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GERTRUDE. Torturing you?

AGNES. He came here about a week ago; he is trying to separate us.

GERTRUDE. You and Mr. Cleeve?


GERTRUDE. You are afraid he will succeed?

AGNES. Succeed! What nonsense you talk!

GERTRUDE. What upsets you, then?

AGNES. After all, it's difficult to explain - the feeling is so
indefinite. It's like - something in the air. This man is influencing
us both oddly. Lucas is as near illness again as possible; I can hear
his nerves vibrating. And I - you know what a fish-like thing I am as a
rule - just look at me now, as I'm speaking to you.

GERTRUDE. But don't you and Mr. Cleeve - talk to each other?

AGNES. As children do when the lights are put out - of everything but
what's uppermost in their minds.

GERTRUDE. You have met the man?

AGNES. I intend to meet him.

GERTRUDE. Who is he?

AGNES. A relation of Lucas's - the Duke of St. Olpherts

GERTRUDE. He has right on his side, then?

AGNES. If you choose to think so.

GERTRUDE. Supposing he does succeed in taking Mr. Cleeve away from you?

AGNES. [Staring at GERTRUDE.] What, now, do you mean?


[There is a brief pause; then AGNES walks across the room, wiping her
brow with her handkerchief.]

AGNES. I tell you, that idea's - preposterous.

GERTRUDE. Oh, I can't understand you.

AGNES. You'll respect my confidence?


AGNES. [Sitting.] Well, I fancy this man's presence here has simply
started me thinking of a time - oh, it may never come! - a time when I
may cease to be - necessary to Mr. Cleeve. Do you understand?

GERTRUDE. I remember what you told me of your being prepared to grant
each other freedom if -

AGNES. Yes, yes; and for the past few days this idea has filled me with
a fear of the most humiliating kind.

GERTRUDE. What fear?

AGNES. The fear lest, after all my beliefs and protestations, I should
eventually find myself loving Lucas in the helpless, common way of
women -

GERTRUDE. [Under her breath.] I see.

AGNES. The dread that the moment may arrive some day when should it be
required of me, I shan't feel myself able to give him up easily. [Her
head drooping, uttering a low moan.] Oh! -

[LUCAS, dressed for going out, enters, carrying AGNES'S copy of his
manuscript, rolled and addressed for the post. AGNES rises.]

AGNES. [To LUCAS.] Mrs. Thorpe starts for home tomorrow; she has called
to say good-bye.

LUCAS. [To GERTRUDE.] It is very kind. Is your brother quite well?

GERTRUDE. [Embarrassed.] Thanks: quite.

LUCAS. [Smiling.] I believe I have added to his experience of the
obscure corners of Venice during the past week.

GERTRUDE. I - I don't - Why?

LUCAS. By so frequently putting him to the inconvenience of avoiding

GERTRUDE. Oh, Mr. Cleeve, we - I - I -

LUCAS. Please tell your brother that I asked after him.

GERTRUDE. I - I can't; he - doesn't know I've - I've -

LUCAS. Ah! Really? [With a bow.] Good-bye. [He goes out, AGNES
accompanying him to the door.]

GERTRUDE. [To herself.] Brute! [To AGNES.] Oh, I suppose Mr. Cleeve has
made me look precisely as I feel.


GERTRUDE. Like people deserve to feel who do godly, mean things.

[FORTUNE appears.]

FORTUNE. [To AGNES, significantly.] Mr. Cleeve 'as jus' gone out.

AGNES. Vous savez, n'est-ce pas?

FORTUNE. [Glancing at GERTRUDE.] But Madame is now engage.

GERTRUDE. [To AGNES.] Oh, I am going.

AGNES. [To GERTRUDE.] Wait. [Softly to her.] I want you to hear this
little comedy. Fortune shall repeat my instructions. [To FORTUNE.] Les
ordres que je vous ai donnes, repetez-les.

FORTUNE. [Speaking in an undertone.] On ze left 'and side of ze Campo -

AGNES. Non, non - tout haut.

FORTUNE. [Aloud, with a slight shrug of the shoulders.] On ze left 'and
side of ze Campo -


FORTUNE. In one of ze doorways between Fiorentini's and ze leetle
lamp-shop - ze - ze - h'm - ze person.

