Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, David McLachlan and PG Distributed
A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS
CHATTO & WINDUS
HILDEGARDE CULVER } their children
JOHN CULVER }
An evening between Christmas and New Year, before dinner.
The next evening, after dinner.
The next day, before lunch.
The scene throughout is a sitting-room in the well-furnished West End
abode of the Culvers. There is a door, back. There is also another door
(L) leading to Mrs. Culver's boudoir and elsewhere.
Hildegarde _is sitting at a desk, writing_. John, _in a lounging
attitude, is reading a newspaper_.
_Enter_ Tranto, _back_.
TRANTO. Good evening.
HILDEGARDE (_turning slightly in her seat and giving him her left hand,
the right still holding a pen_). Good evening. Excuse me one moment.
TRANTO. All right about my dining here to-night? (Hildegarde _nods_.)
Larder equal to the strain?
TRANTO. Great heavens! (_imitates sketchily the motions of cutting up a
piece of steak. Shaking hands with_ John, _who has risen_). Well, John.
How are things? Don't let me disturb you. Have a cigarette.
JOHN (_flattered_). Thanks. (_As they light cigarettes_.) You're the
first person here that's treated me like a human being.
JOHN. Yes. They all treat me as if I was a schoolboy home for the hols.
TRANTO. But you are, aren't you?
JOHN. In a way, of course. But--well, don't you see what I mean?
TRANTO (_sympathetically_). You mean that a schoolboy home for the hols
isn't necessarily something escaped out of the Zoo.
JOHN (_warming_). That's it.
TRANTO. In fact, what you mean is you're really an individual very like
the rest of us, subject, if I may say so, to the common desires,
weaknesses and prejudices of humanity--and not a damned freak.
JOHN (_brightly_). That's rather good, that is. If it's a question of
the Zoo, what I say is--what price home? Now, homes _are_ extraordinary
if you like--I don't know whether you've ever noticed it. School--you
can understand school. But home--! Strange things happen here while I'm
JOHN. It was while I was away they appointed Dad a controller. When I
heard--I laughed. Dad a controller! Why, he can't even control mother.
HILDEGARDE (_without looking round_). Oh yes he can.
JOHN (_pretending to start back_). Stay me with flagons! (_Resuming to_
Tranto.) And _you're_ something new here since the summer holidays.
TRANTO. I never looked at myself in that light. But I suppose I _am_
rather new here.
JOHN. Not quite new. But you've made a lot of progress during the last
TRANTO. That's comforting.
JOHN. You understand what I mean. You were rather stiff and prim in
August--now you aren't a bit.
TRANTO. Just so. Well, I won't ask you what you think of _me_, John--you
might tell me--but what do you think of my newspaper?
JOHN. _The Echo_? I don't know what to think. You see, we don't read
newspapers much at school. Some of the masters do. And a few chaps in
the Fifth--swank, of course. But speaking generally we don't. Prefects
don't. No time.
TRANTO. How strange! Aren't you interested in the war?
JOHN. Interested in the war! Would you mind if I spoke plainly?
TRANTO. I should love it.
JOHN. Each time I come home I wonder more and more whether you people in
London have got the slightest notion what war really is. Fact! At
school, it's just because we _are_ interested in the war that we've no
time for newspapers.
TRANTO. How's that?
JOHN. How's that? Well, munition workshops--with government inspectors
tumbling all over us about once a week. O.T.C. work. Field days.
Cramming fellows for Sandhurst. Not to mention female masters.
'Mistresses,' I ought to say, perhaps. All these things take time.
TRANTO. I never thought of that.
JOHN. No. People don't. However, I've decided to read newspapers in
future--it'll be part of my scheme. That's why I was reading _The
Echo_. Now, I should like to ask you something about this paper of
JOHN. Why do you let Hilda write those articles for you about food
economy stunts in the household?
JOHN. Now, I look at things practically. When Hilda'd spent all her
dress allowance and got into debt besides, about a year and a half ago,
she suddenly remembered she wasn't doing much to help the war, and so
she went into the Food Ministry as a typist at thirty-five shillings a
week. Next she learnt typing. Then she became an authority on
everything. And now she's concocting these food articles for you.
Believe me, the girl knows nothing whatever about cookery. She couldn't
fry a sausage for nuts. Once the mater insisted on her doing the
housekeeping--in the holidays, too! Stay me with flagons!
HILDEGARDE (_without looking round_). Stay you with chocolates, you
mean, Johnnie, dear.
JOHN. There you are! Her thoughts fly instantly to chocolates--and in
the fourth year of the greatest war that the world--
HILDEGARDE. Etcetera, etcetera.
TRANTO. Then do I gather that you don't entirely approve of your
JOHN. Tripe, I think. My fag could write better. I'll tell you what I do
approve of. I approve of that article to-day by that chap Sampson
Straight about titles and the shameful traffic in honours, and the rot
of the hereditary principle, and all that sort of thing.
TRANTO. I'm glad. Delivers the goods, doesn't he, Mr. Sampson Straight?
JOHN. Well, _I_ think so. Who is he?
TRANTO. One of my discoveries, John. He sent me in an article about--let
me see, when was it?--about eight months ago. I at once perceived that
in Mr. Sampson Straight I had got on to a bit of all right. And I was
not mistaken. He has given London beans pretty regularly once a week
JOHN. He must have given the War Cabinet neuralgia this afternoon,
anyhow. I should like to meet him.
TRANTO. I'm afraid that's impossible.
JOHN. Is it? Why?
TRANTO. Well, I haven't met him myself yet. He lives at a quiet country
place in Cornwall. Hermit, I believe. Hates any kind of publicity.
Absolutely refuses to be photographed.
JOHN. Photographed! I should think not! But couldn't you get him to come
and lecture at school? We have frightful swells, you know.
TRANTO. I expect you do. But he wouldn't come.
JOHN. I wish he would. We had a debate the other Saturday night on,
Should the hereditary principle be abolished?
TRANTO. And did you abolish it?
JOHN. Did we abolish it? I should say we did. Eighty-five to twenty-one.
Some debate, believe _me_!
HILDEGARDE (_looking round_). Yes, but didn't you tell us once that in
your Debating Society the speakers always tossed for sides beforehand?
JOHN (_shrugging his shoulders. More confidentially to_ Tranto). As I
was saying, I'm going to read the papers in future, as part of my
scheme. And d'you know what the scheme is? (_Impressively_.) I've
decided to take up a political career.
JOHN. Yes, it was during that hereditary principle debate that I
decided. It came over me all of a sudden while I was on the last lap of
my speech and the fellows were cheering. And so I want to understand
first of all the newspaper situation in London. There are one or two
things about it I _don't_ understand.
TRANTO. Not more? I can explain the newspaper situation to you in ten
words. You know I've got a lot of uncles. I daresay I've got more uncles
than anybody else in 'Who's Who.' Well, I own _The Echo_,--inherited it
from my father. My uncles own all the rest of the press--(_airily_) with
a few trifling exceptions. That's the London newspaper situation. Quite
simple, isn't it?
JOHN. But of course _The Echo_ is up against all your uncles' papers--at
least it seems so.
TRANTO. Absolutely up against them. Tooth and nail. Daggers drawn. No
quarter. Death or victory.
JOHN. But do you and your uncles speak to each other?
TRANTO. Best of friends.
JOHN. But aren't two of your uncles lords?
TRANTO. Yes. Uncle Joe was made an earl not long since--you may have
heard of the fuss about it. Uncle Sam's only a miserable baron yet. And
Uncle Cuthbert is that paltry insect--a baronet.
JOHN. What did they get their titles for?
TRANTO. Ask me another.
JOHN. Of course I don't want to be personal, but _how_ did they get
them? Did they--er--buy them?
TRANTO. Don't know.
JOHN. Haven't you ever asked them?
TRANTO. Well, John, you've got relatives yourself, and you probably know
there are some things that even the most affectionate relatives _don't_
ask each other.
HILDEGARDE (_rising from the desk and looking at John's feet_). Yes,
indeed! This very morning I unwisely asked Johnnie whether his socks
ever talked. Altercation followed. 'Some debate, believe _me_!'
JOHN (_rising; with scornful tranquillity_). I'd better get ready for
dinner. Besides, you two would doubtless like to be alone together for a
few precious moments.
HILDEGARDE (_sharply and self-consciously_). What do you mean?
JOHN (_lightly_). Nothing. I thought editor and contributor--
HILDEGARDE. Oh! I see.
JOHN (_stopping at door, and turning round_). Do you mean to say your
uncles won't be frightfully angry at Mr. Sampson Straight's articles?
Why, dash it, when he's talking about traffic in honours, if he doesn't
mean them who does he mean?
