Mrs. Hauksbee Sits Out
PERSONS CHIEFLY INTERESTED
His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General of India. Charles Hilton Hawley (lieutenant at large). Lieutenant-Colonel J. Scriffshaw (not so much at large). Major Decker (a persuasive Irishman). Peroo (an Aryan butler). Mrs. Hauksbee (a lady with a will of her own). Mrs. Scriffshaw (a lady who believes she has a will of her own). May Holt (niece of the above). Assunta (an Aryan lady's-maid). Aides-de-Camp, Dancers, Horses, and Devils as Required.
SCENE—The imperial city of Simla, on a pine-clad mountain seven thousand feet above the level of the sea. Gray roofs of houses peering through green; white clouds going to bed in the valley below, purple clouds of sunset sitting on the peaks above. Smell of wood-smoke and pine-cones. A curtained verandah-room in Mrs. Hauksbee's house, overlooking Simla, shows Mrs. Hauksbee, in black cachemire tea-gown opening over cream front, seated in a red-cushioned chair, her foot on a Khokand rug, Russian china tea things on red lacquered table beneath red-shaded lamps. On a cushion at her feet, Miss Holt — gray riding-habit, soft gray felt terai hat, blue and gold puggree, buff gauntlets in lap, and glimpse of spurred riding-boot. They have been talking as the twilight gathers. Mrs. Hauksbee crosses over to the piano in a natural pause of the conversation and begins to play.
May. (Without changing her position.) Yes. That's nice. Play something.
May. Oh! Anything. Only I don't want to hear about sighing over tombs, and saying Nevermore.
Mrs. H. Have you ever known me do that? May, you're in one of your little tempers this afternoon.
May. So would a Saint be. I've told you why. Horrid old thing! — isn't she?
Mrs. H. (Without prelude) — Fair Eve knelt close to the guarded gate in the hush of an Eastern spring, She saw the flash of the Angel's sword, the gleam of the Angel's wing—
May. (Impetuously.) And now you're laughing at me!
Mrs. H. (Shaking her head, continues the song for a verse; then crescendo) —
And because she was so beautiful, and because she could not see How fair were the pure white cyclamens crushed dying at her knee. (That's the society of your aunt, my dear.)
He plucked a Rose from the Eden Tree where the four great rivers meet.
May. Yes. I know you're laughing at me. Now somebody's going to die, of course. They always do.
Mrs. H. No. Wait and see what is going to happen. (The puckers pass out of May's face as she listens) — And though for many a Cycle past that Rose in the dust hath lain With her who bore it upon her breast when she passed from grief to pain, (Retard)— There was never a daughter of Eve but once, ere the tale of years be done, Shall know the scent of the Eden Rose, but once beneath the sun! Though the years may bring her joy or pain, fame, sorrow, or sacrifice, The hour that brought her the scent of the Rose she lived it in Paradise!
(Concludes with arpeggio chords.)
May. (Shuddering.) Ah! don't. How good that is! What is it?
Mrs. H. Something called 'The Eden Rose'. An old song to a new setting.
May. Play it again!
Mrs. H. (I thought it would tell.) No, dear. (Returning to her place by the tea-things.) And so that amiable aunt of yours won't let you go to the dance?
May. She says dancing's wicked and sinful ; and it's only a Volunteer ball, after all.
Mrs. H. Then why are you so anxious to go?
May. Because she says I mustn't! Isn't that sufficient reason? And because —
Mrs. H. Ah, it's that 'because' I want to hear about, dear.
May. Because I choose. Mrs. Hauksbee — dear Mrs. Hauksbee — you will help me, won't you ?
Mrs. H. (Slowly.) Ye - es. Because I choose. Well?
May. In the first place, you'll take me under your wing, won't you? And, in the second, you'll keep me there, won't you ?
Mrs. H. That will depend a great deal on the Hawley Boy's pleasure, won't it?
May. (Flushing.) Char — Mr. Hawley has nothing whatever to do with it.
Mrs. H. Of course not. But what will your aunt say?
May. She will be angry with me, but not with you. She is pious — oh! so pious! — and she would give anything to be put on that lady's committee for — what is it? — giving pretty dresses to half-caste girls. Lady Bieldar is the secretary, and she won't speak to Aunt on the Mall. You're Lady Bieldar's friend. Aunt daren't quarrel with you, and, besides, if I come here after dinner tonight, how are you to know that everything isn't correct?
Mrs. H. On your own pretty head be the talking to! I'm willing to chaperon to an unlimited extent.
May. Bless you! and I'll love you always for it!
Mrs. H. There, again, the Hawley Boy might have something to say. You've been a well-conducted little maiden so far, May. Whence this sudden passion for Volunteer balls? (Turning down lamp and lowering voice as she takes the girl's hand.) Won't you tell me? I'm not very young, but I'm not a grim griffin, and I think I'd understand, dear.
May. (After a pause, and swiftly.) His leave is nearly ended. He goes down to the plains to his regiment the day after tomorrow, and —
Mrs. H. Has he said anything?
May. I don't know. I don't think so. Don't laugh at me, please! But I believe me it would nearly break my heart if he didn't.
Mrs. H. (Smiling to herself.) Poor child! And how long has this been going on?
May. Ever so long ! Since the beginning of the world — or the begin- ning of the season. I couldn't help it. I didn't want to help it. And last time we met I was just as rude as I could be — and — and he thought I meant it.
Mrs. H. How strange! Seeing that he is a man too (half aloud) — and probably with experiences of his own!
May. (Dropping Mrs. H.'s hand.) I don't believe that, and — I won't. He couldn't!
Mrs. H. No, dear. Of course he hasn't had experiences. Why should he? I was only teasing! But when do I pick you up tonight, and how?
May. Aunt's dining out somewhere — with goody-goody people. I dine alone with Uncle John — and he sleeps after dinner. I shall dress then. I simply daren't order my 'rickshaw. The trampling of four coolies in the verandah would wake the dead. I shall have Dandy brought round quietly, and slip away.
Mrs. H. But won't riding crumple your frock horribly?
May. (Rising.) Not in the least, if you know how. I've ridden ten miles to a dance, and come in as fresh as though I had just left my brougham. A plain head hunting-saddle — swing up carefully — throw a waterproof over the skirt and an old shawl over the body, and there you are! Nobody notices in the dark, and Dandy knows when he feels a high heel that he must behave.
