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Angels & Ministers by Laurence Housman

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ANGELS AND MINISTERS

AND OTHER VICTORIAN PLAYS

by

LAURENCE HOUSMAN

_Angels and Ministers_ AND _Possession_ WERE FIRST

Introduction

The Victorian era has ceased to be a thing of yesterday; it has become
history; and the fixed look of age, no longer contemporary in character,
which now grades the period, grades also the once living material which
went to its making.

With this period of history those who were once participants in its life
can deal more intimately and with more verisimilitude than can those whose
literary outlook comes later. We can write of it as no sequent generation
will find possible; for we are bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh;
and when we go, something goes with us which will require for its
reconstruction, not the natural piety of a returned native, such as I
claim to be, but the cold, calculating art of literary excursionists whose
domicile is elsewhere.

Some while ago, before Mr. Strachey had made the name of Victoria to
resound as triumphantly as it does now, a friend asked why I should
trouble to resuscitate these Victorian remains. My answer is because I
myself am Victorian, and because the Victorianism to which I belong is now
passing so rapidly into history, henceforth to present to the world a
colder aspect than that which endears it to my own mind.

The bloom upon the grape only fully appears when it is ripe for death.
Then, at a touch, it passes, delicate and evanescent as the frailest
blossoms of spring. Just at this moment the Victorian age has that bloom
upon it--autumnal, not spring-like--which, in the nature of things, cannot
last. That bloom I have tried to illumine before time wipes it away.

Under this rose-shaded lamp of history, domestically designed, I would
have these old characters look young again, or not at least as though they
belonged to another age. This wick which I have kindled is short, and will
not last; but, so long as it does, it throws on them the commentary of a
contemporary light. In another generation the bloom which it seeks to
irradiate will be gone; nor will anyone then be able to present them to us
as they really were.

Contents

PART ONE: ANGELS AND MINISTERS

I. THE QUEEN: GOD BLESS HER!
(A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands)

II. HIS FAVOURITE FLOWER
(A Political Myth Explained)

III. THE COMFORTER
(A Political Finale)

PART TWO

IV. POSSESSION
(A Peep-Show in Paradise)

PART THREE: DETHRONEMENTS

V. THE KING-MAKER
(Brighton--October, 1891)

VI. THE MAN OF BUSINESS
(Highbury--August, 1913)

VII. THE INSTRUMENT
(Washington--March, 1921)

Part One: Angels and Ministers

The Queen: God Bless Her!

Dramatis Personae

QUEEN VICTORIA
LORD BEACONSFIELD
MR. JOHN BROWN
A FOOTMAN

The Queen: God Bless Her!

A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands

_The august Lady is sitting in a garden-tent on the lawn of Balmoral
Castle. Her parasol leans beside her. Writing-materials are on the table
before her, and a small fan, for it is hot weather; also a dish of
peaches. Sunlight suffuses the tent interior, softening the round contours
of the face, and caressing pleasantly the small plump hand busy at
letter-writing. The even flow of her penmanship is suddenly disturbed;
picking up her parasol, she indulgently beats some unseen object, lying
concealed against her skirts_.

QUEEN. No: don't scratch! Naughty! Naughty!

(_She then picks up a hand-bell, rings it, and continues her writing.
Presently a fine figure of a man in Highland costume appears in the
tent-door. He waits awhile, then speaks in the strong Doric of his native
wilds_.)

MR. J. BROWN. Was your Majesty wanting anything, or were you ringing only
for the fun?

(_To this brusque delivery her Majesty responds with a cosy smile, for
the special function of Mr. John Brown is not to be a courtier; and,
knowing what is expected of him, he lives up to it_.)

QUEEN. Bring another chair, Brown. And take Mop with you: he wants his
walk.

MR. J.B. What kind of a chair are you wanting, Ma'am? Is it to put your
feet on?

QUEEN. No, no. It is to put a visitor on. Choose a nice one with a
lean-back.

MR. J.B. With a lean back? Ho! Ye mean one that you can lean back in. What
talk folk will bring with them from up south, to be sure! Yes, I'll get it
for ye, Ma'am. Come, Mop, be a braw little wee mon, and tak' your walk!

(_And while his Royal Mistress resumes her writing, taking Mop by his
"lead" he prepares for departure._)

Have ye seen the paper this morning yet? Ma'am.

(_The address of respect is thrown in by way of afterthought, or, as it
were, reluctantly. Having to be in character, his way is to tread heavily
on the border-line which divides familiarity from respect._)

QUEEN. Not yet.

MR. J.B. (_departing_). I'll bring it for ye, now.

QUEEN. You had better send it.

J.B. (_turning about_). What did ye say? ... Ma'am.

QUEEN. "Send it," Brown, I said. Mop mustn't be hurried. Take him round by
the stables.

(_He goes: and the Queen, with a soft, indulgent smile, that slowly
flickers out as the labour of composition proceeds, resumes her
writing_.)

(_Presently_ ENTERS _a liveried Footman, who stands at attention
with the paper upon a salver. Touching the table at her side as an
indication, the Queen continues to write. With gingerly reverence the man
lays down the paper and goes. Twice she looks at it before taking it up;
then she unfolds it; then lays it down, and takes out her glasses; then
begins reading. Evidently she comes on something she does not like; she
pats the table impatiently, then exclaims_:)

Most extraordinary!

(_A wasp settles on the peaches._)

And I wish one could kill all wicked pests as easily as you.

(_She makes a dab with the paper-knife, the wasp escapes._)

Most extraordinary!

(_Relinquishing the pursuit of wasps, she resumes her reading_.)

(_In a little while Mr. John Brown returns, both hands occupied. The
chair he deposits by the tent door, and hitches Mop's "lead" to the back
of that on which the Queen is sitting. With the small beginnings of a
smile she lowers the paper, and looks at him and his accompaniments_.)

QUEEN. Well, Brown? Oh, yes; that's quite a nice one.... I'm sure there's
a wasps' nest somewhere; there are so many of them about.

J.B. Eh, don't fash yourself! Wasps have a way of being aboot this time of
year. It's the fruit they're after.

QUEEN. Yes: like Adam and Eve.

J.B. That's just it, Ma'am.

QUEEN. You'd better take it away, Brown, or cover it; it's too tempting.

J.B. (_removing the fruit_). Ah! Now if God had only done that, maybe
we'd still all be running aboot naked.

QUEEN. I'm glad He didn't, then.

J.B. Ye're right, Ma'am.

QUEEN. The Fall made the human race decent, even if it did no good
otherwise. Brown, I've dropped my glasses.

(_He picks them up and returns them_.)

QUEEN. Thank you, Brown,

J.B. So you're expecting a visitor, ye say?

QUEEN. Yes. You haven't seen Lord Beaconsfield yet, I suppose?

J.B. Since he was to arrive off the train, you mean, Ma'am? No: he came
early. He's in his room.

QUEEN. I hope they have given him a comfortable one.

J.B. It's the one I used to have. There's a good spring-bed in it, and a
kettle-ring for the whisky.

QUEEN. Oh, that's all right, then.

J.B. Will he be staying for long? Ma'am.

QUEEN. Only for a week, I'm afraid. Why?

J.B. It's about the shooting I was thinking: whether it was the deer or
the grouse he'd want to be after.

QUEEN. I don't think Lord Beaconsfield is a sportsman.

J.B. I know that, Ma'am, well enough. But there's many who are not
sportsmen that think they've got to do it--when they come north of the
Tweed.

QUEEN. Lord Beaconsfield will not shoot, I'm sure. You remember him,
Brown, being here before?

J.B. Eh! Many years ago, that was; he was no but Mr. Disraeli then. But he
was the real thing, Ma'am: oh, a nice gentleman.

QUEEN. He is always very nice to me.

J.B. I remember now, when he first came, he put a tip into me hand. And
when I let him know the liberty he had taken, "Well, Mr. Brown," he said,
"I've made a mistake, but I don't take it back again!"

QUEEN. Very nice and sensible.

J.B. And indeed it was, Ma'am. Many a man would never have had the wit to
leave well alone by just apologising for it. But there was an
understandingness about him, that often you don't find. After that he
always talked to me like an equal-just like yourself might do. But Lord,
Ma'am, his ignorance, it was surprising!

QUEEN. Most extraordinary you should think that, Brown!

J.B. Ah! You haven't talked to him as I have, Ma'am: only about politics,
and poetry, and things like that, where, maybe, he knows a bit more than I
do (though he didn't know his Burns so well as a man ought that thinks to
make laws for Scotland!). But to hear him talking about natural facts,
you'd think he was just inventing for to amuse himself! Do you know,
Ma'am, he thought stags had white tails like rabbits, and that 'twas only
when they wagged them so as to show, that you could shoot them. And he
thought that you pulled a salmon out o' the water as soon as you'd hooked
him. And he thought that a haggis was made of a sheep's head boiled in
whisky. Oh, he's very innocent, Ma'am, if you get him where he's not
expecting you.

