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Title:      A Collier's Friday Night (About 1909--first published 1934)
Author:     D. H. Lawrence
eBook No.:  0500021h.html
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          January 2005
Date most recently updated: January 2005

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A COLLIER'S FRIDAY NIGHT


A PLAY IN THREE ACTS

 

by

 

D. H. Lawrence

 

(About 1909--first published 1934)

 

 


 

 

CHARACTERS


MRS LAMBERT

LAMBERT

NELLIE LAMBERT

ERNEST LAMBERT

MAGGIE PEARSON

GERTIE COOMBER

BEATRICE WYLD

BARKER

CARLIN

 

The action of the play takes place in the kitchen of the Lamberts' house.

 

 


 

 

ACT I ACT II ACT III

 

 


 

 

ACT I

 

The kitchen or living-room of a working-man's house. At the back the fireplace, with a large fire burning. On the left, on the oven side of the stove, a WOMAN of some fifty-five years sits in a wooden rocking-chair, reading. Behind her and above her, in the recess made by the fireplace, four shelves of books, the shelf-covers being of green serge, with woollen ball fringe, and the books being ill-assorted school books, with an edition of Lessing, florid in green and gilt, but tarnished. On the left, a window looking on a garden where the rain is dripping through the first twilight. Under the window, a sofa, the bed covered with red chintz. By the side of the window, on the wall near the ceiling, a quiver clothes-horse is outspread with the cotton articles which have been ironed, hanging to air. Under the outspread clothes is the door which communicates with the scullery and with the yard. On the right side of the fireplace, in the recess equivalent to that where the bookshelves stand, a long narrow window, and below it, a low, brown, fixed cupboard, whose top forms a little sideboard, on which stand a large black enamel box of oil-colours, and a similar japanned box of water-colours, with Reeve's silver trade-mark. There is also on the cupboard top a tall glass jar containing ragged pink chrysanthemums. On the right is a bookcase upon a chest of drawers. This piece of furniture is of stained polished wood in imitation of mahogany. The upper case is full of books, seen through the two flimsy glass doors: a large set of the World's Famous Literature in dark green at the top--then on the next shelf prize-books in calf and gold, and imitation soft leather poetry-books, and a Nuttall's dictionary and Cassell's French, German and Latin dictionaries. On each side of the bookcase are prints from water-colours, large, pleasing and well framed in oak. Between the little brown cupboard and the bookcase, an arm-chair, small, round, with many little staves; a comfortable chair such as is seen in many working-class kitchens; it has a red chintz cushion. There is another Windsor chair on the other side of the bookcase. Over the mantelpiece, which is high, with brass candlesticks and two "Coronation" tumblers in enamel, hangs a picture of Venice, from one of Stead's Christmas Numbers--nevertheless, satisfactory enough.

The WOMAN in the rocking-chair is dressed in black, and wears a black sateen apron. She wears spectacles, and is reading The New Age. Now and again she looks over her paper at a piece of bread which stands on a hanging bar before the fire, propped up by a fork, toasting. There is a little pile of toast on a plate on the boiler hob beside a large saucepan; the kettle and a brown teapot are occupying the oven-top near the WOMAN. The table is laid for tea, with four large breakfast-cups in dark-blue willow-pattern, and plates similar. It is an oval mahogany table, large enough to seat eight comfortably. The WOMAN sees the piece of bread smoking, and takes it from the fire. She butters it and places it on the plate on the hob, after which she looks out of the window, then, taking her paper, sits down again in her place.

SOMEONE passes the long narrow window, only the head being seen, then quite close to the large window on the left. There is a noise as the outer door opens and is shut, then the kitchen door opens, and a GIRL enters. She is tall and thin, and wears a long grey coat and a large blue hat, quite plain. After glancing at the table, she crosses the room, drops her two exercise-books on the wooden chair by the bookcase, saying:

 

NELLIE LAMBERT: Oh! I am weary.

MOTHER: You are late.

NELLIE: I know I am. It's Agatha Karton--she is a great gaby. There's always something wrong with her register, and old Tommy gets in such a fever, the great kid.

She takes off her hat, and going to the door on right, stands in the doorway, hanging it up with her coat on the pegs in the passage, just by the doorway.

And I'm sure the youngsters have been regular little demons; I could have killed them.

MOTHER: I've no doubt they felt the same towards you, poor little wretches.

NELLIE (with a short laugh): I'll bet they did, for I spanked one or two of 'em well.

MOTHER: Trust you, trust you! You'll be getting the mothers if you're not careful.

NELLIE (contemptuously): I had one old cat this afternoon. But I told her straight. I said: "If your Johnny, or Sammy, or whatever he is, is a nuisance, he'll be smacked, and there's an end of it." She was mad, but I told her straight; I didn't care. She can go to Tommy if she likes: I know he'll fuss her round, but I'll tell him too. Pah! he fusses the creatures up!--I would!

She comes towards the table, pushing up her hair with her fingers. It is heavy and brown, and has been flattened by her hat. She glances at herself in the little square mirror which hangs from a nail under the right end of the mantelpiece, a mere unconscious glance which betrays no feeling, and is just enough to make her negligently touch her hair again. She turns a trifle fretfully to the table.

NELLIE: Is there only potted meat? You know I can't bear it.

MOTHER (conciliatorily): Why, I thought you'd like it, a raw day like this--and with toast.

NELLIE: You know I don't. Why didn't you get some fruit?--a little tin of apricots--

MOTHER: I thought you'd be sick of apricots--I know Ernest is.

NELLIE: Well, I'm not--you know I'm not. Pappy potted meat!

She sits down on the sofa wearily. Her MOTHER pours out two cups of tea, and replaces the pot on the hob.

MOTHER: Won't you have some, then?

NELLIE (petulantly): No, I don't want it.

The MOTHER stands irresolute a moment, then she goes out. NELLIE reaches over to the bookshelves and takes a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which she opens on the table, and reads, sipping her tea but not eating. In a moment or two she glances up, as the MOTHER passes the window and enters the scullery. There is the sound of the opening of a tin.

NELLIE: Have you fetched some?--Oh, you are a sweetling!

The MOTHER enters, with a little glass dish of small tinned apricots. They begin tea.

MOTHER: Polly Goddard says her young man got hurt in the pit this morning.

NELLIE: Oh--is it much? (She looks up from her book.)

MOTHER: One of his feet crushed. Poor Polly's very sad. What made her tell me was Ben Goddard going by. I didn't know he was at work again, but he was just coming home, and I asked her about him, and then she went on to tell me of her young man. They're all coming home from Selson, so I expect your Father won't be long.

NELLIE: Goodness!--I hope he'll let us get our tea first.

MOTHER: Well, you were late. If he once gets seated in the Miner's Arms there's no telling when he comes.

NELLIE: I don't care when he does, so long as he doesn't come yet.

MOTHER: Oh, it's all very well!

They both begin to read as they eat. After a moment another girl runs past the window and enters. She is a plump, fair girl, pink and white. She has just run across from the next house.

GERTIE COOMBER: Hello, my duck, and how are you?

NELLIE (looking up): Oh, alright, my bird.

GERTIE: Friday to-night. No Eddie for you! Oh, poor Nellie! Aren't I glad, though! (She snaps her fingers quaintly.)

The MOTHER laughs.

NELLIE: Mean cat!

GERTIE (giggling): No, I'm not a mean cat. But I like Friday night; we can go jinking off up town and wink at the boys. I like market night. (She puts her head on one side in a peculiar, quaint, simple fashion.)

The MOTHER laughs.

NELLIE: You wink! If she so much as sees a fellow who'd speak to her, she gets behind me and stands on one foot and then another.

GERTIE: I don't! No, I don't, Nellie Lambert. I go like this: "Oh, good evening, how are you? I'm sure I'm very pleased--" (She says this in a very quaint "prunes-and-prisms" manner, with her chin in the air and her hand extended. At the end she giggles.)

The MOTHER, with her cup in her hand, leans back and laughs. NELLIE, amused in spite of herself, smiles shortly.

NELLIE: You are a daft object! What about last week, when David Thompson--

GERTIE puts her hand up and flips the air with affected contempt.

GERTIE: David Thompson! A bacon sawyer! Ph!

NELLIE: What a name! Not likely. Mrs Grocock! (She giggles.) Oh dear no, nothing short of Mrs Carooso.

She holds back the skirts of her long pinafore with one hand and affects the Gibson bend.

MOTHER (laughing heartily): Caruso! Caruso! A great fat fellow--!

GERTIE: Besides, a collier! I'm not going to wash stinking pit-things.

NELLIE: You don't know what you'll do yet, my girl. I never knew such cheek! I should think you want somebody grand, you do.

GERTIE: I do that. Somebody who'll say, "Yes, dear. Oh yes, dear! Certainly, certainly!"

She simpers across the room, then giggles.

NELLIE: You soft cat, you! But look here, Gert, you'll get paid out, treating Bernard Hufton as you do.

GERTIE (suddenly irritated): Oh, I can't abide him. I always feel as if I could smack his face. He thinks himself slikey. He always makes my--

A head passes the narrow side window.

Oh, glory! there's Mr Lambert. I'm off!

She draws back against the bookcase. A man passes the large window. The door opens and he enters. He is a man of middling stature, a miner, black from the pit. His shoulders are pushed up because he is cold. He has a bushy iron-grey beard. He takes from his pocket a tin bottle and a knotted "snap" bag--his food bag of dirty calico--and puts them with a bang on the table. Then he drags his heavily-shod feet to the door on right; he limps slightly, one leg being shorter than the other. He hangs up his coat and cap in the passage and comes back into the living-room. No one speaks. He wears a grey-and-black neckerchief and, being coatless, his black arms are bare to the elbows, where end the loose dirty sleeves of his flannel singlet. The MOTHER rises and goes to the scullery, carrying the heavy saucepan. The man gets hold of the table and pulls it nearer the fire, away from his daughter.

NELLIE: Why can't you leave the table where it was! We don't want it stuck on top of the fire.

FATHER: Ah dun, if you dunna.

He drags up his arm-chair and sits down at the table full in front of the fire.

'An yer got a drink for me?

The MOTHER comes and pours out a cup of tea, then goes back to the scullery.

It's a nice thing as a man as comes home from th' pit parched up canna ha'e a drink got 'im. (He speaks disagreeably.)

MOTHER: Oh, you needn't begin! I know you've been stopping, drinking.

FATHER: Dun yer?--Well, yer know too much, then. You wiser than them as knows, you are!

There is a general silence, as if the three listeners were shrugging their shoulders in contempt and anger. The FATHER pours out his tea into his saucer, blows it and sucks it up. NELLIE looks up from her book and glowers at him with ferocity. GERTIE puts her hand before her mouth and giggles behind his back at the noise. He does not drink much, but sets the cup back in the saucer and lays his grimed arms wearily along the table. The MOTHER enters with a plate of cabbage.

MOTHER: Here, that's a clean cloth.

She does not speak unkindly.

FATHER (brutally): You should put a dotty (dirty) 'un on, then. The MOTHER takes a newspaper and spreads it over the cloth before him. She kneels at the oven, takes out a stew-jar, and puts meat and gravy on the plate with the cabbage, and sets it before him. He does not begin at once to eat. The MOTHER puts back her chair against the wall and sits down.

MOTHER: Are your trousers wet?

FATHER (as he eats): A bit.

MOTHER: Then why don't you take them off?

FATHER (in a tone of brutal authority): Fetch my breeches an' wa's'coat down, Nellie.

NELLIE (continuing to read, her hands pushed in among her hair): You can ask me properly.

The FATHER pushes his beard forward and glares at her with futile ferocity. She reads on. GERTIE COOMBER, at the back, shifts from one foot to the other, then coughs behind her hand as if she had a little cold. The MOTHER rises and goes out by door on right.

FATHER: You lazy, idle bitch, you let your mother go!

NELLIE (shrugging her shoulders): You can shut up. (She speaks with cold contempt.)

GERTIE sighs audibly. The tension of the scene will not let her run home. NELLIE looks up, flushed, carefully avoiding her father.

NELLIE: Aren't you going to sit down, Gert?

GERTIE: No, I'm off.

NELLIE: Wait a bit and I'll come across with you. I don't want to stop here.

The FATHER stirs in his chair with rage at the implication. The MOTHER comes downstairs and enters with a pair of black trousers, from which the braces are trailing, and a black waistcoat lined with cream and red lining. She drops them against her husband's chair.

MOTHER (kindly, trying to restore the atmosphere): Aren't you going to sit down, Gertie? Go on the stool.

GERTIE takes a small stool on the right side of fireplace, and sits toying with the bright brass tap of the boiler. The MOTHER goes out again on right, and enters immediately with five bread tins and a piece of lard paper. She stands on the hearthrug greasing the tins. The FATHER kicks off his great boots and stands warming his trousers before the fire, turning them and warming them thoroughly.

GERTIE: Are they cold, Mr Lambert?

FATHER: They are that! Look you, they steaming like a sweating hoss.

