MARION [their daughter].
DAN [a gentleman of no position].
SCENE: A room opening upon a garden. The shadows creep from their corners, driving before them the fading twilight.
MRS. TRAVERS sits in a wickerwork easy chair. MR. TRAVERS, smoking a cigar, sits the other side of the room. MARION stands by the open French window, looking out.
MR. TRAVERS. Nice little place Harry’s got down here.
MRS. TRAVERS. Yes; I should keep this on if I were you, Marion. You’ll find it very handy. One can entertain so cheaply up the river; one is not expected to make much of a show. [She turns to her husband.] Your poor cousin Emily used to work off quite half her list that way relations and Americans, and those sort of people, you know, at that little place of theirs at Goring. You remember it a poky hole I always thought it, but it had a lot of green stuff over the door looked very pretty from the other side of the river. She always used to have cold meat and pickles for lunch, called it a picnic. People said it was so homely and simple.
MR. TRAVERS. They didn’t stop long, I remember.
MRS. TRAVERS. And there was a special champagne she always kept for the river, only twenty-five shillings a dozen, I think she told me she paid for it, and very good it was too, for the price. That old Indian major, what was his name ? said it suited him better than anything else he had ever tried. He always used to drink a tumblerful before breakfast; such a funny thing to do. I’ve often wondered where she got it.
MR. TRAVERS. So did most people who tasted it. Marion wants to forget those lessons, not learn them. She is going to marry a rich man who will be able to entertain his guests decently.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, well, James, I don’t know. None of us can afford to live up to the income we want people to think we’ve got. One must economise somewhere. A pretty figure we should cut in the county if I didn’t know how to make fivepence look like a shilling. And, besides, there are certain people that one has to be civil to, that, at the same time, one doesn’t want to introduce into one’s regular circle. If you take my advice, Marion, you won’t encourage those sisters of Harry’s more than you can help. They’re dear sweet girls, and you can be very nice to them; but don’t have them too much about. Their manners are terribly old-fashioned, and they’ve no notion how to dress, and those sort of people let down the tone of a house.
MARION. I’m not likely to have many “dear sweet girls” on my visiting list. [With a laugh] There will hardly be enough in common to make the company desired, on either side.
MRS. TRAVERS. Well, I only want you to be careful, my dear. So much depends on how you begin, and with prudence there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t do very well. I suppose there’s no doubt about Harry’s income. He won’t object to a few inquiries ?
MARION. I think you may trust me to see to that, mamma. It would be a bad bargain for me, if even the cash were not certain.
MR. TRAVERS [jumping up] Oh, I do wish you women wouldn’t discuss the matter in that horribly business-like way. One would think the girl was selling herself.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, don’t be foolish, James. One must look at the practical side of these things. Marriage is a matter of sentiment to a man, very proper that it should be. A woman has to remember that she’s fixing her position for life.
MARION. You see, papa dear, it’s her one venture. If she doesn’t sell herself to advantage then, she doesn’t get another opportunity, very easily.
MR. TRAVERS. Umph! When I was a young man, girls talked more about love and less about income.
MARION. Perhaps they had not our educational advantages.
[DAN enters from the garden. He is a man of a little over forty, his linen somewhat frayed about the edges.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah! We were just wondering where all you people had got to.
DAN. We’ve been out sailing. I’ve been sent up to fetch you. It’s delightful on the river. The moon is just rising.
MRS. TRAVERS. But it’s so cold.
MR. TRAVERS. Oh, never mind the cold. It’s many a long year since you and I looked at the moon together. It will do us good.
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah, dear. Boys will be boys. Give me my wrap then.
[DAN places it about her. They move towards the window, where they stand talking. MARION has slipped out and returns with her father’s cap. He takes her face between his hands and looks at her.]
MR. TRAVERS. Do you really care for Harry, Marion ?
MARION. As much as one can care for a man with five thousand a year. Perhaps he will make it ten one day, then I shall care for him twice as much. [Laughs.]
MR. TRAVERS. And are you content with this marriage ?
[He shakes his head gravely at her.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Aren’t you coming, Marion ?
MARION. No. I’m feeling tired.
[MR. and MRS. TRAVERS go out.]
DAN. Are you going to leave Harry alone with two pairs of lovers ?