Mrs. H. And what are you wearing?
May. My very, very bestest — slate body, smoke-coloured tulle skirt, and the loveliest steel-worked little shoes that ever were. Mother sent them. She doesn't know Aunt's views. That, and awfully pretty yellow roses — teeny-weeny ones. And you'll wait for me here, won't you — you Angel! — at half-past nine? (Shortens habit and whirls Mrs. H. down the verandah. Winds up with a kiss.) There!
Mrs. H. (Holding her at arm's length and looking into her eyes.) And the next one will be given to—
May. (Blushing furiously.) Uncle John — when I get home.
Mrs. H. Hypocrite! Go along, and be happy! (As May mounts her horse in the garden.) At half-past nine, then? And can you curl your own wig? But I shall be here to put the last touches to you.
Mrs. H. (In the verandah alone, as the stars come out.) Poor child! Dear child! And Charley Hawley too! God gie us a guid conceit of oorselves! But I think they are made for each other! I wonder whether that Eurasian dress - reform committee is susceptible of improvements. I wonder whether — O youth, youth!
Enter Peroo, the butler, with a note on a tray.
Mrs. H. (Reading.) 'Help! Help! Help! The decorations are vile — the Volunteers are fighting over them. The roses are just beginning to come in. Mrs. Mallowe has a headache. I am on a step- ladder and the verge of tears! Come and restore order, if you have any regard for me! Bring things and dress; and dine with us. — Constance'. How vexatious! But I must go, I suppose. I hate dressing in other people's rooms — and Lady Bieldar takes all the chairs. But I'll tell Assunta to wait for May. (Passes into house, gives orders, and departs. The clock-hands in the dining-room mark half-past seven.)
Enter Assunta, the lady's-maid, to Peroo, squatting on the hearth-run.
Assunta. Peroo, there is an order that I am to remain on hand till the arrival of a young lady. (Squats at his side.)
Assunta. I do not desire to wait so long. I wish to go to my house.
Assunta. My house is in the bazar. There is an urgency that I should go there.
Peroo. To meet a lover?
Assunta. No — black beast! To tend my children, who be honest born. Canst thou say that of thine?
Peroo. (Without emotion.) That is a lie, and thou art a woman of notoriously immoral carriage.
Assunta. For this, my husband, who is a man, shall break thy lizard's back with a bamboo.
Peroo. For that, I, who am much honoured and trusted in this house, can, by a single word, secure his dismissal, and, owing to my influence among the servants of this town, can raise the bad name against ye both. Then ye will starve for lack of employ.
Assunta. (Fawning.) That is true. Thy honour is as great as thy influence, and thou art an esteemed man. Moreover, thou art beautiful; especially as to thy moustachios.
Peroo. So other women, and of higher caste than thou, sweeper's wife, have told me.
Assunta. The moustachios of a fighting-man — of a very swashbuckler! Ahi! Peroo, how many hearts hast thou broken with thy fine face and those so huge moustachios?
Peroo. (Twirling moustache.) One or two — two or three. It is a matter of common talk in the bazars. I speak not of the matter myself. (Hands her betel-nut and lime wrapped in the leaf. They chew in silence.)
Assunta. I greatly desire to go away, and not to wait.
Peroo. Go, then!
Assunta. But what wilt thou say to the mistress?
Peroo. That thou hast gone.
Assunta. Nay, but thou must say that one came crying with news that my littlest babe was smitten with fever, and that I fled weeping. Else it were not wise to go.
Peroo. Be it so! But I shall need a little tobacco to solace me while I wait for the return of the mistress alone.
Assunta. It shall come; and it shall be of the best. (A snake is a snake, and a bearer is a thieving ape till he dies!) I go. It was the fever of the child — the littlest babe of all — remember. (And now, if my lover finds I am late, he will beat me, judging that I have been unfaithful.) (Exit.)
(At half-past nine enter tumultuously May, a heavy shawl over her shoulders, a skirt of smoke-coloured tulle showing beneath.)
May. Mrs. Hauksbee! Oh! She isn't here. And I dared not get Aunt's ayah to help. She would have told Uncle John — and I can't lace it myself. (Peroo hands note. May reads.) 'So sorry. Dragged off to put the last touches to the draperies. Assunta will look after you'. Sorry! You may well be sorry, wicked woman! Draperies, indeed! You never thought of mine, and — all up the back, too. (To Peroo) Where's Assunta?
Peroo. (Bowing to the earth.) By your honoured favour, there came a man but a short time ago crying that the ayah's baby was smitten with fever, and she fled, weeping, to tend it. Her house is a mile hence. Is there any order?
May. How desperately annoying! (Looking into fire, her eyes soften- ing.) Her baby! )With a little shiver, passing right hand before eyes.) Poor woman! (A pause.)
But what am I to do? I can't even creep into the cloak-room as I am, and trust to someone to put me to rights; and the shawl's a horrid old plaid! Who invented dresses to lace up the back? It must have been a man! I'd like to put him into one! What am I to do? Perhaps the Colley-Haughton girls haven't left yet. They're sure to be dining at home. I might run up to their rooms and wait till they came. Eva wouldn't tell, I know.
(Remounts Dandy, and rides up the hill to house immediately above,, enters glazed hall cautiously, and calls up staircase in an agonised whisper, huddling her shawl about her.) Jenny! Eva! Eva! Jenny! They're out too, and, of course, their ayah's gone!
Sir Henry Colley-Haughton. (Opening door of dining-room, where he has been finishing an after-dinner cigar, and stepping into hall.) I thought I heard a — Miss Holt! I didn't know you were going with my girls. They've just left.
May. (Confusedly.) I wasn't. I didn't — that is, it was partly my fault. (With desperate earnestness.) Is Lady Haughton in?
Sir Henry. She's with the girls. Is there anything that I can do? I'm going to the dance in a minute. Perhaps I might ride with you!
May. Not for worlds! Not for anything! It was a mistake. I hope the girls are quite well.
Sir Henry. (With bland wonder.) Perfectly, thanks. (Moves through hall towards horse.)
May. No; Please don't hold my stirrup! I can manage perfectly, thanks!
