[In the Rectory garden next morning, with the sun shining from a cloudless sky. The garden wall has a five-barred wooden gate, wide enough to admit a carriage, in the middle. Beside the gate hangs a bell on a coiled spring, communicating with a pull outside. The carriage drive comes down the middle of the garden and then swerves to its left, where it ends in a little gravelled circus opposite the Rectory porch. Beyond the gate is seen the dusty high road, parallel with the wall, bounded on the farther side by a strip of turf and an unfenced pine wood. On the lawn, between the house and the drive, is a clipped yew tree, with a garden bench in its shade. On the opposite side the garden is shut in by a box hedge; and there is a little sundial on the turf, with an iron chair near it. A little path leads through the box hedge, behind the sundial.]
[Frank, seated on the chair near the sundial, on which he has placed the morning paper, is reading The Standard. His father comes from the house, red-eyed and shivery, and meets Frank's eye with misgiving.]
FRANK [looking at his watch] Half-past eleven. Nice your for a rector to come down to breakfast!
REV. S. Don't mock, Frank: don't mock. I am a little—er—[Shivering]—
FRANK. Off color?
REV. S. [repudiating the expression] No, sir: unwell this morning. Where's your mother?
FRANK. Don't be alarmed: she's not here. Gone to town by the 11.13 with Bessie. She left several messages for you. Do you feel equal to receiving them now, or shall I wait til you've breakfasted?
REV. S. I h a v e breakfasted, sir. I am surprised at your mother going to town when we have people staying with us. They'll think it very strange.
FRANK. Possibly she has considered that. At all events, if Crofts is going to stay here, and you are going to sit up every night with him until four, recalling the incidents of your fiery youth, it is clearly my mother's duty, as a prudent housekeeper, to go up to the stores and order a barrel of whisky and a few hundred siphons.
REV. S. I did not observe that Sir George drank excessively.
FRANK. You were not in a condition to, gov'nor.
REV. S. Do you mean to say that I—?
FRANK [calmly] I never saw a beneficed clergyman less sober. The anecdotes you told about your past career were so awful that I really don't think Praed would have passed the night under your roof if it hadnt been for the way my mother and he took to one another.
REV. S. Nonsense, sir. I am Sir George Crofts' host. I must talk to him about something; and he has only one subject. Where is Mr Praed now?
FRANK. He is driving my mother and Bessie to the station.
REV. S. Is Crofts up yet?
FRANK. Oh, long ago. He hasn't turned a hair: he's in much better practice than you. Has kept it up ever since, probably. He's taken himself off somewhere to smoke.
[Frank resumes his paper. The parson turns disconsolately towards the gate; then comes back irresolutely.]
REV. S. Er—Frank.
REV. S. Do you think the Warrens will expect to be asked here after yesterday afternoon?
FRANK. Theyve been asked already.
REV. S. [appalled] What!!!
FRANK. Crofts informed us at breakfast that you told him to bring Mrs Warren and Vivie over here to-day, and to invite them to make this house their home. My mother then found she must go to town by the 11.13 train.
REV. S. [with despairing vehemence] I never gave any such invitation. I never thought of such a thing.
FRANK [compassionately] How do you know, gov'nor, what you said and thought last night?
PRAED [coming in through the hedge] Good morning.
REV. S. Good morning. I must apologize for not having met you at breakfast. I have a touch of—of—
FRANK. Clergyman's sore throat, Praed. Fortunately not chronic.
PRAED [changing the subject] Well I must say your house is in a charming spot here. Really most charming.
REV. S. Yes: it is indeed. Frank will take you for a walk, Mr Praed, if you like. I'll ask you to excuse me: I must take the opportunity to write my sermon while Mrs Gardner is away and you are all amusing yourselves. You won't mind, will you?
PRAED. Certainly not. Don't stand on the slightest ceremony with me.
REV. S. Thank you. I'll—er—er—[He stammers his way to the porch and vanishes into the house].
PRAED. Curious thing it must be writing a sermon every week.
FRANK. Ever so curious, if he did it. He buys em. He's gone for some soda water.
PRAED. My dear boy: I wish you would be more respectful to your father. You know you can be so nice when you like.