TRANTO. My dear friend, stuff like that's meat and drink to my uncles.
They put it down like chocolates.
JOHN. Well my deliberate opinion is--it's a jolly strange world. (_Exit
TRANTO (_looking at_ Hildegarde). So it is. Philosopher, John! Questions
rather pointed perhaps; but result in the discovery of new truths. By
the way, have I come too early?
HILDEGARDE (_archly)_. How could you? But father's controlling the
country half an hour more than usual this evening, and I expect mamma
was so angry about it she forgot to telephone you that dinner's moved
accordingly. (_With piquancy and humour_.) I was rather surprised to
hear when I got home from my Ministry that you'd sent word you'd like to
TRANTO. Were you? Why?
HILDEGARDE. Because last week when mamma _asked_ you for to-night, you
said you had another engagement.
TRANTO. Oh! I'd forgotten I'd told her that. Still, I really had
HILDEGARDE. The Countess of Blackfriars--you said.
TRANTO. Yes. Auntie Joe's. I've just sent her a telephone message to say
I'm ill and confined to the house.
HILDEGARDE. Which house?
TRANTO. I didn't specify any particular house.
HILDEGARDE. And are you ill?
TRANTO. I am not.... To get back to the realm of fact, when I read
Sampson Straight's article about the degradation of honours this
HILDEGARDE. Didn't you read it before you published it?
TRANTO. No. I had to rush off and confront the Medical Board at 9 a.m. I
felt certain the article would be all right.
HILDEGARDE. And it wasn't all right.
TRANTO (_positively_). Perfectly all right.
HILDEGARDE. You don't seem quite sure. Are we still in the realm of
fact, or are we slipping over the frontier?
TRANTO. The article was perfectly all right. It rattled off from
beginning to end like a machine-gun, and must have caused enormous
casualties. Only I thought Auntie Joe might be one of the casualties. I
thought it might put her out of action as a hostess for a week or so.
You see, for me to publish such an onslaught on new titles in the
afternoon, and then attempt to dine with the latest countess the same
night--and she my own aunt--well, it might be regarded as a bit--thick.
So I'm confined to the house--this house as it happens.
HILDEGARDE. But you told John your people would take the article like
meat and drink.
TRANTO. What if I did? John can't expect to discover the whole truth
about everything at one go. He's found out it's a jolly strange world.
That ought to satisfy him for to-day. Besides, he only asked me about my
uncles. He said nothing about my uncles' wives. You know what women
are--I mean wives.
HILDEGARDE. Oh, I do! Mother is a marvellous specimen.
TRANTO. I haven't told you the worst.
HILDEGARDE. I hope no man ever will.
TRANTO. The worst is this. Auntie Joe actually thinks _I_'m Sampson
HILDEGARDE. She doesn't!
TRANTO. She does. She has an infinite capacity for belief. The
psychology of the thing is as follows. My governor died a comparatively
poor man. A couple of hundred thousand pounds, more or less. Whereas
Uncle Joe is worth five millions--and Uncle Joe was going to adopt me,
when Auntie Joe butted in and married him. She used to arrange the
flowers for his first wife. Then she arranged _his_ flowers. Then she
became a flower herself and he had to gather her. Then she had twins,
and my chances of inheriting that five millions (_he imitates the noise
of a slight explosion_) short-circuited! Well, I didn't care a volt--not
a volt! I've got lots of uncles left who are quite capable of adopting
me. But I didn't really want to be adopted at all. To adopt me was only
part of Uncle Joe's political game. It was my _Echo_ that he was after
adopting. But I'd sooner run my _Echo_ on my own than inherit Uncle
Joe's controlling share in twenty-five daily papers, seventy-one weekly
papers, six monthly magazines, and three independent advertising
agencies. I know I'm a poor man, but I'm quite ready to go on facing the
world bravely with my modest capital of a couple of hundred thousand
pounds. Only Auntie Joe can't understand that. She's absolutely
convinced that I have a terrific grudge against her and her twins, and
that in order to gratify that grudge I myself personally write articles
against all her most sacred ideals under the pseudonym of Sampson
Straight. I've pointed out to her that I'm a newspaper proprietor, and
no newspaper proprietor ever _could_ write. No use! She won't listen.
HILDEGARDE. Then she thinks you're a liar.
TRANTO. Oh, not at all. Only a journalist. But you perceive the widening
rift in the family lute. (_A silence_.) Pardon this glimpse into the
secret history of the week.
HILDEGARDE (_formidably_). Mr. Tranto, you and I are sitting on the edge
of a volcano.
TRANTO. We are. I like it. Thrilling, and yet so warm and cosy.
HILDEGARDE. I used to like it once. But I don't think I like it any
TRANTO. Now please don't let Auntie Joe worry you. She's my cross, not
HILDEGARDE. Yes. But considered as a cross, your Auntie Joe is nothing
to my brother John, who quite justly calls his sister's cookery stuff
'tripe.' It was a most ingenious camouflage of yours to have me
pretending to be the author of that food economy 'tripe,' so as to cover
my writing quite different articles for _The Echo_ and your coming here
to see me so often. Most ingenious. Worthy of a newspaper proprietor.
But why should I be saddled with 'tripe' that isn't mine?
TRANTO. Why, indeed! Then you think we ought to encourage the volcano
with a lighted match--and run?
HILDEGARDE. I'm ready if you are.
TRANTO. Oh! I'm ready. Secrecy was a great stunt at first. Letting out
the secret will be an even greater stunt now. It'll make the finest
newspaper story since the fearful fall of the last Cabinet. Sampson
Straight--equals Miss Hildegarde Culver, the twenty-one year old
daughter of the Controller of Accounts! Typist in the Food Department,
by day! Journalistic genius by night! The terror of Ministers! Read by
all London! Raised the circulation of _The Echo_ two hundred per cent!
Phenomenon unique in the annals of Fleet Street! (_In a different tone,
noticing_ Hildegarde's _face_). Crude headlines, I admit, but that's
what Uncle Joe has brought us to. We have to compete with Uncle Joe....
HILDEGARDE. Of course I shall have to leave home.
TRANTO. Leave home!
HILDEGARDE. Yes, and live by myself in rooms.
TRANTO. But why?
HILDEGARDE. I couldn't possibly stay here. Think how it would compromise
father with the War Cabinet if I did. It might ruin him. And as accounts
are everything in modern warfare, it might lose the war. But that's
nothing--it's mamma I'm thinking of. Do you forget that Sampson
Straight, being a young woman of advanced ideas, has written about
everything, _everything_--yes, and several other subjects besides? For
instance, here's the article I was revising when you came in. (_Shows
the title-page to_ Tranto.)
TRANTO. Splendid! You're the most courageous creature I ever met.
HILDEGARDE. Possibly. But not courageous enough to offer to kiss mamma
when I went to bed on the night that _that (indicating the article_) had
appeared in print under my own name. You don't know mamma.
TRANTO. But dash it! You could eat your mother!
HILDEGARDE. Pardon me. The contrary is the fact. Mamma could eat me.
TRANTO. But you're the illustrious Sampson Straight. There's more
intelligence in your little finger than there is in your mother's whole
body. See how you write.
HILDEGARDE. Write! I only began to write as a relief from mamma. I
escaped secretly into articles like escaping into an underground
passage. But as for facing mamma in the open!... Even father scarcely
ever does that; and when he does, we hold our breath, and the cook turns
teetotal. It wouldn't be the slightest use me trying to explain the
situation logically to mamma. She wouldn't understand. She's far too
clever to understand anything she doesn't like. Perhaps that's the
secret of her power. No, if the truth about Sampson Straight is to come
out I must leave home--quietly but firmly leave home. And why not? I can
keep myself in splendour on Sampson's earnings. And the break is bound
to come sooner or later. I admit I didn't begin very seriously, but
reading my own articles has gradually made me serious. I feel I have a
cause. A cause may be inconvenient, but it's magnificent. It's like
champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it.
TRANTO. Cause be hanged! Suffer be hanged! High heels be hanged!
Champagne--(_stops_). Miss Culver, if a disclosure means your leaving
home I won't agree to any disclosure whatever. I will--not--agree.
We'll sit tight on the volcano.
HILDEGARDE. But why won't you agree?
TRANTO (_excited_). Why won't I agree! Why won't I agree! Because I
don't want you to leave home. I know you're a born genius--a marvel, a
miracle, a prodigy, an incredible orchid, the most brilliant journalist
in London. I'm fully aware of all that. But I do not and will not see
you as a literary bachelor living with a cause and holding receptions of
serious people in chambers furnished by Roger Fry. I like to think of
you at home, here, in this charming atmosphere, amid the delightful
vicissitudes of family existence, and--well, I like to think of you as a
HILDEGARDE (_calmly and teasingly_). Mr. Tranto, we are forgetting one
TRANTO. What's that?
