mean (to KATE) it wouldn't really help matters if I did shoot him,
(KATE looks at him without saying anything, trying to understand this
new man who has come into her life. NORWOOD swallows, and tries very
hard to say something)
NORWOOD. I - I -
DENNIS (turning to him). You_ don't think so, do you?
NORWOOD. I - I -
DENNIS. No, I'm quite sure you're right. It wouldn't really help. It
is difficult, isn't it? You see (to KATE) _you_ love _him_ - (he waits
a moment for her to say it if she will, but she only looks at
him) - and _he_ says _he_ loves _you_, but at the same time I _am_ your
husband. . . . (He walks up and down thoughtfully, and then says suddenly
to NORWOOD) I'll tell you what - I'll fight you for her.
NORWOOD (trying to be firm). I think we'd better leave this
eighteenth-century nonsense out of it.
DENNIS (pleasantly). They fight in the twentieth century, too, Mr.
Norwood. Perhaps you hadn't heard what we've been doing these last
four years? Oh, quite a lot of it. . . . Well?
NORWOOD. You don't wish me to believe that you're serious?
DENNIS. Perfectly. Swords, pistols, fists, catch-as-catch-can - what
would you like?
NORWOOD. I do not propose to indulge in an undignified scuffle for
the - er - lady of my heart.
DENNIS (cheerfully). Nothing doing in scuffles, eh? All right, then,
I'll toss you for her.
NORWOOD. Now you're merely being vulgar. (to KATE) My dear -
(She motions him back with her hand, but does not take her eyes off
DENNIS. Really, Mr. Norwood, you're a little hard to please. If you
don't like my suggestions, perhaps you will make one of your own.
NORWOOD. This is obviously a matter in which it is for the - er - lady
DENNIS. You think Mrs. Camberley should choose between us?
DENNIS. What do you say, Kate?
KATE. You are very generous, Dennis.
DENNIS (after a pause). Very well, you shall choose.
NORWOOD (complacently). Ah!
DENNIS. Wait a moment, Mr. Norwood. (to KATE) When did you first meet
KATE. A year ago.
DENNIS. And he's been making love to you for a year? (KATE bends her
head) He's been making love to you for a year?
NORWOOD. I think, sir, that the sooner the lady makes her choice, and
brings this distressing scene to a close - After all, is it fair to her
to - ?
DENNIS. Are you fair to _me_? You've been making love to her for a
year. _I_ made love to her for a fort-night - four years ago. And now
you want her to choose between us. Is _that_ fair?
NORWOOD. You hardly expect us to wait a year before she is allowed to
make up her mind?
DENNIS. I waited four years for her out there. . . . However, I won't ask
you to wait a year. I'll ask you to wait for five minutes.
KATE. What is it you want us to do, Dennis?
DENNIS. I want you to listen to both of us, for five minutes each;
that's all. After all, we're your suitors, aren't we? You're going to
choose between us. Very well, then, you must hear what we have to say.
Mr. Norwood shall have five minutes alone with you in which to present
his case; five minutes in which to tell you how beautiful you
are. . . . and how rich he is . . . and how happy you'll be together.
And I shall have _my_ five minutes.
NORWOOD (sneering). Five minutes in which to tell her lies about _me_,
DENNIS. Damn it, you've had a whole year in which to tell her lies
about yourself; you oughtn't to grudge me five minutes. (to KATE)
KATE. I agree, Dennis.
DENNIS. Good. (He spins a coin, puts it on the back of his hand, and
says to NORWOOD) Call!
NORWOOD. What on _earth_ -
DENNIS. Choice of innings.
NORWOOD. I never heard of anything so - Tails.
DENNIS (uncovering it). Heads. You shall have first knock.
NORWOOD (bewildered). What do you - I don't -
DENNIS. You have five minutes in which to lay your case before Mrs.
Camberley. (He looks at his watch) Five minutes - and then I shall come
back. . . . Is there a fire in the dining-room, Kate?