MOTHER: Get away, man! The driest thing in the house would smoke if you held it in front of the fire like that.

FATHER (shortly): Ah, I know I'm a liar. I knowed it to begin wi'.

NELLIE (much irritated): Isn't he a nasty-tempered kid!

GERTIE: But those front bedrooms are clammy.

FATHER (gratified): They h'are, Gertie, they h'are.

GERTIE (turning to avoid NELLIE'S contempt and pottering the fire): I know the things I bring down from ours, they fair damp in a day.

FATHER: They h'are, Gertie, I know it. And I wonder how 'er'd like to clap 'er arse into wet breeches.

He goes scrambling off to door on right, trailing his breeches.

NELLIE (fiercely): Father!

GERTIE puts her face into her hands and laughs with a half-audible laugh that shakes her body.

I can't think what you've got to laugh at, Gertie Coomber.

The MOTHER, glancing at her irate daughter, laughs also. She moves aside the small wooden rocking-chair, and, drawing forth a great panchion of dough from the corner under the book-shelves, begins to fill the bread tins. She sets them on the hearth--which has no fender, the day being Friday, when the steel fender is put away, after having been carefully cleaned to be saved for Saturday afternoon. The FATHER enters, the braces of his trousers dangling, and drops the heavy moleskin pit breeches in corner on right.

NELLIE: I wonder why you can't put them in the scullery; the smell of them's hateful.

FATHER: You mun put up wi' it, then. If you were i' th' pit you'd niver put your nose up at them again.

He sits down and recommences eating. The sound further irritates his daughter, who again pushes her fingers into her hair, covering her ears with her palms. Her father notices, and his manners become coarser. NELLIE rises, leaving her book open on the table.

NELLIE: Come on, Gert! (She speaks with contemptuous impatience.)

The FATHER watches them go out. He lays his arms along the newspaper, wearily.

FATHER: I'm too tired ter h'eat.

MOTHER (sniffing, and hardening a little): I wonder why you always have to go and set her off in a tantrum as soon as you come in.

FATHER: A cheeky bitch; 'er wants a good slap at th' side o' th' mouth!

MOTHER (incensed): If you've no more sense than that, I don't wonder--

FATHER: You don't wonder--you don't wonder! No, I know you don't wonder. It's you as eggs 'em on against me, both on 'em.

MOTHER (scornfully): You set them against yourself. You do your best for it, every time they come in.

FATHER: Do I, do I! I set 'em against me, do I? I'm going to stand 'em orderin' me about, an' turnin' their noses up, am I?

MOTHER: You shouldn't make them turn their noses up, then. If you do your best for it, what do you expect?

FATHER: A jumped-up monkey! An' it's you as 'as made 'em like it, the pair on 'em. There's neither of 'em but what treats me like a dog. I'm not daft! I'm not blind! I can see it.

MOTHER: If you're so clever at seeing it, I should have thought you'd have sense enough not to begin it and carry it on as you do.

FATHER: Me begin it! When do I begin it? You niver hear me say a word to 'em, till they've snapped at me as if I was a--as if I was a--No, it's you as puts 'em on in. It's you, you blasted--

He bangs the table with his fist. The MOTHER puts the bread in the oven, from which she takes a rice pudding; then she sits down to read. He glares across the table, then goes on eating. After a little while he pushes the plate from him. The MOTHER affects not to notice for a moment.

'An yer got any puddin'?

MOTHER: Have you finished?

She rises, takes a plate and, crouching on the hearth, gives him his pudding. She glances at the clock, and clears the tea-things from her daughter's place. She puts another piece of toast down, there remaining only two pieces on the plate.

FATHER (looking at the rice pudding): Is this what you'n had?

MOTHER: No; we had nothing.

FATHER: No, I'll bet you non 'ad this baby pap.

MOTHER: No, I had nothing for a change, and Nellie took her dinner.

FATHER (eating unwillingly): Is there no other puddin' as you could 'a made?

MOTHER: Goodness, man, are you so mightily particular about your belly? This is the first rice pudding you've had for goodness knows how long, and--No, I couldn't make any other. In the first place, it's Friday, and in the second, I'd nothing to make it with.

FATHER: You wouldna ha'e, not for me. But if you 'a wanted--

MOTHER (interrupting): You needn't say any more. The fact of the matter is, somebody's put you out at the pit, and you come home to vent your spleen on us.

FATHER (shouting): You're a liar, you're a liar! A man comes home after a hard day's work to folks as 'as never a word to say to 'im, 'as shuts up the minute 'e enters the house, as 'ates the sight of 'im as soon as 'e comes in th' room--!

MOTHER (with fierceness): We've had quite enough, we've had quite enough! Our Ernest'll be in in a minute and we're not going to have this row going on; he's coming home all the way from Derby, trailing from college to a house like this, tired out with study and all this journey: we're not going to have it, I tell you.

Her husband stares at her dumbly, betwixt anger and shame and sorrow, of which an undignified rage is predominant. The MOTHER carries out some pots to the scullery, re-enters, takes the slice of toast and butters it.

FATHER: It's about time as we had a light on it; I canna see what I'm eatin'.

The MOTHER puts down the toast on the hob, and having fetched a dustpan from the scullery, goes out on right to the cellar to turn on the gas and to bring coals. She is heard coming up the steps heavily. She mends the fire, and then lights the gas at a brass pendant hanging over the table. Directly after there enters a young man of twenty-one, tall and broad, pale, clean-shaven, with the brownish hair of the "ginger" class, which is all ruffled when he has taken off his cap, after having pulled various books from his pockets and put them on the little cupboard top. He takes off his coat at door right as his sister has done.

ERNEST (blowing slightly through pursed lips): Phew! It is hot in here!

FATHER (bluntly, but amiably): Hot! It's non hot! I could do wi' it ten times hotter.

MOTHER: Oh, you! You've got, as I've always said, a hide like a hippopotamus. You ought to have been a salamander.

FATHER: Oh ah, I know tha'll ha'e summat ter say.

MOTHER: Is it raining now, Ernest?

ERNEST: Just a drizzle in the air, like a thick mist.

MOTHER: Ay, isn't it sickening? You'd better take your boots off.

ERNEST (sitting in his sister's place on the sofa): Oh, they're not wet.

MOTHER: They must be damp.

ERNEST: No, they're not. There's a pavement all the way. Here, look at my rose! One of the girls in Coll. gave it me, and the tan-yard girls tried to beg it. They are brazen hussies! "Gi'e's thy flower, Sorry; gi'e's thy buttonhole"--and one of them tried to snatch it. They have a bobby down by the tan-yard brook every night now. Their talk used to be awful, and it's so dark down there, under the trees. Where's Nellie?

MOTHER: In Coombers'.

ERNEST: Give me a bit of my paper, Father. You know the leaf I want: that with the reviews of books on.

FATHER: Nay, I know nowt about reviews o' books. Here t'art. Ta'e it.

FATHER hands the newspaper to his son, who takes out two leaves and hands the rest back.

ERNEST: Here you are; I only want this.

FATHER: Nay, I non want it. I mun get me washed. We s'll ha'e th' men here directly.

ERNEST: I say, Mater, another seven-and-six up your sleeve?

MOTHER: I'm sure! And in the middle of the term, too! What's it for this time?

ERNEST: Piers the Ploughman, that piffle, and two books of Horace: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, dear old chap.

MOTHER: And when have you to pay for them?

ERNEST: Well, I've ordered them, and they'll come on Tuesday. I'm sure I don't know what we wanted that Piers Ploughman for--it's sheer rot, and old Beasley could have gassed on it without making us buy it, if he'd liked. Yes, I did feel wild. Seven-and-sixpence!

FATHER: I should non get tem, then. You needna buy 'em unless you like. Dunna get 'em, then.

ERNEST: Well, I've ordered them.

FATHER: If you 'anna the money you canna 'a'e 'em, whether or not.

MOTHER: Don't talk nonsense. If he has to have them, he has. But the money you have to pay for books, and they're no good when you've done with them!--I'm sure it's really sickening, it is!

ERNEST: Oh, never mind, Little; I s'll get 'em for six shillings. Is it a worry, Mütterchen?

MOTHER: It is, but I suppose if it has to be, it has.

ERNEST: Old Beasley is an old chough. While he was lecturing this afternoon Arnold and Hinrich were playing nap; and the girls always write letters, and I went fast asleep.

FATHER: So that's what you go'n to Collige for, is it?

ERNEST (nettled): No, it isn't. Only old Beasley's such a dry old ass, with his lectures on Burke. He's a mumbling parson, so what do you expect?

The FATHER grunts, rises and fetches a clean new bucket from the scullery. He hangs this on the top of the boiler, and turns on the water. Then he pulls on his flannel singlet and stands stripped to the waist, watching the hot water dribble into the bucket. The pail half-filled, he goes out to the scullery on left.

Do you know what Professor Staynes said this morning, Mother? He said I'd got an instinct for Latin--and you know he's one of the best fellows in England on the classics: edits Ovid and whatnot. An instinct for Latin, he said.

MOTHER (smiling, gratified): Well, it's a funny thing to have an instinct for.

ERNEST: I generally get an alpha plus. That's the highest, you know, Mater. Prof. Staynes generally gives me that.

MOTHER: Your grandfather was always fond of dry reading: economics and history. But I don't know where an instinct for Latin comes from--not from the Lamberts, that's a certainty. Your Aunt Ellen would say, from the Vernons.

She smiles ironically as she rises to pour him another cup of tea, taking the teapot from the hob and standing it, empty, on the father's plate.

ERNEST: Who are the Vernons?

MOTHER (smiling): It's a wonder your Aunt Ellen or your Aunt Eunice has never told you. . . .

ERNEST: Well, they haven't. What is it, Mütter?

MOTHER (sniffing): A parcel of nonsense. . . .

ERNEST: Oh, go on, Ma, you are tantalizing! You hug it like any blessed girl.

MOTHER: Yes, your Aunt Ellen always said she would claim the peacock and thistle for her crest, if ever . . .

ERNEST (delighted): The Peacock and Thistle! It sounds like the name of a pub.

MOTHER: My great-great-grandfather married a Lady Vernon--so they say. As if it made any matter--a mere tale!

ERNEST: Is it a fact though, Matoushka? Why didn't you tell us before?

MOTHER (sniffing): What should I repeat such--

FATHER (shouting from the scullery, whence has come the noise of his washing): 'An yer put that towil ter dry?

MOTHER (muttering): The towel's dry enough.

She goes out and is heard taking the roller towel from behind the outer door. She returns, and stands before the fire, holding the towel to dry. ERNEST LAMBERT, having frowned and shrugged his shoulders, is reading.

MOTHER: I suppose you won't have that bit of rice pudding?

Her son looks up, reaches over and takes the brown dish from the hearth. He begins to eat from the dish.

ERNEST: I went to the "Savoy" to-day.

MOTHER: I shouldn't go to that vegetable place. I don't believe there's any substance in it.

ERNEST: Substance! Oh, lord! I had an asparagus omelette, I believe they called it; it was too much for me! A great stodgy thing! But I like the Savoy, generally. It was--

Somebody comes running across the yard. NELLIE LAMBERT enters with a rush.

NELLIE: Hello! have you done?

FATHER (from the scullery): Are you going to shut that doo-ar! (Shouting.)

NELLIE (with a quick shrug of the shoulders): It is shut. (brightly, to her brother) Who brought this rose? It'll just do for me. Who gave it you?--Lois?

ERNEST (flushing): What do you want to know for? You're always saying "Lois". I don't care a button about Lois.

NELLIE: Keep cool, dear boy, keep cool.

She goes flying lightly round, clearing the table. The FATHER, dripping, bending forward almost double, comes hurrying from the scullery to the fire. NELLIE whisks by him, her long pinafore rustling.

FATHER (taking the towel): Ow (she) goes rushin' about, draughtin'. (Rubs his head, sitting on his heels very close to the fire.)

NELLIE (smiling contemptuously, to herself): Poor kid!

FATHER (having wiped his face): An' there isn't another man in th' kingdom as 'ud stan' i' that scullery stark naked. It's like standin' i' t'cowd watter.

MOTHER (calmly): Many a man stands in a colder.

FATHER (shortly): Ah, I'll back; I'll back there is! Other men's wives brings th' puncheon on to th' 'earthstone, an' gets the watter for 'em, an'--

MOTHER: Other men's wives may do: more fools them: you won't catch me.

FATHER: No, you wunna; you may back your life o' that! An' what if you 'ad to?

MOTHER: Who'd make me?

FATHER (blustering): Me.

MOTHER (laughing shortly): Not half a dozen such.

The FATHER grunts. NELLIE, having cleared the table, pushes him aside a little and lets the crumbs fall into hearth.

FATHER: A lazy, idle, stinkin' trick!

She whisks the tablecloth away without speaking.

An' tha doesna come waftin' in again when I'm washin' me, tha remembers.

ERNEST (to his mother, who is turning the bread): Fancy! Swinburne's dead.

