E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
A DRAMA IN CAMEO
RGL e-Book Cover 2017©
A DRAMATIC SKETCH IN ONE ACT
First published in
The Weekly Telegraph, Sheffield, England, Nov 18, 1895
Published under syndication, e.g., in
The Portland Guardian, Australia, Feb 21, 1896
The Age, Melbourne, Australia, Apr 29, 1928
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-02-25
Produced by Roy Glashan
The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.
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Mr. Herbert Ordish
Lady Bertha Merton
Scene Drawing-room of a bijou
residence in Mayfair, close to the Park. Lady Bertha Merton alone,
standing at window and looking out thoughtfully into the twilight. A
hansom drives rapidly to the door and pulls up. She steps back into
the room, and throws herself into an easy-chair.
Lady Bertha: How absurd! If he had seen me standing there, no
doubt he would have the conceit to imagine that I was watching for
him. It was quite a chance that he did not look in. Listen! Yes, there
is his step in the hall. He will be here directly, and what am I to
say to him? I suppose it must be "yes"--and yet--(hesitates)--am I a
little afraid of him, I wonder? I wish I felt happier about it. I
wish--yes, I do wish that it were--
(Enter footman, closely followed by a tall, fair man in a tweed
travelling suit, and very dusty.)
Lady Bertha (surprised): Mr Ordish! Why this is an
unexpected visit! I thought that you were in Rome.
Herbert Ordish (holding both her hands and trying to look
into her face): Unexpected, yes. But you know the proverb! I was
in Rome three days ago.
Lady Bertha (gently withdrawing her hands): And
whatever has brought you back so suddenly? Not bad news, I hope. Sir
George is not worse.
Herbert Ordish: Oh, no, my father is all right A matter of
business--a friend needed my help. It may be only a trifling matter,
but I had to come. I fear from the doubtful way in which your man
admitted me that you were expecting--someone else. Perhaps my visit is
inopportune. I suppose I ought to apologlee for my attire too! I am
not in calling trim, but I came straight here from Charing Cross.
Lady Bertha: You need not apologise for anything. You know
that I am delighted to see you. It is true that I am expecting --
someone else, but that need not interfere with your visit. Tell me,
how is Rome looking? Is it full, and have you met Lady Margaret yet?
What sort of an English set is it this season--amusing?
Herbert Ordish: I am afraid that I shall be but a very
unsatisfactory newsmonger. I have been too busy to pay calls or accept
invitations. My work just lately has left me with very little spare
time on my hands. I met Lady Margaret quite by accident at Maggie's
studio on Sunday. I had news of you from her.
Lady Bertha: News of me! Really!
Herbert Ordish (slowly): Yes. It's that which has
brought me to England.
Lady Bertha (taking up a fire-screen and shading her
face): You are talking in enigmas.
Herbert Ordish: Enigmas which I propose to solve. (Rises,
and stands over Lady Bertha, lcoking tenderly down at her.)
Bertha, I was told that you were going to be married. Is this true?
Lady Bertha: It is--a little premature, at any rate!
Herbert Ordish: Bertha! Lady Merton! You know that mine is a
poor family--that my father's estates are heavily encumbered, and that
I am earning my own living as a journalist. But for this the words
which are in my heart to say to you now, would have been spoken long
ago. I have waited, hoping I scarcely know for what, and I should have
gone on waiting if it had not been for Lady Margaret's warning. The
fear of losing you was terrible. Bertha, you know that I love you! You
know that I have loved you through als these weary years, Tell me--
(Footman announces Lord Haughton. Enter Lord Haughton, middle-aged,
cynical, distinguished, dressed in frock coat and grey trousera, with
an orchid in hin buttonhole.)
Lady Bertha (rising and holding out her hand): How do
you do, Lord Houghton! You are a late comer this afternoon. I had
almost given you up.
Lord Haughton: I am only too flattered that you should have
thought of my coming at all! The fact is I lunched--
Lady Bertha (interrupting): That will do if you
please. A man's excuses and amateur pianoforte playing are two things
in this world to which I simply cannot listen. They are too utterly
crude! Let me introduce you to an old friend of mine, Mr Herbert
Ordish. Mr Ordish, this is Lord Haughton.
(The two men face one another, and both perceptibly start. Lord
Haughton grows suddenly pale. He extends his hand and rapidly draws it
back. Herbert Ordish has calmly clasped his behind his back. Lord
Haughton recovers his composure with a visible effort, but neither of
the men speak.)
Lady Bertha (who has been looking from one to another with
indifferently veiled curiosity): You men seem to have lost your
tongues--or your manners. Have you met before? Really, you might be
hero and villain in an Adelphi drama.