KATE (smiling in spite of herself). A gas-fire; it isn't lit.
DENNIS. Then I shall light it. (to NORWOOD) That will make the room
nice and warm for you by the time you've finished. (He goes to the
door and says again) Five minutes.
(There is an awkward silence after he is gone. KATE waits for NORWOOD
to say something, but NORWOOD doesn't know in the least what is
expected of him.)
NORWOOD (looking anxiously at the door). What's the fellow's game, eh?
NORWOOD. Yes. What's he up to?
KATE. Is he up to anything?
NORWOOD. I don't like it. Why the devil did he choose to-day to come
back? If he'd waited another week, we'd have been safely away
together. What's his game, I wonder?
(He walks up and down, worrying it out.)
KATE. I don't think he's playing a game. He's just giving me my
NORWOOD. What chance?
KATE. A chance to decide between you.
NORWOOD. You've decided that, Kate. You've had a year to think about
it in, and you've decided. We love each other; you're coming away with
me; that's all settled. Only . . . what the deuce is he up to?
KATE (sitting down and talking to herself). You're quite right about
my not knowing him. . . . How one rushed into marriage in those early
days of the war - knowing nothing about each other. And then they come
back, and even the little one thought one did know is different. . . . I
suppose he feels the same about me.
NORWOOD (to himself). Damn him!
KATE (after a pause). Well, Cyril?
NORWOOD (looking sharply round at her). Well?
KATE. We haven't got very long.
NORWOOD (looking at his watch). He really means to come back - in five
KATE. You heard him say so.
NORWOOD (going up to her and speaking eagerly). What's the matter with
slipping out now? You've got a hat here. We can slip out quietly. He
won't hear us. He'll come back and find us gone - well, what can he do?
Probably he'll hang about for a bit and then go to his club. We'll
have a bit of dinner; ring up your maid; get her to meet you with some
things, and go off by the night mail. Scotland - anywhere you like. Let
the whole business simmer down a bit. We don't want any melodramatic
KATE. Go out now, and not wait for him to have _his_ five minutes?
NORWOOD (impatiently). What does he _want_ with five minutes? What's
the _good_ of it to him? Just to take a pathetic farewell of you, and
pretend that you've ruined his life, when all the time he's chuckling
in his sleeve at having got rid of you so easily. _I_ know these young
fellows. Some Major's wife in India is what _he's_ got his eye on. . . .
Or else he'll try fooling around with the hands-up business. You don't
want to be mixed up with any scandal of _that_ sort. No, the best
thing we can do - I'm speaking for _your_ sake, Kate - is to slip off
quietly, while we've got the chance. We can _write_ and explain all
that we want to explain.
KATE (looking wonderingly at him - another man whom she doesn't know).
Is that playing quite fair to Dennis?
NORWOOD. Good Lord, this isn't a game! Camberley may think so with his
tossing-up and all the rest of it, but you and I aren't children.
Everything's fair in a case like this. Put your hat on - quickly - (he
gets it for her) - here you are -
KATE (standing up). I'm not sure, Cyril.
NORWOOD. What d'you mean?
KATE. He expects me to wait for him.
NORWOOD. If it comes to that, he expected you to wait for him four
KATE. Yes. . . . (Quietly) Thank you for reminding me.
NORWOOD. Kate, don't be stupid. What's happened to you? Of course, I
know it's been beastly upsetting for you, all this - but then, why do
you want to go on with it? Why do you want _more_ upsetting scenes?
You've got a chance now of getting out of it all, and - (He looks at
his watch) Good Lord!
KATE. Is the five minutes over?
NORWOOD. Quick, quick! (He puts his fingers to his lips) Quietly. (He
walks on tiptoe to the door.)
KATE (sitting down again). It's no good, Cyril, I must wait for him.
(The door opens, and NORWOOD starts back quickly as DENNIS comes in.)