FRANK. My dear Praddy: you forget that I have to live with the governor. When two people live together—it don't matter whether theyre father and son or husband and wife or brother and sister—they can't keep up the polite humbug thats so easy for ten minutes on an afternoon call. Now the governor, who unites to many admirable domestic qualities the irresoluteness of a sheep and the pompousness and aggressiveness of a jackass—
PRAED. No, pray, pray, my dear Frank, remember! He is your father.
FRANK. I give him due credit for that. [Rising and flinging down his paper] But just imagine his telling Crofts to bring the Warrens over here! He must have been ever so drunk. You know, my dear Praddy, my mother wouldn't stand Mrs Warren for a moment. Vivie mustn't come here until she's gone back to town.
PRAED. But your mother doesn't know anything about Mrs Warren, does she? [He picks up the paper and sits down to read it].
FRANK. I don't know. Her journey to town looks as if she did. Not that my mother would mind in the ordinary way: she has stuck like a brick to lots of women who had got into trouble. But they were all nice women. Thats what makes the real difference. Mrs Warren, no doubt, has her merits; but she's ever so rowdy; and my mother simply wouldn't put up with her. So—hallo! [This exclamation is provoked by the reappearance of the clergyman, who comes out of the house in haste and dismay].
REV. S. Frank: Mrs Warren and her daughter are coming across the heath with Crofts: I saw them from the study windows. What am I to say about your mother?
FRANK. Stick on your hat and go out and say how delighted you are to see them; and that Frank's in the garden; and that mother and Bessie have been called to the bedside of a sick relative, and were ever so sorry they couldn't stop; and that you hope Mrs Warren slept well; and—and—say any blessed thing except the truth, and leave the rest to Providence.
REV. S. But how are we to get rid of them afterwards?
FRANK. Theres no time to think of that now. Here! [He bounds into the house].
REV. S. He's so impetuous. I don't know what to do with him, Mr Praed.
FRANK [returning with a clerical felt hat, which he claps on his father's head]. Now: off with you. [Rushing him through the gate]. Praed and I'll wait here, to give the thing an unpremeditated air. [The clergyman, dazed but obedient, hurries off].
FRANK. We must get the old girl back to town somehow, Praed. Come! Honestly, dear Praddy, do you like seeing them together?
PRAED. Oh, why not?
FRANK [his teeth on edge] Don't it make your flesh creep ever so little? that wicked old devil, up to every villainy under the sun, I'll swear, and Vivie—ugh!
PRAED. Hush, pray. Theyre coming.
[The clergyman and Crofts are seen coming along the road, followed by Mrs Warren and Vivie walking affectionately together.]
FRANK. Look: she actually has her arm round the old woman's waist. It's her right arm: she began it. She's gone sentimental, by God! Ugh! ugh! Now do you feel the creeps? [The clergyman opens the gate: and Mrs Warren and Vivie pass him and stand in the middle of the garden looking at the house. Frank, in an ecstasy of dissimulation, turns gaily to Mrs Warren, exclaiming] Ever so delighted to see you, Mrs Warren. This quiet old rectory garden becomes you perfectly.
MRS WARREN. Well, I never! Did you hear that, George? He says I look well in a quiet old rectory garden.
REV. S. [still holding the gate for Crofts, who loafs through it, heavily bored] You look well everywhere, Mrs Warren.
FRANK. Bravo, gov'nor! Now look here: lets have a treat before lunch. First lets see the church. Everyone has to do that. It's a regular old thirteenth century church, you know: the gov'nor's ever so fond of it, because he got up a restoration fund and had it completely rebuilt six years ago. Praed will be able to shew its points.
PRAED [rising] Certainly, if the restoration has left any to shew.
REV. S. [mooning hospitably at them] I shall be pleased, I'm sure, if Sir George and Mrs Warren really care about it.
MRS WARREN. Oh, come along and get it over.
CROFTS [turning back toward the gate] I've no objection.
REV. S. Not that way. We go through the fields, if you don't mind. Round here. [He leads the way by the little path through the box hedge].
CROFTS. Oh, all right. [He goes with the parson].
[Praed follows with Mrs Warren. Vivie does not stir: she watches them until they have gone, with all the lines of purpose in her face marking it strongly.]
