Belinda (Milne)/Act I
It is a lovely April afternoon—a foretaste of summer—in BELINDA'S garden.
BETTY, a middle-aged servant, is fastening a hammock—its first appearance this year—to a tree down L. In front there is a garden-table, with a deck-chair on the right of it and a straight-backed one to the left. There are books, papers, and magazines on the table. BELINDA, of whom we shall know more presently, is on the other side of the open windows which look on to the garden, talking to BETTY, who crosses to R. of hammock, securing it to tree C.
BELINDA (from inside the house). Are you sure you're tying it up tightly enough, Betty?
BETTY (coming to front of hammock). Yes, ma'am; I think it's firm.
BELINDA. Because I'm not the fairy I used to be.
BETTY (testing hammock). Yes, ma'am; it's quite firm this end too.
BELINDA (entering from portico with sunshade open). It's not the ends I'm frightened of; it's the middle where the weight's coming. (Comes down R. and admiring.) It looks very nice. (She crosses at back of wicker table, hanging her hand-bag on hammock. Closes and places her sunshade at back of tree C.)
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA (trying the middle of it with her hand). I asked them at the Stores if they were quite sure it would bear me, and they said it would take anything up to—I forget how many tons. I know I thought it was rather rude of them. (Looking at it anxiously, and trying to get in, first with her right leg and then her left.) How does one get in! So trying to be a sailor!
BETTY. I think you sit in it, ma'am, and then (explaining with her hands) throw your legs over.
BELINDA. I see. (She sits gingerly in the hammock, and then, with a sudden flutter of white, does what BETTY suggests.) Yes. (Regretfully.) I'm afraid that was rather wasted on you, Betty. We must have some spectators next time.
BETTY. Yea, ma'am.
(BETTY moves to and takes a cushion from deck-chair. BELINDA assists her to place it at back of her head. BETTY then goes to back of hammock and arranges BELINDA'S dress.)
There! Now then, Betty, about callers.
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA. If Mr. Baxter calls—he is the rather prim gentleman—
BETTY. Yea, ma'am; the one who's been here several times before. (Moves to below and L. of hammock.)
BELINDA (giving BETTY a quick look). Yes. Well, if he calls, you'll say, "Not at home."
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA. He will say (imitating MR. BAXTER), "Oh—er—oh—er— really." Then you'll smile very sweetly and say, "I beg your pardon, was it Mr. BAXTER?" And he'll say, "Yes!" and you'll say, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir; this way, please."
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA. That's right, Betty. Well now, if Mr. Devenish calls—he is the rather poetical gentleman—
BETTY. Yes, ma'am; the one who's always coming here.
BELINDA (with a pleased smile). Yes. Well, if he calls you'll say, "Not at home."
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA. He'll immediately (extending her arms descriptively) throw down his bunch of flowers and dive despairingly into the moat. You'll stop him, just as he is going in, and say, "I beg your pardon, sir, was it Mr. DEVENISH?" And he will say, "Yes!" and you will say, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir; this way, please."
BETTY. Yes, ma'am. And suppose they both call together?
BELINDA (non-plussed for a moment). We won't suppose anything so exciting, Betty.
BETTY. No, ma'am. And suppose any other gentleman calls?
BELINDA (with a sigh). There aren't any other gentlemen.
BETTY. It might be a clergyman, come to ask for a subscription like.
BELINDA. If it's a clergyman, Betty, I shall—I shall want your assistance out of the hammock first.
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
BELINDA. That's all.
(BETTY crosses below table and chairs to porch.)
To anybody else I'm not at home, (Trying to secure book on table and nearly falling out of the hammock.) Oh, just give me that little green book. (Pointing to books on the table.) The one at the bottom there—that's the one. (BETTY gives it to her.) Thank you. (Reading the title.) "The Lute of Love," by Claude Devenish. (To herself as she turns the pages.) It doesn't seem much for half-a-crown when you think of the Daily Telegraph .... Lute ... Lute .... I should have quite a pretty mouth if I kept on saying that. (With a great deal of expression.) Lute! (She pats her mouth back.)
BETTY. Is that all, ma'am?
BELINDA. That's all. (BETTY prepares to go.) Oh, what am I thinking of! (Waving to the table.) I want that review; I think it's the blue one. (As BETTY begins to look.) It has an article by Mr. Baxter on the "Rise of Lunacy in the Eastern Counties"—
(BETTY gives her "The Nineteenth Century" Magazine.)
—yes, that's the one. I'd better have that too; I'm just at the most exciting place. You shall have it after me, Betty.
BETTY. Is that all, ma'am?
BELINDA. Yes, that really is all.
(BETTY goes into the house.)
BELINDA (reading to herself very pronouncedly). "It is a matter of grave concern to all serious students of social problems—" (Putting the review down in hammock and shaking her head gently.) But not in April. (Lazily opening the book and reading.) "Tell me where is love"—well, that's the question, isn't it? (She lies back in the hammock lazily and the book of poems falls from her to the ground. DELIA comes into the garden, from Paris. She is decidedly a modern girl, pretty and self-possessed. Her hair is half-way up; waiting for her birthday, perhaps. She sees her mother suddenly, stops, and then goes on tiptoe to the head of the hammock. She smiles and kisses her mother on the forehead. BELINDA, looking supremely unconscious, goes on sleeping. DELIA kisses her lightly again. BELINDA wakes up with an extraordinarily natural start, and is just about to say, "Oh, Mr. Devenish—you mustn't!"—when she sees DELIA.) Delia! (They kiss each other frantically.)
