Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

If by Lord Dunsany

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

If

by Lord Dunsany [Edward John Plunkett]

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

JOHN BEAL
MARY BEAL
LIZA
ALI
BERT, BILL: two railway porters
THE MAN IN THE CORNER
MIRALDA CLEMENT
HAFIZ EL ALCOLAHN
DAOUD
ARCHIE BEAL
BAZZALOL, THOOTHOOBABA: two Nubian door-keepers
BEN HUSSEIN, Lord of the Pass
ZABNOOL, SHABEESH: two conjurers
OMAR, a singer
ZAGBOOLA, mother of Hafiz
THE SHEIK OF THE BISHAREENS

Notables, soldiers, Bishareens, dancers, etc.

IF

ACT I

SCENE 1

A small railway station near London.
Time: Ten years ago.

BERT

'Ow goes it, Bill?

BILL

Goes it? 'Ow d'yer think it goes?

BERT

I don't know, Bill. 'Ow is it?

BILL

Bloody.

BERT

Why? What's wrong?

BILL

Wrong? Nothing ain't wrong.

BERT

What's up then?

BILL

Nothing ain't right.

BERT

Why, wot's the worry?

BILL

Wot's the worry? They don't give you
better wages nor a dog, and then they thinks
they can talk at yer and talk at yer, and say
wot they likes, like.

BERT

Why? You been on the carpet, Bill?

BILL

Ain't I! Proper.

BERT

Why, wot about, Bill?

BILL

Wot about? I'll tell yer. Just coz I let
a lidy get into a train. That's wot about.
Said I ought to 'av stopped 'er. Thought the
train was moving. Thought it was dangerous.
Thought I tried to murder 'er, I suppose.

BERT

Wot? The other day?

BILL

Yes.

BERT

Tuesday?

BILL

Yes.

BERT

Why. The one that dropped her bag?

BILL

Yes. Drops 'er bag. Writes to the company.
They writes back she shouldn't 'av
got in. She writes back she should. Then
they gets on to me. Any more of it and
I'll...

BERT

I wouldn't, Bill; don't you.

BILL

I will.

BERT

Don't you, Bill. You've got your family
to consider.

BILL

Well, anyway, I won't let any more of
them passengers go jumping into trains any
more, not when they're moving, I won't.
When the train gets in, doors shut. That's
the rule. And they'll 'ave to abide by it.

BERT

Well, I wouldn't stop one, not if...

BILL

I don't care. They ain't going to 'ave me
on the mat again and talk all that stuff to
me. No, if someone 'as to suffer . . .
'Ere she is.

[Noise of approaching train heard.]

BERT

Ay, that's her.

BILL

And shut goes the door.

[Enter JOHN BEAL.]

BERT

Wait a moment, Bill.

BILL

Not if he's . . . Not if he was ever so.

JOHN [preparing to pass]

Good morning. . . .

BILL

Can't come through. Too late.

JOHN

Too late? Why, the train's only just in.

BILL

Don't care. It's the rule.

JOHN

O, nonsense. [He carries on.]

BILL

It's too late. I tell you you can't come.

JOHN

But that's absurd. I want to catch my
train.

BILL

It's too late.

BERT

Let him go, Bill.

BILL

I'm blowed if I let him go.

JOHN

I want to catch my train.

[JOHN is stopped by BILL and pushed
back by the face. JOHN advances towards
BILL looking like fighting. The train has
gone.]

BILL

Only doing my duty.

[JOHN stops and reflects at this, deciding
it isn't good enough. He shrugs his
shoulders, turns round and goes away.]

JOHN

I shouldn't be surprised if I didn't get even
with you one of these days, you . . . . . and
some way you won't expect.

Curtain

SCENE 2

Yesterday evening.

[Curtain rises on JOHN and MARY in
their suburban home.]

JOHN

I say, dear. Don't you think we ought to
plant an acacia?

MARY

An acacia, what's that, John?

JOHN

O, it's one of those trees that they have.

MARY

But why, John?

JOHN

Well, you see the house is called The Acacias,
and it seems rather silly not to have at
least one.

MARY

O, I don't think that matters. Lots of
places are called lots of things. Everyone
does.

JOHN

Yes, but it might help the postman.

