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Title: Smaragda's Lover: A Dramatic Phantasmagoria
Author: Walter James Redfern Turner (1884-1946)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Smaragda's Lover: A Dramatic Phantasmagoria
Author: Walter James Redfern Turner (1884-1946)


1924


*


CHARACTERS

(In order of their appearance)

Sir Leo Edward Meyer ("Teddy")
Dumbell (Butler)
Arthur Medulla (Liberal M.P.)
Percy Parsons (Prime Minister's Private Secretary)
Mr. y Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor
Mr. Pilbery Flower (Editor of "The Situation")
Lady Torrent
Miss Maud Torrent
Sylvester Snodgrass
Miss Smaragda Snodgrass
Mr. A. de Bomph
Lord Simon Snodgrass
Sebastian Snodgrass
The Prime Minister

*

An integral part of this play is the music to Sylvester Snodgrass's
"The Grand Parade," composed by Achilles de Bomph. At any stage
performance this music must be played, and it will be found among
the compositions of Lord Berners. Performing rights in the play are
reserved by the Author, to whom application should be made through
the Publishers.


*


ACT I

Teddy Meyer's drawing room. Walls of jade green, two old gold brocaded
settees, green carpet on polished floors, double folding doors jade green
with old gold moulding, peacock blue lamp with shade behind left settee.
Folding doors are opened to extent of showing one panel each showing the
end of a grand piano (black) on low platform against row of windows. The
peacock-blue curtains are not drawn. White marble fireplace on left and
on the mantelpiece a fine reproduction reduced in size, of the Hermaphrodite
in the Munich Glyptothek. This is reflected in a beautiful old mirror. There
is nothing else on the mantelpiece. It is evening, through the windows the
evening star is seen shining above the top branches of a tree at the end of
the garden below.

The room is empty, a few moments after the Curtain has risen. The back
part of the room behind the folding doors darkens. The light from the
windows is blotted out but the Evening Star seems to move slowly down
stage until it reaches the gap between the folding doors. A voice speaks:

I am no guest within this house to-night,
But like the Evening star I am shut out
With the trees sighing and the cries of birds,
Bright paths of comets and the noiseless humming
Earth moves upon its axis.

Soundless, drifting,
The clouds pass by, the armies of the stars
Thicken and lie encamped all round about us.
Let every man look up! Beyond that roof
They lie in myriads. (Long pause.)

Through this still air passing
What trembles in your hearts? 'Tis I your lover.
Smaragda's lover, who with her walks buried,
Invisible to sight. I lie within you deeper
Than lies the Spring within the earth all Winter.
I am the resurrection and the life
Within you all. Not yet have I ascended.

(Silence.)

Enter Meyer, a white-haired and oldish man of about seventy,
faultlessly dressed in evening clothes with a small wax flower
buttonhole, and white waistcoat with diamond buttons. He has a well
shaped head and nose but a loose protruding under lip. He shuffles
across the room and looks at the hermaphrodite on the mantelpiece
which he moves the fraction of an inch. He then turns and for a moment
stares at the Evening Star through the window, his carefully toiletted
expression falls away and his face relapses into a pitiful empty
dejection. His whole body loses its rigidity and hangs loosely over the
floor. He stays like this for a few moments until he hears the door
open and the Butler enter. Instantaneously he recovers himself.

MEYER (savagely). Why haven't you drawn those curtains? Damn it, you've
been long enough with me now to know that all curtains must be drawn
at sunset. Why should my dinner be spoilt by that melancholy sight you
blundering fool! (BUTLER stands still) (Screaming) Shut it out will
you? (Butler walks towards the window, Meyer watching shivers?) Run,
damn you! (Butler walks faster but does not run, draws curtains?) Ugh!
that's better! Switch on that other light...Ask Mr. Medulla and Mr.
Parsons to come up here. They've had quite enough of my old brandy and
try to-night to announce the names clearly for once. And precious names
they'll be too--Tailors, Turners and Thompsons, in hideous clothes, and
without sock-suspenders. (Sneering.) Why you'll look like a gentleman
beside them, Dumbell!

Dumbell. I hope not, sir.

Meyer. And why?

Dumbell. One gentleman in the house is enough, sir.

(Exit Butler.)

Meyer. I give that fellow too much license, but I suppose sometimes he
forgets that I am his employer and not a guest.

(Enter Parsons followed by Medulla. Both slightly flushed with Meyer's
excessively good food and drink.)

Parsons. Really, Teddy, you are the most wonderful of hosts! What a
dinner, too exquisite! And this room, enchanting! How is it I don't
come oftener?

Medulla. How is it you are here now? I never knew he cared for music?

Meyer. My dear Arthur, if I only invited people here who liked music,
my house would be empty.

Parsons. Now Teddy darling, you know I love your music. Isn't it
the best in London? Has anyone ever been known to whisper during a
performance?

Meyer. Well, you can shout or whisper as you please tonight. I don't
suppose you could make any noise the composer hasn't already thought of.

Parsons. Really? Why, what is happening?

Meyer. The greates living musical genius is going to perform

Parsons. Oh really!

Medulla. What, Stravinsky!

Meyer. My dear Arthur, you could not possibly think that I should have
any name so "used" so tongue-worn, so stale to offer to my guests. This
man is new and only discovered yesterday.

Parsons. Who discovered him?

Meyer. Why who discovers anything in London to-day Why, the Snodgrasses!

Medulla. Are they coming?

Meyer. They are bringing him.

Parsons. What's his name?

Meyer. I don't know--I'm relying on Dumbell. I've warned him to
pronounce every name distinctly.

Medulla. It's probably unpronounceable.

Parsons. Who else is coming?

Meyer. Lady Torrent.

Parsons. Dear old "Cascade," is she still falling?

Meyer. She's past the age, but she's not yet frost-bound.

Parsons (to Medulla). Do you know she's making up to poor old Tosh.

Medulla. "Tosh"!

Parsons. Yes. "My dear Prime Minister" she writes to him. You'd think
she was in the Cabinet.

Medulla. But she always declared she'd never have him in her house and
she's always refused to meet him.

Parsons. Ah, she's deserting you, he's terribly, indescribably
flattered.

Meyer. Don't be alarmed, Arthur, her intentions are neither amorous nor
political, as Percy knows.

Parsons. No, she's got a man who will give a quarter of a million to
be made a Lord and she wants "Tosh" to promise to put him in the next
honours list if he gives the money towards a National Theatre.

Medulla. National Theatre! What an extraordinary idea! Why on earth
should she want that?

Parsons. Perhaps she wants to act Juliet. But she'll not find another
Romeo except on the stage.

Meyer. Why not? She's reached the age of eternal youth.

Medulla. But Tosh won't give a Barony for that.

Parsons. Tosh naturally wants the money to go to his political fund,
but she won't agree, so he s trying to find out who the man is and go
behind her.

Medulla. The usual "Tosh" tactics. What a dishonest scoundrel the
fellow is!

Meyer. My dear Arthur, there are no newspaper men present. Don't waste
your moral sentiments on us.

Medulla (earnestly). You can't possibly deny that "Tosh" is an
unscrupulous blackguard, that he is completely unreliable, that he
keeps in office only by the most shameless trickery, that he has
forfeited the respect of every political party in the country, that he
has dragged England's name into the mud, that name which by association
with the moral uprightness and integrity of character of generations of
our great statesmen had acquired a prestige before which the negro in
the darkest forests of Africa and the Chinaman on the farthest plains
of central Asia trembled and--

Parsons. My dear Arthur, is your brain going? You're not practising a
speech on us are you?

Medulla. Well, of course, you're not a Liberal, and I can't expect you
to sympathise--

Meyer. My boy, I assure you we are quite alone. You must give yourself
a rest. You're not in the Camberwell Town Hall.

Parsons. You're making too many speeches. You'll have a nervous
breakdown.