Lord Haughton (nonchalantly): Mr. Ordish and I have met
somewhere aoroad, I am sure. I cannot for the moment remember where.
Lady Berths: How very interesting. I am going to leave you to
entertain one another for a few minutes. Perhaps a you will be able to
puzzle it out by the time I get back. And, mind (looking back from
the doorway with the curtain in her hand), I shall expect to
hear all about it!
Exit Lady Bertha.
Lord Haughton (coolly): 'Pon my soul, this is an odd
meeting! Let me see, the last time we came together was on poor
Merton's ranch, when that broiling horrible sun was frizzling all up.
What a wild week we had; no ice, no seltzer water, and naturally, no
hock! Wonder we didn't all go mad. It was just about that time that
Merton commenced to drink brandy--poor devil!
Herbert Ordish: You are mistaken, James Lowther--I beg your
pardon, Lord Haughton. Our last meeting was in a place where God's sun
has never shone.
Lord Haughton: Indeed! And it was--?
Herbert Ordish: In a St Louis gambling hell!
(Lord Hanghton starts and turn ashen white.)
Lord Hanghton (in a low tone): You were not there?
Herbert Ordish: I was! Let me recall the scene to you. It was
in a gaudily painted cellar beneath the street, in the vilest quarter
of one of the worst cities in the world--a city which, although in
touch with all that is effete and vicious in our Eastern civilisation,
yet retains all the gambler's licence, and lawlessness of the land, on
whose borders it has sprung up. It was a mad night that! You remember
it! "Long Dan," the bank-keeper, as peace-loving a man as ever
breathed, had shot a cowboy early in the evenaig for handling his
knife too freely, and his body lay across a chair, next to the table
wbere you and poor Merton sat gambling. Ah! yon remember it. I see!
Lord Hanghton: You read it in the papers. It is a lie! You
were not there!
Herbert Ordish: Listen. I was in cowboy's rig-out myself,
unluckily; the first disguise I could think of when I followed you, and
the man whom you were fast dragging down into hell, from Jackson's
ranch. Cowboys were unpopular that evening and there were one or two
desperadoes there who had sworn to shoot the first their eyes lit
upon, and every now and then they looked across at me curiously. But
there you sat and played, and there I sat and watched. You were
winning! Do you remember the piles and piles of gold, and dollar
bills, and I.O.U.'s? Yes, you were winning, and I sat there in my
corner, knowing how you were winning, with my hand on my revolver,
waiting for that moment when you should betray yourself. It came! You
made a clumsy move; recklessly and absurdly clumsy! Your victim saw it
even before I did, and I heard the thunder of his British wrath as he
sprang to his feet, and grasped your arm! You know what followed. You
shot him through the heart, and my revolver was knocked up by one of
your blackguardly gang, and whilst the room was full of smoke and wild
confusion, resounding with shots and yelling, and the smashing of
glass, you somehow disappeared--God knows how! I was flung out for
dead with two shots in my body, and a stab in my side. They took me
for a spy--no one knew who I was. But I did not die, although I came
near it! I have prayed for this meeting, Lord Haughton! You and I have
an old account to settle! Ah! no good to let your hand steal behind!
The pocket of that immaculate coat of yours was never made to hold a
Colt's. This time we fight with different weapons, and I think I'll
Lord Haughton (with composure): Your memory and your powers
of description are alike excellent, my dear Ordish. A trick of your
craft, I suppose. That last little remark, though, seems to me just a
trifle premature. You forget that you have no evidence to back your
word--no proof of any sort. It is your hIghly-coloured story against
my flat denial! Your word against mine! Good! So let it be.
Herbert Ordish: Your word against mine let it be, Lord
Haughtor; but let me tell you this. Even though your subtlety and
cunning should prevail, even though my story is laughed at, and I am
branded as a madman, even then I shall not permit you to show your
face in this house again, or to continue your acquaintance with the
wife of the man you first plundered and robbed, and then murdered.
Your very presence in this room is a heinous and a blasphemous
outrage. You will leave it this instant!
Lord Haughton (suavely): At the bidding of its
mistress only. I regard you as a lunatic. Come, if this is to be your
battle-ground, throw down your gage! Tell Lady Merton your story! I
deny it from beginning to end!
(Enter Lady Bertha from behind the curtains, followed by
Lady Bertha: I am able to spare you the trouble! Robert, the
door to Lord Haughton. Herbert! (holds out her hands
Herbert Ordish (taking them glady): Bertha!!!