FRANK. Ain't you coming?
VIVIE. No. I want to give you a warning, Frank. You were making fun of my mother just now when you said that about the rectory garden. That is barred in the future. Please treat my mother with as much respect as you treat your own.
FRANK. My dear Viv: she wouldn't appreciate it: the two cases require different treatment. But what on earth has happened to you? Last night we were perfectly agreed as to your mother and her set. This morning I find you attitudinizing sentimentally with your arm around your parent's waist.
VIVIE [flushing] Attitudinizing!
FRANK. That was how it struck me. First time I ever saw you do a second-rate thing.
VIVIE [controlling herself] Yes, Frank: there has been a change: but I don't think it a change for the worse. Yesterday I was a little prig.
FRANK. And today?
VIVIE [wincing; then looking at him steadily] Today I know my mother better than you do.
FRANK. Heaven forbid!
VIVIE. What do you mean?
FRANK. Viv: theres a freemasonry among thoroughly immoral people that you know nothing of. You've too much character. That's the bond between your mother and me: that's why I know her better than youll ever know her.
VIVIE. You are wrong: you know nothing about her. If you knew the circumstances against which my mother had to struggle—
FRANK [adroitly finishing the sentence for her] I should know why she is what she is, shouldn't I? What difference would that make?
Circumstances or no circumstances, Viv, you won't be able to stand your mother.
VIVIE [very angry] Why not?
FRANK. Because she's an old wretch, Viv. If you ever put your arm around her waist in my presence again, I'll shoot myself there and then as a protest against an exhibition which revolts me.
VIVIE. Must I choose between dropping your acquaintance and dropping my mother's?
FRANK [gracefully] That would put the old lady at ever such a disadvantage. No, Viv: your infatuated little boy will have to stick to you in any case. But he's all the more anxious that you shouldn't make mistakes. It's no use, Viv: your mother's impossible. She may be a good sort; but she's a bad lot, a very bad lot.
VIVIE [hotly] Frank—! [He stands his ground. She turns away and sits down on the bench under the yew tree, struggling to recover her self-command. Then she says] Is she to be deserted by the world because she's what you call a bad lot? Has she no right to live?
FRANK. No fear of that, Viv: she won't ever be deserted. [He sits on the bench beside her].
VIVIE. But I am to desert her, I suppose.
FRANK [babyishly, lulling her and making love to her with his voice] Mustn't go live with her. Little family group of mother and daughter wouldn't be a success. Spoil o u r little group.
VIVIE [falling under the spell] What little group?
FRANK. The babes in the wood: Vivie and little Frank. [He nestles against her like a weary child]. Lets go and get covered up with leaves.
VIVIE [rhythmically, rocking him like a nurse] Fast asleep, hand in hand, under the trees.
FRANK. The wise little girl with her silly little boy.
VIVIE. The deal little boy with his dowdy little girl.
FRANK. Ever so peaceful, and relieved from the imbecility of the little boy's father and the questionableness of the little girl's—
VIVIE [smothering the word against her breast] Sh-sh-sh-sh! little girl wants to forget all about her mother. [They are silent for some moments, rocking one another. Then Vivie wakes up with a shock, exclaiming] What a pair of fools we are! Come: sit up. Gracious! your hair. [She smooths it]. I wonder do all grown up people play in that childish way when nobody is looking.
I never did it when I was a child.
FRANK. Neither did I. You are my first playmate. [He catches her hand to kiss it, but checks himself to look around first. Very unexpectedly, he sees Crofts emerging from the box hedge]. Oh damn!
VIVIE. Why damn, dear?
FRANK [whispering] Sh! Here's this brute Crofts. [He sits farther away from her with an unconcerned air].
CROFTS. Could I have a few words with you, Miss Vivie?
CROFTS [to Frank] Youll excuse me, Gardner. Theyre waiting for you in the church, if you don't mind.
FRANK [rising] Anything to oblige you, Crofts—except church. If you should happen to want me, Vivvums, ring the gate bell. [He goes into the house with unruffled suavity].