HILDEGARDE. You're an editor, and I'm a contributor whom you've never
_Enter_ Mrs. Culver (_L_).
MRS. CULVER. Mr. Tranto, how are you? (_Shaking hands_.) I'm delighted
to see you. So sorry I didn't warn you we dine half an hour
later--thanks to the scandalous way the Government slave-drives my poor
husband. Please do excuse me. (_She sits_).
TRANTO. On the contrary, it's I who should ask to be excused--proposing
myself like this at the last moment.
MRS. CULVER. It was very nice of you to think of us. Come and sit down
here. (_Indicating a place by her side on the sofa_.) Now in my poor
addled brain I had an idea you were engaged for to-night at your aunt's,
TRANTO (_sitting_). Mrs. Culver, you forget nothing. I _was_ engaged for
Auntie Joe's, but she's ill and she's put me off.
MRS. CULVER. Dear me! How very sudden!
MRS. CULVER. I met Lady Blackfriars at tea late this afternoon and it
struck me how well she was looking.
TRANTO. Yes, she always looks particularly well just before she's going
to be ill. She's very brave, very brave.
MRS. CULVER. D'you mean in having twins? It was more than brave of her;
it was beautiful--both boys, too.
HILDEGARDE (_innocently_). Budgeting for a long war.
MRS. CULVER (_affectionately_). My dear girl! Come here, darling, you
haven't changed. Excuse me, Mr. Tranto.
HILDEGARDE (_approaching_). I've been so busy. And I thought nobody was
MRS. CULVER. Is your father nobody? (_stroking and patting_ Hildegarde's
_dress into order_). What have you been so busy on?
HILDEGARDE. Article for _The Echo_. (Tranto, _who has been holding the
MS., indicates it_.)
MRS. CULVER. I do wish you would let me see those cookery articles of
yours before they're printed.
TRANTO (_putting MS. in his pocket_). I'm afraid that's quite against
the rules. You see, in Fleet Street--
MRS. CULVER (_very pleasantly_). As you please. I don't pretend to be
intellectual. But I confess I'm just a wee bit disappointed in
Hildegarde's cookery articles. I'm a great believer in good cookery. I
put it next to the Christian religion--and far in front of mere
cleanliness. I've just been trying to read Professor Metchnikoff's
wonderful book on 'The Nature of Man.' It only confirms me in my
lifelong belief that until the nature of man is completely altered good
cooking is the chief thing that women ought to understand. Now I taught
Hildegarde some cookery myself. She was not what I should call a
brilliant pupil, but she did grasp the great eternal principles. And yet
I find her writing (_with charm and benevolence_) stuff like her last
article--'The Everlasting Boiled Potato,' I think she called it.
Hildegarde, it was really very naughty of you to say what you said in
that article. (_Drawing down_ Hildegarde's _head and kissing her_.)
TRANTO. Now why, Mrs. Culver? I thought it was so clever.
MRS. CULVER. It may be clever to advocate fried potatoes and chip
potatoes and saute potatoes as a change from the everlasting boiled. I
daresay it's what you call journalism. But how can you fry potatoes
TRANTO. Ah! How?
MRS. CULVER. And where are you to obtain fat? _I_ can't obtain fat. I
stand in queues for hours because my servants won't--it's the latest
form of democracy--but _I_ can't obtain fat. I think the nearest fat is
TRANTO. Stand in queues! Mrs. Culver, you make me feel very guilty,
plunging in at a moment's notice and demanding a whole dinner in a
fatless world. I shall eat nothing but dry bread.
MRS. CULVER. We never serve bread at lunch or dinner unless it's
specially asked for. But if soup, macaroni, eggs, and jelly will keep
you alive till breakfast--
HILDEGARDE. But there's beefsteak, mamma--I've told Mr. Tranto.
MRS. CULVER. Only a little, and that's for your father. Beefsteak's the
one thing that keeps off his neuralgia, Mr. Tranto. (_With apologetic
persuasiveness_.) I'm sure you'll understand.
TRANTO. Dear lady, I've never had neuralgia in my life. Macaroni, eggs,
and jelly are my dream. I've always wanted to feel like an invalid.
MRS. CULVER. And how did you get on with your Medical Board this
TRANTO. How marvellous of you to remember that I had a Medical Board
this morning! I believe I've found out your secret, Mrs. Culver--you're
undergoing a course of Pelman with those sixty generals and forty
admirals. Well, the Medical Board have given me a new complaint. You'll
be sorry to hear that I'm deformed.
MRS. CULVER. Not deformed!
TRANTO. Yes. It appears I'm flat-footed. (_Extending his leg_.) Have I
ever told you that I had a dashing military career extending over four
months, three of which I spent in hospital for a disease I hadn't got?
Then I was discharged as unfit. After a year they raked me in again.
Since then I've been boarded five times, and on the unimpeachable
authority of various R.A.M.C. Colonels I've been afflicted with valvular
disease of the heart, incipient tuberculosis, rickets, varicose veins,
diabetes--practically everything, except spotted fever and leprosy. And
now flat feet are added to all the rest. Even the Russian collapse and
the transfer of the entire German army to the Western Front hasn't
raised me higher than C 3.
MRS. CULVER. How annoying for you! You might have risen to be a captain
by this time.
HILDEGARDE (_reflectively_). No doubt, in a home unit. But if he'd gone
to the Front he would still have been a second lieutenant.
MRS. CULVER. My _dear_!
TRANTO. Whereas in fact I'm still one of those able-bodied young
shirkers in mufti that patriotic old gentlemen in clubs are always
writing to my uncles' papers about.
MRS. CULVER. Please! please! (_A slight pause; pulling herself
together; cheerfully_.) Let me see, you were going in for Siege
Artillery, weren't you?
TRANTO. Me! Siege Artillery. My original ambition was trench
mortars--not so noisy.
MRS. CULVER (_simply_). Oh! Then it must have been somebody else who was
talking to me about Siege Artillery. I understand it's very
scientific--all angles and degrees and wind-pressures and things. John
will soon be eighteen, and his father and I want him to be really useful
in the Army. We don't want him to be thrown away. He has brains, and so
we are thinking of Siege Artillery for him.
(_During this speech_ John _has entered, in evening dress_.)
JOHN. Are you on Siege again, mater? The mater's keen on Siege because
she's heard somewhere it's the safest thing there is.
MRS. CULVER. And if it does happen to be the safest--what then?
TRANTO. I suppose you're all for the Flying Corps, John?
JOHN (_with condescension_). Not specially. Since one of the old boys
came and did looping the loop stunts over the school the whole Fifth
has gone mad on the R.F.C. Most fellows are just like sheep. _Somebody_
in the Sixth has to be original. I want to fight as much as any chap
with wings across his chest, but I've got my private career to think of
too. If you ask me, the mater's had a brain-wave for once.
_Enter_ Mr. Culver, _back. He stands a moment at the door, surveying the
scene_. Mrs. Culver _springs up, and_ Tranto _also rises, moving towards
MRS. CULVER. Arthur, have you come?
CULVER (_advancing a little_). Apparently. Hello, Tranto, glad to see
you. I wanted to. (_Shakes hands with_ Tranto.)
MRS. CULVER. What's the matter, Arthur?
MRS. CULVER (_alarmed, but carefully coaxing_). Why are you wearing your
velvet coat? (_To_ Tranto.) He always puts on his velvet coat instead of
dressing when something's gone wrong. (_To_ Mr. Culver.) Have you got
CULVER. I don't think so.
MRS. CULVER. But surely you must know! You look terribly pale.
CULVER. The effect of the velvet coat, my dear--nicely calculated in
MRS. CULVER (_darting at him, holding him by the shoulders, and then
kissing him violently. With an intonation of affectionate protest_).
JOHN. Oh! I say, mater, look here!
MRS. CULVER (_to_ Culver, _still holding him_). I'm very annoyed with
you. It's perfectly absurd the way you work. (_To_ Tranto.) Do you know
he was at the office all day Christmas Day and all day Boxing Day? (_To_
Culver.) You really must take a holiday.
CULVER. But what about the war, darling?
MRS. CULVER (_loosing him_). Oh! You're always making the war an excuse.
I know what I shall do. I shall just go--
CULVER. Yes, darling, just go and suggest a short armistice to the
Germans while you take me to Brighton for a week's fondling.
MRS. CULVER. I shall just speak to Miss Starkey. Strange that the wife,
in order to influence the husband, should have to appeal to
(_disdainfully_) the lady secretary! But so it is.
