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JOSEPHINE TEY
WRITING AS GORDON DAVIOT

LADY CHARING IS CROSS

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A PLAY IN THREE ACTS

First Published in Plays by Gordon Daviot, Vol. 3, Peter Davies, 1954

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Produced by Colin Choat

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                          CHARACTERS

                          LADY CHARING
                          LADY TILLICOULTRY
                          LORD CHARING
                          NEIL TUMMEL
                          CRIPPS, a maid
                          VICTOR, a footman

SCENE. The first scene takes place in a part of LADY CHARING'S
bedroom; for the rest of the play the action takes place in the small
drawing-room at Charing House, W.1.

TIME. The middle of Edward the Seventh's reign.

                                 ACT I

                                SCENE I

It is a May morning in London, and we are looking at part of
LADY CHARING'S bedroom at Charing House. The house is
situated in a Mayfair Square, and the bedroom is on the second floor.
Through the open window at the back one can see the tops of the trees in
the sunlight, and from the square below there comes, since this is the
reign of Edward VII, the faint clip-clop of horses' hooves and the purr
of tyred wheels.

At the dressing-table, clad in a ravishing creation which she calls a
wrapper, is LADY CHARING. Her hair is in the process of being arranged
for the day by her maid, CRIPPS.

LADY CHARING was forty last month, but no one remembers the fact;
partly because her beauty has an ageless quality, and partly because she
is less a person than an institution. For more than ten years now
Charing House has been the social centre of London. No climber 'arrives'
until his name appears on the Charing House list; no fallen idol is
'cut' until his name is dropped from that list. There are those who say
that LADY CHARING'S taste is a little too catholic; but these, no
doubt, are such as have had to wait too long in the crush on the
magnificent stairs when the Charings 'receive'. Neither the catholicity
nor the crush prevents them from being on the stairs next time.

CRIPPS, too, is ageless. She comes of five generations of 'service',
and in her own time she has been passed on from one generation to
another, like a christening robe or any other valuable family
possession. Occasionally she is sent to take lessons from a fashionable
hairdresser. She translates her new knowledge with tact and success to
her mistress's head; but her own hair is done as she first learned to do
it thirty-odd years ago.

  LADY CHARING: (breaking the comfortable silence while she watches
CRIPPS'S activities in the mirror) Well, Cripps, was it a happy
reunion last night in the housekeeper's room?

  CRIPPS: Very pleasant, my lady.

  LADY C.: Have you left any of us a rag of reputation?

  CRIPPS: (quietly reproving) We are interested, my lady, but never
censorious.

  LADY C.: And what have you gathered of interest? (Referring to a lock
of hair) A little farther back, that.

  CRIPPS: Like that, my lady?

  LADY C.: That is better. Well, what is the gossip?

  CRIPPS: No less than five Americans have taken houses in the Square for
the season.

  LADY C.: (not particularly interested) Oh? All railways?

  CRIPPS: I understand that none of them are railways, my lady.

  LADY C.: (genuinely inquiring) Dear me! What else do Americans make
money in?

  CRIPPS: Beginning from the north end of the Square, Number Three is
tintacks, Number Ten rubber goods, Number Seventeen toothpaste, Number
Twenty-two lumber—that is something to do with wood, not second-hand
things, my lady—and Twenty-eight is something new called Advertising.

  LADY C.: Are the Broomes not opening Twenty-eight this year, then?

  CRIPPS: No, my lady. They married the last daughter off at a Christmas
ball.

  LADY C.: What, the fat one? What a little mistletoe will do!

  CRIPPS: They say it was the punch, my lady.

  LADY C.: What other news?

  CRIPPS: Lady Trundle has been stealing umbrellas again.

  LADY C.: The woman never had any sense.

  CRIPPS: It is said to be involuntary, my lady.

  LADY C.: (not listening) Imagine acquiring anything as convenient as
kleptomania and squandering it on umbrellas.

  CRIPPS: They have engaged a gentleman to go round after her and pay for
anything she takes.

  LADY C.: A gentleman?

  CRIPPS: The younger son of an impoverished baronet, I understand, my
lady.

  LADY C.: (having considered it) Oh, well. I suppose it is no worse
than chasing sheep in Australia. What else?

  CRIPPS: Old Sir Archibald is breaking up.

  LADY C.: Poor dear. His memory, is it?

  CRIPPS: No, my Lady, he has taken to carrying parcels in the street.

  LADY C.: I hardly think that is an infallible sign of decrepitude. In
the winter one does things, even in town, that one would not dream of
doing during the season.

   [There is a knock on the bedroom door. CRIPPS goes to the door and
      consults with the knocker, while LADY CHARING picks up a buffer
      and idly polishes her nails.]

  CRIPPS: Lady Tillicoultry is downstairs, my lady, and wants to know if
she may come up.

  LADY C.: But of course! Of course! (As CRIPPS gives the message and
comes away from the door) I wonder what Poppy is doing out of bed at
ten of a morning.

  CRIPPS: She is no doubt glad to have you back, my lady.

  LADY C.: No doubt. But it is a gladness that could be contained until
luncheon. (After a second's pause) There was no gossip about the
Tillicoultrys, was there? (The accent is on the name, and she obviously
expects the answer to be 'No')

  CRIPPS: (a little shocked) Oh, no, my lady. Certainly not. One would
as soon expect gossip about our own household.

  LADY C.: (having considered it a moment longer) Perhaps she just had
cramp.

   [With a sketchy knock at the door, LADY TILLICOULTRY comes in, and
      crosses to kiss her friend.]

  LADY T.: Millie, my dear, how nice to have you back.

  LADY C.: (genuinely glad to see her; holding out a left hand,
presenting her cheek for the kiss) Poppy! How are you? You are looking
radiant.

  LADY T.: What a wonderful wrapper. How are you, Cripps?

  CRIPPS: I am very well, my lady, thank you. (She provides a chair for
the newcomer)

   [LADY TILLICOULTRY—Venetia Mary Violet Graham-Grant-Moffat,
      Countess of Tillicoultry—is a year younger than her friend, but
      looks a little older. Her clothes, down to the last glove button,
      are as elegant as anything worn by the mistress of Charing House,
      but they have an odd air of having been put on by accident. Even
      her very fashionable and becoming hat is not quite straight.

   [LADY T. sinks into the chair that CRIPPS has supplied, which is
      placed so that the two women can see each other in the mirror.]

  LADY T.: I know this is an absurd hour for anyone but the butcher's boy
to call, but if I waited till luncheon there would be a dozen people and
I would never see you again alone until August.

  LADY C.: (dispassionately) Your wig is crooked.

  LADY T.: (equally matter-of-fact, putting up her hands preparatory to
correcting the slant) Which way?

  LADY C.: The usual way.

  LADY T.: (adjusting it without looking in the mirror; equably) Cosmo
says that if I don't get a new wig he will acquire a mistress. I wish he
would. No woman should have to endure the attentions of a devoted
husband after eleven years of matrimony.

  LADY C.: Why don't you go back to your own hair? It must have grown by
now.

  LADY T.: Oh, I could never endure to go through that every morning.
(She indicates CRIPPS' administrations) If one must have measles one
might as well get some advantage from it.

  LADY C.: You would make a profit out of Satan. Why did you want to see
me alone?

  LADY T.: Because you are my best friend and I am in trouble. (She
sounds not at all perturbed)

  LADY C.: Bills, bile, or blackmail?

  LADY T.: It's Kilcrannock.

  LADY C.: Kilcrannock! Why waste a May morning in London worrying about
a Scottish county?

  LADY T.: It is not the county; it's the constituency. Didn't you read
any papers in Nice?

  LADY C.: (only half-serious) Why should one? Nothing important
happens in England when I am out of it.

  LADY T.: You'd be surprised what can happen in Scotland!

  LADY C.: The by-election, was it? What went wrong?

  LADY T.: They have elected the Socialist creature!

  LADY C.: But I thought young Whatshisname was all ready to step into
old Brigham's shoes when he died?

  LADY T.: So did everyone else. That is what went wrong! Everyone was so
sure that no one bothered to vote. So the Socialist creature sailed in.

  LADY C.: (half-amused) Dear me! That must be a shock for a Tory
stronghold like Kilcrannock.

  LADY T.: The situation is quite appalling. Nothing like that has
happened to the Tillicoultrys in all their hundreds of years in
Scotland.

  LADY C.: It serves you right for owning any part of the benighted
country.

  LADY T.: Is it my fault that Charles the Second had an evening off in
Perth? Don't be so detached, Millie. You must help me.

  LADY C.: Help you?

  LADY T.: One cannot allow oneself to be represented by someone so
unpresentable.

  LADY C.: What do you propose to do about it?

  LADY T.: Now that the creature is here in town his habits can be
judiciously—supervised.

  LADY C.: Are you suggesting blackmail?

  LADY T.: (indignant) Certainly not! The creature has never done a
wrong thing in all his stupid life.

  LADY C.: Then what do you suggest?

  LADY T.: I thought that you might, so to speak, take the rough off him.

  LADY C.: I!

  LADY T.: You know: give him tips about ties, and weed the grosser
misconceptions from his mind.

  LADY C.: (drawling) My dear good Poppy! May I ask why you do not
'take the rough off' for yourself?

  LADY T.: How can I? We are not on speaking terms. I shall have to bow,
of course, when we meet on the same platform. When I open bazaars and
things. But we cannot have any converse. He objects to us even more than
we do to him.

  LADY C.: (silkily) And you think he would not object to me?

  LADY T.: Well, you are a Liberal, and therefore of no consequence
politically. It would not, I mean, be 'crossing the floor' to accept
your hospitality. And you are, after all, Millicent Charing.

  LADY C.: Thank you, my dear.

  LADY T.: Has anyone ever refused an invitation to Charing House?

  LADY C.: Not that I can remember. So you think your wild man might put
up with me? And can you tell me why I should be bored by having a piece
of original conglomerate dumped in my drawing-room?

  LADY T.: But you would not be bored. You like creatures. Even if
someone found him there, no one would think it odd. Everyone expects you
to be a little promiscuous.

  LADY C.: My dear Poppy!

  LADY T.: Socially speaking, of course.

   [LADY CHARING, her hair-dressing finished, steps out of her wrapper,
      and is assisted into her morning toilette by CRIPPS.]

  LADY C.: What is he called, your creature?

  LADY T.: Neil Tummel.

  LADY C.: (puzzled) Tumble as in fall?

  LADY T.: No, as in the river. T-u-m-m-e-l.

  LADY C.: (without emotion) Uncouth. I cannot do it.

  LADY T.: Oh, please, Millie. Pretty please. I do not ask for miracles.
Just a corner off here and there, and a new suit or so. (As this
produces no immediate answer) I promise you he is no duller than that
Theosophist woman. Or than that pianist boy you took up last season.

  LADY C.: (defending her choice without heat) Stanislaus was a Pole,
and amusing, and an artist. You ask me to put up with a Scot who is a
politician and a reformer. It cannot be done. (After a pause filled
with the exigencies of dressing) It's that worthy streak in the Scots
that makes them so unbearable. If they were utterly damnable like the
Irish, everyone would begin finding excuses for them.

   [A light tap at the door, and the door opens a little.]

  LORD C.: (off) May I come in?

  LADY C.: Oh, good morning, Gussie.

   [LORD CHARING comes in. He is a kind little man, considerably older
      than the wife he still adores. If he had married a plain little
      woman with negative tastes he might have had the energy to give up
      the social life which puzzles and tires him and to retire to the
      country existence which he loves. But having acquired as a partner
      one of the great beauties of the day, he has resigned himself, not
      unhappily, to being the tail of a comet.]

  LORD C.: (crossing to his wife and kissing the proffered cheek) Good
morning, my dear.

  LADY C.: How is the lumbago?

  LORD C.: Oh, gone, gone. Poppy, my dear. (He shakes hands with her)
How nice to see you after all those months. How was the winter in
Scotland?

  LADY T.: Wintry and Scottish.

  LORD C.: (gallantly) Better for the complexion than the Riviera, I
dare say. How is Cosmo?

  LADY T.: Having his catarrh. On the first Sunday in May every year
Cosmo has catarrh.

  LORD C.: Nothing if not a good Conservative. And the children? Well, I
hope?

  LADY T.: (making a little noise of qualificated assent) I doubt if we
should have sent Marjorie to that school.

  LORD C.: Not in trouble, is she?

  LADY T.: Not exactly. Unpopular, I gather. She was asked to write an
essay: Would she rather be beautiful or good? She said she would rather
be beautiful and repent.

  LORD C.: Dear Marjorie. Great favourite of mine. You have a nice
family, Poppy.

  LADY T.: I have done my duty. Two sons to be heirs, and two daughters
to make alliances.

  LORD C.: You don't pull any wool over my eyes. You dote on your little
brood—and rightly.

  LADY C.: (continuing his thought, without malice, and without pausing
in the details of her dressing) Now Millicent never remembers that she
has a family.

  LORD C.: (hastily disclaiming his subconscious thought, and unaware
that he has had it) Oh, nonsense, Millie, my dear. I have never known
you forget a birthday of either of them.

  LADY C.: If I didn't know you so well, Gussie, I might suspect you of
irony. As it is, I will not have you burning incense under Poppy's nose
right in front of my eyes. There is no enormity of which the woman is
not capable. Do you know what she came hot-foot to suggest? That I adopt
her Kilcrannock socialist and shake the fleas out of him.

  LORD C.: (amused) And you, of course, are going to.

  LADY C.: (her attention caught) What makes you think that?

  LORD C.: Am I wrong?

  LADY C.: You overrate my amiability.

  LORD C.: It was your curiosity I banked on, my dear.

  LADY C.: (without heat) Don't be absurd, Augustus. I am the least
curious woman in London. Only last week some magazine said that I had
'an almost masculine indifference to tattle'.

  LORD C.: Oh, tattle—yes.

  LADY C.: Well, then?

  LORD C.: But you do like to discover (he looks for a phrase) what
makes people tick.

  LADY C.: (with the ghost of a snort) I know what makes Mr Neil
Tummel tick. Ambition, vanity, and a Calvinistic love of interference. I
see no reason to give him either tea or attention.

  LADY T.: There's me.

  LADY C.: You?

  LADY T.: Am I not a good reason?

  LADY C.: It is no great hardship to share a platform with someone, even
if he does look like the wrath of God.

  LADY T.: But it is not only platforms; it's Westminster; everything!
The member for Kilcrannock. I shall die of shame.

  LADY C.: I don't expect you'll die of anything. You'll probably talk
your way out of even that. I wouldn't be surprised if St Peter sent you
home in his own barouche.

