address, haven't you?
MRS BUILDER. Yes. [Very still] But do you think it's dignified, John?
BUILDER. [Genially] Oh, hang dignity! I rather pride myself on knowing when to stand on my dignity and when to sit on it. If she's still crazy about Art, she can live at home, and go out to study.
MRS BUILDER. Her craze was for liberty.
BUILDER. A few weeks' discomfort soon cures that. She can't live on her pittance. She'll have found that out by now. Get your things on and come with me at twelve o'clock.
MRS BUILDER. I think you'll regret it. She'll refuse.
BUILDER. Not if I'm nice to her. A child could play with me to-day. Shall I tell you a secret, Julia?
MRS BUILDER. It would be pleasant for a change.
BUILDER. The Mayor's coming round at eleven, and I know perfectly well what he's coming for.
MRS BUILDER. Well?
BUILDER. I'm to be nominated for Mayor next month. Harris tipped me the wink at the last Council meeting. Not so bad at forty-seven--h'm? I can make a thundering good Mayor. I can do things for this town that nobody else can.
MRS BUILDER. Now I understand about Athene.
BUILDER. [Good-humouredly] Well, it's partly that. But [more seriously] it's more the feeling I get that I'm not doing my duty by her. Goodness knows whom she may be picking up with! Artists are a loose lot. And young people in these days are the limit. I quite believe in moving with the times, but one's either born a Conservative, or one isn't. So you be ready at twelve, see. By the way, that French maid of yours, Julia--
MRS BUILDER. What about her?
BUILDER. Is she--er--is she all right? We don't want any trouble with Topping.
MRS BUILDER. There will be none with--Topping. [She opens the door Left.]
BUILDER. I don't know; she strikes me as--very French. [MRS BUILDER smiles and passes out.]
[BUILDER fills his second pipe. He is just taking up the paper again when the door from the hall is opened, and the manservant TOPPING, dried, dark, sub- humorous, in a black cut-away, announces:]
TOPPING. The Mayor, Sir, and Mr Harris!
[THE MAYOR of Breconridge enters, He is clean-shaven, red-faced, light- eyed, about sixty, shrewd, poll-parroty, naturally jovial, dressed with the indefinable wrongness of a burgher; he is followed by his Secretary HARRIS, a man all eyes and cleverness. TOPPING retires.]
BUILDER. [Rising] Hallo, Mayor! What brings you so early? Glad to see you. Morning, Harris!
MAYOR. Morning, Builder, morning.
HARRIS. Good-morning, Sir.
BUILDER. Sit down-sit down! Have a cigar!
[The MAYOR takes a cigar HARRIS a cigarette from his own case.]
BUILDER. Well, Mayor, what's gone wrong with the works? [He and HARRIS exchange a look.]
MAYOR. [With his first puff] After you left the Council the other day, Builder, we came to a decision.
BUILDER. Deuce you did! Shall I agree with it?
MAYOR. We shall see. We want to nominate you for Mayor. You willin' to stand?
BUILDER. [Stolid] That requires consideration.
MAYOR. The only alternative is Chantrey; but he's a light weight, and rather too much County. What's your objection?
BUILDER. It's a bit unexpected, Mayor. [Looks at HARRIS] Am I the right man? Following you, you know. I'm shooting with Chantrey to-morrow. What does he feel about it?
MAYOR. What do you say, 'Arris?
HARRIS. Mr Chantrey's a public school and University man, Sir; he's not what I call ambitious.
BUILDER. Nor am I, Harris.
HARRIS. No, sir; of course you've a high sense of duty. Mr Chantrey's rather dilettante.
MAYOR. We want a solid man.
BUILDER. I'm very busy, you know, Mayor.
MAYOR. But you've got all the qualifications--big business, family man, live in the town, church-goer, experience on the Council and the Bench. Better say "yes," Builder.
BUILDER. It's a lot of extra work. I don't take things up lightly.
MAYOR. Dangerous times, these. Authority questioned all over the place. We want a man that feels his responsibilities, and we think we've got him in you.
BUILDER. Very good of you, Mayor. I don't know, I'm sure. I must think of the good of the town.
HARRIS. I shouldn't worry about that, sir.
MAYOR. The name John Builder carries weight. You're looked up to as a man who can manage his own affairs. Madam and the young ladies well?
MAYOR. [Rises] That's right. Well, if you'd like to talk it over with Chantrey to- morrow. With all this extremism, we want a man of principle and common sense.
HARRIS. We want a man that'll grasp the nettle, sir--and that's you.
BUILDER. Hm! I've got a temper, you know.
MAYOR. [Chuckling] We do--we do! You'll say "yes," I see. No false modesty! Come along, 'Arris, we must go.
BUILDER. Well, Mayor, I'll think it over, and let you have an answer. You know my faults, and you know my qualities, such as they are. I'm just a plain Englishman.
MAYOR. We don't want anything better than that. I always say the great point about an Englishman is that he's got bottom; you may knock him off his pins, but you find him on 'em again before you can say "Jack Robinson." He may have his moments of aberration, but he's a sticker. Morning, Builder, morning! Hope you'll say "yes."