Medulla (clasping his forehead). I'm so sorry! I apologise. I get
automatically worked up at the bare name of" Tosh."

Parsons (sympathetically). I know; he affects a lot of people like
that. I don't see why. I never take the slightest notice of him myself.

Medulla (beginning conventionally but getting louder and louder and
ending as an orator addressing an open-air meeting). You're his
Secretary and you don't care how long he stays in office. It would
suit you admirably if he remained Prime Minister for the next ten
years. (Warming up again.) For all you care the country might go to
the dogs in the meantime, and not England only, but Germany, Italy,
France, Europe also. Factories may everywhere shut down, railways
become disorganised, trade come to a standstill, unemployment in every
country reach incredible figures, strikes spread in every industry
until millions of starving workers are thrown upon the streets to
feed the ranks of the Communists and Bolsheviks...Unless you want to
see Red Revolution spread like a devastating fire annihilating in its
irresistible course every vestige of this great civilization which has
been so laboriously built up throughout the centuries you will vote--

Meyer (spluttering with rage). Vote!! Jesus Christ! Medulla! If you go
on like this I'll have you thrown out!

Parsons (taking out a phial from his waistcoat pocket). My dear Arthur,
take one of these.

Medulla (groaning). My head! Please do forgive me Teddy. I am so sorry.

(Enter Butler announcing clearly and in a tone of undisguised contempt.)

Dumbell. Mr. and Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor.

Mr. F.-Taylor (going up effusively). Dear Sir Leo, I knew you were
a Liberal, but I never knew you were such an idealist and such a
magnificent speaker.

Meyer (politely shaking hands with Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor). How do you
do?

Mr. F.-Taylor. I congratulate you. I hope you didn't mind our
listening. I couldn't bear to interrupt you. It did my heart good to
hear such sentiments.

Meyer (coldly). My dear Sir, what you heard was one of the servants
amusing us with popular oratory. Allow me to introduce you this
gentleman--Mr. Thompson.

Mr. F.-Taylor. No, Taylor, Sir Leo.

Meyer. Of course, I beg your pardon, Mr. Tanner--Mr. Arthur Medulla.

Mr. F.-Taylor. The Arthur Medulla! Delighted to meet you, sir, you are
indeed the hope of our poor misgoverned country at this crisis. (Taking
him aside.)

Meyer. Percy, this is Mrs. Tomkins, wife of the famous dramatic critic
Mr. Firstnight-Thompson, of whom you have probably not heard--

Parsons. Delighted to meet you, I always read your husband's articles
with great interest.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (rather severely). My husband's name is
Fortnight-Taylor. All the best people read him I believe, Mr. Percy.
Lady Torrent says he is the only dramatic critic in London.

Parsons. Dear Lady Torrent, she is so enthusiastic. At Epsom they call
her "the bookies' hope."

Mrs. F.-Taylor (coldly, as if she has only half understood). Do you
race, Mr. Percy?

Parsons. No, I only chase. (Smiling at her half mockingly) I pursue the
fair.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (withdrawing a little doubtfully). Indeed!

Parsons. But not for myself--for others. I am what is called a tout.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (distantly). A tout!

Parsons. Yes, I am a tout. In other words, I pry and peep about.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (making an effort to understand him). Are you a poet,
Mr. Percy?

Parsons. Not in the sense you mean.

Mrs. F.-Taylor. Tell me who is the distinguished looking gentleman
talking to my husband and Sir Leo?

Parsons. Oh, he is the famous Arthur Medulla, leader of one of the
opposition parties--the Lopokova Liberals. Poor fellow, he was quite
brilliant before he went off his head.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (trying to snub him). "Off his head." Why, what do you
mean, Mr. Percy? He is our greatest living politician, the only hope of
our poor country.

Parsons. Poor country!

(The door opens and Butler announces the new-comer in his usual tone
of contempt. Mr. Fortnight-Taylor and Mr. Medulla move off stage behind
folding doors.)

Dumbell. Mr. Pilbery Flower.

(Mr. Pilbery Flower is a tall thin, melancholy man with dark hair,
drooping moustache and an air of dejection?)

Meyer (advancing to meet him). How d'ye do, Flower?

Flower (shaking hands listlessly). We're still alive--just think of it,
and all this gaiety, this levity can go on while the fate of Europe is
trembling on the balance.

Meyer. In the balance, Flower. I wish you journalists would not misuse
the English language.

Flower. What is the English language compared to the disaster that
confronts us! In a night mankind may perish!

Meyer. Well, while there's time let me introduce you to this lady. (He
turns to Mrs. Fortnight- Taylor.)

Flower (with melancholy). I know her. She is no good. Nothing is
any good. Fleets of aeroplanes travelling at an incredible height,
invisible and noiseless, will fill the sky...without warning, without a
hint or a sign from anybody, in less than an hour they will be here.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (alarmed). To-night!

Meyer. No, not to-night, madam, to-night we are going to hear the
greatest musical genius of the century.

Parsons. Also, we are not at war with anybody and we are not going to
be--although, as everybody knows, Mr. Flower is always thinking we are.

Flower. There will be no more ultimatums no more declarations of war.
A situation will arise there will be negotiations, the position will
become more and more obscure. In that darkness the politicians like
blind moles will be burrowing. Suddenly they will all stop, conscious
that they are not getting anywhere. Then through some mind like a
flash in the silence before a storm the lightning will discharge. The
situation is clear. Everything depends on the first blow there is not
an instant to lose, the rats will have no time to scurry to their
holes. Slowly from the clouds will fall upon London, as softly as the
evening dew, the unknown...In an hour this night or any night, men and
women will be conscious of an insidious something in the air They may
be playing cards, they may be dancing eating, or talking. Let them not
stir to open a door or a window, there is nothing to be done. Creeping
through the cracks and crevices, floating down the chimneys comes the
inexorable, blinding choking vapour. In their terror they will fling
open the doors, rush into the streets to fall screaming into the
gutters. Helpless masses crawling like worms blindly in the darkness
shrieking and moaning in pain and terror. So it will go on all through
the night. When the sun rises London and its millions will be no more.
There will be a hush over all the city and the daylight will fall on
streets choked with heaps of dead from under which here and there a
blind piteous creature crawls.

Parsons. Good God, Flower, you make one's flesh creep with your idiotic
nonsense.

Meyer. This is going to be a pleasant evening!

(Enter Medulla and Mr. Fortnight-Taylor into the gap between the
folding doors; one of which Medulla grasps as he speaks.)

Medulla (earnestly to Fortnight-Taylor). We are on the brink of ruin.
The country needs leadership and what does it get! Nothing, but
trickery and manoeuvring. It is in the hands of a traitor to the great
Liberal principles of open diplomacy and honest dealing. Gentlemen, I
implore you to consider the gravity of your position, Gladstone--?

Meyer (in a tone of exasperation). Gladstone!

Parsons. Surely you can't be meaning to trot that old dead head round
your constituency--they'll never stand it.

Medulla (drawing himself up and making a passionate gesture). I say
Gladstone!

Meyer (furious shrieking). Gladstone!! I will not hear these cliches in
my house. What devil possesses you, Arthur, to treat my guests as if
they were a public meeting. This is not Manchester!

(Enter Butler who announces the newcomers in a tone suggesting that
he is not responsible for their virtue. Arthur Medulla and Mr.
Fortnight-Taylor exeunt behind folding doors?)

Dumbell. Lady Torrent and Miss Maud Torrent.

Lady Torrent. Oh my dear Sir Leo, and how are you? Did I hear you
mention Manchester? You are not going there I hope?

Meyer. My dear Emily, for me civilization ends at Regent's Park. I've
never been north of it since I was at Eton.

Parsons. And that is South!

(Maud Torrent nods curtly to Parsons and goes and sits on divan.)

