Part 2 out of 3
BISHOP [behind table, rising]. Ah! Well, Martha!--No, no, no, if
you please! [He restrains her approach.] Observe the retribution
of an unchastened will. You have never seen my face for sixteen
years! However, like a cloud, I blot out your transgressions from
And so this is your husband ?--Not a word, sir; not a single
word!--the sausages were delicious, and your place has been most
agreeably occupied by your brother!
VICAR. My brother! Then you . . . What do you mean?
BISHOP [testily]. I mean what I say, sir! Your brother, _my_
brother, _our_ brother here, of course, our Oriental brother!
AUNTIE. James, you are making a mistake: this is our new
butler--our _Indian_ butler.
BISHOP. Your Indian--WHAT?
[He stands cogitating horribly until the end of the act, facing
AUNTIE. What has made him like this? He seems possessed!
MANSON. He is! . . .
I have just been having some trouble with _another_ devil, ma'am.
AUNTIE. Meaning, of course . . . What has become of him?
MANSON [with his eye]. _He_ is cast out forever.
AUNTIE. Where is he now?
MANSON. He walks through dry places seeking--[he probes her
AUNTIE. Manson! This is your doing! Oh, you have saved us!
MANSON. I am trying to, ma'am; but, God knows, you make it rather
[A change comes over her face, as the curtain slowly falls.]
THE THIRD ACT
As the curtain rises, the scene and situation remain unchanged; but
attention now centres in the Bishop, who appears to be struggling
apoplectically for speech.
BISHOP [bursting]. Before we proceed a step further, I have a most
extraordinary request to make! The fact is, you interrupted me in
the middle of a most engrossing spiritual discussion with my . . .
that is to say, with your . . . in short, with that person
standing over there! My request is, that I be permitted a few
minutes further conversation with him--alone, and at once!
ALL. ) With Manson! . . .
MANSON. ) With me! . . .
BISHOP. Not a word! I know my request will appear singular--most
singular! But I assure you it is most necessary. The peace, the
security of a human soul depends upon it! Come, sir! Where shall
MANSON. Have I your permission, ma'am
AUNTIE. Certainly; but it is most extraordinary!
MANSON [crossing]. Then I think this way, my lord, in the
drawing-room . . . [He leads the way.]
BISHOP [following]. And you may be sure, my good fellow, I will
give anything--I say, anything--to remedy your misapprehensions!
[They go into the drawing-room, right, MANSON holding the door for
the other to pass.]
VICAR. Martha! It's no use! I can't do it!
AUNTIE [preoccupied]. Can't do what, William?
VICAR. Behave towards that man like a Christian! He stirs some
nameless devil like murder in my heart! I want to clutch him by
the throat, as I would some noisome beast, and strangle him!
AUNTIE [slowly]. He is greatly changed!
VICAR. It is you who have changed, Martha. You see him now with
AUNTIE. Do I? I wonder! . . .
VICAR. After all, why should we invite him here? Why should we be
civil to him? What possible kinship can there be between us? As
for his filthy money--how did he scrape it together? How did he
come by it? . . .
AUNTIE. Yes, William, that's true, but the opportunity of turning
it to God's service . . .
VICAR. Do you think any blessing is going to fall upon a church
whose every stone is reeking with the bloody sweat and anguish of
the human creatures whom the wealth of men like that has driven to
despair? Shall we base God's altar in the bones of harlots,
plaster it up with the slime of sweating-dens and slums, give it
over for a gaming-table to the dice of gamblers and of thieves?
AUNTIE. Why will you exaggerate, my dear?--It is not as bad as
that. Why don't you compose yourself and try and be contented
VICAR. How can I be happy, and that man poisoning the air I
AUNTIE. You are not always like this, dear! . . .
VICAR. Happy! How can I be happy, and my brother Robert what I
have made him!
AUNTIE. We are not talking of Robert: we are talking of _you_!
Think of our love, William--our great and beautiful love! Isn't
that something to make you happy?
VICAR. Our love? It's well you mention it. That question had
better be faced, too! Our love! Well, what of it? What is love?
AUNTIE. Oh, William, you _know_ . . .
VICAR. Is love a murderer? Does love go roaming about the world
like Satan, to slay men's souls?
AUNTIE. Oh, now you're exaggerating again! What do you mean?
VICAR. I mean my brother Robert! What has love done for him?
AUNTIE. Oh, Robert, Robert--I'm sick to death of Robert! Why
can't you think of yourself?
VICAR. Well, I will! What has love done for me?
AUNTIE. William! . . .
[The slightest pause. The scene takes on another complexion.]
VICAR. Do you remember that day when I first came to you and told
you of my love? Did I lie to you? Did I try to hide things? Did
I despise my birth? Did _you_?
AUNTIE. No, no, William, I loved you: I told you so.
VICAR. Did you mind the severance from your family because of me?
AUNTIE. Didn't I always say that I was proud to be able to give up
so much for you, William? . . .
VICAR. Yes, and then what followed? Having given up so much for
me, what followed?
AUNTIE. My dear, circumstances were too strong for us! Can't you
see? _You_ were not made to live out your life in any little odd
hole and corner of the world! There was your reputation, your
fame: you began to be known as an author, a scholar, a wonderful
preacher-- All this required position, influence, social prestige.
You don't think I was ambitious for myself: it was for you.
VICAR. For _me_--yes! And how do you imagine I have benefited by
all your scheming, your contriving, your compromising, your . . .
AUNTIE. In the way I willed! I am glad of it! I worked for
that--_and I won_! . . .
Well, what are you troubling about now?
VICAR [slowly]. I am thinking of the fact that there has been no
child to bless our marriage, Martha--that is, no child of our very
own, no child whose love we have not stolen.
AUNTIE. My dear . . .
VICAR. We have spoken about it sometimes, haven't we? Or,
AUNTIE. William, why will you think of these things?
VICAR. In those first days, dearest, I brought you two children of
our own to cherish, little unborn souls crying for you to mother
them-- You have fostered only the one. That one is called the
Scholar. Shall I tell you the name of the other?
AUNTIE [after a moment]. Yes . . .
VICAR. I hardly know: I hardly dare to name him, but perhaps it
AUNTIE. What I have done, William, has been done for love of
you--you only--you only in the world!
VICAR. Yes: that's what I _mean_!
[The thought troubles her for a moment; then she paces up and down
in agitated rebellion.]
AUNTIE. No! I can't believe it! I can't think that love is as
wrong as you say!
VICAR. Love is a spirit of many shapes and shadows: a spirit of
fire and darkness--a minister of heaven and hell: Sometimes I think
the very damned know love--in a way. It can inform men's souls
with the gladness of high archangels, or possess them with the
despair of devils!
[She suddenly stands still, struck by the echo in his last phrase.]
AUNTIE. I was wondering . . .
Wondering what Manson meant just now.
AUNTIE. When he spoke about your brother Robert.
VICAR. I think he made it clear. He said we were--rid of him
AUNTIE [thoughtfully]. Ye-es . . .
William, I begin to fear that man.
AUNTIE. No, Manson.
[Re-enter MANSON from door, right. He carries a five-pound note in
MANSON. His lordship will be glad to see you.
AUNTIE. Very well, Manson. Why, what have you there?
