Jerome K. Jerome.

The Master of Mrs. Chilvers online

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silence_. _He seats himself on the settee and watches her_.)

ANNYS. (_She seats herself on a chair just opposite to him_; _reads the
letter through in silence_.) In my case it does not apply.

GEOFFREY. How do you know?

ANNYS. (_The atmosphere has grown suddenly oppressive_.) Oh, I—I think
we might find some other reason than that. (_She hands him back the

GEOFFREY. It’s the only one of any importance. It embraces all the
others. Shall woman be mother—or politician? (_He puts the letter in
his pocket_.)

ANNYS. Why cannot she be both?

GEOFFREY. (_He is looking at her searchingly_.) Because if she is the
one, she doesn’t want to be the other.

(_A silence_.)

ANNYS. You are wrong. It is the mother instinct that makes us
politicians. We want to take care of the world.

GEOFFREY. Exactly. You think man’s job more interesting than your own.

ANNYS. (_After a moment_.) Who told you that it was a man’s job?

GEOFFREY. Well. (_He shrugs his shoulders_.) We can’t do yours.

ANNYS. Can’t we help each other?

GEOFFREY. As, for instance, in this election! (_He gives a short

ANNYS. Of course, this is an exceptional case.

GEOFFREY. It’s an epitome of the whole question. You are trying to take
my job away from me. To the neglect of your own.

ANNYS. (_After another moment’s silence_.) Haven’t I always tried to do
my duty?

GEOFFREY. I have thought so.

ANNYS. Oh, my dear, we mustn’t quarrel. You will win this election. I
want you to win it. Next time we must fight side by side again.

GEOFFREY. Don’t you see? Fighting you means fighting the whole
movement. (_He indicates the posters pinned to the walls_.) That sort
of thing.

ANNYS. (_After a brief inspection_.) Not that way. (_Shaking her
head_.) It would break my heart for you to turn against us. Win because
you are the better man. (_Smiling_.) I want you to be the better man.

GEOFFREY. I would rather be your husband.

ANNYS. (_Smiling_.) Isn’t that the same thing?

GEOFFREY. No. I want a wife.

ANNYS. What precisely do you mean by “wife”?

GEOFFREY. It’s an old-established word.

(MRS. CHINN _has entered to complete the tea arrangements_. _She is
arranging the table_.)

MRS. CHINN. There’s a deputation downstairs, sir, just come for you.

GEOFFREY. What are they?

MRS. CHINN. It’s one of those societies for the reform of something.
They said you were expecting them.

SIGSBY. (_Breaking away from the group by the window_.) Quite right.
(_Looks at his watch_.) Five o’clock, I’ll bring them up.

GEOFFREY. Happen to know what it is they want to reform?

SIGSBY. (_By door_.) Laws relating to the physical relationship between
the sexes, I think.

GEOFFREY. Oh, only that!

SIGSBY. Something of the sort.

(_He goes out_. MRS. CHINN _also by the other door_.)

GEOFFREY. (_Rising_.) Will you pour out?

ANNYS. (_She has been thinking_. _She comes back to the present_.) We
shan’t be in your way?

GEOFFREY. Oh, no. It will make it easier to get rid of them.

(ANNYS _changes her chair_. _The others gather round_. _The service
and drinking of tea proceeds in the usual course_.)

(_To_ ELIZABETH.) You’ll take some tea?

ELIZABETH. Thank you.

GEOFFREY. You must be enjoying yourself just now.

ELIZABETH. (_Makes a moue_.) They insist on my being agreeable.

ANNYS. It’s so good for her. Teaches her self-control.

LAMB. I gather from Mrs. Spender, that in the perfect world there will
be no men at all.

ELIZABETH. Oh, yes, they will be there. But in their proper place.

ST. HERBERT. That’s why you didn’t notice them.

(_The_ DEPUTATION _reaches the door_. _The sound of voices is heard_.)

PHOEBE. She’s getting on very well. If she isn’t careful, she’ll end up
by being a flirt.

