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I want to talk about my mother, he and I will have a nice little talk
together about her. Yes, and about my father, too.

(LADY PEMBURY understands at last. She stands up slowly, and looks at
him, horrified.)

LADY PEMBURY. What do you mean?

STRANGER. A thousand a year. You said so yourself. Yes, I think it's
worth a thousand a year.

LADY PEMBURY. Who is your father? What's your name?

STRANGER. Didn't I tell you I hadn't got a name? (Bitterly) And if you
want to know why, ask Sir John Pembury, K.B.E.

LADY PEMBURY (in a whisper). He's your father.

STRANGER. Yes. And I'm his loving son - come to see him at last, after
all these years.

LADY PEMBURY (hardly able to ask it). How - how old are you?


LADY PEMBURY (sitting down on the sofa). Oh, thank God! Thank God!

STRANGER (upset by her emotion). Look here, I didn't want all this. I
ask you - did I begin it? It was you who kept asking questions. I just
came for a quiet talk with Sir John - Father and Son talking together
quietly - talking about Son's allowance. A thousand a year. What did
you want to come into it for?

(LADY PEMBURY is quiet again now. She wipes away a tear or two, and
sits up, looking at him thoughtfully.)

LADY PEMBURY. So _you_ are the son that I never had.

STRANGER. What d'you mean?

LADY PEMBURY (almost to herself). The son whom I wanted so. Five
girls - never a boy. Let me look at you. (She goes up to him.)

STRANGER (edging away). Here, none of that.

LADY PEMBURY (looking at him earnestly to see if she can see a
likeness). No - and yet - (shaking her head sadly) Poor boy! What an
unhappy life you must have had!

STRANGER. I didn't come here to be pitied. I came to get my rightful
allowance - same as any other son.

LADY PEMBURY (to herself). Poor boy! (She goes back to her seat and
then says) You don't mind my asking you questions _now_, do you?

STRANGER. Go on. There's no mistake about it. I can promise you that.

LADY PEMBURY. How did you find out? Did your Mother tell you?

STRANGER. Never a word. "Don't ask questions, sonny - - " "Father's
dead" - all that sort of thing.

LADY PEMBURY. Does Sir John know? Did he ever know?

STRANGER (feeling in his pocket). _He_ knew right enough. (Bringing
out letters) Look here - here you are. This was how I found out.
(Selecting one) There - read that one.

LADY PEMBURY (taking it). Yes - that's John's writing. (She holds it
out to him.)

STRANGER. Aren't you going to read it?

LADY PEMBURY (shaking her head pathetically). He didn't write it to

STRANGER. He didn't write it to _me_, if it comes to that.

LADY PEMBURY. You're her son - you have a right. I'm - nobody.

STRANGER (putting it back in his pocket). Oh well, please yourself.

LADY PEMBURY. Did Sir John provide for your mother?

STRANGER. Well, why shouldn't he? He was a rich man.

LADY PEMBURY. Not in those days. . . . But indeed - why shouldn't he? What
else could he do? I'm glad he did.

STRANGER. And now he's going to provide for his loving son. He's rich
enough for that in these days.

LADY PEMBURY. He's never seen you?

STRANGER. Never. The historic meeting of Father and Son will take
place this afternoon. (With a feeble attempt at what he thinks is the
aristocratic manner) Afraid the Governor will be in the deuce of a
rage. Been exceedin' my allowance - what? Make it a thousand, dear old

LADY PEMBURY. Don't they call that blackmail?

STRANGER (violently). Now look here, I'd better tell you straight that
there's no blackmail about this at all. He's my father, isn't he?
Well, can't a son come to his father if he's hard up? Where are your
threatening letters? Where's the blackmail? Anyway, what's he going to
do about it? Put his son in prison?

LADY PEMBURY (following her own thoughts). You're thirty. Thank God
for that. We hadn't met then. . . . Ah, but he ought to have told me. He
ought to have told me.

STRANGER. P'raps he thought you wouldn't marry him, if he did.

LADY PEMBURY. Do you think that was it? (Earnestly to him, as if he
were an old friend) You know men - young men. I never had a son; I
never had any brothers. Do they tell? They ought to, oughtn't they?

STRANGER. Well - well, if you ask _me_ - I say, look here, this isn't
the sort of thing one discusses with a lady.