DELIA. Well, mummy, aren't you glad to see me?
BELINDA. My darling child!
DELIA. Say you're glad.
BELINDA (sitting up). My darling, I'm absolutely—(DELIA crosses round to L. of hammock.) Hold the hammock while I get out, dear; we don't want an accident. (DELIA holds the L. end of it and BELINDA struggles out, leaving the magazine and her handkerchief in the hammock.) They're all right when you're there, and they'll bear two tons, but they're horrid getting in and out of. (Kissing her again.) Darling, it really is you?
DELIA. Oh, it is jolly seeing you again. I believe you were asleep.
BELINDA (with dignity). Certainly not, child. I was reading The Nineteenth Century—(with an air)—and after. (Earnestly) Darling, wasn't it next Thursday you were coming back?
DELIA. No, this Thursday, silly.
BELINDA (penitently). Oh, my darling, and I was going over to Paris to bring you home.
DELIA. I half expected you.
BELINDA. So confusing their both being called Thursday. And you were leaving school for the very last time. If you don't forgive me, Delia, I shall cry.
DELIA (kissing her and stroking her hand fondly). Silly mother!
(BELINDA sits down in the deck-chair and DELIA sits on the table.)
BELINDA. Isn't it a lovely day for April, darling! I've wanted to say that to somebody all day, and you're the first person who's given me the chance. Oh, I said it to Betty, but she only said, "Yes, ma'am."
DELIA. Poor mother!
BELINDA (jumping up suddenly, crossing to L. of and kissing DELIA again). I simply must have another one. And to think that you're never going back to school any more. (Looking at her fondly, and backing to L.) Darling, you are looking pretty.
DELIA. Am I?
BELINDA. Lovely. (She kisses her once more, then she takes the cushion from the hammock, moves at back of table and places it on the head of the deck-chair.) And now you're going to stay with me for just as long as you want a mother. (Anxiously moving to R. of deckchair.) Darling, you didn't mind being sent away to school, did you? It is the usual thing, you know.
DELIA. Silly mother! of course it is.
BELINDA (relieved, and sitting on deck-chair). I'm so glad you think so too.
DELIA. Have you been very lonely without me?
BELINDA (with a sly look at DELIA). Very.
DELIA (turning to BELINDA and holding up a finger). The truth, mummy!
BELINDA. I've missed you horribly, Delia. (Primly.) The absence of female companionship of the requisite—
DELIA. Are you really all alone?
BELINDA (smiling mysteriously and coyly). Well, not always, of course.
DELIA (excitedly, at she slips off the table, and backing to L. a little). Mummy, I believe you're being bad again.
BELINDA. Really, darling, you forget that I'm old enough to be—in fact, am—your mother.
DELIA (nodding her head). You are being bad.
BELINDA (rising with dignity and drawing herself up to her full height, moving L.). My child, that is not the way to—Oh, I say, what a lot taller I am than you! (Turning her back to DELIA and comparing sizes.)
DELIA. And prettier.
BELINDA (playfully rubbing noses with DELIA). Oh, do you think so? (Firmly, but pleased.) Don't be silly, child.
DELIA (holding up a finger). Now tell me all that's been happening here at once.
BELINDA (with a sigh). And I was just going to ask you how you were getting on with your French. (Sits in deck-chair.)
DELIA. Bother French! You've been having a much more interesting time than I have, so you've got to tell.
BELINDA (with a happy sigh). O-oh! (She sinks back into her chair.)
DELIA (taking off her coat). Is it like the Count at Scarborough?
BELINDA (surprised and pained). My darling, what do you mean?
DELIA. Don't you remember the Count who kept proposing to you at Scarborough? I do. (Places coat on hammock.)
BELINDA (reproachfully). Dear one, you were the merest child, paddling about on the beach and digging castles.
DELIA (smiling to herself). I was old enough to notice the Count.
BELINDA (sadly). And I'd bought her a perfectly new spade! How one deceives oneself!
DELIA (at table and leaning across, with hands on table). And then there was the M.P. who proposed at Windermere.
BELINDA. Yes, dear, but it wasn't seconded—I mean he never got very far with it.
DELIA. And the artist in Wales.
BELINDA. Darling child, what a memory you have. No wonder your teachers are pleased with you.
DELIA (settling herself comfortably in deck-chair L. of BELINDA and lying in her arms). Now tell me all about this one.
BELINDA (meekly). Which one?
DELIA (excitedly). Oh, are there lots?
BELINDA (severely). Only two.
DELIA. Two! You abandoned woman!
BELINDA. It's something in the air, darling. I've never been in Devonshire in April before.
DELIA. Is it really serious this time?
BELINDA (pained). I wish you wouldn't say this time, Delia. It sounds so unromantic. If you'd only put it into French—cette fois—it sounds so much better. Cette fois. (Parentally.) When one's daughter has just returned from an expensive schooling in Paris, one likes to feel—
DELIA. What I meant, dear, was, am I to have a stepfather at last?