CROFTS [watching him with a crafty air as he disappears, and speaking to Vivie with an assumption of being on privileged terms with her] Pleasant young fellow that, Miss Vivie. Pity he has no money, isn't it?
VIVIE. Do you think so?
CROFTS. Well, whats he to do? No profession. No property. Whats he good for?
VIVIE. I realize his disadvantages, Sir George.
CROFTS [a little taken aback at being so precisely interpreted] Oh, it's not that. But while we're in this world we're in it; and money's money. [Vivie does not answer]. Nice day, isn't it?
VIVIE [with scarcely veiled contempt for this effort at conversation] Very.
CROFTS [with brutal good humor, as if he liked her pluck] Well thats not what I came to say. [Sitting down beside her] Now listen, Miss Vivie. I'm quite aware that I'm not a young lady's man.
VIVIE. Indeed, Sir George?
CROFTS. No; and to tell you the honest truth I don't want to be either. But when I say a thing I mean it; and when I feel a sentiment I feel it in earnest; and what I value I pay hard money for. Thats the sort of man I am.
VIVIE. It does you great credit, I'm sure.
CROFTS. Oh, I don't mean to praise myself. I have my faults, Heaven knows: no man is more sensible of that than I am. I know I'm not perfect: thats one of the advantages of being a middle-aged man; for I'm not a young man, and I know it. But my code is a simple one, and, I think, a good one. Honor between man and man; fidelity between man and woman; and no can't about this religion or that religion, but an honest belief that things are making for good on the whole.
VIVIE [with biting irony] "A power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness," eh?
CROFTS [taking her seriously] Oh certainly. Not ourselves, of course. Y o u understand what I mean. Well, now as to practical matters. You may have an idea that I've flung my money about; but I havn't: I'm richer today than when I first came into the property. I've used my knowledge of the world to invest my money in ways that other men have overlooked; and whatever else I may be, I'm a safe man from the money point of view.
VIVIE. It's very kind of you to tell me all this.
CROFTS. Oh well, come, Miss Vivie: you needn't pretend you don't see what I'm driving at. I want to settle down with a Lady Crofts. I suppose you think me very blunt, eh?
VIVIE. Not at all: I am very much obliged to you for being so definite and business-like. I quite appreciate the offer: the money, the position, Lady Crofts, and so on. But I think I will say no, if you don't mind, I'd rather not. [She rises, and strolls across to the sundial to get out of his immediate neighborhood].
CROFTS [not at all discouraged, and taking advantage of the additional room left him on the seat to spread himself comfortably, as if a few preliminary refusals were part of the inevitable routine of courtship] I'm in no hurry. It was only just to let you know in case young Gardner should try to trap you. Leave the question open.
VIVIE [sharply] My no is final. I won't go back from it.
[Crofts is not impressed. He grins; leans forward with his elbows on his knees to prod with his stick at some unfortunate insect in the grass; and looks cunningly at her. She turns away impatiently.]
CROFTS. I'm a good deal older than you. Twenty-five years: quarter of a century. I shan't live for ever; and I'll take care that you shall be well off when I'm gone.
VIVIE. I am proof against even that inducement, Sir George. Don't you think youd better take your answer? There is not the slightest chance of my altering it.
CROFTS [rising, after a final slash at a daisy, and coming nearer to her] Well, no matter. I could tell you some things that would change your mind fast enough; but I wont, because I'd rather win you by honest affection. I was a good friend to your mother: ask her whether I wasn't. She'd never have make the money that paid for your education if it hadnt been for my advice and help, not to mention the money I advanced her. There are not many men who would have stood by her as I have. I put not less than forty thousand pounds into it, from first to last.
VIVIE [staring at him] Do you mean to say that you were my mother's business partner?
CROFTS. Yes. Now just think of all the trouble and the explanations it would save if we were to keep the whole thing in the family, so to speak. Ask your mother whether she'd like to have to explain all her affairs to a perfect stranger.
VIVIE. I see no difficulty, since I understand that the business is wound up, and the money invested.
CROFTS [stopping short, amazed] Wound up! Wind up a business thats paying 35 per cent in the worst years! Not likely. Who told you that?
VIVIE [her color quite gone] Do you mean that it is still—? [She stops abruptly, and puts her hand on the sundial to support herself. Then she gets quickly to the iron chair and sits down].