[He shakes hands and goes out, followed by HARRIS.]
[When the door is dosed BUILDER stands a moment quite still with a gratified smile on his face; then turns and scrutinises himself in the glass over the hearth. While he is doing so the door from the dining-room is opened quietly and CAMILLE comes in. BUILDER, suddenly seeing her reflected in the mirror, turns.]
BUILDER. What is it, Camille?
CAMILLE. Madame send me for a letter she say you have, Monsieur, from the dyer and cleaner, with a bill.
BUILDER. [Feeling in his pockets] Yes--no. It's on the table.
CAMILLE goes to the writing-table and looks. That blue thing.
CAMILLE. [Taking it up] Non, Monsieur, this is from the gas.
BUILDER. Oh! Ah!
[He moves up to the table and turns over papers. CAMILLE stands motionless close by with her eyes fixed on him.]
Here it is!
[He looks up, sees her looking at him, drops his own gaze, and hands her the letter. Their hands touch. Putting his hands in his pockets]
What made you come to England?
CAMILLE. [Demure] It is better pay, Monsieur, and [With a smile] the English are so amiable.
BUILDER. Deuce they are! They haven't got that reputation.
CAMILLE. Oh! I admire Englishmen. They are so strong and kind.
BUILDER. [Bluffly flattered] H'm! We've no manners.
CAMILLE. The Frenchman is more polite, but not in the 'eart.
BUILDER. Yes. I suppose we're pretty sound at heart.
CAMILLE. And the Englishman have his life in the family--the Frenchman have his life outside.
BUILDER. [With discomfort] H'm!
CAMILLE. [With a look] Too mooch in the family--like a rabbit in a 'utch.
BUILDER. Oh! So that's your view of us! [His eyes rest on her, attracted but resentful].
CAMILLE. Pardon, Monsieur, my tongue run away with me.
BUILDER. [Half conscious of being led on] Are you from Paris?
CAMILLE. [Clasping her hands] Yes. What a town for pleasure--Paris!
BUILDER. I suppose so. Loose place, Paris.
CAMILLE. Loose? What is that, Monsieur?
BUILDER. The opposite of strict.
CAMILLE. Strict! Oh! certainly we like life, we other French. It is not like England. I take this to Madame, Monsieur. [She turns as if to go] Excuse me.
BUILDER. I thought you Frenchwomen all married young.
CAMILLE. I 'ave been married; my 'usband did die--en Afrique.
BUILDER. You wear no ring.
CAMILLE. [Smiling] I prefare to be mademoiselle, Monsieur.
BUILDER. [Dubiously] Well, it's all the same to us. [He takes a letter up from the table] You might take this to Mrs Builder too. [Again their fingers touch, and there is a suspicion of encounter between their eyes.]
CAMILLE goes out.
BUILDER. [Turning to his chair] Don't know about that woman--she's a tantalizer. [He compresses his lips, and is settling back into his chair, when the door from the hall is opened and his daughter MAUD comes in; a pretty girl, rather pale, with fine eyes. Though her face has a determined cast her manner at this moment is by no means decisive. She has a letter in her hand, and advances rather as if she were stalking her father, who, after a "Hallo, Maud!" has begun to read his paper.]
MAUD. [Getting as far as the table] Father.
BUILDER. [Not lowering the paper] Well? I know that tone. What do you want-- money?
MAUD. I always want money, of course; but--but--
BUILDER. [Pulling out a note-abstractedly] Here's five pounds for you.
[MAUD, advancing, takes it, then seems to find what she has come for more on her chest than ever.]
BUILDER. [Unconscious] Will you take a letter for me?
[MAUD sits down Left of table and prepares to take down the letter.]
[Dictating] "Dear Mr Mayor,--Referring to your call this morning, I have --er--given the matter very careful consideration, and though somewhat reluctant--"
MAUD. Are you really reluctant, father?
BUILDER. Go on--"To assume greater responsibilities, I feel it my duty to come forward in accordance with your wish. The--er--honour is one of which I hardly feel myself worthy, but you may rest assured--"
MAUD. Worthy. But you do, you know.
BUILDER. Look here! Are you trying to get a rise out of me?--because you won't succeed this morning.
MAUD. I thought you were trying to get one out of me.
BUILDER. Well, how would you express it?
MAUD. "I know I'm the best man for the place, and so do you--"
BUILDER. The disrespect of you young people is something extraordinary. And that reminds me where do you go every evening now after tea?
MAUD. I--I don't know.
BUILDER. Come now, that won't do--you're never in the house from six to seven.
MAUD. Well! It has to do with my education.
BUILDER. Why, you finished that two years ago!
MAUD. Well, call it a hobby, if you like, then, father. it.]
[She takes up the letter she brought in and seems on the point of broaching
BUILDER. Hobby? Well, what is it?
MAUD. I don't want to irritate you, father.
