George Bernard Shaw.

You Never Can Tell online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawYou Never Can Tell → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

magisterially in the centre of the group, near the corner of the table
on Mrs. Clandon's side. When they are settled, he fixes Crampton with
his eye, and begins.) In this family, it appears, the husband's name is
Crampton: the wife's Clandon. Thus we have on the very threshold of the
case an element of confusion.

VALENTINE (getting up and speaking across to him with one knee on the
ottoman). But it's perfectly simple.

BOHUN (annihilating him with a vocal thunderbolt). It is. Mrs. Clandon
has adopted another name. That is the obvious explanation which you
feared I could not find out for myself. You mistrust my intelligence,
Mr. Valentine - (Stopping him as he is about to protest.) No: I don't
want you to answer that: I want you to think over it when you feel your
next impulse to interrupt me.

VALENTINE (dazed). This is simply breaking a butterfly on a wheel. What
does it matter? (He sits down again.)

BOHUN. I will tell you what it matters, sir. It matters that if this
family difference is to be smoothed over as we all hope it may be, Mrs.
Clandon, as a matter of social convenience and decency, will have to
resume her husband's name. (Mrs. Clandon assumes an expression of the
most determined obstinacy.) Or else Mr. Crampton will have to call
himself Mr. Clandon. (Crampton looks indomitably resolved to do nothing
of the sort.) No doubt you think that an easy matter, Mr. Valentine. (He
looks pointedly at Mrs. Clandon, then at Crampton.) I differ from you.
(He throws himself back in his chair, frowning heavily.)

McCOMAS (timidly). I think, Bohun, we had perhaps better dispose of the
important questions first.

BOHUN. McComas: there will be no difficulty about the important
questions. There never is. It is the trifles that will wreck you at the
harbor mouth. (McComas looks as if he considered this a paradox.) You
don't agree with me, eh?

McCOMAS (flatteringly). If I did -

BOHUN (interrupting him). If you did, you would be me, instead of being
what you are.

McCOMAS (fawning on him). Of course, Bohun, your specialty -

BOHUN (again interrupting him). My specialty is being right when other
people are wrong. If you agreed with me I should be of no use here. (He
nods at him to drive the point home; then turns suddenly and forcibly on
Crampton.) Now you, Mr. Crampton: what point in this business have you
most at heart?

CRAMPTON (beginning slowly). I wish to put all considerations of self
aside in this matter -

BOHUN (interrupting him). So do we all, Mr. Crampton. (To Mrs. Clandon.)
Y o u wish to put self aside, Mrs. Clandon?

MRS. CLANDON. Yes: I am not consulting my own feelings in being here.

BOHUN. So do you, Miss Clandon?


BOHUN. I thought so. We all do.

VALENTINE. Except me. My aims are selfish.

BOHUN. That's because you think an impression of sincerity will produce
a better effect on Miss Clandon than an impression of disinterestedness.
(Valentine, utterly dismantled and destroyed by this just remark, takes
refuge in a feeble, speechless smile. Bohun, satisfied at having now
effectually crushed all rebellion, throws himself back in his chair,
with an air of being prepared to listen tolerantly to their grievances.)
Now, Mr. Crampton, go on. It's understood that self is put aside. Human
nature always begins by saying that.

CRAMPTON. But I mean it, sir.

BOHUN. Quite so. Now for your point.

CRAMPTON. Every reasonable person will admit that it's an unselfish
one - the children.

BOHUN. Well? What about the children?

CRAMPTON (with emotion). They have -

BOHUN (pouncing forward again). Stop. You're going to tell me about your
feelings, Mr. Crampton. Don't: I sympathize with them; but they're not
my business. Tell us exactly what you want: that's what we have to get

CRAMPTON (uneasily). It's a very difficult question to answer, Mr.

BOHUN. Come: I'll help you out. What do you object to in the present
circumstances of the children?

CRAMPTON. I object to the way they have been brought up.

BOHUN. How do you propose to alter that now?