CULVER. Hermione, I must beg you not to interfere between Miss Starkey
and me. Interference will upset Miss Starkey, and I cannot stand her
being upset. I depend upon her absolutely. First, Miss Starkey is the
rock upon which my official existence is built. She is a serious and
conscientious rock. She is hard and expects me to be hard. Secondly,
Miss Starkey is the cushion between me and the world. She knows my
tender spots, and protects them. Thirdly, Miss Starkey is my rod--and I
MRS. CULVER. Arthur!... (_tries to be agreeable_). But I really am
CULVER. Well, I'm only hungry.
PARLOURMAID. Cook's compliments, madam, and dinner will be twenty
minutes late. (_Exit_.)
(_A shocked silence_.)
CULVER (_with an exhausted sigh_). And yet I gave that cook one of my
most captivating smiles this morning.
MRS. CULVER (_settling_ Mr. Culver _into a chair_). She's done it simply
because I told her to-night that rationing is definitely coming in. Her
reply was that the kitchen would never stand it, whatever the Government
said. She was quite upset--and so she's gone and done something to the
CULVER. Surely rather illogical of her, isn't it? Or have I missed a
link in the chain of reasoning?
MRS. CULVER. I shall give her notice--after dinner.
JOHN. Couldn't you leave it till after the holidays, mother?
HILDEGARDE. And where shall you find another cook, mamma?
MRS. CULVER. The first thing is to get rid of the present one. Then we
CULVER. My dear, you talk as if she was a prime minister. Still, it
might be a good plan to sack all the servants before rationing comes in,
and engage deaf-mutes.
MRS. CULVER. Deaf-mutes!
CULVER. Deaf-mutes. Then they wouldn't be worried by the continual
groaning of _my_ hunger, and I shouldn't hear any complaints about
MRS. CULVER (_to_ Hildegarde). My pet, you've time to change now. Do run
and change. You're so sombre.
HILDEGARDE. I can't do it in twenty minutes.
MRS. CULVER. Then put a bright shawl on--for papa's sake.
HILDEGARDE. I haven't got a bright shawl.
MRS. CULVER. Then take mine. The one with the pink beads on it. It's in
my wardrobe--right-hand side.
JOHN. That means it'll be on the left-hand side.
(_Exit_ Hildegarde, _back, with a look at Tranto, who opens the door for
MRS. CULVER (_with sweet apprehensiveness_). Now Arthur, I'm afraid
after all you have something on your mind.
CULVER. I've got nothing on my stomach, anyway. (_Bracing himself_.)
Yes, darling, it's true. I have got something on my mind. Within the
last hour I've had a fearful shock--
MRS. CULVER. I knew it!
CULVER. And I need sustaining. I hadn't meant to say anything until
after dinner, but in view of cook's drastic alterations in the
time-table I may as well tell you (_looking round_) at once.
MRS. CULVER. It's something about the Government again.
CULVER. The Government has been in a very serious situation.
MRS. CULVER (_alarmed_). You mean they're going to ask you to resign?
CULVER. I wish they would!
MRS. CULVER. Arthur! Do please remember the country is at war.
CULVER. Is it? So it is. You see, my pet, I remember such a lot of
things. I remember that my brainy partner is counting khaki trousers in
the Army clothing department. I remember that my other partner ought to
be in a lunatic asylum, but isn't. I remember that my business is going
to the dogs at a muzzle velocity of about five thousand feet a second. I
remember that from mere snobbishness I work for the Government without a
penny of salary, and that my sole reward is to be insulted and libelled
by high-brow novelists who write for the press. Therefore you ought not
to be startled if I secretly yearn to resign. However, I shall not be
asked to resign. I said that the Government had been in a very serious
situation. It was. But it will soon recover.
MRS. CULVER. How soon?
CULVER. On New Year's Day.
JOHN. Then what's the fearful shock, dad?
MRS. CULVER. Yes. Have you heard anything special?
CULVER. No. But I've seen something special. I saw it less than an hour
ago. It was shown to me without the slightest warning, and I admit it
shook me. You can perceive for yourselves that it shook me.
MRS. CULVER. But what?
CULVER. The New Year's Honours List--or rather a few choice selections
from the more sensational parts of it.
MRS. CULVER. Arthur, _what_ do you mean? (_To_ Hildegarde, _in
despair_.) My chick, your father grows more and more puzzling every day!
How well that shawl suits you! You look quite a different girl. But
you've--(_arranges the shawl on_ Hildegarde) I really don't know what
your father has on his mind! I really don't!
JOHN (_impatient of this feminine manifestation_). Oh, dad, go on. Go
on! I want to get at the bottom of this titles business. I'm hanged if I
can understand it. What strikes me as an unprejudiced observer is that
titles are supposed to be such a terrific honour, and yet the people who
deal them out scarcely ever keep any for themselves. Look at Mr.
Gladstone, for instance. He must have made about forty earls and seven
thousand baronets in his time. Now if I was a Prime Minister, and I
believed in titles--which I jolly well don't--I should make myself a
duke right off; and I should have several marquises and viscounts round
me in the Cabinet like a sort of bodyguard, and my private secretaries
would have to be knights. There'd be some logic in that arrangement
CULVER. In view of your political career, John, will you mind if I give
you a brief lesson on elementary politics--though you _are_ on your
JOHN (_easily_). I'm game.
CULVER. What is the first duty of modern Governments?
JOHN. To govern.
CULVER. My innocent boy. I thought better of you. I know that you look
on the venerable Mr. Tranto as a back number, and I suspect that Mr.
Tranto in his turn regards me as prehistoric; and yet you are so behind
the times as to imagine that the first duty of modern Governments is to
govern! My dear Rip van Winkle, wake up. The first duty of a Government
is to live. It has no right to be a Government at all unless it is
convinced that if it fell the country would go to everlasting smash.
Hence its first duty is to survive. In order to survive it must do three
things--placate certain interests, influence votes, and obtain secret
funds. All these three things can be accomplished by the ingenious
institution of Honours. Only the simple-minded believe that Honours are
given to honour. Honours are given to save the life of the Government.
Hence the Honours List. Examine the Honours List and you can instantly
tell how the Government feels in its inside. When the Honours List is
full of rascals, millionaires, and--er--chumps, you may be quite sure
that the Government is dangerously ill.
TRANTO. But that amounts to what we've been saying in _The Echo_ to-day.
CULVER. Yes, I've read the _The Echo_.
JOHN. I thought you never had a free moment at the office--always rushed
to death--at least that's the mater's theory.
CULVER. I've read _The Echo_, and my one surprise is that you're here
CULVER. I quite thought you'd have been shoved into the Tower under the
Defence of the Realm Act. Or Sampson Straight, anyway. (Hildegarde
_starts_.) Your contributor has committed the unpardonable sin of
hitting the nail on the head. He might almost have seen an advance copy
of the Honours List.
TRANTO. He hadn't. Nor had I. Who's in it?
CULVER. You might ask who isn't in it. (_Taking a paper from his
pocket_.) Well, Gentletie's in it. He gets a knighthood.
TRANTO. Never heard of him. Who is he?
HILDEGARDE. Oh, yes, you've heard of him. (John _glances at her
severely_.) He's M.P. for some earthly paradise or other in the South
CULVER. Perhaps I might read you something written by my private
secretary--he's one of these literary wags. You see there's been a
demand that the Government should state clearly, in every case of an
Honour, exactly what services the Honour is given for. This (_taking
paper from his pocket_) is supposed to be the stuff sent round to the
Press by the Press Bureau. (_Reads_.) 'Mr. Gentletie has gradually made
a solid reputation for himself as the dullest man in the House of
Commons. Whenever he rises to his feet the House empties as if by magic.
In cases of inconvenience, when the Government wishes abruptly to close
a debate by counting out the House, it has invariably put up Mr.
Gentletie to speak. The device has never been known to fail. Nobody can
doubt that Mr. Gentletie's patriotic devotion to the Allied cause well
merits the knighthood which is now bestowed on him.'
JOHN (_astounded_.) Stay me with flagons!
TRANTO. So that's that! And who else?
CULVER. Another of your esteemed uncles.
TRANTO. Well, that's not very startling, seeing that my uncle's chief
daily organ is really a department of the Government.
JOHN. What I say is--
HILDEGARDE (_simultaneously with_ John). Wouldn't it be more
correct--(_continuing alone_) wouldn't it be more correct to say that
the Government is really a department of your uncle's chief daily organ?
JOHN. Hilda, old girl, I wish you wouldn't interrupt. Cookery's your
HILDEGARDE. Sorry, Johnnie. I see I was in danger of becoming unsexed.
CULVER (_to_ John). Yes? You were about to say?
JOHN. Oh, nothing.
CULVER (_to_ Tranto). Shall I read the passage on your uncle?
TRANTO. Don't trouble. Who's the next?
CULVER. The next is--Ullivant, munitions manufacturer. Let me see.