MOTHER: Yes, so I saw. But he was getting on.

FATHER (to NELLIE, who has come to the boiler and is kneeling, getting a lading-can full of water): Here, Nellie, gie my back a wash.

She goes out, and comes immediately with flannel and soap. She claps the flannel on his back.

(Wincing) Ooo! The nasty bitch!

NELLIE bubbles with laughter. The MOTHER turns aside to laugh.

NELLIE: You great baby, afraid of a cold flannel!

She finishes washing his back and goes into the scullery to wash the pots. The FATHER takes his flannel shirt from the bookcase cupboard and puts it on, letting it hang over his trousers. Then he takes a little blue-striped cotton bag from his pit trousers' pocket and throws it on the table to his wife.

FATHER: Count it. (He shuffles upstairs.)

The MOTHER counts the money, putting it in little piles, checking it from two white papers. She leaves it on the table. ERNEST goes into the scullery to wash his hands and is heard talking to his sister, who is wiping the pots. A knock at the outer door.

ERNEST: Good evening, Mr Barker.

A VOICE: Good evenin', Ernest.

A miner enters: pale, short, but well-made. He has a hard-looking head with short black hair. He lays his cap on a chair.

Good evenin', Missis. 'Asn't Carlin come? Mester upstairs?

MOTHER: Yes, he'll be down in a minute. I don't expect Mr Carlin will be many minutes. Sit down, Mr Barker. How's that lad of yours?

BARKER: Well, 'e seems to be goin' on nicely, thank yer. Dixon took th' splints off last wik.

MOTHER: Oh, well, that's better. He'll be alright directly. I should think he doesn't want to go in the pit again.

BARKER: 'E doesna. 'E says 'e shall go farmin' wi' Jakes; but I shanna let 'im. It's nowt o' a sort o' job, that.

MOTHER: No, it isn't. (Lowering her voice.) And how's missis?

BARKER (also lowering his voice): Well, I don't know. I want ter get back as soon as I'n got a few groceries an' stuff in. I sent for Mrs Smalley afore I com'n out. An' I'm come an' forgot th' market bag.

MOTHER (going into the scullery): Have mine, have mine. Nay, I've got another. (Brings him a large carpet bag with leather handles.)

BARKER: Thank yer, Missis. I can bring it back next wik. You sure you wunna want it?

Another knock. Enter another man, fair, pale, smiling, an inconsiderable man.

CARLIN: Hgh! Tha's bested me then? Good evenin', Missis.

BARKER: Yes, I'n bet thee.

Enter the FATHER. He has put on a turn-down collar and a black tie, and his black waistcoat is buttoned, but he wears no coat. The other men take off the large neckerchiefs, grey and white silk, in fine check, and show similar collars. The FATHER assumes a slight tone of superiority.

FATHER: Well, you've arrived, then! An' 'ow's the missis by now, Joe?

BARKER: Well, I dun know, Walter. It might be any minnit.

FATHER (sympathetically): Hu! We may as well set to, then, an' get it done.

They sit at the table, on the side of the fire. ERNEST LAMBERT comes in and takes an exercise-book from the shelves and begins to do algebra, using a text-book. He writes with a fountain-pen.

CARLIN: They gran' things, them fountain-pens.

BARKER: They are that!

CARLIN: What's th' mak on it, Ernest?

ERNEST: It's an Onoto.

BARKER: Oh-ah! An' 'ow dun yer fill it? They says as it hold wi' a vacum.

ERNEST: It's like this: you push this down, put the nib in th' ink, and then pull it out. It's a sort of a pump.

BARKER: Um! It's a canny thing, that!

CARLIN: It is an' a'.

FATHER: Yes, it's a very good idea. (He is slightly condescending.)

MOTHER: Look at the bread, Ernest.

ERNEST: Alright, Mater.

She goes upstairs, it being tacitly understood that she shall not know how much money falls to her husband's share as chief "butty" in the weekly reckoning.

BARKER: Is it counted?

FATHER: Yes. It's alright, Ernest?

ERNEST (not looking up): Yes.

They begin to reckon, first putting aside the wages of their day men; then the FATHER and BARKER take four-and-three-pence, as equivalent to CARLIN'S rent, which has been stopped; then the FATHER gives a coin each, dividing the money in that way. It is occasionally a puzzling process and needs the Ready Reckoner from the shelf behind.

 

END OF ACT I

 

 

ACT II

 

Scene, as before: the men are just finishing reckoning. BARKER and CARLIN, talking in a mutter, put their money in their pockets. ERNEST LAMBERT is drawing a circle with a pair of compasses. CARLIN rises.

 

CARLIN: Well, I might as well be shiftin'.

BARKER: Ay, I mun get off.

Enter NELLIE, who has finished washing the pots, drying her hands on a small towel. She crosses to the mirror hanging at the right extremity of the mantelpiece.

CARLIN: Well, Nellie!

NELLIE (very amiably, even gaily): Good evening, Mr Carlin. Just off?

CARLIN: Yes--ah mun goo.

BARKER: An' 'ow's th' instrument by now, Nellie?

NELLIE: The instrument? Oh, the piano! Ours is a tinny old thing. Oh, yes, you're learning. How are you getting on?

BARKER: Oh, we keep goin' on, like. 'Ave you got any fresh music?

FATHER: Ah, I bet 'er 'as. Ow's gerrin' some iv'ry day or tow.

NELLIE: I've got some Grieg--lovely! Hard, though. It is funny--ever so funny.

BARKER: An' yer iver 'eared that piece "The Maiden's Prayer"?

NELLIE (turning aside and laughing): Yes. Do you like it? It is pretty, isn't it?

BARKER: I 'ad that for my last piece.

NELLIE: Did you? Can you play it?

BARKER (with some satisfaction): Yes, I can do it pretty fair. 'An yer got th' piece?

NELLIE: Yes. Will you play it for us? Half a minute.

She finishes stroking her hair up with her side-combs, and, taking the matches from the mantelpiece, leads the way to the door.

Come on.

FATHER: Yes, step forward, Joe.

BARKER goes out after NELLIE. Through the open door comes the crashing sound of the miner's banging through The Maiden's Prayer on an old sharp-toned piano. CARLIN stands listening, and shakes his head at the FATHER, who smiles back, glancing at the same time nervously at his son, who has buried his hands in his hair.

CARLIN: Well, are ter comin' down, George? (He moves towards the door.)

FATHER (lighting his pipe--between the puffs): In about quarter of an hour, Fred.

CARLIN: Good night, then. Good night, Ernest. (He goes out.)

The MOTHER is heard coming downstairs. She glances at her son, and shuts the passage door. Then she hurries to the oven and turns the bread. As she moves away again her husband thrusts out his hand and gives her something.

FATHER (going towards the passage door): I know it's a bad wik. (He goes out.)

MOTHER (counts the money he has given her, gives a little rapid clicking with her tongue on the roof of her mouth, tossing her head up once): Twenty-eight shillings! (Counts again.) Twenty-eight shillings! (To her son.) And what was the cheque?

ERNEST (looking up, with a frown of irritation): Eight pounds one and six, and stoppages.

MOTHER: And he gives me a frowsty twenty-eight . . . and I've got his club to pay, and you a pair of boots. . . . Twenty-eight! . . . I wonder if he thinks the house is kept on nothing. . . . I'll take good care he gets nothing extra, I will, too. . . . I knew it, though--I knew he'd been running up a nice score at the Tunns'--that's what it is. There's rent, six-and-six, and clubs seven shillings, besides insurance and gas and everything else. I wonder how he thinks it's done--I wonder if he thinks we live on air?

ERNEST (looking up with pain and irritation): Oh, Mater, don't bother! What's the good? If you worry for ever it won't make it any more.

MOTHER (softened, conquering her distress): Oh, yes, it's all very well for you, but if I didn't worry what would become of us I should like to know?

GERTIE COOMBER runs in. She is wearing a large blue felt hat and a Norfolk costume; she is carrying a round basket. From the parlour comes the sound of Grieg's Anitra's Tanz, and then Ase's Tod, played well, with real sympathy.

GERTIE (with a little shy apprehension): Who's in the parlour?

MOTHER: It's only Mr Barker. (Smiling slightly.) He wanted to show Nellie how well he could play "The Maiden's Prayer".

GERTIE suddenly covers her mouth and laughs.

GERTIE (still laughing): He, he! I'll bet it was a thump! Pomp! Pomp! (Makes a piano-thumping gesture.) Did you hear it, Ernest?

ERNEST (not looking up): Infernal shindy.

GERTIE puts up her shoulders and giggles, looking askance at the student who, she knows, is getting tired of interruptions.

MOTHER: Yes, I wish he'd go--(almost whispering)--and his wife is expecting to go to bed any minute.

GERTIE puts her lower lip between her teeth and looks serious. The music stops. BARKER and NELLIE are heard talking, then the FATHER. There is a click of boots on the tiled passage and they enter.

NELLIE: What did you think of Mr Barker, Mother?--don't you think it's good? I think it's wonderful--don't you, Ernest?

ERNEST (grunting): Um--it is.

GERTIE COOMBER suddenly hides behind her friend and laughs.

MOTHER (to BARKER): Yes, I'm sure you get on wonderfully--wonderfully--considering.

BARKER: Yes, ah's non done so bad, I think.

FATHER: Tha 'asna, Joe, tha 'asna, indeed!

MOTHER: Don't forget the bag, Mr Barker--I know you'll want it.

BARKER: Oh, thank yer. Well, I mun goo. Tha'rt comin' down, George?

FATHER: Yes, I'm comin' down, Joe. I'll just get my top-coat on, an' then--(He struggles awkwardly into his overcoat.)

BARKER resumes his grey muffler.

BARKER: Well, good night, everybody; good night, Ernest--an' thank yer, Missis.

MOTHER: I hope things will be--(She nods significantly.)--alright.

BARKER: Ah, thank yer, I hope it will. I expect so: there's no reason why it shouldn't. Good night.

ALL: Good night, Mr Barker.

The FATHER and BARKER go out. Immediately NELLIE flings her arms round GERTIE'S neck.

NELLIE: Save me, Gert, save me! I thought I was done for that time. . . . I gave myself up! The poor piano! Mother, it'll want tuning now, if it never did before.

MOTHER (with slight asperity, half-amused): It may want at it, then.

GERTIE (laughing): You're done, Nellie, you're done brown! If it's like dropping a saucepan-lid--no--you've got to put up with it!

NELLIE: I don't care. It couldn't be much worse than it is, rotten old thing. (She pulls off her pinafore and hangs it over the back of a chair, then goes to the mirror, once more to arrange her hair.)

GERTIE: Oh, come on, Nellie, Cornell's will be crammed.

NELLIE: Don't worry, my dear. What are you going to fetch? Anything nice?

GERTIE: No, I'm not--only bacon and cheese; they send you any stuff: cat and candles--any muck!

The MOTHER takes the little stool and sits down on it on the hearthrug, lacing up her boots.

MOTHER: I suppose you're not going out, Ernest?

ERNEST: No.

MOTHER: Oh--so you can look after the bread. There are two brown loaves at the top; they'll be about half an hour; the white one's nearly done. Put the other in as soon as they come out. Don't go and forget them, now.

ERNEST: No.

MOTHER: He says "No!" (She shakes her head at him with indulgent, proud affection.)

NELLIE (as if casually, yet at once putting tension into the atmosphere): Is Mag coming down?

He does not answer immediately.

MOTHER: I should think not, a night like this, and all the mud there is.

ERNEST: She said she'd come and do some French. Why?

NELLIE (with a half-smile, off-handedly): Nothing.

MOTHER: You'd never think she'd trapse through all this mud. . . .

NELLIE: Don't bother. She'd come if she had to have water-wings to flop through.

GERTIE begins to giggle at the idea. The MOTHER sniffs.

ERNEST (satirically): Just as you'd flounder to your Eddie.

GERTIE lifts her hands with a little sharp gesture as if to say, "Now the fun's begun!"

NELLIE (turning suddenly, afire with scorn): Oh, should I? You'd catch me running after anybody!

MOTHER (rising): There, that'll do. Why don't you go up town, if you're going?

NELLIE LAMBERT haughtily marches off and puts on a dark coat and a blue hat.

NELLIE: Is it raining, Gert?

GERTIE: No, it's quite fine.

NELLIE: I'll bet it's fine!

GERTIE: Well, you asked me. It is fine; it's not raining.

The MOTHER re-enters from the passage, bringing a bonnet and a black coat.

NELLIE: Want me to bring anything, Mater?

MOTHER: I shall leave the meat for you.

NELLIE: Alright. Come on, Gert.

They go out.

MOTHER (She dreads that her son is angry with her and, affecting carelessness, puts the question to him, to find out): Should we be getting a few Christmas-tree things for little Margaret? I expect Emma and Joe will be here for Christmas: it seems nothing but right, and it's only six weeks now.

ERNEST (coldly): Alright.

He gets up and takes another book from the shelf without looking at her. She stands a moment suspended in the act of putting a pin through her bonnet.