CRAMPTON. I think they ought to dress more quietly.

VALENTINE. Nonsense.

BOHUN (instantly flinging himself back in his chair, outraged by the
interruption). When you are done, Mr. Valentine - when you are quite

VALENTINE. What's wrong with Miss Clandon's dress?

CRAMPTON (hotly to Valentine). My opinion is as good as yours.

GLORIA (warningly). Father!

CRAMPTON (subsiding piteously). I didn't mean you, my dear. (Pleading
earnestly to Bohun.) But the two younger ones! you have not seen them,
Mr. Bohun; and indeed I think you would agree with me that there is
something very noticeable, something almost gay and frivolous in their
style of dressing.

MRS. CLANDON (impatiently). Do you suppose I choose their clothes for
them? Really this is childish.

CRAMPTON (furious, rising). Childish! (Mrs. Clandon rises indignantly.)

McCOMAS } (all ris- } Crampton, you promised -

VALENTINE } ing and } Ridiculous. They dress

} speaking } charmingly.

GLORIA } together). } Pray let us behave reasonably.

Tumult. Suddenly they hear a chime of glasses in the room behind them.
They turn in silent surprise and find that the waiter has just come back
from the bar in the garden, and is jingling his tray warningly as he
comes softly to the table with it.

WAITER (to Crampton, setting a tumbler apart on the table). Irish for
you, sir. (Crampton sits down a little shamefacedly. The waiter sets
another tumbler and a syphon apart, saying to Bohun) Scotch and syphon
for you, sir. (Bohun waves his hand impatiently. The waiter places a
large glass jug in the middle.) And claret cup. (All subside into their
seats. Peace reigns.)

MRS. CLANDON (humbly to Bohun). I am afraid we interrupted you, Mr.

BOHUN (calmly). You did. (To the waiter, who is going out.) Just wait a

WAITER. Yes, sir. Certainly, sir. (He takes his stand behind Bohun's

MRS. CLANDON (to the waiter). You don't mind our detaining you, I hope.
Mr. Bohun wishes it.

WAITER (now quite at his ease). Oh, no, ma'am, not at all, ma'am. It
is a pleasure to me to watch the working of his trained and powerful
mind - very stimulating, very entertaining and instructive indeed, ma'am.

BOHUN (resuming command of the proceedings). Now, Mr. Crampton: we are
waiting for you. Do you give up your objection to the dressing, or do
you stick to it?

CRAMPTON (pleading). Mr. Bohun: consider my position for a moment. I
haven't got myself alone to consider: there's my sister Sophronia and
my brother-in-law and all their circle. They have a great horror of
anything that is at all - at all - well -

BOHUN. Out with it. Fast? Loud? Gay?

CRAMPTON. Not in any unprincipled sense of course; but - but - (blurting
it out desperately) those two children would shock them. They're not fit
to mix with their own people. That's what I complain of.

MRS. CLANDON (with suppressed impatience). Mr. Valentine: do you think
there is anything fast or loud about Phil and Dolly?

VALENTINE. Certainly not. It's utter bosh. Nothing can be in better

CRAMPTON. Oh, yes: of course you say so.

MRS. CLANDON. William: you see a great deal of good English society. Are
my children overdressed?

WAITER (reassuringly). Oh, dear, no, ma'am. (Persuasively.) Oh, no,
sir, not at all. A little pretty and tasty no doubt; but very choice
and classy - very genteel and high toned indeed. Might be the son and
daughter of a Dean, sir, I assure you, sir. You have only to look at
them, sir, to - (At this moment a harlequin and columbine, dancing to
the music of the band in the garden, which has just reached the coda of
a waltz, whirl one another into the room. The harlequin's dress is
made of lozenges, an inch square, of turquoise blue silk and gold
alternately. His hat is gilt and his mask turned up. The columbine's
petticoats are the epitome of a harvest field, golden orange and poppy
crimson, with a tiny velvet jacket for the poppy stamens. They pass, an
exquisite and dazzling apparition, between McComas and Bohun, and then
back in a circle to the end of the table, where, as the final chord of
the waltz is struck, they make a tableau in the middle of the company,
the harlequin down on his left knee, and the columbine standing on his
right knee, with her arms curved over her head. Unlike their dancing,
which is charmingly graceful, their attitudinizing is hardly a success,
and threatens to end in a catastrophe.)

