You Never Can Tell/Act III
- The Clandon's sitting room in the hotel. An expensive apartment on the ground floor, with a French window leading to the gardens. In the centre of the room is a substantial table, surrounded by chairs, and draped with a maroon cloth on which opulently bound hotel and railway guides are displayed. A visitor entering through the window and coming down to this central table would have the fireplace on his left, and a writing table against the wall on his right, next the door, which is further down. He would, if his taste lay that way, admire the wall decoration of Lincrusta Walton in plum color and bronze lacquer, with dado and cornice; the ormolu consoles in the corners; the vases on pillar pedestals of veined marble with bases of polished black wood, one on each side of the window; the ornamental cabinet next the vase on the side nearest the fireplace, its centre compartment closed by an inlaid door, and its corners rounded off with curved panes of glass protecting shelves of cheap blue and white pottery; the bamboo tea table, with folding shelves, in the corresponding space on the other side of the window; the pictures of ocean steamers and Landseer's dogs; the saddlebag ottoman in line with the door but on the other side of the room; the two comfortable seats of the same pattern on the hearthrug; and finally, on turning round and looking up, the massive brass pole above the window, sustaining a pair of maroon rep curtains with decorated borders of staid green. Altogether, a room well arranged to flatter the occupant's sense of importance, and reconcile him to a charge of a pound a day for its use.
- Mrs Clandon sits at the writing table, correcting proofs. Gloria is standing at the window, looking out in a tormented revery.
- The clock on the mantelpiece strikes five with a sickly clink, the bell being unable to bear up against the black marble cenotaph in which it is immured.
MRS CLANDON. Five! I don't think we need wait any longer for the children. The are sure to get tea somewhere.
GLORIA (wearily). Shall I ring?
MRS CLANDON. Do, my dear. (Gloria goes to the hearth and rings.) I have finished these proofs at last, thank goodness!
GLORIA (strolling listlessly across the room and coming behind her mother's chair). What proofs?
- MRS CLANDON The new edition of Twentieth Century Women.
GLORIA (with a bitter smile). There's a chapter missing.
MRS CLANDON (beginning to hunt among her proofs). Is there? Surely not.
GLORIA. I mean an unwritten one. Perhaps I shall write it for you— -when I know the end of it. (She goes back to the window.)
MRS CLANDON. Gloria! More enigmas!
GLORIA. Oh, no. The same enigma.
MRS CLANDON (puzzled and rather troubled; after watching her for a moment). My dear.
GLORIA (returning). Yes.
MRS CLANDON. You know I never ask questions.
GLORIA (kneeling beside her chair). I know, I know. (She suddenly throws her arms about her mother and embraces her almost passionately.)
MRS CLANDON. (gently, smiling but embarrassed). My dear: you are getting quite sentimental
GLORIA (recoiling). Ah, no, no. Oh, don't say that. Oh! (She rises and turns away with a gesture as if tearing herself.)
MRS CLANDON (mildly). My dear: what is the matter? What— (The waiter enters with the tea tray.)
WAITER (balmily). This was what you rang for, ma'am, I hope?
MRS CLANDON. Thank you, yes. (She turns her chair away from the writing table, and sits down again. Gloria crosses to the hearth and sits crouching there with her face averted.)
WAITER (placing the tray temporarily on the centre table). I thought so, ma'am. Curious how the nerves seem to give out in the afternoon without a cup of tea. (He fetches the tea table and places it in front of Mrs Clandon, conversing meanwhile.) the young lady and gentleman have just come back, ma'am: they have been out in a boat, ma'am. Very pleasant on a fine afternoon like this—very pleasant and invigorating indeed. (He takes the tray from the centre table and puts it on the tea table.) Mr McComas will not come to tea, ma'am: he has gone to call upon Mr Crampton. (He takes a couple of chairs and sets one at each end of the tea table.)
GLORIA (looking round with an impulse of terror). And the other gentleman?
WAITER (reassuringly, as he unconsciously drops for a moment into the measure of "I've been roaming," which he sang as a boy.) Oh, he's coming, miss, he's coming. He has been rowing the boat, miss, and has just run down the road to the chemist's for something to put on the blisters. But he will be here directly, miss—directly. (Gloria, in ungovernable apprehension, rises and hurries towards the door.)
MRS CLANDON. (half rising). Glo— (Gloria goes out. Mrs Clandon looks perplexedly at the waiter, whose composure is unruffled.)
