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Afraid ?

RUFUS. I think she would find her match in me.

JOSEPHINE. I should just think she would indeed !

RUFUS. You remember how I went for that Mrs.
Coles in the alimony case ?

JOSEPHINE. You did make her look small.

RUFUS. And that fellow Higgins ?

JOSEPHINE. You polished him off pretty neatly, too.
(rufus is about to speak.) {Trying to bring him back to
the subject.) But about Leila ?

rufus. Yes, I have wondered several times whether
I ought not to speak to her, but on consideration I came
to the conclusion that it was more dignified merely to
let her read my disapproval in my tone and manner.
My position here is most delicate — not only am I Leila's
uncle by marriage — but her guest.

JOSEPHINE. The way she keeps on urging us to stay
makes me think there can't be anything seriously

RUFUS {ridiculing Josephine in his superior manner).
My dear Josephine, how simple you are ! Don't you
see that she couldn't be having Captain Harding daily
to the house if you and I were not installed here as
watch-dogs ? We are being made a convenience of.
I wouldn't stand it — if it were not that it suits me so
well to remain here.

JOSEPHINE {sighing). I must try again !

rufus. I'm afraid she's too sharp for you. I will
speak to her. You can be by and support mc if you

{Enter leila. She appears radiant as ever,
smartly dressed for out-of-doors. She carries her
gloves in her hand, and lays them for a moment
on the table.)


LEILA. Oh, here you are, Uncle Darby and Aunt
Joan ! I thought you ^vere gomg out.

RUFUS {expressing his disapproval by addressing
LEILA in his most solemn manner). There is a gentleman
waiting for you in the hall.

LEILA. Captain Harding — I know. It won't do him
any harm to wait. I wouldn't have arranged to go
out with him this afternoon only I understood you were
both going to the Wallace Collection. (Pauses a moment,
and then, as they do not reply, says.) Aren't you ?
RUFUS {solemnly and mysteriously). We don't know.
JOSEPHINE {taking her cue from rufus). We can't
say — now.

(LEILA turns and looks at them, then rufus shakes
his head at leila in solemn disapproval.
LEILA looks from rufus to Josephine.
JOSEPHINE takes her cue from rufus, also
shakes her head at leila. leila takes no
notice of this, but bends down to scribble a note
of something.)
rufus {aside to Josephine). She ought to ask us
what's the matter with us.

JOSEPHINE {aside to rufus). They never will — people
like her — if they know we want them to. It's part of
their plaguiness.

(leila turns to them, folding up the note she has

scribbled as she speaks, then picks up her gloves

from the table.)

LEILA. I was merely going for a walk. We thought

we'd go to Battersea Park— to see the birds. Won't

you put on your things and come with us ?

RUFUS {explosively). No, we won't. And let me tell
you, Leila, we most heartily disapprove of your conduct
— your aunt and I. Every day — somewhere or other
with this young man.
JOSEPHINE. Dreadful !
RUFUS. Abominable !
JOSEPHINE. Shocking !
RUFUS. What will people say ?

LEILA. I'm afraid I never trouble much about what
people say.

RUFUS. It's a pity you don't !
JOSEPHINE. A great pity.


LEILA. I suppose you haven't been in London long
enough to notice that there are some women — it doesn't
matter what they do — it's all right ; and others, it
doesn't matter what they do — it's all wrong. I'm one
of the former.

RUFUS. There are things that are done and things that
are not done — even in London.

LEILA. Everything is done, Uncle Rufus. It never
matters what one does but only how one does it.

RUFUS. Of course if you are simply going to argue

with me and justify yourself

( LEILA smiles at him, rufus grunts, goes up to the
window, and stands looking out. Josephine
removes her glasses, rises and goes to leila.)
JOSEPHINE {speaking very gently and sincerely, and
naturally). It is Noel we are thinking of, Leila — our dear
Noel — not what people say, nor what may be done or not
done in this new London of yours, where everything is
so strange to me. A generation has passed away since I
lived here before, so that my ideas of propriety have
become old-fashioned. But think a little of Noel, work-
ing for you in America and thinking of you very, very
often, I feel sure.

