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WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS
By James M. Barrie
James Wylie is about to make a move on the dambrod, and in the little
Scotch room there is an awful silence befitting the occasion. James with
his hand poised - for if he touches a piece he has to play it, Alick
will see to that - raises his red head suddenly to read Alick's face. His
father, who is Alick, is pretending to be in a panic lest James should
make this move. James grins heartlessly, and his fingers are about to
close on the 'man' when some instinct of self-preservation makes him
peep once more. This time Alick is caught: the unholy ecstasy on
his face tells as plain as porridge that he has been luring James to
destruction. James glares; and, too late, his opponent is a simple old
father again. James mops his head, sprawls in the manner most conducive
to thought in the Wylie family, and, protruding his underlip, settles
down to a reconsideration of the board. Alick blows out his cheeks, and
a drop of water settles on the point of his nose.
You will find them thus any Saturday night (after family worship, which
sends the servant to bed); and sometimes the pauses are so long that in
the end they forget whose move it is.
It is not the room you would be shown into if you were calling socially
on Miss Wylie. The drawing-room for you, and Miss Wylie in a coloured
merino to receive you; very likely she would exclaim, "This is a
pleasant surprise!" though she has seen you coming up the avenue and has
just had time to whip the dustcloths off the chairs, and to warn Alick,
David and James, that they had better not dare come in to see you before
they have put on a dickey. Nor is this the room in which you would dine
in solemn grandeur if invited to drop in and take pot-luck, which is how
the Wylies invite, it being a family weakness to pretend that they sit
down in the dining-room daily. It is the real living-room of the house,
where Alick, who will never get used to fashionable ways, can take off
his collar and sit happily in his stocking soles, and James at times
would do so also; but catch Maggie letting him.
There is one very fine chair, but, heavens, not for sitting on; just to
give the room a social standing in an emergency. It sneers at the other
chairs with an air of insolent superiority, like a haughty bride who
has married into the house for money. Otherwise the furniture is homely;
most of it has come from that smaller house where the Wylies began.
There is the large and shiny chair which can be turned into a bed if you
look the other way for a moment. James cannot sit on this chair without
gradually sliding down it till he is lying luxuriously on the small of
his back, his legs indicating, like the hands of a clock, that it is ten
past twelve; a position in which Maggie shudders to see him receiving
The other chairs are horse-hair, than which nothing is more comfortable
if there be a good slit down the seat. The seats are heavily dented,
because all the Wylie family sit down with a dump. The draught-board
is on the edge of a large centre table, which also displays four books
placed at equal distances from each other, one of them a Bible, and
another the family album. If these were the only books they would not
justify Maggie in calling this chamber the library, her dogged name for
it; while David and James call it the west-room and Alick calls it 'the
room,' which is to him the natural name for any apartment without a bed
in it. There is a bookcase of pitch pine, which contains six hundred
books, with glass doors to prevent your getting at them.
No one does try to get at the books, for the Wylies are not a reading
family. They like you to gasp when you see so much literature gathered
together in one prison-house, but they gasp themselves at the thought
that there are persons, chiefly clergymen, who, having finished one
book, coolly begin another. Nevertheless it was not all vainglory
that made David buy this library: it was rather a mighty respect for
education, as something that he has missed. This same feeling makes him
take in the Contemporary Review and stand up to it like a man. Alick,
who also has a respect for education, tries to read the Contemporary,
but becomes dispirited, and may be heard muttering over its pages, 'No,
no use, no use, no,' and sometimes even 'Oh hell.' James has no respect
for education; and Maggie is at present of an open mind.
They are Wylie and Sons of the local granite quarry, in which Alick was
throughout his working days a mason. It is David who has raised them to
this position; he climbed up himself step by step (and hewed the steps),
and drew the others up after him. 'Wylie Brothers,' Alick would have had
the firm called, but David said No, and James said No, and Maggie said
No; first honour must be to their father; and Alick now likes it on the
whole, though he often sighs at having to shave every day; and on some
snell mornings he still creeps from his couch at four and even at two
(thinking that his mallet and chisel are calling him), and begins to
pull on his trousers, until the grandeur of them reminds him that he can
go to bed again. Sometimes he cries a little, because there is no more
work for him to do for ever and ever; and then Maggie gives him a spade
(without telling David) or David gives him the logs to saw (without
We have given James a longer time to make his move than our kind
friends in front will give him, but in the meantime something has been
happening. David has come in, wearing a black coat and his Sabbath
boots, for he has been to a public meeting. David is nigh forty years of
age, whiskered like his father and brother (Alick's whiskers being worn
as a sort of cravat round the neck), and he has the too brisk manner of
one who must arrive anywhere a little before any one else. The painter
who did the three of them for fifteen pounds (you may observe the
canvases on the walls) has caught this characteristic, perhaps
accidentally, for David is almost stepping out of his frame, as if to
hurry off somewhere; while Alick and James look as if they were pinned
to the wall for life. All the six of them, men and pictures, however,
have a family resemblance, like granite blocks from their own quarry.
They are as Scotch as peat for instance, and they might exchange eyes
without any neighbour noticing the difference, inquisitive little blue
eyes that seem to be always totting up the price of things.
The dambrod players pay no attention to David, nor does he regard them.
Dumping down on the sofa he removes his 'lastic sides, as his Sabbath
boots are called, by pushing one foot against the other, gets into a
pair of hand-sewn slippers, deposits the boots as according to rule in
the ottoman, and crosses to the fire. There must be something on David's
mind to-night, for he pays no attention to the game, neither gives
advice (than which nothing is more maddening) nor exchanges a wink with
Alick over the parlous condition of James's crown. You can hear the
wag-at-the-wall clock in the lobby ticking. Then David lets himself go;
it runs out of him like a hymn: -
DAVID. Oh, let the solid ground Not fail beneath my feet, Before my life
has found What some have found so sweet.
[This is not a soliloquy, but is offered as a definite statement. The
players emerge from their game with difficulty.]
ALICK [with JAMES's crown in his hand]. What's that you're saying,
DAVID [like a public speaker explaining the situation in a few
well-chosen words]. The thing I'm speaking about is Love.
JAMES [keeping control of himself]. Do you stand there and say you're in
love, David Wylie?
DAVID. Me; what would I do with the thing?
JAMES [who is by no means without pluck]. I see no necessity for calling
it a thing.
[They are two bachelors who all their lives have been afraid of nothing
but Woman. DAVID in his sportive days - which continue - has done roguish
things with his arm when conducting a lady home under an umbrella from
a soiree, and has both chuckled and been scared on thinking of it
afterwards. JAMES, a commoner fellow altogether, has discussed the sex
over a glass, but is too canny to be in the company of less than two
young women at a time.]
DAVID [derisively]. Oho, has she got you, James?
JAMES [feeling the sting of it]. Nobody has got me.
DAVID. They'll catch you yet, lad.
JAMES. They'll never catch me. You've been nearer catched yourself.
ALICK. Yes, Kitty Menzies, David.
DAVID [feeling himself under the umbrella]. It was a kind of a shave
ALICK [who knows all that is to be known about women and can speak of
them without a tremor]. It's a curious thing, but a man cannot help
winking when he hears that one of his friends has been catched.
DAVID. That's so.
JAMES [clinging to his manhood]. And fear of that wink is what has kept
the two of us single men. And yet what's the glory of being single?
DAVID. There's no particular glory in it, but it's safe.
JAMES [putting away his aspirations]. Yes, it's lonely, but it's safe.
But who did you mean the poetry for, then?
DAVID. For Maggie, of course.
[You don't know DAVID and JAMES till you know how they love their sister
ALICK. I thought that.
DAVID [coming to the second point of his statement about Love]. I saw
her reading poetry and saying those words over to herself.
JAMES. She has such a poetical mind.
DAVID. Love. There's no doubt as that's what Maggie has set her heart
on. And not merely love, but one of those grand noble loves; for though
Maggie is undersized she has a passion for romance.
JAMES [wandering miserably about the room]. It's terrible not to be able
to give Maggie what her heart is set on.
[The others never pay much attention to JAMES, though he is quite a
smart figure in less important houses.]
ALICK [violently]. Those idiots of men.
DAVID. Father, did you tell her who had got the minister of Galashiels?
ALICK [wagging his head sadly]. I had to tell her. And then I - I - bought
her a sealskin muff, and I just slipped it into her hands and came away.
JAMES [illustrating the sense of justice in the Wylie family]. Of
course, to be fair to the man, he never pretended he wanted her.
DAVID. None of them wants her; that's what depresses her. I was
thinking, father, I would buy her that gold watch and chain in Snibby's
window. She hankers after it.
JAMES [slapping his pocket]. You're too late, David; I've got them for
DAVID. It's ill done of the minister. Many a pound of steak has that man
had in this house.
ALICK. You mind the slippers she worked for him?
JAMES. I mind them fine; she began them for William Cathro. She's
getting on in years, too, though she looks so young.
ALICK. I never can make up my mind, David, whether her curls make her
look younger or older.
DAVID [determinedly]. Younger. Whist! I hear her winding the clock.
Mind, not a word about the minister to her, James. Don't even mention
religion this day.
JAMES. Would it be like me to do such a thing?
DAVID. It would be very like you. And there's that other matter: say not
a syllable about our having a reason for sitting up late to-night. When
she says it's bed-time, just all pretend we're not sleepy.
ALICK. Exactly, and when -
[Here MAGGIE enters, and all three are suddenly engrossed in the
dambrod. We could describe MAGGIE at great length. But what is the use?
What you really want to know is whether she was good-looking. No, she
was not. Enter MAGGIE, who is not good-looking. When this is said, all
is said. Enter MAGGIE, as it were, with her throat cut from ear to ear.
She has a soft Scotch voice and a more resolute manner than is perhaps
fitting to her plainness; and she stops short at sight of JAMES
sprawling unconsciously in the company chair.]
MAGGIE. James, I wouldn't sit on the fine chair.
JAMES. I forgot again.
[But he wishes she had spoken more sharply. Even profanation of the
fine chair has not roused her. She takes up her knitting, and they all
suspect that she knows what they have been talking about.]
MAGGIE. You're late, David, it's nearly bed-time.
DAVID [finding the subject a safe one]. I was kept late at the public
ALICK [glad to get so far away from Galashiels]. Was it a good meeting?
DAVID. Fairish. [with some heat] That young John Shand WOULD make a
MAGGIE. John Shand? Is that the student Shand?
DAVID. The same. It's true he's a student at Glasgow University in the
winter months, but in summer he's just the railway porter here; and I
think it's very presumptuous of a young lad like that to make a speech
when he hasn't a penny to bless himself with.
ALICK. The Shands were always an impudent family, and jealous. I suppose
that's the reason they haven't been on speaking terms with us this six
years. Was it a good speech?
DAVID [illustrating the family's generosity]. It was very fine; but he
needn't have made fun of ME.
MAGGIE [losing a stitch]. He dared?
DAVID [depressed]. You see I can not get started on a speech without
saying things like 'In rising FOR to make a few remarks.'
JAMES. What's wrong with it?
DAVID. He mimicked me, and said, 'Will our worthy chairman come for to
go for to answer my questions?' and so on; and they roared.
JAMES [slapping his money pocket]. The sacket.
DAVID. I did feel bitterly, father, the want of education. [Without
knowing it, he has a beautiful way of pronouncing this noble word.]
MAGGIE [holding out a kind hand to him]. David.
ALICK. I've missed it sore, David. Even now I feel the want of it in the
very marrow of me. I'm ashamed to think I never gave you your chance.
But when you were young I was so desperate poor, how could I do it,
MAGGIE. It wasn't possible, father.
ALICK [gazing at the book-shelves]. To be able to understand these
books! To up with them one at a time and scrape them as clean as though
they were a bowl of brose. Lads, it's not to riches, it's to scholarship
that I make my humble bow.
JAMES [who is good at bathos]. There's ten yards of them. And they were
selected by the minister of Galashiels. He said -
DAVID [quickly]. James.
JAMES. I mean - I mean -
MAGGIE [calmly]. I suppose you mean what you say, James. I hear, David,
that the minister of Galashiels is to be married on that Miss Turnbull.
DAVID [on guard]. So they were saying.
ALICK. All I can say is she has made a poor bargain.
MAGGIE [the damned]. I wonder at you, father. He's a very nice
gentleman. I'm sure I hope he has chosen wisely.
JAMES. Not him.
MAGGIE [getting near her tragedy]. How can you say that when you don't
know her? I expect she is full of charm.
ALICK. Charm? It's the very word he used.
DAVID. Havering idiot.
ALICK. What IS charm, exactly, Maggie?
MAGGIE. Oh, it's - it's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you
don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't
much matter what else you have. Some women, the few, have charm for all;
and most have charm for one. But some have charm for none.
[Somehow she has stopped knitting. Her men-folk are very depressed.
JAMES brings his fist down on the table with a crash.]
JAMES [shouting]. I have a sister that has charm.
MAGGIE. No, James, you haven't.
JAMES [rushing at her with the watch and chain]. Ha'e, Maggie.
[She lets them lie in her lap.]
DAVID. Maggie, would you like a silk?
MAGGIE. What could I do with a silk? [With a gust of passion] You might
as well dress up a little brown hen.
[They wriggle miserably.]
JAMES [stamping]. Bring him here to me.
MAGGIE. Bring whom, James?
JAMES. David, I would be obliged if you wouldn't kick me beneath the
MAGGIE [rising]. Let's be practical; let's go to our beds.
[This reminds them that they have a job on hand in which she is not to
DAVID [slily]. I don't feel very sleepy yet.
ALICK. Nor me either.
JAMES. You've just taken the very words out of my mouth.
DAVID [with unusual politeness]. Good-night to you Maggie.
MAGGIE [fixing the three of them]. ALL of you unsleepy, when, as is well
known, ten o'clock is your regular bed-time?
JAMES. Yes, it's common knowledge that we go to our beds at ten.
[Chuckling] That's what we're counting on.
MAGGIE. Counting on?
DAVID. You stupid whelp.
JAMES. What have I done?
MAGGIE [folding her arms]. There's something up. You've got to tell me,
DAVID [who knows when he is beaten]. Go out and watch, James.
[JAMES takes himself off, armed, as MAGGIE notices, with a stick.]
DAVID [in his alert business way]. Maggie, there are burglars about.
MAGGIE. Burglars? [She sits rigid, but she is not the kind to scream.]
DAVID. We hadn't meant for to tell you till we nabbed them; but they've
been in this room twice of late. We sat up last night waiting for them,
and we're to sit up again to-night.
MAGGIE. The silver plate.
DAVID. It's all safe as yet. That makes us think that they were either
frightened away these other times, or that they are coming back for to
make a clean sweep.
MAGGIE. How did you get to know about this?
DAVID. It was on Tuesday that the polissman called at the quarry with a
very queer story. He had seen a man climbing out at this window at ten
MAGGIE. Did he chase him?
DAVID. It was so dark he lost sight of him at once.
ALICK. Tell her about the window.
DAVID. We've found out that the catch of the window has been pushed back
by slipping the blade of a knife between the woodwork.
ALICK. The polissman said he was carrying a little carpet bag.
MAGGIE. The silver plate IS gone.
DAVID. No, no. We were thinking that very likely he has bunches of keys
in the bag.
MAGGIE. Or weapons.
DAVID. As for that, we have some pretty stout weapons ourselves in the
umbrella stand. So, if you'll go to your bed, Maggie -
MAGGIE. Me? and my brothers in danger.
ALICK. There's just one of them.
MAGGIE. The polissman just saw one.
DAVID [licking his palms]. I would be very pleased if there were three
MAGGIE. I watch with you. I would be very pleased if there were four of
DAVID. And they say she has no charm!
[JAMES returns on tiptoe as if the burglars were beneath the table. He
signs to every one to breathe no more, and then whispers his news.]
JAMES. He's there. I had no sooner gone out than I saw him sliding down
the garden wall, close to the rhubarbs.
ALICK. What's he like?
JAMES. He's an ugly customer. That's all I could see. There was a little
carpet bag in his hand.
DAVID. That's him.
JAMES. He slunk into the rhodydendrons, and he's there now, watching the
DAVID. We have him. Out with the light.
[The room is beautified by a chandelier fitted for three gas jets,
but with the advance of progress one of these has been removed and the
incandescent light put in its place. This alone is lit. ALICK climbs a
chair, pulls a little chain, and the room is now but vaguely lit by the
fire. It plays fitfully on four sparkling faces.]
MAGGIE. Do you think he saw you, James?
JAMES. I couldn't say, but in any case I was too clever for him. I
looked up at the stars, and yawned loud at them as if I was tremendous
[There is a long pause during which they are lurking in the shadows. At
last they hear some movement, and they steal like ghosts from the room.
We see DAVID turning out the lobby light; then the door closes and an
empty room awaits the intruder with a shudder of expectancy. The window
opens and shuts as softly as if this were a mother peering in to see
whether her baby is asleep. Then the head of a man shows between the
curtains. The remainder of him follows. He is carrying a little carpet
bag. He stands irresolute; what puzzles him evidently is that the Wylies
should have retired to rest without lifting that piece of coal off
the fire. He opens the door and peeps into the lobby, listening to the
wag-at-the-wall clock. All seems serene, and he turns on the light. We
see him clearly now. He is JOHN SHAND, age twenty-one, boots muddy,
as an indignant carpet can testify. He wears a shabby topcoat and a
cockerty bonnet; otherwise he is in the well-worn corduroys of a railway
porter. His movements, at first stealthy, become almost homely as he
feels that he is secure. He opens the bag and takes out a bunch of keys,
a small paper parcel, and a black implement that may be a burglar's
jemmy. This cool customer examines the fire and piles on more coals.
With the keys he opens the door of the bookcase, selects two large
volumes, and brings them to the table. He takes off his topcoat and
opens his parcel, which we now see contains sheets of foolscap paper.
His next action shows that the 'jemmy' is really a ruler. He knows where
the pen and ink are kept. He pulls the fine chair nearer to the table,
sits on it, and proceeds to write, occasionally dotting the carpet with
ink as he stabs the air with his pen. He is so occupied that he does
not see the door opening, and the Wylie family staring at him. They are
armed with sticks.]
ALICK [at last]. When you're ready, John Shand.
[JOHN hints back, and then he has the grace to rise, dogged and
JAMES [like a railway porter]. Ticket, please.
DAVID. You can't think of anything clever for to go for to say now,
MAGGIE. I hope you find that chair comfortable, young man.
JOHN. I have no complaint to make against the chair.
ALICK [who is really distressed]. A native of the town. The disgrace to
your family! I feel pity for the Shands this night.
JOHN [glowering]. I'll thank you, Mr. Wylie, not to pity my family.
JAMES. Canny, canny.
MAGGIE [that sense of justice again]. I think you should let the young
man explain. It mayn't be so bad as we thought.
DAVID. Explain away, my billie.
JOHN. Only the uneducated would need an explanation. I'm a student,
[with a little passion] and I'm desperate for want of books. You have
all I want here; no use to you but for display; well, I came here to
study. I come twice weekly. [Amazement of his hosts.]
DAVID [who is the first to recover]. By the window.
JOHN. Do you think a Shand would so far lower himself as to enter your
door? Well, is it a case for the police?
JAMES. It is.
MAGGIE [not so much out of the goodness of her heart as to patronise
the Shands]. It seems to me it's a case for us all to go to our beds and
leave the young man to study; but not on that chair. [And she wheels the
chair away from him.]
JOHN. Thank you, Miss Maggie, but I couldn't be beholden to you.
JAMES. My opinion is that he's nobody, so out with him.
JOHN. Yes, out with me. And you'll be cheered to hear I'm likely to be a
nobody for a long time to come.
DAVID [who had been beginning to respect him]. Are you a poor scholar?
JOHN. On the contrary, I'm a brilliant scholar.
DAVID. It's siller, then?
JOHN [glorified by experiences he has shared with many a gallant soul].
My first year at college I lived on a barrel of potatoes, and we had
just a sofa-bed between two of us; when the one lay down the other had
to get up. Do you think it was hardship? It was sublime. But this year
I can't afford it. I'll have to stay on here, collecting the tickets
of the illiterate, such as you, when I might be with Romulus and Remus
among the stars.
JAMES [summing up]. Havers.
DAVID [in whose head some design is vaguely taking shape]. Whist, James.
I must say, young lad, I like your spirit. Now tell me, what's your
professors' opinion of your future.
JOHN. They think me a young man of extraordinary promise.
DAVID. You have a name here for high moral character.
JOHN. And justly.
DAVID. Are you serious-minded?
JOHN. I never laughed in my life.
DAVID. Who do you sit under in Glasgow?
JOHN. Mr. Flemister of the Sauchiehall High.
DAVID. Are you a Sabbath-school teacher?
JOHN. I am.
DAVID. One more question. Are you promised?
JOHN. To a lady?
JOHN. I've never given one of them a single word of encouragement. I'm
too much occupied thinking about my career.
DAVID. So. [He reflects, and finally indicates by a jerk of the head
that he wishes to talk with his father behind the door.]
JAMES [longingly]. Do you want me too?
[But they go out without even answering him.]
MAGGIE. I don't know what maggot they have in their heads, but sit down,
young man, till they come back.