(_The_ DEPUTATION _enters_, _guided by_ SIGSBY. _Its number is five_,
_two men and three women_. _Eventually they group themselves—some
standing_, _some sitting—each side of_ GEOFFREY. _The others gather
round_ ANNYS, _who keeps her seat at the opposite side of the table_.)

SIGSBY. (_Talking as he enters_.) Exactly what I’ve always maintained.

HOPPER. It would make the husband quite an interesting person.

SIGSBY. (_Cheerfully_.) That’s the idea. Here we are, guv’nor. This
is Mr. Chilvers.

(GEOFFREY _bows_, _the_ DEPUTATION _also_. SIGSBY _introduces a
remarkably boyish-looking man_, _dressed in knickerbockers_.)

SIGSBY. This is Mr. Peekin, who has kindly consented to act as
spokesman. (_To the_ DEPUTATION, _generally_.) Will you have some tea?

MISS BORLASSE. (_A thick-set_, _masculine-featured lady_, _with short
hair and heavy eyebrows_. _Her deep_, _decisive tone settles the
question_.) Thank you. We have so little time.

MR. PEEKIN. We propose, Mr. Chilvers, to come to the point at once.
(_He is all smiles_, _caressing gestures_.)

GEOFFREY. Excellent.

PEEKIN. If I left a baby at your door, what would you do with it?

GEOFFREY. (_For a moment he is taken aback_, _recovers himself_.) Are
you thinking of doing so?

PEEKIN. It’s not impossible.

GEOFFREY. Well, it sounds perhaps inhospitable, but do you know I really
think I should ask you to take it away again.

PEEKIN. Yes, but by the time you find it there, I shall have

HOPPER. Good. (_He rubs his hands_. _Smiles at the others_.)

GEOFFREY. In that case I warn you that I shall hand it over to the

PEEKIN. (_He turns to the others_.) I don’t myself see what else Mr.
Chilvers could be expected to do.

MISS BORLASSE. He’d be a fool not to.

GEOFFREY. Thank you. So far we seem to be in agreement. And now may I
ask to what all this is leading?

PEEKIN. (_He changes from the debonnair to the dramatic_.) How many
men, Mr. Chilvers, leave their babies every year at the door of
poverty-stricken women? What are they expected to do with them?

(_A moment_. _The_ DEPUTATION _murmur approval_.)

GEOFFREY. I see. But is there no difference between the two doors? I
am not an accomplice.

PEEKIN. An accomplice! Is the ignorant servant-girl—first lured into
the public-house, cajoled, tricked, deceived by false promises—the
half-starved shop-girl in the hands of the practised libertine—is she an

MRS. PEEKIN. (_A dowdily-dressed_, _untidy woman_, _but the face is
sweet and tender_.) Ah, Mr. Chilvers, if you could only hear the stories
that I have heard from dying lips.

GEOFFREY. Very pitiful, my dear lady. And, alas, only too old. But
there are others. It would not be fair to blame always the man.

ANNYS. (_Unnoticed_, _drawn by the subject_, _she has risen and come
down_.) Perhaps not. But the punishment always falls on the woman. Is
_that_ quite fair?

GEOFFREY. (_He is irritated at_ ANNYS’S _incursion into the
discussion_.) My dear Annys, that is Nature’s law, not man’s. All man
can do is to mitigate it.

PEEKIN. That is all we ask. The suffering, the shame, must always be
the woman’s. Surely that is sufficient.

GEOFFREY. What do you propose?

MISS BORLASSE. (_In her deep_, _fierce tones_.) That all children born
out of wedlock should be a charge upon the rates.

MISS RICKETTS. (_A slight_, _fair_, _middle-aged woman_, _with a nervous
hesitating manner_.) Of course, only if the mother wishes it.

GEOFFREY. (_The proposal staggers him_. _But the next moment it
inspires him with mingled anger and amusement_.) My dear, good people,
have you stopped for one moment to consider what the result of your
proposal would be?

PEEKIN. For one thing, Mr. Chilvers, the adding to the populace of
healthy children in place of the stunted and diseased abortions that is
all that these poor women, out of their scanty earnings, can afford to
present to the State.