WAITER (cheerfully). Anything more, ma'am?
MRS CLANDON. Nothing, thank you.
WAITER. Thank you, ma'am. (As he withdraws, Phil and Dolly, in the highest spirits, come tearing in. He holds the door open for them; then goes out and closes it.)
DOLLY (ravenously). Oh, give me some tea. (Mrs Clandon pours out a cup for her.) We've been out in a boat. Valentine will be here presently.
PHILIP. He is unaccustomed to navigation. Where's Gloria?
MRS CLANDON (anxiously, as she pours out his tea). Phil: there is something the matter with Gloria. Has anything happened? (Phil and Dolly look at one another and stifle a laugh.) What is it?
PHILIP (sitting down on her left). Romeo—
DOLLY (sitting down on her right). —and Juliet.
PHILIP (taking his cup of tea from Mrs Clandon). Yes, my dear mother: the old, old story. Dolly: don't take all the milk. (He deftly takes the jug from her.) Yes: in the spring—
DOLLY. —a young man's fancy—
PHILIP. —lightly turns to—thank you (to Mrs Clandon, who has passed the biscuits) —thoughts of love. It also occurs in the autumn. The young man in this case is—
PHILIP. And his fancy has turned to Gloria to the extent of—
DOLLY. —kissing her—
PHILIP. —on the terrace—
DOLLY (correcting him). —on the lips, before everybody.
MRS CLANDON (incredulously). Phil! Dolly! Are you joking? (They shake their heads.) Did she allow it?
PHILIP. We waited to see him struck to earth by the lightning of her scorn;—
DOLLY. —but he wasn't.
PHILIP. She appeared to like it.
DOLLY. As far as we could judge. (Stopping Phil, who is about to pour out another cup.) No: you've sworn off two cups.
MRS CLANDON (much troubled). Children: you must not be here when Mr Valentine comes. I must speak very seriously to him about this.
PHILIP. To ask him his intentions? What a violation of Twentieth Century principles!
DOLLY. Quite right, mamma: bring him to book. Make the most of the nineteenth century while it lasts.
PHILIP. Sh! Here he is. (Valentine comes in.)
VALENTINE Very sorry to be late for tea, Mrs Clandon. (She takes up the tea-pot.) No, thank you: I never take any. No doubt Miss Dolly and Phil have explained what happened to me.
PHILIP (momentously rising). Yes, Valentine: we have explained.
DOLLY (significantly, also rising). We have explained very thoroughly.
PHILIP. It was our duty. (Very seriously.) Come, Dolly. (He offers Dolly his arm, which she takes. They look sadly at him, and go out gravely, arm in arm. Valentine stares after them, puzzled; then looks at Mrs Clandon for an explanation.)
MRS CLANDON (rising and leaving the tea table). Will you sit down, Mr Valentine. I want to speak to you a little, if you will allow me. (Valentine sits down slowly on the ottoman, his conscience presaging a bad quarter of an hour. Mrs Clandon takes Phil's chair, and seats herself deliberately at a convenient distance from him.) I must begin by throwing myself somewhat at your consideration. I am going to speak of a subject of which I know very little—perhaps nothing. I mean love.
MRS CLANDON. Yes, love. Oh, you need not look so alarmed as that, Mr Valentine: I am not in love with you.
VALENTINE (overwhelmed). Oh, really, Mrs— (Recovering himself.) I should be only too proud if you were.
MRS CLANDON. Thank you, Mr Valentine. But I am too old to begin.
VALENTINE. Begin! Have you never—?
MRS CLANDON. Never. My case is a very common one, Mr Valentine. I married before I was old enough to know what I was doing. As you have seen for yourself, the result was a bitter disappointment for both my husband and myself. So you see, though I am a married woman, I have never been in love; I have never had a love affair; and to be quite frank with you, Mr Valentine, what I have seen of the love affairs of other people has not led me to regret that deficiency in my experience. (Valentine, looking very glum, glances sceptically at her, and says nothing. Her color rises a little; and she adds, with restrained anger) You do not believe me?
VALENTINE (confused at having his thought read). Oh, why not? Why not?
MRS CLANDON. Let me tell you, Mr Valentine, that a life devoted to the Cause of Humanity has enthusiasms and passions to offer which far transcend the selfish personal infatuations and sentimentalities of romance. Those are not your enthusiasms and passions, I take it? (Valentine, quite aware that she despises him for it, answers in the negative with a melancholy shake of the head.) I thought not. Well, I am equally at a disadvantage in discussing those so-called affairs of the heart in which you appear to be an expert.