THE COLUMBINE (screaming). Lift me down, somebody: I'm going to fall.
Papa: lift me down.

CRAMPTON (anxiously running to her and taking her hands). My child!

DOLLY (jumping down with his help). Thanks: so nice of you. (Phil,
putting his hat into his belt, sits on the side of the table and pours
out some claret cup. Crampton returns to his place on the ottoman in
great perplexity.) Oh, what fun! Oh, dear. (She seats herself with a
vault on the front edge of the table, panting.) Oh, claret cup! (She

BOHUN (in powerful tones). This is the younger lady, is it?

DOLLY (slipping down off the table in alarm at his formidable voice and
manner). Yes, sir. Please, who are you?

MRS. CLANDON. This is Mr. Bohun, Dolly, who has very kindly come to help
us this evening.

DOLLY. Oh, then he comes as a boon and a blessing -


CRAMPTON. Mr. Bohun - McComas: I appeal to you. Is this right? Would you
blame my sister's family for objecting to this?

DOLLY (flushing ominously). Have you begun again?

CRAMPTON (propitiating her). No, no. It's perhaps natural at your age.

DOLLY (obstinately). Never mind my age. Is it pretty?

CRAMPTON. Yes, dear, yes. (He sits down in token of submission.)

DOLLY (following him insistently). Do you like it?

CRAMPTON. My child: how can you expect me to like it or to approve of

DOLLY (determined not to let him off). How can you think it pretty and
not like it?

McCOMAS (rising, angry and scandalized). Really I must say - (Bohun,
who has listened to Dolly with the highest approval, is down on him

BOHUN. No: don't interrupt, McComas. The young lady's method is right.
(To Dolly, with tremendous emphasis.) Press your questions, Miss
Clandon: press your questions.

DOLLY (rising). Oh, dear, you are a regular overwhelmer! Do you always
go on like this?

BOHUN (rising). Yes. Don't you try to put me out of countenance, young
lady: you're too young to do it. (He takes McComas's chair from
beside Mrs. Clandon's and sets it beside his own.) Sit down. (Dolly,
fascinated, obeys; and Bohun sits down again. McComas, robbed of
his seat, takes a chair on the other side between the table and the
ottoman.) Now, Mr. Crampton, the facts are before you - both of them. You
think you'd like to have your two youngest children to live with you.
Well, you wouldn't - (Crampton tries to protest; but Bohun will not
have it on any terms.) No, you wouldn't: you think you would; but I know
better than you. You'd want this young lady here to give up dressing
like a stage columbine in the evening and like a fashionable columbine
in the morning. Well, she won't - never. She thinks she will; but -

DOLLY (interrupting him). No I don't. (Resolutely.) I'll n e v e r give
up dressing prettily. Never. As Gloria said to that man in Madeira,
never, never, never while grass grows or water runs.

VALENTINE (rising in the wildest agitation). What! What! (Beginning to
speak very fast.) When did she say that? Who did she say that to?

BOHUN (throwing himself back with massive, pitying remonstrance). Mr.
Valentine -

VALENTINE (pepperily). Don't you interrupt me, sir: this is something
really serious. I i n s i s t on knowing who Miss Clandon said that to.

DOLLY. Perhaps Phil remembers. Which was it, Phil? number three or
number five?

VALENTINE. Number five!!!

PHILIP. Courage, Valentine. It wasn't number five: it was only a tame
naval lieutenant that was always on hand - the most patient and harmless
of mortals.

GLORIA (coldly). What are we discussing now, pray?

VALENTINE (very red). Excuse me: I am sorry I interrupted. I shall
intrude no further, Mrs. Clandon. (He bows to Mrs. Clandon and marches
away into the garden, boiling with suppressed rage.)