GEOFFREY. Humph! That incidentally it would undermine the whole
institution of marriage, let loose the flood-gates that at present hold
immorality in check, doesn’t appear to trouble you. That the law must be
altered to press less heavily upon the woman—that the man must be made an
equal sharer in the penalty—all that goes without saying. The remedy you
propose would be a thousand times worse than the disease.

ANNYS. And meanwhile? Until you have devised this scheme (_there is a
note of contempt in her voice_) under which escape for the man will be

GEOFFREY. The evil must continue. As other evils have to until the true
remedy is found.

PEEKIN. (_He has hurriedly consulted with the others_. _All have
risen—he turns to_ GEOFFREY.) You will not support our demand?

GEOFFREY. Support it! Do you mean that you cannot yourselves see that
you are holding out an indemnity to every profligate, male and female,
throughout the land—that you would be handicapping, in the struggle for
existence, every honest man and woman desirous of bringing up their
children in honour and in love? Your suggestion is monstrous!

PEEKIN. (_The little man is not without his dignity_.) We apologise,
Mr. Chilvers, for having taken up your time.

GEOFFREY. I am sorry the matter was one offering so little chance of

PEEKIN. We will make only one slight further trespass on your kindness.
Mrs. Chilvers, if one may judge, would seem to be more in sympathy with
our views. Might we—it would be a saving of time and shoe leather (_he
smiles_)—might we take this opportunity of laying our case before her?

GEOFFREY. It would be useless.

(_A short silence_. ANNYS, _with_ ELIZABETH _and_ PHOEBE _a little
behind her_, _stands right_. LAMB, SIGSBY, _and_ ST. HERBERT _are
behind_ GEOFFREY _centre_. _The_ DEPUTATION _is left_.)

HOPPER. Do we gather that in this election you speak for both

GEOFFREY. In matters of common decency, yes. My wife does not associate
herself with movements for the encouragement of vice.

(_There is another moment’s silence_.)

ANNYS. But, Geoffrey, dear—we should not be encouraging the evil. We
should still seek to find the man, to punish him. The woman would still

GEOFFREY. My dear Annys, this is neither the time nor place for you and
me to argue out the matter. I must ask you to trust to my judgment.

ANNYS. I can understand your refusing, but why do you object to my—

GEOFFREY. Because I do not choose for my wife’s name to be linked with a
movement that I regard as criminal. I forbid it.

(_It was the moment that was bound to come_. _The man’s instincts_,
_training_, _have involuntarily asserted themselves_. _Shall the woman
yield_? _If so_, _then down goes the whole movement—her claim to
freedom of judgment_, _of action_, _in all things_. _All watch the
struggle with breathless interest_.)

ANNYS. (_She speaks very slowly_, _very quietly_, _but with a new note
in her voice_.) I am sorry, but I have given much thought to this
matter, and—I do not agree with you.

MRS. PEEKIN. You will help us?

ANNYS. I will do what I can.

PEEKIN. (_He takes from his pocket a folded paper_.) It is always so
much more satisfactory when these things are in writing. Candidates,
with the best intentions in the world, are apt to forget. (_He has
spread the paper on a corner of the table_. _He has in his hand his

ANNYS. (_With a smile_.) I am not likely to forget, but if you wish
it—(_She approaches the table_.)

GEOFFREY. (_He interposes_. _His voice is very low_, _almost a
whisper_.) My wife will not sign.

ANNYS. (_She also speaks low_, _but there is no yielding in her voice_.)
I am not only your wife. I have a duty also to others.

GEOFFREY. It is for you to choose. (_He leaves the way open to her_.)

(_The silence can almost be felt_. _She moves to the table_, _takes up
the paper_. _It contains but a few lines of writing_. _Having read
it_, _she holds out her hand for the pen_. PEEKIN _puts it in her
hand_. _With a firm hand she signs_, _folds the paper_, _and returns
it to him_. _She remains standing by the table_. _With the removal of
the tension there comes a rustle_, _a breaking of the silence_.)

MISS RICKETTS. (_She seizes_ ANNYS’S _hand_, _hanging listlessly by her
side_, _and_, _stooping_, _kisses it_.)