AGNES. Precisely. Depechez-vous. [FORTUNE bows and retires.] Fortune
flatters himself he is engaged in some horrid intrigue. You guess whom
I am expecting?


AGNES. [Ringing a bell.] I've written to him asking him to call upon me
this afternoon while Lucas is at Florian's. [Referring to her watch.]
He is to kick his heels about the Campo till I let him know I am alone.

GERTRUDE. Will he obey you?

AGNES. A week ago he was curious to see the sort of animal I am. If he
holds off now, I'll hit upon some other plan. I will come to close
quarters with him, if only for five minutes.

GERTRUDE. Good-bye. [They embrace, then walk together to the door.] You
still refuse my address?

AGNES. You bat! Didn't you see me make a note of it?


AGNES. [Her hand on her heart.] Here.

GERTRUDE. [Gratefully.] Ah! [She goes out.]

AGNES. [At the open door.] Gertrude!

GERTRUDE. [Outside.] Yes?

AGNES. [In a low voice.] Remember, in my thoughts I pace that
lonely little room of yours with you. [As if to stop GERTRUDE from
re-entering.] Hush! No, no. [She closes the door sharply. NELLA

AGNES. [Pointing to the box on the table.] Portez ce carton dans ma

NELLA. [Trying to peep into the box as she carries it.] Signora, se
Ella si mettesse questo magnifico abito! Oh! Quanto sarebbe piu bella!
(Signora, if you were to wear this magnificent dress, oh how much more
beautiful you would be!)

AGNES. Sssh! Sssh! [NELLA goes out. FORTUNE enters.] Eh, bien?

[FORTUNE glances over his shoulder. The DUKE OF ST. OLPHERTS enters;
the wreck of a very handsome man, with delicate features, a polished
manner, and a smooth, weary voice. He limps, walking with the aid of a
cane. FORTUNE retires.]

AGNES. Duke of St. Olpherts?

ST. OLPHERTS. [Bowing.] Mrs. Ebbsmith?

AGNES. Mr. Cleeve would have opposed this rather out-of-the-way
proceeding of mine. He doesn't know I have asked you to call on me

ST. OLPHERTS. So I conclude. It gives our meeting a pleasant air of

AGNES. I shall tell him directly he returns.

ST. OLPHERTS. [Gallantly.] And destroy a cherished secret.

AGNES. You are an invalid. [Motioning him to be seated.] Pray don't
stand. [Sitting.] Your Grace is a man who takes life lightly. It will
relieve you to hear that I wish to keep sentiment out of any business
we have together.

ST. OLPHERTS. I believe I haven't the reputation of being a sentimental
man. [Seating himself.] You send for me, Mrs. Ebbsmith -

AGNES. To tell you I have come to regard the suggestion you were good
enough to make a week ago -

ST. OLPHERTS. Suggestion?

AGNES. Shakespeare, the musical glasses, you know -

ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, yes. Ha! Ha!

AGNES. I've come to think it a reasonable one. At the moment I
considered it a gross impertinence.

ST. OLPHERTS. Written requests are so dependent on a sympathetic

AGNES. That meeting might have saved you time and trouble.

ST. OLPHERTS. I grudge neither.

AGNES. It might perhaps have shown your Grace that your view of life is
too narrow; that your method of dealing with its problems wants
variety; that, in point of fact, your employment upon your present
mission is distinctly inappropriate. Our meeting today may serve the
same purpose.

ST. OLPHERTS. My view of life?

AGNES. That all men and women may safely be judged by the standards of
the casino and the dancing-garden.

ST. OLPHERTS. I have found those standards not altogether
untrustworthy. My method - ?

AGNES. To scoff, to sneer, to ridicule.

ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! And how much is there, my dear Mrs. Ebbsmith,
belonging to humanity that survives being laughed at?

AGNES. More than you credit, Duke. For example, I - I think it possible
you may not succeed in grinning away the compact between Mr. Cleeve and

ST. OLPHERTS. Compact?

AGNES. Between serious man and woman.

ST. OLPHERTS. Serious woman.

