A.A. Milne.

Second Plays online

. (page 15 of 16)
Online LibraryA.A. MilneSecond Plays → online text (page 15 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

BOBBY. No thanks. (He gets up and walks towards the door.)


BOBBY (turning). Yes?

MELISANDE. There's something I want to say to you. Don't go.

BOBBY. Oh! Righto. (He comes slowly back.)

MELISANDE (with difficulty, after a pause). I made a mistake

BOBBY (not understating). A mistake? Yesterday?

MELISANDE. Yes. . . . You were quite right.

BOBBY. How do you mean? When?

MELISANDE. When you said that girls didn't know their own minds.

BOBBY. Oh! (With an awkward laugh) Yes. Well - er - I don't expect any
of us do, really, you know. I mean - er - that is to say - -

MELISANDE. I'm sorry I said what I did say to you last night, Bobby. I
oughtn't to have said all those things.

BOBBY. I say, that's all right

MELISANDE. I didn't mean them. And - and Bobby - I _will_ marry you if
you like.

BOBBY (staggered). Sandy!

MELISANDE. And it was silly of me to mind your calling me Sandy, and
to say what I did about your clothes, and I _will_ marry you, Bobby.
And - and thank you for wanting it so much.

BOBBY. I say, Sandy. I say! I say - -

MELISANDE (offering her cheek). You may kiss me if you like, Bobby.

BOBBY. I say! . . . Er - er - (he kisses her gingerly) thanks! . . . Er - I
say - -

MELISANDE. What is it, Bobby?

BOBBY. I say, you know - (he tries again) I don't want you to - to feel
that - I mean, just because I asked you twice - I mean I don't want you
to feel that - well, I mean you mustn't do it just for _my_ sake,
Sandy. I mean Melisande.

MELISANDE. You may call me Sandy.

BOBBY. Well, you see what I mean, Sandy.

MELISANDE. It isn't that, Bobby. It isn't that.

BOBBY. You know, I was thinking about it last night - afterwards, you
know - and I began to see, I began to see that perhaps you were right.
I mean about my not being romantic and - and all that. I mean, I'm
rather an ordinary sort of chap, and - -

MELISANDE (sadly). We are all rather ordinary sort of chaps.

BOBBY (eagerly). No, no. No, that's where you're wrong, Sandy. I mean
Melisande. You _aren't_ ordinary. I don't say you'd be throwing
yourself away on me, but - but I think you could find somebody more
suitable. (Earnestly). I'm sure you could. I mean somebody who would
remember to call you Melisande, and who would read poetry with you
and - and all that. I mean, there are lots of fellows - -

MELISANDE. I don't understand. Don't you _want_ to marry me now?

BOBBY (with dignity). I don't want to be married out of pity.

MELISANDE (coldly). I have told you that it isn't out of pity.

BOBBY. Well, what _is_ it out of? I mean, after what you said
yesterday about my tie, it can't be love. If you really loved me - -

MELISANDE. Are you under the impression that I am proposing to you?

BOBBY (taken aback). W-what?

MELISANDE. Are you flattering yourself that you are refusing me?

BOBBY. I say, shut up, Sandy. You know it isn't that at all.

MELISANDE. I think you had better join Jane. (Carelessly) It _is_
Jane, isn't it?

BOBBY. I say, look here - - (She doesn't) Of course, I know you think
I'm an awful rotter. . . . Well . . . well - oh, _damn_!

MELISANDE. Jane is waiting for you.

(MRS. KNOWLE comes in.)

MRS. KNOWLE. Oh, Mr. Coote, Jane is waiting for you.

BOBBY. Oh - er - -

MELISANDE. Jane is waiting for you.

BOBBY (realising that he is not quite at his best). Er - oh - er,
righto. (He goes to the door and hesitates there) Er - (Now if he can
only think of something really good, he may yet carry it off.)
Er - (something really witty) - er - er, righto! (He goes out - to join
JANE, who is waiting for him.)