MISS BORLASSE. That is all, isn’t it?

PEEKIN. We thank you, Mrs. Chilvers. Good afternoon.

ANNYS. (_The natural reaction is asserting itself_. _She pulls herself
together sufficiently to murmur her answer_.) Good afternoon.

MRS. PEEKIN. (_The_ DEPUTATION _is moving away_; _she takes from her
waist a small bunch of flowers_, _and_, _turning_, _places them in_
ANNYS’S _hand_.)

ANNYS. (_She smiles_, _remains standing silent_, _the flowers in her

(“_Good afternoons_” _are exchanged with some of the others_.

PEEKIN. Good afternoon, Mr. Chilvers.

GEOFFREY. (_Who has moved away_.) Good afternoon.

(_The_ DEPUTATION _joins_ SIGSBY _by the door_. _He leads them out_.)

ELIZABETH. (_To_ PHOEBE.) Are you going my way?

PHOEBE. (_She glances round at_ ANNYS.) Yes, I’ll come with you.

ST. HERBERT. I will put you into a bus, if you will let me. We don’t
sport many cabs in East Poplar. (_He is helping_ ELIZABETH _with her

ELIZABETH. Thank you.

LAMB. I’ve got to go up West. (_To_ GEOFFREY.) Will you be at the
House this evening?

GEOFFREY. (_He is standing by the desk pretending to look at some
papers_.) I shall look in about ten o’clock.

LAMB. One or two things I want to say to you. Goodbye for the present.

GEOFFREY. Goodbye!

PHOEBE. Goodbye, old man. (_She stretches out her hand_.)

GEOFFREY. Goodbye. (_She shakes hands with a smile_, _exchanges a
casual_ “_goodbye_” _with_ ELIZABETH.)

(_They go towards the door_.)

(SIGSBY _re-enters_.)

SIGSBY. (_To_ LAMB.) Are you going?

LAMB. Yes. I’ll see you to-morrow morning. About ten o’clock.

SIGSBY. I shall be here. (_He exchanges a_ “_good afternoon_” _with the

(_They go out_. SIGSBY _crosses and goes into the other room_.)

ANNYS. (_She has let fall the flowers on the table_. _She crosses to
where_ GEOFFREY _still stands by the desk_, _his back towards her_. _She
stretches out her hand_, _touches him_. _He does not move_.) Geoffrey!

(_But still he takes no notice_.)

I am so sorry. We must talk it over quietly—at home.

GEOFFREY. (_He turns_.) Home! I have no home. I have neither children
nor wife. I _keep_ a political opponent.

(ANNYS _starts back with a cry_. _He crosses in front of her and seats
himself at the table_. _The flowers are lying there_; _he throws them
into the waste-paper basket_.)

ANNYS. (_She puts on her cloak_, _moves towards the door_. _Half-way
she pauses_, _makes a movement towards him_. _But he will not see_.
_Then a hard look comes into her eyes_, _and without another word she
goes out_, _leaving the door open_.)

(SIGSBY _is heard moving in the other room_.)

GEOFFREY. (_He is writing_.) Sigsby.

SIGSBY. Hallo!

GEOFFREY. That poster I told young Gordon I wouldn’t sanction, “The
Woman spouting politics, the Man returning to a slattern’s home.”

(SIGSBY _enters_.)

SIGSBY. I have countermanded them.

GEOFFREY. Countermand them again. We shall want a thousand.

SIGSBY. (_Can hardly believe his ears_.)

GEOFFREY. (_With a gesture round the room_.) All of them. “A Man for
Men!” “Save the Children!” “Guard your Homes!” All the damned
collection. Order as many as you want.

SIGSBY. (_His excitement rising_.) I can go ahead. You mean it?

GEOFFREY. (_He looks at him_.) It’s got to be a fight! (_A moment_.
_He returns to his writing_.) Telephone Hake that I shall be dining at
the Reform Club.