QUEEN. Well, Brown, there are some things you can teach him, I don't
doubt; and there are some things he can teach you. I'm sure he has taught
me a great deal.

J.B. Ay? It's a credit to ye both, then.

QUEEN. He lets me think for myself, Brown; and that's what so many of my
ministers would rather I didn't. They want me to be merely the receptacle
of their own opinions. No, Brown, that's what we Stewarts are never going
to do!

J.B. Nor would I, Ma'am, if I were in your shoes. But believe me, you can
do more, being a mere woman, so to speak, than many a king can do.

QUEEN. Yes; being a woman has its advantages, I know.

J.B. For you can get round 'em, Ma'am; and you can put 'em off; and you
can make it very awkward for them--very awkward--to have a difference of
opinion with you.

QUEEN (_good-humouredly_). You and I have had differences of opinion
sometimes, Brown.

J.B. True, Ma'am; that _has_ happened; I've known it happen. And I've
never regretted it, never! But the difference there is, Ma'am, that I'm
not your Prime Minister. Had I been--you'd 'a been more stiff about giving
in--naturally! Now there's Mr. Gladstone, Ma'am; I'm not denying he's a
great man; but he's got too many ideas for my liking, far too many! I'm
not against temperance any more than he is--put in its right place. But
he's got that crazy notion of "local option" in his mind; he's coming to
it, gradually. And he doesn't think how giving "local option," to them
that don't take the wide view of things, may do harm to a locality. You
must be wide in your views, else you do somebody an injustice.

QUEEN. Yes, Brown; and that is why I like being up in the hills, where the
views _are_ wide.

J.B. I put it this way, Ma'am. You come to a locality, and you find you
can't get served as you are accustomed to be served. Well! you don't go
there again, and you tell others not to go; and so the place gets a bad
name. I've a brother who keeps an inn down at Aberlochy on the coach
route, and he tells me that more than half his customers come from outside
the locality.

QUEEN. Of course; naturally!

J.B. Well now, Ma'am, it'll be for the bad locality to have half the
custom that comes to it turned away, because of local option! And believe
me, Ma'am, that's what it will come to. People living in it won't see till
the shoe pinches them; and by that time my brother, and others like him,
will have been ruined in their business.

QUEEN. Local option is not going to come yet, Brown.

J.B. (_firmly_). No, Ma'am, not while I vote conservative, it won't.
But I was looking ahead; I was talking about Mr. Gladstone.

QUEEN. Mr. Gladstone has retired from politics. At least he is not going
to take office again.

J.B. Don't you believe him, Ma'am. Mr. Gladstone is not a retiring
character. He's in to-day's paper again--columns of him; have ye seen?

QUEEN. Yes; quite as much as I wish to see.

J.B. And there's something in what he says, I don't deny.

QUEEN. There's a great deal in what he says, I don't understand, and that
I don't wish to.

J.B. Now you never said a truer thing than that in your life, Ma'am!
That's just how I find him. Oh, but he's a great man; and it's wonderful
how he appreciates the Scot, and looks up to his opinion.

(_But this is a line of conversation in which his Royal Mistress
declines to be interested. And she is helped, at that moment, by something
which really does interest her_.)

QUEEN. Brown, how did you come to scratch your leg?

J.B. 'Twas not me, Ma'am; 'twas the stable cat did that--just now while
Mop was having his walk.

QUEEN. Poor dear Brown! Did she fly at you?

J.B. Well, 'twas like this, Ma'am; first Mop went for her, then she went
for him. And I tell ye she'd have scraped his eyes out if I'd left it to a
finish.

QUEEN. Ferocious creature! She must be mad.

J.B. Well, Ma'am, I don't know whether a cat-and-dog fight is a case of
what God hath joined together; but it's the hard thing for man to put
asunder! And that's the scraping I got for it, when I tried.

QUEEN. You must have it cauterised, Brown. I won't have you getting
hydrophobia.

J.B. You generally get that from dogs.

QUEEN. Oh, from cats too; any cat that a mad dog has bitten.

J.B. They do say, Ma'am, that if a mad dog bites you--you have to die
barking. So if it's a cat-bite I'm going to die of, you'll hear me mewing
the day, maybe.

QUEEN. I don't like cats: I never did. Treacherous, deceitful creatures!
Now a dog always looks up to you.

J.B. Yes, Ma'am; they are tasteful, attractive animals; and that, maybe,
is the reason. They give you a good conceit of yourself, dogs do. You
never have to apologise to a dog. Do him an injury--you've only to say you
forgive him, and he's friends again.

(_Accepting his views with a nodding smile, she resumes her pen, and
spreads paper_.)

QUEEN. Now, Brown, I must get to work again. I have writing to do. See
that I'm not disturbed.

J.B. Then when were you wanting to see your visitor, Ma'am? There's his
chair waiting.

QUEEN. Ah, yes, to be sure. But I didn't want to worry him too soon. What
is the time?

J.B. Nearly twelve, Ma'am.

QUEEN. Oh! then I think I may. Will you go and tell him: the Queen's
compliments, and she would like to see him, now?

J.B. I will go and tell him, Ma'am.

QUEEN. And then I shan't want you any more--till this afternoon.

J.B. Then I'll just go across and take lunch at home, Ma'am.

QUEEN. Yes, do! That will be nice for you. And Brown, mind you have that
leg seen to!

(_Mr. John Brown has started to go, when his step is arrested_.)

J.B. His lordship is there in the garden, Ma'am, talking to the Princess.

QUEEN. What, before he has seen _me_? Go, and take him away from the
Princess, and tell him to come here!

J.B. I will, Ma'am.

QUEEN. And you had better take Mop with you. Now, dear Brown, do have your
poor leg seen to, at once!

J.B. Indeed, and I will, Ma'am. Come, Mop, man! Come and tell his lordship
he's wanted.

(EXIT _Mr. John Brown, nicely accompanied by Mop_.)

(_Left to herself the Queen administers a feminine touch or two to dress
and cap and hair; then with dignified composure she resumes her writing,
and continues to write even when the shadow of her favourite minister
crosses the entrance, and he stands hat in hand before her, flawlessly
arrayed in a gay frock suit suggestive of the period when male attire was
still not only a fashion but an art.

Despite, however, the studied correctness of his costume, face and
deportment give signs of haggard fatigue; and when he bows it is the droop
of a weary man, slow in the recovery. Just at the fitting moment for full
acceptance of his silent salutation, the Royal Lady lays down her
pen_.)

QUEEN. Oh, how do you do, my dear Lord Beaconsfield! Good morning; and
welcome to, Balmoral.

LORD B. (_as he kisses the hand extended to him_). That word from
your Majesty brings all its charms to life! What a prospect of beauty I
see around me!

QUEEN. You arrived early? I hope you are sufficiently rested.

LORD B. Refreshed, Madam; rest will come later.

QUEEN. You have had a long, tiring journey, I fear.

LORD B. It was long, Madam.

QUEEN. I hope that you slept upon the train?

LORD B. I lay upon it, Ma'am. That is all I can say truly.

QUEEN. Oh, I'm sorry!

LORD B. There were compensations, Ma'am. In my vigil I was able to look
forward--to that which is now before me. The morning is beautiful! May I
be permitted to enquire if your Majesty's health has benefited?

QUEEN. I'm feeling "bonnie," as we say in Scotland. Life out of doors
suits me.

LORD B. Ah! This tent light is charming! Then my eyes had not deceived me;
your Majesty is already more than better. The tempered sunlight, so tender
in its reflections, gives--an interior, one may say--of almost floral
delicacy; making these canvas walls like the white petals of an enfolding
flower.

QUEEN. Are you writing another of your novels, Lord Beaconsfield? That
sounds like composition.

LORD B. Believe me, Madam, only an impromptu.

QUEEN. Now, my dear Lord, pray sit down! I had that chair specially
brought for you. Generally I sit here quite alone.

LORD B. Such kind forethought, Madam, overwhelms me! Words are inadequate.
I accept, gratefully, the repose you offer me.

(_He sinks into the chair, and sits motionless and mute, in a weariness
that is not the less genuine because it provides an effect. But from one
seated in the Royal Presence much is expected; and so it is in a tone of
sprightly expectancy that his Royal Mistress now prompts him to his task
of entertaining her_.)

QUEEN. Well? And how is everything?

LORD B. (_rousing himself with an effort_). Oh! Pardon! Your Majesty
would have me speak on politics, and affairs of State? I was rapt away for
the moment.