MRS. KNOWLE (in a soft gentle voice). Where is your father, dear? In
the library with Mr. Mallory? . . . I want to speak to him. Just on a
little matter of business. . . . Dear child!

[She goes to the library.

MELISANDE. Oh! How horrible!

(She walks about, pulling at her handkerchief and telling herself that
she won't cry. But she feels that she is going to, and she goes to the
open windows, and stands for a moment looking out, trying to recover

(GERVASE comes in.)

GERVASE (gently). Princess! (She hears; her hand closes and tightens;
but she says nothing.) Princess!

(With an effort she controls herself, turns round and speaks coldly)

MELISANDE. Please don't call me by that ridiculous name.

GERVASE. Melisande!

MELISANDE. Nor by that one.

GERVASE. Miss Knowle.

MELISANDE. Yes? What do you want, Mr. Mallory?

GERVASE. I want to marry you.

MELISANDE (taken by surprise). Oh! . . . How dare you!

GERVASE. But I told you this morning.

MELISANDE. I think you had better leave this morning out of it.

GERVASE. But if I leave this morning out of it, then I have only just
met you.

MELISANDE. That is what I would prefer.

GERVASE. Oh! . . . Then if I have only just met you, perhaps I oughtn't
to have said straight off that I want to marry you.

MELISANDE. It is unusual.

GERVASE. Yes. But not unusual to _want_ to marry you.

MELISANDE. I am not interested in your wants.

GERVASE. Oh! (Gently) I'm sorry that we've got to forget about this
morning. (Going closer to her) Is it so easy to forget, Melisande?

MELISANDE. Very easy for you, I should think.

GERVASE. But not for you?

MELISANDE (bitterly). You dress up and amuse yourself, and then laugh
and go back to your ordinary life again - you don't want to remember
_that_, do you, every time you do it?

GERVASE. You let your hair down and flirt with me and laugh and go
home again, but _you_ can't forget. Why should I?

MELISANDE (furiously). How dare you say I flirted with you?

GERVASE. How dare you say I laughed at you?

MELISANDE. Do you think I knew you would be there when I went up to
the wood?

GERVASE. Do you think _I_ knew you would be there when _I_ went up?

MELISANDE. Then why were you there all dressed up like that?

GERVASE. My car broke down and I spent the night in it. I went up the
hill to look for breakfast.

MELISANDE. Breakfast! That's all you think about.

GERVASE (cheerfully). Well, it's always cropping up.

MELISANDE (in disgust). Oh! (She moves away from him and then turns
round holding out her hand) Good-bye, Mr. Mallory.

GERVASE (taking it). Good-bye, Miss Knowle. . . . (Gently) May I kiss
your hands, Melisande?

MELISANDE (pathetically). Oh, don't! (She hides her face in them.)

GERVASE. Dear hands. . . . May I kiss your lips, Melisande? (She says
nothing. He comes closer to her) Melisande!

(He is about to put his arms round her, but she breaks away from him.)

MELISANDE. Oh, don't, don't! What's the good of pretending? It was
only pretence this morning - what's the good of going on with it? I
thought you were so different from other men, but you're just the
same, just the same. You talk about the things they talk about, you
wear the clothes they wear. You were my true knight, my fairy Prince,
this morning, and this afternoon you come down dressed like that (she
waves her hand at it) and tell me that you are on the Stock Exchange!
Oh, can't you see what you've done? All the beautiful world that I had
built up for you and me - shattered, shattered.

GERVASE (going to her). Melisande!


GERVASE (stopping). All right.

MELISANDE (recovering herself). Please go.

GERVASE (with a smile). Well, that's not quite fair, you know.

MELISANDE. What do you mean?

GERVASE. Well, what about _my_ beautiful world - the world that _I_ had
built up?

MELISANDE. I don't understand.