MANSON. A remedy for misapprehension, ma'am.
AUNTIE. It's a five-pound note.
AUNTIE. Come, William.
[She goes to the drawing-room door, her head anxiously turned
VICAR [at the door]. What are we going to do, Martha?
AUNTIE. I don't know: God help me, I can't see the way!
[They both go out, MANSON watching them. He then moves up to the
fire, and burns the five-pound note. He watches the flames leap up
as he speaks.]
MANSON. _Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth
deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother: thou
slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done,
and I kept silence: thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an
one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order
before thine eyes_. [Footnote: Psalms 1. 19-21]
[He comes down to the middle of the room. MARY enters eagerly.
Seeing him alone, she gives a little cry of gladness.]
MARY. Oh, how jolly! Where are they?
MANSON. In the next room.
MARY. Ah! AH!
[She comes to his out-stretched arms. He folds her to his heart,
facing the audience.]
[Looking up into his face.] Isn't it a great secret? What shall I
call you, now we are alone?
MANSON. Ssh! They may hear you!
MARY. If I whisper . . .
MANSON. They are very near! . . .
[Disengaging himself.] I must be about my business. Is this the
bell to the kitchen?
MARY. Yes. Let me help you.
[MANSON having rung the bell, they begin to remove the breakfast
things. MARY employs herself with the crumb-scoop.]
If auntie and uncle could see me now! If they only knew! I've
kept the secret: I've told nobody! . . .
These will do for the birds. Look, I'll take them now. [She
throws the crumbs out of the French windows.] Poor little mites!
[She returns to the table.]
MANSON. You are fond of the birds?
MARY. Just love them! Don't you?
MANSON, They are my very good friends. Now, take the cassock.
Fold it up and put it on the chair.
[ROGERS enters whilst he gives this command.]
ROGERS. Well, I'm . . .
'Owever, it's no business of mine!
MARY [brightly]. What's up with you, Rogers?
ROGERS [with reservation]. Nuthin', miss. [He fetches the tray.]
MARY. Then why look so solemn?
ROGERS [lugubriously]. Ain't lookin' solemn, miss.
MANSON. Hold up the tray, Rogers.
ROGERS. _Am_ 'oldin' it up, Mr. Manson. MARY [loading him up].
I'm sure there is something the matter!
ROGERS. Well, since you arsk me, miss, it's the goin's on in this
'ouse! I never see such a complicyted mass of mysteries and
improbabilities in my life! I shall 'av' to give in my notice!
MARY. Oh, Rogers, that would be dreadful! Why?
MANSON. Now the cloth, Mary . . .
ROGERS. Cos why? _That's_ why!--What you're doin' now! I likes
people to keep their proper stytion! I was brought up
middle-clarss myself, an' taught to be'ave myself before my
betters!--No offence to you, Mr. Manson! [He says this with a jib,
belying his words.]
MARY. Nonsense, Rogers! I like helping.
ROGERS. My poor farver taught me. 'E led a godly, righteous, an'
sober life. 'E was a grocer.
MANSON. Come, Rogers. Take them to the kitchen.
[ROGERS obeys with some asperity of mien. At the door he delivers
a Parthian shot.]
ROGERS. If my poor farver could see what I've seen to-day, 'e
would roll over in 'is grave!
[MANSON opens the door for him. He goes.]
MARY [gayly]. Isn't he funny? Just because his silly old
father . . .
MANSON. Ssh! His father's _dead_, Mary!
[There is a sudden pause. He comes down to her.]
Well, have you thought any more about . . .
MARY. About wishing?--Yes, lots.
MANSON. And have you? . . .
MARY. I don't know what to think. You see, I never believed
properly in wishing before. Wishing is a dreadfully difficult
thing, when you really set about it, isn't it?
MARY. You see, ordinary things won't do: they're all wrong,
somehow. You'd feel a bit of a sneak to wish for them, wouldn't
MARY. Even if you got them, you wouldn't care, after all. They'd
all turn to dust and ashes in your hand.
That last bit is what Grannie Durden said.
MANSON. Who's she?
MARY. She's the poor old woman I've been having breakfast with.
Do you know, she said a funny thing about wishing. I must tell you
first that she's quite blind and very deaf-- Well, she's been
wishing ever so long to see and hear; and at last she says she can!
MANSON. What--see and hear? [He glances towards the drawing-room.]
MARY. Um! I must say, I didn't notice any difference myself; but
that's what she said.
She agreed with you, that wishing was the only way; and if you
didn't know how, then you had to keep on wishing to wish, until you
MANSON. And so . . .
MARY. Well, that's as far as I've got.
MANSON. Yes, what is it, Rogers?
ROGERS. Cook's compliments, Mr. Manson, and might she make so bold
as to request your presence in the kitchen, seein' as she's 'ad no
orders for lunch yet. O' course, she says, it will do when you've
_quite_ finished any private business you may 'av' in the upper
part of the 'ouse!
[He delivers this with distinct hauteur. MANSON, smiling, goes up
to him and takes his head in his hands.]
MANSON. Why do you dislike me so, Rogers?
ROGERS [taken aback]. Me? Me dislike you, Mr. Manson? _Oh no_!
MANSON. Come along, little comrade.
[They go out like brothers, MANSON'S arm round the lad's shoulders.]
[MARY is left seated on the table, chuckling at the situation.
Suddenly her face becomes serious again: she is lost in thought.
After a while she speaks softly to herself.]
MARY. What have I needed most? What have I not had? . . . Oh! I
know! . . .
[Her face flames with the sudden inspiration.]
And I never dreamed of it till now!
[ROBERT enters by the main door. The child turns round, and,
seeing him, gives a startled little cry. They stand facing each
other, silent. Presently ROBERT falters.]
ROBERT. Beg pawdon, miss: I . . .
MARY. Who are you? What are you doing here?
ROBERT. I'm . . .
I was goin' ter see what's--what's in that room . . .
MARY. If you do, I'll . . .
[She moves swiftly to the bell.]
ROBERT. It's a mistake, miss. P'r'aps I'd--I'd better tek my 'ook.
MARY. Stop! . . .
How dare you! Don't you know you're a very wicked man?
ROBERT. Me, miss?
MARY. Yes, you.
ROBERT. Yus, I know it.
MARY [trying to save the sinner]. That isn't the way to be happy,
you know. Thieves are never _really_ happy in their hearts.
ROBERT. Wot's that? . . .
Do you tike me for a thief, miss? You? . . .
[He advances to the table: she edges away.]
Why don't you arnser?
MARY. I had rather not say.
ROBERT. Cos why?
MARY. I don't want to be unkind.
[ROBERT sinks stricken into the chair behind him.]
ROBERT, Oh, my Gawd, my Gawd!
MARY [relenting]. Of course, if--if you're sorry, that makes a
difference. Being sorry makes a lot of difference. Doesn't it?
ROBERT. Yus, a fat lot!
MARY. Only you must never give way to such a wicked temptation
again. Oh, don't cry! [She goes to him.]
ROBERT. Oo is cryin'? I'm not cryin'--not a cryin' sort!
On'y--you 'adn't no right to talk to me like that, miss.
MARY. Why, didn't you own . . .