AGNES. Ah! At least you must see that - serious woman. [Rising, facing
him.] You can't fail to realise, even from this slight personal
knowledge of me, that you are not dealing just now with some poor,
feeble ballet-girl.

ST. OLPHERTS. But how well you put it! [Rising.] And how frank of you
to furnish, as it were, a plan of the fortifications to the - the -

AGNES. Why do you stick at "enemy"?

ST. OLPHERTS. It's not the word. Opponent! For the moment, perhaps,
opponent. I am never an enemy, I hope, where your sex is concerned.

AGNES. No, I am aware that you are not over-nice in the bestowal of
your patronage - where my sex is concerned.

ST. OLPHERTS. You regard my appearance in an affair of morals as a
quaint one?

AGNES. Your Grace is beginning to know me.

ST. OLPHERTS. Dear lady, you take pride, I hear, in belonging to - The
People. You would delight me amazingly by giving me an inkling of the
popular notion of my career.

AGNES. [Walking away.] Excuse me.

ST. OLPHERTS. [Following her.] Please! It would be instructive, perhaps
chastening. I entreat.


ST OLPHERTS. You are letting sentiment intrude itself. [Sitting, in
pain.] I challenge you.

AGNES. At Eton you were curiously precocious. The head-master,
referring to your aptitude with books, prophesied a brilliant future
for you; your tutor, alarmed by your attachment to a certain cottage at
Ascot which was minus a host, thanked his stars to be rid of you. At
Oxford you closed all books, except, of course, betting-books.

ST. OLPHERTS. I detected the tendency of the age - scholarship for the
masses. I considered it my turn to be merely intuitively intelligent.

AGNES. You left Oxford a gambler and a spendthrift. A year or two in
town established you as an amiable, undisguised debauchee. The rest is
modern history.

ST. OLPHERTS. Complete your sketch. Don't stop at the - rude outline.

AGNES. Your affairs falling into disorder, you promptly married a
wealthy woman - the poor, rich lady who has for some years honoured you
by being your duchess at a distance. This burlesque of a marriage
helped to reassure your friends, and actually obtained for you an
ornamental appointment for which an over-taxed nation provides a
handsome stipend. But, to sum up, you must always remain an irritating
source of uneasiness to your own order, as, luckily, you will always be
a sharp-edged weapon in the hands of mine.

ST. OLPHERTS. [With a polite smile.] Yours! Ah, to that small, unruly
section to which I understand you particularly attach yourself. To
the -

AGNES. [With changed manner, flashing eyes, harsh voice, and violent
gestures.] The sufferers, the toilers; that great crowd of old and
young - old and young stamped by excessive labour and privation all of
one pattern - whose backs bend under burdens, whose bones ache and grow
awry, whose skins, in youth and in age, are wrinkled and yellow; those
from whom a fair share of the earth's space and of the light of day is
withheld. [Looking down at him fiercely.] The half-starved who are
bidden to stand with their feet in the kennel to watch gay processions
in which you and your kind are borne high. Those who would strip the
robes from a dummy aristocracy and cast the broken dolls into the limbo
of a nation's discarded toys. Those who - mark me! - are already upon
the highway, marching, marching; whose time is coming as surely as
yours is going!

ST. OLPHERTS. [Clapping his hands gently.] Bravo! Bravo! Really a flash
of the old fire. Admirable! [She walks away to the window with an
impatient exclamation.] Your present affaire du coeur does not wholly
absorb you, then, Mrs. Ebbsmith. Even now the murmurings of love have
not entirely superseded the thunderous denunciations of - h'm - You
once bore a nickname, my dear.

AGNES. [Turning sharply.] Ho! So you've heard that, have you?

ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, yes.

AGNES. Mad - Agnes? [He bows deprecatingly.] We appear to have studied
each other's history pretty closely.

ST. OLPHERTS. Dear lady, this is not the first time the same roof has
covered us.


ST. OLPHERTS. Five years ago, on a broiling night in July, I joined a
party of men who made an excursion from a club-house in St James's
Street to the unsavoury district of St. Luke's.

AGNES. Oh, yes.

ST. OLPHERTS. A depressin' building; the Iron Hall, Barker
Street - no - Carter Street.

AGNES. Precisely.