QUEEN. Do not be in any hurry, dear Prime Minister.

LORD B. Ah! That word from an indulgent Mistress spurs me freshly to my
task. But, Madam, there is almost nothing to tell: politics, like the rest
of us, have been taking holiday.

QUEEN. I thought that Mr. Gladstone had been speaking.

LORD B. (_with an airy flourish of courtly disdain_). Oh, yes! He has
been--speaking.

QUEEN. In Edinburgh, quite lately.

LORD B. And in more other places than I can count. Speaking--speaking--
speaking. But I have to confess, Madam, that I have not read his speeches.
They are composed for brains which can find more leisure than yours,
Madam--or mine.

QUEEN. I have read some of them.

LORD B. Your Majesty does him great honour--and yourself some
inconvenience, I fear. Those speeches, so great a strain to understand, or
even to listen to--my hard duty for now some forty years--are a far
greater strain to read.

QUEEN. They annoy me intensely. I have no patience with him!

LORD B. Pardon me, Madam; if you have read _one_ of his speeches,
your patience has been extraordinary.

QUEEN. Can't you stop it?

LORD B. Stop?--stop what, Madam? Niagara, the Flood? That which has no
beginning, no limit, has also no end: till, by the operation of nature, it
runs dry.

QUEEN. But, surely, he should be stopped when he speaks on matters which
may, any day, bring us into war!

LORD B. Then he would be stopped. When the British nation goes to war,
Madam, it ceases to listen to reason. Then it is only the beating of its
own great heart that it hears: to that goes the marching of its armies,
with victory as the one goal. Then, Madam, above reason rises instinct.
Against that he will be powerless.

QUEEN. You think so?

LORD B. I am sure, Madam. If we are drawn into war, his opposition becomes
futile. If we are not: well, if we are not, it will not be his doing that
we escape that--dire necessity.

QUEEN, But you _do_ think it necessary, don't you?

(_To the Sovereign's impetuous eagerness, so creditable to her heart, he
replies with the oracular solemnity by which caution can be
sublimated_)

LORD B. I hope it may not be, Madam. We must all say that--up till the
last moment. It is the only thing we _can_ say, to testify the
pacifity of our intention when challenged by other Powers.

QUEEN (_touching the newspaper_). This morning's news isn't good, I'm
afraid. The Russians are getting nearer to Constantinople.

LORD B. They will never enter it, Madam.

QUEEN. No, they mustn't! We will not allow it.

LORD B. That, precisely, is the policy of your Majesty's Government.
Russia knows that we shall not allow it; she knows that it will never be.
Nevertheless, we may have to make a demonstration.

QUEEN. Do you propose to summon Parliament?

LORD B. Not Parliament; no, Madam. Your Majesty's Fleet will be
sufficient.

(_This lights a spark; and the royal mind darts into strategy_)

QUEEN. If I had my way, Lord Beaconsfield, my Fleet would be in the Baltic
to-morrow; and before another week was over, Petersburg would be under
bombardment.

LORD B. (_considerately providing this castle in the air with its
necessary foundations_). And Cronstadt would have fallen.

QUEEN (_puzzled for a moment at this naming of a place which had not
entered her calculations_). Cronstadt? Why Cronstadt?

LORD B. Merely preliminary, Madam. When that fortified suburb has
crumbled--the rest will be easy.

QUEEN. Yes! And what a good lesson it will teach them! The Crimea wasn't
enough for them, I suppose.

LORD B. The Crimea! Ah, what memories-of heroism--that word evokes!
"Magnificent, but not war!"

QUEEN. Oh! There is one thing, Lord Beaconsfield, on which I want your
advice.

LORD B. Always at your Majesty's disposal.

QUEEN. I wish to confer upon the Sultan of Turkey my Order of the Garter.

LORD B. Ah! how generous, how generous an instinct! How like you, Madam,
to wish it!

QUEEN. What I want to know is, whether, as Prime Minister, you have any
objection?

LORD B. "As Prime Minister." How hard that makes it for me to answer! How
willingly would I say "None"! How reluctantly, on the contrary, I have to
say, "It had better wait."

QUEEN. Wait? Wait till when? I want to do it _now_.

LORD B. Yes, so do I. But can you risk, Madam, conferring that most
illustrious symbol of honour, and chivalry, and power, on a defeated
monarch? Your royal prestige, Ma'am, must be considered Great and generous
hearts need, more than most, to take prudence into their counsels.

QUEEN. But do you think, Lord Beaconsfield, that the Turks are going to be
beaten?

LORD B. The Turks _are_ beaten, Madam.... But England will never be
beaten. We shall dictate terms--moderating the demands of Russia; and
under your Majesty's protection the throne of the Kaliphat will be safe--
once more. That, Madam, is the key to our Eastern policy: a grateful
Kaliphat, claiming allegiance from the whole Mahometan world, bound to us
by instincts of self-preservation--and we hold henceforth the gorgeous
East in fee with redoubled security. His power may be a declining power;
but ours remains. Some day, who knows? Egypt, possibly even Syria, Arabia,
may be our destined reward.

(_Like a cat over a bowl of cream, England's Majesty sits lapping all
this up. But, when he has done, her commentary is shrewd and to the
point_.)

QUEEN. The French won't like that!

LORD B. They won't, Madam, they won't. But has it ever been England's
policy, Madam, to mind what the French don't like?

QUEEN (_with relish_). No, it never has been, has it? Ah! you are the
true statesman, Lord Beaconsfield. Mr. Gladstone never talked to me like
that.

LORD B.(_courteously surprised at what does not at all surprise
him_). No?... You must have had interesting conversations with him,
Madam, in the past.

QUEEN (_very emphatically_). I have never once had a conversation
with Mr. Gladstone, in all my life, Lord Beaconsfield. He used to talk to
me as if I were a public meeting--and one that agreed with him, too!

LORD B. Was there, then, any applause, Madam?

QUEEN. No, indeed! I was too shy to say what I thought. I used to cough
sometimes.

LORD B. Rather like coughing at a balloon, I fear. I have always admired
his flights-regarded as a mere _tour de force_--so buoyant, so
sustained, so incalculable! But, as they never touch earth to any
serviceable end, that I could discover--of what use are they? Yet if there
is one man who has helped me in my career--to whom, therefore, I should
owe gratitude--it is he.

QUEEN. Indeed? Now that does surprise me! Tell me, Lord Beaconsfield, how
has he ever helped you?

LORD B. In our party system, Madam, we live by the mistakes of our
opponents. The balance of the popular verdict swings ever this way and
that, relegating us either to victory or defeat, to office or to
opposition. Many times have I trodden the road to power, or passed from it
again, over ruins the origin of which I could recognise either as my own
work or that of another; and most of all has it been over the
disappointments, the disaffections, the disgusts, the disillusionments--
chiefly among his own party--which my great opponent has left me to profit
by. I have gained experience from what he has been morally blind to;
what he has lacked in understanding of human nature he has left for me
to discover. Only to-day I learn that he has been in the habit of
addressing--as you, Madam, so wittily phrased it--of addressing, "as
though she were a public meeting," that Royal Mistress, whom it has ever
been my most difficult task not to address sometimes as the most charming,
the most accomplished, and the most fascinating woman of the epoch which
bears her name. (_He pauses, then resumes_.) How strange a fatality
directs the fate of each one of us! How fortunate is he who knows the
limits that destiny assigns to him: limits beyond which no word must be
uttered.

(_His oratorical flight, so buoyant and sustained, having come to its
calculated end, he drops deftly to earth, encountering directly for the
first time the flattered smile with which the Queen has listened to
him_.)

Madam, your kind silence reminds me, in the gentlest, the most considerate
way possible, that I am not here to relieve the tedium of a life made
lonely by a bereavement equal to your own, in conversation however
beguiling, or in quest of a sympathy of which, I dare to say, I feel
assured. For, in a sense, it is as to a public assembly, or rather as to a
great institution, immemorially venerable and august that I have to
address myself when, obedient to your summons, I come to be consulted as
your Majesty's First Minister of State. If, therefore, your royal mind
have any inquiries, any further commands to lay upon me, I am here, Madam,
to give effect to them in so far as I can.

(_This time he has really finished, but with so artful an abbreviation
at the point where her interest has been most roused that the Queen would
fain have him go on. And so the conversation continues to flow along
intimate channels_.)

QUEEN. No, dear Lord Beaconsfield, not to-day! Those official matters can
wait. After you have said so much, and said it so beautifully, I would
rather still talk with you as a friend. Of friends you and I have not
many; those who make up our world, for the most part, we have to keep at a
distance. But while I have many near relatives, children and descendants,
I remember that you have none. So your case is the harder.