Lady Torrent (sighing). Regent's Park! Ah! how I remember the
turnstiles and the parrots sitting on their perches as you go in, and
all the poor caged animals! I always felt so free and happy there. It
is a place to which one never goes alone. I have not been there for
years. (She pauses and in changed tone continues.) Dear Mr. Mappin,
didn't he bring the polar ice there and arrange it in terraces for the
white bears? I suppose he was knighted. Sir Webbe Mappin or something--

Flower. All the animals at the Zoo will be wiped out in a single
night--all! all!

Meyer. Emily, let me introduce Mr. Pilbery Flower, the famous editor of
"The Situation."

Lady Torrent. Ah! Mr. Flower, I have heard so much about you and
have so wanted to meet you. Tell me now, do you think this wretched
Government will last much longer? Of course I read you every week in
"The Situation," I love your pessimism--it's so stimulating, but what
do you really think?

Mr. P. Flower. I do not know if civilization will last much longer.

Maud Torrent. What is civilization anyhow? Why should it last?

Flower. Who is that young lady?

Lady Torrent. My daughter, Mr. Flower--a great admirer of yours.

Flower (in his usual tone of melancholy abstraction). She has been
badly brought up. Most of the young women one meets nowadays are like
that, they have no faith in anything.

Parsons. Not all, Flower, this lady has the most touching faith in you
and Medulla and your fellow Liberals.

Flower (looking at Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor sadly). She is no longer young.

Meyer (politely to Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor). Surely your eyes deceive
you. Or are you looking at Percy. Mr. Flower is a notorious pessimist,
madam.

Flower. Her heart is not young, the young are never Liberals. The young
care nothing for civilization.

(Enter Butler.)

Dumbell. (in a tone of respect). Mr. Sylvester Snodgras and Miss
Smaragda Snodgrass.

Sylvester. (entering, dressed carefully, but with individuality).
Civilization depends entirely on the raping of unwilling virgins. Isn't
that true, Teddy? (Shaking hands.)

(Smaragda crosses and sits down beside Maud.)

Meyer. (a touch of irony always creeps into his voice). I never knew
it. My dear boy, this is a mixed party, there is at least one lady
present.

Lady Torrent. Not me Sylvester dear, and hardly Maud. You know how we
both love you.

Sylvester. (turning to Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor). Then it is to you,
Madam, that I must explain that my statement is a strictly scientific
one. See, Towner! I am never facetious!

Flower. Towner! Who is he, sir?

Sylvester. Towner, I regret to say is an American. It is the one blot
on what otherwise appears to be a portentous intellect.

Parsons. Given that, others will no doubt appear.

Sylvester. Percy, you need not listen. It will be wasted on you.

Lady Torrent. But what does this blemished American say?

Sylvester. He says, "...ardent and willing mothers bear children with
small heads, of inferior nervous organization, small spiritual stature,
little intellect and no genius."

Meyer. I have always thought ardent women horrible.

Parsons. But if there are to be no ardent mothers, how are we to get
offspring at all?

Maud. It would be difficult for you, Percy.

Sylvester. Genius and mental and moral superiority have always resulted
when compulsory maternity was forced upon cold women.

Flower. But what proof does he offer for such an extraordinary
statement?

Sylvester. Two thick documented volumes of proof. (Airily.) But I will
give a few instances. For example, the superiority of the Romans to
the races around them dated from the raping of the unwilling Sabine
women. The rise of the Tartars in Central Asia was due to the enforcing
of compulsory motherhood upon the tribute of Chinese maidens paid
to the Tartar chiefs. The mothers or grandmothers of Ghenghis Khan
and Tamerlane the Great had nothing to distinguish them from other
women except their repugnance for their husbands. My own intellectual
superiority over Percy is undoubtedly due to my mother's notorious
dislike of my father--(pause) Percy is a love child.

Flower. Sir, and let me tell you my dear departed mother adored my
father.

Sylvester. I can quite believe it.

Lady Torrent. But what happens when the men are cold.

Maud. Nothing, of course.

Sylvester. Coldness in men means sterility. It is only a virtue in
women.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (blushing). Only women have virtue.

Sylvester. Thank you, madam. It is a sublime thought but inaccurate.
The truth is that coldness is woman's only virtue. (Turning to Pilbery
Flower and the others?) In harems and in convents cold women can escape
maternity. So the strain of sexual coldness dies out and the race,
as you see in Moslem and Catholic countries, gradually deteriorates
through breeding solely from ardent women. What have Spain and Turkey
produced during the last few hundred years?

Flower. What about Granada, the Alhambra, Arabic mathematics and
philosophy? To the Moors, Europe owes the introduction of rice, sugar,
cotton, nearly all the fine garden and orchard fruits together with
many less important plants such as spinach and saffron.

Meyer. We could have done without spinach.

Flower. They introduced the system of irrigation by flood gates, wheels
and pumps. They also promoted many important branches of industry,
improved the manufacture of textile fabrics, earthenware, iron and
steel; they introduced the manufacture of a special kind of leather
to Morocco, from which country it now takes its name. They also
introduced inventions of a more ominous kind--gunpowder and artillery.
The cannon they used appear to have been made of wrought iron. But
perhaps they more than compensated for these evil contrivances, by the
introduction of the mariner's compass. Yet throughout this time, sir,
they maintained the harem system.

Sylvester. My dear Sir, all the enterprise you speak of was the fruit
of that buccaneering period--when they seized Christian virgins
and made them unwilling mothers. As Towney says "their enforced
fruitfulness quickly changed the region of Moslem rule from a spiritual
desert to a garden." In the same way the rise of the British Empire
dates from the advent of the Puritans.

Lady Torrent. Sylvester dear, you shock me! How unlike you to say such
a thing.

Maud. He is only saying they were the Turks of England.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (warmly). I am sure he is right, Lady Torrent. We owe
the Liberal Party to the Puritans.

Parsons (blandly). To the Nonconformists! It is the name given to the
Puritans when they ceased to be pure.

Sylvester. The Puritans did not allow cold women to escape marriage.
The Puritan wife loved God, not her husband. In every Puritan bedroom
her husband put up the text "be fruitful and multiply," and however
much she loathed him she obeyed--the percentage of genius rose
immediately!

Flower. Ridiculous nonsense!

(Enter at folding doors Medulla and Mr. Fortnight-Taylor.)

Sylvester. Now owing to the spread of sentimental literature everybody
marries for love and instead of Shelley we get Mr. H. G. Wells. Mothers
bear Northcliffes, Bottomleys, Beaver-brooks, Rothermeres and Riddells
instead of Pitts, Washingtons, Gladstones and Disraelis. If this
love-mania goes on in another generation Sir James Barrie and Mr. A. S.
M. Hutchinson will be our greatest English classics. England is doomed
unless something can be done to stop women marrying for love.

Medulla (advancing). No, sir, England is not doomed because in some
poor humble hearts burns the glorious flame of pure unreflecting
love--Remember those sacred and inspired words: ' What are all these
wigwams if ve have not love? "

Mr. F.-Taylor (stupified). Wigwams!!

Maud. Yes, of course, the domestic homes of the Red Indians. (Sweetly.)
You mean by wigwams to typify home-life generally, and especially
English and American homes don't you, Mr. Medulla?

Medulla (clasping his head). Did I say wigwams?

Parsons. My dear fellow, you'd better go home and go to bed and stop
reading the Bible, it's not improving your style--

Sylvester. A little love wouldn't do you any harm.

Meyer. Will you have a drink, Arthur?

Medulla. No, I want music, music will soothe me. I came here to hear
music and forget all about England and you will not let me forget.
Where is this music that will wash away my tears?

(Enter Butler. Medulla and Mr. Fortnight-Taylor disappear again behind
the folding doors.)

Dumbell (in a tone of disgust). Mr. de Bomph.

Sylvester. Ah, there you are, Achilles.

(De Bomph is a foreign looking, burly young man of about thirty
with spectacles and a thick mop of hair standing up on end. He has
a strained, anxious expression on his face as he faces his host who
advances holding out his hand.)