MARY

O, no, it wouldn't, dear. He wouldn't
know an acacia if he saw it any more than I
should.

JOHN

Quite right, Mary, you're always right.
What a clever head you've got!

MARY

Have I, John? We'll plant an acacia if
you like. I'll ask about it at the grocer's.

JOHN

You can't get one there.

MARY

No, but he's sure to know where it can be
got.

JOHN

Where do they grow, Mary?

MARY

I don't know, John; but I am sure they do,
somewhere.

JOHN

Somehow I wish sometimes, I almost wish
I could have gone abroad for a week or so to
places like where acacias grow naturally.

MARY

O, would you really, John?

JOHN

No, not really. But I just think of it
sometimes.

MARY

Where would you have gone?

JOHN

O, I don't know. The East or some such
place. I've often heard people speak of it,
and somehow it seemed so. . .

MARY

The East, John? Not the East. I don't
think the East somehow is quite respectable.

JOHN

O well, it's all right, I never went, and
never shall go now. It doesn't matter.

MARY [the photographs catching her eye]

O, John, I meant to tell you. Such a dreadful
thing happened.

JOHN

What, Mary?

MARY

Well, Liza was dusting the photographs,
and when she came to Jane's she says she
hadn't really begun to dust it, only looked at
it, and it fell down, and that bit of glass is
broken right out of it.

JOHN

Ask her not to look at it so hard another
time.

MARY

O, what do you mean, John?

JOHN

Well, that's how she broke it; she said so,
and as I know you believe in Liza . . .

MARY

Well, I can't think she'd tell a lie, John.

JOHN

No, of course not. But she mustn't look
so hard another time.

MARY

And it's poor little Jane's photograph.
She will feel it so.

JOHN

O, that's all right, we'll get it mended.

MARY

Still, it's a dreadful thing to have happened.

JOHN

We'll get it mended, and if Jane is unhappy
about it she can have Alice's frame. Alice
is too young to notice it.

MARY

She isn't, John. She'd notice it quick.

JOHN

Well, George, then.

MARY [looking at photo thoughtfully]

Well, perhaps George might give up his
frame.

JOHN

Yes, tell Liza to change it. Why not make
her do it now?

MARY

Not to-day, John. Not on a Sunday.
She shall do it to-morrow by the time you get
back from the office.

JOHN

All right. It might have been worse.

MARY

It's bad enough. I wish it hadn't happened.

JOHN

It might have been worse. It might have
been Aunt Martha.

MARY

I'd sooner it had been her than poor little
Jane.

JOHN

If it had been Aunt Martha's photograph
she'd have walked in next day and seen it for
certain; I know Aunt Martha. Then there'd
have been trouble.

MARY

But, John, how could she have known?

JOHN

I don't know, but she would have; it's a
kind of devilish sense she has.

MARY

John!

JOHN

What's the matter?

MARY

John! What a dreadful word you used.
And on a Sunday too! Really!

JOHN

O, I'm sorry. It slipped out somehow.
I'm very sorry.

[Enter LIZA.]

LIZA

There's a gentleman to see you, sir, which
isn't, properly speaking, a gentleman at all.
Not what I should call one, that is, like.

MARY

Not a gentleman! Good gracious, Liza!
Whatever do you mean?

LIZA

He's black.

MARY

Black?

JOHN [reassuring]

O . . . yes, that would be Ali. A queer
old customer, Mary; perfectly harmless. Our
firm gets hundreds of carpets through him;
and then one day . . .

MARY

But what is he doing here, John?

JOHN

Well, one day he turned up in London;
broke, he said; and wanted the firm to give
him a little cash. Well, old Briggs was for
giving him ten shillings. But I said "here's
a man that's helped us in making thousands
of pounds. Let's give him fifty."

MARY

Fifty pounds!

JOHN

Yes, it seems a lot; but it seemed only fair.
Ten shillings would have been an insult to
the old fellow, and he'd have taken it as such.
You don't know what he'd have done.

MARY

Well, he doesn't want more?

JOHN

No, I expect he's come to thank me. He
seemed pretty keen on getting some cash.
Badly broke, you see. Don't know what he was
doing in London. Never can tell with these
fellows. East is East, and there's an end of it.

MARY

How did he trace you here?