LORD B. Ah, no, Madam, indeed! I have my children--descendants who will
live after me, I trust--in those policies which, for the welfare of my
beloved country, I confide to the care of a Sovereign whom I revere and
love....I am not unhappy in my life, Madam; far less in my fortune; only,
as age creeps on, I find myself so lonely, so solitary, that sometimes I
have doubt whether I am really alive, or whether the voice, with which now
and then I seek to reassure myself, be not the voice of a dead man.

QUEEN (_almost tearfully_). No, no, my dear Lord Beaconsfield, you
mustn't say that!

LORD B.(_gallantly_). I won't say anything, Madam, that you forbid,
or that you dislike. You invited me to speak to you as a friend; so I have
done, so I do. I apologise that I have allowed sadness, even for a moment,
to trouble the harmony-the sweetness--of our conversation.

QUEEN. Pray, do not apologise! It has been a very great privilege; I beg
that you will go on! Tell me--you spoke of bereavement--I wish you would
tell me more--about your wife.

(_The sudden request touches some latent chord; and it is with genuine
emotion that he answers_.)

LORD B. Ah! My wife! To her I owed everything.

QUEEN. She was devoted to you, wasn't she?

LORD B. I never read the depth of her devotion-till after her death. Then,
Madam--this I have told to nobody but yourself--then I found among her
papers--addressed "to my dear husband"--a message, written only a few days
before her death, with a hand shaken by that nerve-racking and fatal
malady which she endured so patiently--begging me to marry again.

(_The Queen is now really crying, and finds speech difficult._)

QUEEN. And you, you--? Dear Lord Beaconsfield; did you mean--had you ever
meant----?

LORD B. I did not then, Madam; nor have I ever done so since. It is enough
if I allow myself--to love.

QUEEN. Oh, yes, yes; I understand--better than others would. For that has
always been my own feeling.

LORD B. In the history of my race, Madam, there has been a great tradition
of faithfulness between husbands and wives. For the hardness of our
hearts, we are told, Moses permitted us to give a writing of divorcement.
But we have seldom acted on it. In my youth I became a Christian; I
married a Christian. But that was no reason for me to desert the nobler
traditions of my race--for they are in the blood and in the heart. When my
wife died I had no thought to marry again; and when I came upon that
tender wish, still I had no thought for it; my mind would not change.
Circumstances that have happened since have sealed irrevocably my
resolution-never to marry again.

QUEEN. Oh, I think that is so wise, so right, so noble of you!

(_The old Statesman rises, pauses, appears to hesitate, then in a voice
charged with emotion says_)

LORD B. Madam, will you permit me to kiss your hand?

(_The hand graciously given, and the kiss fervently implanted, he falls
back once more to a respectful distance. But the emotional excitement of
the interview has told upon him, and it is in a wavering voice of
weariness that he now speaks_.)

LORD B. You have been very forbearing with me, Madam, not to indicate that
I have outstayed either my welcome or your powers of endurance. Yet so
much conversation must necessarily have tired you. May I then crave
permission, Madam, to withdraw. For, to speak truly, I do need some rest.

QUEEN. Yes, my dear friend, go and rest yourself! But before you go, will
you not wait, and take a glass of wine with me?

(_He bows, and she rings_.)

And there is just one other thing I wish to say before we part.

LORD B. Speak, Madam, for thy servant heareth.

(_The other servant is now also standing to attention, awaiting
orders_.)

QUEEN. Bring some wine.
(_The Attendant_ GOES.)

That Order of the Garter which I had intended to onfer upon the Sultan--
have you, as Prime Minister, any objection if I bestow it nearer home, on
one to whom personally--I cannot say more--on yourself, I mean.

(_At that pronouncement of the royal favour, the Minister stands,
exhausted of energy, in an attitude of drooping humility. The eloquent
silence is broken presently by the Queen_.)

QUEEN. Dear Lord Beaconsfield, I want your answer.

LORD B. Oh, Madam! What adequate answer can these poor lips make to so
magnificent an offer? Yet answer I must. We have spoken together briefly
to-day of our policies in the Near East. Madam, let me come to you again
when I have saved Constantinople, and secured once more upon a firm basis
the peace of Europe. Then ask me again whether I have any objection, and I
will own--"I have none!"

(RE-ENTERS _Attendant. He deposits a tray with decanter and glasses, and
retires again_.)

QUEEN. Very well, Lord Beaconsfield. And if you do not remind me, I shall
remind you. (_She points to the tray_.) Pray, help yourself!

(_He takes up the decanter_.)

LORD B. I serve you, Madam?

QUEEN. Thank you.

(_He fills the two glasses; presents hers to the Queen, and takes up his
own_.)

LORD B. May I propose for myself--a toast, Madam?

(_The Queen sees what is coming, and bows graciously_.)

LORD B. The Queen! God bless her!

(_He drains the glass, then breaks it against the pole of the tent, and
throws away the stem_.)

An old custom, Madam, observed by loyal defenders of the House of Stewart,
so that no lesser health might ever be drunk from the same glass. To my
old hand came a sudden access of youthful enthusiasm--an ardour which I
could not restrain. Your pardon, Madam!

QUEEN (_very gently_). Go and lie down, Lord Beaconsfield; you need
rest.

LORD B. Adieu, Madam.

QUEEN. Draw your curtains, and sleep well!

(_For a moment he stands gazing at her with a look of deep emotion; he
tries to speak. Ordinary words seem to fail; he falters into poetry_.)

"When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering Angel, thou!"

(_It has been beautifully said, they both feel. Silent and slow, with
head reverentially bowed, he backs from the Presence_.)

(_The Queen sits and looks after the retreating figure, then at the
broken fragments of glass. She takes up the hand-bell and rings. The
Attendant_ ENTERS.)

QUEEN. Pick up that broken glass.

(_The Attendant collects it on the hand-tray which he carries_)

Bring it to me! ... Leave it!

(_The Attendant deposits the tray before her, and_ GOES. _Gently
the Queen handles the broken pieces. Then in a voice of tearful emotion
she speaks_.)

Such devotion! Most extraordinary! Oh! Albert! Albert!

(_And in the sixteenth year of her widowhood and the fortieth of her
reign the Royal Lady bends her head over the fragments of broken glass,
and weeps happy tears_.)

CURTAIN

His Favourite Flower

Dramatis Personae

THE STATESMAN
THE HOUSEKEEPER
THE DOCTOR
THE PRIMROSES

His Favourite Flower

A Political Myth Explained

_The eminent old Statesman has not been at all well. He is sitting up in
his room, and his doctor has come to see him for the third time in three
days. This means that the malady is not yet seriously regarded: once a day
is still sufficient. Nevertheless, he is a woeful wreck to look at; and
the doctor looks at him with the greatest respect, and listens to his
querulous plaint patiently. For that great dome of silence, his brain,
repository of so many state-secrets, is still a redoubtable instrument:
its wit and its magician's cunning have not yet lapsed into the dull inane
of senile decay. Though fallen from power, after a bad beating at the
polls, there is no knowing but that he may rise again, and hold once more
in those tired old hands, shiny with rheumatic gout, and now twitching
feebly under the discomfort of a superimposed malady, the reins of
democratic and imperial power. The dark, cavernous eyes still wear their
look of accumulated wisdom, a touch also of visionary fire. The sparse
locks, dyed to a raven black, set off with their uncanny sheen the
clay-like pallor of the face. He sits in a high-backed chair, wrapped in
an oriental dressing-gown, his muffled feet resting on a large hot-water
bottle; and the eminent physician, preparatory to taking a seat at his
side, bends solicitously over him_.

DOCTOR. Well, my dear lord, how are you to-day? Better? You look better.

STATESMAN. Yes, I suppose I am better. But my sleep isn't what it ought to
be. I have had a dream, Doctor; and it has upset me.

DOCTOR. A dream?

STATESMAN. You wonder that I should mention it? Of course, I--I don't
believe in dreams. Yet they indicate, sometimes--do they not?-certain
disorders of the mind.

DOCTOR. Generally of the stomach.

STATESMAN. Ah! The same thing, Doctor. There's no getting away from that
in one's old age; when one has lived as well as I have.

DOCTOR. That is why I dieted you.

STATESMAN. Oh, I have nothing on my conscience as to that. My housekeeper
is a dragon. Her fidelity is of the kind that will even risk dismissal.

DOCTOR. An invaluable person, under the circumstances.

STATESMAN. Yes; a nuisance, but indispensable. No, Doctor. This dream
didn't come from the stomach. It seemed rather to emanate from that outer
darkness which surrounds man's destiny. So real, so horribly real!

DOCTOR. Better, then, not to brood on it.

STATESMAN. Ah! Could I explain it, then I might get rid of it. In the
ancient religion of my race dreams found their interpretation. But have
they any?