VALENTINE (restlessly). What are you driving at, Mrs Clandon?
MRS CLANDON. I think you know.
MRS CLANDON. Yes. Gloria.
VALENTINE (surrendering). Well, yes: I'm in love with Gloria. (Interposing as she is about to speak.) I know what you're going to say: I've no money.
MRS CLANDON. I care very little about money, Mr Valentine.
VALENTINE. Then you're very different to all the other mothers who have interviewed me.
MRS CLANDON. Ah, now we are coming to it, Mr Valentine. You are an old hand at this. (He opens his mouth to protest: she cuts him short with some indignation.) Oh, do you think, little as I understand these matters, that I have not common sense enough to know that a man who could make as much way in one interview with such a woman as my daughter, can hardly be a novice!
VALENTINE. I assure you—
MRS CLANDON (stopping him). I am not blaming you, Mr Valentine. It is Gloria's business to take care of herself; and you have a right to amuse yourself as you please. But—
VALENTINE (protesting). Amuse myself! Oh, Mrs Clandon!
MRS CLANDON (relentlessly). On your honor, Mr Valentine, are you in earnest?
VALENTINE (desperately). On my honor I am in earnest. (She looks searchingly at him. His sense of humor gets the better of him; and he adds quaintly) Only, I always have been in earnest; and yet—here I am, you see!
MRS CLANDON. This is just what I suspected. (Severely.) Mr Valentine: you are one of those men who play with women's affections.
VALENTINE. Well, why not, if the Cause of Humanity is the only thing worth being serious about? However, I understand. (Rising and taking his hat with formal politeness.) You wish me to discontinue my visits.
MRS CLANDON. No: I am sensible enough to be well aware that Gloria's best chance of escape from you now is to become better acquainted with you.
VALENTINE (unaffectedly alarmed). Oh, don't say that, Mrs Clandon. You don't think that, do you?
MRS CLANDON. I have great faith, Mr Valentine, in the sound training Gloria's mind has had since she was a child.
VALENTINE (amazingly relieved). O-oh! Oh, that's all right. (He sits down again and throws his hat flippantly aside with the air of a man who has no longer anything to fear.)
MRS CLANDON (indignant at his assurance). What do you mean?
VALENTINE (turning confidentially to her). Come: shall I teach you something, Mrs Clandon?
MRS CLANDON (stiffly). I am always willing to learn.
VALENTINE. Have you ever studied the subject of gunnery—artillery- —cannons and war-ships and so on?
MRS CLANDON. Has gunnery anything to do with Gloria?
VALENTINE. A great deal—by way of illustration. During this whole century, my dear Mrs Clandon, the progress of artillery has been a duel between the maker of cannons and the maker of armor plates to keep the cannon balls out. You build a ship proof against the best gun known: somebody makes a better gun and sinks your ship. You build a heavier ship, proof against that gun: somebody makes a heavier gun and sinks you again. And so on. Well, the duel of sex is just like that.
MRS CLANDON. The duel of sex!
VALENTINE. Yes: you've heard of the duel of sex, haven't you? Oh, I forgot: you've been in Madeira: the expression has come up since your time. Need I explain it?
MRS CLANDON (contemptuously). No.
VALENTINE. Of course not. Now what happens in the duel of sex? The old fashioned mother received an old fashioned education to protect her against the wiles of man. Well, you know the result: the old fashioned man got round her. The old fashioned woman resolved to protect her daughter more effectually—to find some armor too strong for the old fashioned man. So she gave her daughter a scientific education—your plan. That was a corker for the old fashioned man: he said it wasn't fair—unwomanly and all the rest of it. But that didn't do him any good. So he had to give up his old fashioned plan of attack—you know- —going down on his knees and swearing to love, honor and obey, and so on.
MRS CLANDON. Excuse me: that was what the woman swore.
VALENTINE. Was it? Ah, perhaps you're right—yes: of course it was. Well, what did the man do? Just what the artillery man does— went one better than the woman—educated himself scientifically and beat her at that game just as he had beaten her at the old game. I learnt how to circumvent the Women's Rights woman before I was twenty- three: it's all been found out long ago. You see, my methods are thoroughly modern.
MRS CLANDON (with quiet disgust). No doubt.
VALENTINE. But for that very reason there's one sort of girl against whom they are of no use.
MRS CLANDON. Pray which sort?