DOLLY. Hmhm!


GLORIA. Please go on, Mr. Bohun.

DOLLY (striking in as Bohun, frowning formidably, collects himself for a
fresh grapple with the case). You're going to bully us, Mr. Bohun.


DOLLY (interrupting him). Oh, yes, you are: you think you're not; but
you are. I know by your eyebrows.

BOHUN (capitulating). Mrs. Clandon: these are clever children - clear
headed, well brought up children. I make that admission deliberately.
Can you, in return, point out to me any way of inducting them to hold
their tongues?

MRS. CLANDON. Dolly, dearest - !

PHILIP. Our old failing, Dolly. Silence! (Dolly holds her mouth.)

MRS. CLANDON. Now, Mr. Bohun, before they begin again -

WAITER (softer). Be quick, sir: be quick.

DOLLY (beaming at him). Dear William!


BOHUN (unexpectedly beginning by hurling a question straight at Dolly).
Have you any intention of getting married?

DOLLY. I! Well, Finch calls me by my Christian name.

McCOMAS. I will not have this. Mr. Bohun: I use the young lady's
Christian name naturally as an old friend of her mother's.

DOLLY. Yes, you call me Dolly as an old friend of my mother's. But what
about Dorothee-ee-a? (McComas rises indignantly.)

CRAMPTON (anxiously, rising to restrain him). Keep your temper, McComas.
Don't let us quarrel. Be patient.

McCOMAS. I will not be patient. You are shewing the most wretched
weakness of character, Crampton. I say this is monstrous.

DOLLY. Mr. Bohun: please bully Finch for us.

BOHUN. I will. McComas: you're making yourself ridiculous. Sit down.


BOHUN (waving him down imperiously). No: sit down, sit down. (McComas
sits down sulkily; and Crampton, much relieved, follows his example.)

DOLLY (to Bohun, meekly). Thank you.

BOHUN. Now, listen to me, all of you. I give no opinion, McComas, as
to how far you may or may not have committed yourself in the direction
indicated by this young lady. (McComas is about to protest.) No: don't
interrupt me: if she doesn't marry you she will marry somebody else.
That is the solution of the difficulty as to her not bearing her
father's name. The other lady intends to get married.

GLORIA (flushing). Mr. Bohun!

BOHUN. Oh, yes, you do: you don't know it; but you do.

GLORIA (rising). Stop. I warn you, Mr. Bohun, not to answer for my

BOHUN (rising). It's no use, Miss Clandon: you can't put me down. I tell
you your name will soon be neither Clandon nor Crampton; and I could
tell you what it will be if I chose. (He goes to the other end of the
table, where he unrolls his domino, and puts the false nose on the
table. When he moves they all rise; and Phil goes to the window. Bohun,
with a gesture, summons the waiter to help him in robing.) Mr. Crampton:
your notion of going to law is all nonsense: your children will be of
age before you could get the point decided. (Allowing the waiter to put
the domino on his shoulders.) You can do nothing but make a friendly
arrangement. If you want your family more than they want you, you'll get
the worse of the arrangement: if they want you more than you want them,
you'll get the better of it. (He shakes the domino into becoming
folds and takes up the false nose. Dolly gazes admiringly at him.) The
strength of their position lies in their being very agreeable people
personally. The strength of your position lies in your income. (He claps
on the false nose, and is again grotesquely transfigured.)

DOLLY (running to him). Oh, now you look quite like a human being.
Mayn't I have just one dance with you? C a n you dance? (Phil, resuming
his part of harlequin, waves his hat as if casting a spell on them.)

BOHUN (thunderously). Yes: you think I can't; but I can. Come along. (He
seizes her and dances off with her through the window in a most powerful
manner, but with studied propriety and grace. The waiter is meanwhile
busy putting the chairs back in their customary places.)

PHILIP. "On with the dance: let joy be unconfined." William!

WAITER. Yes, sir.