  LADY T.: Make her be sympathetic, Gussie.

  LADY C.: The first time I met you, at the age of six, you got out of
eating bread and butter by making your nannie heat the milk and pour it
over the bread and butter so that it made a pudding, and you have been
getting out of things ever since. It is time that you kissed the rod.

  LADY T.: (in something approaching a wail) My dear, not when the rod
is six feet of pepper-and-salt tweed, with a shocking accent, no
manners, and the most alarming ideas!

  LORD C.: (referring to the thing she has missed out) It would seem
that his morals are above suspicion.

  LADY T.: Above rubies, my dear Gussie, above rubies. A monument of
God-fearing fearsomeness.

  LORD C.: It might be interesting to meet Mr— (As she supplies the
name) Tummel, and find out exactly what he plans to do with us.

  LADY T.: Do with us?

  LORD C.: I take it he has plans for us. What I would like to know is
whether the plan is capital—that is to say, a piece of rope and a
lamp-post—or whether he would be content to see me working a
small-holding. If he could really arrange that I spent the rest of my
life in the country with my pigs, I would become his earnest disciple
tomorrow.

  LADY T.: I forgot to ask for the pigs.

  LORD C.: Oh, they're nicely, thank you, nicely. Teme Valley Irene is
going to sweep the board at the Five Counties Show in June. (To his
wife) It is the 25th, by the way, Millie. You will see that we have
nothing that will need me at the top of the stairs about then?

  LADY C.: The 25th. I shall remember.

  LORD C.: If Mr Tummel insisted on small-holdings I would never have to
stand at the top of those stairs again.

  LADY C.: If he hanged you, you wouldn't either. I have to stand at the
top of the stairs too.

  LORD C.: Yes, my dear, but you have a moral support that I lack.

  LADY C.: Support?

  LORD C.: No one says about me: Isn't he looking radiantly lovely
tonight!

  LADY C.: (she casts him a smile for that) Why don't you get Augustus
to civilise your monster for you?

  LADY T.: Oh, Gussie would be no use.

  LADY C.: You don't consider him a civilising influence?

  LADY T.: Can you imagine Gussie telling the creature that his tie is
all wrong?

  LORD C.: If it is a question of Mr Tummel's wearing apparel, I beg to
be excused. I hold that it is the inalienable right of every free man to
choose his own ties.

  LADY T.: (with a lift of her palms) You see! No public spirit!

  LADY C.: Ah, well. Even Crusader blood grows thin after twenty
generations.

  LORD C.: (with his usual gentle amiability) A damned interfering set
of rascals.

  LADY T.: (reproving) They had faith and zeal, my dear Gussie.

  LORD C.: I sometimes think that all they had was high blood-pressure.

  LADY C.: Or domestic trouble. (Coming to think of it) I may have been
wrong about your Mr Tummel. It may not, after all, have been his
Calvinistic blood that sent him on his socialist crusade. He may have a
shrew of a wife.

  LADY T.: He has neither wife nor an alibi.

  LORD C.: Just a natural inclination to sin.

  LADY T.: (tartly) Just a gift of the gab.

  LORD C.: (preparing to go) The Commons are going to be entertained,
it seems. I wish something like Mr Tummel would relieve the awful tedium
of the House of Lords.

  LADY T.: You may not have to suffer the tedium much longer. He is going
to abolish you. He is going to abolish both of you.

  LADY C.: (arrested in action like a pointer) Abolish me?

  LADY T.: I take it you are 'the bedizened society women who make
charity a pretext for decking themselves with gauds and aping the
manners of the playhouse, what time'—what was it?—'what time men slave
in pit and foundry to provide their finery, and their starving children
cry in the gutters'.

  LORD C.: (simply) Good gracious!

  LADY C.: (slowly) My dear Poppy! I don't believe it. Nobody talks
like that nowadays. It went out with Knox.

  LADY T.: There were better bits than that, but I remember that one
because it was Cosmo's favourite.

  LADY C.: (still slowly) Dear me. It seems that Mr Tummel really does
need educating, quite badly.

  LADY T.: (aware of the nibble and playing the fish) It is sad that
you won't do anything about him; but then, of course, he might have
refused to have anything to do with you, mightn't he? (She makes it a
statement, not a question)

  LADY C.: You make me sound like an importunate parlour-maid.

  LADY T.: I expect those gauds stick in his throat. I wish they would
choke the creature. What is a gaud, exactly?

  LADY C.: You think that if I invited the man to Charing House he would
refuse my invitation? (Considering it) That would be a refreshing
thing in my life.

  LADY T.: ('daring' her on to it) To be snubbed by a little Scotch
nobody?

  LADY C.: It would be no sensation to be snubbed by a King. I suppose I
couldn't use you as a reference?

  LADY T.: (getting up to go; the fish practically on the grass) Not if
you want to make an impression. Are you going my way, Gussie? I can give
you a lift.

  LORD C.: I am going round to the Club, but I think I had better walk,
thank you. It is so easy to lose the use of one's legs in Town.

  LADY C.: (in the unaccented tones of one resuming a former subject)
What was it you wanted done with Mr Tummel?

  LADY T.: (matching the careless tone) Oh, just (she waves a hand for
a phrase) the bristles made a little less stubbly.

  LADY C.: (as one accepting an instruction) I see.

  LADY T.: (going) There is a yellow suit he wears that is my
particular bane.

  LADY C.: (startled) Yellow?

  LADY T.: Well, a sort-of-mustard tweed thing. If you could get rid of
that you would be doing the country a service.

  LADY C.: I shall make a note of it.

  LADY T.: You seem to think that he will come.

  LADY C.: I know he will.

  LADY T.: What makes you so sure?

  LADY C.: He will want to preach at me.

  LADY T.: You will be careful, Millicent, won't you?

  LADY C.: Careful?

  LORD C.: I don't want you carrying a candle through the City clad in a
shift.

  LADY C.: If there is to be penance in this affair it is not Millicent
Charing who will do it. (There is an edge to that that has not been
apparent in her light exchanges about references)

  LADY T.: Well, my dear, I go. Let me know if the creature accepts.

  LADY C.: Are you lunching at home, Augustus?

  LORD C.: No, with Archie. He has a man from India he wants me to meet;
the man who did that irrigation scheme. Watered a whole province.
Wonderful.

  LADY T.: Au revoir, my dear. (Pausing for a last word) Oh, he has a
frightful habit of saying Uh-huh. Perhaps you could do something about
that.

  LADY C.: You aren't expecting me to make him into a Tory for you, are
you?

  LADY T.: No; I am hoping that you'll make him a Liberal. Then he will
be defeated at the first General Election.

  LADY C.: Your wig is crooked.

   [LADY TILLICOULTRY puts up her hands matter-of-factly to straighten
      it as she goes out with LORD CHARING.]

  LADY C.: Has Miss Mair come, do you know, Cripps?

  CRIPPS: I expect so, my lady. It is half-past ten.

  LADY C.: Send a message down that the first free tea-time in my
engagement book is to be given to a Mr Neil Tummel. Tummel as in the
river: T-u-m-m-e-l. (To herself) Did anyone ever hear anything so
uncouth?

                                CURTAIN


                                SCENE 2

The small drawing-room at Charing House ten days later. The room is not
part of the magnificent suite used for formal entertaining. It is a
friendly and charming place, its impressiveness tempered by its obvious
air of everyday use.

L. is the fireplace, and beyond it the door to the landing. Back, is
the main window, looking out on the square; and down extreme R. is a
small side-window looking out on one of the streets leading out of the
square. Both windows have balconies. At the smaller window is a desk,
half-sideways, so that the light falls from the writer's right front.

Since the room is on the floor below Lady Charing's bedroom, the trees
that were mere tree-tops before are now a green forest outside. The room
is full of their green light.

It is between four and five o'clock.

In a high-backed chair in the big window LORD CHARING is sitting
reading a newspaper. All one can see are his head, his feet, and the
newspaper. His chair is turned away from the door, and is of course well
beyond it, so that anyone opening the door sees nothing but an empty
room.

After a moment there is a murmur of voices, the door opens, and a
FOOTMAN shows in NEIL TUMMEL, bows and goes.

NEIL TUMMEL is twenty-eight, tall but clumsily made; his profile
excellent but dull, his eyes deep-set but too close together; his chin
aggressive, but his mouth pettish and stubborn-weak. He is the owner of
what is now known as an inferiority complex, but so deeply seated is it
and so unsuspected (even by himself) that no vestige of it is apparent.

Both NEIL himself and the world in general would be surprised to know
that he was not supremely sure of himself; in fact, neither would
believe it for a moment.

His clothes are militantly non-conformist. He is wearing the famous
yellow suit. It is, soberly speaking, not yellow at all, but it is
sufficiently remarkable in a London drawing-room, a dirty
pepper-and-salt in colour, and in texture reminiscent of a potato-sack.

Since he, like the FOOTMAN, takes the room to be empty, he advances a
step or two and stands irresolutely. He begins to eye the room, and
presently his eye arrives at LORD CHARING. He is startled. He clears
his throat to draw attention to his presence.

LORD CHARING, startled in his turn, looks round the wing of his chair.

  LORD C.: (getting up hastily) Dear me! I had no idea there was
anyone—Victor must have thought the room was empty. I have usually gone
to the Club by this time. Won't you—?

  NEIL.: My name is Tummel. Neil Tummel.

  LORD C.: Oh, yes. How d'you do. Won't you—?

  NEIL.: You'll have heard of me.

  LORD C.: Yes, yes, of course. Poppy told me about you.

  NEIL.: (repressive) Poppy?

  LORD C.: Yes, an old friend of the family.

  NEIL.: (coldly) I don't know anyone called Poppy. I was referring to
my being the new Member for Kilcrannock.

  LORD C.: Ah, yes. The by-election. Quite an achievement. Won't you sit
down? I expect you've called to see my wife.

  NEIL.: (in a tone which implies that LORD CHARING may suspect him of
trying to sell something) I was invited to tea by Lady Charing.

  LORD C.: Yes, yes. She will be here any moment. She is very busy over
this Hospital affair. A committee is raging in the billiard-room at this
moment. One of those historical pageants, and everyone wanting to be
Queen Elizabeth. (He suddenly remembers NEIL'S expressed opinion of
charity dressings-up, and his never very fluent small-talk dries up
completely) Victor will have told her that you are here. (Making an
effort, since NEIL seems to be making none) It is good to see the
trees in the square green again, isn't it? It almost consoles one for
living in town.

  NEIL.: I like them bare.

  LORD C.: (trying again, indicating the paper he has been reading) I
see that India chap got a decoration at the Palace this morning. That
was a wonderful job. Ten years' work and his health gone. But what a
thing! What a thing to look back on. A whole province saved from famine;
saved for all time. It makes one envious.

  NEIL.: (disappointed that the new Member for Kilcrannock seems of no
account and some unknown from India so admirable) I can't see that ten
years on a dam in India is any more praiseworthy than ten years in the
slums of Glasgow.

  LORD C.: (genuinely interested) Is that what you did?

  NEIL.: (at a disadvantage) No. No. But I know the slums, of course.

  LORD C.: (attempting a little joke) When a man dies of thirst in
Glasgow, I understand it's through drinking Red Biddy.

  NEIL.: Neither the Glasgow slums nor Red Biddy is a joking matter.

  LORD C.: (beginning to lose heart) No. No, I expect not. (As a last
hope) Know anything about pigs?

  NEIL.: Pigs?

  LORD C.: (humbly) Yes.

  NEIL.: (warmly) If you're at a loss for matter, Lord Charing, my
favourite subject is Aristotle. (It isn't. His favourite subject is
NEIL TUMMEL, and matters allied thereto. But Aristotle is good enough
to use as counter to a man who talks down to him to the extent of pigs)

  LORD C.: (surprised and charmed) No! Really? What an extraordinary
thing!

  NEIL.: (offended) I fail to see anything extraordinary about it.

  LORD C.: But I find so few people who share my—They think it rather
odd, you know. So you are an admirer of Aristotle?

  NEIL.: Who isn't?

  LORD C.: Well, I have known men who found fault with his form.
Personally I think it cannot be more satisfying. Shall I tell you
something? When speeches grow too boring to be borne, I think about
Aristotle. Extraordinarily comforting. Such an intelligent creature,
too.

  NEIL.: (a little surprised) Who?

  LORD C.: Aristotle. His sire, Arcturus, was fine to look at, but
sottish, distinctly sottish. But Aristotle, there is a boar!

  NEIL.: A bore! I thought you admired him.

  LORD C.: I do. Extravagantly.

  NEIL.: Then how can he bore you?

  LORD C.: But— (Realising) Oh! (Deflated) I'm afraid we are
talking at cross-purposes, you know. You are talking about the Greek
philosopher, aren't you?

  NEIL.: Certainly.

  LORD C.: I am talking about a pig.

  NEIL.: (staggered) You mean, you are interested in pigs?

  LORD C.: Yes. Yes, I'm afraid it is all I am interested in. I was
hoping that you knew something about them.

  NEIL.: (who knows something about practically anything) Oh, I know
plenty about them. My grandfather kept pigs all his life.

  LORD C.: (brightening again) What breed?

  NEIL.: Oh, just pigs.

  LORD C.: (finally deflated) Oh.

   [There is a slight pause. NEIL begins to simmer again. He comes
      from circles, both domestic and social, where he is the centre of
      interest. Being taken for granted he finds intolerable.]

  LORD C.: (descendant of Crusaders, coming back for more punishment) I
hope you are comfortable in London?

  NEIL.: I'll get used to it, I expect. I have a Scotch landlady, so
things might be worse.

  LORD C.: Ah. I had a Scotch nurse when I was a small boy. She taught me
to knit, once when I was ill. Red garters, I remember. (As NEIL
ignores this triviality) Tell me, Mr—er—Mr Tummel, I am greatly
interested in your—in your policy. I don't know what that policy may
be, but it would be interesting to know just what—

   [The door opens and LADY CHARING comes in, followed by VICTOR,
      the footman, with tea.]

  LADY C.: (greeting NEIL) Mr Tummel. How delightful of you to come.
Forgive me, won't you, for having kept you waiting. I don't need to tell
you what committees are like. And when I tell you that I am not only
chairman but holder of the casting vote, you will realise how miraculous
it is that I am still in one piece.

  LORD C.: Is everyone in one piece?

  LADY C.: Yes. Babs Dacre is a little frayed round the edges, but at
last sighting was still travelling under her own steam.

  LORD C.: Well, I shall leave you to—

  LADY C.: Won't you stay and have some tea, Augustus?