SCENE:—_A room in the Town Hall_, _Poplar_. _A high_, _bare_, _cold
room_, _unfurnished except for cane-bottomed chairs ranged against the
walls_. _French windows right give on to a balcony overlooking the
street_. _Door in back opens upon a stone passage_. _A larger door
opens into another room_, _through which one passes to reach the room in
which the counting of the votes is taking place_. _A fire burns_—_or
rather tries to burn_. _The room is lighted from the centre of the
ceiling by an electric sun_. _A row of hat-pegs is on the wall between
the two doors_. _The time is about_ 9 _p.m._

(_People entering from the street wear coats or cloaks_, _&c._, _the
season being early spring_. _If passing through or staying in the room_,
_they take off their outdoor things and hang them up_, _putting them on
again before going out_.)

(JAWBONES _is coaxing the reluctant fire by using a newspaper as a
blower_. _He curses steadily under his breath_. _The door opens_.
GINGER _enters_; _she is dressed in cheap furs_.)

JAWBONES. Shut the door, can’t yer!

GINGER. Don’t yer want a draught?

JAWBONES. No, I don’t. Not any more than I’ve got.

GINGER. (_She shuts the door_.) ’Ave they begun counting the votes?

JAWBONES. Been at it for the last three-quarters of an hour.

GINGER. Who’s going to win?

JAWBONES. One of ’em.

(LADY MOGTON _has entered_. _She has come from the room where they are
counting the votes_.)

Shut that door! (_He glances over his shoulder_, _sees his mistake_.)
Beg pardon! (_To himself_.) Thought ’twas the other fool!

LADY MOGTON. (_She shuts the door_. _To_ GINGER.) Have you seen Mrs.

GINGER. Not since the afternoon, your ladyship.

LADY MOGTON. She is coming, I suppose?

GINGER. I think so, your ladyship.

LADY MOGTON. It’s very cold in here, Gordon.

JAWBONES. Yes, my lady. Not what I call a cosy room.

LADY MOGTON. (_To_ GINGER.) Jump into a cab. See if you can find her.
Perhaps she has been detained at one of the committee-rooms. Tell her
she ought to be here.

GINGER. Yes, your ladyship. (_She crosses_, _opens door_.)

JAWBONES. Shut the door.

GINGER. Oh, shut—

(_She finds herself face to face with a_ MESSENGER _carrying a

I beg yer pardon! (_She goes out_, _closes door_.)

LADY MOGTON. (_To the_ MESSENGER.) Is that the last?

MESSENGER. Generally is. Isle of Dogs!

(_He goes into the other room_.)

LADY MOGTON. (_To_ JAWBONES.) Do you know where Mr. Chilvers is?

(_There comes a bloodthirsty yell from the crowd outside_.)

JAWBONES. Not unless that’s ’im. (_He finishes for the time being with
the fire_. _Rises_.)

(JANET _enters_.)

LADY MOGTON. Was that you they were yelling at?

JANET. No, it’s Mr. Sigsby.

(_Another yell is heard_. _Out of it a shrill female voice_—“_Mind ’is
fice_; _yer spoiling it_!”)

The Woman’s Laundry Union have taken such a strong dislike to him.

(_A final yell_. _Then a voice_: “_That’s taken some of the starch out
of him_!” _followed by a shriek of laughter_.)

JAWBONES. ’E only suggested as ’ow there was enough old washerwomen in
Parliament as it was.

LADY MOGTON. A most unnecessary remark. It will teach him—

(SIGSBY _enters_, _damaged_. _His appearance is comic_. LADY MOGTON
_makes no effort to repress a grim smile_.)

SIGSBY. Funny, ain’t it?

LADY MOGTON. I am sorry.

SIGSBY. (_He snarls_.) “The Mother’s Hand shall Help Us!” One of your
posters, I think.

LADY MOGTON. You shouldn’t have insulted them—calling them old

SIGSBY. Insult! Can’t one indulge in a harmless _jeu d’esprit_—(_he
pronounces it according to his own ideas_)—without having one’s clothes
torn off one’s back? (_Fiercely_.) What do you mean by it—disgracing
your sex?

LADY MOGTON. Are you addressing me?

