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CRAMPTON. Three children.

VALENTINE (politely). Damn them? - eh?

CRAMPTON (jealously). No, sir: the children are as much mine as hers.
(The parlor maid brings in a jug of hot water.)

VALENTINE. Thank you. (He takes the jug from her, and brings it to the
cabinet, continuing in the same idle strain) I really should like to
know your family, Mr. Crampton. (The parlor maid goes out: and he pours
some hot water into the drinking glass.)

CRAMPTON. Sorry I can't introduce you, sir. I'm happy to say that I
don't know where they are, and don't care, so long as they keep out of
my way. (Valentine, with a hitch of his eyebrows and shoulders, drops
the forceps with a clink into the glass of hot water.) You needn't warm
that thing to use on me. I'm not afraid of the cold steel. (Valentine
stoops to arrange the gas pump and cylinder beside the chair.) What's
that heavy thing?

VALENTINE. Oh, never mind. Something to put my foot on, to get the
necessary purchase for a good pull. (Crampton looks alarmed in spite of
himself. Valentine stands upright and places the glass with the forceps
in it ready to his hand, chatting on with provoking indifference.) And
so you advise me not to get married, Mr. Crampton? (He stoops to fit the
handle on the apparatus by which the chair is raised and lowered.)

CRAMPTON (irritably). I advise you to get my tooth out and have done
reminding me of my wife. Come along, man. (He grips the arms of the
chair and braces himself.)

VALENTINE (pausing, with his hand on the lever, to look up at him and
say). What do you bet that I don't get that tooth out without your
feeling it?

CRAMPTON. Your six week's rent, young man. Don't you gammon me.

VALENTINE (jumping at the bet and winding him aloft vigorously). Done!
Are you ready? (Crampton, who has lost his grip of the chair in his
alarm at its sudden ascent, folds his arms: sits stiffly upright: and
prepares for the worst. Valentine lets down the back of the chair to an
obtuse angle.)

CRAMPTON (clutching at the arms of the chair as he falls back). Take
care man. I'm quite helpless in this po - -

VALENTINE (deftly stopping him with the gag, and snatching up the
mouthpiece of the gas machine). You'll be more helpless presently. (He
presses the mouthpiece over Crampton's mouth and nose, leaning over
his chest so as to hold his head and shoulders well down on the chair.
Crampton makes an inarticulate sound in the mouthpiece and tries to
lay hands on Valentine, whom he supposes to be in front of him. After
a moment his arms wave aimlessly, then subside and drop. He is quite
insensible. Valentine, with an exclamation of somewhat preoccupied
triumph, throws aside the mouthpiece quickly: picks up the forceps
adroitly from the glass: and - the curtain falls.)



On the terrace at the Marine Hotel. It is a square flagged platform,
with a parapet of heavy oil jar pilasters supporting a broad stone
coping on the outer edge, which stands up over the sea like a cliff.
The head waiter of the establishment, busy laying napkins on a luncheon
table with his back to the sea, has the hotel on his right, and on his
left, in the corner nearest the sea, the flight of steps leading down to
the beach.

When he looks down the terrace in front of him he sees a little to his
left a solitary guest, a middle-aged gentleman sitting on a chair of
iron laths at a little iron table with a bowl of lump sugar and three
wasps on it, reading the Standard, with his umbrella up to defend him
from the sun, which, in August and at less than an hour after noon, is
toasting his protended insteps. Just opposite him, at the hotel side of
the terrace, there is a garden seat of the ordinary esplanade pattern.
Access to the hotel for visitors is by an entrance in the middle of
its facade, reached by a couple of steps on a broad square of raised
pavement. Nearer the parapet there lurks a way to the kitchen, masked by
a little trellis porch. The table at which the waiter is occupied is a
long one, set across the terrace with covers and chairs for five, two at
each side and one at the end next the hotel. Against the parapet another
table is prepared as a buffet to serve from.