MOTHER: Well, I think we ought to make a bit of Christmas for the little thing, don't you?

ERNEST: Ay. You gave our things to the lads, didn't you? (He still does not look up from his books.)

MOTHER (with a sound of failure in her voice): Yes. And they've kept them better than ever I thought they would. They've only broken your blue bird--the one you bought when you were quite little.

There is a noise of footsteps and a knock at the door. The MOTHER answers.

(Trying to be affable, but diffident, her gorge having risen a little.) Oh, is it you, Maggie? Come in. How ever have you got down, a night like this? Didn't you get over the ankles in mud?

She re-enters, followed by a ruddy girl of twenty, a full-bosomed, heavily-built girl, of medium stature and handsome appearance, ruddy and black. She is wearing a crimson tam-o'-shanter and a long grey coat. She keeps her head lowered, and glancing only once splendidly at ERNEST, replies with a strange, humble defiance:

MAGGIE: No--oh, it's not so bad: besides, I came all round by the road.

MOTHER: I should think you're tired, after school.

MAGGIE: No; it's a relief to walk in the open; and I rather like a black night; you can wrap yourself up in it. Is Nellie out?

MOTHER (stiffly): Yes; she's gone up town.

MAGGIE (non-significantly): Ah, I thought I passed her. I wasn't sure. She wouldn't notice me; it is dark over the fields.

MOTHER: Yes, it is. I'm sure I'm awful at recognizing people.

MAGGIE: Yes--and so am I, generally. But it's no good bothering. If they like to take offence, they have to. . . . I can't help it.

The MOTHER sniffs slightly. She goes into the passage and returns with a string net bag. She is ready to go out.

MOTHER (still distantly): Won't you take your things off? (Looks at the bread once more before going.)

MAGGIE: Ah, thanks, I will.

She takes on her hat and coat and hangs them in the passage. She is wearing a dark blue cloth "pinafore-dress", and beneath the blue straps and shoulder pieces a blouse of fine woollen stuff with a small intricate pattern of brown and red. She is flushed and handsome; her features are large, her eyes dark, and her hair falls in loose profusion of black tendrils about her face. The coil at the back is coming undone; it is short and not heavy. She glances supremely at ERNEST, feeling him watching her.

MOTHER (at the oven): You hear, Ernest? This white cake will be done in about five minutes, and the brown loaves in about twenty.

ERNEST: Alright, my dear.

This time it is she who will not look at him.

MAGGIE (laughing a low, short laugh): My hair!--is it a sight? I have to keep my coat collar up, or it would drop right down--what bit of it there is.

She stands away from the mirror, pinning it up; but she cannot refrain from just one glance at herself.

ERNEST LAMBERT watches her, and then turns to his MOTHER, who is pulling on a pair of shabby black gloves. MRS LAMBERT, however, keeps her eyes consciously averted; she is offended, and is a woman of fierce pride.

MOTHER: Well, I expect I shall see you again, Maggie.

MAGGIE (with a faint, grave triumph): It depends what time you come back. I shan't have to be late.

MOTHER: Oh, you'll be here when I get back.

MAGGIE (submissive, but with minute irony): Very well.

MOTHER: And don't forget that bread, Ernest.

She picks her bag off the table and goes out, without having looked at either of them.

ERNEST (affectionately): No, Little, I won't.

There is a pause for a moment. MAGGIE PEARSON sits in the arm-chair opposite him, who is on the sofa, and looks straight at him. He raises his head after a moment and smiles at her.

MAGGIE: Did you expect me?

ERNEST (nodding): I knew you'd come. You know, when you feel as certain as if you couldn't possibly be mistaken. But I did swear when I came out of Coll. and found it raining.

MAGGIE: So did I. Well, not swear, but I was mad. Hasn't it been a horrid week?

ERNEST: Hasn't it?--and I've been so sick of things.

MAGGIE: Of what?

ERNEST: Oh, of fooling about at College--and everything.

MAGGIE (grimly): You'd be sicker of school.

ERNEST: I don't know. At any rate I should be doing something real, whereas, as it is--oh, Coll.'s all foolery and flummery.

MAGGIE: I wish I had a chance of going. I feel as if they'd been pulling things away from me all week--like a baby that has had everything taken from it.

ERNEST (laughing): Well, if school pulls all your playthings and pretty things away from you, College does worse: it makes them all silly and idiotic, and you hate them--and--what then--!

MAGGIE (seriously): Why? How?

ERNEST: Oh, I don't know. You have to fool about so much, and listen when you're not interested, and see old professors like old dogs walking round as large as life with ancient bones they've buried and scratched up again a hundred times; and they're just as proud as ever. It's such a farce! And when you see that farce, you see all the rest: all the waddling tribe of old dogs with their fossil bones--parsons and professors and councillors--wagging their tails and putting their paws on the bones and barking their important old barks--and all the puppies yelping loud applause.

MAGGIE (accepting him with earnestness): Ay! But are they all alike?

ERNEST: Pretty well. It makes you a bit sick. I used to think men in great places were great--

MAGGIE (fervently): I know you did.

ERNEST: --and then to find they're no better than yourself--not a bit--

MAGGIE: Well, I don't see why they should be.

ERNEST (ignoring her): --it takes the wind out of your sails. What's the good of anything if that's a farce?

MAGGIE: What?

ERNEST: The folks at the top. By Jove, if you once lose your illusion of "great men", you're pretty well disillusioned of everything--religion and everything.

MAGGIE sits absorbedly, sadly biting her forefinger: an act which irritates him.

(Suddenly): What time did Mother go out?

MAGGIE (starting): I don't know--I never noticed the time.

ERNEST (rising and going to the oven, picking up the oven-cloth from the hearth): At any rate I should think it's five minutes.

He goes to the oven door, and takes from the lower shelf a "cake" loaf, baked in a dripping-pan, and, turning it over, taps it with his knuckles.

ERNEST: I should think it's done. I'll give it five minutes to soak.

He puts the bread in the oven shelf, turns the brown loaves, and shuts the oven door. Then he rises and takes a little notebook from the shelf.

Guess what I've been doing.

MAGGIE (rising, dilating, reaching towards him): I don't know. What?

ERNEST (smiling): Verses.

MAGGIE (putting out her hand to him, supplicating): Give them to me!

ERNEST (still smiling): They're such piffle.

MAGGIE (betwixt supplication and command): Give them to me.

He hands her the little volume, and goes out to the scullery. She sits down and reads with absorption. He returns in a moment, his hands dripping with clear water, and, pulling forward the panchion from the corner, takes out the last piece of white dough, scrapes the little pieces together, and begins to work the mass into a flattish ball, passing it from hand to hand. Then he drops the dough into the dripping-pan, and leaves it standing on the hearth. When he rises and looks at her, she looks up at him swiftly, with wide, brown, glowing eyes, her lips parted. He stands a moment smiling down at her.

ERNEST: Well, do you like them?

MAGGIE (nodding several times, does not reply for a second): Yes, I do.

ERNEST: They're not up to much, though.

MAGGIE (softly): Why not?

ERNEST (slightly crestfallen at her readiness to accept him again): Well, are they?

MAGGIE (nodding again): Yes, they are! What makes you say they're not? I think they're splendid.

ERNEST (smiling, gratified, but not thinking the same himself): Which do you like best?

MAGGIE (softly and thoughtfully): I don't know. I think this is so lovely, this about the almond tree.

ERNEST (smiling): And you under it.

She laughs up at him a moment, splendidly.

But that's not the best.

MAGGIE (looking at him expectantly): No?

ERNEST: That one, "A Life History", is the best.

MAGGIE (wondering): Yes?

ERNEST (smiling): It is. It means more. Look how full of significance it is, when you think of it. The profs. would make a great long essay out of the idea. Then the rhythm is finer: it's more complicated.

MAGGIE (seizing the word to vindicate herself when no vindication is required): Yes, it is more complicated: it is more complicated in every way. You see, I didn't understand it at first. It is best. Yes, it is. (She reads it again.)

He takes the loaf from the oven and puts the fresh one in.

ERNEST: What have you been doing?

MAGGIE (faltering, smiling): I? Only--only some French.

ERNEST: What, your diary?

MAGGIE (laughing, confused): Ah--but I don't think I want you to see it.

ERNEST: Now, you know you wrote it for me! Don't you think it was a good idea, to get you to write your diary in French? You'd never have done any French at all but for that, and you'd certainly never have told me. . . . You never tell me your side.

MAGGIE: There's nothing to tell.

ERNEST (shaking his finger excitedly): That's just what you say, that's just what you say! As many things happen for you as for me.

MAGGIE: Oh, but you go to Derby every day, and you see folks, and I--

ERNEST (flinging his hand at her): Piffle! I tell you--do I tell you the train was late? Do I--?

MAGGIE (interrupting, laughing in confusion and humility): Yes, you do--ah!

He has stopped suddenly with tremendous seriousness and excitement.

ERNEST: When?

MAGGIE (nervous, apologizing, laughing): On Sunday--when you told me you'd have--

ERNEST (flinging her words aside with excited gesture): There you are!--you're raking up a trifle to save you from the main issue. Just like a woman! What I said was (He becomes suddenly slow and fierce.) you never tell me about you, and you drink me up, get me up like a cup with both hands and drink yourself breathless--and--and there you are--you, you never pour me any wine of yourself--

MAGGIE (watching him, fascinated and a little bit terror-struck): But isn't it your fault?

He turns on her with a fierce gesture. She starts.

ERNEST: How can it be, when I'm always asking you--? (He scratches his head with wild exasperation.)

MAGGIE (almost inaudibly): Well--

He blazes at her so fiercely, she does not continue, but drops her head and looks at her knee, biting her finger.

ERNEST (abruptly): Come on--let's see what hundreds of mistakes . . .

She looks at him; dilates, laughs nervously, and goes to her coat, returning with a school exercise-book, doubled up.

He sits on the sofa, brings her beside him with a swift gesture. Then he looks up at the fire, and starts away round the table.

ERNEST (going into the scullery and crossing the room with dustpan): I must mend the fire. There's a book of French verse with my books. Be looking at that while I . . .

His voice descends to the cellar, where he is heard hammering the coal. He returns directly.

She stands at the little cupboard, with her face in a book. She is very short-sighted.

He mends the fire without speaking to her, and goes out to wash his hands.

ERNEST (returning): Well, what do you think of it? I got it for fourpence.

MAGGIE: I like it ever so much.

ERNEST: You've hardly seen it yet. Come on.

They sit together on the sofa and read from the exercise-book, she nervously.

(Suddenly): Now, look here--Oh, the poor verbs! I don't think anybody dare treat them as you do! Look here!

She puts her head closer.

He jerks back his head, rubbing his nose frantically, laughing.

Your hair did tickle me!

She turns her face to his, laughing, with open mouth. He breaks the spell.

Well, have you seen it?

MAGGIE (hesitating, peering across the lines): No-o-o.

ERNEST (suddenly thrusting his finger before her): There! I wonder it doesn't peck your nose off. You are a--

She has discovered her mistake and draws back with a little vibrating laugh of shame and conviction.

You hussy, what should it have been?

MAGGIE (hesitating): "Eurent?"

ERNEST (sitting suddenly erect and startling her up too): What! The preterite? The preterite? And you're talking about going to school!

She laughs at him with nervous shame; when he glares at her, she dilates with fine terror.

(Ominously): Well--?

MAGGIE (in the depths of laughing despair, very softly and timidly): I don't know.

ERNEST (relaxing into pathetic patience): Verbs of motion take être, and if you do a thing frequently, use the imperfect. You are--Well, you're inexpressible!

They turn to the diary: she covered with humiliation, he aggrieved. They read for a while, he shaking his head when her light springing hair tickles him again.

(Softly): What makes you say that?

MAGGIE (softly): What?

ERNEST: That you are "un enfant de Samedi"--a Saturday child?

MAGGIE (mistrusting herself so soon): Why--it's what they say, you know.

ERNEST (gently): How?

MAGGIE: Oh--when a child is serious; when it doesn't play except on Saturdays, when it is quite free.

ERNEST: And you mean you don't play?

She looks at him seriously.

No, you haven't got much play in you, have you?--I fool about so much.

MAGGIE (nodding): That's it. You can forget things and play about. I always think of Francis Thompson's Shelley, you know--how he made paper boats. . . .

ERNEST (flattered at the comparison): But I don't make paper boats. I tell you, you think too much about me. I tell you I have got nothing but a gift of coloured words. And do I teach you to play?--not to hold everything so serious and earnest? (He is very serious.)

She nods at him again. He looks back at the paper. It is finished. Then they look at one another, and laugh a little laugh, not of amusement.

ERNEST: Ah, your poor diary! (He speaks very gently.)

She hides her head and is confused.

I haven't marked the rest of the mistakes. Never mind--we won't bother, shall we? You'd make them again, just the same.

She laughs. They are silent a moment or two; it is very still.

You know (He begins sadly, and she does not answer.)--you think too much of me--you do, you know.