ST. OLPHERTS. We took our places amongst a handful of frowsy folks who
cracked nuts and blasphemed. On the platform stood a gaunt, white-faced
young lady resolutely engaged in making up by extravagance of gesture
for the deficiencies of an exhausted voice. "There," said one of my
companions, "that is the notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith." Upon which a person
near us, whom I judged from his air of leaden laziness to be a British
working man, blurted out, "Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith! Mad Agnes! That's
the name her sanguinary friends give her - Mad Agnes!" At that moment
the eye of the panting oratress caught mine for an instant, and you and
I first met.

AGNES. [Passing her hand across her brow, thoughtfully.]
Mad - Agnes . . . [To him, with a grim smile.] We have both been
criticised, in our time, pretty sharply, eh, Duke?

ST. OLPHERTS. Yes. Let that reflection make you more charitable to a
poor peer. [A knock at the door.]

AGNES. Entrez!

[FORTUNE and ANTONIO enter, ANTONIO carrying tea, &c., upon a tray.]

AGNES. [To ST. OLPHERTS.] You drink tea - fellow sufferer? [He
signifies assent. FORTUNE places the tray on the table, then withdraws
with ANTONIO. AGNES pours out tea.]

ST. OLPHERTS. [Producing a little box from his waistcoat pocket.] No
milk, dear lady. And may I be allowed - saccharine? [She hands him his
cup of tea; their eyes meet.]

AGNES. [Scornfully.] Tell me now - really - why do the Cleeves send a
rip like you to do their serious work?

ST. OLPHERTS. [Laughing heartily.] Ha, ha, ha! Rip! ha, ha! Poor solemn
family! Oh, set a thief to catch a thief, you know. That, I presume, is
their motive.

AGNES. [Pausing in the act of pouring out, and staring at him.] What do
you mean?

ST OLPHERTS. [Sipping his tea.] Set a thief to catch a thief. And by
deduction, set one sensualist - who, after all, doesn't take the
trouble to deceive himself - to rescue another who does.

AGNES. If I understand you, that is an insinuation against Mr. Cleeve.

ST. OLPHERTS. Insinuation! -

AGNES. [Looking at him fixedly.] Make yourself clearer.

ST. OLPHERTS. You have accused me, Mrs. Ebbsmith, of narrowness of
outlook. In the present instance, dear lady, it is your judgement which
is at fault.

AGNES. Mine?

ST. OLPHERTS. It is not I who fall into the error of confounding you
with the designing danseuse of commerce; it is, strangely enough, you
who have failed in your estimate of Mr. Lucas Cleeve.

AGNES. What is my estimate?

ST. OLPHERTS. I pay you the compliment of believing that you have
looked upon my nephew as a talented young gentleman whose future was
seriously threatened by domestic disorder; a young man of a certain
courage and independence, with a share of the brain and spirit of those
terrible human pests called reformers; the one gentleman, in fact, most
likely to aid you in advancing your vivacious social and political
tenets. You have such thoughts in your mind?

AGNES. I can't deny it.

ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! But what is the real, the actual Lucas Cleeve?

AGNES. Well - what is the real Lucas Cleeve?

ST OLPHERTS. Poor dear fellow! I'll tell you. [Going to the table to
deposit his cup there; while she watches him, her hand tightly clasped,
a frightened look in her eyes.] The real Lucas Cleeve. [Coming back to
her.] An egoist. An egoist.

AGNES. An egoist, Yes.

ST. OLPHERTS. Possessing ambition without patience, self-esteem without

AGNES. Well?

ST. OLPHERTS. Afflicted with a desperate craving for the opium-like
drug, adulation; persistently seeking the society of those whose white,
pink-tipped fingers fill the pernicious pipe most deftly and
delicately. Eh?

AGNES. I didn't - Pray, go on.

ST. OLPHERTS. Ha! I remember they looked to his marriage to check his
dangerous fancy for the flutter of lace, the purr of pretty women. And
now, here, he is - loose again.

AGNES. [Suffering.] Oh! -

ST. OLPHERTS. In short, in intellect still nothing but a callow boy; in
body, nervous, bloodless, hysterical; in morals - an epicure.

AGNES. Have done! Have done!