The waiter is a remarkable person in his way. A silky old man,
white-haired and delicate looking, but so cheerful and contented that
in his encouraging presence ambition stands rebuked as vulgarity, and
imagination as treason to the abounding sufficiency and interest of
the actual. He has a certain expression peculiar to men who have been
extraordinarily successful in their calling, and who, whilst aware of
the vanity of success, are untouched by envy.

The gentleman at the iron table is not dressed for the seaside. He wears
his London frock coat and gloves; and his tall silk hat is on the table
beside the sugar bowl. The excellent condition and quality of these
garments, the gold-rimmed folding spectacles through which he is reading
the Standard, and the Times at his elbow overlaying the local paper,
all testify to his respectability. He is about fifty, clean shaven, and
close-cropped, with the corners of his mouth turned down purposely, as
if he suspected them of wanting to turn up, and was determined not to
let them have their way. He has large expansive ears, cod colored eyes,
and a brow kept resolutely wide open, as if, again, he had resolved in
his youth to be truthful, magnanimous, and incorruptible, but had never
succeeded in making that habit of mind automatic and unconscious. Still,
he is by no means to be laughed at. There is no sign of stupidity or
infirmity of will about him: on the contrary, he would pass anywhere
at sight as a man of more than average professional capacity and
responsibility. Just at present he is enjoying the weather and the sea
too much to be out of patience; but he has exhausted all the news in his
papers and is at present reduced to the advertisements, which are not
sufficiently succulent to induce him to persevere with them.

THE GENTLEMAN (yawning and giving up the paper as a bad job). Waiter!

WAITER. Sir? (coming down C.)

THE GENTLEMAN. Are you quite sure Mrs. Clandon is coming back before

WAITER. Quite sure, sir. She expects you at a quarter to one, sir. (The
gentleman, soothed at once by the waiter's voice, looks at him with a
lazy smile. It is a quiet voice, with a gentle melody in it that gives
sympathetic interest to his most commonplace remark; and he speaks with
the sweetest propriety, neither dropping his aitches nor misplacing
them, nor committing any other vulgarism. He looks at his watch as he
continues) Not that yet, sir, is it? 12:43, sir. Only two minutes more
to wait, sir. Nice morning, sir?

THE GENTLEMAN. Yes: very fresh after London.

WAITER. Yes, sir: so all our visitors say, sir. Very nice family, Mrs.
Clandon's, sir.

THE GENTLEMAN. You like them, do you?

WAITER. Yes, sir. They have a free way with them that is very taking,
sir, very taking indeed, sir: especially the young lady and gentleman.

THE GENTLEMAN. Miss Dorothea and Mr. Philip, I suppose.

WAITER. Yes, sir. The young lady, in giving an order, or the like
of that, will say, "Remember, William, we came to this hotel on
your account, having heard what a perfect waiter you are." The young
gentleman will tell me that I remind him strongly of his father (the
gentleman starts at this) and that he expects me to act by him as such.
(Soothing, sunny cadence.) Oh, very pleasant, sir, very affable and
pleasant indeed!

THE GENTLEMAN. You like his father! (He laughs at the notion.)

WAITER. Oh, we must not take what they say too seriously, sir. Of
course, sir, if it were true, the young lady would have seen the
resemblance, too, sir.


WAITER. No, sir. She thought me like the bust of Shakespear in Stratford
Church, sir. That is why she calls me William, sir. My real name is
Walter, sir. (He turns to go back to the table, and sees Mrs. Clandon
coming up to the terrace from the beach by the steps.) Here is Mrs.
Clandon, sir. (To Mrs. Clandon, in an unobtrusively confidential tone)
Gentleman for you, ma'am.

MRS. CLANDON. We shall have two more gentlemen at lunch, William.

WAITER. Right, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am. (He withdraws into the hotel.
Mrs. Clandon comes forward looking round for her visitor, but passes
over the gentleman without any sign of recognition.)

THE GENTLEMAN (peering at her quaintly from under the umbrella). Don't
you know me?

