Copyright
Jerome K. Jerome.

The Master of Mrs. Chilvers online

. (page 3 of 6)
Online LibraryJerome K. JeromeThe Master of Mrs. Chilvers → online text (page 3 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


GINGER. Wot I say about the question is—

MRS. CHINN. Do you mind moving your arm?

GINGER. Beg pardon. (_She shifts_.) Wot I say is, why not give us the
vote and end all the talking?

MRS. CHINN. You think it would have that effect?

GINGER. Well! we don’t want to go on being a nuisance—longer than we can
possibly ’elp!

MRS. CHINN. Daresay you’re right. It’s about the time most people stop.

GINGER. You’ve never thought much about the question yourself, ’ave you,
Mrs. Chinn?

MRS. CHINN. I ain’t fretted much about it.

GINGER. Was a time when I didn’t. I used to be all for—you know—larking
about. I never thought much about anything.

MRS. CHINN. Ah! it’s a useful habit.

GINGER. What is?

MRS. CHINN. Thinking.

GINGER. It’s what we women ’aven’t done enough of—in the past, I mean.
All that’s going to be altered. In the future there’s going to be no
difference between men and women.

MRS. CHINN. (_Slowly_, _quietly she turns upon_ GINGER _her
expressionless eyes_.)

GINGER. Mentally, I mean, o’ course.

MRS. CHINN. (_Takes back her eyes_.)

GINGER. Do you know, Mrs. Chinn, that once upon a time there was only
one sex? (_She spreads herself_.) Hus!

MRS. CHINN. You ain’t thinking of going back to it, are you?

GINGER. Not if the men be’ave themselves.

MRS. CHINN. Perhaps they’re doing their best, poor things! It don’t do
to be too impatient with them.

GINGER. Was talking to old Dot-and-carry-one the other d’y. You know
who I mean—chap with the wooden leg as ’as ’is pitch outside the
“George.” “Wot do you wimmen want worrying yourselves about things
outside the ’ome?” ’e says to me. “You’ve got the children,” ’e says.
“Oh,” I says, “and whose fault’s that, I’d like to know? You wait till
we’ve got the vote,” I says, “we’ll soon show you—”

(SIGSBY _enters_. SIGSBY _is a dapper little man_, _very brisk and
bustling—hirsute—looks as if he wanted dusting_, _cleaning up
generally_.)

SIGSBY. That young blackguard come back yet?

GINGER. (_At sound of_ SIGSBY’S _voice she springs up_. _At first is
about to offer excuses for being found seated_, _but recollects
herself_.)

MRS. CHINN. Which one, sir?

SIGSBY. Young Jawbones—what’s he call himself?—Gordon.

MRS. CHINN. Not yet, sir.

SIGSBY. (_Grunts_.) My chop ready?

MRS. CHINN. I expect it’s about done. I’ll see.

(_She goes out_.)

SIGSBY. (_He turns to_ GINGER.) What can _I_ do for you?

GINGER. (_She produces a letter_.) I was to wait for an answer.

SIGSBY. (_He opens and reads it_.) What do they expect me to do?

GINGER. ’Er ladyship thought as perhaps you would consult Mr. Chilvers
’imself on the subject.

SIGSBY. Look here. What I want to know is this: am I being asked to
regard Lady Mogton as my opponent’s election agent, or as my principal’s
mother-in-law? That point’s got to be settled. (_His vehemence
deepens_.) Look at all these posters. Not to be used, for fear the
other side mayn’t like them. Now Lady Mogton writes me that my
candidate’s supporters are not to employ a certain argument she
disapproves of: because, if they do, she’ll tell his wife. Is this an
election, or is it a family jar?

(JAWBONES _enters_. JAWBONES—_otherwise_ WILLIAM GORDON—_is a
clean-shaven young hooligan_. _He wears a bicycle cap on the back of
his head_, _allowing a picturesque tuft of hair to fall over his
forehead_. _Evidently he is suffering from controlled indignation_.)

SIGSBY. (_Seeing him_.) Oh, so you’ve come back, have you?

JAWBONES. I ’ave, wot’s left of me.

SIGSBY. What have you been doing?

JAWBONES. Clinging to a roof for the last three hours.