BELINDA. Now you're being too French, darling.
DELIA. Why, do you still think father may be alive?
BELINDA. Why not? It's only eighteen years since he left us, and he was quite a young man then.
DELIA. Yes, but surely, surely you'd have heard from him in all those years, if he'd been alive?
BELINDA. Well, he hasn't heard from me, and I'm still alive.
DELIA (looking earnestly at her mother, rises and moves L.C.). I shall never understand it.
BELINDA. Understand what?
DELIA. Were you as heavenly when you were young as you are now?
BELINDA (rapturously). Oh, I was sweet!
DELIA. And yet he left you after only six months.
BELINDA (rather crossly, sitting up). I wish you wouldn't keep on saying he left me. I left him too.
DELIA (running to and kneeling in front of BELINDA and looking anxiously into her face). Why?
BELINDA (smiling to herself). Well, you see, he was quite certain he knew how to manage women, and I was quite certain I knew how to manage men. (Thoughtfully.) If only one of us had been certain, it would have been all right.
DELIA (seriously). What really happened, mummy? I'm grown up now, so I think you ought to tell me.
BELINDA (thoughtfully). That was about all, you know ... except for his beard.
DELIA. Had he a beard? (Laughing.) How funny!
BELINDA (roaring with laughter, in which DELIA joins). Yes, dear, it was; but he never would see it. He took it quite seriously.
DELIA. And did you say dramatically, "If you really loved me, you'd take it off"?
BELINDA (apologetically). I'm afraid I did, darling.
DELIA. And what did he say?
BELINDA. He said—very rudely—that, if I loved him, I'd do my hair in a different way.
DELIA (sinks down on her haunches, facing the audience). How ridiculous!
BELINDA (touching her hair). Of course, I didn't do it like this then. I suppose we never ought to have married, really.
DELIA. Why did you?
BELINDA. Mother rather wanted it. (Solemnly.) Delia, never get married because your mother— Oh, I forgot; I'm your mother.
DELIA. And I don't want a better one ... (They embrace.) And so you left each other?
DELIA. But, darling, didn't you tell him there was going to be a Me?
BELINDA. Oh no!
DELIA. I wonder why not?
BELINDA. Well, you see, if I had, he might have wanted to stay.
BELINDA (hurt). If he didn't want to stay for me, I didn't want him to stay for you. (Penitently.) Forgive me, darling, but I didn't know you very well then. We've been very happy together, haven't we?
DELIA (going to the hammock, sitting in it and dangling her legs). I should think we have.
BELINDA (leaning back in chair). I don't want to deny you anything, and, of course, if you'd like a stepfather (looking down modestly) or two—
DELIA. Oh, you have been enjoying yourself.
BELINDA. Only you see how awkward it would be if Jack turned up in the middle of the wedding, like—like Eugene Aram.
DELIA. Enoch Arden, darling.
BELINDA. It's very confusing their having the same initials. Perhaps I'd better call them both E. A. in future and then I shall be safe. Well, anyhow it would be awkward, darling, wouldn't it? Not that I should know him from Adam after all these years—except for a mole on his left arm.
DELIA. Perhaps Adam had a mole.
BELINDA. No, darling; you're thinking of Noah. He had two.
DELIA (thoughtfully). I wonder what would happen if you met somebody whom you really did fall in love with?
BELINDA (reproachfully). Now you're being serious, and it's April.
DELIA. Aren't these two—the present two—serious?
BELINDA. Oh no! They think they are, but they aren't a bit, really. Besides, I'm doing them such a lot of good. I'm sure they'd hate to marry me, but they love to think they're in love with me, and—I love it, and—and they love it, and—and we all love it.
DELIA (rising and crossing to BELINDA). You really are the biggest, darlingest baby who ever lived. (Kisses her.) Do say I shan't spoil your lovely times.
BELINDA (surprised). Spoil them? Why, you'll make them more lovely than ever.
DELIA (turning away and sitting on table). Well, but do they know you have a grown-up daughter?
BELINDA (suddenly realizing and sitting up). Oh!
DELIA. It doesn't really matter, because you don't look a day more than thirty.
BELINDA (absently). No. (Hurriedly.) I mean, how sweet of you—only—
BELINDA (playing with her rings). Well, one of them, Mr. Baxter— Harold—(she looks quickly up at DELIA and down again in pretty affectation, but she is really laughing at herself all the time) he writes statistical articles for the Reviews—percentages and all those things. He's just the sort of man, if he knew that I was your mother, to work it out that I was more than thirty. The other one, Mr. Devenish—Claude—(she looks up and down as before) he's rather, rather poetical. He thinks I came straight from heaven—last week.
DELIA (laughing and jumping up and crossing below deck-chair to R. towards house). I think I'd better go straight back to Paris.
BELINDA (jumping up and catching her firmly by the left arm). You will do nothing of the sort. (Pulling DELIA back to centre.) You will take off that hat—(she lets go of the arm and begins to take out the pin) which is a perfect duck, and I don't know why I didn't say so before—(she puts the hat down on the table) and let me take a good look at you (she does so), and kiss you (she does so, then crosses DELIA below her and takes her towards the house), and then we'll go to your room and unpack and have a lovely talk about clothes. And then we'll have tea.