(Canters out of the garden to side road shadowed by pines. Sees beneath her the lights of Simla town in orderly constellations, and on a bare ridge the illuminated bulk of the Simla Town-hall, shining like a cut-paper transparency. The main road is firefly-lighted with the moving 'rickshaw lamps all climbing towards the Town-hall. The wind brings up a few bars of a waltz. A monkey in the darkness of the wood wakes and croons dolefully).
And now, where in the world am I to go? May, you bad girl ! This all comes of disobeying aunts and wearing dresses that lace up the back, and — trusting Mrs. Hauksbee. Everybody is going. I must wait a little till that crowd has thinned. Perhaps — perhaps Mrs. Lefevre might help me. It's a horrid road to her poky little house, but she's very kind, even if she is pious.
(Thrusts Dandy along an almost inaccessible path; halts in the shadow of a clump of rhododendron, and watches the lighted windows of Mrs. Lefevre's small cottage.)
Oh! horror! so that's where Aunt is dining! Back, Dandy, back! Dandy, dearest, step softly! (Regains road, panting.) I'll never forgive Mrs. Hauksbee! — never. And there's the band beginning 'God save the Queen', and that means the Viceroy has come; and Charley will think I've disappointed him on purpose, because I was so rude last time. And I'm all but ready. Oh! it's cruel, cruel! I'll go home, and I'll go straight to bed, and Charley may dance with any other horrid girl he likes!
(The last of the 'rickshaw lights pass her as she reaches the main road. Clatter of stones overhead and squeak of a saddle as a big horse picks his way down a steep path above, and a robust baritone chants)—
Our King went forth to Normandie With power of might and chivalry; The Lord for him wrought wondrously, Therefore now may England cry, Deo Gratias !
(Swings into main road, and the young moon shows a glimpse of the cream, and silver of the Deccan Irregular Horse uniform under rider's opened cloak.>
May. (Leaning forward and taking reins short.) That's Charley! What a splendid voice! Just like a big, strong angel's! I wonder what he is so happy about? How he sits his horse! And he hasn't anything round his neck, and he'll catch his death of cold! If he sees me riding in this direction, he may stop and ask me why, and I can't explain. Fate's against me tonight. I'll canter past quickly. Bless you, Charley!
(Canters up the main road, under the shadow of the pines, as Hawley canters down. Dandy's hoofs keep the tune 'There was never a daughter of Eve' etc. All Earth wakes, and tells the Stars. The Occupants of the Little Simla Cemetery stir in their sleep.)
PINES OF THE CEMETERY (to the OCCUPANTS)
Lie still, lie still! O earth to earth returning ! Brothers beneath, what wakes you to your pain?
The OCCUPANTS (underground)
Earth's call to earth — the old unstifled yearning, To clutch our lives again. By summer shrivelled and by winter frozen, Ye cannot thrust us wholly from the light, Do we not know, who were of old his chosen, Love rides abroad tonight? By all that was our own of joy or sorrow, By Pain foredone, Desire snatched away ! By hopeless weight of that unsought Tomorrow, Which is our lot today, By vigil in our chambers ringing hollow, With Love's foot overhead to mock our dearth, We who have come would speak for those who follow — Be pitiful, O Earth!
(The Devil of Chance, in the similitude of a gray ape, runs out on the branch of an overhanging tree, singing—
On a road that is pied as a panther's hide The shadows flicker and dance. And the leaves that make them, my hand shall shake them— The hand of the Devil of Chance. Echo from the Snows on the Thibet road — The little blind Devil of Chance. The Devil (swinging the branch furiously)— Yea, chance and confusion and error The chain of their destiny wove; And the horse shall be smitten with terror, And the maiden made sure of her love!
(Dandy shies at the waving shadows, and cannons into Hawley's horse, off shoulder to off shoulder. Hawley catches the reins.)
The Devil, above (letting the branch swing back)— On a road that is pied as a panther's hide The souls of the twain shall dance! And the passions that shake them, my hand shall wake them— The hand of the Devil of Chance. Echo— The little blind Devil of Chance.
Hawley. (Recovering himself.) Confou — er — hm! Oh, Miss Holt! And to what am I indebted for this honour?
May. Dandy shied. I hope you aren't hurt?
All Earth, the Flowers, the Trees, and the Moonlight (together to Hawley). Speak now, or for ever hold your peace!
Hawley (Drawing reins tighter, keeping his horse's off shoulder to Dandy's side.) My fault entirely. (It comes easily now.) Not much hurt, are you (leaning off side, and putting his arm round her), my May? It's awfully mean, I know, but I meant to speak weeks ago, only you never gave a fellow the chance — 'specially last time. (Moistens his lips.) I'm not fit — I'm utterly— (in a gruff whisper) — I'm utterly unworthy, and — and you aren't angry, May, are you? I thought you might have cared a little bit. Do you care, darl —?
May (Her head falling on his right shoulder. The arm tightens.) Oh! don't — don't!
Hawley. (Nearly tumbling off his horse.) Only one, darling. We can talk at the dance!
May. But I can't go to the dance.
Hawley. (Taking another promptly as head is raised.) Nonsense! You must, dear, now. Remember I go down to my Regiment the day after to-morrow, and I shan't see you again. (Catches glimpse of steel-gray slipper in stirrup.) Why, you're dressed for it !
May. Yes, but I can't go! I've — torn my dress.
Hawley. Run along and put on a new one; only be quick. Shall I wait here?
May. No! Go away! Go at once!
Hawley. You'll find me opposite the cloakroom.
May. Yes, yes! Anything! Good-night!
(Hawley canters up the road, and the song breaks out again fortissimo.)
May. (Absently, picking up reins.) Yes, indeed. My king went forth to Normandie; and — I shall never get there. Let me think, though! Let me think! It's all over now — all over! I wonder what I ought to have said! I wonder what I did say! Hold up, Dandy ; you need some one to order you about. It's nice to have some one nice to order you about. (Flicks horse, who capers.)
Oh, don't jiggit, Dandy! I feel so trembly and faint. But I shan't see him for ever so long . . . But we understand now. (Dandy turns down path to Mrs. Scriffshaw's house.) And I wanted to go to the dance so much before, and now I want to go worse than ever! (Dismounts, runs into house, and weeps with her head on the drawing-room table.)