SIGSBY. Clinging to a roof! What for?

JAWBONES. (_He boils over_.) Wot for? ’Cos I didn’t want to fall off!
Wot do you think: ’cos I was fond of it?

SIGSBY. I don’t understand—

JAWBONES. You find yourself ’alf way up a ladder, posting bills as the
other side ’as took objection to—with a crowd of girls from Pink’s jam
factory waiting for you at the bottom with a barrel of treacle, and you
_will_ understand. Nothing else for me to do, o’ course, but to go up.
Then they took the ladder away.

SIGSBY. Where are the bills?

JAWBONES. Last I see of them was their being put into a ’earse on its
way to Ilford Cemetery.

SIGSBY. This has got to be seen into. This sort of thing can’t be
allowed to go on. (_He snatches up his hat_.)

JAWBONES. There’s another suggestion I’d like to make.

SIGSBY. (_Pauses_.)

JAWBONES. That is, if this election is going to be fought fairly, that
our side should be provided with ’at-pins.

SIGSBY. (_Grunts_.) Tell Mrs. Chinn to keep that chop warm.

(_He goes out_.)

GINGER. (_She begins to giggle_. _It grows into a shrill hee-haw_.)

JAWBONES. (_He looks at her fixedly_.)

GINGER. (_Her laugh_, _under the stern eye of_ JAWBONES, _dies away_.)

JAWBONES. Ain’t no crowd of you ’ere, you know. Nothing but my inborn
chivalry to prevent my pulling your nose.

GINGER. (_Cowed_, _but simmering_.) Chivalry! (_A shrill snort_.)

JAWBONES. Yus. And don’t you put a strain upon it neither. Because I
tell you straight, it’s weakening.

GINGER. (_His sudden fierceness has completely cowed her_.)

JAWBONES. You wimmin—

(_There re-enters_ MRS. CHINN _with a tray_. _He is between them_.)

That’s old Sigsby’s chop?

MRS. CHINN. Yes. He hasn’t gone out again, has he?

JAWBONES. I’ll ’ave it. Get ’im another. Guess ’e won’t be back for
’alf an hour.

MRS. CHINN. He’s nasty when his food ain’t ready.

JAWBONES. (_He takes the tray from her_.) Not your fault. Tell ’im I
took it from you by brute force.

MRS. CHINN. (_She acquiesces with her usual even absence of all
emotion_.)

JAWBONES. You needn’t stop. Miss Rose Merton will do the waiting.

GINGER. (_Starts_, _then begins to collect her etceteras_.)

MRS. CHINN. Perhaps there’ll be time to cook him another.

(_She goes out_.)

JAWBONES. Take off that cover.

GINGER. (_She starts on a bolt for the door_.)

JAWBONES. (_He is quite prepared_. _In an instant he is in front of
her_.) No, yer don’t.

(_A pause_.)

Take off that cover.

GINGER. (_She still hesitates_.)

JAWBONES. If yer don’t do what I tell yer, I’ll ’ide yer. I’m in the
mood.

GINGER. (_She takes off the cover_.)

JAWBONES. (_He seats himself and falls to_.) Now pour me out a cup of
tea.

GINGER. (_Is pouring it out_.)

JAWBONES. Know why yer doing it?

GINGER. (_With shrill indignation_.) Yus. Becos yer got me ’ere alone,
yer beast, with only that cracked image of a Mrs. Chinn—

JAWBONES. That’ll do.

GINGER. (_It is sufficient_. _She stops_.)

JAWBONES. None of your insults agen a lady as I ’olds in ’igh respect.
The rest of it is all right. Becos I’ve got yer ’ere alone. You wimmin,
you think it’s going to pay you to chuck law and order. You’re out for a
fight, are yer?

GINGER. Yus, and we’re going to win. Brute force ’as ’ad its d’y. It’s
brains wot are going to rule the world. And we’ve got ’em.

(_She has become quite oratorical_.)

JAWBONES. Glad to ’ear it. Take my tip: you’ll use ’em. Meanwhile I’ll
’ave another cup o’ tea.

GINGER. (_She takes the cup—is making for the window_.)

JAWBONES. (_Fierce again_.) I said tea.

GINGER. All right, I was only going to throw the slops out of window.
There ain’t no basin.