Meyer. Ah my dear de Bomph, the whole company is awaiting your arrival.

De Bomph (in an anxious voice that he strives to moderate, but which
is quite a loud whisper. He speaks perfect English). Can I go to the
lavatory?

Meyer (agitated in a whisper). Certainly, certainly my dear fellow,
come along.

(He leads him to the door and they go out.)

Lady Torrent. Is he a great genius? Sylvester. Sebastian says so.

Lady Torrent. Where is Sebastian? Isn't he coming?

Maud. If he isn't I'm off.

Parsons. Doesn't de Bomph appeal to you, Maud? I should have thought--

Maud. I hate music.

Sylvester. (mysteriously). Sebastian is coming, but he may be late in
getting here. (Pause.) Ssh! (He holds up his hand.) Isn't it curious
that though we all know Sebastian so well we haven't the least idea of
what he is doing at this moment?

(They are all still as if listening?)

Smaragda (shading her eyes and speaking slowly in a clear, hard voice).
Sebastian is walking along a street not far from here. He is walking
down the side of a square. He has passed the first lamppost--(pause)
the second--(pause) the third. If it is the same square as this he will
be here in five minutes. (Rising.) But if it is not! If it isn't a
London square at all? And where is London?

CURTAIN



ACT II

Same Scene as Act I, a little later in the evening.

De Bomph is playing a Prelude and Fugue of his own composition. He is
finishing the Prelude and begins the Fugue, which is a short one of an
extraordinary abrupt, elliptical character. The music can only be heard
in the distance as a confusion of sounds but its character can be felt.
The stage is empty until the last note dies away.

Enter Smaragda. She stands in the gap between the folding doors.

Smaragda. It is thrilling to feel such power. These artists are like
immense engines that could scale Everest and not know they had left the
plain. Their small bodies burn in the air with an intensity like the
brightest stars. Yet just as the star whose flaming sphere exceeding
the sun's a hundred times shows us but a small sparkle in the sky, all
we see of their bodily combustion is a tiny system of sounds, a Sonata,
a Fugue, or a cluster of letters or signs--a poem or an equation. These
are the milky ways of the spirit and our bodies upon this earth are the
constellation of some other God! What an enchantment to be born! (She
goes to the settee and sits down.)

(Enter Maud.)

Maud. (walking restless to and from and leaning against the
mantelpiece). How I envy your composure. Where did you get it? How did
you get it? Your mother was a ballet dancer who never opened a book in
her life. Your father collects pictures, but has some nervous disease
which prevents him from looking at anything. He cannot even sit or
stand still for two seconds. He is what the "Daily Herald" would call
an effete aristocrat. He does not talk, he rumbles like a half-extinct
volcano; and he is so mean; he treats you all so shabbily though he has
fifteen thousand a year and no wife. If only he would go up Sebastian
would have to settle down--and get married. (Pause.) Why don't you ask
me if I am in love with Sebastian?

Smaragda. Because you're not.

Maud. How do you know, I may be. He is the only man who really
interests me.

Smaragda. He would soon cease to interest you if you married him.

Maud. I should like one or two children, that would pass a couple of
years.

Smaragda. What would you do after that?

Maud. Amuse myself by making men fall in love with me. Provoke them and
torture them until they ached to kiss the floor I walked on and never
even let them touch the tips of my fingers--

Smaragda. Well, you do that already.

Maud. I haven't a husband to make jealous. Besides you can torture men
much more thoroughly when you are married.

Smaragda. Won't you ever get tired of that?

Maud (viciously). Do men ever get tired of drink or food? Well,
provoking men is food and drink to me. I get no pleasure from sleeping
with a man, but I get intense pleasure from possessing a man's senses
until he can't eat or drink or sleep, from treading down his will,
wasting his time, ruining him physically and mentally until he is a
mere slave crawling at my feet.

Smaragda. Is that what you want to do to Sebastian?

Maud. Yes, but I can't; that is why I respect Sebastian, why I should
like to marry him.

Smaragda. It is no virtue in Sebastian that he can resist you. He is
simply not attracted.

Maud (bitterly). Why should one be attracted where one is powerless.
Sometimes when Sebastian smiles coolly and with that distant expression
which shows that he has not been taking the slightest notice of what
I have been saying, I long to throw myself at his feet and ask him to
trample on me. But I have always resisted. Why should I resist?

Smaragda (intensely). Because there is a lover waiting for you.

Maud (astonished). A lover for me!

Smaragda. Smash every man you can! O how I joy to see you crumple
them up before you--wretched, pitiful creatures! Throw them on the
scrap-heap. It would be vile to yield one's body to them. But Sebastian
is no better (pause as Maud stops to look at her) Sebastian is cold. He
has no sexual imagination. He also is defective. But if you can allure
him to desire you, do so.

Maud. I have done so at times. Sebastian is not entirely cold. There
have been moments when he has looked and desired me, but they were very
rare, and nearly always in public.

Smaragda. Well if you could have a child it might be an advance on you
both.

Maud. Yes, but how? These moments are very fleeting. Sebastian cannot
have me in a drawing room and I am not always willing either.

Smaragda. Ask him down alone to a country cottage with you?

Maud. I'm not going to compromise myself like that.

Smaragda. Ask me too.

Maud. Dear Smaragda you are an extraordinary person. Nothing seems to
offend you.

Smaragda (simply). Why should it? I believe in life. We must all
struggle with the utmost intensity of which we are capable. I am not on
Sebastian's side or on yours.

Maud. Sebastian must marry me.

Smaragda. Why?

Maud. Because if he doesn't want me enough to marry me he shan't have
me.

Smaragda. And if he did want you enough to marry you, you wouldn't want
him.

Maud. What a life! What is the good of it all! I am being eaten up with
pride, discontent and boredom.

Smaragda. You are an engine of destruction, weeding out the unfit. You
are a lovely and wonderful instrument. Civilization has produced you to
lop off its rotten boughs. You spread death and corruption everywhere.
Oh how beautiful and perfect you are!

Maud (drawing herself up). Yes, I am at least lovely. My happiest
moments are in my bath and when I undress at night. In the moonlight I
look wonderful. I feel wonderful, and let the smooth soft light flow
all over me. When I look out from my bedroom window in the country and
see the moon shining over all the pure colours of the hills I touch
them with my hands in a calm intense delight and it is my own body I am
touching, my knees, my thighs and my breasts. I am filled with a sweet
intense power, and I have completely forgotten my daily wretched self.
But these moments do not last. They leave me with nothing. I cannot
live on pride in my own beauty.

Smaragda. Pride is all we can live by.

Maud. But I want to feel that intense admiration and delight in
something outside myself. I want other feelings beside joy in my own
beauty. Art bores me, I can't even read Sylvester's poems. Why is it I
care nothing for music, nothing for pictures, nothing for literature
only for my own body. While you who are as beautiful as I am have all
sorts of pleasures. I often watch you listening to music and you have a
look like some of those carved angels one sees in museums.

Smaragda. Men do not fall in love with me.

Maud. The fools!

Smaragda. But I do not mind. Life is so exciting. I shall have no time
for a lover. Do you think de Bomph as a lover could be as wonderful as
that Prelude and Fugue? I wonder if anyone of Bach's wives ever got
from him the intense delight I have got from his music. Surely what
they got any man could have given, but I have had something that even
you with all your allurement could not get, and nobody can give it to
you nobody can give us anything.

Maud. I might stop you getting it. I might stop your friend de Bomph
composing. He is already conscious of my existence.

Smaragda (calmly). Do your best. It is your duty. But I hope you don't
succeed.

Maud (smiling). I shall not try. That is the secret of my power. (Exit.)

Smaragda (rising). And I shall ask him to play again. (Exit.)

(Enter Sylvester and Meyer.)

Meyer. What time do you expect Sebastian to arrive?

Sylvester. Any moment now.