MARION [with a laugh] Yes, let him see how ridiculous they look. I hate the night, it follows you and asks questions. Shut it out. Come and talk to me. Amuse me.
DAN. What shall I talk to you about ?
MARION. Oh, tell me all the news. What is the world doing ? Who has run away with whose wife ? Who has been swindling whom ? Which philanthropist has been robbing the poor ? What saint has been discovered sinning ? What is the latest scandal ? Who has been found out? and what is it they have been doing ? and what is everybody saying about it ?
DAN. Would it amuse you ?
MARION [she sits by the piano, softly touching the keys, idly recalling many memories]. What should it do? Make me weep? Should not one be glad to know one’s friends better ?
DAN. I wish you wouldn’t be clever. Everyone one meets is clever nowadays. It came in when the sun-flower went out. I preferred the sun-flower; it was more amusing.
MARION. And stupid people, I suppose, will come in when the clever people go out. I prefer the clever. They have better manners. You’re exceedingly disagreeable. [She leaves the piano, and, throwing herself upon the couch, takes up a book.]
DAN. I know I am. The night has been with me also. It follows one and asks questions.
MARION. What questions has it been asking you ?
DAN. Many, and so many of them have no answer. Why am I a useless, drifting log upon the world’s tide ? Why have all the young men passed me ? Why am I, at thirty-nine, let us say, with brain, with power, with strength, nobody thinks I am worth anything, but I am, I know it. I might have been an able editor, devoting every morning from ten till three to arranging the affairs of the Universe, or a popular politician, trying to understand what I was talking about, and to believe it. And what am I ? A newspaper reporter, at three-ha’pence a line, I beg their pardon, its occasionally twopence.
MARION. Does it matter ?
DAN. Does it matter ! Does it matter whether a Union Jack or a Tricolor floats over the turrets of Badajoz ? yet we pour our blood into its ditches to decide the argument. Does it matter whether one star more or less is marked upon our charts ? yet we grow blind peering into their depths. Does it matter that one keel should slip through the grip of the Polar ice ? yet nearer, nearer to it, we pile our whitening bones. And it’s worth playing, the game of life. And there’s a meaning in it. It’s worth playing, if only that it strengthens the muscles of our souls. I’d like to have taken a hand in it.
MARION. Why didn’t you ?
DAN. No partner. Dull playing by oneself. No object.
MARION [after a silence]. What was she like ?
DAN. So like you that there are times when I almost wish I had never met you. You set me thinking about myself, and that is a subject I find it pleasanter to forget.
MARION. And this woman that was like me, she could have made a man’s life ?
DAN. Ay !
MARION. Won’t you tell me about her ? Had she many faults ?
DAN. Enough to love her by.
MARION. But she must have been good.
DAN. Good enough to be a woman.
MARION. That might mean so much or so little.
DAN. It should mean much to my thinking. There are few women.
MARION. Few ! I thought the economists held that there were too many of us.
DAN. Not enough, not enough to go round. That is why a true woman has many lovers.
[There is a silence between them. Then MARION rises, but their eyes do not meet.]
MARION. How serious we have grown !
DAN. They say a dialogue between a man and woman always does.
MARION [she moves away, then, hesitating, half returns]. May I ask you a question ?
DAN. That is an easy favour to grant.
MARION. If...if at any time you felt regard again for a woman, would you, for her sake, if she wished it, seek to gain, even now, that position in the world which is your right, which would make her proud of your friendship, would make her feel that even her life had not been altogether without purpose ?
DAN. Too late ! The old hack can only look over the hedge, and watch the field race by. The old ambition stirs within me at times, especially after a glass of good wine, and Harry’s wine, God bless him, is excellent, but tomorrow morning [with a shrug of his shoulders he finishes his meaning].
MARION. Then she could do nothing ?
DAN. Nothing for his fortunes, much for himself. My dear young lady, never waste pity on a man in love, nor upon a child crying for the moon. The moon is a good thing to cry for.
MARION. I am glad I am like her. I am glad that I have met you.
[She gives him her hand, and for a moment he holds it. Then she goes out.]
[A flower has fallen from her breast, whether by chance or meaning, he knows not. He picks it up and kisses it; stands twirling it, undecided for a second, then lets it fall again upon the floor.]
Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859 – 1927)