ST. OLPHERTS. "Epicure" offends you. A vain woman would find
consolation in the word.

AGNES. Enough of it! Enough! Enough! [She turns away, beating her hands
together. The light in the room has gradually become subdued; the warm
tinge of sunset now colours the scene outside the window.]

ST. OLPHERTS. [With a shrug of his shoulders.] The real Lucas Cleeve.

AGNES. No, no! Untrue, untrue! [LUCAS enters. The three remain silent
for a moment.] The Duke of St. Olpherts calls in answer to a letter I
wrote to him yesterday. I wanted to make his acquaintance. [She goes

LUCAS. [After a brief pause.] By a lucky accident the tables were
crowded at Florian's; I might have missed the chance of welcoming you.
In God's name, Duke, why must you come here?

ST. OLPHERTS. [Fumbling in his pocket for a note.] In God's name? You
bring the orthodoxy into this queer firm, then, Lucas? [Handing the
note to LUCAS.] A peremptory summons.

LUCAS. You need not have obeyed it. [ST. OLPHERTS takes a cigarette
from his case and limps away.] I looked about for you just now. I
wanted to see you.

ST. OLPHERTS. How fortunate -

LUCAS. To tell you that this persecution must come to an end. It has
made me desperately wretched for a whole week.

ST. OLPHERTS. Persecution?

LUCAS. Temptation.

ST. OLPHERTS. Dear Lucas, the process of inducing a man to return to
his wife isn't generally described as temptation.

LUCAS. Ah, I won't hear another word of that proposal. [ST. OLPHERTS
shrugs his shoulders.] I say my people are offering me, through you, a
deliberate temptation to be a traitor. To which of these two women - my
wife or - [pointing to the door] - to her - am I really bound now? It
may be regrettable, scandalous, but the common rules of right and wrong
have ceased to apply here. Finally, Duke - and this is my message - I
intend to keep faith with the woman who sat by my bedside in Rome, the
woman to whom I shouted my miserable story in my delirium, the woman
whose calm, resolute voice healed me, hardened me, renewed in me the
desire to live.

ST. OLPHERTS. Ah! Oh, these modern nurses, in their greys, or browns,
and snowy bibs! They have much to answer for, dear Lucas.

LUCAS. No, no! Why will you persist, all of you, in regarding this as a
mere morbid infatuation, bred in the fumes of pastilles? It isn't so!
Laugh, if you care to; but this is a meeting of affinities, of the
solitary man and the truly sympathetic woman.

ST. OLPHERTS. And oh - oh these sympathetic women!

LUCAS. No! Oh, the unsympathetic women! There you have the cause of
half the world's misery. The unsympathetic women - you should have
loved one of them.

ST. OLPHERTS. I dare say I've done that in my time.

LUCAS. Love one of these women - I know! - worship here, yield yourself
to the intoxicating day-dreams that make the grimy world sweeter than
any heaven ever imagined. How you heart leaps with gratitude for your
good fortune! How compassionately you regard your unblest fellow men!
What may you not accomplish with such a mate beside you; how high will
be your aims, how paltry every obstacle that bars your way to them; how
sweet is to be the labour, how divine the rest! Then - you marry her.
Marry her, and in six months, if you've pluck enough to do it, lag
behind your shooting party and blow your brains out, by accident, at
the edge of a turnip-field. You have found out by that time all that
there is to look for - the daily diminishing interest in your doings,
the poorly assumed attention as you attempt to talk over some plan for
the future; then the yawn, and by degrees, the covert sneer, the little
sarcasm, and finally, the frank, open stare of boredom. Ah, Duke, when
you all carry out your repressive legislation against women of evil
lives, don't fail to include in your schedule the Unsympathetic Wives.
They are the women whose victims show the sorriest scars; they are the
really "bad women" of the world: all the others are snow-white in

ST. OLPHERTS. Yes, you've got a good deal of this in that capital Essay
you quoted from this morning. Dear fellow, I admit your home
discomforts; but to jump out of the frying pan into this confounded -
what does she call it? - compact!

LUCAS. Compact?

ST. OLPHERTS. A vague reference, as I understand, to your joint crusade
against the blessed institution of Marriage.