(BETTY comes in and stands up at back.)
And now here's Betty coming in to upset all our delightful plans, just when we'vt made them. (BELINDA and DELIA are now on BETTY'S R.)
DELIA (leaving BELINDA and shaking hands with BETTY). How are you, Betty? I've left school.
BETTY. Very nicely, thank you, miss. (Backing to L. and admiring.) You've grown.
BELINDA (moving to and patting the top of DELIA'S head). I'm much taller than she is... (Crossing to BETTY in front of DELIA.) Well, Betty, what is it?
BETTY. The two gentlemen, Mr. Baxter and Mr. Devenish, have both called together, ma'am.
BELINDA (excited). Oh! How—how very simultaneous of them!
DELIA (eagerly, going towards house). Oh, do let me see them!
BELINDA (stopping her). Darling, you'll see plenty of them before you've finished. (To BETTY in an exaggerated whisper.) What have you done with them?
BETTY. They're waiting in the hall, ma'am, while I said I would see if you were at home.
BELINDA. All right, Betty. Give me two minutes and then show them out here.
BETTY. Yes, ma'am.
(BETTY crosses below BELINDA and DELIA and exits into the house.)
BELINDA (taking DELIA down R. a step). They can't do much harm to each other in two minutes.
DELIA (taking her hat from table). Well, I'll go and unpack. (She goes back to BELINDA.) You really won't mind my coming down afterwards?
BELINDA. Of course not. (A little awkwardly, taking DELIA'S arm and moving down R.) Darling one, I wonder if you'd mind—just at first—being introduced as my niece. (By now at foot of deck- chair.) You see, I expect they're in a bad temper already (now C.), having come here together, and we don't want to spoil their day entirely.
DELIA (smiling, on BELINDA'S L.). I'll be your mother if you like.
BELINDA. Oh no, that wouldn't do, because then Mr. Baxter would feel that he ought to ask your permission before paying his attentions to me. He's just that sort of man. A niece is so safe—however good you are at statistics, you can't really prove anything.
DELIA. All right, mummy.
BELINDA (enjoying herself). You'd like to be called by a different name, wouldn't you? There's something so thrilling about taking a false name. Such a lot of adventures begin like that. How would you like to be Miss Robinson, darling? It's a nice easy one to remember. (Persuasively.) And you shall put your hair up so as to feel more disguised. What fun we're going to have!
DELIA. You baby! All right, then, I'm Miss Robinson, your favourite niece. (She takes her jacket from the hammock and moves towards the house.)
BELINDA. How sweet of you! No, no, not that way—you'll meet them. (Following quickly up between tree and table to DELIA, who has now reached the house.) Oh, I'm coming with you to do your hair. (Moving up C., arm in arm with DELIA.) You don't think you're going to be allowed to do it yourself, when so much depends on it, and husbands leave you because of it, and—
(BELINDA, seeing BETTY entering from house, hurries DELIA up R., and they bob down behind the yew hedge R. BETTY comes from the house into the garden, crossing to centre and up stage looking for BELINDA, followed by MR. BAXTER and MR. DEVENISH. BAXTER gives an angry look round at DEVENISH as he enters. MR. BAXTER is forty-five, prim and erect, with close-trimmed moustache and side-whiskers. His clothes are dark and he wears a bowler-hat. MR. DEVENISH is a long-haired, good-looking boy in a n glig costume; perhaps twenty-two years old, and very scornful of the world. BAXTER crosses to L. below BETTY, and turns to her with a sharp inquiring glance. DEVENISH moves down R., languidly admiring the garden.)
BETTY (looking about her surprised). The mistress was here a moment ago. (The two heads pop up from behind the hedge and then down again immediately. BELINDA and DELIA exeunt R.). I expect she'll be back directly, if you'll just wait.
(She goes back into the house.)
(BAXTER, crossing to R., meets DEVENISH who has moved up R. BAXTER is annoyed and with an impatient gesture comes down between the tree and the table to chair L. and sits. DEVENISH throws his felt hat on to the table and walks to the back of the hammock. He sees the review in the hammock and picks it up.)
DEVENISH. Good heavens, Baxter, she's been reading your article!
BAXTER. I dare say she's not the only one.
DEVENISH. That's only guesswork (going to back of table); you don't know of anyone else.
BAXTER (with contempt). How many people, may I ask, have bought your poems?
DEVENISH (loftily). I don't write for the mob.
BAXTER. I think I may say that of my own work.
DEVENISH. Baxter, I don't want to disappoint you, but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that you are one of the mob. (Throws magazine down on table, annoyed.) Dash it! what are you doing in the country at all in a bowler-hat?
BAXTER. If I wanted to be personal, I could say, "Why don't you get your hair cut?" Only that form of schoolboy humour doesn't appeal to me.
DEVENISH. This is not a personal matter; I am protesting on behalf of nature. (Leaning against tree.) What do the birds and the flowers and the beautiful trees think of your hat?
BAXTER. If one began to ask oneself what the birds thought of things—(He pauses.)