Meyer. Your father ought to be here soon. I asked him not to be later
than half past ten. What am I to do with him when he comes if they
haven't arrived?

Sylvester. Oh, keep him downstairs and give him a drink. Have you got
any barley water?

Meyer. Barley-water?

Sylvester. Old St. Vitus won't drink anything else after dinner--but
give him a folio of prints and a cigar--that'll keep him quiet until we
want him--and tell him the Prime Minister's not yet arrived. I should
like a drink myself. Can we get down this way? (Points to door R.)

Meyer. Yes, come along. (Exeunt.)

(Enter Lady Torrent, Mr. Fortnight-Taylor and Mr. Pilbery Flower. She
sits down on settee left, one sits and the other stands beside her)

Lady T. Now I've brought you here because I want you both to help
me. It is the greatest good fortune that I should have met you here
to-night. I was very nearly not coming. I have been in despair over a
scheme that is very dear to me. I don't know if Sir Leo has told you,
but I hope you won't think it very odd and foolish of me if I tell you
that the passion of my life is to have in London a National Theatre.

Mr. F.-Taylor. A most noble passion, Lady Torrent; would that more of
our upper-class ladies had it! The only theatre most of them care for
is the Law Courts.

Lady T. Oh, I don't want to appear "superior." I care nothing for
Shakespeare, if that is what you mean. I want a large magnificent
building in the heart of London, in Piccadilly, or Whitehall, opposite
the Ritz or the Carlton--something grand and imposing that you can
walk round like the Opera in Paris. I should like the outside to be of
pink granite and it ought to be whitewashed until the Smoke Abatement
Society cleans London, or it might be built of black marble. A Theatre
is such an opportunity for an architect, don't you think? It is all
that is left now we have given up building churches. It can be so
imposing, and so decorative inside. The interiors of all our theatres
are abominable. I should insist on having all the furnishings and the
entire interior decoration left to me.

Mr. P. Flower. More idle reckless extravagance! (Fiercely.) There are
thousands of children in Germany to-day without milk, Lady Torrent.

Mr. F.-Taylor. Surely that is very irrelevant, Flower, to this question
of a National Theatre.

Mr. P. Flower. Nothing is irrelevant. All things are connected. If you
spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on building a theatre you can't
spend it on milk.

Lady T. But the milk is there isn't it? You don't make milk by not
building a theatre. You might as well ask me not to buy your paper
every week but send the sixpences to Germany. But if I didn't buy your
paper I wouldn't know the Germans wanted milk, the "Morning Post" never
mentions it.

Mr. P. Flower. Nobody wants a National Theatre in this Country, and
why should they when any day may be their last. Man has over-reached
himself. His power exceeds his wisdom. Europe is doomed, and here we
sit chatting about a National Theatre when at any moment we may turn
into a National Cemetery.

Mr. F.-Taylor (somewhat pompously). I cannot share your gloomy
forebodings, Flower. I have faith in the future of our Country. The
present Government will not last for ever, and I cannot believe that
Poincare or Mussolini wish to destroy Europe.

Lady T. If Europe is destroyed we might as well leave something in the
ruins for the future to look at. Think of Athens without the Parthenon,
or Venice without St. Marks. If London were wiped out to-night what
would the excavators find in a million years?

Mr. P. Flower. Probably the brass ball on the top of the Coliseum.

Mr. F.-Taylor. But unfortunately there is no hope of getting the money
for a National Theatre. The British public cares for nothing but
flapper actresses and dancing.

Lady T. I've got the money or most of it.

Mr. F.-Taylor. Really!

Mr. P. Flower. What!

Lady T. Well, I've persuaded a war-millionaire to promise £250,000
towards it for a title.

Mr. P. Flower. I am astonished he hasn't got one. Where's he been
hiding?

Mr. F.-Taylor (his face falling). But that's quite impossible. We
cannot support the buying and selling of honours--and just as we have
been having such a campaign against it. Whatever would Medulla say? Why
it's one of our chief weapons against the present Government.

Lady T. (impatiently). My dear Mr. Fortnight- Taylor, nobody takes that
seriously. The trouble is the Prime Minister won't do it.

Mr. F.-Taylor {surprised.) What! He won't give a title for a quarter of
a million. But it's incredible.

Mr. P. Flower. My dear fellow, you forget he doesn't get the quarter of
a million.

Lady T. Yes, that's just the point. He wants to get the money for his
party funds. He'd give a barony for a quarter of the sum if he could
have the money, but he won't give it for a donation to a National
Theatre.

Mr. P. Flower. Have you been negotiating with him?

Lady T. Indirectly, yes. But I've managed to keep him from learning
who the man is. Now will you help me to persuade Mr. Medulla and his
colleagues that if they come into power they'll give my friend a
peerage if he gives a quarter of a million for a National Theatre.

Mr. P. Flower. Your friend must be very ignorant if he'll spend a
quarter of a million when he could get what he wants for fifty thousand
or less.

Lady T. The poor man's quite illiterate. He's jumped from nowhere.

Mr. P. Flower. Which means I suppose Yorkshire or Lancashire.

Lady T. I don't think he'd like to feel he'd bought a title outright.
He'd like to feel he had earned it by some good work.

Mr. P. Flower. He sounds like a lunatic. How on earth did he get his
money?

Mr. F.-Taylor. I feel we Liberals must keep our hands clean of
this sort of thing. Titles should be awards given for merit. How
can we expect the working man to have any respect for authority if
distinctions are bought and sold.

Lady T. How else are they to be got? You don't think they ought to be
inherited do you?

Mr. F.-Taylor. I am as ardent a social reformer as anybody and, of
course, I don't believe in hereditary honours, but as a party we stand
for purity in public life.

(Enter Medulla and Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor from folding doors centred)

Medulla (solemnly). Ah, that is the faith which shall bring us to
victory--we stand for Peace in Europe and Purity at Home.

Mr. P. Flower. And down with birth-control!

Medulla (pompously). That is a question which must be left to every
man's conscience. It is not our business as a Political Party to meddle
with such matters.

Mrs. F.-Taylor (admiringly). But you wouldn't have us approve of sin,
Mr. Medulla. As Secretary of the Mother's Union, I assure you these
moral questions cannot be ignored. Any condoning of immorality, any
suspicion of moral lukewarmness will be fatal.

Medulla. Personally, Madam, I view with abhorence any attempt to
undermine the sacredness of modern life. The family is a pillar of the
State. But we must be careful not to tyranise over the weak. It is the
duty of organisations like yours to guide them. You noble mothers can
lead where we politicians could only threaten.

Mr. P. Flower. Are you a mother, madam?

Mr. F.-Taylor. My wife has a Mother's heart.

Mr. P. Flower. Yes, we've all got hearts; the point is, has she any
children?

Lady T. Please, you're all forgetting about my affair and it's really
important.

Mr. P. Flower. Yes, we'll attend to you, Madam, you at least have one
discreditable offspring.

Lady T. (sweetly). Mr. Medulla, I appeal to you. I am sure you will
agree that we ought to have a National Theatre where Shakespeare and
the noblest dramatic works of our literature can be played for the
improvement of the masses. A temple consecrated to Art, where the
people will be brought into contact with the true and the beautiful.
A noble building in the purest taste where all may learn that there
is something finer and more satisfying than cinema melodrama and jazz
revue.

Medulla. Certainly, Lady Torrent. I am all in favour of such a scheme.
I always feel ashamed when a foreigner asks me where he can hear the
plays of our greatest, the World's greatest, dramatist.

Lady T. You will give such a scheme your support then?

Medulla (in the most serious pompous manner). Most decidedly. We
have a National Gallery--one of the finest in the World. We have the
British Museum, the South Kensington Museums, the Guildhall, the
Albert Memorial--we most certainly ought to have a National Theatre.
Unfortunately, however, the idea is quite impracticable. There is no
public demand for it and there is no money.