(_Reads_.) By the simple means of saying that the cost price of shells
was eighteen shillings and ninepence each, whereas it was in fact only
ten shillings and ninepence, Mr. Joshua Ullivant has made a fortune of
two million pounds during the war. He has given a hundred thousand to
the Prince of Wales's Fund, a hundred thousand to the Red Cross, and a
hundred thousand to the party funds. Total net profit on the war, one
million seven hundred thousand pounds, not counting the peerage which is
now bestowed upon him, and which it must be admitted is a just reward
for his remarkable business acumen.'
TRANTO. Very agreeable fellow Ullivant is, nevertheless.
CULVER. Oh, he is. They're most of them too damned agreeable for
anything. Another prominent name is Orlando Bush.
MRS. CULVER. I've met his wife. She dances beautifully at charity
CULVER. No doubt. But apparently that's not the reason.
TRANTO. I know Orlando. I've just bought the serial rights of his book.
CULVER. Have you paid him?
CULVER. How wise of you! (_Reads_). 'Mr. Orlando Bush has written a
historical sketch, with many circumstantial details, of the political
origins of the present Government. For his forbearance in kindly
consenting to withold publication until the end of the war Mr. Bush
receives a well-earned'--
TRANTO. Cheap! But what a sell for me!
CULVER. Now, ladies and gentlemen, the last name with which I will
trouble you is that of Mr. James Brill.
TRANTO. Not Jimmy Brill!
CULVER. Jimmy Brill.
TRANTO. But he's a--
CULVER. Stop, my dear Tranto. No crude phrases, please. (_Reads_.) 'Mr.
James Brill, to use the language of metaphor, possessed a pistol, which
pistol he held point blank at the head of the Government. The Government
has thought it wise to purchase Mr. James Brill's pistol--'
TRANTO. But he's a--
CULVER (_raising a hand_). He is merely the man with the pistol, and in
exchange for the pistol he gets a baronetcy.
TRANTO. A baronetcy!
CULVER. His title and pistol will go rattling down the ages, my dear
Tranto, from generation to generation. For the moment the fellow's name
stinks, but only for the moment. In the nostrils of his grandson (third
baronet), it will have a most sweet odour.
MRS. CULVER. But all this is perfectly shocking.
CULVER. Now I hope you comprehend my emotion, darling.
MRS. CULVER But surely there are some _nice_ names on the List.
CULVER. Of course. There have to be some nice names, for the sake of the
psychological effect on the public mind on New Year's Day. The public
looks for a good name, or for a name it can understand. It skims down
the List till it sees one. Then it says: 'Ah! That's not so bad!' Then
it skims down further till it sees another one, and it says again: 'Ah!
That's not so bad!' And so on. So that with about five or six decent
names you can produce the illusion that after all the List is really
HILDEGARDE. The strange thing to me is that decent people condescend to
receive titles at all.
MRS. CULVER. Bravo, Hildegarde! Yes, if it's so bad as you make out,
Arthur, why _do_ decent people take Honours?
CULVER. I'll tell you. Decent people have wives, and their wives lead
them by the nose. That's why decent people take Honours.
MRS. CULVER. Well, I think it's monstrous!
CULVER. So it is. I've been a Conservative all my life; I am a
Conservative. I swear I am. And yet, now when I look back, I'm amazed at
the things I used to do. Why, once I actually voted against a candidate
who stood for the reform of the House of Lords. Seems incredible. This
war is changing my ideas. (_Suddenly, after a slight pause_.) I'm
dashed if I don't join the Labour party and ask Ramsay Macdonald to
_Enter_ Parlourmaid, _back_.
PARLOURMAID. You are wanted on the telephone, madam.
MRS. CULVER. Oh, Arthur! (_Pats him on the shoulder as she goes out_.)
(_Exit_ Mrs. Culver _and_ Parlourmaid, _back_.)
CULVER. Hildegarde, go and see if you can hurry up dinner.
HILDEGARDE. No one could.
CULVER. Never mind, go and see. (_Exit_ Hildegarde, _back_.) John, just
take these keys, and get some cigars out of the cabinet, you know,
JOHN. Oh! Is it a Partaga night? (_Exit, back_.)
CULVER (_watching the door close_). Tranto, we are conspirators.
TRANTO. You and I?
CULVER. Yes. But we must have no secrets. Who wrote that article in _The
Echo_? Who is Sampson Straight?
TRANTO (_temporising, lightly_). You remind me of the man with the
CULVER. Is it Hildegarde?
TRANTO. How did you guess?
CULVER. Well; first, I knew my daughter couldn't be the piffling lunatic
who does your war cookery articles. Second, I asked myself: What reason
has she for pretending to be that piffling lunatic? Third, I have an
exceedingly high opinion of my daughter's brains. Fourth, she gave a
funny start just now when I mentioned the idea of Sampson Straight going
to the Tower.
TRANTO. Perhaps I ought to explain--
CULVER. No you oughn't. There's no time. I simply wanted a bit of
information. I've got it. Now I have a bit of information for you. I've
been offered a place in this beautiful Honours List. Baronetcy! Me! I am
put on the same high plane as Mr. James Brill, the unspeakable. The
formal offer hasn't actually arrived--it's late; I expect the letter'll
be here in the morning--but I know for a fact I'm in the List for a
TRANTO. Well, I congratulate you.
CULVER. You'd better not.
TRANTO. You deserve more than a baronetcy. Your department has been a
striking success--one of the very few in the whole length of Whitehall.
CULVER. I know my department has been a success. But that's not why I'm
offered a baronetcy. Good heavens, I haven't even spoken to any member
of the War Cabinet yet. I've been trying to for about a year, but in
spite of powerful influences to help me I've never been able to bring
off a meeting with the mandarins. No! I'm offered a baronetcy because
I'm respectable; I'm decent; and at the last moment they thought the
List looked a bit too thick--so they pushed me in. One of their
brilliant afterthoughts!... No damned merit about the thing, I can tell
TRANTO. Do you mean you intend to refuse?
CULVER. Do you mean you ever imagined that I should accept? Me, in the
same galley with Brill--who daren't go into his own clubs--and Ullivant,
and a few more pretty nearly as bad! Of course, I shall refuse. Nothing
on earth would induce me to accept. Nothing! (_More calmly_.) Mind you,
I don't blame the Government; probably the Government can't help itself.
Therefore the Government must be helped; and sometimes the best way to
help a fellow creature is to bring him to his senses by catching him one
across the jaw.
TRANTO. Why are you making a secret of it? The offer is surely bound to
CULVER. Of course. I'm only making a secret of it for the moment, while
I prepare the domestic ground for my refusal.
TRANTO. You wish me to understand--
CULVER. You know what women are. (_With caution_.) I speak of the sex in
TRANTO. I see.
CULVER. That's all right.
TRANTO. Well, if I mayn't congratulate you on the title, let me
congratulate you on your marvellous skill in this delicate operation of
preparing the domestic ground for your refusal of the title. Your
success is complete, absolute.
CULVER (_sardonic_.) Complete? Absolute?
TRANTO. You have--er--jockeyed Mrs.--er--the sex into committing itself
quite definitely against titles. Hence I look on your position as
CULVER. Good heavens, Tranto! How old are you?
CULVER. A quarter of a century--and you haven't learnt that no position
is impregnable against--er--the sex! You never know where the offensive
will come, nor when, nor how. The offensive is bound to be a surprise.
You aren't married. When you are you'll soon find out that being a
husband is a whole-time job. That's why so many husbands fail. They
can't give their entire attention to it. Tranto, my position must be
still further strengthened--during dinner. It can't be strengthened too
much. I've brought you into the conspiracy because you're on the spot
and I want you to play up.
TRANTO. Certainly, sir.
CULVER. The official letter _might_ come by to-night's post. If it does,
a considerable amount of histrionic skill will be needed.
TRANTO. Trust me for that.
CULVER. Oh! I do! Indeed I fancy after all I'm fairly safe. There's only
CULVER. My--I mean the sex, must hear of the offered title from me
first. If the news came to her indirectly she'd--
_Enter_ Mrs. Culver _rapidly, back_.
MRS. CULVER (_rushing to him_). Darling! Dearest! What a tease you are!
You needn't pretend any longer. Lady Prockter has just whispered to me
over the telephone that you're to have a baronetcy. Of course she'd be
bound to know. She said I might tell you. I never _dreamed_ of a title.
I'm so glad. Oh! But you _are_ a tease! (_Kisses him enthusiastically_.)
_The next day after dinner_. Culver _and_ Parlourmaid.
CULVER (_handing_ Parlourmaid _a letter_). That's for the post. Is Miss
PARLOURMAID. Yes, sir. She is waiting.