LEILA. Dear Aunt Josephine, Noel and I understand
one another perfectly.

RUFUS {coming down behind sofa). I shall speak to
Captain Harding.

{Enter maurice. He is now, of course, wearing

civilian clothes. He speaks as soon as he enters,

and strolls towards leila.)

MAURICE {good humouredly, only pretending to be

annoyed). How much longer must I wait ? I've been

cooling myself for the last ten minutes on one of your

hard hall chairs. {Shakes hands with leila.) How

d'you do ? {Going to sir rufus to shake hands.)

(rufus gives him a most formal bow, then crosses
and stands by fireplace, maurice is naturally
Oh ! {Strolls towards Josephine, offering to shake hands.)


(JOSEPHINE cuts him short by giving him a frigid
little nod.)
Oh ! {turns to leila wondering what this means).


LEILA {explaining to maurice). It's because I go about
with you so much. They thmk it's wrong. What do
you think ? {Addressing rufus and Josephine.) It
would be interesting to get all our points of view. {To
MAURICE.) Of course, as Aunt Josephine says, her ideas
of propriety are a little old-fashioned, while Uncle Ilufus's
notions of wifely duty are positively prehistoric !

RUFUS {hurries to the door and throws it wide open — in a
commanding tone). Josephine !

(JOSEPHINE obediently rises, gathers up her work,
and scurries out.)

LEILA {as if nothing was happening continues to
MAURICE). — As you see.

(rufus casts an indignant look at leila, then goes
out after Josephine, closing the door after them.)
(leila and maurice both smile.)
Silly old man !

MAURICE {coming to leila who is sitting on the sofa).
But isn't this really rather serious ?

leila. Why ?

MAURICE. Their reception of me.

LEILA, D'you think it matters ?

MAURICE. Not to me — {Taking her hand and raising it
slowly as he says.) But I wouldn't for the world do any-
thing to compromise you ! {Kisses her hand.)

LEILA {confidently). I'll see that you don't do that.

MAURICE. I'd better not come here so often if this
is the way they take it. Only that, of course, means
snatched meetings out of doors, and all kinds of subter-
fuges which we both hate — and might end in our running
away together.

LEILA {gravely). It isn't in my scheme of things to run
away from home with any man.

MAURICE. It isn't in my scheme of things to run away
^vith any man's wife {looking at her), but we may not be
able to help ourselves.

LEILA {looks at him). Then I suppose we shall do it.

MAURICE {sits on sofa beside her). It's stupid to muck
up one's career, but when I'm "svith you like this, I think
it would be worth all the sacrifices I should have to make
to have you near me always.

LEILA. If I lived with you I should be yours —
shouldn't I ?


MAURICE (smiling at her). Yes.

LEILA. I should belong to you.

MAURICE {takes her hand). Altogether — all the time.

LEILA. I should belong to you much more than I ever
did to Noel, because I should be kicked out by everybody
and therefore be much more dependent upon you. I
don't believe I could belong to any one completely. Nor
could you ! We are both alike in that.

MAURICE. We are both alike in so many ways. It's
wonderful how natural we are together. {Moves nearer
to her, transferring her hand from his right to his left, and
slipping his right arm round her waist.)

LEILA. Not here !

MAURICE {removing his arm and sitting hack in a corner
of the sofa). I'm much fonder of you than I ever thought
I was going to be. When I first began coming here to
have my portrait painted, I used to look at you when you
came to sit in the studio, and think you were awfully
attractive. But I wasn't anything like as much in love
with you as I am now. D'you know, I sometimes find
myself stopping in the middle of things to wonder what
you are doing.

LEILA {smiling). Do you ?

MAURICE. Do you do that about me ?

LEILA. Sometimes. {She smiles at him and he kisses
her hand.)

MAURICE. What have you done to-day ?