VALENTINE. The thoroughly old fashioned girl. If you had brought up Gloria in the old way, it would have taken me eighteen months to get to the point I got to this afternoon in eighteen minutes. Yes, Mrs Clandon: the Higher Education of Women delivered Gloria into my hands; and it was you who taught her to believe in the Higher Education of Women.
MRS CLANDON (rising). Mr Valentine: you are very clever.
VALENTINE (rising also). Oh, Mrs Clandon!
MRS CLANDON And you have taught me n o t h i n g. Good-bye.
VALENTINE (horrified). Good-bye! Oh, mayn't I see her before I go?
MRS CLANDON. I am afraid she will not return until you have gone Mr Valentine. She left the room expressly to avoid you.
VALENTINE (thoughtfully). That's a good sign. Good-bye. (He bows and makes for the door, apparently well satisfied.)
MRS CLANDON (alarmed). Why do you think it a good sign?
VALENTINE (turning near the door). Because I am mortally afraid of her; and it looks as if she were mortally afraid of me. (He turns to go and finds himself face to face with Gloria, who has just entered. She looks steadfastly at him. He stares helplessly at her; then round at Mrs Clandon; then at Gloria again, completely at a loss.)
GLORIA (white, and controlling herself with difficulty). Mother: is what Dolly told me true?
MRS CLANDON. What did she tell you, dear?
GLORIA. That you have been speaking about me to this gentleman.
VALENTINE (murmuring). This gentleman! Oh!
MRS CLANDON (sharply). Mr Valentine: can you hold your tongue for a moment? (He looks piteously at them; then, with a despairing shrug, goes back to the ottoman and throws his hat on it.)
GLORIA (confronting her mother, with deep reproach). Mother: what right had you to do it?
MRS CLANDON. I don't think I have said anything I have no right to say, Gloria.
VALENTINE (confirming her officiously). Nothing. Nothing whatever. (Gloria looks at him with unspeakable indignation.) I beg your pardon. (He sits down ignominiously on the ottoman.)
GLORIA. I cannot believe that any one has any right even to think about things that concern me only. (She turns away from them to conceal a painful struggle with her emotion.)
MRS CLANDON. My dear, if I have wounded your pride—
GLORIA (turning on them for a moment). My p r i d e! My pride!! Oh, it's gone: I have learnt now that I have no strength to be proud of. (Turning away again.) But if a woman cannot protect herself, no one can protect her. No one has any right to try—not even her mother. I know I have lost your confidence, just as I have lost this man's respect;— (She stops to master a sob.)
VALENTINE (under his breath). This man! (Murmuring again.) Oh!
MRS CLANDON (in an undertone). Pray be silent, sir.
GLORIA (continuing). —but I have at least the right to be left alone in my disgrace. I am one of those weak creatures born to be mastered by the first man whose eye is caught by them; and I must fulfill my destiny, I suppose. At least spare me the humiliation of trying to save me. (She sits down, with her handkerchief to her eyes, at the farther end of the table.)
VALENTINE (jumping up). Look here—
MRS CLANDON. Mr Va—
VALENTINE (recklessly). No: I will speak: I've been silent for nearly thirty seconds. (He goes up to Gloria.) Miss Clandon—
GLORIA (bitterly). Oh, not Miss Clandon: you have found that it is quite safe to call me Gloria.
VALENTINE. No, I won't: you'll throw it in my teeth afterwards and accuse me of disrespect. I say it's a heartbreaking falsehood that I don't respect you. It's true that I didn't respect your old pride: why should I? It was nothing but cowardice. I didn't respect your intellect: I've a better one myself: it's a masculine specialty. But when the depths stirred!—when my moment came!—when you made me brave!—ah, then, then, t h e n!
GLORIA. Then you respected me, I suppose.
VALENTINE. No, I didn't: I adored you. (She rises quickly and turns her back on him.) And you can never take that moment away from me. So now I don't care what happens. (He comes down the room addressing a cheerful explanation to nobody in particular.) I'm perfectly aware that I'm talking nonsense. I can't help it. (To Mrs Clandon.) I love Gloria; and there's an end of it.
MRS CLANDON (emphatically). Mr Valentine: you are a most dangerous man. Gloria: come here. (Gloria, wondering a little at the command, obeys, and stands, with drooping head, on her mother's right hand, Valentine being on the opposite side. Mrs Clandon then begins, with intense scorn.) Ask this man whom you have inspired and made brave, how many women have inspired him before (Gloria looks up suddenly with a flash of jealous anger and amazement); how many times he has laid the trap in which he has caught you; how often he has baited it with the same speeches; how much practice it has taken to make him perfect in his chosen part in life as the Duellist of Sex.