GERVASE. What about _your_ pretence this morning? I thought you were
so different from other women, but you're just the same, just the
same. You were my true lady, my fairy Princess, this morning; and this
afternoon the Queen, your mother, disabled herself by indigestion,
tells me that you do all the housekeeping for her just like any
ordinary commonplace girl. Your father, the King, has obviously never
had a battle-axe in his hand in his life; your suitor, Prince Robert
of Coote, is much more at home with a niblick than with a lance; and
your cousin, the Lady Jane - -

MELISANDE (sinking on to the sofa and hiding her face). Oh, cruel,

GERVASE (remorsefully). Oh, forgive me, Melisande. It was horrible of

MELISANDE. No, but it's true. How could any romance come into this
house? Now you know why I wanted you to take me away - away to the ends
of the earth with you.

GERVASE. Well, that's what I want to do.

MELISANDE. Ah, don't! When you're on the Stock Exchange!

GERVASE. But there's plenty of romance on the Stock Exchange. (Nodding
his head) Oh yes, you want to look out for it.

MELISANDE (reproachfully). Now you're laughing at me again.

GERVASE. My dear, I'm not. Or if I am laughing at you, then I am
laughing at myself too. And if we can laugh together, then we can be
happy together, Melisande.

MELISANDE. I want romance, I want beauty. I don't want jokes.

GERVASE. I see what it is. You don't like my knickerbockers.

MELISANDE (bewildered). Did you expect me to?

GERVASE. No. (After a pause) I think that's why I put 'em on. (She
looks at him in surprise.) You see, we had to come back to the
twentieth century some time; we couldn't go on pretending for ever.
Well, here we are - (indicating his clothes) - back. But I feel just as
romantic, Melisande. I want beauty - your beauty - just as much. (He
goes to her.)

MELISANDE. Which Melisande do you want? The one who talked to you this
morning in the wood, or the one who - (bitterly) does all the
housekeeping for her mother? (Violently) And badly, badly, badly!

GERVASE. The one who does all the housekeeping for her mother - and
badly, badly, badly, _bless_ her, because she has never realised what
a gloriously romantic thing housekeeping is.

MELISANDE (amazed). Romantic!

GERVASE (with enthusiasm). Most gloriously romantic. . . . Did you ever
long when you were young to be wrecked on a desert island?

MELISANDE (clasping her hands). Oh yes!

GERVASE. You imagined yourself there - alone or with a companion?


GERVASE. And what were you doing? What is the romance of the desert
island which draws us all? Climbing the bread-fruit tree, following
the turtle to see where it deposits its eggs, discovering the spring
of water, building the hut - _housekeeping_, Melisande. . . . Or take
Robinson Crusoe. When Man Friday came along and left his footprint in
the sand, why did Robinson Crusoe stagger back in amazement? Because
he said to himself, like a good housekeeper, "By Jove, I'm on the
track of a servant at last." There's romance for you!

MELISANDE (smiling and shaking her head at him). What nonsense you

GERVASE. It isn't nonsense; indeed, indeed it isn't. There's romance
everywhere if you look for it. _You_ look for it in the old
fairy-stories, but did _they_ find it there? Did the gentleman who had
just been given a new pair of seven-league boots think it romantic to
be changed into a fish? He probably thought it a confounded nuisance,
and wondered what on earth to do with his boots. Did Cinderella and
the Prince find the world romantic after they were married? Think of
the endless silent evenings which they spent together, with nothing in
common but an admiration for Cinderella's feet - do you think _they_
didn't long for the romantic days of old? And in two thousand or two
hundred thousand years, people will read stories about _us_, and sigh
and say, "Will those romantic days never come back again?" Ah, they
are here now, Melisande, for _us_; for the people with imagination;
for you and for me.

MELISANDE. Are they? Oh, if I could believe they were!

GERVASE. You thought of me as your lover and true knight this morning.
Ah, but what an easy thing to be! You were my Princess. Look at
yourself in the glass - how can you help being a princess? But if we
could be companions, Melisande! That's difficult; that's worth trying.

MELISANDE (gently). What do you want me to do?