(Enter Scriffshaw, grizzled Lieutenant-Colonel.)
Scriffshaw. May! Bless my soul, what's all this? What's all this? (Shawl slips.) And, bless my soul, what's all this?
May. N—nothing. Only I'm miserable and wretched.
Scriffshaw. But where have you been? I thought you were in your own room.
May. (With icy desperation.) I was, till you had fallen asleep. Then I dressed myself for a dance — this dance that Aunt has forbidden me to go to. Then I took Dandy out, and then — (collapsing and wriggling her shoulders) — doesn't it show enough?
Scriffshaw. (Critically.) It does, dear, I thought those things — er — laced up the front.
May. This one doesn't. That's all. (Weeps afresh.)
Scriffshaw. Then what are you going to do? Bless my soul, May don't cry!
May. I will cry, and I'll sit here till Aunt comes home, and then she'll see what I've been trying to do, and I'll tell her that I hate her, and ask her to send me back to Calcutta!
Scriffshaw. But — but if she finds you in this dress she'll be furiously angry with me!
May. For allowing me to put it on? So much the better. Then you'll know what it is to be scolded by Aunt.
Scriffshaw. I knew that before you were born. (Standing by May's bowed head.)
(She's my sister's child, and I don't think Alice has the very gentlest way with girls. I'm sure her mother wouldn't object if we took her to twenty dances. She can't find us amusing company — and Alice will be simply beside herself under any circumstances. I know her tempers after those 'refreshing evenings' at the Lefevres'.)
May, dear, don't cry like that!
May. I will! I will! I will! You — you don't know why!
Scriffshaw. (Revolving many matters) We may just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
May. (Raising head swiftly.) Uncle John!
Scriffshaw. You see, my dear, your aunt can't be a scrap more angry than she will be if you don't take off that frock. She looks at the intention of things.
May. Yes; disobedience, of course. (And I'll only obey one person in the wide living world.) Well?
Scriffshaw. Your aunt may be back at any moment. I can't face her.
Scriffshaw. Let's go to the dance. I'll jump into my uniform, and then see if I can't put those things straight. We may just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. (And there's the chance of a rubber.) Give me five minutes, and we'll fly. (Dives into his room, leaving May astounded.)
Scriffshaw. (From the room.) Tell them to bring round Dolly Bobs. We can get away quicker on horseback.
May. But really, Uncle, hadn't you better go in a 'rickshaw? Aunt says —
Scriffshaw. We're in open mutiny now. We'll ride. (Emerges in full uniform.) There!
May. Oh, Uncle John! you look perfectly delightful — and so martial, too!
Scriffshaw. I was martial once. Suppose your aunt came in? Let me see if I can lace those things of yours. That's too tight — eh?
May. No! Much, much tighter. You must bring the edges together. Indeed you must. And lace it quick! Oh! what if Aunt should come? Tie it in a knot! Any sort of knot.
Scriffshaw. (Lacing bodice after a fashion of his own devising.) Yes — yes! I see! Confound! That's all right! (They pass into the garden and mount their horses.) Let go her head! By Jove, May, how well you ride!
May. (As they race through the shadows neck and neck.) (Small blame to me. I'm riding to my love.) Go along, Dandy Boy! Wasn't that Aunt's 'rickshaw that passed just now? She'll come to the dance and fetch us back.
Scriffshaw. (After the gallop.) Who cares?
SCENE – Main ball-room of the Simla Town-hall; dancing-floor grooved and tongued teak, vaulted roof, and gallery round the walls. Four hundred people dispersed in couples. Banners, bayonet-stars on walls ; red and gold, blue and gold, chocolate, buff, rifle-green, black and other uniforms under glare of a few hundred lamps. Cloak and supper-rooms at the sides, with alleys leading to Chinese-lanterned verandahs. Hawley, at entrance, receives May as she drops from her horse and passes towards cloak-rooms.
Hawley. (As he pretends to rearrange shawl.) Oh, my love, my love, my love!
May. (Her eyes on the ground.) Let me go and get these things off. I'm trying to control my eyes, but it is written on my face. (Dashes into cloak-room.)
Newly married Wife of Captain of Engineers to Husband. No need to ask what has happened there, Dick.
Husband. No, bless 'em both, whoever they are!
Hawley. (Under his breath.) Damn his impertinence!
(May comes from cloak-room, having completely forgotten to do more than look at her face and hair in the glass.)
Hawley. Here's the programme, dear!
May. (Returning it with pretty gesture of surrender.) Here's the programme — dear!
(Hawley draws line from top to bottom, initials, and returns card.) May. You can't! It's perfectly awful! But — I should have been angry if you hadn't. (Taking his arm.) Is it wrong to say that?
Hawley. It sounds delicious. We can sit out all the squares and dance all the round dances. There are heaps of square dances at Volunteer balls. Come along!
May. One minute! I want to tell my chaperon something.
Hawley. Come along! You belong to me now.
May. (Her eyes seeking Mrs. Hauksbee, who is seated on an easy-chair by an alcove.) But it was so awfully sudden!
Hawley. My dear infant! When a girl throws herself literally into a man's arms —
May. I didn't! Dandy shied
Hawley. Don't shy to conclusions. That man is never going to let her go. Come!
(May catches Mrs. H.'s eye. Telegraphs a volume, and receives by return two. Turns to go with Hawley.)
Mrs. H. (As she catches sight of back of May's dress.) Oh, horror! Assunta shall die tomorrow! (Sees Scriffshaw fluctuating uneasily among the chaperons, and following his niece's departure with the eye of an artist.)
Mrs.H. (Furiously.) Colonel Scriffshaw, you — you did that?
Scriffshaw. (Imbecilely.) The lacing? Yes. I think it will hold.
Mrs. H. You monster ! Go and tell her. No don't! (Falling back in chair.) I have lived to see every proverb I believed in a lie. The maid has forgotten her attire! (What a handsome couple they make! Anyhow, he doesn't care, and she doesn't know.) How did you come here, Colonel Scriffshaw?
Scriffshaw. Strictly against orders. (Uneasily.) I'm afraid I shall have my wife looking for me.