VALENTINE. This isn't fair. You're abusing my confidence, Mrs Clandon.
MRS CLANDON. Ask him, Gloria.
GLORIA (in a flush of rage, going over to him with her fists clenched). Is that true?
VALENTINE. Don't be angry—
GLORIA (interrupting him implacably). Is it true? Did you ever say that before? Did you ever feel that before—for another woman?
VALENTINE (bluntly). Yes. (Gloria raises her clenched hands.)
MRS CLANDON (horrified, springing to her side and catching her uplifted arm). Gloria!! My dear! You're forgetting yourself. (Gloria, with a deep expiration, slowly relaxes her threatening attitude.)
VALENTINE. Remember: a man's power of love and admiration is like any other of his powers: he has to throw it away many times before he learns what is really worthy of it.
MRS CLANDON. Another of the old speeches, Gloria. Take care.
VALENTINE (remonstrating). Oh!
GLORIA (to Mrs Clandon, with contemptuous self-possession). Do you think I need to be warned now? (To Valentine.) You have tried to make me love you.
VALENTINE. I have.
GLORIA. Well, you have succeeded in making me hate you— passionately.
VALENTINE (philosophically). It's surprising how little difference there is between the two. (Gloria turns indignantly away from him. He continues, to Mrs Clandon) I know men whose wives love them; and they go on exactly like that.
MRS CLANDON. Excuse me, Mr Valentine; but had you not better go?
GLORIA. You need not send him away on my account, mother. He is nothing to me now; and he will amuse Dolly and Phil. (She sits down with slighting indifference, at the end of the table nearest the window.)
VALENTINE (gaily). Of course: that's the sensible way of looking at it. Come, Mrs Clandon: you can't quarrel with a mere butterfly like me.
MRS CLANDON. I very greatly mistrust you, Mr Valentine. But I do not like to think that your unfortunate levity of disposition is mere shamelessness and worthlessness;—
GLORIA (to herself, but aloud). It is shameless; and it is worthless.
MRS CLANDON. —so perhaps we had better send for Phil and Dolly and allow you to end your visit in the ordinary way.
VALENTINE (as if she had paid him the highest compliment). You overwhelm me, Mrs Clandon. Thank you. (The waiter enters.)
WAITER. Mr McComas, ma'am.
MRS CLANDON. Oh, certainly. Bring him in.
WAITER. He wishes to see you in the reception-room, ma'am.
MRS CLANDON. Why not here?
WAITER. Well, if you will excuse my mentioning it, ma'am, I think Mr McComas feels that he would get fairer play if he could speak to you away from the younger members of your family, ma'am.
MRS CLANDON. Tell him they are not here.
WAITER. They are within sight of the door, ma'am; and very watchful, for some reason or other.
MRS CLANDON (going). Oh, very well: I'll go to him.
WAITER (holding the door open for her). Thank you, ma'am. (She goes out. He comes back into the room, and meets the eye of Valentine, who wants him to go.) All right, sir. Only the tea-things, sir. (Taking the tray.) Excuse me, sir. Thank you sir. (He goes out.)
VALENTINE (to Gloria). Look here. You will forgive me, sooner or later. Forgive me now.
GLORIA (rising to level the declaration more intensely at him). Never! While grass grows or water runs, never, never, never!!!
VALENTINE (unabashed). Well, I don't care. I can't be unhappy about anything. I shall never be unhappy again, never, never, never, while grass grows or water runs. The thought of you will always make me wild with joy. (Some quick taunt is on her lips: he interposes swiftly.) No: I never said that before: that's new.
GLORIA. It will not be new when you say it to the next woman.
VALENTINE. Oh, don't, Gloria, don't. (He kneels at her feet.)
GLORIA. Get up. Get up! How dare you? (Phil and Dolly, racing, as usual, for first place, burst into the room. They check themselves on seeing what is passing. Valentine springs up.)
PHILIP (discreetly). I beg your pardon. Come, Dolly. (He turns to go.)
GLORIA (annoyed). Mother will be back in a moment, Phil. (Severely.) Please wait here for her. (She turns away to the window, where she stands looking out with her back to them.)
PHILIP (significantly). Oh, indeed. Hmhm!