DOCTOR. Medical science is beginning to say "Yes"; that in sleep the
subconscious mind has its reactions.

STATESMAN. Well, I wonder how my "subconscious mind" got hold of
primroses.

DOCTOR. Primroses? Did they form a feature in your dream?

STATESMAN. A feature? No. The whole place was alive with them! As the
victim of inebriety sees snakes, I saw primroses. They were everywhere:
they fawned on me in wreaths and festoons; swarmed over me like parasites;
flew at me like flies; till it seemed that the whole world had conspired
to suffocate me under a sulphurous canopy of those detestable little
atoms. Can you imagine the horror of it, Doctor, to a sane--a hitherto
sane mind like mine?

DOCTOR. Oh! In a dream any figment may excite aversion.

STATESMAN. This wasn't like a dream. It was rather the threat of some new
disease, some brain malady about to descend on me: possibly delirium
tremens. I have not been of abstemious habits, Doctor. Suppose--?

DOCTOR. Impossible! Dismiss altogether that supposition from your mind!

STATESMAN. Well, Doctor, I hope--I hope you may be right. For I assure you
that the horror I then conceived for those pale botanical specimens in
their pestiferous and increscent abundance, exceeded what words can
describe. I have felt spiritually devastated ever since, as though some
vast calamity were about to fall not only on my own intellect, but on that
of my country. Well, you shall hear.

(_He draws his trembling bands wearily over his face, and sits thinking
awhile_.)

With all the harsh abruptness of a soul launched into eternity by the jerk
of the hangman's rope, so I found myself precipitated into the midst of
this dream. I was standing on a pillory, set up in Parliament Square,
facing the Abbey. I could see the hands of St. Margaret's clock pointing
to half-past eleven; and away to the left the roof of Westminster Hall
undergoing restoration. Details, Doctor, which gave a curious reality to a
scene otherwise fantastic, unbelievable. There I stood in a pillory,
raised up from earth; and a great crowd had gathered to look at me. I can
only describe it as a primrose crowd. The disease infected all, but not so
badly as it did me. The yellow contagion spread everywhere; from all the
streets around, the botanical deluge continued to flow in upon me. I felt
a pressure at my back; a man had placed a ladder against it; he mounted
and hung a large wreath of primroses about my neck. The sniggering crowd
applauded the indignity. Having placed a smaller wreath upon my head, he
descended.... A mockery of a May Queen, there I stood!

DOCTOR (_laying a soothing hand on him_). A dream, my dear lord, only
a dream.

STATESMAN. Doctor, imagine my feelings! My sense of ridicule was keen; but
keener my sense of the injustice--not to be allowed to know _why_ the
whole world was thus making mock of me. For this was in the nature of a
public celebration, its malignity was organised and national; a new fifth
of November had been sprung upon the calendar. Around me I saw the
emblematic watchwords of the great party I had once led to triumph:
"Imperium et Libertas," "Peace with Honour," "England shall reign where'er
the sun," and other mottoes of a like kind; and on them also the floral
disease had spread itself. The air grew thick and heavy with its sick-room
odour. Doctor, I could have vomited.

DOCTOR. Yes, yes; a touch of biliousness, I don't doubt.

STATESMAN. With a sudden flash of insight--"This," I said to myself, "is
my Day of Judgment. Here I stand, judged by my fellow-countrymen, for the
failures and shortcomings of my political career. The good intentions with
which my path was strewn are now turned to my reproach. But why do they
take this particular form? Why--why primroses?"

DOCTOR. "The primrose way" possibly?

STATESMAN. Ah! That occurred to me. But has it, indeed, been a primrose
way that I have trodden so long and so painfully? I think not. I cannot so
accuse myself. But suppose the Day of Judgment which Fate reserves for us
were fundamentally this: the appraisement of one's life and character--not
by the all-seeing Eye of Heaven (before which I would bow), but by the
vindictively unjust verdict of the people one has tried to serve--the
judgment not of God, but of public opinion. That is a judgment of which
all who strive for power must admit the relevancy!

DOCTOR. You distress yourself unnecessarily, dear lord. Your reputation is
safe from detraction now.

STATESMAN. With urgency I set my mind to meet the charge. If I could
understand the meaning of that yellow visitation, then I should no longer
have to fear that I was going mad!

(_At this point the door is discreetly opened, and the Housekeeper,
mild, benign, but inflexible,_ ENTERS, _carrying a cup and toast-rack
upon a tray_.)

HOUSEKEEPER. I beg pardon, my lord; but I think your lordship ought to
have your beef-tea now.

STATESMAN. Yes, yes, Mrs. Manson; come in.

DOCTOR. You are right, Mrs. Manson; he ought.

HOUSEKEEPER (_placing the tray on a small stand_).
Where will you have it, my lord?

STATESMAN. In my inside, Mrs. Manson--presently--he, he!

DOCTOR. Now, let me take your pulse...Yes, yes. Pretty good, you know.

(_Mrs. Manson stands respectfully at attention with interrogation in her
eye_.)

STATESMAN. Yes, you may bring me my cap now.
(_Then to the Doctor_). I generally sleep after this.

(_Mrs. Manson brings a large tasselled fez of brilliant colour, and
adjusts it to his head while he drinks. She then, goes to the door, takes
a hot-water bottle from the bands of an unseen servant and effects the
necessary changes. All this is done so unobtrusively that the Statesman
resumes his theme without regarding her. When she has done she goes_.)

Ah! Where was I?

DOCTOR. If you "could understand," you said.

STATESMAN. Ah, yes; understand. Again a strange faculty of divination came
upon me. I stood upon the international plane, amid a congress of Powers,
and let my eye travel once more over the Alliances of Europe. I looked,
Doctor, and truly I saw, then, surprising shifts and changes in the
political and diplomatic fabric which I had helped to frame. Time, and
kingdoms had passed. I saw, at home and abroad, the rise of new parties
into power, strange coalitions, defections, alliances; old balances
destroyed, new balances set up in their place. I saw frontiers annulled,
treaties violated, world-problems tumbling like clowns, standing on their
heads and crying, "Here we are again!" Power--after all, had solved
nothing!

My eye travelled over that problem of the Near East, which, for some
generations at least, we thought to have settled, to Vienna, Petersburg,
Constantinople--and away farther East to Teheran and--that other place
whose name I have forgotten. And, as I looked, a Recording Angel came, and
cried to me in a voice strangely familiar, the voice of one of my most
detested colleagues--trusted, I mean--"You have put your money on the
wrong horse!"

And I had, Doctor; if what I saw then was true--I had! Yes, if ever man
blundered and fooled his countrymen into a false and fatal position--I was
that man! It wasn't a question of right or wrong. In politics that doesn't
really matter; you decide on a course, and you invent moral reasons for it
afterwards. No, what I had done was much worse than any mere wrongdoing.
All my political foresight and achievements were a gamble that had gone
wrong; and for that my Day of Judgment had come, and I stood in the
pillory, a peepshow for mockery. But why for their instrument of torture
did they choose primroses? Oh, I can invent a reason! It was Moses
Primrose, cheated of his horse with a gross of green spectacles cased in
shagreen. But that was not the reason. For then came new insight, and a
fresh humiliation. As I looked more intently I saw that I was _not_
being mocked; I was being worshipped, adulated, flattered; I had become a
god--for party purposes perhaps--and this was my day, given in my honour,
for national celebration. And I saw, by the insight given me, that they
were praising me _for having put their money on the wrong horse!_
Year by year the celebration had gone on, until they had so got into the
habit that they could not leave off! All my achievements, all my policies,
all my statecraft were in the dust; but the worship of me had become a
national habit--so foolish and meaningless, that nothing, nothing but some
vast calamity--some great social upheaval, was ever going to stop it.

DOCTOR. My dear lord, it is I who must stop it now. You mustn't go on.

STATESMAN. I have done, Doctor. There I have given you the essentials of
my dream; material depressing enough for the mind of an old man, enfeebled
by indisposition, at the end of a long day's work. But I tell you, Doctor,
that nothing therein which stands explainable fills me with such repulsion
and aversion as that one thing which I cannot explain--why, why primroses?

DOCTOR. A remarkable dream, my lord; rendered more vivid--or, as you say,
"real"--by your present disturbed state of health. As to that part of it
which you find so inexplicable, I can at least point toward where the
explanation lies. It reduces itself to this: primroses had become
associated for you--in a way which you have forgotten--with something you
wished to avoid. And so they became the image, or symbol, of your
aversion; and as such found a place in your dream.

(_So saying the doctor rises and moves toward the window, where his
attention suddenly becomes riveted_.)

STATESMAN. Perhaps, Doctor, perhaps, as you say, there is some such
explanation. But I don't feel like that.