  LORD C.: Thank you, no, my dear. I should have gone some time ago.
Those evening papers that come in the afternoon are a great snare.
(Shaking hands with NEIL) I am glad to have met you, Mr Tummel. Some
day we must have a talk, and you can tell me about that policy of yours.
(To LADY C.) Is it the Austrian Embassy tonight?

  LADY C.: Yes. Ten o'clock. We'll dine very sharp, if you don't mind,
Gussie.

  LORD C.: I don't know why we dine at all. They give you marvellous food
at that place. All I have ever been able to do with it is look.

   [He goes sadly out, ushered by VICTOR, who has been dismissed by
      LADY CHARING.]

  LADY C.: (beginning to dispense tea) Ah, what peace. I hope my
husband has been entertaining you?

  NEIL.: He did his best.

  LADY C.: (raising her eyebrows) I gather that that was not enough.
Are you not knowledgeable about pigs?

  NEIL.: Even pigs have to be aristocratic here.

  LADY C.: (apparently unaware of this last remark) Indian or China?

  NEIL.: Oh, just tea, thank you. Thick. I had better tell you straight
away, Lady Charing, that the only thing that brought me here was
curiosity.

  LADY C.: (blandly) How nice. I knew we should find something in
common. Besides committees, I mean. Though I must say committees are a
great bond. Have you ever sat on a Hospital Ball Pageant Committee, Mr
Tummel?

  NEIL.: That has not been one of my activities.

  LADY C.: Then I doubt if even you have known the full fury of committee
life.

  NEIL.: Even I?

  LADY C.: I understand that Socialists are great quarrellers. Among
themselves, I mean.

  NEIL.: No. Why should they be?

  LADY C.: I suppose, because when one is creating brave new worlds there
is no limit to the variety. When one is merely making the best of this
one, the choice is limited. But I am quite sure that ten Socialists
fighting over ten quite different brave new worlds are lambs compared
with the same number of women fighting over a charity pageant.

  NEIL.: Why do you have a pageant, in the first place?

  LADY C.: It is good for trade. It is good for the hospital finances.
And it gives all the silly women in London a focus for their silliness.

  NEIL.: Is that admirable?

  LADY C.: I think so. It keeps them faithful to their lovers. When you
have fitted, and rehearsed, and thrown up your part daily for several
weeks, there is little energy for much else. In extreme cases a lover
has been known to carry over till next season.

  NEIL.: (in measured tones) You're attempting to shock me.

  LADY C.: (putting herself in the dock) Am I? (Finding against
herself) Yes.

  NEIL.: It's no use.

  LADY C.: No, I suppose not. A Calvinistic mind must be a saturated
solution of shock.

  NEIL.: I never took chemistry.

  LADY C.: I mean, if one is shocked to the core by, say, the Continental
Sunday, there can be no reaction to further shock, can there?

  NEIL.: Your pageant shocks me a great deal more than your lovers.

  LADY C.: I am responsible for the pageant, Mr Tummel, but not for the
private performances. What do you find so shocking about our
pageant—apart from Mrs Tate in a stomacher, which you have not seen?

  NEIL.: Lady Charing, does it not appal you that a woman in the West End
is making you a fancy dress while some woman in the East End is
half-naked?

  LADY C.: Not at all. The little woman who is making my dress supports a
cripple mother and a schoolboy son. The only result of my not having the
dress would be that four people instead of one would be half-naked. If I
may borrow your exciting description.

  NEIL.: But the State should support her invalid mother, and see to it
that her work was productive. That she made things for the common good,
not—not—

  LADY C.: Not gauds. I see. Ah, well, that will be something for you to
do. (Cheerfully) Poor Rose! I hope she will enjoy making boots for the
million as well as she does embroidering dresses for me. I hope they
will all enjoy it.

  NEIL.: Who are 'all'?

  LADY C.: All the people who are making money out of my pageant. The
printers, the paper-makers, the bill-posters, the cooks, the waiters,
the hair-dressers, the wig-makers, the gardeners, the bakers, the
cabmen, the dancing-master. To say nothing of the little man who hires
out the chairs. You will be kind to the little man who hires out chairs,
won't you?

  NEIL.: (beginning a protest) Lady Charing—

  LADY C.: I am sure that a well-run state will have all the chairs it
wants, and he will be so lost. His whole life is in chairs. (Having a
thought) Of course he may be dead by then. There is that possibility.
How long do you think it will be before the state regulates breathing?

  NEIL.: (darkly) Not so long as some people think. Society in its
present form is cracking under our feet. You may think you're a
benefactress, Lady Charing, but take it from me all you are is an
economic outrage.

  LADY C.: It sounds horrid.

  NEIL.: The people who produce the goods in this country want a share of
the wealth that results. They aren't as ignorant as they used to be,
they are asking questions, learning to combine, feeling their strength.
They're on the move, I tell you. Men in the factory, the pit, and the
yards. The working people of this country. The ferment's in them.
Moving. Beginning to seethe. And what do you think the result of that is
going to be?

  LADY C.: (with a good imitation of a child being told a fairy-story)
What?

  NEIL.: (impressive) Revolution.

  LADY C.: (relaxed and matter-of-fact) You may read economics, Mr
Tummel, but I doubt if you read history. The people who make revolutions
are the clerks. The middle-class malcontents. The lawyers without
briefs, the writers without publishers, the climbers without cash. They
lead me to the guillotine, and you to the wars, and bread goes up
fivepence. That, my dear Mr Tummel, is revolution.

  NEIL.: (detached from his own concerns momentarily by this new view of
her) So history interests you?

  LADY C.: (simply) My dear Mr Tummel, I am history.

  NEIL.: (after a moment, leaning forward) You may not believe it, Lady
Charing, but so am I.

  LADY C.: (considering him) A Savonarola rather than a Caesar, I take
it.

  NEIL.: I'm not a second edition of anybody. I'm Neil Tummel.

  LADY C.: And in what role is Neil Tummel going to make history?

  NEIL.: I am going to lead my people out of bondage.

  LADY C.: (in a tone of surprise and disappointment) Oh, you can't do
that.

  NEIL.: (fiercely) And why not, pray?

  LADY C.: That would make you merely a second Moses!

  NEIL.: (roused) I am going to lead my people out of bondage if I am
persecuted by every vested interest and laughed at by every Viscountess
in the country.

  LADY C.: You wrong me, my dear Moses. I am greatly interested. I want
to hear about this bondage and this persecution. Were you very poor as a
child?

  NEIL.: (in his element) My mother was a widow, and we were so poor
that we had meat only once a week. She brought me up on milk and
cabbage.

  LADY C.: What an excellent diet! Not much wonder you have such a good
physique.

  NEIL.: (not sure whether to be annoyed that his pathos has miscarried
or to be pleased at the compliment) And when I went to college—

  LADY C.: You went to University?

  NEIL.: I did.

  LADY C.: But I thought you were very poor.

  NEIL.: Anyone can go to University in Scotland provided he has brains
enough. My education didn't cost my mother a penny piece.

  LADY C.: Who paid for it? The State?

  NEIL.: No. Bursaries. Scholarships. There's hundreds of them. People
leave money to provide them.

  LADY C.: I see. Vested interests.

  NEIL.: (resenting the catch) You could call them that, I suppose.
(Going back to the fascinating subject of his sufferings) But there
was food and clothes to provide. At college I lived on oatmeal. (This
is sheer imagination. It has been two generations since Scotch students
brought their 'bag of meal' with them each term. But the tradition dies
hard)

  LADY C.: You lucky man!

  NEIL.: Lucky?

  LADY C.: I adore oatmeal, but I was never allowed to eat it, because it
was supposed to be bad for the complexion. You don't seem to have many
spots.

  NEIL.: (definitely) I haven't any. I don't suppose you can even
imagine what it is like to face the same food day after day.

  LADY C.: (cheerfully) Oh, yes. I once lived for six weeks on nothing
but bananas.

  NEIL.: You were shipwrecked?

  LADY C.: No. Just a diet. It was supposed to be good for something or
other. What did you do in the holidays?

  NEIL.: I spent my holidays working on my uncle's croft.

  LADY C.: (remembering) I spent mine with my grandmother in a house
smelling of bird-cages. There was nothing to do, and I shouldn't have
been allowed to do it if there was. And when you left college?

  NEIL.: I taught Junior English at Kilcrannock Academy.

  LADY C.: (half-accusing, half-disappointed) Then you are not a
working-man at all?

  NEIL.: My father was a blacksmith.

  LADY C.: But you say that honours shouldn't be hereditary, don't you?
You can't take any credit for your father. You disappoint me, Mr Tummel.
Here I was, all prepared to hear a tale of a starved and thwarted life.
And what do I get? The account of a cossetting!

  NEIL.: I? Cossetted?

  LADY C.: Practically tied up with blue ribbons. Compared with the
freedom and consideration of your childhood, mine was a penal servitude.
Are many of your party like you, by the way?

  NEIL.: Like me?

  LADY C.: Men who have never produced goods to make wealth!

  NEIL.: (caught and annoyed) I don't belong to any party. I'm an
independent.

  LADY C.: But you managed to fight an election.

  NEIL.: (understanding the hint) Some friends put up the money.
(Sliding away from this evidence of further 'cossetting') As a matter
of fact, I went to see the regular Socialist crowd this morning. There
was some talk of my joining them. They don't like Independents. But I
decided against it.

  LADY C.: Too many Moseses?

  NEIL.: They talked too much. I like to do the talking myself.

  LADY C.: I take it that your wife is a silent woman. Are you married,
Mr Tummel?

  NEIL.: (his attention really arrested) Did you not find out that I
hadn't a wife before you asked me here?

  LADY C.: I beg your pardon?

  NEIL.: Did you ask me here without my wife. I mean, without the wife I
haven't got?

  LADY C.: Certainly.

  NEIL.: (full of offended virtue) I wouldn't have accepted the
invitation.

  LADY C.: Let me tell you something even more monstrous. I would also
have invited your wife without you, if she had been the interesting one.

  NEIL.: (dropping the principle for the interest) You find me
interesting?

  LADY C.: Very. I could hardly wait to see this wild Caledonian from the
North.

   [NEIL, who is charmed to be a wild Caledonian from the North, glows
      visibly.]

  LADY C.: Is this your first visit to London?

  NEIL.: Uh-huh. I've never been furth of Scotland till now.

  LADY C.: You must let me show you some of the lovely things.

  NEIL.: (who is feeling comfortable again) On condition that you let me
show you a slum.

  LADY C.: (without emphasis) No, I'll show you one. You won't know
where to find the best ones.

  NEIL.: (staggered) Do you?

  LADY C.: (matter-of-fact) Oh, yes. Before my marriage I used to work
two days a week in the slums. I had a club for girls. And I used to help
out sometimes at my aunt's crèche. But since I married I have had to be
content with a hobby that takes less time.

  NEIL.: (struggling to recover lost ground) A hobby! And what is it
now? (He tries to get a sneer into his voice but it is not very
successful. He feels too much at sea) Pageants?

  LADY C.: A cottage-hospital at Charing. It was my mother-in-law's
creation, and I inherited it from her. Not so interesting as
Rotherhithe, but it smells sweeter. What slum did you work in, Mr
Tummel?

  NEIL.: (completely floored by the question; the only time he has ever
worked in a slum was canvassing) Well—

  LADY C.: (having waited long enough for him to squirm) Glasgow, was
it?

  NEIL.: (snatching at the straw) Yes, I can claim to know the Glasgow
slums quite well. (They are both aware of the prevarication)

  LADY C.: It will be interesting for you to compare them with Cockney
ones. And if you come with me you won't have things thrown at you.

  NEIL.: (trying to get his bearings and wondering vaguely how he,
=neil tummel=, has got himself into the situation where he
is going to be vouched for in a slum by one of the hated aristocrats)
Why should they throw things?

  LADY C.: They don't like snoopers.

  NEIL.: But I'm a Member of Parliament, and a Socialist!

  LADY C.: The first is immaterial, and the second not immediately
apparent. (As NEIL ponders this) They might take you for an artist
looking for copy.

  NEIL.: (scandalised) An artist! Me! Why would they do that?

  LADY C.: Well—forgive me, but that is what the suit you are wearing
would suggest.

  NEIL.: You mean this suit makes me look like an artist?

  LADY C.: (who likes artists) I wouldn't go as far as that. It is the
kind of suit that an artist might wear.

  NEIL.: It's a good Scotch tweed.

  LADY C.: (kindly) I'm sure it is.

  NEIL.: None of your Bradford shoddy. That's honest wool straight from
the sheep's back and first time off the loom. (Casting her a glance of
contempt) But perhaps the technicality of that is too much for you.

  LADY C.: (gently) Oh, no. I did a little hand-weaving once—as
encouragement to a village industry.

  NEIL.: (pausing at that, longing to be caustic but deciding reluctantly
to be gracious) You're a much more knowledgeable woman than I had
expected, Lady Charing.

  LADY C.: (demurely) Thank you.

  NEIL.: I don't see why wearing a good bit of tweed should make one look
like an artist.

  LADY C.: There is nothing derogatory in looking like a painter, is
there?

  NEIL.: It's not an impression I would like to make.

  LADY C.: Then I suggest that you cast your eye over your colleagues in
the House, and pick out something that gives the required impression.
The choice will be varied, though not, I'm afraid, sartorially
excellent. You can't expect a body of men who habitually sleep in their
clothes to look exactly natty.

  NEIL.: Sleep in them? Where?

  LADY C.: On the House of Commons benches, of course.

  NEIL.: (grimly) They won't sleep when I talk to them.

  LADY C.: No, I think perhaps they won't.

  NEIL.: (pausing to look at her a moment) Does that mean you're
impressed with me, or just that you think I've got a loud voice? (For
NEIL, this is tentative, not to say humble)

  LADY C.: It means, Mr Tummel, that you are difficult to ignore.

  NEIL.: (considering it) It's not exactly a nice attribute.

  LADY C.: No. It is a quality you share with Mount Everest and a boil on
the neck. I suspect Moses had it too. He would never have been able to
goad the Children of Israel into leaving Egypt if he had not been a bit
of a gadfly.

  NEIL.: (scandalised) Moses! But he led them out. Led them to
freedom!

  LADY C.: That's the worst of you reformers. You know so little of human
nature.

  NEIL.: (hotly) I know that the fundamental desire of human nature is
freedom.

  LADY C.: (mildly) It isn't. It's security. Freedom implies
responsibility, and your average man hates responsibility like the
devil. That is why he so often delegates it to such odd deputies.
Anything to be rid of it. (Her eye is frank and innocent; and, anyhow,
NEIL has never thought of himself as odd) Let me give you some more
tea.