CULVER. Ask her to be good enough to keep on waiting. She may come in
when I ring twice.
PARLOURMAID. Yes, sir.
_Enter_ Mrs. Culver, _back_.
MRS. CULVER (_to_ Parlourmaid, _stopping her as she goes out,
dramatically_). Give me that letter. (_She snatches the letter from the_
Parlourmaid.) You can go. (Culver _rises_.) (_Exit_ Parlourmaid.)
MRS. CULVER. I am determined to make a stand this time.
CULVER (_soothingly_). So I see, darling.
MRS. CULVER. I have given way to you all my life. But I won't give way
now. This letter shall not go.
CULVER. As you like, darling.
MRS. CULVER. No. (_She tears the envelope open, without having looked at
it, and throws the letter into the fire. In doing so she lets fall a
CULVER (_rising and picking up the cheque_). I'll keep the cheque as a
MRS. CULVER. Cheque? What cheque?
CULVER. Darling, once in the old, happy days--I think it was last
week--you and I were walking down Bond Street, almost hand in hand, but
not quite, and you saw a brooch in a shop window. You simply had to have
that brooch. I offered it to you for a Christmas present. You are
wearing it now, and very well it suits you. This (_indicating the
cheque_) was to pay the bill.
MRS. CULVER. Arthur!
CULVER. Moral: Look before you burn. Miss Starkey will now have to write
a fresh letter.
MRS. CULVER. Arthur! You must forgive me. I'm in a horrid state of
nerves, and you said you were positively going to write to Lord Woking
to-night to refuse the title.
CULVER. I did say so.
MRS. CULVER (_hopefully_). But you haven't written?
CULVER. I haven't.
MRS. CULVER. You don't know how relieved I am!
CULVER (_sitting down, drawing her to him, and setting her on his
knee_). Infant! Cherub! Angel! Dove!... Devil! (_Caressing her_.) Are we
MRS. CULVER. It kills me to quarrel with you. (_They kiss_.)
CULVER. Darling, we are absurd.
MRS. CULVER. I don't care.
CULVER. Supposing that anyone came in and caught us!
MRS. CULVER. Well, we're married.
CULVER.--But it's so long since. Hildegarde's twenty-one! John,
MRS. CULVER. It seems to me like yesterday.
CULVER. Yes, you're incurably a girl.
MRS. CULVER. I'm not.
CULVER. You are. And I'm a boy. I say we are absurd. We're continually
absurd. We were absurd all last evening when we pretended before the
others, with the most disastrous results, that nothing was the matter.
We were still more absurd when we went to our twin beds and argued
savagely with each other from bed to bed until four o'clock this
morning. Do you know that I had exactly one hour and fifty-five minutes'
sleep? (_Yawns_.) Do you know that owing to extreme exhaustion my
behaviour at my office to-day has practically lost the war? But the most
absurd thing of all was you trying to do the Roman matron business at
dinner to-night. Mind you, I adore you for being absurd, but--
MRS. CULVER (_very endearingly, putting her hand on his mouth_).
Dearest, you needn't continue. I know you're wiser and stronger than me
in every way. But I love that. Most women wouldn't; but I do. (_Kisses
him_.) Oh! I'm so glad you've at last seen the force of my arguments
about the title.
CULVER (_gently warning_). Now, now! You're behaving like a journalist.
MRS. CULVER. Like a journalist?
CULVER. Journalists say a thing that they know isn't true, in the hope
that if they keep on saying it long enough it _will_ be true.
MRS. CULVER. But you do see the force of my arguments!
CULVER. Quite. But I also see the force of mine, and, as an impartial
judge, I'm bound to say that yours aren't in it with mine.
MRS. CULVER. Then you've refused the title after all?
CULVER (_ingratiatingly_). No. I told you I hadn't. But I'm going to. I
was just thinking over the terms of the fatal letter to Lord Woking when
you came in. Starkey is now waiting for me to dictate it. You see it
positively must be posted to-night.
MRS. CULVER (_springing from his knee_). Arthur, you're playing with me!
CULVER. No doubt. Like a mouse plays with a cat.
MRS. CULVER. Surely it has occurred to you--
CULVER (_firmly, but very pleasantly_). Stop! You had till four o'clock
this morning to deliver all your arguments. You aren't going to begin
again. I understand you've stayed in bed all day. Quite right! But if
you stayed in bed merely to think of fresh arguments while I've been
slaving away at the office for my country, I say you're taking an unfair
advantage of me, and I won't have it.
MRS. CULVER (_with dignity_). No. I haven't any fresh arguments; and if
I had, I shouldn't say what they were.
CULVER. Oh! Why?
MRS. CULVER. Because I can see it's useless to argue with a man like
CULVER. Now that's what I call better news from the Front.
MRS. CULVER. I was only going to say this. Surely it has occurred to you
that on patriotic grounds alone you oughtn't to refuse the title. I
quite agree that Honours have been degraded. Quite! The thing surely is
to try and make them respectable again. And how are they ever to be
respectable if respectable men refuse them?
CULVER. This looks to me suspiciously like an argument.
MRS. CULVER. Not at all. It's simply a question.
CULVER. Well, the answer is, I don't want Honours to be respectable any
more. Proverb: When fish has gone bad ten thousand decent men can't take
away the stink.
MRS. CULVER. Now you're insulting your country. I know you often pretend
your country's the slackest place on earth, but it's only pretence. You
don't really think so. The truth is that inside you you're positively
conceited about your country. You think it's the greatest country that
ever was. And so it is. And yet when your country offers you this honour
you talk about bad fish. I say it's an insult to Great Britain.
CULVER. Great Britain hasn't offered me any title. The fact is that
there are a couple of shrewd fellows up a devil of a tree in Whitehall,
and they're waving a title at me in the hope that I shall come and stand
under the tree so that they can get down by putting their dirty boots on
my shoulders. Well, I'm not going to be a ladder.
MRS. CULVER. I wish you wouldn't try to be funny.
CULVER. I'm not _trying_ to be funny. I _am_ being funny.
MRS. CULVER. You might be serious for once.
CULVER. I am serious. Beneath this amusing and delightful exterior,
there is hidden the most serious, determined, resolute, relentless,
inexorable, immovable man that ever breathed. And let me tell you
something else, my girl--something I haven't mentioned before because of
my nice feelings. What has this title affair got to do with you? What
the dickens has it got to do with you? The title isn't offered as a
reward for _your_ work; it's offered as a reward for _my_ work. _You_
aren't the Controller of Accounts, _I_ happen to be the Controller of
Accounts. I have decided to refuse the title, and I shall refuse it.
_Nothing will induce me to accept it_. Do I make myself clear, or
(_smiling affectionately_) am I lost in a mist of words?
MRS. CULVER (_suddenly furious_). You are a brute. You always were. You
never think of anybody but yourself. My life has been one long
sacrifice, and you know it perfectly well. Perfectly well! You talk
about _your_ work. What about my work? Why! You'd be utterly useless
without me. You can't even look after your own collars. Could you go
down to your ridiculous office without a collar? I've done everything
for you, everything! And now! (_Weeping_). I can't even be called 'my
lady.' I only wanted to hear the parlourmaid call me 'my lady.' It seems
a simple enough thing--
CULVER (_persuasively and softly, trying to seize her_). You divine
MRS. CULVER (_in a supreme, blazing outbreak escaping him_). Let me
alone! I told you at the start I should never give way. And I never
will. Never! If you send that letter of refusal, do you know what I
shall do? I shall go and see the War Cabinet myself. I shall tell them
you don't mean it. I'll make the most horrible scandal.... When I think
of the Duke of Wellington--
CULVER (_surprised and alarmed_). The Duke of Wellington?
MRS. CULVER (_drawing herself up at the door, L_). The Duke of
Wellington didn't refuse a title! Hildegarde shall sleep in our room,
and you can have hers! (_Exit violently, L_.)
CULVER (_intimidated, as she goes_). Look here, hurricane! (_He rushes
out after her_.)
_Enter_ Hildegarde _and_ Tranto, _back_.
HILDEGARDE (_seeing the room empty_). Well, I thought I heard them.
TRANTO (_catching noise of high words from the boudoir_.) I fancy I _do_
HILDEGARDE. Perhaps we'd better go.
TRANTO. But I want to speak to you--just for a moment.
HILDEGARDE (_moving uneasily_). What about?
TRANTO. I don't know. Anything. It doesn't matter what ... I don't hear
HILDEGARDE (_listening and hearing nothing; reassured_). I should have
thought you wouldn't have wanted to come here any more for a long time.
HILDEGARDE. After the terrible experiences of last night, during dinner
and after dinner.
TRANTO. The general constraint?
HILDEGARDE. The general constraint.