PHILIP. You seem in excellent spirits, Valentine.
VALENTINE. I am. (Comes between them.) Now look here. You both know what's going on, don't you? (Gloria turns quickly, as if anticipating some fresh outrage.)
VALENTINE. Well, it's all over. I've been refused—scorned. I'm only here on sufferance. You understand: it's all over. Your sister is in no sense entertaining my addresses, or condescending to interest herself in me in any way. (Gloria, satisfied, turns back contemptuously to the window.) Is that clear?
DOLLY. Serve you right. You were in too great a hurry.
PHILIP (patting him on the shoulder). Never mind: you'd never have been able to call your soul your own if she'd married you. You can now begin a new chapter in your life.
DOLLY. Chapter seventeen or thereabouts, I should imagine.
VALENTINE (much put out by this pleasantry). No: don't say things like that. That's just the sort of thoughtless remark that makes a lot of mischief.
DOLLY. Oh, indeed. Hmhm!
PHILIP. Ahah! (He goes to the hearth and plants himself there in his best head-of-the-family attitude.)
- McComas, looking very serious, comes in quickly with Mrs Clandon, whose first anxiety is about Gloria. She looks round to see where she is, and is going to join her at the window when Gloria comes down to meet her with a marked air of trust and affection. Finally, Mrs Clandon takes her former seat, and Gloria posts herself behind it. McComas, on his way to the ottoman, is hailed by Dolly.
DOLLY. What cheer, Finch?
McCOMAS (sternly). Very serious news from your father, Miss Clandon. Very serious news indeed. (He crosses to the ottoman, and sits down. Dolly, looking deeply impressed, follows him and sits beside him on his right.)
VALENTINE. Perhaps I had better go.
McCOMAS. By no means, Mr Valentine. You are deeply concerned in this. (Valentine takes a chair from the table and sits astride of it, leaning over the back, near the ottoman.) Mrs Clandon: your husband demands the custody of his two younger children, who are not of age. (Mrs Clandon, in quick alarm, looks instinctively to see if Dolly is safe.)
DOLLY (touched). Oh, how nice of him! He likes us, mamma.
McCOMAS. I am sorry to have to disabuse you of any such idea, Miss Dorothea.
DOLLY (cooing ecstatically). Dorothee-ee-ee-a! (Nestling against his shoulder, quite overcome.) Oh, Finch!
McCOMAS (nervously, moving away). No, no, no, no!
MRS CLANDON (remonstrating). D e a r e s t Dolly! (To McComas.) The deed of separation gives me the custody of the children.
McCOMAS. It also contains a covenant that you are not to approach or molest him in any way.
MRS CLANDON. Well, have I done so?
McCOMAS. Whether the behavior of your younger children amounts to legal molestation is a question on which it may be necessary to take counsel's opinion. At all events, Mr Crampton not only claims to have been molested; but he believes that he was brought here by a plot in which Mr Valentine acted as your agent.
VALENTINE. What's that? Eh?
McCOMAS. He alleges that you drugged him, Mr Valentine.
VALENTINE. So I did. (They are astonished.)
McCOMAS. But what did you do that for?
DOLLY. Five shillings extra.
McCOMAS (to Dolly, short-temperedly). I must really ask you, Miss Clandon, not to interrupt this very serious conversation with irrelevant interjections. (Vehemently.) I insist on having earnest matters earnestly and reverently discussed. (This outburst produces an apologetic silence, and puts McComas himself out of countenance. He coughs, and starts afresh, addressing himself to Gloria.) Miss Clandon: it is my duty to tell you that your father has also persuaded himself that Mr Valentine wishes to marry you—
VALENTINE (interposing adroitly). I do.
McCOMAS (offended). In that case, sir, you must not be surprised to find yourself regarded by the young lady's father as a fortune hunter.
VALENTINE. So I am. Do you expect my wife to live on what I earn? ten-pence a week!
McCOMAS (revolted). I have nothing more to say, sir. I shall return and tell Mr Crampton that this family is no place for a father. (He makes for the door.)
MRS CLANDON (with quiet authority). Finch! (He halts.) If Mr Valentine cannot be serious, you can. Sit down. (McComas, after a brief struggle between his dignity and his friendship, succumbs, seating himself this time midway between Dolly and Mrs Clandon.) You know that all this is a made up case—that Fergus does not believe in it any more than you do. Now give me your real advice—your sincere, friendly advice: you know I have always trusted your judgment. I promise you the children will be quiet.