  NEIL.: (accusing) Why do you hate reformers?

  LADY C.: I don't hate them. I merely distrust them.

  NEIL.: Because they want to upset the world you know.

  LADY C.: No. They love to think that they are playing God, when all
they are doing is playing old Harry. Did you take sugar? I forget.

  NEIL.: (takes sugar) Lady Charing, what was your object in asking me
here?

  LADY C.: Education.

  NEIL.: (justifying LADY CHARING'S gamble in telling the plain truth)
How can I educate you if you dislike me?

  LADY C.: But I don't dislike you, Mr Tummel. On the contrary. You
remind me very strongly of a pet lamb I had once. A most endearing
creature.

  NEIL.: (whose vision of himself is of a roaring lion) A pet lamb?

  LADY C.: Very woolly, and earnest, and running round in circles, and
butting its head into everything in sight.

  NEIL.: (swelling) Lady Charing—

   [The Curtain comes down on his protest.]

                                CURTAIN




                                 ACT II


                                SCENE I

The Scene is the same as in Act I, Scene II; the small drawing-room at
Charing House.

It is a night in June, and a reception is in progress.

The room is empty, but one can hear the distant strains of a string
orchestra. The windows are open, and through the back one can be seen
the blue summer night and the dark trees lit by the uncertain light of
the lamps in the street. A log fire smoulders on the hearth. One has the
impression that it is very late: early morning rather than night.

After a pause, filled with the distant music and the frou-frou of
voices in the square, the door opens and LORD CHARING puts a wary head
in. The room is, as he expected, empty, and he comes in, shutting the
door behind him with a satisfied air. He is carrying a plate with a fork
and some food on it. He comes down to the chair on the up side of the
fireplace, and sits down with an air of relief. He is beginning in his
deliberate way to consider the food on his plate when he remembers
something. He gets up and fetches from under the cushion of a chair down
L. what appears to be an agricultural weekly. He settles down happily
with the food and the paper in his original chair, the paper on his
knees and the plate in his hand. His knees and toes are turned inwards,
and he looks rather like a small boy with an ice-cream. The orders he is
wearing are incongruous.

Presently the door opens once more and LADY TILLICOULTRY appears;
jewelled, tiara-ed, and crooked-wigged as usual. She regards the
unconscious GUSSIE with indulgent amusement.

  LADY T.: (coming in and closing the door) Gussie, you wicked
creature. (As he tries to get up) No, don't move. You are a deserter
and liable to be shot, but I am your ally. We can be shot together.
(Propping herself by LORD CHARING'S side on the narrow table that
runs parallel to the fireplace) Shall we be blindfolded, or shall we
meet a deserter's desserts with our eyes open?

  LORD C.: (relieved that it is only POPPY) It is not desertion. Merely
a strategical retreat.

  LADY T.: (looking at his plate) I didn't see anything like that on
the tables. Where did you get it?

  LORD C.: They keep it under the counter for me.

  LADY T.: What is it?

  LORD C.: Jellied eel.

  LADY T.: Really? Is it nice?

  LORD C.: Excellent.

   [LADY TILLICOULTRY picks up a piece in finger and thumb, and tastes
      it.]

  LADY T.: (judicially) I think it tastes rather like something that
has been left out in the rain. (Nevertheless she licks her fingers with
no sign of distaste) But perhaps I have had too much salmon. Each time
I am landed with a bore I have another supper. I have had five suppers
tonight, and a snack. The snack tried to borrow ten pounds from me. That
Beamish creature. How does he manage to keep going, do you think?

  LORD C.: (eating his jellied eel) Lack of evidence.

  LADY T.: (with a half-admiring, half-envious little sigh) Ah, well,
it has been the usual conspicuous success, hasn't it? Everything as
smooth as a ballet. I've been watching Millie do this for ten years, and
I still don't know how she does it. My parties look like a Sunday-school
treat. Perhaps we have the wrong kind of staircase. I certainly have the
wrong kind of profile. Talking of profiles, do you know who is here
tonight?

  LORD C.: Everyone but the Shah of Persia.

  LADY T.: (caustic for once) I think I did see the Shah in a corner.
No, Neil Tummel. Millie really has done a wonderful job on him. Even his
dress-clothes looked as if they had been handed down rather than picked
up. I wish his Kilcrannock friends could see him.

  LORD C.: Why?

  LADY T.: They don't put up any money to re-elect a man who wears a
white tie in the evening.

  LORD C.: Dear me. I have always held that a man who wears a boiled
shirt is an object for pity rather than blame. I shall be very glad to
get out of mine. Why don't these people go? I sometimes think that the
'homeless' of London doesn't refer to the people on the Embankment at
all.

  LADY T.: A great many have slipped away, but no one can go officially
until the Balkans do.

  LORD C.: Most inconsiderate. Our own people left hours ago. Surely even
in the Balkans royalty is taught when to go home.

  LADY T.: The trouble is, they're enjoying themselves.

  LORD C.: (staggered) Enjoying themselves!

  LADY T.: He has discovered Babs Dacre, and she has discovered the
buffet. Even Millicent can't prise either of the couples apart. (Her
mind going back to MILLICENT'S achievements) Gussie, would you say
that Neil Tummel might turn his coat as well as change it?

  LORD C.: Shouldn't think so. A very bigoted young man. Why?

  LADY T.: He spent most of the evening talking to Lord Archibald.

  LORD C.: Did Archie appear to be listening?

  LADY T.: Raptly.

  LORD C.: Then he was probably reckoning how much he would have to pay
his bookie on Monday.

  LADY T.: Oh, no; he was answering.

  LORD C.: Archie!

  LADY T.: He appeared to be greatly interested.

  LORD C.: Dear me. (Reminiscent) I tried to talk to the young man
once, but he bit my head off. (Considering it) Of course, Archie
might want him in the Liberal fold.

  LADY T.: Want the Tummel creature? Why?

  LORD C.: Oh, new blood. The party needs youth and enthusiasm. You must
admit that your representative has been very noisy and conspicuous for a
newcomer.

  LADY T.: He has been quite frightful.

  LORD C.: I expect Archie could use those qualities to Liberal
advantage. What I don't see is what use the Liberals would be to Mr
Tummel.

  LADY T.: They may be a dreary crowd of nonentities ...

  LORD C.: Thank you!

  LADY T.: ... But they are more respectable than the Socialists.

  LORD C.: I shouldn't say that respectability weighed greatly with Mr
Tummel.

  LADY T.: He is probably tired of his soap-box, and wants to spread
himself on a party platform.

  LORD C.: You Tories have been so long in office that we poor Liberals
have almost forgotten what a platform looks like. We have nothing to
offer a bright young man; office, honour, or employment.

  LADY T.: Bright young man! A foolish creature full of half-baked ideas
and parrot phrases.

  LORD C.: (mildly) I like parrots. The only living creature gifted
with human speech that is content to repeat exactly what it has heard
without trying to make a good story out of it.

   [Enter LADY CHARING. She is radiantly lovely and very cross.]

  LADY C.: Gussie, you wretch, you should be ashamed of yourself. And
you, Poppy, for aiding and abetting him.

  LADY T.: We were only having a breathing-space.

  LADY C.: Put that mess down, Gussie, and come quickly. They are going.

  LORD C.: Ah, at last.

  LADY C.: It really is too bad of you to desert me so flagrantly.

  LORD C.: (beginning to go with her) No one ever notices that I am not
there, my dear. Have they collected all their detectives and things?

  LADY C.: Yes; she has just sent for her wrap. Do hurry. Are you coming,
Poppy?

  LADY T.: No. If I curtseyed any more tonight it would become a tic.
(To LORD CHARING, as he follows his wife out) Take a look at her
wrap, Gussie. We had a bath mat just like that when we were children.

   [When they have gone she dawdles to the mirror over the fireplace,
      picking up a piece of fish from LORD CHARING'S plate as she
      passes, and considers herself absently, straightening her wig
      automatically. As sounds of activity float up from the square she
      strolls over to the window, back, and out on to the shallow
      balcony, where she is half-hidden by the curtain.

   [Enter CRIPPS, the maid, and makes for the small window down R.
      This, being at the side of the house and looking on to the
      side-street out of the square, has no balcony big enough outside,
      but the window is wide open, and CRIPPS stands there watching
      the people leaving from the door, which is just below it. From the
      confused sounds of departure in the street there comes the voice
      of a menial calling: 'The carriage of their Majesties of
      Barlinnia.' At that LADY TILLICOULTRY turns from watching the
      people in the square and comes down, still leisurely, to the
      little window.]

  LADY T.: (seeing CRIPPS) Good-evening, Cripps. Or rather,
good-morning.

  CRIPPS: (startled, but self-possessed as always) Oh, my lady. I
didn't see you.

  LADY T.: (joining her at the window) It seems that at last we are to
be allowed to go home to our beds.

  CRIPPS: I hope your ladyship doesn't mind my being here. (She is not
particularly apologetic) When we have Balkan people in the house I am
never at peace until they have gone.

  LADY T.: What are you afraid of—bombs or bugs?

  CRIPPS: An assassination at one of our receptions would be a major
tragedy.

  LADY T.: It would be a nice break.

  CRIPPS: Nothing has ever happened at one of our receptions.

  LADY T.: My dear good Cripps, nothing ever happens at any reception.
(As the visitors come out on the steps below) There they are. (Having
watched for a moment) Cripps, does anything remind you of bath-time in
the nursery at Lessowes?

  CRIPPS: No, my lady.

  LADY T.: Remember the bath-mat?

  CRIPPS: (noticing the wrap) Ah, yes. Yes, indeed, my lady. An
extraordinary likeness. (Having considered it) They do say that her
grandfather made mats in Asia Minor. Perhaps the wrap and the bath-mat
had a common origin, my lady.

  LADY T.: It's a lovely theory, Cripps, but her grandfather was a
brigand in Albania.

  CRIPPS: (slightly shocked) Not really, my lady?

  LADY T.: Oh, it's quite respectable. Albania's like Ireland, I
understand; everyone is descended from kings. You know—you sleep with
the pig, but you're all descended from Brian someone-or-other; up the
Shamrock! Look at old Charlie Crale bowing the seat out of his breeches.

  CRIPPS: Sir Charles's hobby is Royalty.

  LADY T.: Well, it is a better one than his wife's.

  CRIPPS: What is that, my lady?

  LADY T.: Going to memorial services. She hasn't worn colours since the
old Queen's Jubilee. (Her attention on another departing guest) If
Julia Froude puts on any more weight she will have to go round with a
show. Is it true that she has become a Christian Scientist?

  CRIPPS: Yes, my lady.

  LADY T.: What induced her to do anything so outré?

  CRIPPS: She says that it is such a comfort to know that there is no
such thing as the body. (Considering the crowd on the steps below) You
know, my lady, the world is changing. When I was young one knew every
face at a reception. Nowadays, even at our own receptions, one wonders
sometimes— (She cannot find it in her heart to put it into words)

  LADY T.: (cheerfully supplying the words for her) One wonders how
they got in.

  CRIPPS: Some of these people here tonight are nothing but Members of
Parliament.

  LADY T.: Well, it's nice to see even a Member of Parliament enjoying
himself. Don't grudge them their little sup of champagne. It must be sad
to belong to a trade that is both unskilled and unpaid.

  CRIPPS: But they are talking of paying them now, my lady. Four hundred
a year.

  LADY T.: (drawling) I don't know what one could do with four hundred
a year.

  CRIPPS: Victor the footman says that you could get two good half-backs
for the same money.

  LADY T.: Half-backs?

  CRIPPS: Football, my lady. They are paid for playing, it appears.

  LADY T.: (beginning to go) What curious ways people earn a living.
(Dawdling towards the door and straightening her wig at the mirror as
she goes) I remember being frantically in love with the most
magnificent creature one summer at Weymouth when I was sixteen. I even
planned to elope with him. But when I found what he did for a living I
was cured overnight.

  CRIPPS: What did he do, my lady?

  LADY T.: (serious, absent-minded, and sleepy) He put the eyes in
dolls' heads. Good-night, Cripps.

  CRIPPS: Good-night, my lady. (She, too, has not smiled)

   [CRIPPS stands a few moments longer, watching the traffic below. As
      she turns to go, the door opens and VICTOR, the footman, comes
      in to tidy the room. He replaces LORD CHARING'S paper on a side
      table.]

  CRIPPS: You had better put another log on the fire, Victor. Her
ladyship dislikes a dying fire.

                                                        [Exit CRIPPS.]

   [VICTOR takes a log from the log box and puts it on the embers. He
      considers himself in the glass, tries to see himself in profile,
      looks at his tongue. He picks up LORD CHARING'S plate of jellied
      eel, samples it, disapproves of it, and is carrying it away when
      LADY CHARING comes slowly into the room. He holds the door for
      her, and shuts it as he goes.

   [LADY CHARING comes down to the mirror and considers herself in her
      turn. She sits down wearily in the chair that =lord
      charing= has occupied. After a moment she unpins her heavy
      tiara, and lifts it off her hair, leaving it lying on her lap.

   [Presently the door behind her opens, and NEIL TUMMEL appears. He
      is carrying a small tray on which there are dishes and a bottle of
      hock. He comes down and puts the tray on the table at =lady
      charing's= elbow.

   [LADY CHARING looks up, startled. At the sound of the door she has
      asked, without moving:

  LADY C.: Is that you, Gussie? Mr Tummel!

  NEIL.: You haven't had a bite to eat all night. I've been watching you.

  LADY C.: (still a little staggered) How kind of you.

  NEIL.: Your Chief Lackey says this is what you like.

  LADY C.: Yes. It was charming of you to think of it. I hope you enjoyed
your evening?

  NEIL.: I found it very interesting, thank you.

  LADY C.: You are looking very chic. You must admit that what you call
'the badge of the bourgeois' is vastly becoming.

  NEIL.: (who is very pleased with the figure he cuts in his
not-very-well-fitting garments) It is very silly. And most
uncomfortable.

  LADY C.: I hope you have had some supper.

  NEIL.: No.

  LADY C.: Why not?

  NEIL.: I couldn't see anything I recognised.

  LADY C.: Do you have to be on bowing terms with your food?

  NEIL.: If a ham looks like a ham I want to eat it. If it looks like my
sister's wedding-bouquet, I lose interest.

  LADY C.: You have a sister?

  NEIL.: I have. What is so surprising about that?

  LADY C.: I had somehow taken it for granted that yours was a unique
birth. Why have you never mentioned your sister? Isn't she mentionable?

  NEIL.: She is of no interest whatever.