JOHN

O, got the address at the office. Briggs
and Cater won't let theirs be known. Not
got such a smart little house, I expect.

MARY

I don't like letting people in that you don't
know where they come from.

JOHN

O, he comes from the East.

MARY

Yes, I--I know. But the East doesn't seem
quite to count, somehow, as the proper sort of
place to come from, does it, dear?

JOHN

No.

MARY

It's not like Sydenham or Bromley, some
place you can put your finger on.

JOHN

Perhaps just for once, I don't think there's
any harm in him.

MARY

Well, just for once. But we can't make a
practice of it. And you don't want to be
thinking of business on a Sunday, your only
day off.

JOHN

O, it isn't business, you know. He only
wants to say thank you.

MARY

I hope he won't say it in some queer
Eastern way. You don't know what these
people. . . .

JOHN

O, no. Show him up, Liza.

LIZA

As you like, mum.
[Exit.]

MARY

And you gave him fifty pounds?

JOHN

Well, old Briggs agreed to it. So I suppose
that's what he got. Cater paid him.

MARY

It seems a lot of money. But I think, as
the man is actually coming up the stairs,
I'm glad he's got something to be grateful
for.

[Enter ALI, shown in by LIZA.]

ALI

Protector of the Just.

JOHN

O, er--yes. Good evening.

ALI

My soul was parched and you bathed it
in rivers of gold.

JOHN

O, ah, yes.

ALI

Wherefore the name Briggs, Cater, and Beal
shall be magnified and called blessed.

JOHN

Ha, yes. Very good of you.

ALI [advancing, handing trinket]

Protector of the Just, my offering.

JOHN

Your offering?

ALI

Hush. It is beyond price. I am not
bidden to sell it. I was in my extremity, but
I was not bidden to sell it. It is a token of
gratitude, a gift, as it came to me.

JOHN

As it came to you?

ALI

Yes, it was given me.

JOHN

I see. Then you had given somebody what
you call rivers of gold?

ALI

Not gold; it was in Sahara.

JOHN

O, and what do you give in the Sahara
instead of gold?

ALI

Water.

JOHN

I see. You got it for a glass of water, like.

ALI

Even so.

JOHN

And--and what happened?

MARY

I wouldn't take his only crystal, dear.
It's a nice little thing, but [to ALI], but you
think a lot of it, don't you?

ALI

Even so.

JOHN

But look here, what does it do?

ALI

Much.

JOHN

Well, what?

ALI

He that taketh this crystal, so, in his hand,
at night, and wishes, saying "At a certain
hour let it be"; the hour comes and he will
go back eight, ten, even twelve years if he
will, into the past, and do a thing again, or
act otherwise than he did. The day passes;
the ten years are accomplished once again; he
is here once more; but he is what he might
have become had he done that one thing
otherwise.

MARY

John!

JOHN

I--I don't understand.

ALI

To-night you wish. All to-morrow you
live the last ten years; a new way, master, a
new way, how you please. To-morrow night
you are here, what those years have made you.

JOHN

By Jove!

MARY

Have nothing to do with it, John.

JOHN

All right, Mary, I'm not going to. But,
do you mean one could go back ten years?


ALI

Even so.


JOHN

Well, it seems odd, but I'll take your word
for it. But look here, you can't live ten years
in a day, you know.

ALI

My master has power over time.

MARY

John, don't have anything to do with him.

JOHN

All right, Mary. But who is your master?

ALI

He is carved of one piece of jade, a god in
the greenest mountains. The years are his
dreams. This crystal is his treasure. Guard
it safely, for his power is in this more than
in all the peaks of his native hills. See what
I give you, master.

JOHN

Well, really, it's very good of you.

MARY

Good night, Mr. Ali. We are very much
obliged for your kind offer, which we are so
sorry we can't avail ourselves of.

JOHN

One moment, Mary. Do you mean that
I can go back ten years, and live till--till now
again, and only be away a day?

ALI

Start early and you will be here before
midnight.

JOHN

Would eight o'clock do!

ALI

You could be back by eleven that evening.

JOHN

I don't quite see how ten years could go
in a single day.

ALI

They will go as dreams go.

JOHN

Even so, it seems rather unusual, doesn't
it?

ALI

Time is the slave of my master

MARY

John!