BUILDER. You can't irritate me more than by having secrets. See what that led to in your sister's case. And, by the way, I'm going to put an end to that this morning. You'll be glad to have her back, won't you?
MAUD. [Startled] What!
BUILDER. Your mother and I are going round to Athene at twelve o'clock. I shall make it up with her. She must come back here.
MAUD. [Aghast, but hiding it] Oh! It's--it's no good, father. She won't.
BUILDER. We shall see that. I've quite got over my tantrum, and I expect she has.
MAUD. [Earnestly] Father! I do really assure you she won't; it's only wasting your time, and making you eat humble pie.
BUILDER. Well, I can eat a good deal this morning. It's all nonsense! A family's a family.
MAUD. [More and more disturbed, but hiding it] Father, if I were you, I wouldn't- really! It's not-dignified.
BUILDER. You can leave me to judge of that. It's not dignified for the Mayor of this town to have an unmarried daughter as young as Athene living by herself away from home. This idea that she's on a visit won't wash any longer. Now finish that letter--"worthy, but you may rest assured that I shall do my best to sustain the--er--dignity of the office." [MAUD types desperately.] Got that? "And-- er--preserve the tradition so worthily--" No-- "so staunchly"--er--er–
BUILDER. Ah! "--upheld by yourself.--Faithfully yours."
MAUD. [Finishing] Father, you thought Athene went off in a huff. It wasn't that a bit. She always meant to go. She just got you into a rage to make it easier. She hated living at home.
BUILDER. Nonsense! Why on earth should she?
MAUD. Well, she did! And so do-- [Checking herself] And so you see it'll only make you ridiculous to go.
BUILDER. [Rises] Now what's behind this, Maud?
MAUD. Behind--Oh! nothing!
BUILDER. The fact is, you girls have been spoiled, and you enjoy twisting my tail; but you can't make me roar this morning. I'm too pleased with things. You'll see, it'll be all right with Athene.
MAUD. [Very suddenly] Father!
BUILDER. [Grimly humorous] Well! Get it off your chest. What's that letter about?
MAUD. [Failing again and crumpling the letter behind her back] Oh! nothing.
BUILDER. Everything's nothing this morning. Do you know what sort of people Athene associates with now--I suppose you see her?
MAUD. Nobody much. There isn't anybody here to associate with. It's all hopelessly behind the times.
BUILDER. Oh! you think so! That's the inflammatory fiction you pick up. I tell you what, young woman--the sooner you and your sister get rid of your silly notions about not living at home, and making your own way, the sooner you'll both get married and make it. Men don't like the new spirit in women--they may say they do, but they don't.
MAUD. You don't, father, I know.
BUILDER. Well, I'm very ordinary. If you keep your eyes open, you'll soon see that.
MAUD. Men don't like freedom for anybody but themselves.
BUILDER. That's not the way to put it. [Tapping out his pipe] Women in your class have never had to face realities.
MAUD. No, but we want to.
BUILDER. [Good-humouredly] Well, I'll bet you what you like, Athene's dose of reality will have cured her.
MAUD. And I'll bet you--No, I won't!
BUILDER. You'd better not. Athene will come home, and only too glad to do it. Ring for Topping and order the car at twelve.
[As he opens the door to pass out, MAUD starts forward, but checks herself.]
MAUD. [Looking at her watch] Half-past eleven! Good heavens!
[She goes to the bell and rings. Then goes back to the table, and writes an address on a bit of paper.]
[TOPPING enters Right.]
TOPPING. Did you ring, Miss?
MAUD. [With the paper] Yes. Look here, Topping! Can you manage-- on your bicycle--now at once? I want to send a message to Miss Athene --awfully important. It's just this: "Look out! Father is coming." [Holding out the paper] Here's her address. You must get there and away again by twelve. Father and mother want the car then to go there. Order it before you go. It won't take you twenty minutes on your bicycle. It's down by the river near the ferry. But you mustn't be seen by them either going or coming.
TOPPING. If I should fall into their hands, Miss, shall I eat the despatch?
MAUD. Rather! You're a brick, Topping. Hurry up!
TOPPING. Nothing more precise, Miss?
TOPPING. Very good, Miss Maud. [Conning the address] "Briary Studio, River Road. Look out! Father is coming!" I'll go out the back way. Any answer?
[TOPPING nods his head and goes out.]
MAUD. [To herself] Well, it's all I can do.
[She stands, considering, as the CURTAIN falls.]
The Studio, to which are attached living rooms, might be rented at eighty pounds a year--some painting and gear indeed, but an air of life rather than of work. Things strewn about. Bare walls, a sloping skylight, no windows; no fireplace visible; a bedroom door, stage Right; a kitchen door, stage Left. A door, Centre back, into the street. The door knocker is going.
From the kitchen door, Left, comes the very young person, ANNIE, in blotting- paper blue linen, with a white Dutch cap. She is pretty, her cheeks rosy, and her forehead puckered. She opens the street door. Standing outside is TOPPING. He steps in a pace or two.
TOPPING. Miss Builder live here?