JAWBONES. I’ll tell yer when I want yer to open the window and call for
the p’lice. You can throw them into the waste-paper basket.

GINGER. (_She obeys_.)

JAWBONES. Thank you. Very much obliged. One of these d’ys, maybe,
you’ll marry.

GINGER. When I do, it will be a man, not a monkey.

JAWBONES. I’m not proposing. I’m talking to you for your good.

GINGER. (_Snorts_.)

JAWBONES. You’ve been listening to a lot of toffs. Easy enough for them
to talk about wimmen not being domestic drudges. They keep a cook to do
it. They don’t pity ’e for being a down-trodden slive, spending sixteen
hours a d’y in _their_ kitchen with an evening out once a week. When you
marry it will be to a bloke like me, a working man . . .

GINGER. Working! (_She follows it with a shrill laugh_.)

JAWBONES. Yus. There’s always a class as laughs when you mention the
word “work.” Them as knows wot it is, don’t. I’ve been at it since six
o’clock this morning, carrying a ladder, a can of paste weighing twenty
pounds, and two ’undred double royal posters. You try it! When ’e comes
’ome, ’e’ll want ’is victuals. If you’ve got ’em ready for ’im and are
looking nice—no reason why you shouldn’t—and feeling amiable, you’ll get
on very well together. If you are going to argue with ’im about woman’s
sphere, you’ll get the worst of it.

GINGER. You always was a bully.

JAWBONES. Not always. Remember last Bank ’oliday? (_He winks_.)

GINGER. (_She tries not to give in_.)

JAWBONES. ’Ave a cup of tea. (_He pours it out for her_.)

GINGER. (_The natural woman steals in—she sits_.)

JAWBONES. ’Ow are they doing you, fairly well?

GINGER. Oh! Well, nothing to grumble at.

JAWBONES. You can do a bit o’ dressing on it.

GINGER. (_She meets his admiring eye_. _The suffragette departs_.)
Dressing don’t cost much—when you’ve got tyste.

JAWBONES. Wot! Not that ’at?

GINGER. Made it myself.

JAWBONES. No!

GINGER. Honour bright! Tell yer—

(GEOFFREY _and_ ST. HERBERT _enter_. JAWBONES _and_ GINGER _make to
rise_. GINGER _succeeds_.)

GEOFFREY. All right, all right. Don’t let me disturb the party.
Where’s Mr. Sigsby?

JAWBONES. Gone to look up the police, I think, sir. (_Having finished_,
_he rises_.) Some of those factory girls been up to their larks again.

GEOFFREY. Umph! What’s it about this time?

JAWBONES. They’ve took objection to one of our posters.

GEOFFREY. What, another! (_To_ ST. HERBERT.) Woman has disappointed me
as a fighter. She’s willing enough to strike. If you hit back, she’s
surprised and grieved.

ST. HERBERT. She’s come to the game rather late.

GEOFFREY. She might have learned the rules. (_To_ JAWBONES.) Which
particular one is it that has failed to meet with their approval?

JAWBONES. It’s rather a good one, sir, from our point of view: “Why she
left her ’appy ’ome.”

GEOFFREY. I don’t seem to remember it. Have I seen it?

JAWBONES. I don’t think you ’ave, sir. It was Mr. Sigsby’s idea. On
the left, the ruined ’ome, baby crying it’s little ’eart out—eldest child
lying on the floor, scalded—upset the tea-kettle over itself—youngest boy
in flames—been playing with the matches, nobody there to stop ’im. At
the open door the father, returning from work. Nothing ready for ’im.
On the other side—’_er_, on a tub, spouting politics.

GEOFFREY. (_To_ ST. HERBERT.) Sounds rather good.

JAWBONES. Wait a minute. There was a copy somewhere about—a proof.
(_He is searching for it on the desk—finds it_.) Yus, ’ere ’tis. (_To_
GINGER.) Catch ’old.

(JAWBONES _and_ GINGER _hold it displayed_.)

That’s the one, sir.

ST. HERBERT. Why is the working man, for pictorial purposes, always a
carpenter?

GINGER. It’s the skirt we object to.

GEOFFREY. The skirt! What’s wrong with the skirt?