  LADY C.: I see. She married well, dresses charmingly, enjoys life,
supports all the local charities, and disapproves equally of you and
revolutions.

  NEIL.: I thought you—

  LADY C.: Well, I disapprove of you too, but I cannot eat supper alone.
Do you think you could pick up sufficient courage to nibble at a mystery
while I eat?

  NEIL.: Are you inviting—

  LADY C.: I suggest you go back to the dining-room, ask Parker to give
you a tray, do 'Eenie, meenie, minie, mo' among the dishes, and bring
the results here.

  NEIL.: Well, since you suggest it, I am a bit feeown. (As an apparent
afterthought) And of course it would be very pleasant to have supper
with you.

  LADY C.: Tell Parker to give you a bottle of my own hock. Not any of
the caterer's stuff.

  NEIL.: You forget that I'm T.T.

  LADY C.: You won't be once you have tasted hock. If you don't hurry up
I shall have finished before you come back.

                                                          [Exit NEIL.]

   [LADY CHARING pours out some hock for herself, and begins to sip
      it.

   [The door opens once more and LADY TILLICOULTRY appears, cloaked
      and ready to go.]

  LADY T.: Millie, darling, I don't know how you do it. I only wish I
could.

  LADY C.: Solitary drinking, you mean?

  LADY T.: No. Public entertainment. I begin to suspect that it is
hypnotism. You've even lured Neil Tummel into good behaviour and a white
tie. I do congratulate you on that job of work, my dear. Just a little
more, and you will have jockeyed him out of the Socialist race
altogether.

  LADY C.: I promised to make him pretty for your platform, not to alter
his convictions.

  LADY T.: (her attention arrested) Do you think he has convictions?

  LADY C.: What do you call them?

  LADY T.: A political point of view. Where do you think he got those
tails?

  LADY C.: I expect he borrowed them.

  LADY T.: That is what they look like.

  LADY C.: Not being accustomed to the usages of good society, it would
not occur to him to order something he could not pay for.

  LADY T.: (her attention thoroughly wakened; after a pause) Millie,
dear, you are not overdoing it, are you?

  LADY C.: Overdoing what?

  LADY T.: The Tummel business. You're not growing interested in the
creature?

  LADY C.: Don't be absurd, Poppy.

  LADY T.: You have been taking him about quite a lot.

  LADY C.: You can hardly call a private view 'taking him about'. It is
impersonal and educational in the extreme. You asked me to cut his
hair, and when I do you—

  LADY T.: Oh, I know he is a stupid creature, that no woman in her
senses would waste her time on. It's his profile I'm afraid of. Give a
man a good profile, and no one notices how silly his face is. If half
those people on coins turned front face, no one would bother to collect
them.

  LADY C.: If you let your absurdity grow, Poppy, people will collect you
one morning in a plain van. Why should you imagine for a moment that I
am interested in Neil Tummel?

  LADY T.: I didn't, until you mentioned his convictions. And now I keep
remembering a very odd story that I dismissed as too silly for belief.

  LADY C.: A story about me?

  LADY T.: Yes. Someone said that you had been seen riding in a bus, with
a young man.

  LADY C.: Is the gravamen of the charge the bus, or the young man?

  LADY T.: So it was you?

  LADY C.: I like buses. A sort of public Musical Chairs. All Change, and
who gets a seat? Your wig is crooked.

  LADY T.: Millie, you are being outrageous.

  LADY C.: Oh, nonsense, my dear. A bus is a most respectable means
of—

  LADY T.: You know that I am not talking about buses. It is your own
business if you choose to be odd. But Neil Tummel is my affair, and you
are spoiling everything. I asked you to tone him down, not to take him
up.

  LADY C.: Well, I am toning him down very nicely, and I think you are
very ungrateful.

  LADY T.: You are spoiling him. Running round the town with him, and
falling in with his absurd ideas. Don't tell me that the bus-riding was
your idea. ('For I shan't believe it'—she means)

  LADY C.: No. He is teaching me to be democratic. (A dimple shows
wickedly for a moment) You must allow me a little fun, Poppy. (As an
afterthought) And if you ever tell him how you and I hopped in and out
of buses in our youth, I shall slay you.

  LADY T.: I could kill you at this very moment. That creature's head
must be swollen past recovery.

  LADY C.: Oh, no. I keep him tolerably humble.

  LADY T.: I suppose he is besotted about you?

  LADY C.: Oddly enough, I don't exist except as a brand to be plucked.

  LADY T.: (pouncing) Ah! And you find that exciting.

  LADY C.: (demurely, with an edge to it) He considers that I am very
intelligent, and has hopes of making me a useful member of society.

  LADY T.: Society?

  LADY C.: With a little S.

  LADY T.: He has a confounded impudence. And you, Millicent Charing, are
a confounded humbug. You sit there and preen yourself on your
intellectual amusement. Believe me, my dear, if he had a profile like a
new moon, you wouldn't be in the least amused. So 'lay not that
flattering dudgeon to your soul'.

  LADY C.: 'Unction'!

  LADY T.: What?

  LADY C.: 'Flattering unction'.

  LADY T.: (unabashed) Oh, well, unction. Though I think dudgeon is a
much better word. You can't see farther than his nose.

  LADY C.: (coldly) I have said already, Poppy, that you are very
absurd. (With growing warmth) If you admire his profile so
extravagantly, why couldn't you sit on the same platform with it, and so
save everyone trouble?

  LADY T.: If a man wears a yellow suit it doesn't matter to me if he
looked like the Archangel Gabriel.

  LADY C.: But you think that I am more susceptible.

  LADY T.: Well, you don't really mind yellow suits and things; you
positively rejoice in them.

  LADY C.: Nostalgie de boue.

  LADY T.: So there is nothing to keep you from noticing his profile.

  LADY C.: You should have thought of my deplorable weaknesses before you
entrusted me with your oddity.

  LADY T.: You needn't be sarcastic with me. (The emphasis is on 'me')
All I entrusted you with was his ties.

  LADY C.: Well, I got him into tails for you. He is an ornament to any
platform. And all the thanks I get is a lecture on behaviour.

  LADY T.: I'm not lecturing. I'm grieved. (Her dignified pose wilting
under emotion) I—I churn inside when I think of your encouraging the
creature.

  LADY C.: Do you imagine that a Calvinistic Socialist can be induced to
knot a white tie round his neck without encouragement? Really, Poppy,
you are illogical, unreasonable, ungrateful, and tiresome.

  LADY T.: And you are far too fond of being godmother to squids, and
octopuses, and Hottentots, and moth-eaten lions. (Without any pause or
change of tone) We are not quarrelling, are we?

  LADY C.: (also without change of tone or tempo) Of course not. I
think it is very small of you, Poppy, to come and create a scene when
you know what an exhausting evening I have had.

  LADY T.: (unimpressed) You've had a lovely evening.

  LADY C.: (her mind reviewing the exhausting evening) The Queen would
insist on spitting out the stones of her dates.

  LADY T.: (staggered for a moment) The Queen? (Realising) Oh, the
Balkans. A woman who wears a bath-mat is capable of anything. And I
didn't come to make a scene. I came to tell you how lovely everything
was. (She sounds suddenly like a child whose party has gone wrong)

  LADY C.: (relenting) All right, Poppy dear. It was generous and
charming of you. I expect we are both tired.

  LADY T.: Yes; it is silly to quarrel over anything so—so trumpery as
Neil Tummel. Forget what I said, darling. I was just a little peeved
that you were being nice to the creature, forgetting that being nice is
a habit with you. I know that you could never waste an unnecessary
moment on the silly bag of wind. Good night, my dear. I expect Cosmo is
growing impatient. Are you going to the Tavenders' on Thursday? (As
LADY C. assents) Then I shall see you there. Meanwhile I shall leave
you to your solitary supper.

   [She is making for the door when it opens to admit NEIL TUMMEL
      carrying a tray with food and a bottle. Sensation—as the old
      scripts used to say.]

  LADY C.: (smoothly, into the gap) Lady Tillicoultry, do you know Mr
Tummel?

   [LADY T. inclines her head in cold recognition of the
      introduction.]

  NEIL.: Lady Tillicoultry doesn't know me, maybe, but I know her well
enough.

  LADY T.: Really?

  NEIL.: My father used to shoe your father's horses.

  LADY T.: (cold and detached) Did he get paid?

  NEIL.: (at a loss) Of course.

  LADY T.: Your father must have been a remarkable man. My father never
paid anything but blackmail. Good night, Millicent. It has been a
charming evening.

                                                       [She goes out.]

  NEIL.: (in righteous disgust) That's no way to speak about her father.
(Carries his tray down and places it on the opposite side of the table
from hers)

  LADY C.: Don't you believe in telling the truth about one's parents?
But, of course, being a blacksmith, your father was no doubt admirable.
Now I think of it, I have never seen any account of a blacksmith
appearing in court. Now carpenters are always in trouble. Such nice
clean work, too; you would think they would be content.

  NEIL.: You have an incurably frivolous mind.

  LADY C.: I don't consider every dandelion a portent, if that is what
you mean. (As NEIL undoubtedly does, she means) As for
carpenters— (She notices what is on NEIL'S tray; eight or nine
very small plates, each with a different kind of food. In an astonished
drawl) My dear Neil! What is all that?

  NEIL.: (succinctly) Samples.

  LADY C.: (counting) ... six, seven, eight, nine. Good gracious!

  NEIL.: I took a little of everything I didn't know.

  LADY C.: But is that wise?

  NEIL.: I consider that this is part of my education.

  LADY C.: Then I can only say that by tomorrow morning there will have
been at least one part of your education that you will have paid for.
However, I am glad to see that you have brought a bottle.

  NEIL.: I'm ashamed about the bottle.

  LADY C.: Nobody has cause to be ashamed of that hock.

  NEIL.: By the time I had made them give me all those little plates, I
had no courage left to refuse the bottle. But of course I'm not going to
drink it.

  LADY C.: (pouring out some) Of course you are. The Rhine is a dull
river, and the Germans a deadly race, but between them they produce a
unique beauty. That is it in your glass. Taste it, you bleak northerner.
It has nothing in common with what you call drink, (dropping her voice
a perfect fifth) which I take to be 'something to keep the wet out'.

  NEIL.: (twirling the stem of his glass doubtfully) Nevertheless, that
is the stuff that ties up a man's tongue (he thinks first of speech, of
course)—or loosens it. That makes his will like water, and his
judgment of no account. Because of that promises were broken, and
obligations unmet.

   [He is beginning to enjoy the sound of it. LADY CHARING is eating
      her supper without glancing at him.]

  NEIL.: Fine aspirations died, and unworthiness found sweet excuse.
Because of that causes were lost, leaders betrayed. Because of that
sacred things were sold. Because of that Empires fell.

  LADY C.: (not glancing at him; with finality) Most Empires fell
because the rain didn't.

  NEIL.: (with a swift return to the matter of fact) This will be the
first time in my life that intoxicating liquor has ever passed my lips.

   [She casts him an amused glance, but his eyes are on the glass.]

  NEIL.: I never made a pledge, of course. (After a further pause he
lifts the glass and tastes the wine cautiously. After a second more
appreciative mouthful he sets it down) I see what you mean about it's
not being drink. Just a (he looks for a word) fragrance.

   [She likes that and glances approvingly. It is in moments like these
      that she forgets his faults and remembers only his profile.]

  NEIL.: Is it potent? (He picks up a fork and begins on the first of his
samples)

  LADY C.: Oh, no. It is the recognised tipple of maiden ladies.

  NEIL.: I've known some maiden ladies with a real taste for the potent,
including clay pipes. What is this? (He refers to the dish he is
eating)

  LADY C.: Lobster mayonnaise.

  NEIL.: (holding up some cress on his fork) What do they put the grass
on it for?

  LADY C.: The cress is mere garnish, like a man's tie. Who tied your
tie for you, Neil Tummel?

  NEIL.: My landlady's son. It's his tie. If it comes to that, it's his
suit too.

  LADY C.: I congratulate your landlady.

  NEIL.: On what?

  LADY C.: On her very handsome son.

   [He casts her a doubtful glance at the implied compliment, but her
      mind has gone elsewhere.]

  LADY C.: You know, Neil, you are improving.

  NEIL.: Because I am dressed up like a monkey?

  LADY C.: (suddenly out of temper) Oh, don't be so stupid. That is the
first entirely democratic outfit you ever wore. In tails all men are
equal.

  NEIL.: There is a difference in cut.

  LADY C.: Of course. But that is a matter of individuality, not of
social standing. The best-cut tails I saw tonight were on Barney Cohen.
The Duke of Sidborough, on the other hand, looked as if he had picked up
a comedian's outfit at the last moment.

  NEIL.: Then if it wasn't my clothes, in what way have I 'improved'?

  LADY C.: You haven't told me how many working-class families could be
fed for the cost of my party.

  NEIL.: (grimly) I'll tell you now. Five hundred families for a week,
or fifty families for two years.

  LADY C.: It must be a dreary way to enjoy a party; reckoning what one
could have bought instead. Does the Tummel family never give a party?

  NEIL.: Of course they do.

  LADY C.: When your sister got married, for instance?

  NEIL.: Yes.

  LADY C.: How many people came?

  NEIL.: We invited fifty, but fifty-six came.

  LADY C.: How awkward! And did you reckon how many families could have
been fed for the cost of it?

  NEIL.: No.

  LADY C.: Why not?

  NEIL.: That's quite different.

  LADY C.: The only difference is that you have fifty friends, and I have
nine hundred.

  NEIL.: I don't suppose you knew half those people here tonight by sight
even!

  LADY C.: No. But they know me. And expect to be asked to my house. And
because they come to my house and drink my hock, someone in your beloved
Kilcrannock eats a little better.

  NEIL.: (pausing in his supper at what seems to him this monstrous
perversion) Well, of all the—!

  LADY C.: (interrupting him) Little Señor So-and-So goes back to his
South American home. He has been entertained at Charing House. He is
pleased, he is flattered. He puts his docile women folk into English
tweeds, and the mills of Kilcrannock work overtime.

  NEIL.: (scornfully) Overtime!

  LADY C.: (smoothly) Yes. All those South American women are ten miles
round. And when I am hanging on a lamp-post, Neil Tummel, the cost of
entertaining little Señor So-and-So will come out of your pocket. (As
one contemplating a pleasing prospect) What a lot of things are going
to come out of your pocket when I have stopped paying for them. I shall
be surprised if you have the price of a drink left. (Noticing that
NEIL is eating) Don't you think you had better leave that till later?
I think it is vanilla soufflé.

  NEIL.: (who has a sweet tooth and no palate) It's fine, whatever it
is. (He goes on eating it) So you give parties just to keep the poor
of Kilcrannock happy?