DEVENISH. Well, and why shouldn't one ask oneself? It is better than asking oneself what the Stock Exchange thinks of things.
BAXTER. Well (looking up at DEVENISH'S extravagant hair), it's the nesting season. Your hair! (Suddenly.) Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!
DEVENISH (hastily smoothing it down). Really, Baxter, you're vulgar. (He turns away and resumes his promenading, going down R. and then round deck-chair to front of hammock. Suddenly he sees his book on the grass beneath the hammock and makes a dash for it.) Ha, my book! (Gloating over it.) Baxter, she reads my book.
BAXTER. I suppose you gave her a copy.
DEVENISH (exultingly). Yes, I gave her a copy. My next book will be hers and hers alone.
BAXTER. Then let me say that, in my opinion, you took a very great liberty.
DEVENISH. Liberty! And this from a man who is continually forcing his unwelcome statistics upon her.
BAXTER. At any rate, I flatter myself that there is no suggestion of impropriety in anything that I write.
DEVENISH. I'm not so sure about that, Baxter.
BAXTER. What do you mean, sir?
DEVENISH. Did you read The Times this month on the new reviews!
DEVENISH. Oh, nothing. It just said, "Mr. Baxter's statistics are extremely suggestive."
(BAXTER makes a gesture of annoyance.)
I haven't read them, so of course I don't know what you've been up to.
BAXTER (rising, turning away in disgust and crossing up L). Pah!
DEVENISH. Poor old Baxter! (Puts book of poems down on table and crosses below chair and gathers a daffodil from a large vase down R. and saying "Poor old Baxter!" ad lib. BAXTER moves round back of hammock and to R., collides with DEVENISH and much annoyed goes down between table and tree towards chair down L.) Baxter— (moving to and leaning against tree R.)
BAXTER (turning to DEVENISH crossly). I wish you wouldn't keep calling me "Baxter."
(BAXTER displays annoyance, and continues his walk to L.)
BAXTER. It is only by accident—an accident which we both deplore—that we have met at all, and in any case I am a considerably older man than yourself. (Sits L.)
DEVENISH. Mr. Baxter—father—(gesture of annoyance from BAXTER)— I have a proposal to make. We will leave it to this beautiful flower to decide which of us the lady loves.
BAXTER (turning round). Eh?
DEVENISH (pulling off the petals). She loves me, she loves Mr. Baxter, she loves me, she loves Mr. Baxter—(BELINDA appears in the porch)—Heaven help her!—she loves me—
BELINDA (coming down R.). What are you doing, Mr. Devenish!
DEVENISH (throwing away the flower and bowing very low). My lady.
(BAXTER rises quickly.)
BAXTER (removing his bowler-hat stiffly). Good afternoon, Mrs. Tremayne.
(She gives her left hand to DEVENISH, who kisses it, and her right to BAXTER, who shakes it.)
BELINDA. How nice of you both to come!
BAXTER. Mr. Devenish and I are inseparable—apparently.
BELINDA. You haven't told me what you were doing, Mr. Devenish. Was it (plucking an imaginary flower) "This year, next year?" or "Silk, satin—"
DEVENISH. My lady, it was even more romantic than that. I have the honour to announce to your ladyship that Mr. Baxter is to be a sailor. (Dances round imitating the hornpipe.)
BELINDA (to BAXTER). Doesn't he talk nonsense?
BAXTER. He'll grow out of it. I did.
BELINDA (moving down R. and then to centre towards hammock). Oh, I hope not. I love talking nonsense, and I'm ever so old. (As they both start forward to protest.) Now which one of you will say it first?
DEVENISH. You are as old as the stars and as young as the dawn.
BAXTER. You are ten years younger than I am.
BELINDA. What sweet things to say! I don't know which I like best.
DEVENISH. Where will my lady sit!
BELINDA (with an exaggerated curtsy). I will recline in the hammock, an it please thee, my lord—
(BAXTER goes to the right of the hammock, saying "Allow me." DEVENISH moves to the left of the hammock and holds it, takes up a cushion which BAXTER snatches from him and places in hammock again.)
—only it's rather awkward getting in, Mr. Baxter. Perhaps you'd both better look at the tulips for a moment.
BAXTER. Oh—ah—yes. (Crosses down R., turns his back to the hammock and examines the flowers.)
DEVENISH (leaning over her). If only—
BELINDA. You'd better not say anything, Mr. Devenlsh. Keep it for your next volume. (He turns away and examines flowers on L. She sits on hammock.) One, two, three—(throws her legs over)— that was better than last time. (They turn round to see her safely in the hammock. DEVENISH leans against the L. tree at her feet, and BAXTER draws the deck-chair from the right side of the table and turns it round towards her. He presses his hat more firmly on and sits down.) I wonder if either of you can guess what I've been reading this afternoon!
DEVENISH (looking at her lovingly). I know.
BELINDA (giving him a fleeting look). How did you know?
DEVENISH. Well, I—
BELINDA (to BAXTER). Yes, Mr. Baxter, it was your article I was reading. If you'd come five minutes earlier you'd have found me wrestling—I mean revelling in it.