ROBERT. No, I didn't. It was you as jumped down my throat, an'
took up my words afore I got 'em out.
MARY. Oh: I'm sorry. Did I make a mistake?
ROBERT. Yus, miss--a whopper.
MARY. Then you're not a . . .
ROBERT. _No_, swelp me Gaw-- [He pulls himself up.] I assure
you, no. I'm a bit of a low un; but I never come so stinkin' low
You thought I looked like one, all the same. Didn't yer, now?
MARY. Well, you see, I thought you said so; and then there's your
. . .
ROBERT. I know! You don't like my mug. It ain't much of a mug to
look at, is it? Sort of a physog for a thief, eh? See them
lines?--Want to know what them stand for? That's drink, an'
starvation, an' 'ard work, an' a damned lonely life.
MARY. Oh, you poor man!
ROBERT. Yus, miss, I am.
MARY. You mustn't say "damned," you know.
ROBERT. No, miss.
MARY. _That's_ wicked, at any rate.
ROBERT. Yus, miss.
MARY. And you owned yourself that you drank. That's not very
ROBERT. No, miss.
MARY. So, you see, you _are_ a little bit naughty, after all,
ROBERT. Yus, miss.
MARY. Now, isn't it much nicer for you to try and look at things
in this way? I'm sure you feel a great deal better already.
Do you know-- Wait a moment . . .
[She resumes her seat, turning it towards him, the passion of
salvation in her eyes.]
Do you know, I'd like to do you some good!
ROBERT. You, miss?
MARY. Yes, wouldn't you like me to?
ROBERT. You're the on'y person in the world I'd--I'd like to see
MARY [glad in the consciousness of "being used"]. That's because
you know I'm interested in you, that I mean it, that I'm not trying
to think only of myself.
ROBERT [a little stupidly]. Aren't you, miss?
MARY. No: we must always remember that there are other people in
the world besides ourselves.
[This coincides with his experience: he says so.]
ROBERT. Yus, miss, there are.
MARY. Very well: now I'll see what I can do to help you.
ROBERT. Thank you, miss.
MARY. Now, don't you think, if you were really _to wish_ very
hard, it would make things better for you?
ROBERT. I don't know what you mean, miss.
MARY. Well, it's like this: if you only wish very very hard,
everything comes true.
ROBERT. Wot _I_ want, ain't no use wishing for!
MARY. It doesn't matter what it is! Anything you like! It will
ROBERT. Blimey, wot's the good o' talkin'?
MARY. Oh, wouldn't you like to help to spin the fairy-tale?
ROBERT [roughly], I don't believe in no fairy-tales!
MARY. I do! I don't believe there's anything else in the world,
if we only knew! And that's why I'm wishing! I'm wishing now!
I'm wishing hard!
ROBERT [passionately]. So am I, Gawd 'elp me! But it's no use!
MARY. It is! It is! What are you wishing for?
ROBERT. Never you mind! Summat as impossible as--fairy-tales!
MARY. So's mine! That's what it has to be! Mine's the most
impossible thing in the world!
ROBERT. Not more than mine!
MARY. What's yours?
ROBERT. What's yours?
MARY. _I want my father_!
ROBERT. I WANT MY LITTLE KID!
[There is a second's pause.]
MARY. Your--what? . . .
ROBERT [brokenly]. My--daughter.
MARY. Oh! . . .
[She goes towards him: they face each other.]
[Softly.] Is she dead?
[He stands looking at her.]
[He turns away from her.]
ROBERT. Fur as I am concerned--yus.
MARY. What do you mean? _Isn't_ she dead?
ROBERT. She's alive, right enough.
MARY. Perhaps--perhaps she ran away? . . .
ROBERT. She got took.
MARY. How do you mean--gypsies?
ROBERT. I _give_ 'er up. 'Ad to.
ROBERT. Look at me! . . .
_That_--an' the drink, an' the low wages, an' my ole woman dyin'!
That's why I give 'er up.
MARY. Where is she now?
ROBERT. Never you mind. She's bein' looked arfter.
MARY. By whom?
ROBERT. By people as I've allus 'ated like poison!
MARY. Why, aren't they kind to her?
ROBERT. Yus: they've made 'er summat, as I couldn't 'a' done.
MARY. Then why do you hate them ?
ROBERT. I don't any longer. I 'ates myself, I 'ates the world I
live in, I 'ates the bloomin' muck 'ole I've landed into!
MARY. Your wife's dead, you say?
MARY. What would she think about it all?
ROBERT [hollowly, without variation]. I don't know: I don't know:
I don't know.
[MARY sits down beside him.]
MARY [thoughtfully]. Isn't it strange--both our wishes alike! You
want your little girl; and I, my father!
ROBERT. What sort of a . . .
ROBERT. What sort of a bloke might your father be, miss?
MARY. I don't know. I have never seen him.
ROBERT. Got no idea? Never--'eard _tell_ of 'im?
ROBERT. 'Aven't thought of 'im yourself, I s'pose? Wasn't
particular worth while, eh?
MARY. It's not that. I've been selfish. I never thought anything
about him until to-day.
ROBERT. What made you think of 'im--to-day?
MARY. I can't quite say. At least . . .
ROBERT. Mebbe 'e wrote--sent a telingram or summat, eh?--t' say as
'e was comin'?
MARY [quickly]. Oh no: he never writes: we never hear from him.
That's perhaps a bit selfish of him, too, isn't it?
ROBERT [after a moment]. Looks like it, don't it?
MARY. But I don't think he can be really selfish, after all.
ROBERT [with a ray of brightness]. Cos why?
MARY. Because he must be rather like my Uncle William and Uncle
[He looks at her curiously.]
ROBERT. Like your . . .
MARY. Yes--they're his brothers, you know.
This is Uncle William's house.
ROBERT. Yes, but what do you know about. . .
MARY. About Uncle Joshua? Well, I happen to know a good deal more
than I can say. It's a secret.
ROBERT. S'pose your _Uncle William_ spoke to you about 'im?
MARY. Well, yes. Uncle William spoke about him, too.
ROBERT. But never about your father?
MARY. Oh no, never.
ROBERT. Why, miss?
MARY [slowly]. I--don't--know.
ROBERT. P'r'aps 'e ain't--good enough--to be--to be the brother of
your Uncle William--and-- Uncle--Joshua--eh, miss?
MARY. Oh, I can't think that!
ROBERT. Why not, miss? Three good brothers in a family don't
scarcely seem possible--not as families go--do they, miss?
MARY. You mustn't talk like that! A father must be much--much
better than anybody else!
ROBERT. But s'pose, miss--s'pose 'e ain't . . .
MARY. He is! I know it! Why, that's what I'm wishing! . . .
ROBERT. P'r'aps it ain't altogether 'is fault, miss! . . .
MARY. Oh, don't! Don't. . .
ROBERT. Things may 'a' bin agin 'im, miss! . . .
MARY. Oh, you make me so unhappy! . . .
ROBERT. P'r'aps 'e's 'ad a 'ard life--a bitter 'ard life--same as
I 'av', miss . . . [He breaks down.]
MARY. Ssh! Please! Please! . . .