DOCTOR. Why, here are primroses! This may be the clue? Where do they come
from?

STATESMAN. Ah, those! Indeed, I had forgotten them. At least; no, I could
not have done that.

DOCTOR. There is a written card with them, I see.

STATESMAN. Her Gracious Majesty did me the great honour, hearing that I
was ill, to send and inquire. Of course, since my removal from office, the
opportunity of presenting my personal homage has not been what it used to
be. That, I suppose, is as well.

DOCTOR. And these are from her Majesty?

STATESMAN. They came yesterday, brought by a special messenger, with a
note written by her own hand, saying that she had picked them herself. To
so great a condescension I made with all endeavour what return I could. I
wrote--a difficult thing for me to do, Doctor, just now--presented my
humble duty, my thanks; and said they were my favourite flower.

DOCTOR. And were they?

STATESMAN. Of course, Doctor, under those circumstances any flower would
have been. It just happened to be that.

DOCTOR. Well, my lord, there, then, the matter is explained. You
_had_ primroses upon your mind. The difficulty, the pain even, of
writing with your crippled hand, became associated with them. You would
have much rather not had to write; and the disinclination, in an
exaggerated form, got into your dream. Now that, I hope, mitigates for you
the annoyance--the distress of mind.

STATESMAN. Yes, yes. It does, as you say, make it more understandable.
Bring them to me, Doctor; let me look my enemy in the face.

(_The Doctor carries the bowl across and sets it beside him. Very feebly
he reaches out a hand and takes some_.)

My favourite flower. He--he! My favourite flower.

(_Lassitude overtakes him--his head nods and droops as he speaks_.)

A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.

Who was it wrote that?--Byron or Dr. Watts? My memory isn't what it used
to be. No matter. It all goes into the account.

My favourite flower!

"For I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May!"

(_The Doctor takes up his hat, and tiptoes to the door_.)

Tell me, where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?

(_He breaks, and lets the petals fall one by one_.)
(_The Doctor goes out_.)

Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it--Ding-dong bell,
Ding-dong, bell.

(_He goes to sleep_.)

CURTAIN

The Comforter

Dramatis Personae

W.E. GLADSTONE
MRS. GLADSTONE
MR. ARMITSTEAD
MR. JOHN MORLEY
A FOOTMAN

The Comforter

A Political Finale

_The Scene is a sitting-room in Downing Street. The date March, 1894.
The time 10.30 p.m._

_Mrs. Gladstone sits before the fire, on a sofa comfortable for two,
finishing off a piece of knitting. Apparently she has just rung the bell,
on the arrival from the dining-room of her husband and his two guests, for
presently the door opens and the footman presents himself for orders. Mr.
Gladstone takes down from the bookshelf a backgammon board, which he opens
upon a small table somewhat distant from the fireplace_.

GLADSTONE. Well, Armitstead, draughts, or backgammon?

ARMITSTEAD. It was backgammon you promised me.

GLADSTONE. A rubber?

ARMITSTEAD. I shall be delighted.

(_They seat themselves, and begin to set the board. Mr. Morley stands
detached looking on, grave, not quite at ease_.)

MRS. G. (_to the footman_). James, bring up the wine and some
biscuits.

JAMES. Whisky, madam?

MRS. G. No, no; biscuits. Soft biscuits for the other gentlemen, and some
hard ones for the master.

JAMES. Yes, madam.

(_He goes, and in a few minutes returns, sets wine and biscuits on the
side-table, and retires_?)

MORLEY (_to_ GLADSTONE). Now?

GLADSTONE. If you will be so good, my dear Morley, I shall be much
obliged.

(_Slowly and thoughtfully Mr. Morley goes over to fireplace, where he
stands looking at Mrs. Gladstone, who is now beginning to "cast-off" a
completed piece of knitting. The rattle of the dice is heard_.)

GLADSTONE. You play.

(_Thereafter, as the game proceeds, the dice are heard constantly_.)

MORLEY. Well, dear lady?

MRS. G. Well, Mr. Morley? So Mr. Gladstone is at his game, and has sent
you to talk to me.

MORLEY. Precisely. You have guessed right.

MRS. G. He always thinks of me.

MORLEY. Yes.

MRS. G. Won't you sit down, Mr. Morley?

MORLEY. By you? With pleasure.

MRS. G. And how is the world using you?

MORLEY. Like Balaam's ass. The angel of the Lord stands before me with a
drawn sword, and my knees quail under me.

MRS. G. I thought you didn't believe in angels, Mr. Morley.

MORLEY. In the scriptural sense, no. In the political, they are rare; but
one meets them--sometimes.

MRS. G. And then they frighten you?

MORLEY. They make a coward of me. I want to temporise--put off the
inevitable. But it's no good. Angels have to be faced. That's the demand
they make on us.

MRS. G. You have something on your mind.

MORLEY. Yes. But we'll not talk about it--yet.

MRS. G. I have something on mine.

MORLEY. Anything serious?

MRS. G. It concerns you, Mr. Morley. Would you very much mind accepting a
gift not originally intended for you?

MORLEY. I have accepted office on those terms before now.

MRS. G. Ah! Mr. Gladstone has always so trusted you.

MORLEY. Yes.

MRS. G. More than he has most people.

MORLEY. I have been finding that out. It has become a habit, I'm afraid. I
can't cure him.

MRS. G. What I had on my mind, Mr. Morley, was this: I have knitted this
comforter for you; at least, it's for you if you would like it.

MORLEY. Angel!

MRS. G. Does that mean that you don't want it?

MORLEY. Oh, no! It will be very good discipline for me; made by you, I
shall have to wear it.

MRS. G. But you know, it's a very remarkable thing that I _can_ offer
it you. Ever since we married I have been knitting comforters for Mr.
Gladstone, which he has always either been losing or giving away. This is
the first time I have been able to get ahead of him. He still has two.
Isn't that a triumph?

MORLEY. It is, indeed.

MRS. G. He's more careful now, and doesn't lose them. He begins to feel, I
suppose, that he's getting old--and needs them.

MORLEY. You surprise me! Why, he is not yet ninety!

MRS. G. Do you know, he still sleeps like a child! Sometimes I lie awake
to watch him. It's wonderful.

MORLEY. It's habit, madam; that, and force of will.

MRS. G. And really it is only then I can feel that he quite belongs to me.
All the rest of the time it's a struggle.

MORLEY. In which you have won.

MRS. G. Have I?

MORLEY. Every time.

MRS. G. (_wistfully_). Do I, Mr. Morley?

MORLEY. It is you, more than anything, who have kept him young.

MRS. G. Oh, no! I'm the ageing influence.

MORLEY. I don't believe it.

MRS. G. Yes; I stand for caution, prudence. He's like a great boy.... You
don't think so; you see the other side of his character. But here have I
been, sixty years, trying to make him take advice!

MORLEY. And sometimes succeeding. Gods, and their makers! What a strange
world!

MRS. G. Spending one's life feeding a god on beef-tea, that's been my
work. (_The dear lady sighs_.)

MORLEY. And making comforters for him.

MRS. G. It's terrible when he won't take it!

MORLEY. The beef-tea?

MRS. G. No, the advice. For I'm generally right, you know.

MORLEY. I can well believe it. Strange to think how the welfare and
destiny of the nation have sometimes lain here--in this gentle hand.

MRS. G. We do jump in the dark so, don't we? Who can say what is really
best for anyone?

MORLEY. And prescribing for a god is more difficult.

MRS. G. Much more.

MORLEY. So when he comes to ask a mere mortal for advice--well, now you
must judge how difficult it has been for _me._

MRS. G. Have you been giving him advice?

MORLEY. In a way; yes.

MRS. G. And has he taken it?

MORLEY. A few days ago he told me of a resolution he had come to. I could
not disapprove. But now I wonder how it is going to strike _you_?

MRS. G. Has anything special happened? He has not told me.

MORLEY (_gravely_). To-morrow, or the day after, he will be going
down to Windsor.

MRS. G. Oh, I'm sorry! That always depresses him. He and the Queen don't
get on very well together.

MORLEY. They will get on well enough this time, I imagine.

MRS. G. (_a little bit alarmect_). Does that mean--any change of
policy?

MORLEY. Of policy--I hope not. Of person--yes.

MRS. G. Is anyone leaving the Cabinet?

MORLEY. We may all be leaving it, very soon. He asked me to tell you; he
had promised Armitstead a game. Look how he is enjoying it!

MRS. G. (_shrewdly_). Ah! then I expect he is winning.

MORLEY. Oh? I should not have called him a bad loser.

MRS. G. No; but he likes winning better--the excitement of it.

MORLEY. That is only human. Yes, he has been a great winner--sometimes.

MRS. G. When has he ever lost--except just for the time? He always knows
that.