McCOMAS (resigning himself). Well, well! What I want to say is this. In the old arrangement with your husband, Mrs Clandon, you had him at a terrible disadvantage.
MRS CLANDON. How so, pray?
McCOMAS. Well, you were an advanced woman, accustomed to defy public opinion, and with no regard for what the world might say of you.
MRS CLANDON (proud of it). Yes: that is true. (Gloria, behind the chair, stoops and kisses her mother's hair, a demonstration which disconcerts her extremely.)
McCOMAS. On the other hand, Mrs Clandon, your husband had a great horror of anything getting into the papers. There was his business to be considered, as well as the prejudices of an old-fashioned family.
MRS CLANDON. Not to mention his own prejudices.
McCOMAS. Now no doubt he behaved badly, Mrs Clandon—
MRS CLANDON (scornfully). No doubt.
McCOMAS. But was it altogether his fault?
MRS CLANDON. Was it mine?
McCOMAS (hastily). No. Of course not.
GLORIA (observing him attentively). You do not mean that, Mr McComas.
McCOMAS. My dear young lady, you pick me up very sharply. But let me just put this to you. When a man makes an unsuitable marriage (nobody's fault, you know, but purely accidental incompatibility of tastes); when he is deprived by that misfortune of the domestic sympathy which, I take it, is what a man marries for; when in short, his wife is rather worse than no wife at all (through no fault of his own, of course), is it to be wondered at if he makes matters worse at first by blaming her, and even, in his desperation, by occasionally drinking himself into a violent condition or seeking sympathy elsewhere?
MRS CLANDON. I did not blame him: I simply rescued myself and the children from him.
McCOMAS. Yes: but you made hard terms, Mrs Clandon. You had him at your mercy: you brought him to his knees when you threatened to make the matter public by applying to the Courts for a judicial separation. Suppose he had had that power over you, and used it to take your children away from you and bring them up in ignorance of your very name, how would you feel? what would you do? Well, won't you make some allowance for his feelings?—in common humanity.
MRS CLANDON. I never discovered his feelings. I discovered his temper, and his— (she shivers) the rest of his common humanity.
McCOMAS (wistfully). Women can be very hard, Mrs Clandon.
VALENTINE. That's true.
GLORIA (angrily). Be silent. (He subsides.)
McCOMAS (rallying all his forces). Let me make one last appeal. Mrs Clandon: believe me, there are men who have a good deal of feeling, and kind feeling, too, which they are not able to express. What you miss in Crampton is that mere veneer of civilization, the art of shewing worthless attentions and paying insincere compliments in a kindly, charming way. If you lived in London, where the whole system is one of false good-fellowship, and you may know a man for twenty years without finding out that he hates you like poison, you would soon have your eyes opened. There we do unkind things in a kind way: we say bitter things in a sweet voice: we always give our friends chloroform when we tear them to pieces. But think of the other side of it! Think of the people who do kind things in an unkind way—people whose touch hurts, whose voices jar, whose tempers play them false, who wound and worry the people they love in the very act of trying to conciliate them, and yet who need affection as much as the rest of us. Crampton has an abominable temper, I admit. He has no manners, no tact, no grace. He'll never be able to gain anyone's affection unless they will take his desire for it on trust. Is he to have none—not even pity—from his own flesh and blood?
DOLLY (quite melted). Oh, how beautiful, Finch! How nice of you!
PHILIP (with conviction). Finch: this is eloquence—positive eloquence.
DOLLY. Oh, mamma, let us give him another chance. Let us have him to dinner.
MRS CLANDON (unmoved). No, Dolly: I hardly got any lunch. My dear Finch: there is not the least use in talking to me about Fergus. You have never been married to him: I have.
McCOMAS (to Gloria). Miss Clandon: I have hitherto refrained from appealing to you, because, if what Mr Crampton told me to be true, you have been more merciless even than your mother.
GLORIA (defiantly). You appeal from her strength to my weakness!
McCOMAS. Not your weakness, Miss Clandon. I appeal from her intellect to your heart.
GLORIA. I have learnt to mistrust my heart. (With an angry glance at Valentine.) I would tear my heart and throw it away if I could. My answer to you is my mother's answer. (She goes to Mrs Clandon, and stands with her arm about her; but Mrs Clandon, unable to endure this sort of demonstrativeness, disengages herself as soon as she can without hurting Gloria's feelings.)