She looks at him with a proud, sceptical smile.

(Suddenly wroth): You are such a flat, you won't believe me! But I know--if I don't, who does? It's just like a woman, always aching to believe in somebody or other, or something or other.

She smiles.

I say, what will you have? Baudelaire?

MAGGIE (not understanding): What?

ERNEST: Baudelaire.

MAGGIE (nervous, faltering): But who's--?

ERNEST: Do you mean to say you don't know who Baudelaire is?

MAGGIE (defensively): How should I?

ERNEST: Why, I gassed to you for half an hour about him, a month back--and now he might be a Maori--!

MAGGIE: It's the names--being foreign.

ERNEST: Baudelaire--Baudelaire--it's no different from Pearson!

MAGGIE (laughing): It sounds a lot better.

ERNEST (laughing, also, and opening the book): Come on! Here, let's have Maîtresse des Maîtresses; should we?

MAGGIE (with gentle persuasiveness): Yes. You'll read it?

ERNEST: You can have a go, if you like.

They both laugh. He begins to read Le Balcon in tolerably bad French, but with some genuine feeling. She watches him all the time. At the end, he turns to her in triumph, and she looks back in ecstasy.

There! isn't that fine?

She nods repeatedly.

That's what they can do in France. It's so heavy and full and voluptuous: like oranges falling and rolling a little way along a dark-blue carpet; like twilight outside when the lamp's lighted; you get a sense of rich, heavy things, as if you smelt them, and felt them about you in the dusk: isn't it?

She nods again.

Ah, let me read you The Albatross. This is one of the best--anybody would say so--you see, fine, as good as anything in the world. (Begins to read.)

There is a light, quick step outside, and a light tap at the door, which opens.

They frown at each other, and he whispers:

ERNEST: Damn! (Aloud.) Hell, Beat!

There enters a girl of twenty-three or four; short, slight, pale, with dark circles under her rather large blue eyes, and with dust-coloured hair. She wears a large brown beaver hat and a long grey-green waterproof-coat.

BEATRICE WYLD: Hello, Ernest, how are ter? Hello, Mag! Are they all out?

ERNEST (shutting up the book and drawing away from MAGGIE. The action is reciprocal--BEATRICE WYLD seats herself in the armchair opposite): They've gone up town. I don't suppose Nellie will be long.

BEATRICE (coughing, speaking demurely): No, she won't see Eddie to-night.

ERNEST (leaning back): Not till after ten.

BEATRICE (rather loudly, sitting up): What! Does he come round after they shut up shop?

ERNEST (smiling ironically): Ay, if it's getting on for eleven--!

BEATRICE (turning in her chair): Good lawk!--are they that bad? Isn't it fair sickenin'?

ERNEST: He gets a bit wild sometimes.

BEATRICE: I should think so, at that price. Shall you ever get like that, Mag?

MAGGIE: Like what, Beatrice?

BEATRICE: Now, Maggie Pearson, don't pretend to be 'ormin'. She knows as well as I do, doesn't she, Ernest?

MAGGIE: Indeed I don't. (She is rather high-and-mighty, but not impressive.)

BEATRICE: Garn! We know you, don't we, Ernie? She's as bad as anybody at the bottom, but she pretends to be mighty 'ormin'.

MAGGIE: I'm sure you're mistaken, Beatrice.

BEATRICE: Not much of it, old girl. We're not often mistaken, are we, Ernie? Get out; we're the "dead certs"--aren't we, Willie? (She laughs with mischievous exultance, her tongue between her teeth.)

MAGGIE (with great but ineffectual irony): Oh, I'm glad somebody is a "dead cert". I'm very glad indeed! I shall know where to find one now.

BEATRICE: You will, Maggie.

There is a slight, dangerous pause.

BEATRICE (demurely): I met Nellie and Gertie, coming.

ERNEST: Ay, you would.

MAGGIE (bitterly): Oh, yes.

BEATRICE (still innocently): She had got a lovely rose. I wondered--

ERNEST: Yes, she thought Eddie would be peeping over the mousetraps and bird-cages. I bet she examines those drowning-mouse engines every time she goes past.

BEATRICE (with vivacity): Not likely, not likely! She marches by as if there was nothing but a blank in the atmosphere. You watch her. Eyes Right!--but she nudges Gert to make her see if he's there.

ERNEST (laughing): And then she turns in great surprise.

BEATRICE: No, she doesn't. She keeps "Eyes Front", and smiles like a young pup--and the blushes!--Oh, William, too lov'ly f'r anyfing!

ERNEST: I'll bet the dear boy enjoys that blush.

BEATRICE: Ra-ther! (Artlessly revenant à son mouton.) And he'll have the rose and all, to rejoice the cockles of his heart this time.

ERNEST (trying to ward it off): Ay. I suppose you'll see him with it on Sunday.

BEATRICE (still innocently): It was a beauty, William! Did you bring it for her?

ERNEST: I got it in Derby.

BEATRICE (unmasking): Did you? Who gave it you, Willie?

ERNEST (evasively, pretending to laugh): Nay, it wouldn't do to tell.

BEATRICE: Oh, William, do tell us! Was it the Dark, or the Athletics?

ERNEST: What if it was neither?

BEATRICE: Oh, Willie, another! Oh, it is shameful! Think of the poor things, what damage you may do them.

ERNEST (uneasily): Yes, they are delicate pieces of goods, women. Men have to handle them gently; like a man selling millinery.

BEATRICE (hesitating, then refraining from answering this attack fully): It's the hat-pins, Willie dear. But do tell us. Was it the Gypsy?--let's see, you generally call it her in German, don't you?--What's the German for gypsy, Maggie?--But was it the Gypsy, or the Athletic Girl that does Botany?

ERNEST (shaking his head): No. It was an Erewhonian.

BEATRICE (knitting her brows): Is that the German for another? Don't say so, William! (Sighs heavily.) "Sigh no more, ladies"--Oh, William! And these two are quite fresh ones, and all. Do you like being a mutton-bone, William?--one bitch at one end and one at the other? Do you think he's such a juicy bone to squabble for, Maggie?

MAGGIE (red and mortified): I'm sure I don't think anything at all about it, Beatrice.

BEATRICE: No; we've got more sense, we have, Maggie. We know him too well--he's not worth it, is he?

MAGGIE PEARSON does not reply.

BEATRICE WYLD looks at her dress, carefully rubbing off some spot or other; then she resumes:

BEATRICE: But surely it's not another, Willie?

ERNEST: What does it matter who it is? Hang me, I've not spoken to--I've hardly said ten words--you said yourself, I've only just known them.

BEATRICE: Oh, Willie, I'm sure I thought it was most desperate--from what you told me.

There is another deadly silence. BEATRICE resumes innocently, quite unperturbed.

Has he told you, MAGGIE?

MAGGIE (very coldly): I'm sure I don't know.

BEATRICE (simply): Oh, he can't have done, then. You'd never have forgot. There's one like a Spaniard--or was it like an Amazon, Willie?

ERNEST: Go on. Either'll do.

BEATRICE: A Spanish Amazon, Maggie--olive-coloured, like the colour of a young clear bit of sea-weed, he said--and, oh, I know! "great free gestures"--a cool clear colour, not red. Don't you think she'd be lovely?

MAGGIE: I do indeed.

BEATRICE: Too lovely f'r anyfing?--And the other. Oh, yes: "You should see her run up the college stairs! She can go three at a time, like a hare running uphill."--And she was top of the Inter. list for Maths and Botany. Don't you wish you were at college, Maggie?

MAGGIE: For some things.

BEATRICE: I do. We don't know what he's up to when he's there, do we?

MAGGIE: I don't know that we're so very anxious--

BEATRICE (convincingly): We're not, but he thinks we are, and I believe he makes it all up. I bet the girls just think: "H'm. Here's a ginger-and-white fellow; let's take a bit of the conceit out of him"--and he thinks they're gone on him, doesn't he?

MAGGIE: Very likely.

BEATRICE: He does, Maggie; that's what he does. And I'll bet, if we could hear him--the things he says about us! I'll bet he says there's a girl with great brown eyes--

ERNEST: Shut up, Beat! you little devil--you don't know when to stop.

BEATRICE (affecting great surprise): William! Maggie! Just fancy!!

There is another silence, not ominous this time, but charged with suspense.

What am I a devil for? (Half timidly.)

ERNEST (flushing up at the sound of her ill-assurance): Look here; you may just as well drop it. It's stale, it's flat. It makes no mark, don't flatter yourself--we're sick of it, that's all. It's a case of ennui. Vous m'agacez les nerfs. Il faut aller au diable. (He rises, half laughing, and goes for the dust-pan.)

BEATRICE (her nose a trifle out of joint): Translate for us, Maggie.

MAGGIE shakes her head, without replying. She has a slight advantage now.

ERNEST crosses the room to go to coal-cellar.

BEATRICE coughs slightly, adjusts her tone to a casual, disinterested conversation, and then says, from sheer inability to conquer her spite:

You do look well, Maggie. I don't think I've seen anybody with such a colour. It's fair fine.

MAGGIE laughs and pulls a book towards her. There is silence.

ERNEST'S steps are heard descending to the cellar and hammering the coal. Presently he re-mounts. The girls are silent, MAGGIE pretending to read; BEATRICE staring across the room, half smiling, tapping her feet.

ERNEST (hurrying in and putting the coal on the hob): Begum, what about the bread?

MAGGIE (starting up and dilating towards him with her old brilliance): Oh, what have we--? Is it--? Oh!

ERNEST has forestalled her at the oven. There issues a great puff of hot smoke. He draws back a little, and MAGGIE utters a quick, tremulous "Oh!"

BEATRICE (with concern): Hel-lo, Ernest! that smells a bit thick!

He pulls out the loaves one after another. There is one brown loaf much blackened, one in tolerable condition, and the white "cake" very much scorched on one side.

BEATRICE begins to laugh, in spite of her sympathy at the dismay; he is kneeling on the hearth, the oven door open, the oven-cloth in his hand, and the burnt bread toppled out of its tins on the hearth before him. MAGGIE is bending over his shoulder, in great concern. BEATRICE sputters with more laughter. ERNEST looks up at her, and the dismay and chagrin on his face change also to an irresistible troubled amusement at the mishap, and he laughs heartily. MAGGIE joins in, strainedly at first, then with natural shaking, and all three laugh with abandonment, BEATRICE putting her hand up over her face, and again doubling over till her head touches her knees.

ERNEST: No--no! Won't Ma be wild, though!--What a beastly shame!

BEATRICE breaks out afresh, and he, though grieved, bubbles again into grudging laughter.

Another day and the rotten fire would burn slow, but to-night it's ramped like--

BEATRICE: Hell, Ernie!

She goes off again into a wild tossing of laugher, hesitating a moment to watch him as he lugubriously picks up the worst loaf and eyes it over.

ERNEST (grimly): It's black bread now, that they talk about. (He sniffs the loaf.)

BEATRICE resumes her mad, interrupted laughter. MAGGIE sits down on the sofa and laughs till the tears come.

ERNEST taps the loaf with his finger.

BEATRICE: Are you trying to see if it's done, William? (From naïve irony she departs into laughter.)

ERNEST (answers, his lugubrious soul struggling with laughter, the girls laughing the while): No; I was listening if it sounded hollow. Hark!

They listen. Laughter.

It sounds cindery. I wonder how deep it goes. (In a spirit of curiosity, he rises and fetches a knife, and, pulling a newspaper over the hearth, begins to cut away the burnt crust. The bread-charcoal falls freely on the paper. He looks at the loaf.) By Jove, there is a lot! It's like a sort of fine coke.

The girls laugh their final burst, and pant with exhaustion, their hands pressed in their sides.

It's about done for, at any rate. (Puts it down and takes another brown loaf; taps it.) This is not so bad, really, is it? (Sadly.)It sounds a bit desiccated, though. Poor Ma! (He laughs.) She'll say it's your fault, Mag.

MAGGIE (with astonished, incredulous laughter): Me?

BEATRICE: She will, Mag, she will! She'll say if you hadn't been here making a fuss of him--

MAGGIE (still laughing): I'd better go before she comes.

BEATRICE: You want to scrape that with the nutmeg-grater, Ernest. Where is it? Here, give it me.

She takes the loaf, and ERNEST goes out and returns with the grater. She begins to grate the loaf.

MAGGIE takes up the white "cake" and feels the pale side, tapping the bottom.

MAGGIE (with decision): This isn't done. It's no good cutting it off till it's all finished. I may as well put it in again. (She feels the heat of the two shelves, and puts the loaf on the upper.)

ERNEST picks up the ruined loaf.

ERNEST: What will she say when she sees this?

MAGGIE: Put it on the fire and have done with it.

They look at her in some astonishment at the vandalism of the remark.

ERNEST: But . . . (He looks at the loaf on all sides.)

MAGGIE: It's no good, and it'll only grieve their poor hearts if they see it. "What the heart doesn't . . ."