Mrs. H. I fancy you will. (Sees reflection of herself in the mirrors — black-lace dinner dress, blood-red poinsettia at shoulder and girdle to secure single brace of black lace. Silver shoes, silver-handled black fan.) (You're looking pretty tonight, dear. I wish your husband were here.)
(Aloud, to drift of expectant men.) No, no, no ! For the hundredth time, Mrs. Hauksbee is not dancing this evening. (Her hands are full, or she is in error. Now, the chances are that I shan't see May again till it is time to go, and I may see Mrs. Scriffshaw at any moment.)
Colonel, will you take me to the supper-room? The hall's chilly without perpetual soups. (Goes out on Colonel's arm. Passing the cloak-room, sees portion of Mrs. Scriffshaw's figure.) (Before me the Deluge!) If I were you, Colonel Scriffshaw, I'd go to the whist-room, and — stay there.
(S.follows the line of her eye, and blanches as he flies.) She has come — to — take them home, and she is quite capable of it. What shall I do? (Looks across the supper-tables. Sees Major Decker, a big black-haired Irishman, and attacks him among the meringues.) Major Decker! Dear Major Decker! If ever I was a friend of yours, help me now!
Major D. I will indeed. What is it?
Mrs. H. (Walking him back deftly in the direction of the cloak-room door.) I want you to be very kind to a very dear friend of mine — a Mrs. Scriffshaw. She doesn't come to dances much, and, being very sensitive, she feels neglected if no one asks her to dance. She really waltzes divinely, though you might not think it. There she is, walking out of the cloak-room now, in the high dress. Please come and be introduced. (Under her eyelashes.) You're an Irishman, Major, and you've got a way with you.
(Planting herself in front of Mrs. S.)Mrs. Scriffshaw, may I wah-wah-wah Decker? — wah-wah-wah Decker? Mrs. Scuffles. (Flies hastily.) Saved for a moment! And now, if I can enlist the Viceroy on my side, I may do something.
Major D. (To Mrs. S.) The pleasure of a dance with you, Mrs. Scruffun?
Mrs. Scriffshaw. (Backing, and filling in the doorway.) Sirr!
Major D. (Smiling persuasively.) You've forgotten me, I see! I had the pleasure o' meeting you — (there's missionary in every line o' that head)—at — at — the last Presbyterian Conference.
Mrs. S. (Strict Wesleyan Methodist.) I was never there.
Major D. (Retiring en échelon towards two easy-chairs.) Were ye not, now? That's queer. Let's sit down here and talk over it, and perhaps we will strike a chord of mutual reminiscence. (Sits down exhaustedly.) And if it was not at the Conference, where was it?
Mrs. S. (Icily, looking for her husband.) I apprehend that our paths in the world are widely different.
Major D. (My faith ! they are !) Not the least in the world. (Mrs. S. shudders.) Are you sitting in a draught? Shall we try a turn at the waltz now?
Mrs. S. (Rising to the expression of her abhorrence.) My husband is Colonel Scriffshaw. I should be much obliged if you would find him for me.
Major D. (Throwing up his chin.) Scriffshaw, begad! I saw him just now at the other end of the room. (I'll get a dance out of the old woman, or I'll die for it.) We'll just waltz up there an' inquire. (Hurls Mrs. S. into the waltz. Revolves ponderously.)
(Mrs.Hauksbee has perjured herself — but not on my behalf. She's ruining my instep.) No, he's not at this end. (Circling slowly.) We'll just go back to our chairs again. If he won't dance with so magnificent a dancer as his wife, he doesn't deserve to be here, or anywhere else. That's my one sound knee-cap she's kicking now.) (Halts at point of departure.) And now we'll watch for him here.
Mrs. S. (Panting.) Abominable! Infamous!
Major D. Oh no! He's not so bad as that! Prob'bly playin' whist in the kyard-rooms. Will I look for him? (Departs, leaving Mrs. S. purple in the face among the chaperons, and passes Mrs. H. in close conversation with a partner.)
Major D. (To Mrs. H., not noticing her partner.) She's kicked me to pieces. She can dance no more than a Windsor chair, an' now she's sent me to look for her husband. You owe me something for this.
(The Viceroy, by Jove!)
Mrs. H. (Turning to her partner and concluding story.) A base betrayal of confidence, of course; but the woman's absolutely without tact, and capable of making a scene at a minute's notice, besides doing her best to wreck the happiness of two lives, after her treatment at Major Decker's hands. But on the Dress Reform Committee, and under proper supervision, she would be most valuable.
HIS Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General of India. (Diplomatic uniform, stars, etc.) But surely the work of keeping order among the waltzers is entrusted to abler hands. I cannot, cannot fight! I — I only direct armies.
Mrs. H. No. But your Excellency has not quite grasped the situation. (Explains it with desperate speed, one eye on Mrs. S. panting on her chair.) So you see! Husband fled to the whist-room for refuge; girl with lover, who goes down the day after tomorrow; and she is loose. She will be neither to hold nor to bind after the Major's onslaught, save by you. And on a committee — she really would —
HIS Excellency. I see. I am penetrated with an interest in Eurasian dress reform. I never felt so alive to the importance of committees before.(Screwing up his eyes to see across the room.) But pardon me — my sight is not so good as it has been — which of that line of Mothers in Israel do I attack! The wearied one who is protesting with a fan against this scene of riot and dissipation?
Mrs. H. Can you doubt for a moment? I'm afraid your task is a heavy one, but the happiness of two —
HIS Excellency. (Wearily.) Hundred and fifty million souls? Ah, yes! And yet they say a Viceroy is overpaid. Let us advance, It will not talk to me about its husband's unrecognised merits, will it? You have no idea how inevitably the conversation drifts in that direction when I am left alone with a lady. They tell me of Poor Tom, or Dear Dick, or Persecuted Paul, before I have time to explain that these things are really regulated by my Secretaries. On my honour, I sometimes think that the ladies of India are polyandrous !
Mrs. H. Would it be so difficult to credit that they love their husbands?
HIS Excellency. That also is possible. One of your many claims to my regard is that you have never mentioned your husband.
Mrs. H. (Sweetly.) No; and as long as he is where he is, I have not the least intention of doing so.
HIS Excellency. (As they approach the row of eminently self- conscious chaperons.) And, by the way, where is he?