MRS. CLANDON (incredulously, looking hard at him) Are you Finch McComas?

McCOMAS. Can't you guess? (He shuts the umbrella; puts it aside; and
jocularly plants himself with his hands on his hips to be inspected.)

MRS. CLANDON. I believe you are. (She gives him her hand. The shake that
ensues is that of old friends after a long separation.) Where's your

McCOMAS (with humorous solemnity). Would you employ a solicitor with a

MRS. CLANDON (pointing to the silk hat on the table). Is that your hat?

McCOMAS. Would you employ a solicitor with a sombrero?

MRS. CLANDON. I have thought of you all these eighteen years with the
beard and the sombrero. (She sits down on the garden seat. McComas takes
his chair again.) Do you go to the meetings of the Dialectical Society

McCOMAS (gravely). I do not frequent meetings now.

MRS. CLANDON. Finch: I see what has happened. You have become

McCOMAS. Haven't you?

MRS. CLANDON. Not a bit.

McCOMAS. You hold to your old opinions still?

MRS. CLANDON. As firmly as ever.

McCOMAS. Bless me! And you are still ready to make speeches in public,
in spite of your sex (Mrs. Clandon nods); to insist on a married
woman's right to her own separate property (she nods again); to champion
Darwin's view of the origin of species and John Stuart Mill's essay on
Liberty (nod); to read Huxley, Tyndall and George Eliot (three nods);
and to demand University degrees, the opening of the professions, and
the parliamentary franchise for women as well as men?

MRS. CLANDON (resolutely). Yes: I have not gone back one inch; and I
have educated Gloria to take up my work where I left it. That is what
has brought me back to England: I felt that I had no right to bury her
alive in Madeira - my St. Helena, Finch. I suppose she will be howled at
as I was; but she is prepared for that.

McCOMAS. Howled at! My dear good lady: there is nothing in any of those
views now-a-days to prevent her from marrying a bishop. You reproached
me just now for having become respectable. You were wrong: I hold to
our old opinions as strongly as ever. I don't go to church; and I don't
pretend I do. I call myself what I am: a Philosophic Radical, standing
for liberty and the rights of the individual, as I learnt to do from
my master Herbert Spencer. Am I howled at? No: I'm indulged as an old
fogey. I'm out of everything, because I've refused to bow the knee to

MRS. CLANDON (shocked). Socialism.

McCOMAS. Yes, Socialism. That's what Miss Gloria will be up to her ears
in before the end of the month if you let her loose here.

MRS. CLANDON (emphatically). But I can prove to her that Socialism is a

McCOMAS (touchingly). It is by proving that, Mrs. Clandon, that I have
lost all my young disciples. Be careful what you do: let her go her own
way. (With some bitterness.) We're old-fashioned: the world thinks it
has left us behind. There is only one place in all England where your
opinions would still pass as advanced.

MRS. CLANDON (scornfully unconvinced). The Church, perhaps?

McCOMAS. No, the theatre. And now to business! Why have you made me come
down here?

MRS. CLANDON. Well, partly because I wanted to see you -

McCOMAS (with good-humored irony). Thanks.

MRS. CLANDON. - and partly because I want you to explain everything
to the children. They know nothing; and now that we have come back
to England, it is impossible to leave them in ignorance any longer.
(Agitated.) Finch: I cannot bring myself to tell them. I - (She is
interrupted by the twins and Gloria. Dolly comes tearing up the steps,
racing Philip, who combines a terrific speed with unhurried propriety of
bearing which, however, costs him the race, as Dolly reaches her mother
first and almost upsets the garden seat by the precipitancy of her

DOLLY (breathless). It's all right, mamma. The dentist is coming; and
he's bringing his old man.

MRS. CLANDON. Dolly, dear: don't you see Mr. McComas? (Mr. McComas
rises, smilingly.)

DOLLY (her face falling with the most disparagingly obvious
disappointment). This! Where are the flowing locks?