GINGER. Well, it’s only been out of fashion for the last three years,
that’s all.

GEOFFREY. Oh! I see. (_To_ ST. HERBERT.) We’ve been hitting them
below the belt. What do you think I ought to do about it?

ST. HERBERT. What would you have thought yourself, three weeks ago?

GEOFFREY. You and I have been friends ever since we were boys. You
rather like me, don’t you?

ST. HERBERT. (_Puzzled_.) Yes.

GEOFFREY. If I were to suddenly hit you on the nose, what would happen?

ST. HERBERT. I understand. Woman has suddenly started hitting man on
the nose. Her excuse being that she really couldn’t keep her hands off
him any longer.

JAWBONES. (_He has pinned the poster to the wall_.) They begun it. To
’ear them talk, you’d think as man had never done anything right.

GEOFFREY. He’s quite right. Their posters are on every hoarding: “Who’s
made all the Muddles? Man!” “Men’s Promises! Why, it’s all Froth!”
“Woman this Time!” I suppose it will have to go.

JAWBONES. (_Hopefully_.) Up, sir?

GEOFFREY. No, Jawbones. Into the dust-heap with the rest.

(JAWBONES _is disgusted_. GINGER _is triumphant_.)

GEOFFREY. I must talk to Sigsby. He’s taking the whole thing too
seriously. It will be some time before we reach that stage. (_To_
JAWBONES.) Ask Mrs. Chinn to bring me a cup of tea.

(JAWBONES _goes out_.)

(_He seats himself at table and takes up some correspondence_. _To_
GINGER.) Are you waiting for any one?

GINGER. A letter from her ladyship. (_She picks up from the desk and
hands him the letter_ SIGSBY _had thrown there_.) Her ladyship thought
you ought to be consulted.

GEOFFREY. (_He reads the short letter with a gathering frown—hands it
across to_ ST. HERBERT.)

ST. HERBERT. (_Having read_, _he passes it back in silence_.)

GEOFFREY. (_To_ GINGER.) Do you know the contents of this letter?

GINGER. The matter has been discussed among us—informally.

GEOFFREY. Tell Lady Mogton I’ll—talk to her myself on the subject.

GINGER. Thank you. (_She collects her etceteras_.) Good afternoon.

GEOFFREY. (_Shortly_.) Good afternoon.

GINGER. (_She bows graciously to_ ST. HERBERT, _who responds_. _Goes
out_.)

GEOFFREY. The devil of it is that it’s the truth.

ST. HERBERT. Somebody was bound to say it, sooner or later!

GEOFFREY. Yes, but one’s own wife! This is a confoundedly awkward
situation.

ST. HERBERT. (_He comes to him_, _stands looking down at him_.) Did it
never occur to you, when you were advocating equal political rights for
women, that awkward situations might arise?

GEOFFREY. (_He leans back in his chair_.) Do you remember Tommy the
Terrier, as they used to call him in the House—was always preaching
Socialism?

ST. HERBERT. Quite the most amusing man I ever met!

GEOFFREY. And not afraid of being honest. Do you remember his answer
when somebody asked him what he would do if Socialism, by any chance,
really became established in England? He had just married an American
heiress. He said he should emigrate. I am still convinced that woman is
entitled to equal political rights with man. I didn’t think it was
coming in my time. There are points in the problem remaining to be
settled before we can arrive at a working solution. This is one of them.
(_He takes up the letter and reads_.) “Are you prepared to have as your
representative a person who for six months out of every year may be
incapacitated from serving you?” It’s easy enough to say I oughtn’t to
allow my supporters to drag in the personal element. I like it even less
myself. But what’s the answer?

(JAWBONES _enters with a tray_.)

JAWBONES. (_Places tray on table_.) Tea’s coming in a minute, sir.
(_He is clearing away_.)

GEOFFREY. Never mind all that. (_He hands him a slip_.) Take this to
the printers. Tell them I must have a proof to-night.

JAWBONES. Yes, sir.

(_Finds his cap and goes out_.)

ST. HERBERT. The answer, I should say, would be that the majority of
women will continue to find something better to do. The women who will
throw themselves into politics will be the unattached women, the
childless women. (_In an instant he sees his mistake_, _but it is too
late_.)