BEATRICE: Ay, put it on, William. What's it matter? Tell 'em the cat ate it.

ERNEST (hesitating): Should I?

BEATRICE (nudging his elbow): Ay, go on.

He puts the loaf on the fire, which is not yet mended, and they stand watching the transparent flames lick it up.

ERNEST (half sad, whimsically, repentant): The Staff of Life--!

MAGGIE: It's a faggot now, not a staff.

ERNEST: Ah, well! (He slides all the cinders and BEATRICE'S scrapings together in the newspaper and pours them in the fire.)

BEATRICE (holding up her scraped loaf): It doesn't show, being brown. You want to wrap it in a damp cloth now. Have you got a cloth?

ERNEST: What?--a clean tea-towel?

BEATRICE: Ay, that'll do. Come here; let's go and wet it.

She goes out, and re-enters directly with the towel screwed up. She folds it round the loaf, the others watching. She sets the shrouded loaf on the table, and they all sit down. There is a little pause.

Have you given over coming down to chapel now, Maggie?

MAGGIE: N-no. I don't know that I have. Why?

BEATRICE: You don't often put in an appearance now.

MAGGIE (a trifle petulantly): Don't I? Well, I don't feel like it, I suppose.

BEATRICE: William, you have something to answer for, my boy. (She speaks portentously.)

ERNEST: Shall I? Ne'er mind; I'll say "adsum" every time. Recording Angel: "Ernest Lambert."--"Adsum!"

BEATRICE: But you don't know what the little Mas say about you, my lad.

ERNEST: The dear little Mas! They will be gossiping about--

BEATRICE (springing from her chair): Look out! there's Nellie. Take that in th' pantry, William. Come out!

She thrusts the towelled loaf into ERNEST'S hands, and he hurries away with it, while she hastily shoots the coal on the fire, and, putting down the dust-pan by the boiler, sits in her chair and looks "'ormin'."

Enter NELLIE LAMBERT and GERTIE COOMBER, blinking.

NELLIE (bending her head to shield her eyes): Hasn't Ma come? I never saw her. Hullo, Maggie, you've not gone yet, you see. (She sniffs and goes straight to the oven.) Goodness, what a smell of burning! Have you been and forgotten the bread? (She kneels and looks in the oven.)

BEATRICE (very quietly and negligently): Ernest forgot that one. It's only a bit caught.

NELLIE peeps in the panchion where the other loaves are--those baked by the mother.

NELLIE: He generally forgets if Maggie's here.

BEATRICE bursts out laughing.

MAGGIE (rising, indignant): Why, Nellie, when has it ever been burnt before?

NELLIE (smiling a careless smile): Many a time.

MAGGIE: Not when I've been here.

NELLIE: Aren't you going to sit down a bit, Gert?

GERTIE: No, I'm off. Our Frances'll be wanting her ducks. (She laughs, but does not go.)

MAGGIE, her head hanging, goes to put on her hat and coat. The other girls smile, meaningly, at one another.

Are you going, then, Maggie?

MAGGIE (distantly): Yes, it's getting late. I've a long walk, you see.

GERTIE: You have! I'm glad I've not got it. I often wonder how you dare go through those woods on a pitch-dark night.

BEATRICE: I daresn't. (She laughs at herself.)

MAGGIE: I'd rather go through our wood than through Nottingham Road, with the people--!

BEATRICE: I'm glad you would, for I wouldn't.

ERNEST LAMBERT pulls on his overcoat and his cap. He gathers certain books. He looks at MAGGIE, and she at him.

MAGGIE: Well, good night, everybody. I shall have to go. (She hesitates, finding it difficult to break away.)

BEATRICE AND NELLIE: Good night.

GERTIE: Good night, Maggie. I hope it won't be too muddy for you.

MAGGIE laughs slightly.

NELLIE (as the two go through the door, loudly): And don't be ever so late back, our Ernest!

They do not reply. As their steps are heard passing the wide window, BEATRICE flings up her arms and her feet in an ungraceful, exultant glee, flicking her fingers with noiseless venom.

BEATRICE (in an undertone): I gave her beans!

NELLIE (turning, with a smile, and lighting up): Did you? What did you say?

GERTIE (amused, giggling, but shamefaced): Did you?

BEATRICE (exultant): Oh, lum! I'll bet her cheeks are warm!

 

END OF ACT II

 

 

ACT III

 

The same room, half an hour later.

BEATRICE WYLD sits in the arm-chair, and NELLIE LAMBERT on the sofa, the latter doing drawn-thread work on a white tray-cloth, part of which is fixed in a ring: at this part NELLIE is stitching.

 

BEATRICE: Ah, it makes you grin! the way she used to talk before she had him!

NELLIE: She did. She thought nobody was as good as her Arthur. She's found her mistake out.

BEATRICE: She has an' all! He wanted some chips for his supper the other night, when I was there. "Well," I said, "it's not far to Fretwell's, Arthur." He did look mad at me. "I'm not going to fetch chips," he said, a cocky little fool; and he crossed his little legs till I should 'a liked to have smacked his mouth. I said to her, "Well, Mabel, if you do, you're a fool!"--in her state, and all the men that were about! He's not a bit of consideration. You never saw anybody as fagged as she looks.

NELLIE: She does. I felt fair sorry for her when I saw her last Sunday but one. She doesn't look like she used.

BEATRICE: By Jove, she doesn't! He's brought her down a good many pegs. I shouldn't wonder if she wasn't quite safe, either. She told me she had awful shooting pains up her side, and they last for five minutes.

NELLIE (looking up): Oh?

BEATRICE: Ay! I'm glad I'm not in her shoes. They may talk about getting married as they like! Not this child!

NELLIE: Not to a thing like him.

BEATRICE: I asked her if she didn't feel frightened, an' she said she didn't care a scrap. I should care, though--and I'll bet she does, at the bottom.

The latch clicks. The MOTHER enters, carrying a large net full of purchases, and a brown-paper parcel. She lets these fall heavily on the table, and sits on the nearest chair, panting a little, with evident labour of the heart.

MOTHER: Yes, my lady!--you called for that meat, didn't you?

NELLIE (rising and going to look in the parcels): Well, my duck, I looked for you downtown; then when I was coming back, I forgot all about it.

MOTHER: And I--was silly enough--to lug it myself--

NELLIE (crossing to her mother, all repentant): Well, what did you for?--you knew I could fetch it again! You do do such ridiculous things! (She begins to take off her mother's bonnet.)

MOTHER: Yes! We know your fetching it--again. If I hadn't met little Abel Gibson--I really don't think I should have got home.

BEATRICE (leaning forward): If Nellie forgets it, you should forget it, Mrs Lambert. I'm sure you ought not to go lugging all those things.

MOTHER: But I met young Abel Gibson just when I was thinking I should have to drop them--and I said: "Here, Abel, my lad, are you going home?" and he said he was, so I told him he could carry my bag. He's a nice little lad. He says his father hasn't got much work, poor fellow. I believe that woman's a bad manager. She'd let that child clean up when he got home--and he said his Dad always made the beds. She's not a nice woman, I'm sure. (She shakes her head and begins to unfasten her coat.)

NELLIE, seeing her mother launched into easy gossip, is at ease on her score, and returns to the bags.

You needn't go looking; there's nothing for you.

NELLIE (petulantly): You always used to bring us something--

MOTHER: Ay, I've no doubt I did. . . . (She sniffs and looks at BEATRICE WYLD.)

NELLIE (still looking, unconvinced): Hello! Have a grape, Beatrice. (She offers BEATRICE a white-paper bag of very small black grapes.)

MOTHER: They want washing first, to get the sawdust out. Our Ernest likes those little grapes, and they are cheap: only four-pence.

BEATRICE (looking up from the bag): Oh, they are cheap. No, I won't have any, Nellie, thanks.

NELLIE: I'll wash them.

MOTHER: Just let the tap run on them--and get a plate.

NELLIE: Well, as if I shouldn't get a plate! The little Ma thinks we're all daft.

MOTHER (sniffing--it is her manner of winking): Is all the bread done?

NELLIE: Yes. I took the last out about a quarter of an hour ago.

MOTHER (to BEATRICE): Was Maggie Pearson gone when you came?

BEATRICE: No--she's only been gone about three-quarters of an hour.

MOTHER (tossing her head and lowering her tone confidentially): Well, really! I stopped looking at a man selling curtains a bit longer than I should, thinking she'd be gone.

BEATRICE: Pah!--it makes you sick, doesn't it?

MOTHER: It does. You wouldn't think she'd want to come trailing down here in weather like this, would you?

BEATRICE: You wouldn't. I'll bet you'd not catch me!--and she knows what you think, alright.

MOTHER: Of course she does.

BEATRICE: She wouldn't care if the old Dad was here, scowling at her; she'd come.

MOTHER: If that lad was at home.

BEATRICE (scornfully): Ay!

The MOTHER rises and goes out with her coat.

NELLIE enters, with a plate of wet black grapes.

NELLIE: Now, Beat! (Offering the grapes.)

BEATRICE: No, Nellie, I don't think I'll have any.

NELLIE: Go on--have some! Have some--go on! (Speaks rather imperatively.)

BEATRICE takes a few grapes in her hand.

What a scroddy few! Here, have some more.

BEATRICE (quietly): No, Nellie, thanks, I won't have any more. I don't think they'd suit me.

NELLIE sits down and begins to eat the grapes, putting the skins on a piece of paper.

The MOTHER re-enters. She looks very tired. She begins carrying away the little parcels.

NELLIE: Don't you put those away, mother; I'll do it in a minute.

The MOTHER continues. NELLIE rises in a moment or two, frowning.

You are a persistent little woman! Why don't you wait a bit and let me do it?

MOTHER: Because your father will be in in a minute, and I don't want him peeking and prying into everything, thinking I'm a millionaire. (She comes and sits down in her rocking-chair by the oven.)

NELLIE continues to carry away the goods, which have littered the table, looking into every parcel.

NELLIE: Hello! what are these little things?

MOTHER: Never you mind.

NELLIE: Now, little woman, don't you try to hug yourself and be secretive. What are they?

MOTHER: They're pine-kernels. (Turning to BEATRICE.) Our Ernest's always talking about the nut-cakes he gets at Mrs Dacre's; I thought I'd see what they were like. Put them away; don't let him see them. I shan't let him know at all, if they're not up to much. I'm not going to have him saying Mother Dacre's things are better than mine.

BEATRICE: I wouldn't--for I'm sure they're not.

MOTHER: Still, I rather like the idea of nuts. Here, give me one; I'll try it.

They each eat a pine-kernel with the air of a connoisseur in flavours.

(smiling to herself): Um--aren't they oily!

BEATRICE: They are! But I rather like them.

NELLIE: So do I. (Takes another.)

MOTHER (gratified): Here, put them away, miss!

NELLIE takes another. The MOTHER rises and snatches them away from her, really very pleased.

There won't be one left, I know, if I leave them with her. (She puts them away.)

NELLIE (smiling and nodding her head after her mother; in a whisper): Isn't she fussy?

BEATRICE puts out her tongue and laughs.

MOTHER (returning): I tried a gelatine sponge last week. He likes it much better than cornflour. Mrs Dacre puts them in mincemeat, instead of suet--the pine-kernels. I must try a bit.

BEATRICE: Oh! it sounds better.

MOTHER (seating herself): It does. (She looks down at the bread.)

BEATRICE puts up her shoulders in suspense.

I think you let this one dry up.

NELLIE: No, I didn't. It was our Ernest who let it burn.

MOTHER: Trust him! And what's he done? (She begins to look round.)

BEATRICE pulls a very wry face, straightens it quickly and says calmly:

BEATRICE: Is your clock right, Mrs Lambert?

MOTHER (looking round at the clock): Ten minutes--ten minutes fast. Why, what time is it?

BEATRICE: Good lack! (Rising suddenly.) It's half-past ten! Won't our Pa rave! "Yes, my gel--it's turning-out time again. We're going to have a stop put to it." And our mother will recite! Oh, the recitations!--there's no shutting her up when she begins. But at any rate, she shuts our Pa up, and he's a nuisance when he thinks he's got just cause to be wrath.--Where did I put my things?

MOTHER: I should think that Nellie's put hers on top. (She looks at NELLIE.) Don't sit there eating every one of those grapes. You know our Ernest likes them.

NELLIE (suddenly incensed): Good gracious! I don't believe I've had more than half a dozen of the things!

MOTHER (laughing and scornful): Half a dozen!

NELLIE: Yes, half a dozen.--Beatrice, we can't have a thing in this house--everything's for our Ernest.

MOTHER: What a story! What a story! But he does like those little grapes.

NELLIE: And everything else.

MOTHER (quietly, with emphasis): He gets a good deal less than you.

NELLIE (withdrawing from dangerous ground): I'll bet.

GERTIE COOMBER runs in.

BEATRICE: Hello, Gert, haven't you seen John?

GERTIE (putting up her chin): No.

BEATRICE: A little nuisance!--fancy!

GERTIE: Eh, I don't care--not me.