(Mrs. H. lays her fan lightly over her heart, bows her head, and moves on.)
HIS Excellency. (As the chaperons become more self-conscious, drifting to vacant chair at Mrs. S.'s side.) That also is possible. I do not recall having seen him elsewhere, at any rate. (Watching Mrs. S.) How very like twenty thousand people that I could remember if I had time!
(Glides into vacant chair. Mrs. S. colours to the temples; chaperons exchange glances. In a voice of strained honey.) May I be pardoned for attacking you so brusquely on matters of public importance, Mrs. Scriffshaw? But my times are not my own, and I have heard so much about the good work you carry on so successfully. (When she has quite recovered I may learn what that work was.)
(Mrs. S., in tones meant for the benefit of all the chaperons, discourses volubly, with little gasps, of her charitable mission work.)
HIS Excellency. How interesting! Of course, quite natural! What we want most on our dress reform committee is a firm hand and enormous local knowledge. Men are so tactless. You have been too proud, Mrs. Scriffshaw, to offer us your help in that direction. So, you see, I come to ask it as a favour. (Gives Mrs. S. to understand that the Eurasian dress reform committee cannot live another hour without her help and comfort.)
First Aide. (By doorway within eye-reach of His Excellency.) What in the world is His Excellency tackling now?
Second Aide. (In attitude of fascination.) Looks as if it had been a woman once. Anyhow, it isn't amusing him. I know that smile when he is in acute torment.
Mrs. H. (Coming up behind him.) 'Now the Serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field!'
Second Aide. (Turning.) Ah! Your programme full, of course,Mrs. Hauksbee?
Mrs. H. I'm not dancing, and you should have asked me before. You Aides have no manners.
First Aide. You must excuse him. Hugh's a blighted being. He's watching somebody dance with somebody else, and somebody's wanting to dance with him.
Mrs. H. (Keenly, under her eyebrows.) You're too young for that rubbish.
Second Aide. It's his imagination. He's all right, but Government House duty is killing me. My heart's in the plains with a dear little, fat little, lively little nine-foot tiger. I want to sit out over that kill instead of watching over His Excellency.
Mrs. H. Don't they let the Aides out to play, then?
Second Aide. Not me. I've got to do most of Duggy's work while he runs after —
Mrs. H. Never mind! A discontented Aide is a perpetual beast. One of you boys will take me to a chair, and then leave me. No, I don't want the delights of your conversation.
Second Aide. (As first goes off.) When Mrs. Hauksbee is attired in holy simplicity it generally means — larks!
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. Scriffshaw.) . . . And so we all wanted to see more of you. I felt I was taking no liberty when I dashed into affairs of State at so short a notice. It was with the greatest difficulty I could find you. Indeed, I hardly believed my eyes when I saw you waltzing so divinely just now. (She will first protest, and next perjure herself.)
Mrs. S. (Weakly.) But I assure you —
HIS Excellency. My eyes are not so old that they cannot recognise a good dancer when they see one.
Mrs. S. (With a simper.) But only once in a way, Your Excellency.
HIS Excellency. (Of course.) That is too seldom — much too seldom. You should set our younger folk an example. These slow swirling waltzes are tiring. I prefer — as I see you do — swifter measures.
Major D. (Entering main door in strict charge of Scriffshaw, who fears the judgement.) Yes! she sent me to look for you, after giving me the dance of the evening. I'll never forget it!
Scriffshaw. (His jaw dropping.) My — wife — danced — with — you! I mean — anybody!
Major D. Anybody! Aren't I somebody enough? (Looking across room.) Faith! you're right, though! There she is in a corner flirting with the Viceroy! I was not good enough for her. Well, it's no use to interrupt 'em.
Scriffshaw. Certainly not! We'll — we'll get a drink and go back to the whist-rooms. (Alice must be mad! At any rate, I'm safe, I sup- pose.)
(HIS Excellency rises and fades away from Mrs. Scriffshaw's side after a long and particular pressure of the hand. Mrs. S. throws herself back in her chair with the air of one surfeited with similar attentions, and the chaperons begin to talk.)
HIS Excellency. (Leaning over Mrs. H.'s chair with an absolutely expressionless countenance.) She is a truly estimable lady — one that I shall count it an honour to number among my friends. No! she will not move from her place, because I have expressed a hope that, a little later on in the dance, we may renew our very interesting conversation. And now, if I could only get my boys together, I think I would go home. Have you seen any Aide who looked as though a Viceroy belonged to him?
Mrs. H. The feet of the young men are at the door without. You leave early.
HIS Excellency. Have I not done enough?
Mrs. H. (Half rising from her chair.) Too much, alas! Too much! Look!
HIS Excellency. (Regarding Mrs. Scriffshaw, who has risen and is moving towards a side door.) How interesting! By every law known to me she should have waited in that chair — such a comfortable chair — for my too tardy return. But now she is loose! How has this happened?
Mrs. H. (Half to herself, shutting and opening fan.) She is looking for May! I know it! Oh! why wasn't she isolated? One of those women has taken revenge on Mrs. Scriffshaw's new glory — you — by telling her that May has been sitting out too much with Mr. Hawley.
HIS Excellency. Blame me! Always blame a Viceroy! (Mrs. H. moves away.) What are you meditating?
Mrs. H. Following — watching — administering — anything! I fly! I know where they are!
HIS Excellency. The plot thickens! May I come to administer?
Mrs. H. (Over her shoulder.) If you can!
(Mrs. H. flies down a darkened corridor speckled with occasional Chinese lanterns, and establishes herself behind a pillar as Mrs. S. sweeps by to the darkest end, where May and Hawley are sitting very close together. HIS Excellency follows Mrs. H.)
Mrs. S. (To both the invisibles.) Well!
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H. in a whisper.) Now, I should be afraid. I should run away.
Mrs. S. (In a high pitched voice of the matron.) May, go to the cloak-room at once, and wait till I come. I wonder you expect any one to speak to you after this! (May hurries down corridor very considerably agitated.)
HIS Excellency. (As May passes, slightly raising his voice, and with all the deference due to half a dozen Duchesses.) May an old man be permitted to offer you his arm, my dear? (To Mrs. H.) I entreat — I command you to delay the catastrophe till I return!