JOHN

All right, Mary. [In a lower voice.] I'm
only trying to see what he'll say.

MARY

All right, John, only . . .

ALI

Is there no step that you would wish
untrodden, nor stride that you would make
where once you faltered?

JOHN

I say, why don't you use it yourself?

ALI

I? I am afraid of the past. But you
Engleesh, and the great firm of Briggs, Cater,
and Beal; you are afraid of nothing.

JOHN

Ha, ha. Well--I wouldn't go quite as far
as that, but--well, give me the crystal.

MARY

Don't take it, John! Don't take it.

JOHN

Why, Mary? It won't hurt me.

MARY

If it can do all that--if it can do all that . . .

JOHN

Well?

MARY

Why, you might never have met me.

JOHN

Never have met you? I never thought of
that.

MARY

Leave the past alone, John.

JOHN

All right, Mary. I needn't use it. But I
want to hear about it, it's so odd, it's so
what-you-might-call queer; I don't think I
ever----- [To ALI.] You mean if I work
hard for ten years, which will only be all
to-morrow, I may be Governor of the Bank
of England to-morrow night.

ALI

Even so.

MARY

O, don't do it, John.

JOHN

But you said--I'll be back here before
midnight to-morrow.

ALI

It is so.

JOHN

But the Governor of the Bank of England
would live in the City, and he'd have a much
bigger house anyway. He wouldn't live in
Lewisham.

ALI

The crystal will bring you to this house
when the hour is accomplished, even
tomorrow night. If you be the great banker
you will perhaps come to chastise one of your
slaves who will dwell in this house. If you
be head of Briggs and Cater you will come to
give an edict to one of your firm. Perchance
this street will be yours and you will come to
show your power unto it. But you will come.

JOHN

And if the house is not mine?

MARY

John! John! Don't.

ALI

Still you will come.

JOHN

Shall I remember?

ALI

No.

JOHN

If I want to do anything different to what
I did, how shall I remember when I get back
there?

MARY

Don't. Don't do anything different, John.

JOHN

All right.

ALI

Choose just before the hour of the step
you desire to change. Memory lingers a little
at first, and fades away slowly.

JOHN

Five minutes?

ALI

Even ten.

JOHN

Then I can change one thing. After that I
forget.

ALI

Even so. One thing. And the rest follows.

JOHN

Well, it's very good of you to make me this
nice present, I'm sure.

ALI

Sell it not. Give it, as I gave it, if the heart
impels. So shall it come back one day to the
hills that are brighter than grass, made richer
by the gratitude of many men. And my
master shall smile thereat and the vale shall
be glad.

JOHN

It's very good of you, I'm sure.

MARY

I don't like it, John. I don't like tampering
with what's gone.

ALI

My master's power is in your hands.
Farewell.

[Exit.]

JOHN

I say, he's gone.

MARY

O, he's a dreadful man.

JOHN

I never really meant to take it.

MARY

O, John, I wish you hadn't

JOHN

Why? I'm not going to use it.

MARY

Not going to use it, John?

JOHN

No, no. Not if you don't want me to.

MARY

O, I'm so glad.

JOHN

And besides, I don't want things different.
I've got fond of this little house. And Briggs
is a good old sort, you know. Cater's a bit
of an ass, but there's no harm in him. In
fact, I'm contented, Mary. I wouldn't even
change Aunt Martha now.

[Points at frowning framed photograph
centrally hung.]

You remember when she first came and
you said "Where shall we hang her?" I said
the cellar. You said we couldn't. So she had
to go there. But I wouldn't change her now.
I suppose there are old watch-dogs like her in
every family. I wouldn't change anything.

MARY

O, John, wouldn't you really?

JOHN

No, I'm contented. Grim old soul, I
wouldn't even change Aunt Martha.

MARY

I'm glad of that, John. I was frightened.
I couldn't bear to tamper with the past.
You don't know what it is, it's what's gone.
But if it really isn't gone at all, if it can be dug
up like that, why you don't know what
mightn't happen! I don't mind the future,
but if the past can come back like that....
O, don't, don't, John. Don't think of it.
It isn't canny. There's the children, John.

JOHN

Yes, yes, that's all right. It's only a little
ornament. I won't use it. And I tell you
I'm content. [Happily] It's no use to me.