ANNIE. Oh! no, sir; Mrs Herringhame.
TOPPING. Mrs Herringhame? Oh! young lady with dark hair and large expressive eyes?
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir.
TOPPING. With an "A. B." on her linen? [Moves to table].
ANNIE. Yes, sir.
TOPPING. And "Athene Builder" on her drawings?
ANNIE. [Looking at one] Yes, sir.
TOPPING. Let's see. [He examines the drawing] Mrs Herringhame, you said?
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Sir.
TOPPING. Wot oh!
ANNIE. Did you want anything, sir?
TOPPING. Drop the "sir," my dear; I'm the Builders' man. Mr Herringhame in?
ANNIE. Oh! no, Sir.
TOPPING. Take a message. I can't wait. From Miss Maud Builder. "Look out! Father is coming." Now, whichever of 'em comes in first--that's the message, and don't you forget it.
ANNIE. Oh! no, Sir.
TOPPING. So they're married?
ANNIE. Oh! I don't know, sir.
TOPPING. I see. Well, it ain't known to Builder, J.P., either. That's why there's a message. See?
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Sir.
TOPPING. Keep your head. I must hop it. From Miss Maud Builder. "Look out! Father is coming."
[He nods, turns and goes, pulling the door to behind him. ANNIE stands "baff" for a moment.]
[She goes across to the bedroom on the Right, and soon returns with a suit of pyjamas, a toothbrush, a pair of slippers and a case of razors, which she puts on the table, and disappears into the kitchen. She reappears with a bread pan, which she deposits in the centre of the room; then crosses again to the bedroom, and once more reappears with a clothes brush, two hair brushes, and a Norfolk jacket. As she stuffs all these into the bread pan and bears it back into the kitchen, there is the sound of a car driving up and stopping. ANNIE reappears at the kitchen door just as the knocker sounds.]
ANNIE. Vexin' and provokin'! [Knocker again. She opens the door] Oh! [MR and MRS BUILDER enter.]
BUILDER. Mr and Mrs Builder. My daughter in?
ANNIE. [Confounded] Oh! Sir, no, sir.
BUILDER. My good girl, not "Oh! Sir, no, sir." Simply: No, Sir. See?
ANNIE. Oh! Sir, yes, Sir.
BUILDER. Where is she?
ANNIE. Oh! Sir, I don't know, Sir.
BUILDER. [Fixing her as though he suspected her of banter] Will she be back soon?
ANNIE. No, Sir.
BUILDER. How do you know?
ANNIE. I d--don't, sir.
BUILDER. They why do you say so? [About to mutter "She's an idiot!" he looks at her blushing face and panting figure, pats her on the shoulder and says] Never mind; don't be nervous.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir. Is that all, please, sir?
MRS BUILDER. [With a side look at her husband and a faint smile] Yes; you can go.
ANNIE. Thank you, ma'am.
[She turns and hurries out into the kitchen, Left. BUILDER gazes after her, and MRS BUILDER gazes at BUILDER with her faint smile.]
BUILDER. [After the girl is gone] Quaint and Dutch--pretty little figure! [Staring round] H'm! Extraordinary girls are! Fancy Athene preferring this to home. What?
MRS BUILDER. I didn't say anything.
BUILDER. [Placing a chair for his wife, and sitting down himself] Well, we must wait, I suppose. Confound that Nixon legacy! If Athene hadn't had that potty little legacy left her, she couldn't have done this. Well, I daresay it's all spent by now. I made a mistake to lose my temper with her.
MRS BUILDER. Isn't it always a mistake to lose one's temper?
BUILDER. That's very nice and placid; sort of thing you women who live sheltered lives can say. I often wonder if you women realise the strain on a business man.
MRS BUILDER. [In her softly ironical voice] It seems a shame to add the strain of family life.
BUILDER. You've always been so passive. When I want a thing, I've got to have it.
MRS BUILDER. I've noticed that.
BUILDER. [With a short laugh] Odd if you hadn't, in twenty-three years. [Touching a canvas standing against the chair with his toe] Art! Just a pretext. We shall be having Maud wanting to cut loose next. She's very restive. Still, I oughtn't to have had that scene with Athene. I ought to have put quiet pressure.
[MRS BUILDER Smiles.]
BUILDER. What are you smiling at?
[MRS BUILDER shrugs her shoulders.]
Look at this-- Cigarettes! [He examines the brand on the box] Strong, very--and not good! [He opens the door] Kitchen! [He shuts it, crosses, and opens the door, Right] Bedroom!
MRS BUILDER. [To his disappearing form] Do you think you ought, John?
[He has disappeared, and she ends with an expressive movement of her hands, a long sigh, and a closing of her eyes. BUILDER'S peremptory voice is heard: "Julia!"]
[She follows into the bedroom. The maid ANNIE puts her head out of the kitchen door; she comes out a step as if to fly; then, at BUILDER'S voice, shrinks back into the kitchen.]
BUILDER, reappearing with a razor strop in one hand and a shaving-brush in the other, is followed by MRS BUILDER.