TRANTO. The awkwardness? HILDEGARDE. The awkwardness.
TRANTO. The frightful silences and the forced conversations?
HILDEGARDE (_nods_). Why _did_ you come?
HILDEGARDE. I suppose you're still confined to this house.
TRANTO (_in a new confidential tone_). I wish you'd treat me as your
HILDEGARDE. But of course I will--
TRANTO. That's fine. He treats me as an intimate friend.
HILDEGARDE. But you must treat me as you treat papa.
TRANTO (_slightly dashed_). I'll try. I might tell you that I had two
very straight talks with your father last night.
TRANTO. Yes; one before dinner, and the other just before I left--when
you'd gone to bed. He began them--both of them.
HILDEGARDE. Oh! So that you may be said to know the whole situation.
TRANTO. Yes. Up to last thing last night, that is.
HILDEGARDE. Since then it's developed on normal lines. What do you think
TRANTO. I adore your mother, but I think your father's quite right.
HILDEGARDE. Well, naturally! I take that for granted. I was expecting
something rather more original.
TRANTO. You shall have it. I think that you and I are very largely
responsible for the situation. I think our joint responsibility binds us
HILDEGARDE. Mr. Tranto!
TRANTO. Certainly. There's no doubt in my mind that your father was
enormously influenced by Sampson Straight's article on the Honours
scandal. In fact he told me so. And seeing that you wrote it and I
HILDEGARDE (_alarmed_). You didn't tell him I'm Sampson Straight?
TRANTO. Can you imagine me doing such a thing?
HILDEGARDE. I hope not. Shall I tell you what _I_ think of the
TRANTO. I wish you would.
HILDEGARDE. I think such situations would never arise if parents weren't
so painfully unromantic. I'm not speaking particularly of papa and
mamma. I mean all parents. But take mamma. She's absolutely
matter-of-fact. And papa's nearly as bad. Of course I know they're
always calling each other by pet names; but that's mere camouflage for
their matter-of-factness. Whereas if they both had in them a little of
the real romance of life--everything would be different. At the same
time I needn't say that in this affair that we're now in the middle
of--there's no question of ratiocination.
TRANTO. Of what?
HILDEGARDE. Ratiocination. Reasoning. On either side.
TRANTO. Oh no!
HILDEGARDE. It's simply a question of mutual attitude, isn't it? Now, if
only--. But there! What's the use? Parents are like that, poor dears!
They have forgotten! (_With emphasis_.) They have forgotten--what makes
life worth living.
TRANTO. You mean, for instance, your mother never sits on your father's
HILDEGARDE (_bravely, after hesitation_). Yes! Crudely--that's what I do
TRANTO. Miss Hildegarde, you are the most marvellous girl I ever met.
You are, really! You seem to combine all qualities. It's amazing to me.
I'm more and more astounded. Every time I come here there's a fresh
revelation. Now you mention romance. I'm glad you mentioned it first.
But I _saw_ it first. I saw it in your eyes the first time I ever met
you. Yes! Miss Hilda, do you see it in mine? Look. Look closely.
(_Approaching her_.) Because it's there. I must tell you. I can't wait
any longer. (_Feeling for her hand, vainly_.)
HILDEGARDE (_drawing back_). Mr. Tranto, is this the way you treat
_Enter_ Mr. Culver, _back_.
CULVER (_quickly_). Hilda, go to your mother. She's upstairs.
HILDEGARDE. What am I to do?
CULVER. I don't know. (_With meaning_.) Think what the sagacious Sampson
Straight would do, and do that.
(Hildegarde _gives a sharp look first at_ Culver, _and then at_ Tranto,
_and exit, back_.)
CULVER (_turning to_ Tranto). My dear fellow, the war is practically
TRANTO. Good heavens! There was nothing on the tape when I left the
CULVER. Oh! I don't mean your war. I mean the twenty-two years' war.
TRANTO. The twenty-two years' war?
CULVER. My married life. Over! Finished! Napoo!
TRANTO. Do you know what you're saying?
CULVER. Look here, Tranto. You and I don't belong to the same
generation. In fact, if I'd started early enough I might have been your
father. But we got so damned intimate last night, and I'm in such a
damned hole, and you're so damned wise, that I feel I must talk to you.
Not that it'll be any use.
TRANTO. But what's the matter?
CULVER. The matter is--keeping a woman in the house.
TRANTO. Mr. Culver! You don't mean--
CULVER. I mean my wife--of course. I've just had the most ghastly rumpus
with my wife. It was divided into two acts. The first took place here,
the second in the boudoir (_indicating boudoir_). The second act was the
shortest but the worst.
TRANTO. But what was it all about?
CULVER. Now for heaven's sake don't ask silly questions. You know
perfectly well what it was about. It was about the baronetcy. I have
decided to refuse that baronetcy, and my wife has refused to let me
TRANTO. But what are her arguments?
CULVER. I've implored you once not to ask silly questions. 'What are her
arguments' indeed! She hasn't got any arguments. You know that. You're
too wise not to know it. She merely wants the title, that's all.
TRANTO. And how did the second act end?
CULVER. I don't quite remember.
TRANTO. Let me suggest that you sit down. (Culver _sits_.) Thanks. Now
I've always gathered from my personal observation, that you, if I may
say so, are the top dog here when it comes to the point--the crowned
head, as it were.
CULVER. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. At least, it did last
night, and I shall be greatly surprised if it doesn't to-night.
TRANTO. Naturally. A crown isn't a night-cap. But you are the top dog.
In the last resort, what you say, goes. That is so, isn't it? I only
want to be clear.
CULVER. Yes, I think that's pretty right.
TRANTO. Well, you have decided on public grounds, and as a question of
principle, to refuse the title. You intend to refuse it.
CULVER. I--I do.
TRANTO. Nobody can stop you from refusing it.
TRANTO. Mrs. Culver can't stop you from refusing it?
CULVER. Certainly not. It concerns me alone.
TRANTO. Well, then, where is the difficulty? A rumpus--I think you
said. What of that? My dear Mr. Culver, believe me, I have seen far more
of marriage than you have. You're only a married man. I'm a bachelor,
and I've assisted at scores of married lives. A rumpus is nothing. It
passes--and leaves the victor more firmly established than ever before.
CULVER (_rising_). Don't talk to me of rumpuses. I know all about
rumpuses. This one is an arch-rumpus. This one is like no other rumpus
that ever was. It's something new in my vast experience. I shall win. I
have won. But at what cost? (_With effect_.) The cost may be that I
shall never kiss the enemy again. The whole domestic future is in grave
TRANTO. Then you musn't win.
CULVER. But what about my public duty? What about my principles? I can't
sacrifice my principles.
TRANTO. Why not?
CULVER. I never have.
TRANTO. How old are you?
TRANTO. And you've never sacrificed a principle?
TRANTO. Then it's high time you began. And you'd better begin, before
it's too late. Besides, there are no principles in married life.
CULVER. Tranto, you are remarkable. How did you find that out?
TRANTO. I've often noticed it.
CULVER. It's a profound truth. It throws a new light on the entire
TRANTO. It does.
CULVER. Then you deliberately advise me to give way about the title?
TRANTO. I do.
CULVER. Strange! (_Casually_.) I had thought of doing so, but I never
dreamt you'd agree, and I'd positively determined to act on your advice.
You know, you're taking an immense responsibility.
TRANTO. I can bear that. What I couldn't bear is any kind of real
trouble in this house.
CULVER. Why? What's it got to do with you?
TRANTO. Nothing! Nothing! Only my abstract interest in the institution
CULVER (_ringing the bell twice_). Ah, well, after all, I'm not utterly
beaten yet. I've quite half an hour before post goes, and I shall fight
to the last ditch.
TRANTO. But hasn't Mrs. Culver retired?
TRANTO. May I suggest that it would be mistaken tactics to--er--run
CULVER. It would.
TRANTO. Well then?
CULVER. She will return.
TRANTO. How do you know?
CULVER. She always does.... No, Tranto, I may yet get peace on my own
terms. You see I'm an accountant. No ordinary people, accountants! For
one thing they make their money by counting other people's. I've known
accountants do marvellous stunts.
_Enter_ Miss Starkey, _back_.
TRANTO. I'll leave you.
CULVER. You'll find John somewhere about. I shan't be so very long--I
hope. Miss Starkey, kindly take down these two letters. How much time
have we before post goes?
(_Exit_ Tranto, _back_.)
MISS STARKEY. Forty minutes.
MISS STARKEY (_indicating some papers which she has brought_). These
things ought to be attended to to-night.
CULVER. Possibly. But they won't be.
MISS STARKEY. The Rosenberg matter is very urgent. He leaves for Glasgow
CULVER. I wish he'd leave for Berlin. I won't touch it to-night. Please
take down these two letters.