SIGSBY. All of you. Upsetting the foundations upon which society has
been reared—the natural and lawful subjection of the woman to the man.
Why don’t you read St. Paul?

LADY MOGTON. St. Paul was addressing Christians. When men behave like
Christians there will be no need of Votes for Women. You read St. Paul
on men. (_To_ JANET.) I shall want you!

(_She goes out_, _followed by_ JANET.)

(SIGSBY _gives vent to a gesture_.)

JAWBONES. Getting saucy, ain’t they?

SIGSBY. Over-indulgence. That’s what the modern woman is suffering
from. Gets an idea on Monday that she’d like the whole world altered; if
it isn’t done by Saturday, raises hell! Where’s the guv’nor?

JAWBONES. Hasn’t been here.

SIGSBY. (_Hands_ JAWBONES _his damaged hat_.) See if they can do
anything to that. If not, get me a new one. (_He forks out a
sovereign_.) Sure to be some shops open in the High Street.

(LAMB _and_ ST. HERBERT _enter_.)

LAMB. Hallo! have they been mauling you?

SIGSBY. (_He snatches the damaged hat from_ JAWBONES, _to hand it back
the next moment_; _holds it out_.) Woman’s contribution to politics.
Get me a collar at the same time—sixteen and a half.

(JAWBONES _takes his cap and goes out_. _The men hang up their

SIGSBY. Where’s it all going to end? That’s what I want to know!

ST. HERBERT. Where most things end. In the millennium, according to its
advocates. In the ruin of the country, according to its opponents. In
mild surprise on the part of the next generation that ever there was any
fuss about it.

SIGSBY. In amazement, you mean, that their fathers were so blind as not
to see where it was leading. My boy, this is going to alter the whole
relationship between the sexes!

ST. HERBERT. Is it so perfect as it is?

(_A silence_.)

Might it not be established on a more workable, a more enduring basis if
woman were allowed a share in the shaping of it?

(_Some woman in the crowd starts the refrain_, “_We’ll hang old Asquith
on a sour apple tree_.” _It is taken up with quiet earnestness by

SIGSBY. Shaping it! Nice sort of shape it will be by the time that lot
(_with a gesture_, _including the crowd_, LADY MOGTON & CO.) have done
knocking it about. Wouldn’t be any next generation to be surprised at
anything if some of them had their way.

ST. HERBERT. The housebreakers come first—not a class of work demanding
much intelligence; the builders come later. Have you seen Chilvers?

LAMB. I left him at the House. He couldn’t get away.

SIGSBY. There’s your object-lesson for you. We don’t need to go far. A
man’s whole career ruined by the wife he nourishes.

ST. HERBERT. How do you mean, “ruined?”

SIGSBY. So it is. If she wins the election and claims the seat. Do you
think the Cabinet will want him? Their latest addition compelled to
appeal to the House of Commons to fight for him against his own
womenfolk. (_Grunts_.) He’ll be the laughing-stock of the whole

ST. HERBERT. Do you know for certain that they mean to claim the seat?

SIGSBY. “Wait and see” is their answer.

LAMB. Hasn’t Chilvers any idea?

SIGSBY. Can’t get him to talk. Don’t think he’s seen her since that
shindy over the Deputation.

LAMB. Humph!

SIGSBY. Even if she herself wished to draw back, the others would
overrule her.

LAMB. I’m not so sure of that. She’s got a way of shutting her mouth
that reminds me of my old woman.

SIGSBY. The arrangement, as he explained it to me, was that the whole
thing was to end with the polling. It was to have been a mere joke, a
mere _ballon d’essai_. The mistake he made was thinking he could depend
on her.

LAMB. Guess she made the same mistake. You can fight and shake hands
afterwards; it doesn’t go with kissing.

SIGSBY. Man and woman were not made to fight. It was never intended.

(_The woman’s_ “_Marseillaise_” _has been taken up by the crowd_. _The
chorus has been reached_.)

Oh, damn your row! (_He slams to the window_; _it was ajar_.)

(JAWBONES _has entered_, _with his purchases_.)

(_Turning from window he sees_ JAWBONES, _goes to meet him_.) Couldn’t

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