McCOMAS (defeated). Well, I am very sorry—very sorry. I have done my best. (He rises and prepares to go, deeply dissatisfied.)
MRS CLANDON. But what did you expect, Finch? What do you want us to do?
McCOMAS. The first step for both you and Crampton is to obtain counsel's opinion as to whether he is bound by the deed of separation or not. Now why not obtain this opinion at once, and have a friendly meeting (her face hardens)—or shall we say a neutral meeting? —to settle the difficulty—here—in this hotel—to-night? What do you say?
MRS CLANDON. But where is the counsel's opinion to come from?
McCOMAS. It has dropped down on us out of the clouds. On my way back here from Crampton's I met a most eminent Q.C., a man whom I briefed in the case that made his name for him. He has come down here from Saturday to Monday for the sea air, and to visit a relative of his who lives here. He has been good enough to say that if I can arrange a meeting of the parties he will come and help us with his opinion. Now do let us seize this chance of a quiet friendly family adjustment. Let me bring my friend here and try to persuade Crampton to come, too. Come: consent.
MRS CLANDON (rather ominously, after a moment's consideration). Finch: I don't want counsel's opinion, because I intend to be guided by my own opinion. I don't want to meet Fergus again, because I don't like him, and don't believe the meeting will do any good. However (rising), you have persuaded the children that he is not quite hopeless. Do as you please.
McCOMAS (taking her hand and shaking it). Thank you, Mrs Clandon. Will nine o'clock suit you?
MRS CLANDON. Perfectly. Phil: will you ring, please. (Phil rings the bell.) But if I am to be accused of conspiring with Mr Valentine, I think he had better be present.
VALENTINE (rising). I quite agree with you. I think it's most important.
McCOMAS. There can be no objection to that, I think. I have the greatest hopes of a happy settlement. Good-bye for the present. (He goes out, meeting the waiter; who holds the door for him to pass through.)
MRS CLANDON. We expect some visitors at nine, William. Can we have dinner at seven instead of half-past?
WAITER (at the door). Seven, ma'am? Certainly, ma'am. It will be a convenience to us this busy evening, ma'am. There will be the band and the arranging of the fairy lights and one thing or another, ma'am.
DOLLY. The fairy lights!
PHILIP. The band! William: what mean you?
WAITER. The fancy ball, miss—
DOLLY and PHILIP (simultaneously rushing to him). Fancy ball!
WAITER. Oh, yes, sir. Given by the regatta committee for the benefit of the Life-boat, sir. (To Mrs Clandon.) We often have them, ma'am: Chinese lanterns in the garden, ma'am: very bright and pleasant, very gay and innocent indeed. (To Phil.) Tickets downstairs at the office, sir, five shillings: ladies half price if accompanied by a gentleman.
PHILIP (seizing his arm to drag him off). To the office, William!
DOLLY (breathlessly, seizing his other arm). Quick, before they're all sold. (They rush him out of the room between them.)
MRS CLANDON. What on earth are they going to do? (Going out.) I really must go and stop this— (She follows them, speaking as she disappears. Gloria stares coolly at Valentine, and then deliberately looks at her watch.)
VALENTINE. I understand. I've stayed too long. I'm going.
GLORIA (with disdainful punctiliousness). I owe you some apology, Mr Valentine. I am conscious of having spoken somewhat sharply— perhaps rudely—to you.
VALENTINE. Not at all.
GLORIA. My only excuse is that it is very difficult to give consideration and respect when there is no dignity of character on the other side to command it.
VALENTINE (prosaically). How is a man to look dignified when he's infatuated?
GLORIA (effectually unstilted). Don't say those things to me. I forbid you. They are insults.
VALENTINE. No: they're only follies. I can't help them.
GLORIA. If you were really in love, it would not make you foolish: it would give you dignity—earnestness—even beauty.
VALENTINE. Do you really think it would make me beautiful? (She turns her back on him with the coldest contempt.) Ah, you see you're not in earnest. Love can't give any man new gifts. It can only heighten the gifts he was born with.
GLORIA (sweeping round at him again). What gifts were you born with, pray?
VALENTINE. Lightness of heart.
GLORIA. And lightness of head, and lightness of faith, and lightness of everything that makes a man.
VALENTINE. Yes, the whole world is like a feather dancing in the light now; and Gloria is the sun. (She rears her head angrily.) I beg your pardon: I'm off. Back at nine. Good-bye. (He runs off gaily, leaving her standing in the middle of the room staring after him.)