Mrs. H. (Plunging into the darkness, and halting before a dead wall.) Oh! I thought there was a way round! (Pretends to discover the two.) Mrs. Scriffshaw and Mr. Hawley! (With exaggerated emphasis.) Mrs. Scriffshaw — Oh ! Mrs. Scriffshaw! — how truly shocking! What will that dear, good husband of yours say? (Smothered chuckle from Hawley, who otherwise preserves silence. Snorts of indignation from Mrs. S.)
Mrs. H (Hidden by pillar of observation.) Now, in any other woman that would have been possibly weak — certainly vulgar. But I think it has answered the purpose.
HIS Excellency. (Returning, and taking up his post at her side.) Poor little girl! She was shaking all over. What an enormous amount of facile emotion exists in the young! What is about to —
Mrs. S. (In a rattling whisper to Hawley.) Take me to some quieter place.
Hawley. On my word, you seem to be accustomed to very quiet places. I'm sorry I don't know any more secluded nook; but if you have anything to say —
Mrs. S. Say, indeed! I wish you to understand that I consider your conduct abominable, sir!
Hawley. (In level, expressionless voice.) Yes? Explain yourself.
Mrs. S. In the first place, you meet my niece at an entertainment of which I utterly disapprove —
Hawley. To the extent of dancing with Major Decker, the most notorious loose fish in the whole room? Yes.
Mrs. S. (Hotly.) That was not my fault. It was entirely against my inclination.
Hawley. It takes two to make a waltz. Presumably, you are capable of expressing your wishes — are you not?
Mrs. S. I did. It was — only — and I couldn't —
Hawley. (Relentlessly.) Well, it's a most serious business. I've been talking it over with May.
Mrs. S. May!
Hawley. Yes, May; and she has assured me that you do not do — er — this sort of thing often. She assured me of that.
Mrs. S. But by what right —
Hawley. You see, May has promised to marry me, and one can't be too careful about one's connections.
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H.) That young man will go far! This is invention indeed.
Mrs. H. He seems to have marched some paces already. (Blessed be the chance that led me to the Major! I can always say that I meant
Mrs. S. May has promised . . . this is worse than ever! And I was not consulted!
Hawley. If 1 had known the precise hour, you know, I might possibly have chosen to take you into my confidence.
Mrs. S. May should have told me.
Hawley. You mustn't worry May about it. Is that perfectly clear to you?
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H.) What a singularly flat, hopeless tone he has chosen to talk in — as if he were speaking to a coolie from a distance.
Mrs. H. Yes. It's the one note that will rasp through her over-strained nerves.
HIS Excellency. You know him well?
Mrs. H. I trained him.
HIS Excellency. Then she collapses.
Mrs. H. If she does not, all my little faith in man is gone for ever.
Mrs. S. (To Hawley.) This is perfectly monstrous! It's conduct utterly unworthy of a man, much less a gentleman. What do I know of you, or your connections, or your means?
Hawley. Nothing. How could you?
Mrs. S. How could I? ... Because — because I insist on knowing?
Hawley. Then am I to understand that you are anxious to marry me? Suppose we talk to the Colonel about that ?
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H.) Very far, indeed, will that young man go.
Mrs. S. (Almost weeping with anger.) Will you let me pass ? I — I want to go away. I've no language at my command that could convey to you —
Hawley. Then surely it would be better to wait here till the inspira- tion comes?
Mrs. S. But this is insolence!
Hawley. You must remember that you drove May, who, by the way, is a woman, out of this place like a hen. That was insolence, Mrs.Scriffshaw — to her.
Mrs. S. To her ? She's my husband's sister's child.
Hawley. And she is going to do me the honour of carrying my name. I am accountable to your husband's sister in Calcutta. Sit down, please.
HIS Excellency. She will positively assault him in a minute. I can hear her preparing for a spring.
Mrs. H. He will be able to deal with that too, if it happens. (I trained him. Bear witness, heaven and earth, I trained him, that his tongue should guard his head with my sex.)
Mrs. S. (Feebly.) What shall I do? What can I do? (Through her teeth.) I hate you!
HIS Excellency. (Critically.) Weak. The end approaches.
Mrs. S. You're not the sort of man I should have chosen for anybody's husband.
Hawley. I can't say your choice seems particularly select — Major Decker, for instance. And believe me, you are not required to choose husbands for anybody.
(Mrs. Scriffshaw looses all the double-thonged lightnings of her tongue, condemns Hawley as no gentleman, an imposter, possibly a bigamist, a defaulter, and every other unpleasant character she has ever read of; announces her unalterable intention of refusing to recognise the engagement, and of harrying May tooth and talon; and renews her request to be allowed to pass. No answer.)
HIS Excellency. What a merciful escape! She might have attacked me on the chairs in this fashion. What will he do now?
Mrs. H. I have faith — illimitable faith.
Mrs. S. (At the end of her resources.) Well, what have you to say?
Hawley. (In a placid and most insinuating drawl.) Aunt Alice — give — me — a — kiss.
HIS Excellency. Beautiful! Oh! thrice beautiful! And my Secretaries never told me there were men like this in the Empire.
Mrs. S. (Bewilderedly, beginning to sob.) Why — why should I?
Hawley. Because you will make — you really will — a delightful aunt-in-law, and it will save such a lot of trouble when May and I are married, and you have to accept me as a relation.
Mrs. S. (Weeping gently.) But — but you're taking the management of affairs into your own hands.
Hawley. Quite so. They are my own affairs. And do you think that my aunt is competent to manage other people's affairs when she doesn't know whether she means to dance or sit out, and when she chooses the very worst —
Mrs. S. (Appealingly.) Oh, don't — don't! Please, don't! (Bursts into tears.)
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H.) Unnecessarily brutal, surely? She's crying.
Mrs. H. No! It's nothing. We all cry — even the worst of us.
Mrs. S. (Sniffling, with a rustle.) There!
Hawley. No, no, no! I said give it to me! (It is given.)
HIS Excellency. (Carried away.) And I? What am I doing here, pretending to govern India, while that man languishes in a lieutenant's uniform?