BUILDER. Explain these! My God! Where's that girl?
MRS BUILDER. John! Don't! [Getting between him and the kitchen door] It's not dignified.
BUILDER. I don't care a damn.
MRS BUILDER. John, you mustn't. Athene has the tiny beginning of a moustache, you know.
BUILDER. What! I shall stay and clear this up if I have to wait a week. Men who let their daughters--! This age is the limit. [He makes a vicious movement with the strop, as though laying it across someone's back.]
MRS BUILDER. She would never stand that. Even wives object, nowadays.
BUILDER. [Grimly] The war's upset everything. Women are utterly out of hand. Why the deuce doesn't she come?
MRS BUILDER. Suppose you leave me here to see her.
BUILDER. [Ominously] This is my job.
MRS BUILDER. I think it's more mine.
BUILDER. Don't stand there opposing everything I say! I'll go and have another look--[He is going towards the bedroom when the sound of a latchkey in the outer door arrests him. He puts the strop and brush behind his back, and adds in a low voice] Here she is!
[MRS BUILDER has approached him, and they have both turned towards the opening door. GUY HERRINGHAME comes in. They are a little out of his line of sight, and he has shut the door before he sees them. When he does, his mouth falls open, and his hand on to the knob of the door. He is a comely young man in Harris tweeds. Moreover, he is smoking. He would speak if he could, but his surprise is too excessive.] BUILDER. Well, sir?
GUY. [Recovering a little] I was about to say the same to you, sir.
BUILDER. [Very red from repression] These rooms are not yours, are they?
GUY. Nor yours, sir?
BUILDER. May I ask if you know whose they are?
GUY. My sister's.
MRS BUILDER. John!
BUILDER. Will you kindly tell me why your sister signs her drawings by the name of my daughter, Athene Builder--and has a photograph of my wife hanging there?
[The YOUNG MAN looks at MRS BUILDER and winces, but recovers himself.]
GUY. [Boldly] As a matter of fact this is my sister's studio; she's in France--and has a friend staying here.
BUILDER. Oh! And you have a key?
GUY. My sister's.
BUILDER. Does your sister shave?
GUY. I--I don't think so.
BUILDER. No. Then perhaps you'll tell me what these mean? [He takes out the strop and shaving stick].
GUY. Oh! Ah! Those things?
BUILDER. Yes. Now then?
GUY. [Addressing MRS BUILDER] Need we go into this in your presence, ma'am? It seems rather delicate.
BUILDER. What explanation have you got?
GUY. Well, you see--
BUILDER. No lies; out with it!
GUY. [With decision] I prefer to say nothing.
BUILDER. What's your name?
GUY. Guy Herringhame.
BUILDER. Do you live here?
[Guy makes no sign.]
MRS BUILDER. [To Guy] I think you had better go.
BUILDER. Julia, will you leave me to manage this?
MRS BUILDER. [To Guy] When do you expect my daughter in?
MRS BUILDER. [Quietly] Are you married to her?
GUY. Yes. That is--no--o; not altogether, I mean.
BUILDER. What's that? Say that again!
GUY. [Folding his arms] I'm not going to say another word.
BUILDER. I am.
MRS BUILDER. John--please!
BUILDER. Don't put your oar in! I've had wonderful patience so far. [He puts his boot through a drawing] Art! This is what comes of it! Are you an artist?
GUY. No; a flying man. The truth is--
BUILDER. I don't want to hear you speak the truth. I'll wait for my daughter.
GUY. If you do, I hope you'll be so very good as to be gentle. If you get angry I might too, and that would be awfully ugly.
BUILDER. Well, I'm damned!
GUY. I quite understand that, sir. But, as a man of the world, I hope you'll take a pull before she comes, if you mean to stay.
BUILDER. If we mean to stay! That's good!
GUY. Will you have a cigarette?
BUILDER. I--I can't express--
GUY. [Soothingly] Don't try, sir. [He jerks up his chin, listening] I think that's her. [Goes to the door] Yes. Now, please! [He opens the door] Your father and mother, Athene.
ATHENE enters. She is flushed and graceful. Twenty-two, with a short upper lip, a straight nose, dark hair, and glowing eyes. She wears bright colours, and has a slow, musical voice, with a slight lisp.
ATHENE. Oh! How are you, mother dear? This is rather a surprise. Father always keeps his word, so I certainly didn't expect him. [She looks steadfastly at BUILDER, but does not approach].
BUILDER. [Controlling himself with an effort] Now, Athene, what's this?
ATHENE. What's what?
BUILDER. [The strop held out] Are you married to this--this--?
ATHENE. [Quietly] To all intents and purposes.
BUILDER. In law?
BUILDER. My God! You--you--!
ATHENE. Father, don't call names, please.
BUILDER. Why aren't you married to him?
ATHENE. Do you want a lot of reasons, or the real one?
BUILDER. This is maddening! [Goes up stage].
ATHENE. Mother dear, will you go into the other room with Guy? [She points to the door Right].
ATHENE. Because I would rather she didn't hear the reason.