  LADY C.: No. I give parties because I like it, and because I do it
well. That is lucky because it happens to be my duty to give them, and
it is very hard work.

  NEIL.: Work! What would you do if you had seven children and a husband
who earned two pounds a week?

  LADY C.: Make a success of it. I should have made a very good wife for
a working-man.

  NEIL.: You! I don't suppose you know the price of a pound of butter.

  LADY C.: (reasonably) No. But I should only have to be told once.

  NEIL.: And tomorrow you'll no doubt lie in bed till noon recovering from
tonight.

  LADY C.: On the contrary. I have a Pageant Committee meeting at ten
o'clock. Queen Elizabeth has abdicated, and there are eleven claimants
to the crown.

  NEIL.: Have you a part in this pageant?

  LADY C.: I am to be Boadicea. (This lady is now known as Boudicca, but
in the Edwardian age they were satisfied with a smaller degree of
accuracy)

  NEIL.: (mildly) Why Boadicea, the poor savage?

  LADY C.: (matter-of-factly) Because I look well with my hair down—
(As NEIL, after a delayed take, pauses and stares) What is the
matter?

  NEIL.: (after a pause, still staring, slowly) It's an odd thing, but
until this minute I never thought of you as a real woman.

  LADY C.: Was I ogre or goddess? (As NEIL still stares; a trifle
dryly) Not a Gorgon apparently. (As NEIL is still silent; a faint
impatience showing) Well, what was I?

  NEIL.: (still wrapped in his own thoughts) A thing with a ticket on
it.

  LADY C.: A ticket?

  NEIL.: A label.

  LADY C.: Merciful heaven, a museum piece!

  NEIL.: (not having heard her) In my mind you were always 'Rich
aristocrat' or 'Famous Beauty'. Never a person with bones and flesh and
blood.

  LADY C.: You must have granted me a stomach, or you wouldn't have
brought me this supper.

  NEIL.: No, I suppose not. I expect it was beginning to dawn on me.

  LADY C.: Well, now that you realise that my hair lets down, am I to be
removed from your collection of untouchables?

  NEIL.: (grasping after his lost detachment) It makes no difference at
all in my opinion of you.

  LADY C.: I am still a parasite.

  NEIL.: You are still the woman who wore that gewgaw tonight. (He
indicates with the point of his fork the tiara, which is lying on the
table)

  LADY C.: Didn't you think it becoming?

  NEIL.: I thought you looked very silly in it. (Having tasted a new
dish) I suppose this is caviare?

  LADY C.: Yes.

  NEIL.: (pushing the small dish away and drawing another into its
place) Well, I've tasted it.

  LADY C.: You don't like it?

  NEIL.: Every man has his Waterloo.

  LADY C.: That is what Macrae, the Head Gardener at Charing, said when
he lost the first prize for onions after twenty years.

  NEIL.: (scornfully) I suppose you have a dozen gardeners?

  LADY C.: (mildly) Fourteen and a boy.

  NEIL.: It's iniquitous that any individual should pay fourteen gardeners
to keep his place tidy.

  LADY C.: If we didn't pay them, you would have to.

  NEIL.: I?

  LADY C.: Would you destroy the gardens? In your revolution.

  NEIL.: Of course not.

  LADY C.: Then the State would have to pay fourteen men and a boy. It is
Augustus's dream, I may tell you. To get someone to take those gardens
off his hands. He is always trying to filch sixpence from the peaches
for his pigs. And he is terrified, of course, of Macrae.
(Contemplatively) The Revolution is going to have a difficult time
with Macrae. I hope you will be kind to our tenants, by the way. They
are used to being looked after.

  NEIL.: (in a scornful summing up) Cake in a basket.

  LADY C.: (demurely) No. Rent in abeyance. What will the State do with
people who can't pay their rent?

  NEIL.: (lofty and repressive) The State will look after the deserving.

  LADY C.: It wasn't the deserving I was thinking about.

  NEIL.: At least there will be no more exploiting by landlords.

  LADY C.: The only landlord who makes a profit at Charing is the
landlord of the George. You really must come and meet our persecuted
peasantry. Come this week-end.

  NEIL.: At the week-end I am going to Kilcrannock.

  LADY C.: You can go there next week-end.

  NEIL.: No. I have a committee meeting on Saturday.

  LADY C.: (airily) Postpone it, my good creature. Postpone it.

  NEIL.: It's my own parliamentary committee.

  LADY C.: All the more reason that they should wait.

  NEIL.: What I have to say to them won't wait.

  LADY C.: No?

  NEIL.: I am going to tell them that I can no longer represent them in
Parliament. (He goes on eating matter-of-factly)

   [LADY C. stops eating, stares a moment, puts out a swift arm to
      NEIL'S bottle of hock and lifts it to the light, realises that
      the explanation is not there—NEIL is thirsty and has done
      justice to the wine, but even a teetotaller could not be greatly
      deranged by the amount he has consumed—and puts it down.]

  LADY C.: It can't be that. Are you serious?

  NEIL.: Perfectly.

  LADY C.: You are going to give up your seat? But why?

  NEIL.: Because I have no right to keep it. I was sent to Parliament to
represent the working-classes of Kilcrannock, and look at me! Dressed up
like a dummy in a suit that doesn't belong to me, having supper with a
countess.

  LADY C.: Does that prevent you from going to the House tomorrow and
speaking for your Kilcrannock friends?

  NEIL.: (without heat) It's a betrayal. That's what it is. A betrayal.

  LADY C.: My dear Neil, don't be absurd.

  NEIL.: The money to send me to Westminster was scraped together by
people who could ill afford it. They have a very clear idea of the kind
of man they want to represent them. They thought I was that man. So did
I. We were both wrong.

  LADY C.: But, for Heaven's sake, why—

  NEIL.: The kind of man they want wouldn't be found dead in this house.

  LADY C.: Then I should have thought that the obvious course was to give
up this house, not your constituency.

  NEIL.: Giving it up wouldn't alter the fact that I liked coming to it.

  LADY C.: (surprised and gratified) You liked it?

  NEIL.: (airily) Oh, ay. I pretended to myself that I came here just to
look down my nose. And when I went about with you, and made you take
buses instead of your car, I thought I was educating you; and all the
time I was just flattered at being seen about with a countess and the
most beautiful woman in London. Do you think a man like that is the
right one to represent Kilcrannock weavers?

  LADY C.: But you also represent, I take it, the ...

  NEIL.: I thought I was a Moses, and all I am is a Samson. A poor silly
lump of a fellow that got his hair cut. And on Saturday I tell my
committee that, and they can look for a better man.

  LADY C.: I have never heard anything so quixotic and nonsensical. When
did you reach this curious decision?

  NEIL.: (without thinking) Tonight. (As soon as it is said he looks as
if he would like to take it back, but he is too late)

  LADY C.: And what are you going to do if you give up your political
career?

  NEIL.: I'll begin again, some other way. Find work in a factory,
perhaps.

  LADY C.: Why not a stone-breaker? You know; a can of cold tea and
strings round your knees. (As NEIL pursues his way through the
samples on the plates without heeding her) Or must you have an
audience? (Dropping the ironic manner) My dear Neil, the whole thing
is absurd to the point of fantasy.

  NEIL.: (dryly) I didn't suppose you would understand it.

  LADY C.: You actually propose to give up your seat in Parliament
because someone induced you to wear a white tie?

  NEIL.: No. Because I'm a poor thing, but taking money under false
pretences isn't one of my failings. Do you realise that my committee
actually pay for my lodgings in London?

  LADY C.: And anyhow, to consider manual work as some sort of salvation
is merely being perverse. Now, when you have caught the public eye—

  NEIL.: It's not so long since you gibed at me for not working with my
hands.

  LADY C.: (not listening) I know! Let me talk to Lord Archibald—

  NEIL.: (startled, almost shouting) No! (Collecting himself at her
surprise, more mildly) No. Certainly not!

  LADY C.: You wouldn't mind being a secretary for a little?

  NEIL.: (who hasn't been thinking of secretaryships; at a loss)
Secretary?

  LADY C.: Archie, being head of the Liberal Party, can always do with an
extra secretary or two.

  NEIL.: Are you deliberately insulting me?

  LADY C.: Insulting? I'm only—

  NEIL.: If I want to stay in London as a working-man's representative, do
you think I would stay as a hired lackey?

  LADY C.: You're terribly fond of the word lackey. It's a sort of
shibboleth.

  NEIL.: I didn't expect you to understand what conscience can do to a
man, but I did think that you would—

  LADY C.: My dear, I am merely trying to bring a little realism into
your—

  NEIL.: Realism! God bless realism! and let us look to our personal
profit, and the buttered side, and percentage, and perquisites, and
feathers for our nest, and all the other rewards for keeping a sensible
point of view, and not letting conscience talk too loudly. You can keep
your realism, and I'll keep my conscience. And now, having been educated
both spiritually and gastronomically. (Getting up) If you'll forgive
me, I'll be going.

  LADY C.: No, Neil, wait. Let us discuss this calmly. I—

  NEIL.: There is nothing to discuss. I made a mistake, and I am going to
rectify it. That is all. I undertook something and failed to carry it
through. Other men have failed before now. (By this stage he is
believing it himself)

  LADY C.: But I—

  NEIL.: Anyhow, it has nothing to do with you.

  LADY C.: But I feel that it has. If I had foreseen ... If I ...

  NEIL.: You have nothing to reproach yourself with. You have been very
kind, and if I have been uncouth I hope you'll forgive me. That I'm a
failure is my own fault, and no one else's. (He is enjoying himself so
much now that he is almost in tears of admiration) Thank you very much
for your hospitality.

   [That is the phrase they use in Kilcrannock. He shakes hands with a
      speechless LADY CHARING, who has also risen by now, and makes
      for the door. At the door he turns.]

  NEIL.: And I want to tell you something. I didn't think you looked silly
in that thing. (He indicates the tiara) I thought you looked like a
queen. (Amending hastily) I consider Royalty a deplorable anachronism,
of course. But you did look like a queen tonight.

   [He disappears.

   [LADY CHARING stands where she is, gazing at the closed door. As she
      turns slowly, she catches sight of her reflection in the mirror.]

  LADY C.: (to her reflection, as a nurse says it to a child who has
broken something) Now look what you've done.

                             QUICK CURTAIN



                                ACT III


                                SCENE I

The Scene is the same. It is mid-morning in July.

LORD CHARING is sitting in his chair by the window, reading a
newspaper. Several more are strewn on the floor by his chair.

Enter LADY CHARING, making for the little desk by the side window.
She is dressed to go out, and is carrying her gloves and a feathery
thing that is destined to go round her neck. Half-way across the room
she notices her husband.

  LADY C.: (not pausing) Gussie. I thought you had gone to the club.

  LORD C.: I am getting up my courage.

  LADY C.: What do you want courage for?

  LORD C.: An unsuccessful Liberal is a fearsome thing, but a crowd of
Liberals all cock-a-hoop is a thing to make a man blench.

  LADY C.: (smiling: she is in a very good mood) You are a disgrace to
the party, Gussie. (She sits down at her desk and prepares to write a
note) You ought to be standing on a chair and cheering. Nothing like
this has happened to the Liberals within the memory of man.

  LORD C.: Oh, it's wonderful, of course. A landslide. A positive
landslide. But where does it leave me? At the head of those stairs. (At
his paper again) Did you see that the Tories have even lost Strake. A
safe seat like that. Lost it by nine thousand votes. The thing's
incredible. And Carlimmon. A Liberal majority of twelve thousand. God
knows the Tories had been too long in power, but who would have expected
anything like this? (He chews over the news while she ignores him) And
Larborough.... No, I'll never get away from those stairs now.

  LADY C.: (writing) Do you think it would be tactless to ask the
Tillicoultrys to the dinner next week?

  LORD C.: I expect the Tillicoultrys and all their Tory clan are in deep
mourning. Have you quarrelled with Poppy, by the way?

  LADY C.: Have you ever tried to quarrel with Poppy?

  LORD C.: I have not.

  LADY C.: The thing is an impossibility. It would be like hitting a
feather-bed. (After a pause) Why did you think we had quarrelled?

  LORD C.: It must be nearly a month since I came across her in the
house. Not since that reception, if I remember. (He is quite without
guile, and not greatly interested)

  LADY C.: That was just before the Tories resigned. And since then
everyone has been in the country. (She means the provinces)

  LORD C.: (going back to his paper) Yes. Everyone has been kissing
babies. The Liberals seem to have kissed to some purpose. (Murmuring,
as he scans the lists) A landslide, indeed. Swinnington, five
thousand.... I see your wild man has won Kilcrannock for the Liberals.
Does that mean an end of yellow suits?

  LADY C.: I don't know. I haven't seen him since that reception a month
ago. I must say, it is a great relief to me that he has found a niche
for himself. (There is a faint shade of puzzlement, all the same, in
that last sentence)

  LORD C.: He owes you that, my dear.

  LADY C.: Because I changed his ties, you mean?

  LORD C.: No. Because you got him to the reception that night.

  LADY C.: What has that to do with it?

  LORD C.: It gave him a chance to work his spell on Archie.

  LADY C.: On Archie?

  LORD C.: Archie was so mellow that he not only offered to back him for
Kilcrannock— (He is not so greatly interested that his attention is
entirely weaned from his paper, and now he catches sight of something
else) Did you see the majority at Hanborough?

  LADY C.: Archie! Offered him backing? Offered him party backing?
(She can't believe it)

  LORD C.: (coming to for a moment, and looking up with a reminiscent
smile) Yes. Young Bisset has been nursing Kilcrannock for years—with
the Party's blessing—but after an hour of Neil Tummel, and two bottles
of Johannisberger, Archie changed his mind.

  LADY C.: It is not possible! (She is referring not to ARCHIE'S
behaviour but NEIL'S)

  LORD C.: My dear, Archie was so mellow that he not only promised him
party backing, but he told him that the Tories were going to resign
within a week.

  LADY C.: I don't believe it.

  LORD C.: (taking it for granted that it is ARCHIE'S indiscretion she
finds incredible) Oh, Archie didn't mind. When he told me next morning
in the Club he said that anyone who could talk him into tears after
twenty years in the Commons was worth a thousand votes to any party. The
tears probably came out of a bottle. (Shrewdly) I think myself that
Archie was looking for a Scotch counterweight to that little Welsh
lawyer.

   [LADY CHARING is sitting very still, all her radiance gone, but
      LORD CHARING, busy with the ever-surprising contents of his
      paper, is unaware of any oddness in the atmosphere. He goes on,
      after a little.]