I can quite understand: indeed, indeed, I can! I'm sorry--oh, so
sorry for you. You are thinking of yourself and of your own little
girl--the little girl who doesn't know what you have been telling
me. Don't be miserable! I'm sure it will all turn out right in
the end--things always do; far better than you dream! Only . . .
don't take away _my_ little dream!
[She turns away her face. ROBERT rises heavily.]
ROBERT. All right, miss--I won't: swelp me Gawd, I won't. Don't
cry, miss. Don't, miss! Breaks my 'eart--after all you've done
for me. I ort never to 'a' bin born--mekin' you cry! Thank you
kindly, miss: thank you very kindly. I'll--I'll tek my 'ook.
MARY. Oh, but I'm so sorry for _you_!
ROBERT. Thank you, miss.
MARY. I did so want to help you.
ROBERT. You 'av', miss.
MARY. Before you go, won't you tell me your name? Who are you?
ROBERT. I . . .
I got no name worth speakin' of, miss: I'm--just the bloke wot's
a-lookin' arter the drains.
[At the door, he turns.]
Sorry I used bad words, miss.
[She runs to him and offers her hand. He takes it.]
ROBERT. Good-bye, miss.
[He goes out.]
[She shuts the door after him, and turns a wretched little face
towards the audience as the curtain falls.]
THE FOURTH ACT
As the curtain rises, the scene and situation remain unchanged.
After a moment, Mary comes down to the settee, left, and buries her
face in the cushions, weeping. Shortly, the handle of the
drawing-room door is turned, and from within there emerges a murmur
of voices, the Vicar's uppermost.
VICAR [within]. Very well, then, after you have finished your
letters! . . .
[The voices continue confusedly: MARY rises quickly and goes into
[The VICAR enters and goes to the mantel-piece weariedly: a moment
BISHOP [within], I shall only be about twenty minutes.
AUNTIE [entering]. All right, don't hurry, James: you have all the
[She closes the door upon the BISHOP'S grunts, and comes, to the
middle of the room.]
VICAR. Hm! When he has finished his letters!
AUNTIE. Yes, things seem to be shaping better than we thought,
William. Perhaps we have a little misjudged him.
[He looks at her curiously.]
To think, my dear, that the rebuilding of the church is becoming
possible at last! All your hopes, all your enthusiasms, about to
be realised! Now, it only remains to gain your brother Joshua's
approval and help, and the scheme is complete!
VICAR. Supposing he--doesn't approve of the scheme?
AUNTIE. My dear, he must approve: he will see the advantages at
once. I think James made that perfectly clear! . . .
And then, look at the opportunities it creates for _you_! Not only
the church, William, the beautiful big church of your dreams, with
the great spires and flashing crosses and glorious windows; but a
much larger sphere of usefulness than you ever dared to dream!
Think of your work, William, of your great gifts--even James had to
acknowledge them, didn't he?--Think of the influence for good you
will be able to wield! Ah! And then I shall see my beloved,
_himself_ again--No more worry, no more feverish nights and days,
none of the wretched frets and fancies that have been troubling him
all this morning; but the great Scholar and Saint again, the master
of men's souls, the priest in the congregation!
VICAR. Suppose you try and forget me for a moment. Do you think
AUNTIE. William, that's unkind! Of course I can't.
VICAR. It might mean the salvation of my soul.
AUNTIE. Oh, William! Now you're going to begin to worry again!
VICAR. Oh no: I'm quite calm. Your brother's powers of reasoning
have left me philosophical. . . .
Tell me, are you quite sure that you have grasped the full meaning
of his project?
AUNTIE. Of course! You think no one can understand a simple
business dealing but men! Women are every bit as clever!
VICAR. Well, then, this project: what was it?
AUNTIE. James explained clearly enough: the affiliation of your
brother's scheme with that of the society he mentioned.
VICAR. Yes--_what_ society?
AUNTIE. _The Society for the Extension of Greater Usefulness among
the Clergy_. . . . It was an admirable suggestion--one that ought
to appeal particularly to you. Haven't you always said, yourself,
that if only you had enough money to . . .
VICAR. Did you happen to realise his explanation as to the
constitution of the society?
AUNTIE. To tell the truth, I wasn't listening just then: I was
thinking of you.
VICAR. The _financial_ possibilities of the scheme--Did his
eloquence on that point escape you?
AUNTIE. Figures always bore me, and James uses dreadfully long
VICAR. Did you hear nothing of _profits_?
AUNTIE. I only heard him say that you were to . . .
VICAR. Well, didn't it strike you that throughout the entire
discussion he spoke rather like a _tradesman_?
AUNTIE. My dear, you can't expect everybody to be an idealist!
Remember, he's a practical man: he's a bishop.
VICAR. Didn't it strike you that there are some things in this
world which are not to be bought at _any_ price?
AUNTIE. My dear William, bricks and mortar require money: you
can't run a society without funds!
VICAR. Yes, but what of flesh and blood? What of reputation?
What of a man's name?
AUNTIE. Whatever do you mean now?
VICAR. Didn't his proposal practically amount to this: that we
should turn my brother Joshua's name and reputation into a bogus
Building Society, of which the funds were to be scraped together
from all the naked bodies and the starving bellies of the world,
whilst _we_ and our thieving co-directors should collar all the
AUNTIE. Now, that's exactly where I think you are so unjust!
Didn't you yourself refuse, before he spoke a word, to let him put
a penny of his own into the concern? I must say, you were
unnecessarily rude to him about that, William!
VICAR. Yes, and didn't he jump at the suggestion!
AUNTIE. He offers to give his patronage, his influence, his time.
All he asks of your brother is his bare name.
VICAR. Yes, and all he asks of me is simply my eloquence, my gift
of words, my power of lying plausibly!
AUNTIE. William, he is offering you the opportunity of your life!
VICAR. Damnation take my life!
AUNTIE. William, why are you so violent?
VICAR. Because violence is the only way of coming to the truth
between you and me!
AUNTIE [now thoroughly afraid]. What do you mean by the truth,
VICAR. I mean this: What is the building of this church to you?
Are you so mightily interested in architecture, in clerical
_usefulness_, in the furtherance of God's work?
AUNTIE. I am interested in your work, William. Do you take me for
VICAR. No: far worse--for an idolater!
AUNTIE. William . . .
VICAR. What else but idolatry is this precious husband-worship you
have set up in your heart--you and all the women of your kind? You
barter away your own souls in the service of it: you build up your
idols in the fashion of your own respectable desires: you struggle
silently amongst yourselves, one against another, to push your own
god foremost in the miserable little pantheon of prigs and
hypocrites you have created!
AUNTIE [roused]. It is for your own good we do it!
VICAR. Our own good! What have you made of me? You have plucked
me down from whatever native godhead I had by gift of heaven, and
hewed and hacked me into the semblance of your own idolatrous
imagination! By God, it shall go on no longer! If you have made
me less than a man, at least I will prove myself to be a priest!
AUNTIE. Do you call it a priest's work to . . .
VICAR. It is _my_ work to deliver you and me from the bondage of
lies! Can't you see, woman, that God and Mammon are about us,
fighting for our souls?
AUNTIE [determinedly]. Listen to me, William, listen to me . . .
VICAR. I have listened to you too long!
AUNTIE. You would always take my counsel before . . .