MARY

I'm so glad you're content, John. Are you
really? Is there nothing that you'd have had
different? I sometimes thought you'd rather
that Jane had been a boy.

JOHN

Not a bit of it. Well, I may have at the
time, but Arthur's good enough for me.

MARY

I'm so glad. And there's nothing you ever
regret at all?

JOHN

Nothing. And you? Is there nothing you
regret, Mary?

MARY

Me? Oh, no. I still think that sofa would
have been better green, but you would have
it red.

JOHN

Yes, so I would. No, there's nothing I
regret.

MARY

I don't suppose there's many men can say
that.

JOHN

No, I don't suppose they can. They're
not all married to you. I don't suppose
many of them can.

[MARY smiles.]

MARY

I should think that very few could say
that they regretted nothing . . . very few
in the whole world.

JOHN

Well, I won't say nothing.

MARY

What is it you regret, John?

JOHN

Well, there is one thing.

MARY

And what is that?

JOHN

One thing has rankled a bit.

MARY

Yes, John?

JOHN

O, it's nothing, it's nothing worth
mentioning. But it rankled for years.

MARY

What was it, John?

JOHN

O, it seems silly to mention it. It was
nothing.

MARY

But what?

JOHN

O, well, if you want to know, it was once
when I missed a train. I don't mind missing
a train, but it was the way the porter pushed
me out of the way. He pushed me by the
face. I couldn't hit back, because, well, you
know what lawyers make of it; I might have
been ruined. So it just rankled. It was years
ago before we married.

MARY

Pushed you by the face. Good gracious!

JOHN

Yes, I'd like to have caught that train in
spite of him. I sometimes think of it still.
Silly of me, isn't it?

MARY

What a brute of a man.

JOHN

O, I suppose he was doing his silly duty.
But it rankled.

MARY

He'd no right to do any such thing! He'd
no right to touch you!

JOHN

O, well, never mind.

MARY

I should like to have been there. . .
I'd have . . .

JOHN

O, well, it can't be helped now; but I'd
like to have caught it in sp . . .
[An idea seizes him.]

MARY

What is it?

JOHN

Can't be helped, I said. It's the very thing
that can be helped.

MARY

Can be helped, John? Whatever do you
mean?

JOHN

I mean he'd no right to stop me catching
that train. I've got the crystal, and I'll
catch it yet!

MARY

O, John, that's what you said you wouldn't
do.

JOHN

No. I said I'd do nothing to alter the past.
And I won't. I'm too content, Mary. But
this can't alter it. This is nothing.

MARY

What were you going to catch the train
for, John?

JOHN

For London. I wasn't at the office then.
It was a business appointment. There was a
man who had promised to get me a job, and
I was going up to . . .

MARY

John, it may alter your whole life!

JOHN

Now do listen, Mary, do listen. He never
turned up. I got a letter from him apologising
to me before I posted mine to him. It
turned out he never meant to help me, mere
meaningless affabilities. He never came to
London that day at all. I should have taken
the next train back. That can't affect the
future.

MARY

N-no, John. Still, I don't like it.

JOHN

What difference could it make?

MARY

N-n-no.

JOHN

Think how we met. We met at ARCHIE's
wedding. I take it one has to go to one's
brother's wedding. It would take a pretty
big change to alter that. And. you were her
bridesmaid. We were bound to meet. And
having once met, well, there you are. If we'd
met by chance, in a train, or anything like
that, well, then I admit some little change
might alter it. But when we met at ARCHIE's
wedding and you were her bridesmaid, why,
Mary, it's a cert. Besides, I believe in
predestination. It was our fate; we couldn't
have missed it.

MARY

No, I suppose not; still . .

JOHN

Well, what?

MARY

I don't like it.

JOHN

O, Mary, I have so longed to catch that
infernal train. Just think of it, annoyed on
and off for ten years by the eight-fifteen.

MARY

I'd rather you didn't, John.

JOHN

But why?

MARY

O, John, suppose there's a railway
accident? You might be killed, and we should
never meet.

JOHN

There wasn't.

MARY

There wasn't, John? What do you mean?

JOHN

There wasn't an accident to the eight-fifteen.
It got safely to London just ten years ago.

MARY

Why, nor there was.