  LORD C.: Well, it's nice for the young man to come in on a flood-tide.
(Reading another item) Lanbovery West, eleven hundred. I shall be
sitting at the top of those stairs in a bathchair before the Liberals go
out of office.

   [He scans the paper again. LADY CHARING makes some attempt to go
      back to her note-writing.]

  LORD C.: A landslide. A positive landslide.

  LADY C.: (in a burst) Gussie, if you use that phrase again I shall
divorce you!

  LORD C.: Sorry, my dear.

  LADY C.: (after a short silence, in her ordinary voice) Am I
sometimes impatient with you, Gussie?

  LORD C.: (cheerfully) Quite often, my dear.

  LADY C.: That is horrid of me. (She says it simply, accenting no word
more than another; which adds to its force) There is no one in all the
world as nice as you, Gussie, and I don't deserve to have you for a
husband.

  LORD C.: (in his gentle voice) A very proper sentiment, my dear.

  LADY C.: (casting him a fleeting smile for that) Wretch! (She makes
some pretence of writing, but her mind is not on the paper. Writing)
Gussie.

  LORD C.: (reading) Yes, my dear?

  LADY C.: (looking up) Did you have a hero, when you were little?

  LORD C.: A hero? Yes. Let me see. Richard Lion-heart.

  LADY C.: (scribbling on the blotting-paper) Mine was Jack the
Giant-killer. (After a pause) All my life I have kept expecting people
to be Giant-killers. And all they ever prove to be are Jacks climbing
the bean-stalk.

   [He becomes aware that there must be an origin for this line of
      thought, and turns his head to look at her, thoughtfully. She has
      gone back to her note.]

  LORD C.: (after a moment, slowly) I discovered later, of course, that
Richard was a most deplorable bounder. (He goes back to his paper, but
henceforth he is aware of her)

  LADY C.: How do you spell conceive?

  LORD C.: E-I. Who is conceiving?

  LADY C.: The conception is mental. We are not going to invite the
Tillicoultrys next week, then?

  LORD C.: (agreeing with her previous suggestion) It might be a little
tactless, certainly. (A new thought striking him) I wonder how Poppy
likes the prospect of being represented in Parliament by Mr Tummel for
years to come. Poor Poppy!

   [The door opens and POPPY appears, half-in and half-out.]

  LADY T.: Who is sympathising with Poppy? (Coming in) And what about,
may I ask? (As the OTHERS greet her) Victor said that I might come
up. How are you, Millicent? He's a nice creature, Victor. He has decided
that he still knows me, even if I am a defeated Tory. Was that what you
were poor-Poppying about, Gussie? The slump in my political value?

  LORD C.: No, as a matter of fact, I was sympathising with you on the
permanence of Mr Tummel.

  LADY T.: (equably) Oh, well. If we have to be represented by a
Liberal, I don't know that Neil Tummel is worse than the next man.
Especially now that Millie has prettied him up so nicely. You should
have seen him in Kilcrannock, my dear. He was a credit to you. He has
even got himself a new suit. Very chaste and slightly Foreign Office. As
for his politics he might have been a Liberal from the cradle.

  LADY C.: (extra sec) Very gratifying.

  LADY T.: It's fantastic. A month ago he wanted the earth; now he's
promising it. If reports are true he's promising the moon too.

  LORD C.: A charmer, Mr Tummel. I wonder if he is still interested in
small-holdings? I was pinning my faith to that.

  LADY C.: If you pin anything to Neil Tummel you'll lose even the pin.

  LADY T.: Don't you like him any more, Millicent? Oh, dear, I hope you
are not tired of him. I was going to ask you—I was going to
suggest—

  LADY C.: What is it now? His shoe laces? Perhaps he does them in a V
and you prefer them straight across.

  LADY T.: (ignoring any sarcasm) Oh, no. Nothing like that. Nothing
like that at all. I was hoping you would bring him to tea.

  LADY C.: (regarding her) Really, Poppy, you are quite shameless.

  LADY T.: I don't know what you are talking about. Now that he is a
perfectly respectable Liberal there is no reason why we should not be on
speaking terms. It looks well on a platform. And there are one or two
little things in the constituency that I want done. So I thought the
nicest way would be for you to bring him to tea one day. Tea is a nice
informal thing, and doesn't commit one to much.

  LADY C.: I think Mr Tummel is quite capable of bringing himself to tea.

  LADY T.: But I should have to ask him. That is quite impossible.

  LADY C.: In any case, I shall not be seeing Mr Tummel either soon, or
much.

  LADY T.: I don't know about much, darling, but you will certainly be
seeing him soon. (Answering LADY CHARING'S unspoken question) I
passed him just now in the carriage. Striding along Grosvenor Street.
There was one of those dotted lines from his nose to this door.

  LADY C.: But why to this door? I have not heard from him for weeks. Why
should he come here?

  LADY T.: He is coming to be admired, of course. Don't you know the
creature?

  LADY C.: (murmuring) I begin to.

  LADY T.: He is bringing his sheaves, or his scalps, or whatever it is,
to show you.

  LADY C.: (looking at her watch with deliberate control) Then he will
have to leave his sheaves on the doorstep. I am due at Lady Archibald's
in fifteen minutes. I think it would be a graceful thing if you came
along with me, Gussie, and paid your respects.

  LORD C.: Oh, must I, my dear? I find her such a terrifying woman.

  LADY T.: Such a pity to have a Prime Minister's wife who looks like a
horse.

  LADY C.: You have only to say how pleased we all are. And then you can
go to your club. It will not look nearly so bad after Lady Archie.

  LORD C.: There is that. (Beginning to make a move) I suppose it is
time I made a move anyhow.

  LADY T.: Do you hate your club, Gussie?

  LORD C.: Oh, no, no. The building is quite charming. Seventeenth
century. But I look round at my fellow members and can't help thinking
how much more interesting they would be if they were pigs. Shall I meet
you in the hall, Millicent? (Looking at his watch) At a quarter-past?

                                           [She agrees to 'ten past'.]

  LORD C.: How is Cosmo? Not too shocked over the Tory defeat, I hope?

  LADY T.: At the news that we were going to be represented by a Liberal,
Cosmo decided to go into a nursing-home. But when he found that everyone
else had a Liberal too, he cheered up wonderfully.

  LORD C.: They do say that misfortune shared is misfortune halved.

  LADY T.: Well, I confess I was relieved. Nursing-homes are more
expensive than grouse moors these days. Delia Delany sent for the crusts
off her toast, and they charged it extra on her bill.

  LADY C.: (amused and disbelieving) Oh, my dear Poppy—!

  LADY T.: I do assure you. 'Crusts: five shillings.'

   [She lifts an elegant hand to the smiling LORD CHARING, as he goes
      out.]

  LADY T.: I expect—

  LADY C.: Poppy, dear, you won't mind if I throw you out, will you? I
must finish these notes before I go, and we can't be late at Lady
Archibald's.

  LADY T.: (airily) You won't be late, my dear. You have plenty of
time. Give the woman a chance to get out of her curlers.

  LADY C.: But—

  LADY T.: You go on with your notes, and I shall sit quietly here and
rest for a little. I shan't interrupt you, I promise. It is a charming
room to rest in. I have always wanted one like it.

  LADY C.: (resuming her writing; tartly) If it is my drawing-room you
want now, Poppy, let us have an understanding at once. You cannot have
it.

  LADY T.: (without heat) I don't think that sounds very nice. (She is
sitting where she can see from the window into the square) One would
think I was a cadger!

                    [She can now see NEIL TUMMEL approaching below.]

  LADY T.: I have my faults, but if there is one thing I am not a cadger.
(In a scientific, detached voice) Are you a little dyspeptic this
morning, Millicent?

  LADY C.: (scribbling furiously in an effort to finish her letters and
get out of the house before NEIL TUMMEL descends on it, but rising to
the dyspepsia gibe) I have never had dyspepsia.

  LADY T.: I only wondered. You sounded a little impatient. Not to say
peevish. Here I come rushing to congratulate you on the Liberal victory,
and you—

  LADY C.: (casting her a glance and going on scribbling) It couldn't
be, could it, Poppy, that you didn't remember me until your eye lighted
on Neil Tummel headed this way, and that you then remembered that you
wanted Government backing for your Kilcrannock soup-kitchens?

  LADY T.: No; for my Poor Children's Holiday Home.

  LADY C.: And that when I refused to bring him to your house you settled
down here in the hope that he would come before you left?

  LADY T.: (getting up; she has watched NEIL TUMMEL go round the
corner of the square to the door below the window) That is very unkind
of you, Millie. Very unkind. If that is what you think I shall go at
once. At once.

  LADY C.: Oh, sit down, Poppy, and don't be tiresome. We can go together
in a moment.

  LADY T.: No, if I go now, I can at least prove that I am not using your
charming room as a place of assignation.

  LADY C.: (almost restored to good humour by this absurdity;
half-smiling) You absurd creature. I ...

  LADY T.: If I don't see you before then, we shall meet at the opening
of Parliament. (Kindly, as she is going) And you really ought to try
those little tablets that Cosmo has, my dear. I don't think your
digestion is as good as it ought to be.

  LADY C.: (calling after her) Your wig is crooked.

   [As soon as the door closes behind her, LADY CHARING hurries to
      the bell-pull.]

  LADY C.: (as she crosses to the bell) What a morning! (Pausing with
her hand on the bell; she is about to say that she is not at home) No,
perhaps not. I shall be gone before he comes.

   [She hurries back to her notes and thrusts them into envelopes.
      While she is engaged in that the door opens and again =lady
      tillicoultry= appears leading in NEIL TUMMEL.]

  LADY T.: (as cheerfully as if they were meeting for the first time)
Millicent dear, look what I found on the stairs. (As NEIL, very
confident and pleased with himself, moves forward to shake hands) Your
new Liberal, and our new Member of Parliament. He has brought his
scalps.

  NEIL.: My what?

  LADY T.: Your sheaves, you know.

  NEIL.: (to LADY C.) I came to thank you for your good wishes. It was
kind of you to send the telegram.

  LADY C.: I sent three hundred telegrams.

  LADY T.: (too much occupied with her own concerns to notice
=lady charing's= attitude) Oddly enough, we were talking of
you a moment ago.

  NEIL.: (with difficulty taking his attention away from LADY CHARING'S
reception of him) Yes?

  LADY T.: I was hoping that you would help me with one or two little
things in the constituency.

  NEIL.: Provided I approve of the one or two little things, Lady
Tillicoultry, I'll help you with pleasure.

  LADY T.: It's mostly about my Poor Children's Holiday Home. I take it
you would approve of that.

  NEIL.: I don't know. I would have to see the books.

  LADY T.: The books?

  NEIL.: The accounts.

  LADY T.: Oh, it is all most painfully honest. We're in debt. (Her
second sentence is meant as proof of her first)

  NEIL.: No doubt, but that's no evidence of honesty.

  LADY T.: (genuinely surprised) Isn't it? (Dismissing the problem)
Oh, well, you must come and see for yourself, and make sure that I am
not baby-farming, or whatever it is you suspect me of, and then we can
get the grant or the subsidy, or whatever it is, and get the new
hot-water pipes in. I won't keep you now, because I know you want to
tell Millicent all about your triumph. Such a wonderful majority. Wasn't
it, Millie?

  LADY C.: Very remarkable.

                            [Again NEIL casts her a puzzled glance.]

  LADY T.: I think he is going to be a great asset to Kilcrannock.

  LADY C.: Providing his Cabinet duties don't prove too distracting.

  LADY T.: Cabinet? But he isn't in the Cabinet.

  LADY C.: No, but he will be.

  LADY T.: You see the faith she has in you. (Going) I am almost
ashamed to bother such a brilliant young man with my hot-water pipes.

                               [NEIL murmurs that he will be charmed.]

  LADY T.: Au revoir, Millicent. Au revoir, Mr Tummel; we are going
to work together beautifully.

                                              [Exit LADY TILLICOULTRY]

  NEIL.: (after a pause) Have you faith in me?

  LADY C.: If you mean, do I believe that you can reach Cabinet rank;
yes. If you mean, could I trust you not to give me a bad half-crown—no.

  NEIL.: I seem to have become a petty crook with remarkable rapidity.

  LADY C.: Almost as rapidly as you became a Liberal.

  NEIL.: (thinking he sees the light) So that's what you're angry
about?

  LADY C.: I'm not angry.

  NEIL.: Och, woman, there are daggers shooting from your eyes. And the
hand you gave me was like a haddock. (Puzzled) I thought you would be
pleased about it. All the way down in the train I kept thinking how
pleased you would be. (He sounds like a child deprived of a promised
treat)

  LADY C.: You must forgive me if I am slow in getting used to the idea.
When you left this room it was to become a stone-breaker or something of
the sort.

  NEIL.: (indulgently) Oh, well, that was a figure of speech.

  LADY C.: (with an air of innocent inquiry) A—fib, you mean?

  NEIL.: (hastily) No, no. A—a dramatisation.

  LADY C.: And did you 'dramatise' yourself into a Liberal frame of mind?

  NEIL.: Oh, no. That was logic. Pure logic.

  LADY C.: Really?

  NEIL.: It seemed to me that if I was resigning because I was too fond of
Liberal ways, the obvious solution was to become a Liberal. Don't you
approve of me as a Liberal?

  LADY C.: My dear Mr Tummel, I have never approved of you.

  NEIL.: (eyeing her) You gave a very fine imitation of it.

  LADY C.: Perhaps you were misled.

  NEIL.: By what?

  LADY C.: My natural good manners. In polite circles disapproval does
not necessarily mean a spit in the eye.

  NEIL.: But it does in mine, you mean.

  LADY C.: (considering it) Perhaps not in the eye; but certainly a
spit.

  NEIL.: Well, thank God I am no hypocrite!

  LADY C.: (sweetly) No?

  NEIL.: No! Do you suggest that I am?

  LADY C.: (still sweetly) I don't suggest it. I give it as my
considered opinion that you are the most colossal hypocrite that it has
ever been my unfortunate lot to meet. (Going on as he is about to
interrupt) When you burst into this room three months ago you were a
Moses. Do you remember? You were going to lead your people out of
bondage. Because we did not subscribe to your beautiful theory that some
inherent wisdom and virtue pertains to a man who earns less than two
pounds a week we were knaves of the deepest dye. We were tyrants, and
exploiters, and oppressors. I take it that we are still tyrants, and
exploiters, and oppressors, but Neil Tummel is no longer a Moses.

  NEIL.: (interrupting) I can do far more for my people as a member of a
party than I ever could as a lone voice in the wilderness.