VICAR. All that is done with! I am resolved to be a free man from
this hour--free of lies, free of love if needs be, free even of
you, free of everything that clogs and hinders me in the work I
have to do! I will do my own deed, not yours!
AUNTIE [with deadly quietness]. If I were not certain of one
thing, I could never forgive you for those cruel words: William,
this is some madness of sin that has seized you: it is the
temptation of the devil!
VICAR. It is the call of God!
AUNTIE [still calmly]. That's blasphemy, William! But I will save
you--yes, I will--in spite of yourself. I am stronger than you.
[They look at each other steadily for a moment, neither yielding,]
VICAR. Then I accept the challenge! It is God and I against you,
AUNTIE. God and I against _you_, William.
VICAR. So now--for my work!
AUNTIE [quietly]. Yes: what are you going to do?
VICAR. Three things.
AUNTIE. Yes--and they? . . .
VICAR. Tell Mary everything: send for my brother, Robert: and
then--answer that monster in there.
AUNTIE [fearfully]. William, you would never dare! . . .
VICAR. Look! . . .
[MARY re-enters from the garden.]
MARY. Auntie! Uncle! I want to speak to you at once--both of you!
VICAR. You are just in time: I wanted to speak to _you_ at once.
MARY. Is it important, uncle? Mine's dreadfully important.
VICAR. So is mine.
AUNTIE [quickly]. Let the child speak, William. Perhaps . . .
MARY. I hardly know how to begin. Perhaps it's only my cowardice.
Perhaps it isn't really dreadful, after all . . .
AUNTIE [troubled]. Why, what are you thinking of, Mary?
MARY. It's about something we have never spoken of before;
something I've never been told.
VICAR [searchingly]. Yes? . . .
AUNTIE [falteringly]. Yes? . . .
MARY. I want to know about my father.
[There is a short silence. The VICAR looks at AUNTIE.]
VICAR. Now: is God with you or me, Martha?
MARY. What do you mean by that? Is it very terrible, uncle?
[He stands silent, troubled. MARY crosses him, going to AUNTIE.]
Auntie . . .
AUNTIE. Don't ask me, child: I have nothing to tell you about your
MARY. Why, isn't he . . .
AUNTIE. I have nothing to tell you.
VICAR. I have.
AUNTIE. William! . . .
VICAR. I have, I say! Come, sit here, Mary.
[She sits to left of him, on the settee. AUNTIE is down stage on
the other side of him.]
Now! What do you want to know about your father?
MARY [passionately]. Everything there is to know!
AUNTIE. William, this is brutal! . . .
VICAR. It is _my work_, Martha!--God's work! Haven't I babbled in
the pulpit long enough about fatherhood and brotherhood, that I
should shirk His irony when He takes me at my word!
Now: what put this thought into your head to-day?
MARY. I don't know. I've been puzzling about something all the
morning; but there was nothing clear. It only came clear a few
minutes ago--just before I went into the garden. But I think it
must have begun quite early--before breakfast, when I was talking
to my--to Manson,
AUNTIE. Manson! . . .
MARY. And then, all of a sudden, as I was sitting there by the
fireplace, _it came_--all in a flash, you understand! I found
myself wishing for my father: wondering why I had never seen him:
despising myself that I had never thought of him before.
VICAR. Well, what then?
MARY. I tried to picture him to myself. I imagined all that he
must be. I thought of you. Uncle William, and Uncle Joshua, and
of all the good and noble men I had ever seen or heard of in my
life; but still--that wasn't quite like a father, was it? I
thought a father must be much, much better than anything else in
the world! He must be brave, he must be beautiful, he must be
good! I kept on saying it over and over to myself like a little
song: he must be brave, he must be beautiful, he must be good!
[Anxiously.] That's true of fathers, isn't it, uncle? Isn't it?
VICAR. A father ought to be all these things.
MARY. And then . . . then . . .
VICAR. Yes? . . .
MARY. I met a man, a poor miserable man--it still seems like a
dream, the way I met him--and he said something dreadful to me,
something that hurt me terribly. He seemed to think that my
father--that perhaps my father--might be nothing of the sort!
AUNTIE. Why, who was he--the man?
MARY. He wouldn't tell me his name: I mistook him for a thief at
first; but afterwards I felt very, very sorry for him. You see,
his case was rather like my own. _He was wishing for his little
[There is a short silence.]
VICAR. Where did you meet with him?
MARY. Here, in this room.
AUNTIE. When was this?
MARY. A few minutes ago--just before you came in.
AUNTIE. Where is he now?
MARY. He said good-bye. He has gone away.
AUNTIE. For good?
MARY. Yes, I think so: I understood him to mean that.
VICAR. Was he--a rough-looking man?
MARY. Dreadfully; and he swore once--but afterwards he said he was
sorry for that.
VICAR. Did he frighten you at all?
MARY. No, not exactly frighten: you see, I felt sorry for him.
VICAR [slowly]. _And he wouldn't tell you his name_? . . .
MARY. No: I asked him, but he wouldn't.
[The VICAR ponders this for a moment.]
AUNTIE. Now, is it God with you or with me, William?
[For a moment this unnerves him. Then setting his teeth together,
he faces his task stubbornly.]
VICAR. Have you any idea about this man?
MARY. How do you mean--any idea?
VICAR. As to why he put this doubt into your head about your
MARY. He seemed to be thinking about himself, and how unworthy he
was of his own little girl.
VICAR. Did he say--unworthy?
MARY. That's what I think he meant. What he said was that perhaps
my father wasn't good enough to be your brother, uncle. That's not
true, is it?
VICAR. No, by Heaven! That's not true!
MARY [rapturously]. Oh, I knew it, I knew it!
VICAR [in an agony]. Stop! You don't understand!
MARY. I understand quite enough! That's all I wanted to know!
VICAR. Listen, child! Listen! I mean that it is I who am not
worthy to be called his brother.
AUNTIE. William, this is absurd!
MARY [snuggling up to him]. Isn't he a dear?
VICAR [freeing himself]. Listen to me, Mary: I have something
awful to tell you: try and bear it bravely. You will hate me for
it--never love me again! . . . No, listen! . . .
Supposing your father were--not what you imagine him to be? . . .
MARY. Uncle, didn't you just say . . .
VICAR. Supposing that wretched man you spoke with just now were
right, after all! What would you say?
MARY. Uncle! . . .
VICAR. Supposing he were one upon whom a11 the curses of the world
had been most cruelly visited--his poor body scarred and graven out
of human semblance; his soul the prey of hate and bitterness; his
immortal spirit tortured and twisted away from every memory of God!
What would you say?
MARY. Uncle, it would be terrible--terrible!
VICAR. What will you say, then, to the man who has brought him to
such ruin? What will you say to that man being God's priest? What
word of loathing have you for the thief who has stolen the love of
another man's child, for the murderer who has slain his brother's
MARY. Uncle, do you mean . . . do you mean . . .
VICAR. I mean that I am the man!
MARY. You! . . .
AUNTIE [passionately]. It is not true! It is a lie! It's
entirely your father's own fault!
MARY. I don't understand. Why should Uncle William lie to me?
AUNTIE. He is overwrought: he is ill. It is like your uncle
William to take upon himself another man's wickedness!