JOHN

You see how groundless your fears are.
I shall catch that train, and all the rest will
happen the same as before. Just think
Mary, all those old days again. I wish I
could take you with me. But you soon will
be. But just think of the old days coming
back again. Hampton Court again and Kew,
and Richmond Park again with all the May.
And that bun you bought, and the corked
ginger-beer, and those birds singing and the
'bus past Isleworth. O, Mary, you wouldn't
grudge me that?

MARY

Well, well then all right, John.

JOHN

And you will remember there wasn't an
accident, won't you?

MARY [resignedly, sadly]

O, yes, John. And you won't try to get
rich or do anything silly, will you?

JOHN

No, Mary. I only want to catch that
train. I'm content with the rest. The same
things must happen, and they must lead me
the same way, to you, Mary. Good night,
now, dear.

MARY

Good night?

JOHN

I shall stay here on the sofa holding the
crystal and thinking. Then I'll have a
biscuit and start at seven.

MARY

Thinking, John? What about?

JOHN

Getting it clear in my mind what I want
to do. That one thing and the rest the same.
There must be no mistakes.

MARY [sadly]

Good night, John.

JOHN

Have supper ready at eleven.

MARY

Very well, John.
[Exit.]

JOHN [on the sofa, after a moment or two]

I'll catch that infernal train in spite of him.

[He takes the crystal and closes it up in
the palm of his left hand.]

I wish to go back ten years, two weeks and
a day, at, at--8.10 a.m. to-morrow; 8.10 a.m.
to-morrow, 8.10.

[Re-enter MARY in doorway.]

MARY

John! John! You are sure he did get
his fifty pounds?

JOHN

Yes. Didn't he come to thank me for the
money?

MARY

You are sure it wasn't ten shillings?

JOHN

Cater paid him, I didn't.

MARY

Are you sure that Cater didn't give him
ten shillings?

JOHN

It's the sort of silly thing Cater would have
done!

MARY

O, John!

JOHN

Hmm.

Curtain

SCENE 3

Scene: As in Act I, Scene 1.
Time. Ten years ago.

BERT

'Ow goes it, Bill?

BILL

Goes it? 'Ow d'yer think it goes?

BERT

I don't know, Bill. 'Ow is it?

BILL

Bloody.

BERT

Why, what's wrong?

BILL

Wrong? Nothing ain't wrong.

BERT

What's up, then?

BILL

Nothing ain't right.

BERT

Why, wot's the worry?

BILL

Wot's the worry? They don't give you
better wages nor a dog, and then they thinks
they can talk at yer and talk at yer, and say
wot they likes, like.

BERT

Why? You been on the carpet, Bill?

BILL

Ain't I! Proper.

BERT

Why? Wot about, Bill?

BILL

Wot about? I'll tell yer. Just coz I let
a lidy get into a train. That's wot about.
Said I ought to 'av stopped 'er. Thought the
train was moving. Thought it was dangerous.
Thought I tried to murder 'er, I suppose.

BERT

Wot? The other day?

BILL

Yes.

BERT?

Tuesday?

BILL

Yes.

BERT

Why? The one that dropped her bag?

BILL

Yes. Drops 'er bag. Writes to the
company. They writes back she shouldn't 'av
got in. She writes back she should. Then
they gets on to me. Any more of it and I'll. . .

BERT

I wouldn't, Bill; don't you.

BILL

I will.

BERT

Don't you, Bill. You've got your family
to consider.

BILL

Well, anyway, I won't let any more of
them passengers go jumping into trains any
more, not when they're moving, I won't.
When the train gets in, doors shut. That's
the rule, and they'll have to abide by it.

[Enter JOHN BEAL.]

BILL [touching his hat]
Good morning, sir.

[JOHN does not answer, but walks to the
door between them.]

Carry your bag, sir?

JOHN

Go to hell!

[Exit through door.]

BILL

Ullo.

BERT

Somebody's been getting at 'im.

BILL

Well, I never did. Why, I knows the young
feller.

BERT

Pleasant spoken, ain't 'e, as a rule?

BILL

Never knew 'im like this.

BERT

You ain't bin sayin' nothing to 'im, 'ave
yer?

BILL

Never in my life.

BERT

Well, I never.

BILL

'Ad some trouble o' some kind.