BAXTER. I am very greatly honoured, Mrs. Tremayne. Ah—it seemed to me a very interesting curve showing the rise and fall of—
BELINDA. I hadn't got up to the curves. They are interesting, aren't they? They are really more in Mr. Devenish's line. (To DEVENISH.) Mr. Devenish, it was a great disappointment to me that all the poems in your book seemed to be written to somebody else.
DEVENISH. It was before I met you, lady. They were addressed to the goddess of my imagination. It is only in these last few weeks that I have discovered her.
BELINDA. And discovered she was dark and not fair.
DEVENISH. She will be dark in my next volume.
BELINDA. Oh, how nice of her!
BAXTER (kindly). You should write a real poem to Mrs. Tremayne.
BELINDA (excitedly). Oh do! "To Belinda." I don't know what rhymes, except cinder. You could say your heart was like a cinder—all burnt up.
DEVENISH (pained). Oh, my lady, I'm afraid that is a cockney rhyme.
BELINDA. How thrilling! I've never been to Hampstead Heath.
DEVENISH. "Belinda." It is far too beautiful to rhyme with anything but itself.
BELINDA. Fancy! But what about Tremayne? (Singing.) Oh, I am Mrs. Tremayne, and I don't want to marry again.
DEVENISH (protesting). My lady!
BAXTER (protesting). Belinda!
BELINDA (pointing excitedly to BAXTER). There, that's the first time he's called me Belinda! This naughty boy—(indicating DEVENISH)—is always doing it—by accident.
DEVENISH. Are you serious?
BELINDA. Not as a rule.
DEVENISH. You're not going to marry again?
BELINDA. Well, who could I marry?
DEVENISH and BAXTER (together). Me!
BELINDA (dropping her eyes modestly). But this is England.
BAXTER (rising and taking off his hat, which he places on table, and going up to BELINDA). Mrs. Tremayne, I claim the right of age—of my greater years—to speak first.
DEVENISH. Mrs. Tremayne, I—
BELINDA (kindly to DEVENISH). You can speak afterwards, Mr. Devenish. It's so awkward when you both speak together. (To BAXTER, giving encouragement.) Yes?
BAXTER (moving down a little and then returning to BELINDA). Mrs. Tremayne, I am a man of substantial position—(DEVENISH sniggers— to BAXTER'S great annoyance.) and perhaps I may say of some repute in serious circles.
(DEVENISH sniggers again.)
All that I have, whether of material or mental endowment, I lay at your feet, together with an admiration which I cannot readily put into words. As my wife I think you would be happy, and I feel that with you by my side I could achieve even greater things.
BELINDA. How sweet of you! But I ought to tell you that I'm no good at figures.
DEVENISH (protesting). My lady—
BELINDA. I don't mean what you mean, Mr. Devenish. You wait till it's your turn. (To BAXTER.) Yes?
BAXTER (very formally). I ask you to marry me, Belinda.
BELINDA (settling herself happily and closing her eyes). O-oh!... Now it's your turn, Mr. Devenish.
DEVENISH (excitedly). Money—thank Heaven, I have no money. Reputation—thank Heaven, I have no reputation.
(BAXTER, very annoyed, moves down and sits on deck-chair.)
What can I offer you? Dreams—nothing but dreams. Come with me and I will show you the world through my dreams. What can I give you? Youth, freedom, beauty—
BELINDA (still with her eyes shut). You mustn't interrupt, Mr. Baxter.
DEVENISH (leaning across hammock). Belinda, marry me and I will open your eyes to the beauty of the world. Come to me!
BELINDA (happily). O-oh! You've got such different ways of putting things. How can I choose between you?
DEVENISH. Then you will marry one of us?
BELINDA. You know I really oughtn't to.
BAXTER. I don't see why not.
BELINDA. Well, there's just a little difficulty in the way.
DEVENISH. What is it? I will remove it. For you I could remove anything —yes, even Baxter. (He looks at BAXTER, who is sitting more solidly than ever in his chair.)
BELINDA. And anyhow I should have to choose between you.
DEVENISH (in a whisper), choose me.
BAXTER (stiffly). Mrs. Tremayne does not require any prompting. A fair field and let the best man win.
DEVENISH (going across to and slapping the astonished BAXTER on the back). Aye, let the best man win! Well spoken, Baxter. (BAXTER is very annoyed. To BELINDA and going back to her L.) Send us out into the world upon some knightly quest, lady, and let the victor be rewarded.
BAXTER. I—er—ought to say that I should be unable to go very far. I have an engagement to speak at Newcastle on the 21st.
DEVENISH. Baxter, I will take no unfair advantage of you. Let the beard of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle be the talisman that my lady demands; I am satisfied.
BAXTER. This sort of thing is entirely contrary to my usual mode of life, but I will not be outfaced by a mere boy. (Rising.) I am prepared. (Going to her.)
DEVENISH. Speak, lady.
BELINDA (speaking in a deep, mysterious voice). Gentlemen, ye put wild thoughts into my head. In sooth, I am minded to send ye forth upon a quest that is passing strange. Know ye that there is a maid journeyed hither, hight Robinson—whose—(in her natural voice) what's the old for aunt?
BAXTER (hopefully). Mother's sister.
BELINDA. You know, I think I shall have to explain this in ordinary language. You won't mind very much, will you, Mr. Devenish?