LADY PEMBURY. Isn't it? But one can talk to a friend.

STRANGER (scornfully). You and me look like friends, don't we?

LADY PEMBURY (smiling). Well, we do, rather.

(He gets up hastily and moves further away from her.)

STRANGER. I know what _your_ game is. Don't think I don't see it.

LADY PEMBURY. What is it?

STRANGER. Falling on your knees, and saying with tears in your eyes:
"Oh, kind friend, spare me poor husband!" _I_ know the sort of thing.
And trying to work me up friendly before you begin.

LADY PEMBURY (shaking her head). No, if I went on my knees to you, I
shouldn't say that. How can you hurt my husband now?

STRANGER. Well, I don't suppose the scandal will do him much good. Not
an important Member of Parliament like _him_.

LADY PEMBURY. Ah, but it isn't the outside things that really hurt
you, the things which are done to you, but the things which you do to
yourself. And so if I went on my knees to you, it would not be for my
husband's sake. For I should go on my knees, and I should say: "Oh, my
son that might have been, think before you give up everything that a
man should have. Ambition, hope, pride, self-respect - are not these
worth keeping? Is your life to end now? Have you done all that you
came into the world to do, so that now you can look back and say, 'It
is finished; I have given all that I had to give; henceforward I will
spend'?" (Very gently) Oh, my son that might have been!

STRANGER (very uncomfortable). Here, I say, that isn't fair.

LADY PEMBURY (gently). When did your mother die?

STRANGER. Look here, I wish you wouldn't keep on about mothers.

LADY PEMBURY. When did she die, proud mother?

STRANGER (sulkily). Well, why shouldn't she be proud? (After a pause)
Two years ago, if you want to know.

LADY PEMBURY. It was then that you found out who your father was?

STRANGER. That's right. I found these old letters. She'd kept them
locked up all those years. Bit of luck for me.

LADY PEMBURY (almost to herself). And that was two years ago. And for
two years you had your hopes, your ambitions, for two years you were
proud and independent. . . . Why did you not come to us then?

STRANGER (with a touch of vanity). Well, I was getting on all right,
you know - and - -

LADY PEMBURY. And then suddenly, after two years, you lost hope.

STRANGER. I lost my job.

LADY PEMBURY. Poor boy! And couldn't get another.

STRANGER (bitterly). It's a beast of a world if you're down. He's in
the gutter - kick him down - trample on him. Nobody wants him. That's
the way to treat them when they're down. Trample on 'em.

LADY PEMBURY. And so you came to your father to help you up again. To
help you out of the gutter.

STRANGER. That's right.

LADY PEMBURY (pleadingly). Ah, but give him a chance!

STRANGER. Now, look here, I've told you already that I'm not going to
have any of _that_ game.

LADY PEMBURY (shaking her head sadly). Foolish boy! You don't
understand. Give him a chance to help you out of the gutter.

STRANGER. Well, I'm - - ! Isn't that what I am doing?

LADY PEMBURY. No, no. You're asking him to trample you right down into
it, deeper and deeper into the mud and slime. I want you to let him
help you back to where you were two years ago - when you were proud and

STRANGER (looking at her in a puzzled way). I can't make out what your
game is. It's no good pretending you don't hate the sight of me - it
stands to reason you must.

LADY PEMBURY (smiling). But then women _are_ unreasonable, aren't
they? And I think it is only in fairy-stories that stepmothers are
always so unkind.

STRANGER (surprised). Stepmother!

LADY PEMBURY. Well, that's practically what I am, isn't it?
(Whimsically) I've never been a stepmother before. (Persuasively)
Couldn't you let me be proud of my stepson?

STRANGER. Well, you _are_ a one! . . . Do you mean to say that you and
your husband aren't going to have a row about this?

LADY PEMBURY. It's rather late to begin a row, isn't it, thirty years
after it's happened? . . . Besides, perhaps you aren't going to tell him
anything about it.

STRANGER. But what else have I come for except to tell him?