PHILIP (seconding her warmly). Where the beard? - the cloak? - the poetic

DOLLY. Oh, Mr. McComas, you've gone and spoiled yourself. Why didn't you
wait till we'd seen you?

McCOMAS (taken aback, but rallying his humor to meet the emergency).
Because eighteen years is too long for a solicitor to go without having
his hair cut.

GLORIA (at the other side of McComas). How do you do, Mr. McComas? (He
turns; and she takes his hand and presses it, with a frank straight look
into his eyes.) We are glad to meet you at last.

McCOMAS. Miss Gloria, I presume? (Gloria smiles assent, and releases his
hand after a final pressure. She then retires behind the garden seat,
leaning over the back beside Mrs. Clandon.) And this young gentleman?

PHILIP. I was christened in a comparatively prosaic mood. My name is -

DOLLY (completing his sentence for him declamatorily). "Norval. On the
Grampian hills" -

PHILIP (declaiming gravely). "My father feeds his flock, a frugal
swain" -

MRS. CLANDON (remonstrating). Dear, dear children: don't be silly.
Everything is so new to them here, Finch, that they are in the wildest
spirits. They think every Englishman they meet is a joke.

DOLLY. Well, so he is: it's not our fault.

PHILIP. My knowledge of human nature is fairly extensive, Mr. McComas;
but I find it impossible to take the inhabitants of this island

McCOMAS. I presume, sir, you are Master Philip (offering his hand)?

PHILIP (taking McComas's hand and looking solemnly at him). I was Master
Philip - was so for many years; just as you were once Master Finch. (He
gives his hand a single shake and drops it; then turns away, exclaiming
meditatively) How strange it is to look back on our boyhood! (McComas
stares after him, not at all pleased.)

DOLLY (to Mrs. Clandon). Has Finch had a drink?

MRS. CLANDON (remonstrating). Dearest: Mr. McComas will lunch with us.

DOLLY. Have you ordered for seven? Don't forget the old gentleman.

MRS. CLANDON. I have not forgotten him, dear. What is his name?

DOLLY. Chalkstones. He'll be here at half past one. (To McComas.) Are we
like what you expected?

MRS. CLANDON (changing her tone to a more earnest one). Dolly: Mr.
McComas has something more serious than that to tell you. Children: I
have asked my old friend to answer the question you asked this morning.
He is your father's friend as well as mine: and he will tell you the
story more fairly than I could. (Turning her head from them to Gloria.)
Gloria: are you satisfied?

GLORIA (gravely attentive). Mr. McComas is very kind.

McCOMAS (nervously). Not at all, my dear young lady: not at all. At the
same time, this is rather sudden. I was hardly prepared - er -

DOLLY (suspiciously). Oh, we don't want anything prepared.

PHILIP (exhorting him). Tell us the truth.

DOLLY (emphatically). Bald headed.

McCOMAS (nettled). I hope you intend to take what I have to say

PHILIP (with profound mock gravity). I hope it will deserve it, Mr.
McComas. My knowledge of human nature teaches me not to expect too much.

MRS. CLANDON (remonstrating). Phil -

PHILIP. Yes, mother, all right. I beg your pardon, Mr. McComas: don't
mind us.

DOLLY (in conciliation). We mean well.

PHILIP. Shut up, both.

(Dolly holds her lips. McComas takes a chair from the luncheon table;
places it between the little table and the garden seat with Dolly on his
right and Philip on his left; and settles himself in it with the air
of a man about to begin a long communication. The Clandons match him

McCOMAS. Ahem! Your father -

DOLLY (interrupting). How old is he?


MRS. CLANDON (softly). Dear Dolly: don't let us interrupt Mr. McComas.

McCOMAS (emphatically). Thank you, Mrs. Clandon. Thank you. (To Dolly.)
Your father is fifty-seven.

DOLLY (with a bound, startled and excited). Fifty-seven! Where does he

MRS. CLANDON (remonstrating). Dolly, Dolly!