BERT

Must 'ave.

[Train is heard.]

BILL

Ah, 'ere she is. Well, as I was saying . . .

Curtain

SCENE 4

In a second-class railway carriage.

Time: Same morning as Scene 1, Act I.

Noise, and a scene drawn past the
windows. The scene, showing a
momentary glimpse of fair English hills, is
almost entirely placards, "GIVE HER
BOVRIL," "GIVE HER OXO,"
alternately, for ever.

Occupants, JOHN BEAL, a girl, a man.

All sit in stoical silence like the two
images near Luxor. The man has the
window seat, and therefore the right of
control over the window.

MIRALDA CLEMENT

Would you mind having the window open?

THE MAN IN THE CORNER [shrugging his
shoulders in a shivery way]

Er--certainly. [Meaning he does not mind.
He opens the window.]

MIRALDA CLEMENT

Thank you so much.

MAN IN THE CORNER

Not at all. [He does not mean to contradict
her. Stoical silence again.]

MIRALDA CLEMENT

Would you mind having it shut now? I
think it is rather cold.

MAN IN THE CORNER

Certainly.

[He shuts it. Silence again.]

MIRALDA CLEMENT

I think I'd like the window open again now
for a bit. It is rather stuffy, isn't it?

MAN IN THE CORNER

Well, I think it's very cold.

MIRALDA CLEMENT

O, do you? But would you mind opening
it for me?

MAN IN THE CORNER

I'd much rather it was shut, if you don't
mind.

[She sighs, moves her hands slightly, and
her pretty face expresses the resignation of
the Christian martyr in the presence of
lions. This for the benefit of John.]

JOHN

Allow me, madam.

[He leans across the window's rightful
owner, a bigger man than he, and opens his
window.

MAN IN THE CORNER shrugs his shoulders
and, quite sensibly, turns to his paper.]

MIRALDA

O, thank you so much.

JOHN

Don't mention it.

[Silence again.]

VOICES OF PORTERS [Off]

Fan Kar, Fan Kar.

[MAN IN THE CORNER gets out.]

MIRALDA

Could you tell me where this is?

JOHN

Yes. Elephant and Castle.

MIRALDA

Thank you so much. It was kind of you to
protect me from that horrid man. He wanted
to suffocate me.

JOHN

O, very glad to assist you, I'm sure. Very
glad.

MIRALDA

I should have been afraid to have done it in
spite of him. It was splendid of you.

JOHN

O, that was nothing.

MIRALDA

O, it was, really.

JOHN

Only too glad to help you in any little way.

MIRALDA

It was so kind of you.

JOHN

O, not at all.

[Silence for a bit.]

MIRALDA

I've nobody to help me.

JOHN

Er, er, haven't you really?

MIRALDA

No, nobody.

JOHN

I'd be very glad to help you in any little
way.

MIRALDA

I wonder if you could advise me.

JOHN

I--I'd do my best.

MIRALDA

You see, I have nobody to advise me.

JOHN

No, of course not.

MIRALDA

I live with my aunt, and she doesn't
understand. I've no father or mother.

JOHN

O, er, er, really?

MIRALDA

No. And an uncle died and he left me a
hundred thousand pounds.

JOHN

Really?

MIRALDA

Yes. He didn't like me. I think he did it
out of contrariness as much as anything.
He was always like that to me.

JOHN

Was he? Was he really?

MIRALDA

Yes. It was invested at twenty-five per
cent. He never liked me. Thought I was
too--I don't know what.

JOHN

No.

MIRALDA

That was five years ago, and I've never got
a penny of it.

JOHN

Really. But, but that's not right.

MIRALDA [sadly]

No.

JOHN

Where's it invested?

MIRALDA

In Al Shaldomir.

JOHN

Where's that?

MIRALDA

I don't quite know. I never was good at
geography. I never quite knew where Persia
ends.

JOHN

And what kind of an investment was it?

MIRALDA

There's a pass in some mountains that they
can get camels over, and a huge toll is levied
on everything that goes by; that is the custom
of the tribe that lives there, and I believe
the toll is regularly collected.

JOHN

And who gets it?

MIRALDA

The chief of the tribe. He is called Ben
Hussein. But my uncle lent him all this

Book of the day: