Jerome K. Jerome.

The Master of Mrs. Chilvers online

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Transcribed from the 1911 T. Fisher Unwin edition by David Price, email
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[Picture: Book cover]





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(_All rights reserved_.)

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SCENE: Drawing-room, 91, Russell Square.
TIME: 3 p.m.

SCENE: Liberal Committee Room, East India Dock Road.
TIME: 5 p.m.

SCENE: The Town Hall, East Poplar.
TIME: 10 p.m.

SCENE: Russell Square
TIME: Midnight



Lady Mogton MARY RORKE
Annys Chilvers LENA ASHWELL
Phoebe Mogton ETHEL DANE
Mrs. Mountcalm Villiers SARAH BROOKE
Elizabeth Spender AURIOL LEE
Geoffrey Chilvers, M.P. DENNIS EADIE
Ben Lamb, M.P. A. E. BENEDICT
William Gordon EDMUND GWENN


GEOFFREY CHILVERS, M.P. A loving husband, and (would-be)
(_President Men’s League for the affectionate father. Like many
Extension of the Franchise to other good men, he is in sympathy
Women_) with the Woman’s Movement: “not
thinking it is coming in his
ANNYS CHILVERS (_née Mogton_, A loving wife, and (would-be)
_Hon. Sec. Women’s Parliamentary affection mother. Many thousands
Franchise League_) of years have gone to her making.
A generation ago, she would have
been the ideal woman: the ideal
helpmeet. But new ideas are
stirring in her blood, a new
ideal of womanhood is forcing
itself upon her.
LADY MOGTON (_President She knows she would be of more
W.P.F.L._) use in Parliament than many of
the men who are there; is
naturally annoyed at the Law’s
stupidity in keeping her out.
PHOEBE MOGTON (_Org. Sec. The new girl, thinking more of
W.P.F.L._) politics than of boys. But that
will probably pass.
JANET BLAKE (_Jt. Org. Sec. She dreams of a new heaven and a
W.P.F.L._) new earth when woman has the
MRS. MOUNTCALM VILLIERS She was getting tired of
(_Vice-President W.P.F.L._) flirting. The Woman’s Movement
has arrived just at the right
ELIZABETH SPENDER (_Hons. Treas. She sees woman everywhere the
W.P.F.L._) slave of man: now pampered, now
beaten, but ever the slave. She
can see no hope of freedom but
through warfare.
MRS. CHINN A mother.
JAWBONES A bill-poster. Movements that do
not fit in with the essentials of
life on thirty shillings a week
have no message so far as
Jawbones is concerned.
GINGER Whose proper name is Rose Merton,
and who has to reconcile herself
to the fact that so far as her
class is concerned the primæval
laws still run.
DORIAN ST. HERBERT (_Hon. Sec. He is interested in all things,
M.L.E.F.W._) the Woman’s Movement included.
BEN LAMB, M.P. As a student of woman, he admits
to being in the infants’ class.
SIGSBY An Election Agent. He thinks the
modern woman suffers from
over-indulgence. He would
recommend to her the teachings of
St. Paul.
HAKE A butler. He does not see how to
avoid his wife being practically
a domestic servant without wages.
A DEPUTATION It consists of two men and three
women. Superior people would
call them Cranks. But Cranks
have been of some service to the
world, and the use of superior
people is still to be discovered.


SCENE:—_Drawing-room_, 91, _Russell Square_.


(MRS. ELIZABETH SPENDER _sits near the fire_, _reading a book_. _She is
a tall_, _thin woman_, _with passionate eyes_, _set in an oval face of
olive complexion_; _the features are regular and severe_; _her massive
dark hair is almost primly arranged_. _She wears a tailor-made costume_,
_surmounted by a plain black hat_. _The door opens and_ PHOEBE _enters_,
_shown in by_ HAKE, _the butler_, _a thin_, _ascetic-looking man of about
thirty_, _with prematurely grey hair_. PHOEBE MOGTON _is of the Fluffy
Ruffles type_, _petite_, _with a retroussé nose_, _remarkably bright
eyes_, _and a quantity of fluffy light hair_, _somewhat untidily
arranged_. _She is fashionably dressed in the fussy_, _flyaway style_.
ELIZABETH _looks up_; _the two young women shake hands_.)

PHOEBE. Good woman. ’Tisn’t three o’clock yet, is it?

ELIZABETH. About five minutes to.

PHOEBE. Annys is on her way. I just caught her in time. (_To_ HAKE.)
Put a table and six chairs. Give mamma a hammer and a cushion at her

HAKE. A hammer, miss?

PHOEBE. A chairman’s hammer. Haven’t you got one?

HAKE. I’m afraid not, miss. Would a gravy spoon do?

PHOEBE (_To_ ELIZABETH, _after expression of disgust_.) Fancy a house
without a chairman’s hammer! (_To_ HAKE.) See that there’s something.
Did your wife go to the meeting last night?

HAKE (_He is arranging furniture according to instructions_.) I’m not
quite sure, miss. I gave her the evening out.

PHOEBE. “Gave her the evening out”!

ELIZABETH. We are speaking of your wife, man, not your servant.

HAKE. Yes, miss. You see, we don’t keep servants in our class.
Somebody’s got to put the children to bed.

ELIZABETH. Why not the man—occasionally?

HAKE. Well, you see, miss, in my case, I rarely getting home much before
midnight, it would make it so late. Yesterday being my night off, things
fitted in, so to speak. Will there be any writing, miss?

PHOEBE. Yes. See that there’s plenty of blotting-paper. (_To_
ELIZABETH.) Mamma always splashes so.

HAKE. Yes, miss.

(_He goes out_.)

ELIZABETH. Did you ever hear anything more delightfully naïve? He
“gave” her the evening out. That’s how they think of us—as their
servants. The gentleman hasn’t the courage to be straightforward about
it. The butler blurts out the truth. Why are we meeting here instead of
at our own place?

PHOEBE. For secrecy, I expect. Too many gasbags always about the
office. I fancy—I’m not quite sure—that mamma’s got a new idea.

ELIZABETH. Leading to Holloway?

PHOEBE. Well, most roads lead there.

ELIZABETH. And end there—so far as I can see.

PHOEBE. You’re too impatient.

ELIZABETH. It’s what our friends have been telling us—for the last fifty

PHOEBE. Look here, if it was only the usual sort of thing mamma wouldn’t
want it kept secret. I’m inclined to think it’s a new departure

(_The door opens_. _There enters_ JANET BLAKE, _followed by_ HAKE,
_who proceeds with his work_. JANET BLAKE _is a slight_,
_fragile-looking creature_, _her great dark eyes—the eyes of a
fanatic—emphasise the pallor of her childish face_. _She is shabbily
dressed_; _a plain_, _uninteresting girl until she smiles_, _and then
her face becomes quite beautiful_. PHOEBE _darts to meet her_.) Good
girl. Was afraid—I say, you’re wet through.

JANET. It was only a shower. The ’buses were all full. I had to ride

PHOEBE. Silly kid, why didn’t you take a cab?

JANET. I’ve been reckoning it up. I’ve been half over London chasing
Mrs. Mountcalm-Villiers. Cabs would have come, at the very least, to


JANET (_To_ ELIZABETH.) Well—I want you to put me down as a contributor
for twelve-and-six. (_She smiles_.) It’s the only way I can give.

PHOEBE. (_She is taking off_ JANET’S _cloak_; _throws it to_ HAKE.)
Have this put somewhere to dry. (_She pushes_ JANET _to the fire_.) Get
near the fire. You’re as cold as ice.

ELIZABETH. All the seats inside, I suppose, occupied by the chivalrous

JANET. Oh, there was one young fellow offered to give me up his place,
but I wouldn’t let him. You see, we’re claiming equality. (_Smiles_.)

ELIZABETH. And are being granted it—in every direction where it works to
the convenience of man.

PHOEBE. (_Laughs_.) Is she coming—the Villiers woman?

JANET. Yes. I ran her down at last—at her dress-maker’s. She made an
awful fuss about it, but I wouldn’t leave till she’d promised. Tell me,
it’s something quite important, isn’t it?

PHOEBE. I don’t know anything, except that I had an urgent telegram from
mamma this morning to call a meeting of the entire Council here at three
o’clock. She’s coming up from Manchester on purpose. (_To_ HAKE.) Mrs.
Chilvers hasn’t returned yet, has she?

HAKE. Not yet, miss. Shall I telephone—

PHOEBE. (_Shakes her head_.) No; it’s all right. I have seen her. Let
her know we are here the moment she comes in.

HAKE. Yes, miss.

(_He has finished the arrangements_. _The table has been placed in the
centre of the room_, _six chairs round it_, _one of them being a large
armchair_. _He has placed writing materials and a large silver gravy
spoon_. _He is going_.)

PHOEBE. Why aren’t you sure your wife wasn’t at the meeting last night?
Didn’t she say anything?

HAKE. Well, miss, unfortunately, just as she was starting, Mrs.
Comerford—that’s the wife of the party that keeps the shop
downstairs—looked in with an order for the theatre.


HAKE. So I thought it best to ask no questions.

PHOEBE. Thank you.

HAKE. Thank you, miss.

(_He goes out_.)

ELIZABETH. Can nothing be done to rouse the working-class woman out of
her apathy?

PHOEBE. Well, if you ask me, I think a good deal has been done.

ELIZABETH. Oh, what’s the use of our deceiving ourselves? The great
mass are utterly indifferent.

JANET (_She is seated in an easy-chair near the fire_.) I was talking to
a woman only yesterday—in Bethnal Green. She keeps a husband and three
children by taking in washing. “Lord, miss,” she laughed, “what would we
do with the vote if we did have it? Only one thing more to give to the

PHOEBE. That’s rather good.

ELIZABETH. The curse of it is that it’s true. Why should they put
themselves out merely that one man instead of another should dictate
their laws to them?

PHOEBE. My dear girl, precisely the same argument was used against the
Second Reform Bill. What earthly difference could it make to the working
men whether Tory Squire or Liberal capitalist ruled over them? That was
in 1868. To-day, fifty-four Labour Members sit in Parliament. At the
next election they will hold the balance.

ELIZABETH. Ah, if we could only hold out _that_ sort of hope to them!

(ANNYS _enters_. _She is in outdoor costume_. _She kisses_ PHOEBE,
_shakes hands with the other two_. ANNYS’S _age is about twenty-five_.
_She is a beautiful_, _spiritual-looking creature_, _tall and
graceful_, _with a manner that is at the same time appealing and
commanding_. _Her voice is soft and caressing_, _but capable of
expressing all the emotions_. _Her likeness to her younger sister_
PHOEBE _is of the slightest_: _the colouring is the same_, _and the
eyes that can flash_, _but there the similarity ends_. _She is simply
but well dressed_. _Her soft hair makes a quiet but wonderfully
effective frame to her face_.)

ANNYS. (_She is taking off her outdoor things_.) Hope I’m not late. I
had to look in at Caxton House. Why are we holding it here?

PHOEBE. Mamma’s instructions. Can’t tell you anything more except that
I gather the matter’s important, and is to be kept secret.

ANNYS. Mamma isn’t here, is she?

PHOEBE. (_Shakes her head_.) Reaches St. Pancras at two-forty. (_Looks
at her watch_.) Train’s late, I expect.

(HAKE _has entered_.)

ANNYS. (_She hands_ HAKE _her hat and coat_.) Have something ready in
case Lady Mogton hasn’t lunched. Is your master in?

HAKE. A messenger came for him soon after you left, ma’am. I was to
tell you he would most likely be dining at the House.

ANNYS. Thank you.

(HAKE _goes out_.)

ANNYS. (_To_ ELIZABETH.) I so want you to meet Geoffrey. He’ll alter
your opinion of men.

ELIZABETH. My opinion of men has been altered once or twice—each time
for the worse.

ANNYS. Why do you dislike men?

ELIZABETH. (_With a short laugh_.) Why does the slave dislike the

PHOEBE. Oh, come off the perch. You spend five thousand a year provided
for you by a husband that you only see on Sundays. We’d all be slaves at
that price.

ELIZABETH. The chains have always been stretched for the few. My
sympathies are with my class.

ANNYS. But men like Geoffrey—men who are devoting their whole time and
energy to furthering our cause; what can you have to say against them?

ELIZABETH. Simply that they don’t know what they’re doing. The French
Revolution was nursed in the salons of the French nobility. When the
true meaning of the woman’s movement is understood we shall have to get
on without the male sympathiser.

(_A pause_.)

ANNYS. What do you understand is the true meaning of the woman’s

ELIZABETH. The dragging down of man from his position of supremacy.
What else can it mean?

ANNYS. Something much better. The lifting up of woman to be his

ELIZABETH. My dear Annys, the men who to-day are advocating votes for
women are doing so in the hope of securing obedient supporters for their
own political schemes. In New Zealand the working man brings his female
relations in a van to the poll, and sees to it that they vote in
accordance with his orders. When man once grasps the fact that woman is
not going to be his henchman, but his rival, men and women will face one
another as enemies.

(_The door opens_. HAKE _announces_ LADY MOGTON _and_ DORIAN ST.
HERBERT. LADY MOGTON _is a large_, _strong-featured woman_, _with a
naturally loud voice_. _She is dressed with studied carelessness_.
DORIAN ST. HERBERT, K.C., _is a tall_, _thin man_, _about thirty_. _He
is elegantly_, _almost dandily dressed_.)

ANNYS. (_Kissing her mother_.) Have you had lunch?

LADY MOGTON. In the train.

PHOEBE. (_Who has also kissed her mother and shaken hands with_ ST.
HERBERT.) We are all here except Villiers. She’s coming. Did you have
a good meeting?

LADY MOGTON. Fairly. Some young fool had chained himself to a pillar
and thrown the key out of window.

PHOEBE. What did you do?

LADY MOGTON. Tied a sack over his head and left him there.

(_She turns aside for a moment to talk to_ ST. HERBERT, _who has taken
some papers from his despatch-box_.)

ANNYS. (_To_ ELIZABETH.) We must finish out our talk some other time.
You are quite wrong.


LADY MOGTON. We had better begin. I have only got half an hour.

JANET. I saw Mrs. Villiers. She promised she’d come.

LADY MOGTON. You should have told her we were going to be photographed.
Then she’d have been punctual. (_She has taken her seat at the table_.
ST. HERBERT _at her right_.) Better put another chair in case she does
turn up.

JANET. (_Does so_.) Shall I take any notes?

LADY MOGTON. No. (_To_ ANNYS.) Give instructions that we are not to be
interrupted for anything.

(ANNYS _rings bell_.)

ST. HERBERT. (_He turns to_ PHOEBE, _on his right_.) Have you heard the

_There was an old man of Hong Kong_,
_Whose language was terribly strong_.

(_Enter_ HAKE. _He brings a bottle and glass_, _which he places_.)

ANNYS. Oh, Hake, please, don’t let us be interrupted for anything. If
Mrs. Mountcalm-Villiers comes, show her up. But nobody else.

HAKE. Yes, ma’am.

(HAKE _goes out_.)

ST. HERBERT. (_Continuing_.)

_It wasn’t the words_
_That frightened the birds_,
_’Twas the ’orrible double-entendre_.

LADY MOGTON. (_Who has sat waiting in grim silence_.) Have you

ST. HERBERT. Quite finished.

LADY MOGTON. Thank you. (_She raps for silence_.) You will understand,
please, all, that this is a private meeting of the Council. Nothing that
transpires is to be allowed to leak out. (_There is a murmur_.)
Silence, please, for Mr. St. Herbert.

ST. HERBERT. Before we begin, I should like to remind you, ladies, that
you are, all of you, persons mentally deficient—

(_The door opens_. MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS _enters_, _announced by_
HAKE. _She is a showily-dressed_, _flamboyant lady_.)

MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS. I _am_ so sorry. I have only just this
minute—(_She catches sight of_ ST. HERBERT.) You naughty creature, why
weren’t you at my meeting last night? The Rajah came with both his
wives. We’ve elected them, all three, honorary members.

LADY MOGTON. Do you mind sitting down?

MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS. Here, dear? (_She takes the vacant chair_.)
So nice of you. I read about your meeting. What a clever idea!

LADY MOGTON. (_Cuts her short_.) Yes. We are here to consider a very
important matter. By way of commencement Mr. St. Herbert has just
reminded us that in the eye of the law all women are imbeciles.

MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS. I know, dear. Isn’t it shocking?

ST. HERBERT. Deplorable; but of course not your fault. I mention it
because of its importance to the present matter. Under Clause A of the
Act for the Better Regulation, &c., &c., all persons “mentally deficient”
are debarred from becoming members of Parliament. The classification has
been held to include idiots, infants, and women.

(_An interruption_. LADY MOGTON _hammers_.)

Bearing this carefully in mind, we proceed. (_He refers to his notes_.)
Two years ago a bye-election took place for the South-west division of

MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS. My dear, may I? It has just occurred to me.
Why do we never go to Ireland?

LADY MOGTON. For various sufficient reasons.

MRS. MOUNTCALM-VILLIERS. So many of the Irish members have expressed
themselves quite sympathetically.

LADY MOGTON. We wish them to continue to do so. (_Turns to_ ST.
HERBERT.) I’m sorry.

ST. HERBERT. A leader of the Orange Party was opposed by a Nationalist,
and the proceedings promised to be lively. They promised for a while to
be still livelier, owing to the nomination at the last moment of the
local lunatic.

PHOEBE. (_To_ ANNYS.) This is where we come in.

ST. HERBERT. There is always a local lunatic, who, if harmless, is
generally a popular character. James Washington McCaw appears to have
been a particularly cheerful specimen. One of his eccentricities was to
always have a skipping-rope in his pocket; wherever the traffic allowed
it, he would go through the streets skipping. He said it kept him warm.
Another of his tricks was to let off fireworks from the roof of his house
whenever he heard of the death of anybody of importance. The Returning
Officer refused his nomination—which, so far as his nominators were
concerned, was intended only as a joke—on the grounds of his being by
common report a person of unsound mind. And there, so far as South-west
Belfast was concerned, the matter ended.


ST. HERBERT. But not so far as the Returning Officer was concerned.
McCaw appears to have been a lunatic possessed of means, imbued with all
an Irishman’s love of litigation. He at once brought an action against
the Returning Officer, his contention being that his mental state was a
private matter, of which the Returning Officer was not the person to

PHOEBE. He wasn’t a lunatic all over.

ST. HERBERT. We none of us are. The case went from court to court. In
every instance the decision was in favour of the Returning Officer.
Until it reached the House of Lords. The decision was given yesterday
afternoon—in favour of the man McCaw.

ELIZABETH. Then lunatics, at all events, are not debarred from going to
the poll.

ST. HERBERT. The “mentally deficient” are no longer debarred from going
to the poll.

ELIZABETH. What grounds were given for the decision?

ST. HERBERT. (_He refers again to his notes_.) A Returning Officer can
only deal with objections arising out of the nomination paper. He has no
jurisdiction to go behind a nomination paper and constitute himself a
court of inquiry as to the fitness or unfitness of a candidate.

PHOEBE. Good old House of Lords!

(LADY MOGTON _hammers_.)

ELIZABETH. But I thought it was part of the Returning Officer’s duty to
inquire into objections, that a special time was appointed to deal with

ST. HERBERT. He will still be required to take cognisance of any
informality in the nomination paper or papers. Beyond that, this
decision relieves him of all further responsibility.

JANET. But this gives us everything.

ST. HERBERT. It depends upon what you call everything. It gives a woman
the right to go to the poll—a right which, as a matter of fact, she has
always possessed.

PHOEBE. Then why did the Returning Officer for Camberwell in 1885—

ST. HERBERT. Because he did not know the law. And Miss Helen Taylor had
not the means possessed by our friend McCaw to teach it to him.

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