LEILA. This morning I got up, had breakfast, did my
housekeeping, then I did some telephoning

MAURICE. Who to ?

LEILA. Friends — and people. I cultivate a lot of
bores because I think they might be useful to Noel. I'm
rather good about that.

MAURICE. What did you do when you'd finished tele-
phoning ?

LEILA. Talked to Uncle Rufus and Aunt Josephine for
about half an hour. Then I did some mending. I have
plenty of that to do — being a poor man's wife — I'm
rather clever at it.

MAURICE. It all sounds rather dull.

LEILA {lays her hand on his arm for a moment and is
very charming and sincere). When I know you are coming
to sec me it brightens up everything else.


MAURICE {very much pleased). How nice of you to say
that. {Thoughtfully.) It's not so bad for us now, of
course. {Rises and sits on the arm of the sofa.) It's
rather as if we were secretly engaged — tantahsing, but
pleasant. But when he comes home.

LEILA. You must trust me to manage the situation

MAURICE. Shall you tell him ?

LEILA. I shouldn't mind. I'd rather — in a way. It's
more honest. But of course one can't. Apart from
everything else — it would hurt him so — that's really
what I couldn't bear ! He has always been so good to
me, and I'm so fond of him. {Half smiles as she adds.)
He's a very great friend of mine.

MAURICE. It's extraordinary how I don't hate him !

LEILA. Why should you hate him ? I don't see how
anybody could hate Noel ! You'd love him if you knew
him well. He's got so much character and he's such good
company. I'm devoted to Noel — devoted ! It's so silly
of people to suppose that a woman only falls in love with
another man because her husband is either a brute or a
fool !

MAURICE {looking at the door). Who's that ?

LEILA. The Uncle and Aunt coming out of their bed-
room. I hope they won't come spying in here.

MAURICE {rises). I don't want to meet them.

LEILA {rises). What do you care ?

MAURICE. If the old boy is rude to me again, I shall
be ruder still to him.

LEILA. Oh, well — we don't want a fight. We shall
meet them if we go that way. {Nods towards the door.)
Shall we go and sit in the studio ? {Crossing to the other
door.) They won't think of looking for us there.

{She goes out by this door.)

MAURICE {following her as he speaks). Right-oh !

Happy thought — they'll think we've gone to Battersea

Park. {He follows, closing the door behind him.)

{The door upon the opposite side of the room is

pushed open cautiously, rufus pokes his head

in. He now wears his frock-coat and has his

gloves on. He carries his silk hat in his hand.

He advances cautiously into the room, and when

he sees there is no one there, he beckons to jose-


PHiNE, who is dressed also in her best outdoor
clothes. She makes a much less splendid ap-
pearance than RUFUS.)

RUFUS {lays his hat carefully upon the table, and, turn-
ing to JOSEPHINE, says solemnly). Gone ! — while I was
putting on my boots.

JOSEPHINE (timidly). Ought we to pursue them, do
you think ?

RUFUS. To be ridiculed and set at defiance — publicly
in Battersea Park ! No. I wash my hands of Leila.
There is only one thing to do — write to Noel. (As she
does not respond, he turns to her after a moment and says.)
Don't you agree ?

JOSEPHINE. You know best.

RUFUS. Have an opinion !

JOSEPHINE. I think that to write to Noel would be
rather going to extremities. It might make mischief,
and would be sure to upset him.

RUFUS (petulantly). All the onus on me, as usual !

JOSEPHINE. I will support you, dear, of course, what-
ever you do.

RUFUS. I don't want your support if you give it un-

JOSEPHINE (distressed, goes towards him). I give it most
willingly, Rufus dear. (Lays her hand on his shoulder.)

RUFUS (brushing her hands away from him, not to be won
over all in a moment). Now you are trying to humour me
as if I were a child. You don't really agree with me.

JOSEPHINE (knowing what she is expected to do does it as
if she really meant what she said). Yes, dear, I do. On
reflection I think that much the wisest thing to do is to
write to Noel.