Lady T. But there is. I've got the money--promised.

Medulla (his expression changing). But you would need an immense sum.

Lady T. I've got a quarter of a million, that would do to start with.

Medulla. A quarter of a million! But who's going to waste a quarter of
a million in these times when there is such distress and unemployment
everywhere, when as you know our Liberal Party--on which the future of
this Country and of Europe itself depends--is almost without funds?

Lady T. I've got a war-millionaire who wants a title and I thought you
would agree that for such a public service any Government might well
reward him with a peerage.

Medulla. We cannot sell titles, Lady Torrent. We should be no better
than those who have discredited our Country and made a mockery of all
distinctions. If your friend has such means at his disposal and is
a worthy and respectable man, let him be of service to his Country.
Merit never yet went unrewarded. He should stand for Parliament. Let
him get into touch with the party organisation at Headquarters. You
will be doing your Country a service Lady Torrent--and not the first
you have done--if you dissuade your friend from any such wasteful
eccentricity as a National Theatre...(with a gesture of his hand to
his forehead) but I had hoped to be free from such matters to-night.
The soothing effect of that young man's music has worn off already. I
thought we were going to hear Sylvester read his latest poem. (To Mrs.
Fortnight-Taylor.) Shall we go and find him? (Exeunt middle door.)

Mr. F.-Taylor. What a leader! He can't fail to win the Country. His
attacks on the P.M. in the House grow more and more damaging.

Mr. P. Flower (gloomily). We're between the Devil and the Deep Sea. Let
us turn our attention to Poetry. Is Sylvester going to perform?

Lady T. Yes, and I've some news that will surprise you, but it's
strictly secret and you must promise to say nothing about it.

Mr. F.-Taylor. Of course.

Mr. P. Flower. Are you sure you ought to tell us?

Lady T. Oh, it's nothing serious. It's about the next Poet Laureate.
You know the old one is dead...What was his name?--it doesn't matter,
it was a name one never heard of, he must have been a complete failure.

Mr. P. Flower. It's a ridiculous office. It's time it was abolished.

Lady T. Oh, no, Mr. Flower. It mustn't be abolished now, just as it's
going to be useful to dear Sylvester.

Mr. P. Flower. Sylvester!

Lady T. Yes, it's going to be given to Sylvester.

Mr. P. Flower. Sylvester Snodgrass the next Poet Laureate!

Lady T. Yes, why are you so surprised?

Mr. P. Flower. Well one knows the present P.M. cares nothing for
literature, but Sylvester! Surely you're joking.

Mr. F.-Taylor. One would have expected him to choose a more popular
writer. After all, who reads Mr. Snodgrass except his own friends?

Lady T. Who else would you expect to read him? It's not absolutely
settled yet, but it's going to be to-night. I've promised Sebastian
to help. But it's all very secret. The Prime Minister's coming
here--Sebastian's bringing him--and I've promised to assure him that
all the right people read Sylvester, which is true. Now will you both
promise me that when the appointment's announced you won't attack
it?Because if it isn't given to Sylvester you know who'll get it, don't
you?

Mr. P. Flower. But the P.M. coming to this house. How on earth has
Sebastian managed that?

Lady T. I can't imagine. Sebastian's wonderful.

Mr - F.-Taylor. But the public will never stand it. Why Snodgrass's
poems are totally unintelligible.

Lady T. All the better--the papers will be afraid to say anything.

Mr P. Flower. But Sylvester and Sebastian have always despised official
art. It's contrary to their whole spirit for Sylvester to accept such a
position.

Lady T. The poor boys must do something, sylvester needs the
money--their father is disgustingly mean and is always quarrelling with
them. He hates everything that they admire and hardly gives them a
penny. He lives entirely in the past. Raphael and Milton are his idols,
but if Sylvester is made Poet Laureate, he'll either die from rage or
excitement...or at any rate, he'll have to give them some money.

Mr. P. Flower. What a civilization! Sodom and Gommorrah never reached
such heights as these. They were mere unrefined beasts.

LADY T - (smiling) Yes, we've improved amazingly. (Rising.) We can
do the dirtiest things with indefinable distinction. You don't quite
realise, Mr. Flower, what an advance that is, but then you are such a
pessimist. I mustn't stay any longer with you or I shall find myself
pretending to be wicked, your virtue is so catching. I'11 go and find
Sylvester who is shamefully neglecting his duty to corrupt our tastes.
I leave Mr. Flower safely with you, Mr. Thompson. I feel sure you can
convince him we are not all bad and clever. (Exit.)

Mr. F.-Taylor. What a charming woman! A trifle frivolous I'm afraid;
but I cannot for one moment believe all the stories one hears of her.

Mr. P. Flower. What stories!

Mr. F.-Taylor (hesitating). Well, you know...perhaps I oughtn't to say,
but anyhow you've probably heard them too.

Mr. P. Flower. Heard what?

Mr. F.-Taylor. Well, for example, it's said that she's Medulla's
mistress; but I never believed it of him, and now I don't believe it of
her.

Mr. P. Flower (rising). Among other things you're a dramatic critic.
Well, it's astounding how little sense of drama most dramatic critics
have got. (Exit.)

Mr. F.-Taylor (sitting with a perplexed look and then his expression
becoming savage). He's a damned highbrow! (He gets up) His paper's
always had to be subsidized, and no wonder; would anybody read such
stuff for pleasure! (pause) I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't
Medulla's mistress. He seemed to take to Mary quickly enough. I wonder
where they've got to? All these rich people are rotten through and
through--1'11 go and get a drink. ( Exit )

(Enter Dumbell and Lord Simon Snodgrass.)

Dumbell. I will tell Sir Leo your lordship is here. (He turns to go
out.)

Lord Simon. Stop! Come here! (He walks all round Tompkins, surveying
him critically from side to side.) You've got a fine Rococo face!

Dumbell. Have I, my lord?

Lord Simon. Yes, a very rare specimen too, very finely curved and
flourished, beautifully lacquered--not a blemish anywhere. What date
are you?

Dumbell (astonished). Date, my lord?

Lord Simon. Somewhere about 1755, I should hazard; and by
Caffieri--Philippe, not Jacques. (He walks round the perfectly still
Dumbell again.) Probably intended as a lifesize figure for a clock. I
wonder where Meyer got you. I must ask him. You're a beauty. You're
really lovely. (He rubs his hands with glee. He strokes Dumbell's nose
and cheeks.) How wonderfully modelled! What subtle exaggeration! 'Pon
my soul, Sebastian is quite right. They were masters in protuberance in
the eighteenth century. What's that new slang word Sylvester used?Oh
yes, blotto! This knocks me blotto! I shouldn't wonder if it isn't a
Caffieri--certainly it's not Italian. (He looks closely up and down
Dumbell.) Perhaps there's a date somewhere.....it must be 1754 or '5 at
latest.

Dumbell. 1884.

Lord Simon (astonished.) What!

Dumbell. 1884.

Lord Simon. Rubbish! Nonsense!

Dumbell. My date's 1884.

Lord Simon. Don't be ridiculous! You can't possibly be later than
1756--perhaps '7. Why, even an art critic wouldn't be more than a
hundred years out; he'd know you were eighteenth century!

Dumbell. I'm nineteenth--late nineteenth.

Lord Simon. You're a fool! Don't argue with me sir. I know what I'm
talking about. I'm not a journalist. Nineteenth! Preposterous! Why,
you're dated all over 1756.

Dumbell. 1884.

Lord Simon (furious, shouting). 1756.

Dumbell (calmly). If your lordship wishes, I can produce my birth
certificate.

Lord Simon (flushed with rage). Certificate! You dare to try and humbug
me with a certificate--me! What certificate? Who could give you a
certificate?

Dumbell. Any doctor would certify me to be under fifty, my lord.

Lord Simon. Have you the impudence to suggest that I should take the
word of a biologist? What does a biologist know of works of art?