What business are you talking about?
CROFTS. Well, the fact is it's not what would considered exactly a high-class business in my set—the country set, you know—o u r set it will be if you think better of my offer. Not that theres any mystery about it: don't think that. Of course you know by your mother's being in it that it's perfectly straight and honest. I've known her for many years; and I can say of her that she'd cut off her hands sooner than touch anything that was not what it ought to be. I'll tell you all about it if you like. I don't know whether you've found in travelling how hard it is to find a really comfortable private hotel.
VIVIE [sickened, averting her face] Yes: go on.
CROFTS. Well, thats all it is. Your mother has got a genius for managing such things. We've got two in Brussels, one in Ostend, one in Vienna, and two in Budapest. Of course there are others besides ourselves in it; but we hold most of the capital; and your mother's indispensable as managing director. You've noticed, I daresay, that she travels a good deal. But you see you can't mention such things in society. Once let out the word hotel and everybody thinks you keep a public-house. You wouldn't like people to say that of your mother, would you? Thats why we're so reserved about it. By the way, youll keep it to yourself, won't you? Since it's been a secret so long, it had better remain so.
VIVIE. And this is the business you invite me to join you in?
CROFTS. Oh no. My wife shan't be troubled with business. Youll not be in it more than you've always been.
VIVIE. I always been! What do you mean?
CROFTS. Only that you've always lived on it. It paid for your education and the dress you have on your back. Don't turn up your nose at business, Miss Vivie: where would your Newnhams and Girtons be without it?
VIVIE [rising, almost beside herself] Take care. I know what this business is.
CROFTS [starting, with a suppressed oath] Who told you?
VIVIE. Your partner. My mother.
CROFTS [black with rage] The old—
VIVIE. Just so.
[He swallows the epithet and stands for a moment swearing and raging foully to himself. But he knows that his cue is to be sympathetic. He takes refuge in generous indignation.]
CROFTS. She ought to have had more consideration for you. I'd never have told you.
VIVIE. I think you would probably have told me when we were married: it would have been a convenient weapon to break me in with.
CROFTS [quite sincerely] I never intended that. On my word as a gentleman I didn't.
[Vivie wonders at him. Her sense of the irony of his protest cools and braces her. She replies with contemptuous self-possession.]
VIVIE. It does not matter. I suppose you understand that when we leave here today our acquaintance ceases.
CROFTS. Why? Is it for helping your mother?
VIVIE. My mother was a very poor woman who had no reasonable choice but to do as she did. You were a rich gentleman; and you did the same for the sake of 35 per cent. You are a pretty common sort of scoundrel, I think. That is my opinion of you.
CROFTS [after a stare: not at all displeased, and much more at his ease on these frank terms than on their former ceremonious ones] Ha! ha! ha! ha! Go it, little missie, go it: it doesn't hurt me and it amuses you. Why the devil shouldn't I invest my money that way? I take the interest on my capital like other people: I hope you don't think I dirty my own hands with the work.
Come! you wouldn't refuse the acquaintance of my mother's cousin the Duke of Belgravia because some of the rents he gets are earned in queer ways. You wouldn't cut the Archbishop of Canterbury, I suppose, because the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have a few publicans and sinners among their tenants. Do you remember your Crofts scholarship at Newnham? Well, that was founded by my brother the M.P. He gets his 22 per cent out of a factory with 600 girls in it, and not one of them getting wages enough to live on. How d'ye suppose they manage when they have no family to fall back on? Ask your mother. And do you expect me to turn my back on 35 per cent when all the rest are pocketing what they can, like sensible men? No such fool! If youre going to pick and choose your acquaintances on moral principles, youd better clear out of this country, unless you want to cut yourself out of all decent society.
VIVIE [conscience stricken] You might go on to point out that I myself never asked where the money I spent came from. I believe I am just as bad as you.
CROFTS [greatly reassured] Of course you are; and a very good thing too! What harm does it do after all? [Rallying her jocularly] So you don't think me such a scoundrel now you come to think it over. Eh?
VIVIE. I have shared profits with you: and I admitted you just now to the familiarity of knowing what I think of you.