LADY PEMBURY. To tell _me_. . . . I asked you to give him a chance of
helping you out of your troubles, but I'd rather you gave _me_ the
chance. . . . You see, John would be very unhappy if he knew that I knew
this; and he would have to tell me, because when a man has been
happily married to anybody for twenty-eight years, he can't really
keep a secret from the other one. He pretends to himself that he can,
but he knows all the time what a miserable pretence it is. And so John
would tell me, and say he was sorry, and I would say: "It's all right,
darling, I knew," but it would make him ashamed, and he would be
afraid that perhaps I wasn't thinking him such a wonderful man as I
did before. And it's very bad for a public man like John when he
begins to lose faith in what his wife is thinking about him. . . . So let
_me_ be your friend, will you? (There is a silence between them for a
little. He looks at her wonderingly. Suddenly she stands up, her
finger to her lips) H'sh! It's John. (She moves away from him)

(SIR JOHN PEMBURY comes in quickly; big, good-looking, decisive,
friendly; a man who wears very naturally, and without any
self-consciousness, an air of being somebody.)

PEMBURY (walking hastily past his wife to her writing-desk). Hallo,
darling! Did I leave a cheque-book in here? I was writing a cheque for
you this morning. Ah, here we are. (As he comes back, he sees THE
STRANGER) I beg your pardon, Kate. I didn't see - - (He is making for
the door with the cheque-book in his hand, and then stops and says
with a pleasant smile to THE STRANGER) But, perhaps you are waiting to
see _me_? Perkins said something - -

STRANGER (coming forward). Yes, I came to see you, Sir John.

(He stands close in front of SIR JOHN, looking at him. LADY PEMBURY
watches them steadfastly.)

PEMBURY (tapping his cheque-book against his hand). Important?

STRANGER. I came to ask your help.

PEMBURY (looking at his cheque-book and then back with a smile at THE
STRANGER). A good many people do that. Have you any special claim on

STRANGER (after a long pause). No.

(PEMBURY looks at him, undecided, LADY PEMBURY comes forward.)

LADY PEMBURY. All right, dear. (Meaning that she will look after THE
STRANGER till he comes back.)

PEMBURY. I'll be back in a moment. (He nods and hurries out)

(There is silence for a little, and then LADY PEMBURY claps her hands

LADY PEMBURY (with shining eyes). Oh, brave, brave! Ah, but I am a
proud stepmother to-day. (She holds out her hand to him) Thank you,

STRANGER (not seeing it, and speaking in a hard voice). I'd better go.

LADY PEMBURY. Mayn't I help you?

STRANGER. I'd better go.

LADY PEMBURY (distressed). You can't go like this. I don't even know
your name, nor where you live.

STRANGER. Don't be afraid - you shan't hear from _me_ again.

LADY PEMBURY (gently). Not even when you've got back to where you were
two years ago? Mayn't I then?

STRANGER (looking at her, and then nodding slowly). Yes, you shall

LADY PEMBURY. Thank you. I shall wait. I shall hope. I shall pray.
(She holds out her hand again) Good-bye!

STRANGER (shaking his head). Wait till you hear from me. (He goes to
the door, and then stops and comes slowly back. He says awkwardly)
Wish you'd do one thing for me?


STRANGER. That fellow - what did you say his name was - Perkins?

LADY PEMBURY (surprised). The butler? Perkins - yes?

STRANGER. Would you give him a message from me?

LADY PEMBURY. Of course.

STRANGER (still awkwardly). Just to say - I'll _be_ there - at the
Mews - on Sunday afternoon. _He'll_ know. Tell him I'll be there. (He
squares his shoulders and walks out defiantly - ready to take the world
on again - beginning with PERKINS on Sunday afternoon)

(LADY PEMBURY stands watching him as he goes. She waits after he has
gone, thinking her own thoughts, out of which she comes with something
of a shock as the door opens and SIR JOHN comes in.)

PEMBURY. Hallo! Has he gone?


PEMBURY. What did he want? Five pounds - or a place in the Cabinet?

LADY PEMBURY. He came for - a subscription.

PEMBURY. And got it, if I know my Kate. (Carelessly) What did he take
from you?

LADY PEMBURY (with a wistful little sigh). Yes; he took something from
me. Not very much, I think. But just - something. (She takes his arm,
leads him to the sofa, and says affectionately) And now tell me all
that you've been doing this morning.

(So he begins to tell her - just as he has told her a thousand times
before. . . . But it isn't quite the same)

Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh.

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