RUFUS (turning to her). Then why bandy words ?
(Indicating the writing-desk.) There is the desk and the
paper. ( Josephine hurries to the desk and sits.) Write
to my dictation. (Standing behind her, facing the window.)
Or would it be better to cable ? No, too expensive.
Write ! "My dear Noel "

JOSEPHINE (writing). Noel-

(Enter noel. He stands in the doorway smiling at
them and looking very cheerful. His visit to
America has done him a great deal of good. He
is bronzed by his sea voyage, and has much more


assurance of manner. The despondency which
oppressed him in the First Act has vanished,
and he is now buoyant and in high spirits.)

NOEL {in an unconcerned manner, as if he had seen them
ten minutes before). Hullo !

RUFUS {turns, and is greatly surprised to see noel).
Noel !

JOSEPHINE {turns quickly and rises, and is also greatly
surprised). Noel !

NOEL {shakes hands with rufus). Why so surprised to
see me ?

RUFUS {coming towards him). We didn't expect you

NOEL. I wrote.

JOSEPHINE. We never received any letter.

NOEL. Oh, I wonder how that is. {Embraces her.)
Perhaps it's coming by a slow boat. I must have over-
taken it on the way. That's it, that accounts for it.
That's why Leila wasn't at the station to meet me.
Where is she ? Where's Leila ?

RUFUS {solemnly). Gone out !

JOSEPHINE {hastily to noel). She didn't know you
were coming, you see.

NOEL. Of course not. How long will she be ?

JOSEPHINE. She didn't say.

NOEL. How is she — well ?

JOSEPHINE. Very well.

RUFUS {solemnly). She is in excellent health.

NOEL {cheerfully). Splendid ! It is nice to be home
again. I've had a most glorious time. I was no end
of a success. They chose my designs out of all the rest.
You should have heard some of the things they said.
{Assuming an American accent.) " Say, Mr. Gale, what
are they thinking of in Europe to let you come over
here ? " "I reckon these drawings of yours are among
the most remarkable works of art in the United States."
(josephint: laughs a little at this.) They dined me
and lunched me and made speeches to me and at me.
{Speaks more seriously, but all the time exhilarated.) You
were quite right, Uncle Rufus. It was what I needed.
I can't tell you how it has bucked me to be made such
a fuss of. I'm too old a bird, I hope, to have my head
turned, but i+- has given me assurance, confidence in my


own powers ; and I remember so well what you said —
" Mental detachment " — without which one is of no
value. I'm only home for a few weeks, while they get
the library in shape. Then I shall go back, of course,
to do the work — -the actual painting. I shall take Leila
with me then. {With great determination, but humor-
ously and assuming an American accent.) " Yes, sir! " {In
his natural voice.) If she says she doesn't want to come
I shall tell her gently, but firmly, that — {American
accent) " I'm the ' borss.' " {Growing anxious and
impatient.) I wish she'd come in. What a long time
she is. Where has she gone to — did she say ? {Goes
to the window and looks out.)

(rufus and josepiiine exchange an uneasy glance
before Josephine speaks.)

JOSEPHINE. She said she was going to Battersea Park.

RUFUS {by fireplace, with great solemnity). To see the

(noel turns to them quickly, struck by their reticent
and solemn manner.)

NOEL. What's the matter ?

JOSEPHINE {hastily). Nothing, dear — nothing !

NOEL {hardly waiting while Josephine speaks). Why
are you both so — {looking at her) mysterious ? {looking
at him) and solemn ? {Pauses for them to reply before
he says.) Is anything up ?

JOSEPHINE {weakly). No.

NOEL {to rufus). She's not ill ?

RUFUS. I have told you that her health is good

JOSEPHINE {anxiously, as she sees noel's uneasiness).
She'll be in soon, Noel. You'll see her directly.

NOEL {going again to the window, and looking out). I
hope so.