PHILIP. Can you procure a couple of dominos and false noses for my
father and Mr. McComas?

McCOMAS. Most certainly not. I protest -

CRAMPTON. No, no. What harm will it do, just for once, McComas? Don't
let us be spoil-sports.

McCOMAS. Crampton: you are not the man I took you for. (Pointedly.)
Bullies are always cowards. (He goes disgustedly towards the window.)

CRAMPTON (following him). Well, never mind. We must indulge them a
little. Can you get us something to wear, waiter?

WAITER. Certainly, sir. (He precedes them to the window, and stands
aside there to let them pass out before him.) This way, sir. Dominos and
noses, sir?

McCOMAS (angrily, on his way out). I shall wear my own nose.

WAITER (suavely). Oh, dear, yes, sir: the false one will fit over it
quite easily, sir: plenty of room, sir, plenty of room. (He goes out
after McComas.)

CRAMPTON (turning at the window to Phil with an attempt at genial
fatherliness). Come along, my boy, come along. (He goes.)

PHILIP (cheerily, following him). Coming, dad, coming. (On the window
threshold, he stops; looking after Crampton; then turns fantastically
with his bat bent into a halo round his head, and says with a lowered
voice to Mrs. Clandon and Gloria) Did you feel the pathos of that? (He

MRS. CLANDON (left alone with Gloria). Why did Mr. Valentine go away so
suddenly, I wonder?

GLORIA (petulantly). I don't know. Yes, I d o know. Let us go and see
the dancing. (They go towards the window, and are met by Valentine, who
comes in from the garden walking quickly, with his face set and sulky.)

VALENTINE (stiffly). Excuse me. I thought the party had quite broken up.

GLORIA (nagging). Then why did you come back?

VALENTINE. I came back because I am penniless. I can't get out that way
without a five shilling ticket.

MRS. CLANDON. Has anything annoyed you, Mr. Valentine?

GLORIA. Never mind him, mother. This is a fresh insult to me: that is

MRS. CLANDON (hardly able to realize that Gloria is deliberately
provoking an altercation). Gloria!

VALENTINE. Mrs. Clandon: have I said anything insulting? Have I done
anything insulting?

GLORIA. you have implied that my past has been like yours. That is the
worst of insults.

VALENTINE. I imply nothing of the sort. I declare that my past has been
blameless in comparison with yours.

MRS. CLANDON (most indignantly). Mr. Valentine!

VALENTINE. Well, what am I to think when I learn that Miss Clandon
has made exactly the same speeches to other men that she has made
to me - when I hear of at least five former lovers, with a tame naval
lieutenant thrown in? Oh, it's too bad.

MRS. CLANDON. But you surely do not believe that these affairs - mere
jokes of the children's - were serious, Mr. Valentine?

VALENTINE. Not to you - not to her, perhaps. But I know what the men
felt. (With ludicrously genuine earnestness.) Have you ever thought
of the wrecked lives, the marriages contracted in the recklessness of
despair, the suicides, the - the - the -

GLORIA (interrupting him contemptuously). Mother: this man is a
sentimental idiot. (She sweeps away to the fireplace.)

MRS. CLANDON (shocked). Oh, my d e a r e s t Gloria, Mr. Valentine will
think that rude.

VALENTINE. I am not a sentimental idiot. I am cured of sentiment for
ever. (He sits down in dudgeon.)

MRS. CLANDON. Mr. Valentine: you must excuse us all. Women have to
unlearn the false good manners of their slavery before they acquire the
genuine good manners of their freedom. Don't think Gloria vulgar (Gloria
turns, astonished): she is not really so.

GLORIA. Mother! You apologize for me to h i m!

MRS. CLANDON. My dear: you have some of the faults of youth as well as
its qualities; and Mr. Valentine seems rather too old fashioned in his
ideas about his own sex to like being called an idiot. And now had we
not better go and see what Dolly is doing? (She goes towards the window.
Valentine rises.)

GLORIA. Do you go, mother. I wish to speak to Mr. Valentine alone.