GERVASE. Get used to me. See me in a top-hat - see me in a bowler-hat.
Help me with my work; play games with me - I'll teach you if you don't
know how. I want to share the world with you for all our lives. That's
a long time, you know; we can't do it on one twenty-minutes' practice
before breakfast. We can be lovers so easily - can we be friends?

MELISANDE (looking at him gravely). You are very wise.

GERVASE. I talked with a wise man in the wood this morning; I've been
thinking over what he said. (Suddenly) But when you look at me like
that, how I long to be a fool and say, "Come away with me now, now,
now," you wonderful, beautiful, maddening woman, you adorable child,
you funny foolish little girl. (Holding up a finger) Smile, Melisande.
Smile! (Slowly, reluctantly, she gives him a smile.) I suppose the
fairies taught you that. Keep it for _me_, will you - but give it to me
often. Do you ever laugh, Melisande? We must laugh together
sometimes - that makes life so easy.

MELISANDE (with a happy little laugh). Oh, what can I say to you?

GERVASE. Say, "I think I should like you for a companion, Gervase."

MELISANDE (shyly). I think I should like you for a companion, Gervase.

GERVASE. Say, "Please come and see me again, Gervase."

MELISANDE. Please come and see me again, Gervase.

GERVASE (Jumping up and waving his hand) Say, "Hooray for things!"

MELISANDE (standing up, but shyly still). Hooray for things!

GERVASE. Thank you, Melisande . . . I must go. (He presses her hand and
goes; or seems to be going. But suddenly he comes back, bends on one
knee, raises her hand on his, and kisses it) My Princess!

[Then GERVASE goes out.

(MELISANDE stays there, looking after him, her hand to her cheek. . . .
But one cannot stand thus for ever. The new life must begin. With a
little smile at herself, at GERVASE, at things, she fetches out the
Great Book from its hiding-place, where she had buried it many weeks
ago in disgust. Now it comes into its own. She settles down with it in
her favourite chair. . . .)

MELISANDE (reading). To make Bread-Sauce. . . . Take an onion, peel and
quarter it, and simmer it in milk. . . .

(But you know how the romantic passage goes. We have her with it,
curled up in the chair, this adorable child, this funny foolish little





* * * * *

The first performance of this play was given at the Alhambra Theatre
on November 16, 1920, with the following cast:

Sir John Pembury - GILBERT HARE.
Lady Pembury - WINIFRED EMERY.
Perkins - C.M. LOWNE.


(A summer morning. The sunniest and perhaps the pleasantest room in
the London house of SIR JOHN PEMBURY, M.P. For this reason LADY
PEMBURY uses it a good deal, although it is not officially hers. It is
plainly furnished, and probably set out to be a sort of waiting-room
for SIR JOHN'S many callers, but LADY PEMBURY has left her mark upon

(PERKINS, the butler, inclining to stoutness, but not yet past his
prime, leads the may in, followed by THE STRANGER, PERKINS has already
placed him as "one of the lower classes," but the intelligent person
in the pit perceives that he is something better than that, though
whether he is in the process of falling from a higher estate, or of
rising to it, is not so clear. He is thirty odd, shabbily dressed (but
then, so are most of us nowadays), and ill at ease; not because he is
shabby, but because he is ashamed of himself. To make up for this, he
adopts a blustering manner, as if to persuade himself that he is a
fine fellow after all. There is a touch of commonness about his voice,
but he is not uneducated.)

PERKINS. I'll tell Sir John you're here, but I don't say he'll see
you, mind.

STRANGER. Don't you worry about that. He'll see me right enough.

PERKINS. He's busy just now. Well - - (He looks at THE STRANGER

STRANGER (bitterly). I suppose you think I've got no business in a
gentleman's house. Is that it?

PERKINS. Well, I didn't say so, did I? Maybe you're a constituent?
Being in the 'Ouse of Commons, we get some pretty queer ones at times.
All sorts, as you might say. . . . P'raps you're a deputation?

STRANGER (violently). What the hell's it got to do with you who I am.
You go and tell your master I'm here - that's all you've got to do.