GUY. [To ATHENE, sotto voce] He's not safe.
ATHENE. Oh! yes; go on.
[Guy follows MRS BUILDER, and after hesitation at the door they go out into the bedroom.]
BUILDER. Now then!
ATHENE. Well, father, if you want to know the real reason, it's--you.
BUILDER. What on earth do you mean?
ATHENE. Guy wants to marry me. In fact, we--But I had such a stunner of marriage from watching you at home, that I--
BUILDER. Don't be impudent! My patience is at breaking-point, I warn you.
ATHENE. I'm perfectly serious, Father. I tell you, we meant to marry, but so far I haven't been able to bring myself to it. You never noticed how we children have watched you.
ATHENE. Yes. You and mother, and other things; all sorts of things--
BUILDER. [Taking out a handkerchief and wiping his brow] I really think you're mad.
ATHENE. I'm sure you must, dear.
BUILDER. Don't "dear" me! What have you noticed? D'you mean I'm not a good husband and father?
ATHENE. Look at mother. I suppose you can't, now; you're too used to her.
BUILDER. Of course I'm used to her. What else is marrying for?
ATHENE. That; and the production of such as me. And it isn't good enough, father. You shouldn't have set us such a perfect example.
BUILDER. You're talking the most arrant nonsense I ever heard. [He lifts his hands] I've a good mind to shake it out of you.
ATHENE. Shall I call Guy? [He drops his hands.] Confess that being a good husband and father has tried you terribly. It has us, you know.
BUILDER. [Taking refuge in sarcasm] When you've quite done being funny, perhaps you'll tell me why you've behaved like a common street flapper.
ATHENE. [Simply] I couldn't bear to think of Guy as a family man. That's all-- absolutely. It's not his fault; he's been awfully anxious to be one.
BUILDER. You've disgraced us, then; that's what it comes to.
ATHENE. I don't want to be unkind, but you've brought it on yourself.
BUILDER. [Genuinely distracted] I can't even get a glimmer of what you mean. I've never been anything but firm. Impatient, perhaps. I'm not an angel; no ordinary healthy man is. I've never grudged you girls any comfort, or pleasure.
ATHENE. Except wills of our own.
BUILDER. What do you want with wills of your own till you're married?
ATHENE. You forget mother!
BUILDER. What about her?
ATHENE. She's very married. Has she a will of her own?
BUILDER. [Sullenly] She's learnt to know when I'm in the right.
ATHENE. I don't ever mean to learn to know when Guy's in the right. Mother's forty-one, and twenty-three years of that she's been your wife. It's a long time, father. Don't you ever look at her face?
BUILDER. [Troubled in a remote way] Rubbish!
ATHENE. I didn't want my face to get like that.
BUILDER. With such views about marriage, what business had you to go near a man? Come, now!
ATHENE. Because I fell in love.
BUILDER. Love leads to marriage--and to nothing else, but the streets. What an example to your sister!
ATHENE. You don't know Maud any more than you knew me. She's got a will of her own too, I can tell you.
BUILDER. Now, look here, Athene. It's always been my way to face accomplished facts. What's done can't be undone; but it can be remedied. You must marry this young----at once, before it gets out. He's behaved like a ruffian: but, by your own confession, you've behaved worse. You've been bitten by this modern disease, this--this, utter lack of common decency. There's an eternal order in certain things, and marriage is one of them; in fact, it's the chief. Come, now. Give me a promise, and I'll try my utmost to forget the whole thing.
ATHENE. When we quarrelled, father, you said you didn't care what became of me.
BUILDER. I was angry.
ATHENE. So you are now.
BUILDER. Come, Athene, don't be childish! Promise me!
ATHENE. [With a little shudder] No! We were on the edge of it. But now I've seen you again--Poor mother!
BUILDER. [Very angry] This is simply blasphemous. What do you mean by harping on your mother? If you think that--that--she doesn't--that she isn't--
ATHENE. Now, father!
BUILDER. I'm damned if I'll sit down under this injustice. Your mother is--is pretty irritating, I can tell you. She--she--Everything suppressed. And--and no--blood in her!
ATHENE. I knew it!
BUILDER. [Aware that he has confirmed some thought in her that he had no intention of confirming] What's that?
ATHENE. Don't you ever look at your own face, father? When you shave, for instance.
BUILDER. Of course I do.
ATHENE. It isn't satisfied, is it?
BUILDER. I don't know what on earth you mean.
ATHENE. You can't help it, but you'd be ever so much happier if you were a Mohammedan, and two or three, instead of one, had--had learned to know when you were in the right.
BUILDER. 'Pon my soul! This is outrageous!
ATHENE. Truth often is.
BUILDER. Will you be quiet?
ATHENE. I don't ever want to feel sorry for Guy in that way.
BUILDER. I think you're the most immodest--I'm ashamed that you're my daughter. If your another had ever carried on as you are now--
ATHENE. Would you have been firm with her?
BUILDER. [Really sick at heart at this unwonted mockery which meets him at every turn] Be quiet, you----!