GEOFFREY. (_He rises_, _crosses to the desk_, _throws into a
waste-paper-basket a piece of crumpled paper that was in his hand_; _then
turns_. _The personal note has entered into the discussion_.) The women
who _want_ to be childless—what about them?

ST. HERBERT. (_He shrugs his shoulders_.) Are there any such?

GEOFFREY. There are women who talk openly of woman’s share in the
general scheme being a “burden” on her—an “incubus.”

ST. HERBERT. A handful of cranks. To the normal woman motherhood has
always been the one supreme desire.

GEOFFREY. Because children crowned her with honour. The barren woman
was despised. All that is changing. This movement is adding impulse to
it.

ST. HERBERT. Movements do not alter instincts.

GEOFFREY. But they do. Ever since man emerged from the jungle he has
been shedding his instincts—shaping them to new desires. Where do you
find this all-prevailing instinct towards maternity? Among the women of
society, who sacrifice it without a moment’s hesitation to their
vanity—to their mere pleasures? The middle-class woman—she, too, is
demanding “freedom.” Children, servants, the home!—they are too much for
her “nerves.” And now there comes this new development, appealing to the
intellectual woman. Is there not danger of her preferring political
ambition, the excitement of public life, to what has come to be regarded
as the “drudgery” of turning four walls into a home, of peopling the
silence with the voices of the children? (_He crosses to the table—lays
his hand again upon the open letter_.) How do you know that this may not
be her answer—“I have no children. I never mean to have children”?

(SIGSBY _enters in company with_ BEN LAMB, M.P. LAMB _is a short_,
_thick-set_, _good-tempered man_.)

Ah, Lamb, how are you?

LAMB. (_They greet one another_.) How are things going?

SIGSBY. They’re not going at all well.

GEOFFREY. Sigsby was ever the child of despondency.

SIGSBY. Yes, and so will you be when you find yourself at the bottom of
the poll.

GEOFFREY. (_The notion takes him by surprise_.)

LAMB. It’s going to be a closer affair than any of us thought. It’s the
joke of the thing that appears to have got hold of them. They want to
see what will happen.

GEOFFREY. Man’s fatal curiosity concerning the eternal feminine!

SIGSBY. Yes, and they won’t have to pay for it. That will be our
department.

ST. HERBERT. (_To_ SIGSBY.) What do you think they’ll do, supposing by
any chance Mrs. Chilvers should head the poll?

SIGSBY. How do you mean—“what’ll they do?”

ST. HERBERT. Do you think they’ll claim the seat?

SIGSBY. Claim the seat! What do you think they’re out for—their health?
Get another six months’ advertisement, if they don’t get anything else.
Meanwhile what’s our position—just at the beginning of our ministerial
career?

GEOFFREY. They will not claim the seat.

SIGSBY. How do you know?

GEOFFREY. I know my wife.

LAMB. (_After a moment’s silence_.) Quite sure you do?

GEOFFREY. (_Turns_.)

LAMB. Ever seen a sheep fighting mad? I have. Damned sight worse than
the old ram.

GEOFFREY. She doesn’t fight the ram.

LAMB. (_He makes a sweeping movement that takes in the room_, _the
election—all things_.) What’s all this? We thought woman hadn’t got the
fighting instinct—that we “knew her.” My boy, we’re in the infants’
class.

SIGSBY. If you want to be his Majesty’s Under-Secretary for Home
Affairs, you take my tip, guv’nor, you’ll win this election.

GEOFFREY. What more can I do than I’m doing? How can I countenance this
sort of thing? (_He indicates the posters_.) Declare myself dead
against the whole movement?

LAMB. You’ll do it later. May as well do it soon.

GEOFFREY. Why must I do it?

LAMB. Because you’re beginning to find out what it means.

(_A pause_. _The door is open_. ANNYS _is standing there_.)

ANNYS. Dare we venture into the enemy’s camp?

(_She enters_, _laughing_, _followed by_ ELIZABETH _and_ PHOEBE. ANNYS
is somewhat changed _from the grave_, _dreamy_ ANNYS _of a short week
ago_. _She is brimming over with vitality—excitement_. _There is a
decisiveness_, _an egoism_, _about her that seems new to her_. _The
women’s skirts make a flutter_. _A breeze seems to have entered_.
ANNYS _runs to her husband_. _For the moment the election fades away_.
_They are all smiles_, _tenderness for one another_.)