MARY. Then, _that_ is true, at least: my father is a wicked
man! . . .
AUNTIE. I don't want to speak about your father!
MARY. He is nothing that I have wished him to be: not _brave_ . . .
VICAR. Yes--_that_ at least!
MARY [turning towards him]. _Beautiful_? . . .
VICAR. What do you mean by beautiful?
MARY. You know what I mean: What you once said God was, when you
called _Him_ beautiful.
VICAR. I have no right to judge your father.
[She perceives the evasion.]
MARY. Not even--_good_? . . .
VICAR. He is what I have made him. I and no other!
[She stands looking at him piteously.]
AUNTIE. There is another--I! I kept them apart: I poisoned your
uncle against him: I took you away from him: It was I who kept you
in ignorance of your father!
MARY. Why? . . .
AUNTIE. Because he stands in the way of my husband's happiness!
Because, even, he is your father! Because I hate him! I could
almost _wish him dead_!
VICAR. Martha! . . .
[There is a long pause.]
MARY. Then I have nobody, now. It's no use wishing any more.
AUNTIE. Mary . . .
MARY. No! . . . I want to be alone.
[She goes out into the garden. They follow her out with their
VICAR. So! God has revealed His partisanship!--He has beggared us
[AUNTIE considers this for a moment. Then, with sudden
determination, she rises.]
AUNTIE. I am not going to be beggared without a struggle for it,
[She moves briskly across to the bell.]
VICAR. What are you going to do, Martha?
AUNTIE, [flashing round passionately, before she can ring the
bell]. Do you think I am going to stand by and see your life
wrecked--yours and that child's?
VICAR. We are not the only persons concerned, Martha.
AUNTIE. As far as I care, you are!
VICAR. And what of Robert? . . .
AUNTIE. Robert! That's what I'm going to see to now!
[She rings the bell.]
There's only one way of dealing with a brute like that!
VICAR. What's that?
AUNTIE. Pack him off to Australia, Africa--anywhere, so long as we
are never pestered with him again!
VICAR, Do you think you'll get him to go?
AUNTIE. Oh, I'll find the money! A drunkard like that will do
anything for money! Well, he shall have plenty: perhaps he'll
drink himself to . . .
VICAR. By Heaven, but I say no!
AUNTIE. By Heaven, but I say yes! It's about time I took things
in hand again! Do you think I'm going to risk that child learning
everything? She knows more than enough already! Providentially,
she does not know the worst!
VICAR. And what knowledge do you consider Providence has so kindly
AUNTIE. The knowledge who that man was! She shall never know, if
I can have my way! [She rings the bell again, impatiently.] Why
doesn't he come? Why doesn't he come?
[Enter MANSON by the main door. There is a subtle change in the
manner of him, a look in his eye, as of the servant merging in the
MANSON. You rang.
AUNTIE. Yes, come in, Manson. I want to have a little
confidential talk with you--confidential, you understand.
MANSON [eying her]. If you please. I expected this.
[He has the air of a judge. She hurries on, unheeding.]
AUNTIE. Manson, you saw everything. You were here when that
dreadful creature arrived.
AUNTIE. Why, my husband's brother, Robert. Didn't you tell me,
William, that Manson heard everything he said?
AUNTIE. Then you will know the wretched plight we are in. Manson,
it's terrible. I want your help. By-the-way, you have not spoken
about it to the other servants?
MANSON. I am always most discreet.
AUNTIE [touched]. Thank you, Manson, thank you: I felt that I
could trust you. It's to prove my trust that I've sent for you
now. Perhaps I'd better begin by explaining everything quite
clearly, so that you . . .
MANSON. There is no need. I know everything already.
AUNTIE, Everything! How? . . .
MANSON. A certain gift of divination--mine by birth. And,
besides, you forget that I had a long conversation with your
brother-in-law after master left the room.
AUNTIE. What! Whilst my brother was here?
MANSON. Yes: we all three had breakfast together.
AUNTIE. Breakfast together! Then James has heard all!
MANSON. Not quite all. You may have observed that your brother is
a little deaf.
AUNTIE. But surely-- What did he think?
MANSON. He mistook him for your husband.
AUNTIE. My husband!
MANSON. Your brother is also a little blind, remember.
AUNTIE [delighted]. Then James never found out? . . .
MANSON. Oh yes: I took care to undeceive him on the point.
AUNTIE. Good gracious! How did he take it?
MANSON. At first, a little angrily; but, after a while, some few
poor words of my own chanced to move him to more--_profitable_
AUNTIE. Manson, you're perfectly wonderful! I respect you very,
MANSON. It is not enough. I shall require more.
AUNTIE [embarrassed]. Oh, of course, I shall be glad to do
anything that . . .
Why, what do you mean? . . .
MANSON. I mean that service such as mine demands a greater
AUNTIE. You may be sure that anything in reason . . .
MANSON. It must go beyond that!
AUNTIE. Well, what do you ask?
MANSON. The uttermost obedience, loyalty, and love!
AUNTIE. Manson, how dare you! By what right . . .
MANSON. By my own right!
AUNTIE. This is insolence! What right do you mean?
MANSON. The right of understanding, the right of purpose, and the
right of will!
AUNTIE. You force me to speak angrily to you! Do you forget that
you are my servant?
MANSON. No! And, therefore, it is my office to command you now!
Sit down, and hear me speak!
VICAR. He has been sent to help us! Martha, this is God!
MANSON. Over here, please. [He points to the settee.]
AUNTIE. I . . . I . . .
[MANSON still points. She wavers as in a dream, and at length
moves mechanically across the room, obeying him.]
MANSON. Now, let me tell you exactly why you have sent for me
here. There is a strange and wretched turmoil in your soul: you
have done wrong, and you know it--but you don't know all! You
would keep what miserable little right you have by bolstering it up
with further wrong. And you have sent for me to help you in that
AUNTIE. How dare you say that?
MANSON. Haven't you sent for me to help you in your plans about
his brother, Robert?
AUNTIE [faintly]. What plans? . . .
MANSON. The plan of banishing him further from your lives than
ever! The plan of _providing_ for him! The plan of patching up
his bitter wrongs with gold!
AUNTIE. How did you know that?
MANSON. I know _you_! What, do you think that God's eyes are like
your brother's--blind? Or do you think these things can be done in
darkness without crying aloud to Heaven for light?
AUNTIE. I am here to work my will, not yours!
MANSON. What gain do you hope to bring yourself by that?
AUNTIE. I am not thinking of myself! I am thinking only of my
MANSON. Behold the happiness you have already brought him!
AUNTIE. There is the child! It would break her heart!
MANSON. What is her heart but broken now--by you?
AUNTIE, Robert himself would be the first to repudiate any other
MANSON. Have you tried him?
AUNTIE. Of course not; but he must see the impossibility.
MANSON. What impossibility?
AUNTIE. The impossibility of having him here: the impossibility of
letting him see the child: the impossibility of him and his brother
ever meeting again!
MANSON. Is that your only difficulty?
AUNTIE. Only difficulty! What, would you have me welcome him with
MANSON. Yes, and heart, too!
AUNTIE. Have him here, entertain him, treat him as a guest?
MANSON. As an honoured guest!