Dumbell. I am not a work of art, your lordship. I am--(His training
makes him hesitate to say anything so personal and unofficial as "I am
a man.")

Lord Simon (triumphantly). There, you see! What are you?

Dumbell (nervous for the first time). I hardly know what, my lord. I am
Sir Leo's butler.

Lord Simon. Exactly! Dated 1756...and Philippe Caffieri certainly!

Dumbell (still nervous). My name is Dumbell, my lord.

Lord Simon. (with a grimace of intense disgust). Don't utter such
a word in my presence! Where is Sir Leo? I want him. I want to buy
you for Castel Pontemillia--my Italian place. I have nothing but
quattrocento servants there at present. I have restored the moat and
the drawbridge. The place is thoroughly put in order and fortified. I
could stand a siege of eight months. I have immense stores of stone
cannon-balls and mortars, all inscribed with my family coat-of-arms and
the Snodgrass motto: "De minimis non curat lex" which means "We are
above the Law!" I have immense reservoirs of oil and lead always kept
boiling ready to pour down upon the attackers through the embrasures of
the battlements. Everything is perfect of the quattrocento period, but
the general effect is gloomy. I don't think so, but it seems to depress
my friends when they stay there. I have therefore had several Baroque
apartments added in a small wing for the delectation of my guests
where I entertain, and you would suit them admirably--admirably! (To
himself.) They are also outside the moat,and if there is a revolution
will be the first to fall. They'll make a useful sop for the mob. I've
stored all the liquor there and I've undermined it with dynamite. What!
haven't you gone? Go and fetch Sir Leo. (Exit Dumbell.) I must remember
that phrase--this knocks me blotto! Well, young men of fashion of
every age have had their slang. In my youth one of the smart words was
Gothic--all through that damn fool Ruskin, I suppose! "How Gothic!" all
the women used to say if you refused sugar in your tea. It was applied
to everything with complete indiscrimination. Ultimately even Queen
Victoria was Gothic. Another detestable expression was "utter." (Enter
Dumbell.) Utter! Yes, you'd have been "perfectly utter "! Now I suppose
you're blotto.

Dumbell. Sir Leo says will you come down stairs to the library, my lord.

Lord Simon. Gothic! Utter! Blotto! The English language, like
everything else, seems to get less and less intelligible. (Exeunt.)

(The stage is empty for a few seconds. Enter from door R. Meyer and
Sylvester.)

Meyer. Well, my dear boy, I've made your father comfortable. How long
do you think he'll stay there patiently?

Sylvester. You haven't told him I'm here yet have you?

Meyer. No, I've let him think you're coming with Sebastian and the
Prime Minister. When I said I expected the P.M. any moment he very
gracefully waved his glasses at me and said, "Yes, yes, with my sons! "

Sylvester. Dear old St. Vitus, he's really prodigious!

Meyer. My dear, but he is fascinating. One never meets such manners
nowadays.

Sylvester. Yet he can be charming, but he's an incredible imbecile and
as cunning as a rat.

Meyer (nervously). I hope Sebastian is succesful. I shall feel
extremely embarrassed if I've got to face your father with no
Prime Minister. I had to explain to him why I didn't bring him
upstairs...that I'd got a mixed rabble here...writers, etc., he
mightn't care about.

(Lady Torrent appears at entrance between folding doors, but stops to
listen on hearing her name.)

Sylvester. O there's no doubt about Sebastian, he's got a trump card
with the P.M. He's going to tell him Lady Torrent is here and is
prepared to meet him and he'll hint at her political conversion.

Meyer. But will he believe it?

Sylvester. Well you see it's a strong point old Cascade's having
written to him about her ridiculous Theatre scheme. It'll be easy to
persuade Tosh that's merely bluff He ' d find it difficult to believe
anyone was serious about a theatre. Besides, Sebastian got the man's
name out of her the other day and, if necessary, we'll bribe him with
that; then, if all else fails, once weve got him here we'll simply
kidnap him, until we get the money out of St. Vitus.

Meyer (nervously). My dear boy, I hope you won t do that. You and
Sebastian are far too reckless and really you ought not to call your
father St. Vitus.

Sylvester. Nonsense. It's not my fault he's my father. I say, you'd
better not let him see this you know. (He covers the Hemaphrodite with
a pocket handkerchief.)

Meyer. Sometimes you make me feel quite ncomfortable. The P.M. may not
be able to come. Percy told me at dinner there's a special Cabinet
meeting suddenly summoned for 11 o'clock to-night. That's very unusual.
It must mean something serious. (Looks at his watch.) It's a quarter
past ten now; you'll have to give your show at once, I've promised it
you know.

Sylvester. Yes, there'll just be time.

(Lady Torrent vanishes back.)

Come along, we'll collect De Bomph and tell everybody.

(Exeunt. The stage is empty a few moments. Enter Lady Torrent and
Arthur Medulla.)

Lady T. (breathlessly). How fortunate I found you. Quick, sit
down there. (Leads him to settee) they'll be back in a moment for
Sylvester's show.

Medulla. My dear Emily, what's the matter now? Am I never to be allowed
to rest.

Lady T. It's urgent and most important. I've just overheard that
there's to be a special Cabinet meeting at n o'clock to-night--that
means a European crisis.

Medulla. Well, isn't that what we've been expecting?

Lady T. Yes, but do you know the Prime Minister's coming here to-night?

Medulla. What!

Lady T. And if he fails to turn up at the Cabinet meeting, if he
disappears for twenty-four hours, the Government's doomed. It would
have to resign as there's no one else who could carry on for a day.

Medulla. Well!

Lady T. Well, Arthur, there's no reason to beat about the bush. We mean
nothing to each other now. But I'm on your side politically, although
God knows I haven't much more faith in you than in Tosh...but you've
got better friends.

Medulla (complainingly). You've never appreciated me.

Lady T. I expected too much. But I'll be generous. I'll do you a
service now. I'll kidnap the P.M. for forty-eight hours and you'll have
your chance.

Medulla (pompously). But I couldn't consent to such a thing. If we come
into power it must be by the wish of the Country, not by a trick.

Lady T. It will be by the wish of the Country. The Country wants you
now. If there were an election you'd sweep the polls; you've said so
yourself and I believe it's true; everybody is sick of "Tosh."

Medulla. Well, when they call for me I'll be ready.

Lady T. You must seize your opportunity as Cromwell or Napoleon would
have done.

Medulla (weakening fretfully). But it's so hurried, so
undignified...and then I'd feel I owed it to you and that's not--

Lady T. (looking at him contemptuously). Pleasing to your vanity.
You're not big enough to owe anything to a woman. You're so weak that
you want a constant moral spongeing to give you confidence. I believe
you're afraid of the responsibility of power--to think that I should
ever have let myself be seduced by such a worm!

Medulla. I do not defend my past conduct, but I was very inexperienced
when I met you...! you dazzled me.

Lady T. Yes, but how the devil did you dazzle me.

Medulla (sulkily). I suppose you were accustomed to the process.

Lady T. You cad! Now listen to me. You can't afford to have our
relations exposed. What would your highly respectable Secretary of the
Mother's Union think of it? It's always been a weakness of your party
that it was so dependent on humbug. Now if you don't accept my plan
I'll expose you. I'll get my husband to divorce me. He'd be delighted
and I can give him all the evidence he needs. On the other hand, if you
agree you'll not be accepting anything from me, you 11 be rendering me
a very great service.

Medulla (reviving). I expected you wanted something.

Lady T. My God, you are incredible! I want nothing but a peerage for my
friend upon his giving me £250,000 towards a National Theatre.

Medulla. You can't expect me to believe you care about a National
Theatre.

Lady T. No, but you'll have to believe it.

Medulla (grumblingly). Why can't the party have the money--why waste it
like that. You know how low our funds are.

Lady T. All the more reason for accepting my plan. It will save you
election expenses before you're in office. Now is it agreed?