MORLEY. Ah, yes! To quote your own sprightly phrase, we--he and the party
with him--are always "popping up again."

MRS. G. When did I say that?

MORLEY. Seven years ago, when we began to win bye-elections on the Irish
question. The bye-elections are not going so well for us just now.

MRS. G. But the General Election will.

MORLEY. Perhaps one will--in another seven years or so.

MRS. G. But isn't there to be one this year?

MORLEY (_gravely_). The Cabinet has decided against it.

MRS. G. But Mr. Morley! Now the Lords have thrown out the Irish Bill there
must be an election.

MORLEY. That was Mr. Gladstone's view.

MRS. G. Wasn't it yours, too?

MORLEY. Yes; but we couldn't--we couldn't carry the others.

MRS. G. Then you mean Mr. Gladstone is going to form a new Cabinet?

MORLEY. No. A new Cabinet is going to be formed, but he will not be in it.
That is his resolution. I was to tell you.

(_At this news of the downfall of her hopes the gentle face becomes
piteously woeful; full of wonder also_.)

MRS. G. He asked you--to tell me that!

MORLEY. Yes.

MRS. G. Oh! Then he really means it! Had he been in any doubt he would
have consulted me.

(_Tears have now come to sustain the dear lady in her sense of
desolation. Mr. Morley, with quiet philosophy, does his best to give
comfort_.)

MORLEY. It was the only thing to do. Ireland kept him in politics; if that
goes, he goes with it.

MRS. G. But Ireland--doesn't go.

MORLEY. As the cause for a General Election it goes, I'm afraid.

MRS. G. But that isn't honest, Mr. Morley!

MORLEY. I agree.

MRS. G. And it won't do any good--not in the end.

MORLEY. To that also, I agree. Ireland remains; and the problem will get
worse.

MRS. G. But, indeed, you are wrong, Mr. Morley! It was not Ireland that
kept my husband in politics; it was Mr. Chamberlain.

MORLEY. That is a view which, I confess, had not occurred to me.
Chamberlain?

MRS. G. No one could have kept Mr. Chamberlain from leading the Liberal
party, except Mr. Gladstone. And now he never will!

MORLEY. That, certainly, is a triumph, of a kind. You think that
influenced him? Chamberlain was a friend of mine once--is still, in a way.
(_He pauses, then adds ruefully_) Politics are a cruel game!

(_He sighs and sits depressed. But mention of her husband's great
antagonist has made the old lady brisk again_.)

MRS. G. Do you know, Mr. Morley, that if Mr. Gladstone had not made me
pray for that man every night of my life, I should positively have hated
him.

MORLEY (_with a touch of mischief_). You do that?--still?
Tell me--(I am curious)--do you pray for him as plain "Joe Chamberlain,"
or do you put in the "Mister"?

MRS. G. I never mention his name at all; I leave that to Providence--to be
understood.

MORLEY. Well, it _has_ been understood, and answered--abundantly;
Chamberlain's star is in the ascendant again. It's strange; he and Mr.
Gladstone never really got on together.

MRS. G. I don't think he ever really tried--much.

MORLEY. Didn't he? Oh, you don't mean Mr. Gladstone?

MRS. G. And then, you see, the Queen never liked him. That has counted for
a good deal.

MORLEY. It has--curiously.

MRS. G. Now why should it, Mr. Morley? She ought not to have such
power--any more than I.

MORLEY. How can it be kept from either of you? During the last decade this
country has been living on two rival catchwords, which in the field of
politics have meant much--the "Widow at Windsor," and the "Grand Old Man."
And these two makers of history are mentally and temperamentally
incompatible. That has been the tragedy. This is _her_ day, dear
lady; but it won't always be so.

MRS. G. Mr. Morley, who is going to be--who will take Mr. Gladstone's
place?

MORLEY. Difficult to say: the Queen may make her own choice. Spencer,
perhaps; though I rather doubt it; probably Harcourt.

MRS. G. Shall you serve under him?

MORLEY. I haven't decided.

MRS. G. You won't.

MORLEY. Possibly not. We are at the end of a dispensation. Whether I
belong to the new one, I don't yet know.

MRS. G. The Queen will be pleased, at any rate.

MORLEY. Delighted.

MRS. G. Will she offer him a peerage, do you think?

MORLEY. Oh, of course.

MRS. G. Yes. And she knows he won't accept it. So that gives her the
advantage of seeming--magnanimous!

MORLEY. Dear lady, you say rather terrible things--sometimes! You pray for
the Queen, too, I suppose; or don't you?

MRS. G. Oh yes; but that's different. I don't feel with her that it's
personal. She was always against him. It was her bringing up; she couldn't
help being.

MORLEY. So was Chamberlain; so was Harcourt; so was everybody. He is the
loneliest man, in a great position, that I have ever known.

MRS. G. Till he met you, Mr. Morley.

MORLEY. I was only speaking of politics. Sixty years ago he met
_you_.

MRS. G. Nearly sixty-three.

MORLEY. Three to the good; all the better!

MRS. G. (_having finished off the comforter_). There! that is
finished now!

MORLEY. A thousand thanks; so it is to be mine, is it?

MRS. G. I wanted to say, Mr. Morley, how good I think you have always been
to me.

MORLEY. I, dear lady? I?

MRS. G. I must so often have been in the way without knowing it. You see,
you and I think differently. We belong to different schools.

MORLEY. If you go on, I shall have to say "angel," again. That is all I
_can_ say.

MRS. G. (_tremulously_). Oh, Mr. Morley, you will tell me! Is this
the end? Has he--has he, after all, been a failure?

MORLEY. My dear lady, he has been an epoch.

MRS. G. Aren't epochs failures, sometimes?

MORLEY. Even so, they count; we have to reckon with them. No, he is no
failure; though it may seem like it just now. Don't pay too much attention
to what the papers will say. He doesn't, though he reads them. Look at him
now!--does that look like failure?

(_He points to the exuberantly energetic figure intensely absorbed in
its game_.)

MRS. G. He is putting it on to-night a little, for _me_, Mr. Morley.
He knows I am watching him. Tell me how he seemed when he first spoke to
you. Was he feeling it--much?

MORLEY. Oh, deeply, of course! He believes that on a direct appeal we
could win the election.

MRS. G. And you?

MORLEY. I don't. But all the same I hold it the right thing to do. Great
causes must face and number their defeats. That is how they come to
victory.

MRS. G. And now that will be in other hands, not his. Suppose he should
not live to see it. Oh, Mr. Morley, Mr. Morley, how am I going to bear it!

MORLEY. Dear lady, I don't usually praise the great altitudes. May I speak
in his praise, just for once, to-night? As a rather faithless man myself--
not believing or expecting too much of human nature--I see him now,
looking back, more than anything else as a man of faith.

MRS. G. Ah, yes. To him religion has always meant everything.

MORLEY. Faith in himself, I meant.

MRS. G. Of course; he had to have that, too.

MORLEY. And I believe in him still, more now than ever. They can remove
him; they cannot remove Ireland. He may have made mistakes and misjudged
characters; he may not have solved the immediate problem either wisely or
well. But this he has done, to our honour and to his own: he has given us
the cause of liberty as a sacred trust. If we break faith with that, we
ourselves shall be broken--and we shall deserve it.

MRS. G. You think that--possible?

MORLEY. I would rather not think anything just now. The game is over; I
must be going. Good night, dear friend; and if you sleep only as well as
you deserve, I could wish you no better repose. Good-bye.

(_He moves toward the table from which the players are now rising_.)

GLADSTONE. That is a game, my dear Armitstead, which came to this country
nearly eight hundred years ago from the Crusades. Previously it had been
in vogue among the nomadic tribes of the Arabian desert for more than a
thousand years. Its very name, "backgammon," so English in sound, is but a
corruption from the two Arabic words _bacca_, and _gamma_ (my
pronunciation of which stands subject to correction), meaning--if I
remember rightly--"the board game." There, away East, lies its origin; its
first recorded appearance in Europe was at the Sicilian Court of the
Emperor Frederick II; and when the excommunication of Rome fell on him in
the year 1283, the game was placed under an interdict, which, during the
next four hundred years, was secretly but sedulously disregarded within
those impregnably fortified places of learning and piety, to which so much
of our Western civilisation is due, the abbeys and other scholastic
foundations of the Benedictine order. The book-form, in which the board
still conceals itself, stands as a memorial of its secretive preservation
upon the shelves of the monastic libraries. I keep my own, with a certain
touch of ritualistic observance, between this seventeenth century edition
of the works of Roger Bacon and this more modern one, in Latin, of the
writings of Thomas Aquinas; both of whom may not improbably have been
practitioners of the game.

ARMITSTEAD. Very interesting, very interesting.