AUNTIE. In this house?
MANSON. This house.
AUNTIE. Good Heavens! what else?
MANSON. Sweep and garnish it throughout, seek out and cleanse its
hidden corners, make it fair and ready to lodge him royally as a
AUNTIE [desperately]. I won't do it! I can't! I can't!
MANSON. With my assistance, you can!
VICAR. Manson, how can we bring it about?
AUNTIE, I daren't! I daren't!
VICAR. I dare! I will!
AUNTIE. In God's name, how is it possible?
MANSON. _Make me the lord and master of this house for one little
VICAR. By Heaven, yes!
MANSON. And you? You? . . .
[She falters a few moments: then, utterly broken down, she
MANSON. Then first TO CLEANSE IT OF ITS ABOMINATIONS!
[The BISHOP enters from the drawing-room. He carries a letter in
BISHOP. Well, here is the letter I have written to the secretary
of our Society: I have explained everything quite nicely; and have
warned him, of course, against doing anything definite in the
matter until we have consulted your dear brother. Now . . . Eh,
what? Oh! . . .
[MANSON has tapped his ear, peremptorily: he fixes his ear-trumpet.]
MANSON. I bear you a message from the master of this house. Leave
BISHOP. Really, I . . . . . . . Most extraordinary! Hm!
[He blows down the ear-trumpet, and afterwards wipes it very
carefully with his handkerchief. MANSON stands, as though carven
in marble, waiting for him to fix it again.]
Now: again, please.
MANSON. You are no longer necessary. Leave this house.
BISHOP. You scoundrel! You impudent scoundrel! You . . .
You . . .
Give me back my five-pound note!
MANSON [pointing to the fire]. It is invested for you.
BISHOP. I will have it back at once!
MANSON. Hereafter, was the arrangement.
BISHOP. Mr. Smythe! Where are you? Do you hear what this
VICAR. I endorse it, every word.
BISHOP. Martha! . . .
[She turns away from him as from some horror of sin. The BISHOP
stands dumfounded for a moment or two: then he boils over.]
Now I see it all! I've been trapped, I've been tricked! Martha,
this is all your doing! Brought me here on a trumped-up story of
relationship with the Bishop of Benares, to insult me! Oh, what
would that godly man say if he heard of it!--And he shall hear of
it, believe me! Your infamy shall be spread abroad! So this is
your revenge, sir--[he turns to the VICAR]--your revenge for the
contumely with which I have very properly treated you, sir! Now I
understand why I was made to sit down and eat sausages with a
butler--yes, sir, with a butler and a common working-man! Oh! I
could die with shame! You have bereft me of all words! You . . .
You . . . You are no scholar, sir! And your Greek is
contemptible! . . .
[He crosses to AUNTIE.] Martha! You are no sister of mine
henceforward! [Going, he returns to her.] Anathema maranatha!
[He bounces up to the door, but turns back again for a last word
And I have one word for you, sir! You are a scoundrel, sir--a
cheat, an impostor! And if I could have my way with you, I would
have you publicly whipped: I would visit you with the utmost rigour
of the law: I would nail you up, sir, for an example!
MANSON. I have encountered similar hostility before, my lord--from
gentlemen very like your lordship. Allow me . . .
[He opens the door, his eyes flashing.]
BISHOP. Don't trouble, sir. I can get my hat and my stick and my
portmanteau for myself! I can do very well without your
[He stumps out. MANSON closes the door after him, barring it, as
it were, with his great left arm. He lifts the other arm slowly,
as commanding silence. After a moment the front door is heard
[AUNTIE sinks, weeping, upon the settee. The VICAR goes over to
comfort her. The uplifted hand of MANSON assumes the BISHOP'S sign
of blessing as the curtain slowly falls.]
THE FIFTH ACT
As the curtain rises, the scene and situation remain unchanged.
[There is heard a Ring of the Bell. All three turn their heads,
VICAR. If it's my brother . . .
VICAR. I meant--the Bishop of Benares; but . . .
AUNTIE [hand on his arm, apprehensively]. William . . .
MANSON. It wants ten minutes of the time you said you expected
him. [Goes to door: turns.] Only ten minutes.
[He goes out, closing the door softly.]
VICAR. Ten minutes! . . .
AUNTIE. We shall never be able to do it, William! How can we
possibly undo the work of all these years in ten minutes? It wants
VICAR. We must make the attempt, somehow.
AUNTIE. Yes--yes: how? Oh, I have been blind--blind! [She walks
across the room in agitation.] Where has he gone, I wonder? We
don't even know that--where he is!
VICAR [making a movement]. Perhaps Manson . . .
AUNTIE. No, no, no: it must be ourselves . . .
Ten minutest--And no assistance on _his_ side: we can't expect it,
after our treatment of him. He will hate me most of all: there's
the chief difficulty! . . .
VICAR. You would say me, if you had seen his face and heard his
voice this morning!
AUNTIE. God help us. God pity us!
VICAR. Amen . . .
Then, there's the child, too! That difficulty must be faced.
AUNTIE. Yes--no escape! We shall have to pay the whole debt,
William: I see that.
VICAR. Who knows! Perhaps the child will have to pay most, when
all is done.
AUNTIE. The innocent for the guilty--yes . . . Oh, William,
William, can you ever forgive me?
VICAR. There is much to forgive, both sides, Martha. My sin has
been greater than yours. You have only loved unworthily in
blindness: I have seen clearly and been a coward.
[Enter MARY from the garden.]
Mary! . . .
MARY. Let me speak, uncle. I have been thinking, out there in the
garden--thinking very hard: I've been trying to put things together
again and make them straight; but it's still very difficult. Only
there's one thing--I'm sorry I was unkind just now: I didn't mean
it: you are everything I have--everything I have ever had; and as
for what uncle said--about himself, I mean--I can't believe it.
No, I'm sure there's a mistake somewhere; and mistakes can always
be put right, if we only help one another and mean it. Shall we
try, uncle? Shall we, auntie?
AUNTIE. If it's not too late! . . .
MARY. It can't be too late, auntie dear, if we all wish very hard.
I was a coward to give up wishing. That was _my_ sin, too!
AUNTIE. God knows, I wish, Mary! . . .
VICAR. And I! . . .
MARY. And, indeed, I do! . . .
Now, I've been thinking: I've been trying to look the worst in the
face. Supposing my father is the wicked man you say--the very,
very wickedest man that ever lived, don't you think if we tried to
love him very much it might make a difference?
VICAR. What made you think of that, Mary? . . .
MARY [simply]. It's what you taught me, uncle, in your sermons.
VICAR. _I_ taught you? . . .
MARY. Yes: and, besides, there's another reason. . . I've been
thinking of the poor man I met this morning.
AUNTIE. ) Yes . . .
VICAR. ) What of him? . . .
MARY. _He_ said he was a wicked man, and at first he looked so
dreadfully wicked, I believed him; but when I began to look at him
closely, and heard him talk about his little girl, everything
seemed different! I could no more believe him, than I can believe
you, uncle, when you say such awful things about yourself! I
believe he was a much better man than he ever dreamed! And so I
think we might find my father just the same, if he was properly
loved and looked after!
VICAR [with determination]. Then listen to me, Mary: I have
something to tell you: that very man you spoke to . . .