ATHENE. Has mother never turned?
BUILDER. You're an unnatural girl! Go your own way to hell!
ATHENE. I am not coming back home, father.
BUILDER. [Wrenching open the door, Right] Julia! Come! We can't stay here. [MRS BUILDER comes forth, followed by GUY.] As for you, sir, if you start by allowing a woman to impose her crazy ideas about marriage on you, all I can say is--I despise you. [He crosses to the outer door, followed by his wife. To ATHENE] I've done with you!
[He goes out.]
[MRS BUILDER, who has so far seemed to accompany him, shuts the door quickly and remains in the studio. She stands there with that faint smile on her face, looking at the two young people.]
ATHENE. Awfully sorry, mother; but don't you see what a stunner father's given me?
MRS BUILDER. My dear, all men are not alike.
GUY. I've always told her that, ma'am.
ATHENE. [Softly] Oh! mother, I'm so sorry for you.
[The handle of the door is rattled, a fist is beaten on it.] [She stamps, and covers her ears] Disgusting!
GUY. Shall I--?
MRS BUILDER. [Shaking her head] I'm going in a moment. [To ATHENE] You owe it to me, Athene.
ATHENE. Oh! if somebody would give him a lesson! [BUILDER's voice: "Julia!"] Have you ever tried, mother?
[MRS BUILDER looks at the YOUNG MAN, who turns away out of hearing.]
MRS BUILDER. Athene, you're mistaken. I've always stood up to him in my own way.
ATHENE. Oh! but, mother--listen!
[The beating and rattling have recommenced, and the voice: "Are you coming?"]
[Passionately] And that's family life! Father was all right before he married, I expect. And now it's like this. How you survive--!
MRS BUILDER. He's only in a passion, my dear.
ATHENE. It's wicked.
MRS BUILDER. It doesn't work otherwise, Athene. [A single loud bang on the door.]
ATHENE. If he beats on that door again, I shall scream.
[MRS BUILDER smiles, shakes her head, and turns to the door.]
MRS BUILDER. Now, my dear, you're going to be sensible, to please me. It's really best. If I say so, it must be. It's all comedy, Athene.
GUY. [Turning to them] Look here! Shall I shift him?
[MRS BUILDER shakes her head and opens the door. BUILDER stands there, a furious figure.]
BUILDER. Will you come, and leave that baggage and her cad?
MRS BUILDER steps quickly out and the door is closed. Guy makes an angry movement towards it.
GUY. [Turning to her] That puts the top hat on. So persuasive! [He takes out of his pocket a wedding ring, and a marriage licence] Well! What's to be done with these pretty things, now?
ATHENE. Burn them!
GUY. [Slowly] Not quite. You can't imagine I should ever be like that, Athene?
ATHENE. Marriage does wonders.
ATHENE. Oh! Guy, don't be horrid. I feel awfully bad.
GUY. Well, what do you think I feel? "Cad!"
[They turn to see ANNIE in hat and coat, with a suit-case in her hand, coming from the door Left.]
ANNIE. Oh! ma'am, please, Miss, I want to go home.
GUY. [Exasperated!] She wants to go home--she wants to go home!
ATHENE. Guy! All right, Annie.
ANNIE. Oh! thank you, Miss. [She moves across in front of them].
ATHENE. [Suddenly] Annie! [ANNIE stops and turns to her.] What are you afraid of?
ANNIE. [With comparative boldness] I--I might catch it, Miss.
ATHENE. From your people?
ANNIE. Oh! no, Miss; from you. You see, I've got a young man that wants to marry me. And if I don't let him, I might get into trouble meself.
ATHENE. What sort of father and mother have you got, Annie?
ANNIE. I never thought, Miss. And of course I don't want to begin.
ATHENE. D'you mean you've never noticed how they treat each other?
ANNIE. I don't think they do, Miss.
ANNIE. They haven't time. Father's an engine driver.
GUY. And what's your young man, Annie?
ANNIE. [Embarrassed] Somethin' like you, sir. But very respectable.
ATHENE. And suppose you marry him, and he treats you like a piece of furniture?
ANNIE. I--I could treat him the same, Miss. ATHENE. Don't you believe that, Annie!
ANNIE. He's very mild.
ATHENE. That's because he wants you. You wait till he doesn't. [ANNIE looks at GUY.]
GUY. Don't you believe her, Annie; if he's decent--
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir.
ATHENE. [Suppressing a smile] Of course--but the point is, Annie, that marriage makes all the difference.
ANNIE. Yes, Miss; that's what I thought.
ATHENE. You don't see. What I mean is that when once he's sure of you, he may change completely.
ANNIE. [Slowly, looking at her thumb] Oh! I don't--think--he'll hammer me, Miss. Of course, I know you can't tell till you've found out.
ATHENE. Well, I've no right to influence you. ANNIE. Oh! no, Miss; that's what I've been thinking.
GUY. You're quite right, Annie=-this is no place for you.
ANNIE. You see, we can't be married; sir, till he gets his rise. So it'll be a continual temptation to me.