MISS STARKEY. Then it will be necessary for you to be at the office at
9.30 in the morning.
CULVER. I decline to be at the office at 9.30 in the morning.
MISS STARKEY. But I've an appointment for you. I was afraid you wouldn't
do anything to-night.
CULVER (_resigned_). Very well! Very well! Tell them to call me, and see
cook about breakfast. (_Beginning to dictate_.) 'My dear Lord Woking'--
MISS STARKEY (_sitting_). Excuse me, is this letter about the title?
MISS STARKEY. Then it ought to be an autograph letter. That's the
CULVER. How do you know?
MISS STARKEY. General knowledge.
CULVER. In this case the rule will be broken. That's flat.
MISS STARKEY. Then I must imitate your handwriting.
CULVER. Can you?
MISS STARKEY. You ought to know, Mr. Culver--by this time.
CULVER. I don't know officially. However, have your own way. Forge the
whole thing, signature and all. I don't care. 'My dear Lord Woking.
Extreme pressure of--er--government business has compelled me to leave
till last thing to-night my reply to your letter in which you are good
enough to communicate to me the offer of a baronetcy. I cannot
adequately express to you my sense of the honour in contemplation, but,
comma, for certain personal reasons with which I need not trouble you,
comma, I feel bound, with the greatest respect and the greatest
gratitude, to ask to be allowed to refuse. (Miss Starkey _shows
emotion_.) I am sure I can rely on you to convey my decision to the
proper quarter with all your usual tact. Believe me, my dear Lord
Woking, Cordially yours.' (_To_ Miss Starkey.) What in heaven's name is
the matter with you?
MISS STARKEY. Mr. Culver. I shall have to give you a month's notice.
CULVER (_staggered_). Have--have you gone mad too?
MISS STARKEY. Not that I am aware of. But I must give a month's
notice--for certain personal reasons with which I need not trouble you.
CULVER. Young woman, you know that you are absolutely indispensable to
me. You know that without you I should practically cease to exist. I am
quite open with you as to that--and as to everything. You are acquainted
with the very depths of my character and the most horrible secrets of my
life. I conceal nothing from you, and I demand that you conceal nothing
from me. What are your reasons for giving me notice in this manner?
MISS STARKEY. My self respect would not allow me to remain with a
gentleman who had refused a title. Oh, Mr. Culver, to be the private
secretary to a baronet has been my life's dream. And--and--I have just
had the offer of a place where a _peerage_ is in prospect. Still, I
wouldn't have, taken even that if you had not--if you had
not--(_controlling herself, coldly_). Kindly accept my notice. I give it
at once because I shall have no time to lose for the peerage.
CULVER. Miss Starkey, you drive me to the old, old conclusion--all women
MISS STARKEY. Then my leaving will cause you no inconvenience, because
you'll easily get another girl exactly like me.
CULVER. You are a heartless creature. (_In an ordinary voice_.) Did we
finish the first letter? This is the second one. (_Dictates_.) 'My dear
MISS STARKEY. But you've just given me that one.
CULVER (_firmly_.) 'My dear Lord Woking.' Go on the same as the first
one down to 'I cannot adequately express to you my sense of the honour
in contemplation.' 'Full stop. I need hardly say that, in spite of my
feeling that I have done only too little to deserve it, I accept it with
the greatest pleasure and the greatest gratitude. Believe me, etc.'
MISS STARKEY. But--
CULVER. Don't imagine that your giving me notice has affected me in the
slightest degree. It has not. I told you I had two letters. I have not
yet decided whether to accept or refuse the title. (_Enter_ Mrs. Culver,
_back_.) Go and copy both letters and bring them in to me in a quarter
of an hour, whether I ring or not. That will give you plenty of time for
post. Now--run! (_Exit_ Miss Starkey, _back_. Culver _rises, clears his
throat, and obviously braces himself for a final effort of firmness_.
Mrs. Culver _calmly rearranges some flowers in a vase_.) Well, my dear,
I was expecting you.
MRS. CULVER (_very sweetly_), Arthur, I was wrong.
CULVER (_startled_). Good God! (Mrs. Culver _bends down to examine the
upholstery of a chair_. Culver _gives a gesture, first of triumph, and
then of apprehension_.)
MRS. CULVER (_looking straight at him_). I say I was wrong.
CULVER (_lightly, but uneasily_). Oh no! Oh no!
MRS. CULVER. Of course I don't mean wrong in my arguments about the
title. Not for a moment. I mean I was wrong not to sacrifice my own
point of view. I'm only a woman, and it's the woman's place to submit.
So I do submit. Naturally I shall always be a true wife to you, but--
CULVER. Now child, don't begin to talk like that. I don't mind _reading_
novels, but I won't have raw lumps of them thrown _at_ me.
MRS. CULVER (_with a gentle smile_), I _must_ talk like this. I shall do
everything I can to make you comfortable, and I hope nobody, and
especially not the poor children, will notice any difference in our
CULVER (_advancing, with a sort of menace_). But?
MRS. CULVER. But things can never be the same again.
CULVER. I knew the confounded phrase was coming. I knew it. I've read it
scores of times. (_Picking up the vase_.) Hermione, if you continue in
that strain, I will dash this vase into a thousand fragments.
MRS. CULVER (_quietly taking the vase from him and putting it down_).
Arthur, I could have forgiven you everything. What do I
care--really--about a title? (_Falsely_.) I only care for your
happiness. But I can't forgive you for having laid a trap for me last
night--and in front of the children and a stranger too.
CULVER. Laid a trap for you?
MRS. CULVER. You knew all about the title when you first came in last
night and you deliberately led me on.
CULVER. Oh! That! Ah well! One does what one can. You've laid many a
trap for me, my girl. You're still about ten up and two to play in the
MRS. CULVER. I've never laid a trap for you.
CULVER. Fibster! Come here. (Mrs. Culver _hesitates_.) Come hither--and
be kissed. (_She_ _approaches submissively, and then, standing like a
marble statue, allows herself to be kissed_. Culver _assumes the
attitude of the triumphant magnanimous male_.) There! That's all right.
MRS. CULVER (_having moved away; still very sweetly and coldly_). Can I
do anything else for you before I go to bed?
CULVER (_ignoring the question; grandly and tolerantly_). Do you
suppose, my marble statue, that after all I've said at the Club about
the rascality of this Honours business, I could ever have appeared there
as a New Year Baronet? The thing's unthinkable. Why, I should have had
to resign and join another Club!
MRS. CULVER (_calmly and severely_). So that's it, is it? I might have
known what was really at the bottom of it all. Your Club again! You have
to choose between your wife and your Club, and of course it's your wife
that must suffer. Naturally!
CULVER. Go on! You'll be saying next that I've committed bigamy with my
MRS. CULVER (_with youthful vivacity_). I'm an old woman--
CULVER (_flatteringly_). Yes, look at you! Hag! When I fell in love
with you your hair was still down. The marvel to me is that I ever let
you put it up.
MRS. CULVER. I'm only an old woman now. You have had the best part of my
life. You might have given me great pleasure with this title. But no!
Your Club comes first. And what a child you are! As if there's one
single member of your Club who wouldn't envy you your baronetcy!
However, I've nothing more to say. (_Moving towards the door, back_.) Oh
yes, I have. (_Casually_.) I've decided to go away to-morrow and stay
with grandma for a long holiday. She needs me, and if I'm not to break
down entirely I must have a change. I've told Hildegarde
our--arrangements. The poor girl's terribly upset. Please don't disturb
me in the morning. I shall take the noon train. Good-night.
MRS. CULVER (_returning a little from the direction of the door,
submissively_). Yes, Arthur.
CULVER. If you keep on playing the martyr much longer there will be
bloodshed, and you'll know what martyrdom is.
MRS. CULVER (_in a slightly relenting tone_). Arthur, you were always
conscientious. Your conscience is working.
CULVER. I have no conscience. Never had.
MRS. CULVER (_persuasively, and with much charm_). Yes you have, and
it's urging you to give way to your sensible little wife. You know
you're only bluffing.
CULVER. Indeed I'm not.
MRS. CULVER. Yes, you are. Mr. Tranto advised you to give way, and you
think such a lot of his opinion.
CULVER. Who told you Tranto advised me to give way?
MRS. CULVER. He did.
CULVER. Damn him!
MRS. CULVER (_soothingly_). Yes, yes.
CULVER. No, no!
MRS. CULVER. And your dear, indispensable Miss Starkey thinks the same.
(_She tries to kiss him_.) CULVER. No, no! (Mrs. Culver _succeeds in
_Enter_ Miss Starkey.
(_The other two spring apart. A short pause_.)
CULVER. Which is the refusal?