DEVENISH. It is the spirit of this which matters, not the language which clothes it.
BELINDA. Oh, I'm so glad you think so. Well, now about Miss Robinson. She's my niece and she's just come to stay with me, and—poor girl— she's lost her father. Absolutely lost him. He disappeared ever such a long time ago, and poor Miss Robinson—Delia—naturally wants to find him. Poor girl! she can't think where he is.
DEVENISH (nobly). I will find him.
BELINDA. Oh, thank you, Mr. Devenish; Miss Robinson would be so much obliged.
BAXTER. Yes—er—but what have we to go upon? Beyond the fact that his name is Robinson—
BELINDA. I shouldn't go on that too much. You see, he may easily have changed it by now. He was never very much of a Robinson. Nothing to do with Peter or any of those.
DEVENISH. I will find him.
BAXTER (with a look of annoyance at DEVENISH). Well, can you tell us what he's like?
BELINDA. Well, it's such a long time since I saw him. (Looking down modestly.) Of course, I was quite a girl then. The only thing I know for certain is that he has a mole on his left arm about here. (She indicates a spot just below the elbow. BAXTER examines it closely.)
DEVENISH (folding his arms and looking nobly upwards). I will find him.
BAXTER. I am bound to inform you, Mrs. Tremayne, that even a trained detective could not give you very much hope in such a case. However, I will keep a look-out for him, and, of course, if—
DEVENISH. Fear not, lady, I will find him.
BAXTER (annoyed). Yes, you keep on saying that, but what have you got to go on?
DEVENISH (grandly). Faith! The faith which moves mountains.
BELINDA. Yes, and this is only just one small mole-hill, Mr. Baxter.
BAXTER. Yes, but still—
BELINDA. S'sh! here is Miss Robinson.
(BAXTER takes up his hat and moves below the deck-chair to R. to meet DELIA.)
If Mr. Devenish will hold the hammock while I alight—we don't want an accident—
(DELIA comes out of the house.)
—I can introduce you. (He helps her to get out, holding the hammock.) Thank you. Delia darling (DELIA moves down R.) this is Mr. Baxter,—and Mr. Devenish. My niece, Miss Robinson—
(DELIA shakes hands with BAXTER and moves to C. below BELINDA and shakes hands with DEVENISH.)
DELIA. How do you do?
BELINDA. Miss Robinson has just come over from France. Man Dieu, quel pays!
BAXTER. I hope you had a good crossing, Miss Robinson.
DELIA. Oh, I never mind about the crossing. (Very slowly and shyly.) Aunt Belinda—(She stops and smiles.)
BELINDA. Yes, dear?
DELIA. I believe tea is almost ready. I want mine, and I'm sure Mr. Baxter's hungry. (He sniggers approvingly.) Mr. Devenish scorns food, I expect.
DEVENISH (hurt). Why do you say that?
DELIA. Aren't you a poet?
BELINDA. Yes, darling, but that doesn't prevent him eating. He'll be absolutely lyrical over Betty's sandwiches.
DEVENISH. You won't deny me that inspiration, I hope, Miss Robinson.
BELINDA (taking DELIA'S arm and moving with her to below deck- chair). Well, let's go and see what they're like.
(DELIA moves up R.C. to below the porch, accompanied by BAXTER on her R. and DEVENISH, who follows her on her L. They all move towards the porch.)
Mr. Baxter, just a moment.
BAXTER (apologizing to DELIA and moving in front of the others to back of deck-chair.) Yes?
(DELIA gathers a daffodil from a vase R. and places it in DEVENISH'S buttonhole.)
BELINDA (secretly). Not a word to her about Mr. Robinson. It must be a surprise for her.
BAXTER. Quite so, I understand.
BELINDA. That's right. (BAXTER rejoins DELIA. Raising her voice.) Oh, Mr. Devenish.
(DEVENISH, who is evidently much attracted by DELIA, apologizes to her and goes back between tree and hammock to L. of BELINDA.)
DEVENISH. Yes, Mrs. Tremayne?
BELINDA (secretly). Not a word to her about Mr. Robinson. It must be a surprise for her.
DEVENISH. Of course! I shouldn't dream—(Indignantly.) Robinson! What an unsuitable name!
(BAXTER and DELIA are just going into the house.)
BELINDA (dismissing DEVENISH). All right, I'll catch you up. (DEVENISH goes after the other two.)
(Left alone, BELINDA laughs happily to herself, and then begins to look rather aimlessly about her. She picks up her sunshade and opens it. She comes to the hammock, picks out her handkerchief, says, "Ah, there you are!" and puts it away. She goes slowly towards the house. TREMAYNE enters from L. and with his back to the audience tries latch of imaginary gate below scenic painted gateway L. BELINDA turns her head, hearing imaginary click of the garden gate L. She comes slowly back R.C.)
BELINDA (seeing TREMAYNE). Have you lost yourself, or something? No; the latch is this side. ... Yes, that's right.
(TREMAYNE comes in. He has been knocking about the world for eighteen years, and is very much a man, though he has kept his manners. His hair is greying a little at the sides, and he looks the forty-odd that he is. Without his moustache and beard he is very different from the boy BELINDA married.)