ATHENE. Well, all right, Annie. I hope you'll never regret it.
ANNIE. Oh! no, Miss.
GUY. I say, Annie, don't go away thinking evil of us; we didn't realise you knew we weren't married.
ATHENE. We certainly did not.
ANNIE. Oh! I didn't think it right to take notice.
GUY. We beg your pardon.
ANNIE. Oh! no, sir. Only, seein' Mr and Mrs Builder so upset, brought it 'ome like. And father can be 'andy with a strap.
ATHENE. There you are! Force majeure!
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Miss.
ATHENE. Well, good-bye, Annie. What are you going to say to your people?
ANNIE. Oh! I shan't say I've been livin' in a family that wasn't a family, Miss. It wouldn't do no good.
ATHENE. Well, here are your wages.
ANNIE. Oh! I'm puttin' you out, Miss. [She takes the money].
ATHENE. Nonsense, Annie. And here's your fare home.
ANNIE. Oh! thank you, Miss. I'm very sorry. Of course if you was to change your mind--[She stops, embarrassed].
ATHENE. I don't think--
GUY. [Abruptly] Good-bye, Annie. Here's five bob for the movies.
ANNIE. Oh! good-bye, sir, and thank you. I was goin' there now with my young man. He's just round the corner.
GUY. Be very careful of him.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir, I will. Good-bye, sir. Goodbye, Miss. [She goes.]
GUY. So her father has a firm hand too. But it takes her back to the nest. How's that, Athene?
ATHENE. [Playing with a leathern button on his coat] If you'd watched it ever since you could watch anything, seen it kill out all--It's having power that does it. I know Father's got awfully good points.
GUY. Well, they don't stick out.
ATHENE. He works fearfully hard; he's upright, and plucky. He's not stingy. But he's smothered his animal nature-and that's done it. I don't want to see you smother anything, Guy.
GUY. [Gloomily] I suppose one never knows what one's got under the lid. If he hadn't come here to-day--[He spins the wedding ring] He certainly gives one pause. Used he to whack you?
ATHENE. With the best intentions. You see, he's a Town Councillor, and a magistrate. I suppose they have to be "firm." Maud and I sneaked in once to listen to him. There was a woman who came for protection from her husband. If he'd known we were there, he'd have had a fit.
GUY. Did he give her the protection?
ATHENE. Yes; he gave her back to the husband. Wasn't it--English?
GUY. [With a grunt] Hang it! We're not all like that.
ATHENE. [Twisting his button] I think it's really a sense of property so deep that they don't know they've got it. Father can talk about freedom like a--politician.
GUY. [Fitting the wedding ring on her finger] Well! Let's see how it looks, anyway.
ATHENE. Don't play with fire, Guy.
GUY. There's something in atavism, darling; there really is. I like it --I do. [A knock on the door.]
ATHENE. That sounds like Annie again. Just see.
GUY. [Opening the door] It is. Come in, Annie. What's wrong now?
ANNIE. [Entering in confusion] Oh! sir, please, sir--I've told my young man.
ATHENE. Well, what does he say?
ANNIE. 'E was 'orrified, Miss.
GUY. The deuce he was! At our conduct?
ANNIE. Oh! no, sir--at mine.
ATHENE. But you did your best; you left us.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Miss; that's why 'e's horrified.
GUY. Good for your young man.
ANNIE. [Flattered] Yes, sir. 'E said I 'ad no strength of mind.
ATHENE. So you want to come back?
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Miss.
ATHENE. All right.
GUY. But what about catching it?
ANNIE. Oh, sir, 'e said there was nothing like Epsom salts.
GUY. He's a wag, your young man.
ANNIE. He was in the Army, sir.
GUY. You said he was respectable.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir; but not so respectable as that.
ATHENE. Well, Annie, get your things off, and lay lunch.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, Miss. [She makes a little curtsey and passes through into the kitchen.]
GUY. Strength of mind! Have a little, Athene won't you? [He holds out the marriage licence before her].
ATHENE. I don't know--I don't know! If--it turned out--
GUY. It won't. Come on. Must take chances in this life.
ATHENE. [Looking up into his face] Guy, promise me--solemnly that you'll never let me stand in your way, or stand in mine!
GUY. Right! That's a bargain. [They embrace.]
[ATHENE quivers towards him. They embrace fervently as ANNIE enters with the bread pan. They spring apart.]
GUY. It's all right, Annie. There's only one more day's infection before you. We're to be married to-morrow morning.
ANNIE. Oh! yes, sir. Won't Mr Builder be pleased?
GUY. H'm! That's not exactly our reason.
ANNIE. [Right] Oh! no, sir. Of course you can't be a family without, can you?
GUY. What have you got in that thing?
[ANNIE is moving across with the bread pan. She halts at the bedroom door.]
ANNIE. Oh! please, ma'am, I was to give you a message--very important-- from Miss Maud Builder "Lookout! Father is coming!" [She goes out.]
[The CURTAIN falls.]