NELLIE: No, it's her fault. She never does want to see him. I wonder any fellow comes to her.

GERTIE (nonchalantly): Um--so do I.

BEATRICE: Get out, Gert; you know you're fretting your heart out 'cause he's not come.

GERTIE (with great scorn): Am I? Oh, am I? Not me! If I heard him whistling this moment, I wouldn't go out to him.

NELLIE: Wouldn't you! I'd shove you out, you little cat!

GERTIE (with great assumption of amusing dignity): Oh, would you, indeed!

They all laugh.

BEATRICE pins on her hat before the mirror.

You haven't got Ernest to take you home to-night, Beat. Where is he? With Maggie Pearson? Hasn't he come back yet?

MOTHER (with some bitterness): He hasn't. An' he's got to go to college to-morrow. Then he reckons he can get no work done.

GERTIE: Ha!--they're all alike when it suits them.

MOTHER: I should thank her not to come down here messing every Friday and Sunday.

NELLIE: Ah, she's always here. I should be ashamed of myself.

BEATRICE: Well--our Pa! I must get off. Good night, everybody. See you to-morrow, Nell.

NELLIE: I'll just come with you across the field.

She fetches a large white cashmere shawl and puts it over her head. She disposes it round her face at the mirror.

BEATRICE winks at the MOTHER.

GERTIE: She's going to look for Eddie.

NELLIE (blushing): Well, what if I am? Shan't be many minutes, Ma.

MOTHER (rather coldly): I should think not! I don't know what you want at all going out at this time o' night.

NELLIE shrugs her shoulders, and goes out with BEATRICE WYLD, who laughs and bids another good night.

MOTHER (when they have gone): A silly young hussy, gadding to look for him. As if she couldn't sleep without seeing him.

GERTIE: Oh, he always says, "Come and look for me about eleven." I bet he's longing to shut that shop up.

MOTHER (shortly): Ha! he's softer than she is, and I'm sure that's not necessary. I can't understand myself how folks can be such looneys. I'm sure I was never like it.

GERTIE: And I'm sure I never should be. I often think, when John's coming, "Oh, hang it, I wish he'd stay away!"

MOTHER: Ah, but that's too bad, Gertie. If you feel like that you'd better not keep it on any longer.--Yet I used to be about the same myself. I was born with too much sense for that sort of slobber.

GERTIE: Yes, isn't it hateful? I often think, "Oh, get off with you!" I'm sure I should never be like Nellie.--Isn't Ernest late? You'll have Mr Lambert in first.

MOTHER (bitterly): He is late. He must have gone every bit of the way.

GERTIE: Nay, I bet he's not--that.

There is silence a moment.

The MOTHER remembers the bread.

MOTHER (turning round and looking in the panchion): Well, there ought to be two more brown loaves. What have they done with them, now? (Turns over the loaves, and looks about.)

GERTIE (laughing): I should think they've gone and eaten them, between them.

MOTHER: That's very funny. (She rises, and is going to look round the room.)

There is a whistle outside.

GERTIE (turning her head sharply aside): Oh, hang it! I'm not going--I'm not!

MOTHER: Who is it? John?

GERTIE: It is, and I'm not going.

The whistle is heard again.

He can shut up, 'cause I'm not going!

MOTHER (smiling): You'll have to just go and speak to him, if he's waiting for you.

The whistle is heard louder.

GERTIE: Isn't it hateful! I don't care. I'll tell him I was in bed. I should be if my father wasn't at the "Ram".

MOTHER (sighing): Ay! But you may guess he's seen Nellie, and she's been saying something to him.

GERTIE: Well, she needn't, then!

The whistle goes again.

GERTIE cannot resist the will of the other, especially as the MOTHER bids her go. She flings her hand, and turns with great impatience.

He can shut up! What's he want to come at this time for? Oh, hang him!

She goes out slowly and unwillingly, her lips closed angrily. The MOTHER smiles, sighs, and looks sad and tired again.

MOTHER (to herself): It's a very funny thing!

She wanders round the room, looking for the bread. She lights a taper and goes into the scullery.

(re-passing, she repeats): A very remarkable thing!

She goes into the pantry on right, and after a moment returns with the loaf in the damp cloth, which she has unfolded. She stands looking at the loaf, repeating a sharp little sound against her palate with her tongue, quickly vibrating her head up and down.

(to herself): So this is it, is it? It's a nice thing!--And they put it down there, thinking I shouldn't see it. It's a nice thing! (Goes and looks in the oven, then says bitterly): I always said she was a deep one. And he thinks he'll stop out till his father comes!--And what have they done with the other?--Burnt it, I should think. That's what they've done. It's a nice thing--a nice thing! (She sits down in the rocking-chair, perfectly rigid, still overdone with weariness and anger and pain.)

After a moment, the garden gate is heard to bang back, and a heavy step comes up the path, halting, punctuated with the scratch and thrust of a walking-stick, rather jarring on the bricked yard.

The FATHER enters. He also bends his head a little from the light, peering under his hat-brim.

The MOTHER has quickly taken the withered loaf and dropped it in among the others in the panchion.

The FATHER does not speak, but goes straight to the passage, and hangs up his hat, overcoat, and jacket, then returns and stands very near the fire, holding his hands close down to the open ruddy grate. He sways slightly when he turns, after a moment or two, and stands with his hands spread behind his back, very near the fire.

The MOTHER turns away her head from him.

He remains thus for a minute or so, then he takes a step forward, and, leaning heavily on the table, begins to pick the grapes from the plate, spitting out the skins into his right hand and flinging them at random towards the fire behind his back, leaning all the time heavily with the left hand on the table.

After a while this irritates the MOTHER exceedingly.

MOTHER: You needn't eat all those grapes. There's somebody else!

FATHER (speaking with an exaggerated imitation of his son's English): "Somebody else!" Yes, there is "somebody else"! (He pushes the plate away and the grapes roll on the table.) I know they was not bought for me! I know it! I know it! (His voice is rising.) Somebody else! Yes, there is somebody else! I'm not daft! I'm not a fool. Nothing's got for me. No-o. You can get things for them, you can.

The MOTHER turns away her head, with a gesture of contempt.

(Continues with maddening tipsy, ironic snarl): I'm not a fool! I can see it! I can see it! I'm not daft! There's nothing for me, but you begrudge me every bit I put in my mouth.

MOTHER (with cold contempt): You put enough down your own throat. There's no need for anybody else. You take good care you have your share.

FATHER: I have my share. Yes, I do, I do!

MOTHER (contemptuously): Yes, you do.

FATHER: Yes, I do. But I shouldn't if you could help it, you begrudging bitch. What did you put away when I came in, so that I shouldn't see it? Something! Yes! Something you'd got for them! Nobody else. Yes! I know you'd got it for somebody else!

MOTHER (quietly, with bitter scorn): As it happens, it was nothing.

FATHER (his accent is becoming still more urban. His O's are A's, so that "nothing" is "nathing"): Nathing! Nathing! You're a liar, you're a liar. I heard the scuffle. You don't think I'm a fool, do you, woman?

She curls her lips in a deadly smile.

FATHER: I know, I know! Do you have what you give me for dinner? No, you don't. You take good care of it!

MOTHER: Look here, you get your good share. Don't think you keep the house. Do you think I manage on the few lousy shillings you give me? No, you get as much as you deserve, if any man did. And if you had a rice pudding, it was because we had none. Don't come here talking. You look after yourself, there's no mistake.

FATHER: An' I mean to, an' I mean to!

MOTHER: Very well, then!

FATHER (suddenly flaring): But I'm not going to be treated like a dog in my own house! I'm not, so don't think it! I'm master in this house, an' I'm going to be. I tell you, I'm master of this house.

MOTHER: You're the only one who thinks so.

FATHER: I'll stop it! I'll put a stop to it. They can go--they can go!

MOTHER: You'd be on short commons if they did.

FATHER: What? What? Me! You saucy bitch, I can keep myself, an' you as well, an' him an' all as holds his head above me--am doing--an' I'll stop it, I'll stop it--or they can go.

MOTHER: Don't make any mistake--you don't keep us. You hardly keep yourself.

FATHER: Do I?--do I? And who does keep 'em, then?

MOTHER: I do--and the girl.

FATHER: You do, do you, you snappy little bitch! You do, do you? Well, keep 'em yourself, then. Keep that lad in his idleness yourself, then.

MOTHER: Very willingly, very willingly. And that lad works ten times as hard as you do.

FATHER: Does he? I should like to see him go down th' pit every day! I should like to see him working every day in th' hole. No, he won't dirty his fingers.

MOTHER: Yes, you wanted to drag all the lads into the pit, and you only begrudge them because I wouldn't let them.

FATHER (shouting): You're a liar--you're a liar! I never wanted 'em in th' pit.

MOTHER (interrupting): You did your best to get the other two there, anyway.

FATHER (still shouting): You're a liar--I never did anything of the sort. What other man would keep his sons doing nothing till they're twenty-two? Where would you find another? Not that I begrudge it him--I don't, bless him. . . .

MOTHER: Sounds like it.

FATHER: I don't. I begrudge 'em nothing. I'm willing to do everything I can for 'em, and 'ow do they treat me? Like a dog, I say, like a dog!

MOTHER: And whose fault is it?

FATHER: Yours, you stinking hussy! It's you as makes 'em like it. They're like you. You teach 'em to hate me. You make me like dirt for 'em: you set 'em against me . . .

MOTHER: You set them yourself.

FATHER (shouting): You're a liar! (He jumps from his chair and stands bending towards her, his fist clenched and ready and threatening.) It's you. It always 'as been you. You've done it--

Enter ERNEST LAMBERT.

ERNEST (pulling off his cap and flashing with anger): It's a fine row you're kicking up. I should bring the neighbours in!

FATHER: I don't care a damn what I do, you sneering devil, you! (He turns to his son, but remains in the same crouching, threatening attitude.)

ERNEST (flaring): You needn't swear at me, either.

FATHER: I shall swear at who the devil I like. Who are you, you young hound--who are you, you measley little--

ERNEST: At any rate, I'm not a foul-mouthed drunken fool.

FATHER (springing towards him): What! I'll smite you to the ground if you say it again, I will, I will!

ERNEST: Pah!

He turns his face aside in contempt from the fist brandished near his mouth.

FATHER (shouting): What! Say it! I'll drive my fist through you!

ERNEST (suddenly tightening with rage as the fist is pushed near his face): Get away, you spitting old fool!

The FATHER jerks nearer and trembles his fist so near the other's nose that he draws his head back, quivering with intense passion and loathing, and lifts his hands.

MOTHER: Ernest, Ernest, don't!

There is a slight relaxation.

(Lamentable, pleading): Don't say any more, Ernest! Let him say what he likes. What should I do if . . .

There is a pause.

ERNEST continues rigidly to glare into space beyond his father.

The FATHER turns to the MOTHER with a snarling movement, which is nevertheless a movement of defeat. He withdraws, sits down in the arm-chair, and begins, fumbling, to get off his collar and tie, and afterwards his boots.

ERNEST has taken a book, and stands quite motionless, looking at it. There is heard only the slash of the FATHER'S bootlaces. Then he drags off the boot, and it falls with a loud noise.

ERNEST, very tense, puts down the book, takes off his overcoat, hangs it up, and returns to the side of the sofa nearest the door, where he sits, pretending to read.

There is silence for some moments, and again the whip of boot-laces. Suddenly a snarl breaks the silence.

FATHER: But don't think I'm going to be put down in my own house! It would take a better man than you, you white-faced jockey--or your mother either--or all the lot of you put together! (He waits awhile.) I'm not daft--I can see what she's driving at. (Silence.) I'm not a fool, if you think so. I can pay you yet, you sliving bitch! (He sticks out his chin at his wife.)

ERNEST lifts his head and looks at him.

(Turns with renewing ferocity on his son): Yes, and you either. I'll stand no more of your chelp. I'll stand no more! Do you hear me?

MOTHER: Ernest!

ERNEST looks down at his book.

The FATHER turns to the MOTHER.

FATHER: Ernest! Ay, prompt him! Set him on--you know how to do it--you know how to do it!

There is a persistent silence.

I know it! I know it! I'm not daft, I'm not a fool! (The other boot falls to the floor.)

He rises, pulling himself up with the arms of the chair, and, turning round, takes a Waterbury watch with a brass chain from the wall beside the bookcase: his pit watch that the MOTHER hung there when she put his pit-trousers in the cupboard--and winds it up, swaying on his feet as he does so. Then he puts it back on the nail, and a key swings at the end of the chain. Then he takes a silver watch from his pocket, and, fumbling, missing the keyhole, winds that up also with a key, and, swaying forward, hangs it up over the cupboard. Then he lurches round, and, limping pitiably, goes off upstairs. There is a heavy silence. The Waterbury watch can be heard ticking.

ERNEST: I would kill him, if it weren't that I shiver at the thought of touching him.

MOTHER: Oh, you mustn't! Think how awful it would be if there were anything like that. I couldn't bear it.