DENNIS (looking at his watch). Innings declared closed. (to NORWOOD)
The dining-room is nicely warmed now, and I've left you an evening
NORWOOD (going to KATE). Look here, Mr. Camberley, Kate and I -
DENNIS. Mrs. Camberley, no doubt, will tell me.
(He holds the door open and waits politely for NORWOOD to go.)
NORWOOD. I don't know what your game is -
DENNIS. You've never been in Mesopotamia, Mr. Norwood?
DENNIS. It's a very trying place for the temper. . . . I'm waiting for
NORWOOD (irresolute). Well, I - - (He comes sulkily to the door) Well,
I shall come back for Kate in five minutes.
DENNIS. Mrs. Camberley and I will be ready for you. You know your way?
[NORWOOD goes out.
(DENNIS shuts the door. He comes into the room and stands looking at
KATE (uncomfortably). Well?
DENNIS. No, don't move. I just want to look at you. . . . I've seen you
like that for four years. Don't move. . . . I've been in some dreary
places, but you've been with me most of the time. Just let's have a
KATE. A last look?
KATE. You're saying good-bye to me?
DENNIS. I don't know whether it's to you, Kate. To the girl who has
been with me these last four years. Was that you?
KATE (dropping her eyes). I don't know, Dennis.
DENNIS. I wish to God I wasn't your husband.
KATE. What would you do if you weren't my husband?
DENNIS. Make love to you.
KATE. Can't you do that now?
DENNIS. Being your husband rather handicaps me, you know. I never
really stood a chance against the other fellow.
KATE. I was to choose between you, you said. You think that I have
already made up my mind?
DENNIS (smiling). I think so.
KATE. And chosen him?
DENNIS (shaking his head). Oh, no!
KATE (surprised). You think I have chosen _you_?
DENNIS (nodding). M'm.
KATE (indignantly). Really, Dennis! Considering that I had practically
arranged to run away with him twenty minutes ago! You must think me
DENNIS. Not fickle. Imaginative.
KATE. What do you mean? And why are you so certain that I am going to
choose you? And why in that case did you talk about taking a last look
at me? And what - ?
DENNIS. Of course, we've only got five minutes, but I think that if
you asked your questions one at a time - -
KATE (smiling). Well, you needn't _answer_ them all together.
DENNIS. All right then, one at a time. Why am I certain that you will
choose me? Because for the first time in your life you have just been
alone with Mr. Cyril Norwood. That's what I meant by saying you were
imaginative. The Norwood you've been thinking yourself in love with
doesn't exist. I'm certain that you've seen him for the first time in
these last few minutes. Why, the Archangel Gabriel would have made a
hash of a five minutes like that; it would have been impossible for
him to have said the right thing to you. Norwood? Good Lord, he didn't
stand a chance. You were judging him all the time, weren't you?
KATE (thoughtfully). You're very clever, Dennis.
DENNIS (cheerfully). Four years' study of the Turkish character.
KATE. But how do you know I'm not judging _you_ all the time?
DENNIS. Of course you are. But there's all the difference in the world
between judging a stranger like me, and judging the man you thought
you were in love with.
KATE. You _are_ a stranger to me.
DENNIS. I know. That's why I said good-bye to the girl who had been
with me these last four years, the girl I had married. Well, I've said
good-bye to her. You're not my wife any longer, Kate; but if you don't
mind pretending that I'm not your husband, and just give me a chance
of making love to you - well, that's all I want.
KATE. You're very generous, Dennis.
DENNIS. No, I'm not. I'm very much in love; and for a man very much in
love I'm being rather less of a silly ass than usual. Why should you
love me? You fell in love with my uniform at the beginning of the war.
I was ordered out, and you fell in love with the departing hero. After
that? Well, I had four years - alone - in which to think about _you_,
and you had four years - with other men - in which to forget _me_. Is it
any wonder that - ?
(NORWOOD comes in.)
NORWOOD (roughly). Well?
DENNIS. You arrive just in time, Mr. Norwood. I was talking too much.