McCOMAS (stopping her). Let me answer that, Mrs. Clandon. The answer
will surprise you considerably. He lives in this town. (Mrs.
Clandon rises. She and Gloria look at one another in the greatest

DOLLY (with conviction). I knew it! Phil: Chalkstones is our father.

McCOMAS. Chalkstones!

DOLLY. Oh, Crampstones, or whatever it is. He said I was like his
mother. I knew he must mean his daughter.

PHILIP (very seriously). Mr. McComas: I desire to consider your feelings
in every possible way: but I warn you that if you stretch the long arm
of coincidence to the length of telling me that Mr. Crampton of this
town is my father, I shall decline to entertain the information for a

McCOMAS. And pray why?

PHILIP. Because I have seen the gentleman; and he is entirely unfit
to be my father, or Dolly's father, or Gloria's father, or my mother's

McCOMAS. Oh, indeed! Well, sir, let me tell you that whether you like it
or not, he is your father, and your sister' father, and Mrs. Clandon's
husband. Now! What have you to say to that!

DOLLY (whimpering). You needn't be so cross. Crampton isn't your father.

PHILIP. Mr. McComas: your conduct is heartless. Here you find a family
enjoying the unspeakable peace and freedom of being orphans. We have
never seen the face of a relative - never known a claim except the claim
of freely chosen friendship. And now you wish to thrust into the most
intimate relationship with us a man whom we don't know -

DOLLY (vehemently). An awful old man! (reproachfully) And you began as
if you had quite a nice father for us.

McCOMAS (angrily). How do you know that he is not nice? And what right
have you to choose your own father? (raising his voice.) Let me tell
you, Miss Clandon, that you are too young to -

DOLLY (interrupting him suddenly and eagerly). Stop, I forgot! Has he
any money?

McCOMAS. He has a great deal of money.

DOLLY (delighted). Oh, what did I always say, Phil?

PHILIP. Dolly: we have perhaps been condemning the old man too hastily.
Proceed, Mr. McComas.

McCOMAS. I shall not proceed, sir. I am too hurt, too shocked, to

MRS. CLANDON (urgently). Finch: do you realize what is happening? Do you
understand that my children have invited that man to lunch, and that he
will be here in a few moments?

McCOMAS (completely upset). What! do you mean - am I to understand - is
it -

PHILIP (impressively). Steady, Finch. Think it out slowly and carefully.
He's coming - coming to lunch.

GLORIA. Which of us is to tell him the truth? Have you thought of that?

MRS. CLANDON. Finch: you must tell him.

DOLLY Oh, Finch is no good at telling things. Look at the mess he has
made of telling us.

McCOMAS. I have not been allowed to speak. I protest against this.

DOLLY (taking his arm coaxingly). Dear Finch: don't be cross.

MRS. CLANDON. Gloria: let us go in. He may arrive at any moment.

GLORIA (proudly). Do not stir, mother. I shall not stir. We must not run

MRS. CLANDON (delicately rebuking her). My dear: we cannot sit down to
lunch just as we are. We shall come back again. We must have no bravado.
(Gloria winces, and goes into the hotel without a word.) Come, Dolly.
(As she goes into the hotel door, the waiter comes out with plates,
etc., for two additional covers on a tray.)

WAITER. Gentlemen come yet, ma'am?

MRS. CLANDON. Two more to come yet, thank you. They will be here,
immediately. (She goes into the hotel. The waiter takes his tray to the
service table.)

PHILIP. I have an idea. Mr. McComas: this communication should be made,
should it not, by a man of infinite tact?

McCOMAS. It will require tact, certainly.

PHILIP Good! Dolly: whose tact were you noticing only this morning?

DOLLY (seizing the idea with rapture). Oh, yes, I declare! William!

PHILIP. The very man! (Calling) William!

WAITER. Coming, sir.

McCOMAS (horrified). The waiter! Stop, stop! I will not permit this. I -

WAITER (presenting himself between Philip and McComas). Yes, sir.
(McComas's complexion fades into stone grey; and all movement and
expression desert his eyes. He sits down stupefied.)