(_During this recitation Mr. Gladstone has neatly packed away the
draughts and the dice, shutting them into their case finally and restoring
it to its place upon the bookshelf_.)

GLADSTONE. My dear, I have won the rubber.

MRS. G. Have you, my dear? I'm very glad, if Mr. Armitstead does not mind.

ARMITSTEAD. To be beaten by Mr. Gladstone, ma'am, is a liberal education
in itself.

MORLEY (_to his host_). I must say good-night, now, sir.

GLADSTONE. What, my dear Morley, must you be going?

MORLEY. For one of my habits it is almost late--eleven.

ARMITSTEAD. In that case I must be going, too. Can I drop you anywhere,
Morley?

MORLEY. Any point, not out of your way, in the direction of my own door, I
shall be obliged.

ARMITSTEAD. With pleasure. I will come at once. And so--good-night, Mrs.
Gladstone. Mr. Prime Minister, good-night.

GLADSTONE. Good-night, Armitstead.

MORLEY (_aside to Mr. Gladstone_). I have done what you asked of me,
sir.

GLADSTONE. I thank you. Good-night.

(_The two guests have gone; and husband and wife are left alone. He
approaches, and stands near_.)

So Morley has told you, my dear?

MRS. G. That you are going down to Windsor to-morrow? Yes, William. You
will want your best frock-suit, I suppose?

GLADSTONE. My best and my blackest would be seemly under the
circumstances, my love. This treble-dated crow will keep the obsequies as
strict as Court etiquette requires, or as his wardrobe may allow. I have a
best suit, I suppose?

MRS. G. Yes, William. I keep it put away for you.

GLADSTONE (_after a meditative pause begins to recite_).

"Come, thou who art the wine and wit
Of all I've writ:
The grace, the glory, and the best
Piece of the rest,
Thou art, of what I did intend,
The all and end;
And what was made, was made to meet
Thee, thee, my sheet!"

Herrick, to his shroud, my dear! A poet who has the rare gift of being
both light and spiritual in the same breath. Read Herrick at his gravest,
when you need cheering; you will always find him helpful.

MRS. G. Then--will you read him to me to-night, William?

GLADSTONE. Why, certainly, my love, if you wish.

(_He stoops and kisses her_.)

MRS. G. (_speaking very gently_). I was waiting for that.

GLADSTONE. And I was waiting--for what you have to say.

MRS. G. I can say nothing.

GLADSTONE. Why, nothing?

MRS. G. Because I can't be sure of you, my dear. You've done this before.

GLADSTONE. This time it has been done for me. My own say in the matter has
been merely to acquiesce.

MRS. G. Ah! so you say! And others--others may say it for you; but--

GLADSTONE. Anno Domini says it, my dear.

MRS. G. Anno Domini has been saying it for the last twenty years. Much
heed you paid to Anno Domini.

GLADSTONE. You never lent it the weight of your counsels, my own love--
till now.

MRS. G. I know, William, when talking is useless.

GLADSTONE. Ah! I wonder--if I do.

MRS. G. No; that's why I complain. Twenty years ago you said you were
going to retire from politics and take up theology again--that you were
old, and had come to an end. Why, you were only just beginning! And it
will always be the same; any day something may happen--more Bulgarian
atrocities, or a proposal for Welsh disestablishment. Then you'll break
out again!

GLADSTONE. But I am in favour of Welsh disestablishment, my dear--when it
comes.

MRS. G. Are you? Oh, yes; I forgot. You are in favour of so many things
you didn't used to be. Well, then, it will be something else. You will
always find an excuse; I shall never feel safe about you.

GLADSTONE (_in moved tone_). And if you could feel safe about me--
what then?

MRS. G. Oh, my dear, my dear, if I could! Always I've seen you neglecting
yourself--always putting aside your real interests--the things that you
most inwardly cared about, the things which you always meant to do when
you "had time." And here I have had to sit and wait for the time that
never came. Isn't that true?

GLADSTONE. There is an element of truth in it, my dear.

MRS. G. Well, twenty years have gone like that, and you've "had no time."
Oh, if you could only go back to the things you meant to do, twenty years
ago--and take them up, just where you left off--why, I should see you
looking--almost young again. For you've been looking tired lately, my
dear.

GLADSTONE. Tired? Yes: I hoped not to have shown it. But three weeks ago I
had to own to myself that I was beginning to feel tired. I went to
Crichton Browne (I didn't tell you, my love); he said there was nothing
the matter with me--except old age.

MRS. G. You should have come to me, my dear; I could have told you the
only thing to do.

GLADSTONE. Is it too late to tell me now?

MRS. G. Yes; because now you've done it, without my advice, William. Think
of that! For the first time!

GLADSTONE (_gravely surprised_). So you have been wishing it, have
you?

(_And the devoted wife, setting her face, and steadying her voice,
struggles on to give him what comfort she may, in the denial of her most
cherished hopes_.)

MRS. G. I've been waiting, waiting, waiting for it to come. But it was the
one thing I couldn't say, till you--till you thought of it yourself!

GLADSTONE. Did I do so? Or did others think of it for me? I'm not sure;
I'm not sure. My judgment of the situation differed from theirs. I
couldn't carry them with me. In my own Cabinet I was a defeated man. Only
Morley stood by me then.

(_Deep in the contemplation of his last political defeat, he is not
looking at her face; and that is as well. Her voice summons him almost
cheerfully from his reverie._)

MRS. G. William dear, can you come shopping with me to-morrow? Oh, no,
to-morrow you are going to Windsor. The day after, then.

GLADSTONE. What is that for, my dear?

MRS. G. We have to get something for Dorothy's birthday, before we go
home. You mustn't forget things like that, you know. Dorothy is important.

GLADSTONE. Not merely important, my love; she is a portent--of much that
we shall never know. Dorothy will live to see the coming of the new age.

MRS. G. The new age? Well, so long as you let it alone, my dear, it may be
as new as it likes; I shan't mind.

GLADSTONE. We will leave Dorothy to manage it her own way.

MRS. G. Then you will shop with me--not to-morrow--Thursday?

GLADSTONE. Piccadilly, or Oxford Street?

MRS. G. I thought Gamage's.

GLADSTONE. Holborn? That sounds adventurous. Yes, my love, I will shop
with you on Thursday--if all goes well at Windsor to-morrow--with all the
contentment in the world. (_They kiss_.) Now go to bed; and presently
I will come and read Herrick to you.

(_She gets up and goes toward the door, when her attention is suddenly
arrested by the carpet._)

MRS. G. William! Do you see how this carpet is wearing out? We shall have
to get a new one.

GLADSTONE. It won't be necessary now. Those at Hawarden, if I remember
rightly, are sufficiently new to last out our time.

MRS. G. I wish I could think so, my dear. They would if you didn't give
them such hard wear, walking about on them. The way you wear things out
has been my domestic tragedy all along!

GLADSTONE (_standing with folded hands before her_). My love, I have
just remembered; I have a confession to make.

MRS. G. What, another? Oh, William!

GLADSTONE. I cannot find either of my comforters. I'm afraid I have lost
them. I had both this morning, and now both are gone.

MRS. G. Why, you are worse than ever, my dear! Both in one day! You have
not done that for twenty years.

GLADSTONE. I am sorry. I won't do it again.

MRS. G. Ah! so you say! Poor Mr. Morley will have to wait now. I had
promised him this. There!

(_Making him sit down, she puts the comforter round his neck, and gives
him a parting kiss_.)

And now I'm going.

GLADSTONE. Go, my love! I will come presently.

(_But he has not quite got rid of her. Her hands are now reaching down
to the back of the sofa behind him_.)

What are you looking for?

MRS. G. My knitting-needles. You are sitting on them. Now mind, you are
not to sit up!

GLADSTONE. I won't sit up long.

(_Quietly and serenely she goes to the door, looks back for a moment,
then glides through it, leaving behind a much-deceived husband, who will
not hear the sound of her solitary weeping, or see any signs of it on her
face when presently he comes to read Herrick at her bedside_.)

(_For a while he sits silent, peacefully encompassed in the thoughts
with which she has provided him; then very slowly he speaks.)_

GLADSTONE. Well, if it pleases her--I suppose it must be right!

CURTAIN

Possession

Dramatis Personae

JULIA ROBINSON _Sisters_
LAURA JAMES _Sisters_
MARTHA ROBINSON _Sisters_
SUSAN ROBINSON _Their Mother_
THOMAS ROBINSON _Their Father_
WILLIAM JAMES _Husband to Laura James_
HANNAH _The family servant_

Part Two

The Everlasting Habitations

"All hope abandon ye who enter here."

"_Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that,
when ye jail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations_"

Possession

A Peep-Show in Paradise

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