ANNYS. Don’t tell, will you? Mamma would be so shocked. Do you know
you haven’t been near me for three days?

GEOFFREY. Umph! I like that. Where were you last night?

ANNYS. Last night? In the neighbourhood of Leicester Square till three
o’clock. Oh, Geoff, there’s such a lot wants altering!

(_She turns to greet the others_.)

GEOFFREY. Your ruining your health won’t do it. You’re looking fagged
to death.

ANNYS. (_She shakes hands with_ SIGSBY.) How are you? (_To_ LAMB.)
I’m so glad you’re helping him. (_She turns again to_ GEOFFREY.) Pure
imagination, dearest. I never felt better in my life.

GEOFFREY. Umph! Look at all those lines underneath your eyes. (_He
shakes hands with_ ELIZABETH.) How do you do? (_To_ PHOEBE.) How are
you?

ANNYS. (_She comes back to him—makes to smooth the lines from his
forehead_.) Look at all those, there. We’ll run away together for a
holiday, when it’s all over. What are you doing this evening?

SIGSBY. You promised to speak at a Smoker to-night; the Bow and Bromley
Buffaloes.

ANNYS. Oh, bother the Buffaloes. Take me out to dinner. I am free
after seven.

(MRS. CHINN _has entered—is arranging the table for tea_. ANNYS _goes
to her_.)

How are you, Mrs. Chinn?

MRS. CHINN. (_She wipes her hand on her apron before taking_ ANNYS’S
_proffered hand_.)

GEOFFREY. (_To_ SIGSBY.) I can turn up there later in the evening.
(_He joins the others for a moment—talks with them_.)

MRS. CHINN. (_Now shaking hands_.) Quite well, thank you, ma’am. (_She
has cast a keen_, _motherly glance at_ ANNYS.) I hope you’re taking care
of yourself, ma’am.

ANNYS. Of course I am. We Politicians owe it to our Party. (_Laughs_.)
How are they getting on here, without me?

MRS. CHINN. Well, ma’am, from what I can see, I think Mr. Chilvers is
trusting a little too much to his merits. Shall I bring some more cups
and saucers, sir?

GEOFFREY. Ah! yes! (_To_ ANNYS.) You’ll have some tea?

ANNYS. Strong, please, Mrs. Chinn.

(MRS. CHINN _goes out_.)

(_Laughs_.) Yes, I know it’s bad for me. (_She puts a hand over his
mouth_.)

PHOEBE. Old Mother Chinn is quite right, you know, Geoff. You’re not
putting up a good fight.

GEOFFREY. (_A slight irritability begins to show itself_.) I frankly
confess that I am not used to fighting women.

ELIZABETH. Yes. It was easier, no doubt, when we took it lying down.

ANNYS. You promised, if I brought you, that you would be good.

GEOFFREY. I wish it had been you.

PHOEBE. Yes, but we don’t!

(_As she and_ ELIZABETH _move away_.)

Did you have a row with the doctor when you were born?

(_To which_ ELIZABETH _replies_, _though the words reach only_ PHOEBE:
“_I might have_, _if I had known that my mother was doing all the
work_, _while he was pocketing the fee_!”)

LAMB. You see, Mrs. Chilvers, our difficulty is that there is nothing to
be said against you—except one thing.

ANNYS. What’s that?

LAMB. That you’re a woman.

ANNYS. (_Smiling_.) Isn’t that enough?

SIGSBY. Quite enough, Mrs. Chilvers, if the guv’nor would only say it.

ANNYS. (_To_ GEOFFREY.) Why don’t you? I’ll promise not to deny it.

(_The others drift apart_. _They group themselves near to the window_.
_They talk together—grow evidently interested and excited_.)

GEOFFREY. I have just had a letter from your—Election Agent, expressing
indignation with one of my supporters for merely having hinted at the
fact.

ANNYS. I don’t understand.

GEOFFREY. (_He takes from the table the letter and hands it to her in


1 3 5 6

Online LibraryJerome K. JeromeThe Master of Mrs. Chilvers → online text (page 3 of 6)