(to KATE) Mrs. Camberley, we are both at your disposal. Will you
choose between us, which one is to have the happiness of - serving you?
NORWOOD (holding out his hand to her, and speaking in the voice of the
(KATE goes slowly up to him with her hand held out.)
KATE (shaking NORWOOD'S hand). Good-bye, Mr. Norwood.
NORWOOD (astounded). Kate! (to DENNIS) You devil!
DENNIS. And only a moment ago I was comparing you to the Archangel
NORWOOD (sneeringly to KATE). So you're going to be a loving wife to
him after all?
DENNIS (tapping him kindly on the shoulder). You'll remember what I
said about Mesopotamia?
NORWOOD (pulling himself together hastily). Good-bye, Mrs. Camberley.
I can only hope that you will be happy.
(He goes out with dignity.)
DENNIS (closing the door). Well, there we agree.
(He comes back to her.)
KATE. What a stupid little fool I have been. (She holds out her arms
to him) Dennis!
DENNIS (retreating in mock alarm). Oh no, you don't! (He shakes a
finger at her) We're not going to rush it _this_ time.
KATE (reproachfully). Dennis!
DENNIS. I think you should call me Mr. Camberley.
KATE (with a smile). Mr. Camberley.
DENNIS. That's better. Now our courtship begins. (Bowing low) Madam,
will you do me the great honour of dining with me this evening?
KATE (curtseying). I shall be charmed.
DENNIS. Then let us hasten. The carriage waits.
KATE (holding up the two hats). Which of these two chapeaux do you
prefer, Mr. Camberley?
DENNIS. Might I express a preference for the black one with the pink
KATE. It is very elegant, is it not? (She puts it on.)
DENNIS. Vastly becoming, upon my life. . . . I might mention that I am
staying at the club. Is your ladyship doing anything to-morrow?
KATE. Nothing of any great importance.
(He offers his arm and she takes it.)
DENNIS (as they go to the door). Then perhaps I may be permitted to
call round to-morrow morning about eleven, and make inquiries as to
your ladyship's health.
KATE. It would be very obliging of you, sir.
[They go out together.
THE ROMANTIC AGE
A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS
MARY KNOWLE (his wife).
MELISANDE (his daughter).
JANE BAGOT (his niece).
* * * * *
The hall of MR. KNOWLE'S house. Evening.
A glade in the wood. Morning.
The hall again. Afternoon.
* * * * *
This play was first produced by Mr. Arthur Wontner at the Comedy
Theatre on October 18, 1920, with the following cast:
Henry Knowle - A. BROMLEY-DAVENPORT.
Mary Knowle - LOTTIE VENNE.
Melisande - BARBARA HOFFE.
Jane - DOROTHY TETLEY.
Bobby - JOHN WILLIAMS.
Gervase Mallory - ARTHUR WONTNER.
Ern - ROY LENNOL.
Gentleman Susan - H.O. NICHOLSON.
Alice - IRENE RATHBONE.
THE ROMANTIC AGE
(We are looking at the inner hall of MR. HENRY KNOWLE'S country house,
at about 9.15 of a June evening. There are doors R. and L. - on the
right leading to the drawing-room, on the left to the entrance hall,
the dining-room and the library. At the back are windows - French
windows on the right, then an interval of wall, then casement
(MRS. HENRY KNOWLE, her daughter, MELISANDE, and her niece, JANE
BAGOT, are waiting for their coffee, MRS. KNOWLE, short and stoutish,
is reclining on the sofa; JANE, pleasant-looking and rather obviously
pretty, is sitting in a chair near her, glancing at a book; MELISANDE,
the beautiful, the romantic, is standing by the open French windows,
gazing into the night.)
(ALICE, the parlourmaid, comes in with the coffee. She stands in front
of MRS. KNOWLE, a little embarrassed because MRS. KNOWLE'S eyes are
closed. She waits there until JANE looks up from her book.)
JANE. Aunt Mary, dear, are you having coffee?