  LADY C.: But what became of Samson?

  NEIL.: (puzzled) Samson?

  LADY C.: You came into this room a Moses, but you left it a Samson. Had
you forgotten? You were a poor heart-broken creature who had had his
hair cut and had betrayed his people and was going to hide his shame in
a factory.

  NEIL.: (rubbing his hand over the back of his head with a rueful
gesture) Oh, well. There's no denying my tongue runs away with me
sometimes.

  LADY C.: (interested) Is that what you call it—a slip of the
tongue?

  NEIL.: (indulgent) An excess of imagination, let us say. I was giving
up my dream of being a Moses, and maybe I dramatised myself a little.
There's no hypocrisy in that.

  LADY C.: No? Perhaps you don't remember how noble you were? How you
sacrificed your dreams for conscience' sake? How you were going out into
the wilderness to begin again.

  NEIL.: Well, I—

  LADY C.: And all the time you had your first Liberal pay in your
pocket.

  NEIL.: (startled) What? What pay?

  LADY C.: The promise of Party backing for Kilcrannock. And the
knowledge that the Tories were going to resign.

  NEIL.: (after a pause) So you know that? (With a naïve frankness) I
didn't think Archie'd mention it. He had no right to tell me things like
that, you know. He wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for the bottle.

  LADY C.: You underrate your charm.

  NEIL.: (eyeing her) You're a very nasty woman when you like.

  LADY C.: You sat there and ate my food and drank my wine and told a
pack of silly lies—

  NEIL.: (indignant) They weren't silly. They were very fine lies.

  LADY C.: Silly lies for no other reason than to make yourself
important.

  NEIL.: Well, that's no bad reason.

  LADY C.: To hide what a very shabby, timid, time-serving little man ...

  NEIL.: I'm five feet ten, I'd have you know.

  LADY C.: So you are, and make yourself look big and fine and courageous
in my admiring eyes.

  NEIL.: Well, it serves you right for trifling with my affections.

  LADY C.: Tri— (Words fail her)

  NEIL.: Do you deny that you trifled with my affections?

  LADY C.: (coldly) My dear Neil Tummel, I never trifle; and I doubt
whether you have affections.

  NEIL.: You took me up. That's the phrase, isn't it? You took me up, the
way you would a new kind of dog, or a clever nigger—

  LADY C.: (automatically) Negro.

  NEIL.: —you took me round town with you, you flattered me—

  LADY C.: (hotly) I have never flattered you!

  NEIL.: Oh, yes, you did. You flattered me by deferring to me, by letting
me think that I was educating you, by—oh, in all the thousand ways that
a woman like you knows how to flatter. You didn't even have to say
anything; you had only to look as if you were listening; or to smile
your own special kind of smile; or to put your finger-tips on my arm to
draw my attention to something. What defence has a man like me against a
woman like you? It's your own fault if you get lies told you. When I am
Prime Minister— (Pausing at sight of her smile) You don't believe
that one day the King will send for me?

  LADY C.: No. You will send for the King.

  NEIL.: When I am Liberal Prime Minister—

  LADY C.: (correcting) Tory Prime Minister. By that time you will be a
Tory.

  NEIL.: (with stubborn emphasis) When I am Prime Minister— (Coming
to a full stop—testily) Now you've made me forget what I was going to
say.

  LADY C.: (smoothly) You were going to say that by the time you reach
that eminence you will stop telling lies because you will not have to
impress anyone, even yourself. Believe me, being Prime Minister is no
cure for anything. On the contrary. I have never known a Prime Minister
who was not an exaggerated version of what he was as a Sixth Form boy.
(Regarding him) An exaggerated version of Neil Tummel is something I
shudder to contemplate. However, England has survived even stranger
things at Number Ten. (Picking up her gloves and beginning to put them
on) Which reminds me that I am due there now.

  NEIL.: (considering her) Are you dropping me?

  LADY C.: (absorbed in the painstaking process of donning kid gloves)
I am—I must confess to you—a born buyer of gold bricks. You are my
latest gold brick.

  NEIL.: You mean that you are putting me into the wastepaper basket just
because I don't fit some sentimental picture you had of me?

  LADY C.: It is not sentimental to expect sincerity in a person.

  NEIL.: (with a sneer) And how sincere are you?

  LADY C.: (taking the wind out of his sails) Socially I am a monument
of insincerity.

  NEIL.: Well, then?

  LADY C.: Morally I am an honest woman. (As NEIL is about to
interrupt) And I consider it immoral for one person to engage the
emotions of another by telling lies.

  NEIL.: (jumping at it) So your emotions were engaged?

  LADY C.: (smoothly) Certainly. I was never so sorry for anyone.

  NEIL.: (dashed) Sorry?

  LADY C.: Did you expect me to weep over that touching picture of a
broken idealist? And then I find that I have been squandering my
sentiments on a mountebank.

  NEIL.: Don't you dare call me that. Just because I got a bit carried
away one night. Do you think I'm not sincere about my mission? About the
improvement of the world?

  LADY C.: Provided the fortunes of Neil Tummel are improved at the same
time.

  NEIL.: You think me a complete hypocrite? (Rage and incredulity
struggle for mastery)

  LADY C.: If you remember, I began this conversation by saying so.

  NEIL.: You believe that I don't care a hoot what happens to the
working-classes as long as I'm all right?

  LADY C.: I wouldn't go as far as that.

  NEIL.: (hastily) Well, that's something.

  LADY C.: I think your interest in their salvation would be less urgent
if you were not their saviour.

  NEIL.: That is a—

  LADY C.: If the redemption of the world depended on your remaining an
obscure little teacher of Junior English, I suspect the world would stay
unredeemed.

  NEIL.: But that's an outrageous thing to say. It makes me a—a monster
of vanity.

  LADY C.: (kindly) I shouldn't worry if I were you. Most saviours are
very vain.

  NEIL.: Why are you being so cruel this morning? (It is an expression of
curiosity, not a protest) Stabbing away at me like that. Brushing me
off as if I was a golochan you found in your dress.

  LADY C.: A what?

  NEIL.: An earwig.

  LADY C.: I think the earwig is a charming insect by comparison.

  NEIL.: You can't be as angry as that merely because I turned my coat.

  LADY C.: Of course not. You could have turned your coat a dozen times
with my blessing, provided you had been honest about it. Political
quirks I am used to, but not— (she hunts for a phrase) not
crocodile tears on my drawing-room carpet.

  NEIL.: I tell you, my tongue ran away with me. I was excited that night,
having supper with you, and Lord Archibald approving of me, and drinking
wine for the first time, and you looking like all the pictures in the
world—do you realise that was the first time I had seen you in
evening-dress?—and the summer night outside, and everything; I just
had to make something to match it. But to damn me as a hypocrite, body
and soul, just because on one occasion I let my imagination get the
upper— (As LADY CHARING, still busy with her gloves but nearing an
end of them, casts her eye round to see where her feather ornament may
be) Look, before I went north, that night at supper, you asked me to
Charing for the week-end. Let me come one week-end and—I can't talk to
you now, you aren't even paying attention to me; you're just as
interested in that feather thing (even at this moment his vanity is
uppermost)—let me come one week-end when there will be time to
talk—

  LADY C.: (smoothing her gloves) I shall not be much at Charing this
autumn, I am going yachting. I am always very sick, but a good retch now
and then is excellent for the complexion.

  NEIL.: You are running away!

  LADY C.: From what?

  NEIL.: From me.

  LADY C.: (with a light and very successful little laugh) My dear
Neil!

  NEIL.: You couldn't be all that angry if—if what I did didn't matter to
you.

  LADY C.: (explaining her anger) I don't like being fooled, any more
than the next woman. Nothing riles a woman like a misspent tear.

  NEIL.: (repeating his conviction) You are too angry. If I was just 'an
earwig', you wouldn't be so angry.

  LADY C.: (considering him) Your vanity is really pathological, isn't
it? If someone is angry with you, that is the measure of your
importance. If she takes a holiday, she is running away from you. Let me
make it quite clear. Anger is very ageing, and therefore a luxury I
don't indulge in; and I am going yachting because for the last three
months, like everyone else, I have consistently over-eaten. The Romans
tickled their throats, and we go to Marienbad. I, personally, find
yachting more effective. And now—

  NEIL.: That is just a lot of words. You can say what you like, but you
are angry—

  LADY C.: (correcting) Annoyed.

  NEIL.: Well, call it what you like, but what I did was important to you.
If it hadn't been, you'd have been all social-insincerity this morning,
and not cared two shakes of a lamb's tail whether I had pretended to be
better than I was or not. You'd have been full of polite gush like that
silly Tillicoultry woman, who is ready to—

  LADY C.: You should be grateful to Poppy Tillicoultry.

  NEIL.: For what, may I ask?

  LADY C.: But for her, we should never have met.

  NEIL.: (puzzled) But you asked me to tea.

  LADY C.: Yes. Poppy persuaded me to invite you.

  NEIL.: That woman did? Why?

  LADY C.: She didn't like your ties.

  NEIL.: What has that to do with it?

  LADY C.: She hoped that I might change them. (As NEIL is silent,
taking this in) You must admit that I have been very successful. Your
present cravat would not disgrace the Foreign Office.

  NEIL.: (slowly) So that is why you invited me.

  LADY C.: To make you pretty for Poppy; yes.

  NEIL.: And did it need so much— (he looks for a phrase) personal
attention to change a bit of silk round my neck?

  LADY C.: (with disarming frankness) Oh, no. I grew interested in you.

                               [NEIL'S stiffness momentarily relaxes.]

  LADY C.: I found you most attractive. I thought it was your principles.
But I think Poppy was right; she said it was your profile.

  NEIL.: Between the two of you, I seem to have been well chewed over.

  LADY C.: Between you and Poppy I have been put to a great deal of
inconvenience. However, since you are both the better for it, I cannot
grudge my wasted interest. And now I must go, or I shall be late at—

  NEIL.: You can't make yourself the most important thing in my life and
then walk out of it as if you were stepping into your carriage. (There
is more threat than appeal in that) What do you think I am made of?
What do you think I am? A doll to be dressed and undressed? A dummy to
be pushed about on a board for your pleasure?

  LADY C.: (regarding him) No, I think you are a very silly and
snobbish little climber, who didn't even notice that I was a woman as
well as a Viscountess, until it was brought to your notice that my hair
let down. If I have been important to you, believe me I am not
irreplaceable. Peeresses in the Liberal Party are two a penny. It is
absurd to suggest—

  NEIL.: Stop it!

                                        [In sheer surprise she stops.]

  NEIL.: You know very well what I mean, and it has nothing to do with
climbing or snobbery. It has to do with you and me.

  LADY C.: The only thing that you and I have in common, Mr Tummel, is
the Liberal Party.

  NEIL.: (who has come close enough to her to look into her eyes,
speculatively) I wish I could see what you are thinking. All these
words, and what do they mean? What did you want of me that you're so
angry with me now? (As she does not answer, but meets his gaze calmly)
Not a lover. Your virtue's a byword all over London. I suppose that
means you're a cold woman. Then what did you want of me?

  LADY C.: I have told you. I thought your principles matched your
profile. But I was wrong. You are, after all, a little man. You have a
blind eye, but no telescope to put to it.

  NEIL.: (still considering her) If it's a Nelson you're looking for,
they're few and far between.

  LADY C.: I shall go on looking.

  NEIL.: And meanwhile?

  LADY C.: Meanwhile?

  NEIL.: All the 'little' fellows you have encouraged and discarded die of
shame.

  LADY C.: That is something you are not likely to die of.

  NEIL.: Not me. I'm Neil Tummel. I may be just a parlour game to you, but
I'm going to be history to a lot of others. I'm on my way up; and you're
going to watch me go. And if this is good-bye, let me give you something
to remember me by. (He takes her to him with one arm, tilts her chin
with the other hand, and kisses her heartily on the lips. Releasing
her) I've wanted to do that for a long time.

  LADY C.: (who has suffered the embrace without moving) I have wanted
for a long time to do something for you. Something that your mother
should have done.

  NEIL.: (with his too-ready resentment) My mother did everything for
me!

  LADY C.: Except put you across her knee. However—(picking up her
wrap)—the House of Commons will do that. So will your wife.

  NEIL.: My wife?

  LADY C.: You will marry for prestige, of course; and to your last day
you will never know what your wife is really thinking. As for your
children ...

  NEIL.: If you think my children will be snobs (there is the faintest
emphasis on the word 'children', since he is unconsciously admitting the
truth of her first prediction) you are wrong; they ...

  LADY C.: On the contrary they will disgrace you by being Socialists.
You will be for ever explaining away your son's antics. By the time you
are forty you will have the whole world for audience, and no one to talk
to; and I am very sorry for you. (She does not sound particularly
sorry) You set out to be a Moses; then you thought you were a Samson;
and all you are is an Esau.

  NEIL.: Esau?

  LADY C.: A man who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
(Following NEIL'S thought perfectly) And if you think that the
pottage may prove worth it, let me tell you here and now that it will be
dust and ashes in your mouth, for one reason.

  NEIL.: Go on. Curse me.

  LADY C.: (ignoring the gibe) However far you go, however long you
live, there will be a label round your neck that you can never get rid
of. They will whisper the tag behind you at assemblies, state it openly
in your biographies, quote it against you in opposition, and repeat it
in your obituary. 'Of course, Millicent Charing made him', they will
say. 'Millicent Charing made him, of course.' And your achievement will
be dust and ashes in your mouth.

  NEIL.: (staring at her; light and conviction dawning simultaneously;
not in triumph but in a kind of wonder—slowly) You were in love with
me.

   [The door opens to admit LORD CHARING, a placid and unemotional
      little presence.]

  LORD C.: (in his gentle, matter-of-fact voice) Millicent dear, I
don't think I shall wait for you. It is really time that I looked in at
the Club, and— (Catching sight of NEIL) Oh! I thought you had Poppy
with you. My dear Mr Tummel, allow me to congratulate you, and to
welcome you to the Liberal Party.

                                          [He shakes hands with NEIL.]

  LORD C.: It's a curious world, isn't it? A month ago we Liberals had
nothing to offer a bright young man, and now it seems the Party is a
land of infinite opportunity.

  LADY C.: Of which Mr Tummel will take definite advantage. I think you
had better come with me (emphasis on 'with') Gussie, just for a
moment, to pay your respects.

  LORD C.: Very well, my dear. Can we drop you somewhere, Mr Tummel?

  LADY C.: (going out) Mr Tummel may as well come with us to Number
Ten. He is on his way there in any case.

                                CURTAIN

[The end of Lady Charing is Cross by Gordon Daviot]


THE END


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