PERKINS (unruffled). Easy, now, easy. You 'aven't even told me your
name yet. Is it the Shah of Persia or Mr. Bottomley?

STRANGER. The less said about names the better. You say, "Somebody
from Lambeth" - _he'll_ know what I mean.

PERKINS (humorously). Ah, I beg your pardon - the Archbishop of
Canterbury. I didn't recognise your Grace.

STRANGER (angrily). It's people like you who make one sick of the
world. Parasites - servile flunkeys, bolstering up an effete
aristocracy. Why don't you get some proper work to do?

PERKINS (good-naturedly). Now, look here, young man, this isn't the
time for that sort of talk. If you've got anything you want to get off
your chest about flunkeys or monkeys, or whatever it may be, keep it
till Sunday afternoon - when I'm off duty. (He comes a little closer to
THE STRANGER) Four o'clock Sunday afternoon - (jerking his thumb over
his shoulder) - just round the corner - in the Bolton Mews. See? Nobody
there to interrupt us. See? All quite gentlemanly and secluded, and a
friend of mine to hold the watch. See? (He edges closer as he talks.)

STRANGER (retreating nervously). No offence meant, mate. We're in the
same boat - you and me; we don't want to get fighting. My quarrel isn't
with you. You go and tell Sir John that there's a gentleman come to
see him - wants a few minutes of his valuable time - from Lambeth way.
_He'll_ know. That's all right.

PERKINS (drawing back, disappointedly). Then I shan't be seeing you
Sunday afternoon?

STRANGER (laughing awkwardly). There, that's all right. No offence
meant. Somebody from Lambeth - that's what _you've_ got to say. And
tell 'im I'm in a hurry. _He'll_ know what I mean.

PERKINS (going slowly to the door). Well, it's a queer game, but being
in the 'Ouse of Commons, one can't never be surprised. All sorts, as
you might say, _all_ sorts.


(THE STRANGER, left alone, walks up and down the room, nervously

(LADY PEMBURY comes in. In twenty-eight years of happy married life,
she has mothered one husband and five daughters, but she has never had
a son - her only sorrow. Her motto might be, "It is just as easy to be
kind"; and whether you go to her for comfort or congratulation, you
will come away feeling that she is the only person who really

LADY PEMBURY. Oh! (She stops and then comes towards THE STRANGER) How
do you do? Are you waiting to see my husband?

STRANGER (taken aback at seeing her). Yes.

(He is not sure for the moment if this upsets his plans or forwards

LADY PEMBURY. I think he's engaged just now. But he won't be long.
Perkins will tell him as soon as he is free.

STRANGER (contemptuously). His name is Perkins, is it?

LADY PEMBURY (surprised). The butler? Yes.

STRANGER (contemptuously). Mister Perkins, the Butler.

LADY PEMBURY (with a friendly smile). You don't _mind_ our having a
butler? (She picks up some work from the table and takes it to the

STRANGER (shrugging his shoulders). One more parasite.

LADY PEMBURY (interested). I always thought parasites were much
smaller than Perkins. (Sitting down) Do sit down, won't you? (He sits
down reluctantly.) You mustn't mind my being here. This is really my
work-room. I expect my husband will take you into his own room when
he's ready.

STRANGER. Your work-room?

LADY PEMBURY (looking up at him with a smile). You don't seem to like
our domestic arrangements.

STRANGER (waving his hand at her embroidery). You call that work?

LADY PEMBURY (pleasantly). Other people's work always seems so
contemptible, doesn't it? Now I expect if you tried to do this, you
would find it very difficult indeed, and if I tried to do yours - what
_is_ your work, Mr. - er - Dear me, I don't even know your name.

STRANGER (bitterly). Never mind my name. Take it that I haven't got a

LADY PEMBURY. But your friends must call you something.

STRANGER. Take it that I haven't got any friends.

LADY PEMBURY. Oh, _don't_ say that! How _can_ you?