MRS. KNOWLE (opening her eyes with a start). Coffee. Oh, yes, coffee.
Jane, put the milk in for me. And no sugar. Dr. Anderson is very firm
about that. "No sugar, Mrs. Knowle," he said. "Oh, Dr. Anderson!" I
(ALICE has taken the tray to JANE, who pours out her own and her
aunt's coffee, and takes her cup off the tray.)
JANE. Thank you.
(ALICE takes the tray to MRS. KNOWLE.)
MRS. KNOWLE. Thank you.
(ALICE goes over to MELISANDE, who says nothing, but waves her away.)
MRS. KNOWLE (as soon as ALICE is gone). Jane!
JANE. Yes, Aunt Mary?
MRS. KNOWLE. Was my mouth open?
JANE. Oh, _no_, Aunt Mary.
MRS. KNOWLE. Ah, I'm glad of that. It's so bad for the servants. (She
finishes her coffee.)
JANE (getting up). Shall I put it down for you?
MRS. KNOWLE. Thank you, dear.
(JANE puts the two cups down and goes back to her book. MRS. KNOWLE
fidgets a little on her sofa.)
MRS. KNOWLE. Sandy! (There is no answer) Sandy!
(MELISANDE turns round and comes slowly towards her mother.)
MELISANDE. Did you call me, Mother?
MRS. KNOWLE. Three times, darling. Didn't you hear me?
MELISANDE. I am sorry, Mother, I was thinking of other things.
MRS. KNOWLE. You think too much, dear. You remember what the great
poet tells us. "Do noble things, not dream them all day long."
Tennyson, wasn't it? I know I wrote it in your album for you when you
were a little girl. It's so true.
MELISANDE. Kingsley, Mother, not Tennyson.
JANE (nodding). Kingsley, that's right.
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, it's the same thing. I know when _my_ mother used
to call me I used to come running up, saying, "What is it, Mummy,
darling?" And even if it was anything upstairs, like a handkerchief or
a pair of socks to be mended, I used to trot off happily, saying to
myself, "Do noble things, not dream them all day long."
MELISANDE. I am sorry, Mother. What is the noble thing you want doing?
MRS. KNOWLE. Well now, you see, I've forgotten. If only you'd come at
once, dear -
MELISANDE. I was looking out into the night. It's a wonderful night.
MRS. KNOWLE. Midsummer Night. And now I suppose the days will start
drawing in, and we shall have winter upon us before we know where we
are. All these changes of the seasons are very inconsiderate to an
invalid. Ah, now I remember what I wanted, dear. Can you find me
another cushion? Dr. Anderson considers it most important that the
small of the back should be well supported after a meal. (Indicating
the place) Just here, dear.
JANE (jumping up with the cushion from her chair). Let me, Aunt Mary.
MRS. KNOWLE. Thank you, Jane. Just here, please. (JANE arranges it.)
JANE. Is that right?
MRS. KNOWLE. Thank you, dear. I only do it for Dr. Anderson's sake.
(JANE goes back to her book and MELISANDE goes back to her Midsummer
Night. There is silence for a little.)
MRS. KNOWLE. Oh, Sandy . . . Sandy!
MELISANDE (coming patiently down to them). Yes, Mother?
MRS. KNOWLE. Oh, Sandy, I've just remembered - (MELISANDE shudders.)
What is it, darling child? Are you cold? That comes of standing by the
open window in a treacherous climate like this. Close the window and
come and sit down properly.
MELISANDE. It's a wonderful night, Mother. Midsummer Night. I'm not
MRS. KNOWLE. But you shuddered. I distinctly saw you shudder. Didn't
you see her, Jane?
JANE. I'm afraid I wasn't looking, Aunt Mary.
MELISANDE. I didn't shudder because I was cold. I shuddered because
you will keep calling me by that horrible name. I shudder every time I
MRS. KNOWLE (surprised). What name, Sandy?
MELISANDE. There it is again. Oh, why did you christen me by such a
wonderful, beautiful, magical name as Melisande, if you were going to
call me Sandy?