ERNEST: He is a damned, accursed fool!

The MOTHER sighs. ERNEST begins to read.

There is a quick patter of feet, and GERTIE COOMBER comes running in.

GERTIE: Has Mr Lambert come?

MOTHER: Ay--in bed.

GERTIE: My father hasn't come yet. Isn't it sickening?

MOTHER: It is, child. They want horsewhipping, and those that serve them, more.

GERTIE: I'm sure we haven't a bit of peace of our lives. I'm sure when mother was alive, she used to say her life was a burden, for she never knew when he'd come home, or how.

MOTHER: And it is so.

GERTIE: Did you go far, Ernest?

ERNEST (not looking up): I don't know. Middling.

MOTHER: He must have gone about home, for he's not been back many minutes.

GERTIE: There's our Frances shouting!

She runs off.

MOTHER (quietly): What did you do with that other loaf?

ERNEST (looking up, smiling): Why, we forgot it, and it got all burned.

MOTHER (rather bitterly): Of course you forgot it. And where is it?

ERNEST: Well, it was no good keeping it. I thought it would only grieve your heart, the sight of it, so I put it on the fire.

MOTHER: Yes, I'm sure! That was a nice thing to do, I must say! . . . Put a brown loaf on the fire, and dry the only other one up to a cinder!

The smile dies from his face, and he begins to frown.

(She speaks bitterly): It's always alike, though. If Maggie Pearson's here, nobody else matters. It's only a laughing matter if the bread gets burnt to cinders and put on the fire. (Suddenly bursts into a glow of bitterness.)It's all very well, my son--you may talk about caring for me, but when it comes to Maggie Pearson it's very little you care for me--or Nellie--or anybody else.

ERNEST (dashing his fingers through his hair): You talk just like a woman! As if it makes any difference! As if it makes the least difference!

MOTHER (folding her hands in her lap and turning her face from him): Yes, it does.

ERNEST (frowning fiercely): It doesn't. Why should it? If I like apples, does it mean I don't like--bread? You know, Ma, it doesn't make any difference.

MOTHER (doggedly): I know it does.

ERNEST (shaking his finger at her): But why should it, why should it? You know you wouldn't be interested in the things we talk about: you know you wouldn't.

MOTHER: Why shouldn't I?

ERNEST: Should you, now? Look here: we talked about French poetry. Should you care about that?

No answer.

You know you wouldn't! And then we talked about those pictures at the Exhibition--about Frank Brangwyn--about Impressionism--for ever such a long time. You would only be bored by that--

MOTHER: Why should I? You never tried.

ERNEST: But you wouldn't. You wouldn't care whether it's Impressionism or pre-Raphaelism. (Pathetically.)

MOTHER: I don't see why I shouldn't.

ERNEST (ruffling his hair in despair; after a pause): And, besides, there are lots of things you can't talk to your own folks about, that you would tell a stranger.

MOTHER (bitterly): Yes, I know there are.

ERNEST (wildly): Well, I can't help it--can I, now?

MOTHER (reluctantly): No--I suppose not--if you say so.

ERNEST: But you know--!

MOTHER (turning aside again; with some bitterness and passion): I do know, my boy--I do know!

ERNEST: But I can't help it.

His MOTHER does not reply, but sits with her face averted.

Can I, now? Can I?

MOTHER: You say not.

ERNEST (changing the position again): And you wouldn't care if it was Alice, or Lois, or Louie. You never row me if I'm a bit late when I've been with them. . . . It's just Maggie, because you don't like her.

MOTHER (with emphasis): No, I don't like her--and I can't say I do.

ERNEST: But why not? Why not? She's as good as I am--and I'm sure you've nothing against her--have you, now?

MOTHER (shortly): No, I don't know I've anything against her.

ERNEST: Well, then, what do you get so wild about?

MOTHER: Because I don't like her, and I never shall, so there, my boy!

ERNEST: Because you've made up your mind not to.

MOTHER: Very well, then.

ERNEST (bitterly): And you did from the beginning, just because she happened to care for me.

MOTHER (with coldness): And does nobody else care for you, then, but her?

ERNEST (knitting his brows and shaking his hands in despair): Oh, but it's not a question of that.

MOTHER (calmly, coldly): But it is a question of that.

ERNEST (fiercely): It isn't! You know it isn't! I care just as much for you as ever--you know I do.

MOTHER: It looks like it, when night after night you leave me sitting up here till nearly eleven--and gone eleven sometimes--

ERNEST: Once, Mother, once--and that was when it was her birthday.

MOTHER (turning to him with the anger of love): And how many times is it a quarter to eleven, and twenty to?

ERNEST: But you'd sit up just the same if I were in; you'd sit up reading--you know you would.

MOTHER: You don't come in to see.

ERNEST: When I am in, do you go to bed before then?

MOTHER: I do.

ERNEST: Did you on Wednesday night, or on Tuesday, or on Monday?

MOTHER: No; because you were working.

ERNEST: I was in.

MOTHER: I'm not going to go to bed and leave you sitting up, and I'm not going to go to bed to leave you to come in when you like . . . so there!

ERNEST (beginning to unfasten his boots): Alright--I can't help it, then.

MOTHER: You mean you won't.

There is a pause. ERNEST hangs his head, forgetting to unlace his boot further.

ERNEST (pathetically): You don't worry our Nellie. Look, she's out now. You never row her.

MOTHER: I do. I'm always telling her.

ERNEST: Not like this.

MOTHER: I do! I called her all the names I could lay my tongue to last night.

ERNEST: But you're not nasty every time she goes out to see Eddie, and you don't for ever say nasty things about him. . . .

There is a moment of silence, while he waits for an answer.

ERNEST: And I always know you'll be sitting here working yourself into a state if I happen to go up to Herod's Farm.

MOTHER: Do I?--and perhaps you would, if you sat here waiting all night--

ERNEST: But, Ma, you don't care if Nellie's out.

MOTHER (after brooding awhile; with passion): No, my boy, because she doesn't mean the same to me. She has never understood--she has not been--like you. And now--you seem to care nothing--you care for anything more than home: you tell me nothing but the little things: you used to tell me everything; you used to come to me with everything; but now--I don't do for you now. You have to find somebody else.

ERNEST: But I can't help it. I can't help it. I have to grow up--and things are different to us now.

MOTHER (bitterly): Yes, things are different to us now. They never used to be. And you say I've never tried to care for her. I have--I've tried and tried to like her, but I can't, and it's no good.

ERNEST (pathetically): Well, my dear, we shall have to let it be, then, and things will have to go their way. (He speaks with difficulty.)You know, Mater--I don't care for her--really--not half as I care for you. Only, just now--well, I can't help it, I can't help it. But I care just the same--for you--I do.

MOTHER (turning with a little cry): But I thought you didn't!

He takes her in his arms, and she kisses him, and he hides his face in her shoulder. She holds him closely for a moment; then she kisses him and gently releases him. He kisses her. She gently draws away, saying, very tenderly:

MOTHER: There!--Nellie will be coming in.

ERNEST (after a pause): And you do understand, don't you, Mater?

MOTHER (with great gentleness, having decided not to torment him): Yes, I understand now. (She bluffs him.)

ERNEST takes her hand and strokes it a moment. Then he bends down and continues to unfasten his boots. It is very silent.

I'm sure that hussy ought to be in--just look at the time!

ERNEST: Ay, it's scandalous!

There are in each of their voices traces of the recent anguish, which makes their speech utterly insignificant. Nevertheless, in thus speaking, each reassures the other that the moment of abnormal emotion and proximity is passed, and the usual position of careless intimacy is reassumed.

MOTHER (rising): I shall have to go and call her--a brazen baggage!

There is a rattle of the yard gate, and NELLIE runs in, blinking very much.

NELLIE (out of breath; but very casually): Hello, our Ernest, you home?

MOTHER: Yes, miss, and been home long ago. I'll not have it, my lady, so you needn't think it. You're not going to be down there till this time of night! It's disgraceful. What will his mother say, do you think, when he walks in at past eleven?

NELLIE: She can say what she likes. Besides, she'll be in bed.

MOTHER: She'll hear him, for all that. I'd be ashamed of myself, that I would, standing out there slobbering till this time of night! I don't know how anyone can be such a fool!

NELLIE (smiling): Perhaps not, my dear.

MOTHER (slightly stung): No, and I should be sorry. I don't know what he wants running up at this time of a night.

NELLIE: Oh, Mother, don't go on again! We've heard it a dozen times.

MOTHER: And you'll hear it two dozen.

ERNEST, having got off his shoes, begins to take off his collar and tie.

NELLIE sits down in the arm-chair.

NELLIE (dragging up the stool and beginning to unlace her boots): I could hear my father carrying on again. Was he a nuisance?

MOTHER: Is he ever anything else when he's like that?

NELLIE: He is a nuisance. I wish he was far enough! Eddie could hear every word he said.

ERNEST: Shame! Shame!

NELLIE (in great disgust): It is! He never hears anything like that. Oh, I was wild. I could have killed him!

MOTHER: You should have sent him home; then he'd not have heard it at all.

NELLIE: He'd only just come, so I'm sure I wasn't going to send him home then.

ERNEST: So you heard it all, to the mild-and-bitter end?

NELLIE: No, I didn't. And I felt such a fool!

ERNEST: You should choose your spot out of earshot, not just by the garden gate. What did you do?

NELLIE: I said, "Come on, Eddie, let's get away from this lot." I'm sure I shouldn't have wondered if he'd gone home and never come near again.

MOTHER (satirically): What for?

NELLIE: Why--when he heard that row.

MOTHER: I'm sure it was very bad for him, poor boy.

NELLIE (fiercely): How should you like it?

MOTHER: I shouldn't have a fellow there at that time at all.

ERNEST: You thought a father-in-law that kicked up a shindy was enough to scare him off, did you? Well, if you choose your girl, you can't choose your father-in-law--you'll have to tell him that.

NELLIE has taken off her shoes. She stands in front of the mirror and uncoils her hair, and plaits it in a thick plait which hangs down her back.

MOTHER: Come, Ernest; you'll never want to get up in the morning.

NELLIE (suddenly): Oh! There now! I never gave him that rose. (She looks down at her bosom and lifts the head of a rather crushed rose.)What a nuisance!

ERNEST: The sad history of a rose between two hearts:

"Rose, red rose, that burns with a low flame,
     What has broken you?
Hearts, two hearts caught up in a game
     Of shuttlecock--Amen!"

NELLIE (blushing): Go on, you soft creature! (Looks at the rose.)

ERNEST: Weep over it.

NELLIE: Shan't!

ERNEST: And pickle it, like German girls do.

NELLIE: Don't be such a donkey.

ERNEST: Interesting item: final fate of the rose.

NELLIE goes out; returns in a moment with the rose in an egg-cup in one hand, and a candle in the other.

The MOTHER rises.

ERNEST: I'll rake, Mother.

NELLIE lights her candle, takes her shawl off the table, kisses her mother good night, and bids her brother good night as he goes out to the cellar.

The MOTHER goes about taking off the heavy green tablecloth, disclosing the mahogany, and laying a doubled table-cloth half across. She sets the table with a cup and saucer, plate, knife, sugar-basin, brown-and-white teapot and tea-caddy. Then she fetches a tin bottle and a soiled snapbag, and lays them together on the bare half of the table. She puts out the salt and goes and drags the pit-trousers from the cupboard and puts them near the fire.

Meanwhile ERNEST has come from the cellar with a large lump of coal, which he pushes down in the fireplace so that it shall not lodge and go out.

MOTHER: You'll want some small bits.--And bring a few pieces for him in the morning.

ERNEST (returning to the cellar with the dust-pan): Alright! I'll turn the gas out now.

The MOTHER fetches another candle and continues her little tasks. The gas goes suddenly down and dies slowly out.

ERNEST comes up with his candlestick on a shovelful of coal. He puts the candle on the table, and puts some coal on the fire, round the "raker". The rest he puts in the shovel on the hearth. Then he goes to wash his hands.

The MOTHER, leaving her candle in the scullery, comes in with an old iron fire-screen which she hangs on the bars of the grate, and the ruddy light shows over and through the worn iron top.

ERNEST is heard jerking the roller-towel. He enters, and goes to his mother, kissing her forehead, and then her cheek, stroking her cheek with his finger-tips.

ERNEST: Good night, my dear.

MOTHER: Good night.--Don't you want a candle?

ERNEST: No--blow it out. Good night.

MOTHER (very softly): Good night.

There is in their tones a dangerous gentleness--so much gentleness that the safe reserve of their souls is broken.

ERNEST goes upstairs. His bedroom door is heard to shut.

The MOTHER stands and looks in the fire. The room is lighted by the red glow only. Then in a moment or two she goes into the scullery, and after a minute--during which running of water is heard--she returns with her candle, looking little and bowed and pathetic, and crosses the room, softly closing the passage door behind her.

 

END OF ACT III


End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
A Collier's Friday Night by D H Lawrence

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