PHILIP. William: you remember my request to you to regard me as your

WAITER (with respectful indulgence). Yes, sir. Anything you please, sir.

PHILIP. William: at the very outset of your career as my father, a rival
has appeared on the scene.

WAITER. Your real father, sir? Well, that was to be expected, sooner or
later, sir, wasn't it? (Turning with a happy smile to McComas.) Is it
you, sir?

McCOMAS (renerved by indignation). Certainly not. My children know how
to behave themselves.

PHILIP. No, William: this gentleman was very nearly my father: he wooed
my mother, but wooed her in vain.

McCOMAS (outraged). Well, of all the -

PHILIP. Sh! Consequently, he is only our solicitor. Do you know one
Crampton, of this town?

WAITER. Cock-eyed Crampton, sir, of the Crooked Billet, is it?

PHILIP. I don't know. Finch: does he keep a public house?

McCOMAS (rising scandalized). No, no, no. Your father, sir, is a
well-known yacht builder, an eminent man here.

WAITER (impressed). Oh, beg pardon, sir, I'm sure. A son of Mr.
Crampton's! Dear me!

PHILIP. Mr. Crampton is coming to lunch with us.

WAITER (puzzled). Yes, sir. (Diplomatically.) Don't usually lunch with
his family, perhaps, sir?

PHILIP (impressively). William: he does not know that we are his family.
He has not seen us for eighteen years. He won't know us. (To emphasize
the communication he seats himself on the iron table with a spring, and
looks at the waiter with his lips compressed and his legs swinging.)

DOLLY. We want you to break the news to him, William.

WAITER. But I should think he'd guess when he sees your mother, miss.
(Philip's legs become motionless at this elucidation. He contemplates
the waiter raptly.)

DOLLY (dazzled). I never thought of that.

PHILIP. Nor I. (Coming off the table and turning reproachfully on
McComas.) Nor you.

DOLLY. And you a solicitor!

PHILIP. Finch: Your professional incompetence is appalling. William:
your sagacity puts us all to shame.

DOLLY You really are like Shakespear, William.

WAITER. Not at all, sir. Don't mention it, miss. Most happy, I'm
sure, sir. (Goes back modestly to the luncheon table and lays the two
additional covers, one at the end next the steps, and the other so as to
make a third on the side furthest from the balustrade.)

PHILIP (abruptly). Finch: come and wash your hands. (Seizes his arm and
leads him toward the hotel.)

McCOMAS. I am thoroughly vexed and hurt, Mr. Clandon -

PHILIP (interrupting him). You will get used to us. Come, Dolly.
(McComas shakes him off and marches into the hotel. Philip follows with
unruffled composure.)

DOLLY (turning for a moment on the steps as she follows them). Keep your
wits about you, William. There will be fire-works.

WAITER. Right, miss. You may depend on me, miss. (She goes into the

(Valentine comes lightly up the steps from the beach, followed doggedly
by Crampton. Valentine carries a walking stick. Crampton, either
because he is old and chilly, or with some idea of extenuating the
unfashionableness of his reefer jacket, wears a light overcoat. He stops
at the chair left by McComas in the middle of the terrace, and steadies
himself for a moment by placing his hand on the back of it.)

CRAMPTON. Those steps make me giddy. (He passes his hand over his
forehead.) I have not got over that infernal gas yet.

(He goes to the iron chair, so that he can lean his elbows on the little
table to prop his head as he sits. He soon recovers, and begins to
unbutton his overcoat. Meanwhile Valentine interviews the waiter.)


WAITER (coming forward between them). Yes, sir.

VALENTINE. Mrs. Lanfrey Clandon.

WAITER (with a sweet smile of welcome). Yes, sir. We're expecting you,
sir. That is your table, sir. Mrs. Clandon will be down presently, sir.
The young lady and young gentleman were just talking about your friend,

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawYou Never Can Tell → online text (page 3 of 9)