MRS. CLANDON (startled into a remonstrance). My dear! (Recollecting
herself.) I beg your pardon, Gloria. Certainly, if you wish. (She bows
to Valentine and goes out.)

VALENTINE. Oh, if your mother were only a widow! She's worth six of you.

GLORIA. That is the first thing I have heard you say that does you

VALENTINE. Stuff! Come: say what you want to say and let me go.

GLORIA. I have only this to say. You dragged me down to your level for
a moment this afternoon. Do you think, if that had ever happened before,
that I should not have been on my guard - that I should not have known
what was coming, and known my own miserable weakness?

VALENTINE (scolding at her passionately). Don't talk of it in that way.
What do I care for anything in you but your weakness, as you call it?
You thought yourself very safe, didn't you, behind your advanced ideas!
I amused myself by upsetting t h e m pretty easily.

GLORIA (insolently, feeling that now she can do as she likes with him).

VALENTINE. But why did I do it? Because I was being tempted to awaken
your heart - to stir the depths in you. Why was I tempted? Because Nature
was in deadly earnest with me when I was in jest with her. When the
great moment came, who was awakened? who was stirred? in whom did the
depths break up? In myself - m y s e l f: I was transported: you were
only offended - shocked. You were only an ordinary young lady, too
ordinary to allow tame lieutenants to go as far as I went. That's all.
I shall not trouble you with conventional apologies. Good-bye. (He makes
resolutely for the door.)

GLORIA. Stop. (He hesitates.) Oh, will you understand, if I tell you the
truth, that I am not making an advance to you?

VALENTINE. Pooh! I know what you're going to say. You think you're not
ordinary - that I was right - that you really have those depths in your
nature. It flatters you to believe it. (She recoils.) Well, I grant that
you are not ordinary in some ways: you are a clever girl (Gloria stifles
an exclamation of rage, and takes a threatening step towards him); but
you've not been awakened yet. You didn't care: you don't care. It was
my tragedy, not yours. Good-bye. (He turns to the door. She watches him,
appalled to see him slipping from her grasp. As he turns the handle, he
pauses; then turns again to her, offering his hand.) Let us part kindly.

GLORIA (enormously relieved, and immediately turning her back on him
deliberately.) Good-bye. I trust you will soon recover from the wound.

VALENTINE (brightening up as it flashes on him that he is master of the
situation after all). I shall recover: such wounds heal more than they
harm. After all, I still have my own Gloria.

GLORIA (facing him quickly). What do you mean?

VALENTINE. The Gloria of my imagination.

GLORIA (proudly). Keep your own Gloria - the Gloria of your imagination.
(Her emotion begins to break through her pride.) The real Gloria - the
Gloria who was shocked, offended, horrified - oh, yes, quite truly - who
was driven almost mad with shame by the feeling that all her power over
herself had been broken down at her first real encounter with - with -
(The color rushes over her face again. She covers it with her left hand,
and puts her right on his left arm to support herself.)

VALENTINE. Take care. I'm losing my senses again. (Summoning all her
courage, she takes away her hand from her face and puts it on his right
shoulder, turning him towards her and looking him straight in the eyes.
He begins to protest agitatedly.) Gloria: be sensible: it's no use: I
haven't a penny in the world.

GLORIA. Can't you earn one? Other people do.

VALENTINE (half delighted, half frightened). I never could - you'd
be unhappy - My dearest love: I should be the merest fortune-hunting
adventurer if - (Her grip on his arms tightens; and she kisses him.)
Oh, Lord! (Breathless.) Oh, I - (He gasps.) I don't know anything about
women: twelve years' experience is not enough. (In a gust of jealousy
she throws him away from her; and he reels her back into the chair like
a leaf before the wind, as Dolly dances in, waltzing with the waiter,
followed by Mrs. Clandon and Finch, also waltzing, and Phil pirouetting
by himself.)

DOLLY (sinking on the chair at the writing-table). Oh, I'm out of

1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawYou Never Can Tell → online text (page 8 of 9)