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, dear, as I think I've told you, that was a mistake
of your father's. I suppose he got it out of some book. I should
certainly never have agreed to it, if I had heard him distinctly. I
thought he said Millicent - after your Aunt Milly. And not being very
well at the time, and leaving it all to him, I never really knew about
it until it was too late to do anything. I did say to your father,
"Can't we christen her again?" But there was nothing in the prayer
book about it except "riper years," and nobody seemed to know when
riper years began. Besides, we were all calling you Sandy then. I
think Sandy is a very pretty name, don't you, Jane?
JANE. Oh, but don't you think Melisande is beautiful, Aunt Mary? I
mean really beautiful.
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, it never seems to me quite respectable, not for a
nicely-brought-up young girl in a Christian house. It makes me think
of the sort of person who meets a strange young man to whom she has
never been introduced, and talks to him in a forest with her hair
coming down. They find her afterwards floating in a pool. Not at all
the thing one wants for one's daughter.
JANE. Oh, but how thrilling it sounds!
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, I think you are safer with "Jane," dear. Your
mother knew what she was about. And if I can save my only child from
floating in a pool by calling her Sandy, I certainly think it is my
duty to do so.
MELISANDE (to her self ecstatically). Melisande!
MRS. KNOWLE (to MELISANDE). Oh, and talking about floating in a pool
reminds me about the bread-sauce at dinner to-night. You heard what
your father said? You must give cook a good talking to in the morning.
She has been getting very careless lately. I don't know what's come
MELISANDE. _I've_ come over her. When _you_ were over her, everything
was all right. You know all about housekeeping; you take an interest
in it. I don't. I hate it. How can you expect the house to be run
properly when they all know I hate it? Why did you ever give it up and
make me do it when you know how I hate it?
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, you must learn not to hate it. I'm sure Jane here
doesn't hate it, and her mother is always telling me what a great help
MELISANDE (warningly). It's no good your saying you like it, Jane,
after what you told me yesterday.
JANE. I don't like it, but it doesn't make me miserable doing it. But
then I'm different. I'm not romantic like Melisande.
MELISANDE. One doesn't need to be very romantic not to want to talk
about bread-sauce. Bread-sauce on a night like this!
MRS. KNOWLE. Well, I'm only thinking of you, Sandy, not of myself. If
I thought about myself I should disregard all the warnings that Dr.
Anderson keeps giving me, and I should insist on doing the
housekeeping just as I always used to. But I have to think of you. I
want to see you married to some nice, steady young man before I
die - my handkerchief, Jane - (JANE gets up and gives her her
handkerchief from the other end of the sofa) - before I die (she
touches her eyes with her handkerchief), and no nice young man will
want to marry you, if you haven't learnt how to look after his house
MELISANDE (contemptuously). If that's marriage, I shall never get
JANE (shocked). Melisande, darling!
MRS. KNOWLE. Dr. Anderson was saying, only yesterday, trying to make
me more cheerful, "Why, Mrs. Knowle," he said, "you'll live another
hundred years yet." "Dr. Anderson," I said, "I don't _want_ to live
another hundred years. I only want to live until my dear daughter,
Melisande" - I didn't say Sandy to him because it seemed rather
familiar - "I only want to live until my daughter Melisande is happily
married to some nice, steady young man. Do this for me, Dr. Anderson,"
I said, "and I shall be your lifelong debtor." He promised to do his
best. It was then that he mentioned about the cushion in the small of
the back after meals. And so don't forget to tell cook about the
bread-sauce, will you, dear?
MELISANDE. I will tell her, Mother.
MRS. KNOWLE. That's right. I like a man to be interested in his food.
I hope both your husbands, Sandy and Jane, will take a proper interest
in what they eat. You will find that, after you have been married some
years, and told each other everything you did and saw before you met,
there isn't really anything to talk about at meals except food. And
you must talk; I hope you will both remember that. Nothing breaks up