CROFTS [with serious friendliness] To be sure you did. You won't find me a bad sort: I don't go in for being superfine intellectually; but Ive plenty of honest human feeling; and the old Crofts breed comes out in a sort of instinctive hatred of anything low, in which I'm sure youll sympathize with me. Believe me, Miss Vivie, the world isn't such a bad place as the croakers make out. As long as you don't fly openly in the face of society, society doesn't ask any inconvenient questions; and it makes precious short work of the cads who do. There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses. In the class of people I can introduce you to, no lady or gentleman would so far forget themselves as to discuss my business affairs or your mothers. No man can offer you a safer position.
VIVIE [studying him curiously] I suppose you really think youre getting on famously with me.
CROFTS. Well, I hope I may flatter myself that you think better of me than you did at first.
VIVIE [quietly] I hardly find you worth thinking about at all now. When I think of the society that tolerates you, and the laws that protect you! when I think of how helpless nine out of ten young girls would be in the hands of you and my mother! the unmentionable woman and her capitalist bully—
CROFTS [livid] Damn you!
VIVIE. You need not. I feel among the damned already.
[She raises the latch of the gate to open it and go out. He follows her and puts his hand heavily on the top bar to prevent its opening.]
CROFTS [panting with fury] Do you think I'll put up with this from you, you young devil?
VIVIE [unmoved] Be quiet. Some one will answer the bell. [Without flinching a step she strikes the bell with the back of her hand. It clangs harshly; and he starts back involuntarily. Almost immediately Frank appears at the porch with his rifle].
FRANK [with cheerful politeness] Will you have the rifle, Viv; or shall I operate?
VIVIE. Frank: have you been listening?
FRANK [coming down into the garden] Only for the bell, I assure you; so that you shouldn't have to wait. I think I shewed great insight into your character, Crofts.
CROFTS. For two pins I'd take that gun from you and break it across your head.
FRANK [stalking him cautiously] Pray don't. I'm ever so careless in handling firearms. Sure to be a fatal accident, with a reprimand from the coroner's jury for my negligence.
VIVIE. Put the rifle away, Frank: it's quite unnecessary.
FRANK. Quite right, Viv. Much more sportsmanlike to catch him in a trap. [Crofts, understanding the insult, makes a threatening movement]. Crofts: there are fifteen cartridges in the magazine here; and I am a dead shot at the present distance and at an object of your size.
CROFTS. Oh, you needn't be afraid. I'm not going to touch you.
FRANK. Ever so magnanimous of you under the circumstances! Thank you.
CROFTS. I'll just tell you this before I go. It may interest you, since youre so fond of one another. Allow me, Mister Frank, to introduce you to your half-sister, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Samuel Gardner. Miss Vivie: you half-brother. Good morning! [He goes out through the gate and along the road].
FRANK [after a pause of stupefaction, raising the rifle] Youll testify before the coroner that it's an accident, Viv. [He takes aim at the retreating figure of Crofts. Vivie seizes the muzzle and pulls it round against her breast].
VIVIE. Fire now. You may.
FRANK [dropping his end of the rifle hastily] Stop! take care. [She lets it go. It falls on the turf]. Oh, you've given your little boy such a turn. Suppose it had gone off! ugh! [He sinks on the garden seat, overcome].
VIVIE. Suppose it had: do you think it would not have been a relief to have some sharp physical pain tearing through me?
FRANK [coaxingly] Take it ever so easy, dear Viv. Remember: even if the rifle scared that fellow into telling the truth for the first time in his life, that only makes us the babes in the woods in earnest. [He holds out his arms to her]. Come and be covered up with leaves again.
VIVIE [with a cry of disgust] Ah, not that, not that. You make all my flesh creep.
FRANK. Why, whats the matter?
VIVIE. Goodbye. [She makes for the gate].
FRANK [jumping up] Hallo! Stop! Viv! Viv! [She turns in the gateway] Where are you going to? Where shall we find you?
VIVIE. At Honoria Fraser's chambers, 67 Chancery Lane, for the rest of my life. [She goes off quickly in the opposite direction to that taken by Crofts].
FRANK. But I say—wait—dash it! [He runs after her].