STRANGER (surly). What's it matter to you whether anybody cares about

LADY PEMBURY. Oh, never mind whether anybody cares about _you_; don't
_you_ care about anybody?


LADY PEMBURY. Poor, poor man! (Going on with her work) If you can't
tell me your name, I wish you would tell me what work you do.
(Winningly) You don't mind my asking, do you?

STRANGER. I can tell you what work I'm going to do after to-day.


STRANGER (violently). None!

LADY PEMBURY (surprised). None?

STRANGER. No more work after to-day.

LADY PEMBURY. Won't that be rather dull?

STRANGER. Well, _you_ ought to know. I'm going to be one of the idle
rich - like you and Sir John - and let other people work for me.

LADY PEMBURY (thoughtfully). I shouldn't have said my husband was
idle. But there it is. No two people ever agree as to what is work and
what isn't.

STRANGER. What do you know about work - you aristocrats?

LADY PEMBURY (mildly). My husband is only a K.B.E., you know. Quite a
recent creation.

STRANGER (not heeding her). You, who've been brought up in the lap of
luxury - never known a day's discomfort in your life - -

LADY PEMBURY. My dear young man, you really mustn't tell a woman who
has had five children that she has never known a day's discomfort in
her life. . . . Ask any woman.

STRANGER (upset). What's that? . . . I didn't come here to argue with
you. You began it. Why can't you let me alone?

LADY PEMBURY (going to a side-table and taking up a photograph). Five
children - all girls - and now I'm a grandmother. (Showing him the
photograph) There! That's my eldest daughter with her eldest son and
my eldest grandchild. Isn't he a duck? He's supposed to be like me. . . .
I never had a son of my own. (THE STRANGER has taken the photograph in
his hand and is holding it awkwardly.) Oh, let me take it away from
you. Other's people's relations are so uninteresting, aren't they?
(She takes it away and puts it back in its place. Then she returns to
her seat and goes on with her work.) So you've made a lot of money?
How exciting for you!

STRANGER (grimly). I haven't got it yet, but it's coming.



LADY PEMBURY. You're not married, are you?

STRANGER. You want to know a lot, don't you? Well, I'm not married.

LADY PEMBURY. I was thinking how much nicer it is when you can share
that sort of news with somebody else, somebody you love. It makes good
news so much better, and bad news so much more bearable.

STRANGER. That's what you and your husband do, is it?

LADY PEMBURY (nodding). Always. For eight-and-twenty years.

STRANGER. He tells you everything, eh?

LADY PEMBURY. Well, not his official secrets, of course. Everything

STRANGER. Ha! I wonder.

LADY PEMBURY. But you have nobody, you say. Well, you must share your
good news with _me_. Will you?

STRANGER. Oh yes, you shall hear about it all right.

LADY PEMBURY. That's nice of you. Well then, first question. How much
money is it going to be?

STRANGER (thoughtfully). Well, I don't quite know yet. What do you say
to a thousand a year?

LADY PEMBURY. Oh, but what a lot!

STRANGER. You think a thousand a year would be all right. Enough to
live on?

LADY PEMBURY. For a bachelor, ample.

STRANGER. For a bachelor.

LADY PEMBURY. There's no one dependent on you?

STRANGER. Not a soul. Only got one relation living.


STRANGER (enjoying a joke of his own). A father. But I shall not be
supporting _him_. Oh no. Far from it.

LADY PEMBURY (a little puzzled by this, though the is not going to
show it) Then I think you will be very rich with a thousand a year.

STRANGER. Yes, that's what _I_ thought. I should think it would stand
a thousand.

LADY PEMBURY. What is it? An invention of some sort?

STRANGER. Oh no, not an invention. . . . A discovery.

LADY PEMBURY. How proud she would have been!


LADY PEMBURY. Your wife if you had had one; your mother if she had
been alive.

STRANGER (violently). Look here, you leave my mother out of it. My
business is with Sir John - - (sneeringly) Sir John Pembury, K.B.E. If

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

Online LibraryA.A. MilneSecond Plays → online text (page 15 of 16)