{Enter leila. She is amazed to see noel, whose
back is now towards her, and stops still a moment
before she speaks.)

LEILA. Noel ! ! {Goes towards him.)

NOEL {at the sound of her voice he turns to her — joyfully).
Leila ! {He folds her in his arms and kisses her, overcome
with emotion at the joy of seeing her again.) Oh, Leila !
I was so afraid you were ill or that something had
happened. {Looking in her face.) You are all right,
aren't you ?



LEILA {smiling at him). Yes, dear — of course I'm all

NOEL. Oh, I'm so thankful — and so glad to see you, —
dear Leila. {Hugs her again.) {Enter maurice. He
enters very soon after leila, but not until she is folded in
Noel's arms, so that noel does not see him until he and
LEILA have released themselves. When he sees maurice
he becomes very reserved.) Oh 1 {Crosses to maurice.)
(maurice comes forward a little to meet him, and shakes
hands politely but without cordiality.) How d'you do ?

MAURICE. This is a surprise !

NOEL. Yes.

MAURICE. We didn't expect you yet.

NOEL. Didn't you ? {Turns to leila as she speaks.)

LEILA. Have you had a good voyage, Noel ?

NOEL. Excellent, thank you.

LEILA. I thought you would have cabled, or some-
thing ?

NOEL. I wrote, dear — {hesitates and looks at maurice)
I wrote you a long letter. I was explaining to Uncle
Rufus and Aunt Josephine, as you came in.

{Everybody is embarrassed.)

JOSEPHINE {rises, and goes to leila as she says). It
was a slow boat — not his, the one that brought his letter,
or, rather, that didn't bring it — that hasn't brought it
yet, I mean.

{The situation is too much for Josephine. Finding
everybody's attention upon her, she is overcome
with confusion and emotion, and hurries out.
They all see this. Every one is a little more
embarrassed till leila comes to the rescue.)

LEILA. Why don't we all sit down ? {Sets the

NOEL {to MAURICE, laconically). Won't you sit down ?

MAURICE. Thanks. {Looking at leila.) I must be
off. I have an appointment. {Not knowing whether to
shake hands with noel or not, making a hesitating move-
ment towards him.) Good-bye !

NOEL {nods to MAURICE). Good-byc.

LEILA {annoyed by the behaviour of noel, towards
MAURICE, defies him by extending her hand cordially to
MAURICE). Good-bye, Captain Harding. {As they shake
hands.) Come and see us again soon.


MAURICE. Thanks, I will. {Crosses down below the
sofa to RUFUS, who turns his back on him, then looks
round the room awkwardly.) Thanks.

{He goes out.)

LEILA. We've been seeing a good deal of Captain
Harding while you've been away. He often comes to
the house — almost every day ! — as Uncle Rufus has no
doubt already told you. {Rises and goes towards noel.)
It seems so natural to see you again — almost as if you
had never been away. And how well you are looking !
(noel smiles at her, but it is a reserved, sad smile.)
{Appeals to Rufus.) Isn't he looking well ? (rufus is
solemn and unresponsive.) I'll go and take my things off
now. Then I'll come back to hear all about what you've
been doing in America. {Humming to herself.)

(noel makes a movement as if to call her back, but
LEILA does not see it, and goes out.)

NOEL. What does it mean ?

RUFUS. What ?

NOEL. Your reticence — your embarrassment — as soon
as I asked for Leila. Aunt Josephine rushing out of the
room in tears. His coming to the house every day. If
there's anything wrong, why didn't you write and tell
me ?

RUFUS. I was just going to when you came in.

NOEL. What ?

RUFUS {adds hastily). I don't know that there's any-
thing wrong. She's with him continually — but I must
say, in fairness to her, I've seen nothing suspicious ; it's
all very frank and open. I've done everything a man
could. But you know what your wife is — does exactly
as she likes, whatever anybody says. You've never been
able to control her.

NOEL. I've never had an occasion like this. If she's
had her own way before, it has been about things in
general, not about a man. Comes every day, does he ?
I'll soon put a stop to that.