LUCAS. [An alteration in his manner.] Oh - ho, that idea! What - what
has she been saying to you?

ST. OLPHERTS. Incidentally she pitched into me, dear Lucas; she
attacked my moral character. You must have been telling tales.

LUCAS. Oh, I - I hope not. Of course, we -

ST. OLPHERTS. Yes, yes - a little family gossip, to pass the time while
she has been dressing her hair or - By the bye, she doesn't appear to
spend much time in dressing her hair.

LUCAS. [Biting his lip.] Really?

ST. OLPHERTS. Then she denounced the gilded aristocracy generally. Our
day is over; we're broken wooden dolls, and are going to be chucked.
The old tune; but I enjoyed the novelty of being so near the
instrument. I assure you, dear fellow, I was within three feet of her
when she deliberately Trafalgar Squared me.

LUCAS. [With an uneasy laugh.] You're the red rag, Duke. This spirit of
revolt in her - it's ludicrously extravagant; but it will die out in
time, when she has become used to being happy and cared for - [partly
to himself, with clenched hands] - yes, cared for.

ST. OLPHERTS. Die out? Bred in the bone, dear Lucas.

LUCAS. On some topics she's a mere echo of her father, if you mean

ST. OLPHERTS. The father - one of those public park vermin, eh?

LUCAS. Dead years ago.

ST. OLPHERTS. I once heard her bellowing in a dirty little shed in St.
Luke's. I told you?

LUCAS. Yes, you've told me.

ST. OLPHERTS. I sat there again, it seemed, this afternoon. The orator
not quite so lean, perhaps - a little less witch-like; but -

LUCAS. She was actually in want of food in those days! Poor girl!
[Partly to himself.] I mean to remind myself of that constantly. Poor

ST. OLPHERTS. Girl! Let me see - you're considerably her junior?

LUCAS. No, no; a few months, perhaps.

ST. OLPHERTS. Oh, come!

LUCAS. Well, years - two or three.

ST. OLPHERTS. The voice remains rather raucous.

LUCAS. By God, the voice is sweet!

ST. OLPHERTS. Well - considering the wear and tear. Really, my dear
fellow, I do believe this - I do believe that if you gowned her
respectably -

LUCAS. [Impulsively.] Yes, yes, I say so. I tell her that.

ST. OLPHERTS. [With a smile.] Do you? That's odd, now.

LUCAS. What a topic. Poor Agnes's dress!

ST. OLPHERTS. Your taste used to be rather aesthetic. Even your own
wife is one of the smartest women in London.

LUCAS. Ha, well I must contrive to smother these aesthetic tastes of

ST. OLPHERTS. It's a pity that other people will retain their sense of
the incongruous.

LUCAS. [Snapping his fingers.] Other people! -

ST. OLPHERTS. The public.

LUCAS. The public?

ST. OLPHERTS. Come, you know well enough that unostentatious
immodesty is no part of your partner's programme. Of course, you
will find yourself by-and-bye in a sort of perpetual parade with
your crack-brained visionary -

LUCAS. You shall not speak of her so! You shall not.

ST. OLPHERTS. [Unconcernedly.] Each of you bearing a pole of the soiled
banner of Free Union. Free Union for the People! Ho, my dear Lucas!

LUCAS. Good heavens, Duke, do you imagine, now that I am in sound
health and mind again, that I don't see the hideous absurdity of these
views of hers?

ST. OLPHERTS. Then why the deuce don't you listen a little more
patiently to my views?

LUCAS. No, no. I tell you I intend to keep faith with her, as far as I
am able. She's so earnest, so pitiably earnest. If I broke faith with
her entirely, it would be too damnably cowardly.

ST. OLPHERTS. Cowardly!

LUCAS. [Pacing the room agitatedly.] Besides, we shall do well
together, after all, I believe - she and I. In the end we shall make
concessions to each other and settle down, somewhere abroad,

ST. OLPHERTS. Ha! And they called you a Coming Man at one time, didn't

LUCAS. Oh, I - I shall make as fine a career with my pen as that other
career would have been. At any rate, I ask you to leave me to it all -

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Online LibraryArthur Wing PineroThe Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith → online text (page 3 of 7)