Mrs. H. (Speaking very swiftly and distinctly.) It rests with Your Excellency to raise him to honour. He should go down the day after tomorrow. A month at Simla, now, would mean Paradise to him, and one of your Aides is dying for a little tiger-shooting.
HIS Excellency. But would such an Archangel of Insolence condescend to run errands for me?
Mrs. H. You can but try.
HIS Excellency. I shall be afraid of him; but we'll see if we can get the Commander-in-Chief to lend him to me.
Hawley. (To Mrs. S.) There, there, there! It's nothing to make a fuss about, is it? Come along, Aunt Alice, and I'll tuck you into your 'rickshaw, and you shall go home quite comfy, and the Colonel and I will bring May home later. I go down to my regiment the day after tomorrow, worse luck! So you won't have me long to trouble you. But we quite understand each other, don't we? (Emerges from the darkness, very tenderly escorting the very much shaken Mrs. Scriffshaw.)
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H. as the captive passes.) I feel as if I ought to salute that young man; but I must go to the ball-room. Send him to me as soon as you can. (Drifts in direction of music. Hawley returns to Mrs. H.)
Hawley. (Mopping his forehead.) Phew! I have had easier duties.
Mrs. H. How could you? How dared you? I builded better than I knew. It was cruel, but it was superb.
Hawley. Who taught me? Where's May?
Mrs. H. In the cloak-room — being put to rights — I fervently trust.
Hawley. (Guiltily.) They wear their fringes so low on their foreheads that one can't —
Mrs. H. (Laughing.) Oh, you goose! That wasn't it. His Excellency wants to speak to you! (Hawley turns to ball-room as Mrs. H. flings herself down in a chair.)
Mrs. H. (Alone.) For two seasons, at intervals, I formed the infant mind. Heavens, how raw he was in the beginning! And never once throughout his schooling did he disappoint you, dear. Never once, by word or look or sign, did he have the unspeakable audacity to fall in love with you. No, he chose his maiden, then he stopped his confidences, and conducted his own wooing, and in open fight slew his aunt-in-law. But he never, being a wholesome, dear, delightful boy, fell in love with you, Mrs. Hauksbee; and I wonder whether you liked it or whether you didn't. Which? ... You certainly never gave him a chance . . . but that was the very reason why . . . (Half aloud.) Mrs. Hauksbee, you are an idiot!
(Enters main ball-room just in time to see HIS Excellency conferring with Hawley, Aides in background.)
HIS Excellency. Have you any very pressing employments in the plains, Mr. Hawley?
Hawley. Regimental duty. Native Cavalry, sir.
HIS Excellency. And, of course, you are anxious to return at once?
Hawley. Not in the least, sir.
HIS Excellency. Do you think you could relieve one of my boys here for a month?
Hawley. Most certainly, sir
Second Aide. (Behind Viceroy's shoulders, shouting in dumb show.) My tiger! My tiger! My tigerling!
HIS Excellency. (Lowering his voice and regarding Hawley be- tween his eyes.) But could we trust you — ahem! — not to insist on ordering kisses at inopportune moments from — people?
Hawley. (Dropping eyes.) Not when I'm on duty, sir.
HIS Excellency. (Turning.) Then I'll speak to the Commander-in- Chief about it.
Mrs. H. (As she sees gratified expression of the Viceroy's and Hawley's lowered eyes.) I am sometimes sorry that I am a woman, but I'm very glad that I'm not a man, and — I shouldn't care to be an angel. (Mrs. Scriffshaw and May pass — the latter properly laced, the former regarding the lacing.) So that's settled at last.
(To Mrs. S.) Your husband, Mrs. Scriffshaw? Yes, I know. But don't be too hard on him. Perhaps he never did it, after all.
Mrs. S. (With a grunt of infinite contempt.) Mrs. Hauksbee, that man has tried to lace me!
Mrs. H. (Then he's bolder than I thought. She will avenge all her outrages on the Colonel.) May, come and talk to me a moment, dear.
First Aide. (To Hawley, as the Viceroy drifts away.) Knighted on the field of battle, by Jove! What the deuce have you been doing to His Excellency?
Second Aide. I'll bet on it that Mrs. Hauksbee is at the bottom of this, somehow. I told her what I wanted, and —
Hawley. Never look a gift tiger in the mouth. It's apt to bite. (Departs in search of May.)
HIS Excellency. (To Mrs. H. as he passes her sitting out with May.) No, I am not so afraid of your young friend. Have I done well?
Mrs. H.Exceedingly. (In a whisper, including May.) She is a pretty girl, isn't she?
HIS Excellency. (Regarding mournfully, his chin on his breast.) O youth, youth, youth !Si la jeunesse savait — si la vieillesse pouvait.
Mrs. H.(Incautiously.) Yes, but in this case we have seen that youth did know quite as much as was good for it, and— (Stops.)
HIS Excellency. And age had power, and used it. Sufficient reward, perhaps; but I hardly expected the reminder from you.
Mrs. H. No. I won't try to excuse it. Perhaps the slip is as well, for it reminds me that I am but mortal, and in watching you controlling the destinies of the universe I thought I was as the gods!
HIS Excellency. Thank you! I go to be taken away. But it has been an interesting evening.
Scriffshaw. (Very much disturbed after the Viceroy has passed on, to Mrs. H.) Now, what in the world was wrong with my lacing? My wife didn't appear angry about my bringing May here. I'm informed she danced several dances herself. But she — she gave it me awfully in the supper-room for my — ahem! — lady's-maid's work. Fearfully she gave it me! What was wrong? It held, didn't it?
May. (From her chair.) It was beautiful, Uncle John. It was the best thing in the world you could have done. Never mind. I forgive you. (To Hawley, behind her.) No, Charley. No more dances for just a little while. Ask Mrs. Hauksbee now.
(Alarums and Excursions. The ball-room is rent in twain as the Viceroy, Aides, etc., file out between Lines of Volunteers and Uniforms.)
BAND IN THE GALLERY—
God save our gracious Queen, Heaven bless our noble Queen, God save the Queen! Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the Queen!
Hawley. (Behind Mrs. H.'s chair.) Amen, your Imperial Majesty!
Mrs. H. (Looking up, head thrown back on left shoulder.) Thank you! Yes, you can have the next if you want it. Mrs. Hauksbee isn't sitting out any more.