RUFUS. Don't jump to conclusions. This may be
one of these new-fashioned friendships between men and

NOEL {with great emphasis). Friends don't need to
meet daily. They can get along quite comfortably
without a sight of each other for weeks at a time —


It's lovers who ynust meet. I won't have him coming
to my house.

RUFus. You must settle that with Leila.

NOEL. You think she'll get her o^vn way over this as
she used to do over other things. I've not been away
for nothing. If Leila won't submit to me, there'll be
a row. {He is crossing to the door, and is stopped by


RUFUS. Don't lose your temper ; it's fatal. She
never loses hers. You want to meet this situation
wisely — so don't be too tragical. Anger won't answer,
nor will kindness, nor appeals to her better nature.
You'll still be at her mercy, manage her — outwit her.
And there's only one way to do it successfully.

NOEL. What's that ?

RUFUS. RetaHation.

NOEL (blankly). Flirt with the first woman I meet ?

RUFUS. If she's pretty enough.

NOEL [scornfully). It's contemptible. I'm surprised
at you suggesting such a thing.

RUFUS. Remember, she has this great advantage over
you, she is doing something she knows she shouldn't,
while you are only trying to stop her. You are like an
anti-society chasing after something that runs faster
than it does. No anti-society was ever known to sup-
press an}i;hing yet. The most it ever did was to divert
it — that's what you've got to do.

NOEL. Yes ; but to deliberately set to work to make
her jealous. It may be the clever thing to do — but it's
not sincere, it's not real — I don't hke it.

RUFUS. I know what I'm talking about. I haven't
sat on the bench for fifteen years without gaining un-
usual insight into the workings of the human heart.
{Impressively.) If she wants to be off — nothing you can
do will stop her. But if you should show signs of
wanting to be off, she'll come running back like a hare.

NOEL. I don't know who to flirt with. I daresay I
could find some one — but to begin — all of a sudden —

RUFUS {slyly). Has there been nobody in America ?j

NOEL {indignantly). No. Certainly not.

(rufus shrugs his shoulders.)

RUFUS. Oh ! Well, you must pretend there has been.


Is there no woman at all that you've been seeing a good
deal of — all the time you've been away ?

NOEL. Only Mrs. Welkin.

RUFUS (seizing brightly on the notion). Why not Mrs.
Welkin ?

NOEL (laughs, rather joylessly, before he says). You
haven't seen her. She's all bones and gristle — with a
receding chin.

RUFUS. Invent ! You are an artist. Create charms
for Mrs. Welkin. Give her a neglectful husband — be in
a hurry to get back to her. Don't care whether Leila
goes with you or not — you'd rather she didn't. It's
the only way, my boy, the only way. If you do what I
suggest, you can twist Leila round your little finger.

(Enter leila. She smiles at them as she enters.)

RUFUS (attracted by her entrance). Ah ! here's Leila !
(Opens book.) (leila lays her hand on noel's shoulder.
He is just about to take her hand when a glance from
RUFUS stops him.) I'll go and take your aunt out now
and leave you young people together, (leila strolls up
to the window and looks out. When he has got half-way to
the door, he stops and says.) Oh, my hat — I was forgetting
it. (He goes back to the table for his hat and stick which
NOEL hands him, glances at leila, then says aside to
NOEL.) Remember Mrs. Welkin. (Speaking as he goes
to the door.) It's too late for the Wallace Collection.
We'll take a little walk on the Embankment. Bye-bye.

(He goes out.)

LEILA (crosses down behind noel and puts her hands on
his shoulders). Well, Noel ?

NOEL (is about to take her hands, but alters his mind —
indifferently, but not rudely). Well, Leila !

LEILA (she is at first more puzzled than annoyed, though
also a little annoyed. She sits upon the sofa and settles
herself before she speaks). What kind of an experience

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Online LibraryHubert Henry DaviesThe plays of Hubert Henry Davies (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 22)