[ROGERS enters, his face betraying signs of his morning's
ROGERS. Beg your pardon, sir; but . . .
VICAR. Yes, Rogers: what is it?
ROGERS. Mr. Manson sent me, sir; it ain't my fault! . . .
VICAR. Do explain yourself, Rogers!
ROGERS. Well, sir, it's a bit orkard: it's . . . I really don't
know what you'll say, sir, I don't really . . .
VICAR [impatiently]. Come, come, come, what is it?
ROGERS. _It's a man, sir_!
VICAR. Well, there's nothing very extraordinary in that. Wants to
see me, eh?
ROGERS. Yes, sir; and what's more, Mr. Manson told me to _bring
VICAR. Well, why don't you?
ROGERS. 'E's mucked up to the eyes, sir! Bin down the drains!
_It's the same chap as come an' made so free 'ere this mornin'_!
[There is a general rapturous excitement.]
VICAR. Praise God! Shew him in at once!
ROGERS [flabbergasted]. What! In '_ere_, sir? . . .
VICAR. Come, come, come!
[ROGERS'S cosmos is fast slipping away: he crawls abjectly to the
door: his hand on the knob, he turns once more a face of bewildered
inquiry upon the VICAR, who snaps his fingers impatiently.]
ROGERS [with a sickly smile]. 'E's just outside, sir.
[Opening the door, he whines.]
Oh, do come in.
[ROBERT enters, amply fulfilling the lad's description. The latter
lags out, nauseated with the world.]
[ROBERT stands up stage, in the middle: AUNTIE and VICAR, down
stage, one on either side. MARY with her aunt.]
ROBERT. Can I be 'eard civil in this 'ouse, if I speak a few words?
[They make a movement as towards him.]
'Old back! Don't you come near me! Don't you so much as speak
till I've done! . . .
[To Auntie and Vicar respectively]. You don't know me: you don't
know me . . . Understand?
There's no one 'ere as knows oo I am, excep' one little gel--'er
over there. Now, keep quiet! 'Ere! . . .
[MARY goes up to him.]
Tell 'em oo I am.
MARY. Why, it's my friend--the man I was telling you about! The
man who looks after the drains!
ROBERT. That's about it: I'm the drain-man, _see_? Thought you
might be mistakin' me for--summat else, if you wasn't told. Now
[MARY'S face, as she returns, bears the first dawn of an idea. The
VICAR lifts a hand of warning to AUNTIE.]
VICAR. Go on.
ROBERT. That's what I come 'ere to talk abaht--my job. P'r'aps
you'll think as it ain't a tasty subjic, before a lot o' nice,
clean, respectable people as never 'ad anythin' worse on their
fingers than a bit of lawn-dirt, playin' crokey; but _some one_ 'as
to see to the drains, _some one_ 'as to clear up the muck of the
world! I'm the one.
An' I'm 'ere to tell you about it.
AUNTIE [involuntarily]. Oh! . . .
ROBERT. You don't like that, ma'am? 'Urts your feelin's, eh?
AUNTIE. Yes; but not in the way you mean,
MARY. But you know, you really are a little unpleasant!
ROBERT. I'm not 'ere to be pleasant, young leddy: I'm 'ere to
VICAR. Yes, I think I see!
AUNTIE [breathlessly]. Go on: go on!
ROBERT. Well, I come to this 'ouse this mornin', I don't mind
ownin' it, in a rotten bad frame of mind: I 'ad a little job on
'and--a job a bit above my 'ead, an' it got me dahn an' worried me:
yus it did--worried me. That young leddy 'll tell you wot I was
like when _she_ fust saw me: I looked that bad, she thought I come
to steal summat! Well, p'r'aps I did, arter al!--summat as I 'ad
no right to, summat as don't properly belong to a streaky swine
like me. That was when _she_ fust saw me; but I was wuss before
that, I tell you strite!
MARY [self-consciously]. What changed you?
ROBERT. A bloke I met, miss, as knowed me better than I knowed
myself. 'E changed me.
AUNTIE. ) Manson! . . .
VICAR. ) Manson! . . .
MARY. ) Oh, I thought, perhaps . . .
ROBERT. Don't know 'is name; 'e was a fair knock-aht-- Got togs
on 'im like an Earl's Court Exhibition . . . '_E_ changed me: 'e
taught me my own mind; 'e brought me back to my own job--_drains_.
AUNTIE. Yes . . .
ROBERT. Funny thing, ma'am, peopled born different: some's born
without noses in their 'eads, worth speakin' of. I wasn't--I can
smell out a stink anywhere.
AUNTIE [fascinated]. I am sure you can. This is most interesting!
ROBERT [warming]. Moment I stuck my 'ead in this 'ouse, I knowed
as summat was wrong in my line, and I ses to myself: _Wot oh, 'e
ain't such an awl-mighty liar, arter all--that's drains_! An'
drains it was, strike me dead--arskin' your pawdon!
MARY, Now, didn't I always say . . .
ROBERT. Yus, miss, you're one o' the nosey uns, I can see! Well,
soon as ole Togs got done with 'is talk, I got my smeller dahn,
follered up the scent, an' afore I knowed where I was, I was in it,
up to my eyes!--Out there in the room with the blood-red 'eap o'
books! Blimey, you never did see! Muck, ma'am!--Just look at my
'ands! Ain't that pretty?
'Owever, I got there, right enough, I don't fink! Fancy I put that
little bit strite afore I done!
AUNTIE. Oh, this is too beautiful of you! . . .
ROBERT [burning with enthusiasm, and manifestly affected by her
appreciation]. Wait a bit: I got more yet! Talk abaht
bee-utiful!--That bit was on'y an ash-pan! Look 'ere, ma'am, I got
the loveliest little job on as ever yer soiled yer 'ands in! . . .
MARY. Oh, do tell us! . . .
AUNTIE. ) Yes, do! . . .
VICAR. ) Yes, yes! . . .
[A splendid rapture infects them all.]
ROBERT. I followed up that drain--_I_ wasn't goin' to stick till
kingdom come inside your little mouse-'ole out there: No, I said,
_Where's this leadin to? What's the 'ell-an-glory use o' flushin'
out this blarsted bit of a sink, with devil-know-wot stinkin'
cess-pool at the end of it_! That's wot I said, ma'am! . . .
AUNTIE. Very rightly! I see! I see! . . .
ROBERT. So up I go through the sludge, puffin' an' blowin' like a
bally ole cart-'orse--strooth, it seemed miles! Talk abaht
bee-utiful, ma'am, it ud 'a' done your 'eart good, it would really!
_Rats_!--'Undreds on em, ma'am: I'm bitten clean through in places!
'Owever, I pushed my way through, somehow, 'oldin' my nose an
fightin' for my breath, till at last I got to the end--_and then I
soon saw wot was the matter_! . . .
It's under the church--that's where it is! I know it's the church,
cos I 'eard "The Church's One Foundation" on the orgin, rumblin' up
over my 'ead! Well, I . . .
ALL. Yes . . . yes . . .
AUNTIE. Why don't you go on? . . .
ROBERT. You'd never guess wot I saw there, not if you was to try
from now till glory 'allelooyer! . . .