TREMAYNE ( with his hat in his hand ). I'm afraid I'm trespassing.
BELINDA (winningly, moving down R. a little ). But it's such a pretty garden (turns away, dosing her parasol), isn't it?
(TREMAYNE, half recognizing her, moves to back of hammock and leans across to obtain a better view of her.)
TREMAYNE (rather confused). I-I beg your pardon, I-er— (He is wondering if it can possibly be she. BELINDA thinks his confusion is due to the fact that he is trespassing, and hastens to put him at his ease.)
BELINDA. I should have done the same myself, you know.
TREMAYNE (pulling himself together). Oh, but you mustn't think I just came in because I liked the garden—
BELINDA (clapping her hands). No; but say you do like it, quick.
TREMAYNE. It's lovely and— (He hesitates.)
BELINDA (hopefully). Yes?
TREMAYNE (with conviction). Yes, it's lovely. BELINDA (with that happy sigh of hers). O-oh! ... Now tell me what really did happen?
TREMAYNE. I was on my way to Marytown—
BELINDA. To where?
BELINDA. Oh, you mean Mariton.
TREMAYNE. Do I?
BELINDA. Yes; we always call it Mariton down here. (Earnestly.) You don't mind, do you?
TREMAYNE (smiling). Not a bit.
BELINDA. Just say it—to see if you've got it right.
BELINDA (shaking her head). Oh no, that's quite wrong. Try it again (With a rustic accent.) Mariton.
BELINDA. Yes, that's much better .... (As if it were he who had interrupted.) Well, do go on.
TREMAYNE. I'm afraid it isn't much of an apology really. I saw what looked like a private road (points L.), but what I rather hoped wasn't, and—well, I thought I'd risk it. I do hope you'll forgive me.
BELINDA. Oh, but I love people seeing my garden. Are you staying in Mariton?
TREMAYNE. I think so. Oh yes, decidedly.
BELINDA. Well, perhaps the next time the road won't feel so private.
TREMAYNE. How charming of you! (He feels he must know. A piano is heard off playing "Belinda." The tune is continued until the fall of the curtain.) Are you Mrs. Tremayne by any chance?
TREMAYNE (nodding to himself). Yes.
BELINDA. How did you know?
TREMAYNE (hastily inventing, moving down L. below the hammock). They use you as a sign-post in the village. Past Mrs. Tremayne'a house and then bear to the left—
BELINDA. And you couldn't go past it?
TREMAYNE. I'm afraid I couldn't. Thank you so much for not minding. (Going up to the L. of her.) Well, I must be getting on, I have trespassed quite enough.
BELINDA (regretfully). And you haven't really seen the garden yet.
TREMAYNE. If you won't mind my going on this way, I shall see some more on my way out.
BELINDA. Please do. It likes being looked at. (With the faintest suggestion of demureness.) All pretty things do.
TREMAYNE. Thank you very much. (Turns to go up c.) Er—(He hesitates.)
BELINDA (helpfully). Yes?
TREMAYNE. I wonder if you'd mind very much if I called one day to thank you formally for the lesson you gave me in pronunciation?
BELINDA (gravely). Yes. I almost think you ought to. I think it's the correct thing to do.
TREMAYNE (contentedly). Thank you very much, Mrs. Tremayne.
BELINDA. You'll come in quite formally (pointing to R. with her sunshade) by the front-door next time, won't you, because— because that seems the only chance of my getting to know your name.
TREMAYNE. Oh, I beg your pardon. My name is—er—er—Robinson.
(She is highly amused and looks round towards the house, recalling to her mind DELIA.)
BELINDA (laughing). How very odd!
TREMAYNE (startled). Odd?
BELINDA. Yes; we have some one called Robinson (nodding towards the house) staying in the house. I wonder if she is any relation?
TREMAYNE (hastily). Oh no, no. No, she couldn't be. I have no relations called Robinson—not to speak of.
BELINDA. You must tell me all about your relations when you come and call, Mr. Robinson.
TREMAYNE. I think we can find something better worth talking about than that.
BELINDA. Do you think so? (He says "Yes" with his eyes, bows, and moves up C. The piano is now forte. BELINDA accompanies him up a little, then stops. He turns in entrance up C., and they exchange glances. TREMAYNE exits to R., behind yew hedge. BELINDA stays looking after him, then moves down to back of table and picking up the book of poems, gives that happy sigh of hers, only even more so.) O-oh!
(Enter BETTY from porch.)
BETTY. If you please, ma'am, Miss Delia says, are you coming in to tea?
BELINDA (looking straight in front of her, and taking no notice of BETTY, in a happy, dreamy voice). Betty, ... about callers .... If Mr. Robinson calls—he's the handsome gentleman who hasn't been here before (puts book down)—you will say, "Not at home." And he will say, "Oh!" And you will say, "I beg your pardon, sir, was it Mr. Robinson?" And he will say, "Yes!" And you will say, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir—" (Almost as if she were BETTY, she begins to move towards the house.) "This way—" (she would be smiling an invitation over her shoulder to MR. ROBINSON, if he were there, and she were BETTY)—"please!" (And the abandoned woman goes in to tea.)CURTAIN