Medulla. If it fails or if anything comes out, I shall repudiate all
knowledge of it.

Lady T. (ironically). Of course, and in the future we need not even
pretend to like each other. All I want is that peerage. I'll not
trouble you again. Quickly, yes or no, there's someone coming.

Medulla (peevishly). Very well, but I wish I understood why you want a
Theatre.

Lady T. I must do something in my old age.

(Enter Sylvester, Meyer, Mr. Fortnight-Taylor, Parsons and (later) Mr.
Pilbery Flower, Medulla and Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor.)

Parsons. Hullo Arthur, you look as if you had just lost a Constituency.

Lady T. Or been offered a monarchy.

Sylvester (gesticulating to Dumbell in background through folding
doors). Now, oyster, push up the screen.

Parsons. Yes, nowadays that would be even more disagreeable...But one
could always refuse it.

Lady T. Ah, but it's a glittering bauble.

Mrs. F. Taylor. Glittering baubles would never appeal to Mr. Medulla, I
am sure.

Medulla (solemnly). Thank you, madam, it is the belief that I represent
the opinions of thousands of simple honest people whose only desire is
to serve their country, that would sustain me if ever I were called
upon to undertake the terrible responsibility of leading the nation--

Parsons. Well--

Brrr Umph zzzzbrrrumph!!!

(It is a burst of noise from the band. They all jump.)

What the devil was that?

Lady T. (ironically). The plaudits of the multitude.

(Sylvester reappears from behind folding doors. A red screen is
pushed up towards the opening between them. The screen is painted in
the 1913-23 style of affected infantilism, with a restaurant table
in left-hand corner at which is seated an immensely fat, splendidly
dressed woman of fashion with a touch of Jewish blood, wearing pearls.
With her is a very elegant young man. They are looking at the centre
of the screen on which is painted a hideous negro mask through which
protrudes a megaphone. A large sign in the right-hand corner reads "The
dansant--The Blue Blow-Flies Band")

Sylvester. Now then, oyster, bring some chairs! (Dumbell opens folding
door and brings in a few light gilt chairs in which they all sit.) Are
you ready, de Bomph?

De Bomph (in the distance behind the screen and folding doors). Yes.

Sylvester. Are you all comfortable. Don't get too near the trumpet. (He
disappears behind folding doors which are now drawn together so that
the screen completely fills the gap.)

Mr. P. Flower (standing at side). To think that this is the last word
in modern art!

All. Ssh!

(The band of three saxophones, one trumpet, two guitars, a Moor-piano
and percussion begins a slow rhythmic syncopated dance in strict time.
Then the voice comes through the megaphoned)

Voice. "The Grand Parade" by Sylvester Snodgrass. Music by Achilles de
Bomph.

The Grand Parade.

Four Verses and Chorus.

All zebras, quaggas, lamas, mules,
Hyenas, jackals, horses, bulls,
Leopards, tigers, monkeys, asses,
Flowers, birds and insect-masses,
Portraits of life's supreme disaster--
God, the great high complex-master--
Ere self-consciousness first came
To blur your faces with its blame
Spoiling your pure symmetry
For some higher geometry,
Dimming all your lustre quite
With the spectroscope of Right:
Behold, superior to you all
Man and Woman blushing fall.

   Chorus (with saxophone embroidery).
Then they had the jew-jerry-jew jams jew-jams!
Then they had the jew-jams, jew-jams,-jew!

Hills and mountains, valleys, lakes,
Sun, moon, planets, star-dust snakes,
Spiral-systems whirling mad,
Faces neither good nor bad,
Masks which motion-matter took
When it formed itself to look
Gazing at yourself you see
Man and Woman taking tea.
She gigantic, smiling, fat;
He enigma's lean Tom-cat
On her spreading bosom throws
Himself, the Look which hourly grows
Vivider and more intense
Centre and circumference.

  Chorus.
Then they had the jew-jerry-jew-jams jew-jams!
Then they had the jew-jam-jew jam-jew!

(During this Chorus Lord Simon Snodgrass opens the door R. and half
enters. He stands shaking but unobserved and looks at the scene through
his glasses astonished then throws up his hands in horror and vanishes?)

Faces which we call the mob--
Gladys, Muriel, William, Bob,
Complexes, suppressions, dreams
Variants on sexual themes
Neuroses, manias, and desires,
Smoke-signs from bad-burning fires
On your hidden Ideal gaze
Mrs. Raphael-Smolzer-Glaze
And her partner, Raphael-Schuster-
Double-Love's great Filibuster!
Here in effigy you see
What your starved sex longs to be;
Here once more perfection's had,
Nothing's either good or bad.

  Chorus.
Then they had the jew-jams, jew-jerry- jew-jams!
Then they had the jew-jams, jew-jams-jew!

Now those pale reflecting mirrors
Of suppressed and deadly terrors,
Parsons, deacons, spinsters, priests,
Non-consumers of love's feasts,
Prurient mixed-bathing haters
Silk-drawer maddened, sour-grape paters
Gaze on perfect innocence
Consciousness at one with sense
Raphael-Schuster rounds his days
With Mrs. Raphael-Smolzer--Glaze,
Not a ten-to-one chance bar one
Either 's faithless to his far one
God is motion, but defeated
In a dance he has been cheated.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thus we' keep the circle going
Though there's nothing, nothing doing!

  Chorus.
Then they had the jew-jams- Jew-jerry-jew-jams.
Then they had the—

(Enter Dumbell, he shouts above the noise)

Dumbell. Mr. Sebastian Snodgrass has arrived!


CURTAIN




ACT III


Same scene. The screen has been moved away and the folding doors are as
before.

(Enter Smaragda. She closes the folding doors softly after her, raises
her arms above her head and smiles happily?)

Smaragda. Alone! Alone! The most beautiful, the most magical of words!
How rich this room becomes the moment I close the door and am shut up
within its four walls! (She drops her arms and looks about her and is
very still for a moment or two) How everything grows in the silence!
These chairs how daintily their beautiful shapes come out of their
hiding-places and show them to me, and that mirror is like a Pool which
has been put to sleep, and it puts to sleep all wo gaze in it, or not
to sleep, but to another world. There am I removed, unattainable,
remote, not to be troubled even by a breath of wind. Yet I move (she
moves), turn, smile. O Smaragda, darling beautiful Smaragda, will you
not speak to me? Where are you going Smaragda? In what secret world, so
far, so close at hand do you live? Am I never to meet you? Are we never
to one another? Know one another?

(Enter Maud.)

Maud. Who was that?

Smaragda (recovering, calmly). What do you mean?

Maud (half-smiling). Whoever was it? Where's he vanished?

Smaragda. You heard me whispering my own name. It's a trick I have.

Maud. Oh, I'm so bored! bored! bored! Whatever shall I do?

Smaragda. The sooner someone sends you to bed with a child the better.

Maud (with a grimace of distaste). Oh, that! I might just as well get
drunk, it's less painful.

Smaragda. But it doesn't last long enough, besides I should have
thought pain was one of the pleasures you would have appreciated most.

Maud. It's so disfiguring, and from what man could I possibly suffer
such a protracted indignity? (Smaragda laughs.) Smaragda darling, be a
dear, and go and send Sebastian here.

Smaragda (moving towards door). You can do nothing with Sebastian, why
do you waste your powers on him?

Maud. My dear Smaragda, don't give me advice. It's not worthy of you.
Don't you ever crave for the impossible?

Smaragda (disappearing). Always! (Exit.)

(Maud is alone for a few moments, then Sebastian enters. Sebastian is
a quiet slender young man of about 30, with a mask of perfect dress,
manners and outward calm.)

Maud. Why do you never come to see me?

Sebastian (quietly with the slightest hint of mockery in his
gallantry). I come as often as I dare.

Maud. What rubbish. Why do you talk to me like that?

Sebastian (smiling). You terrify me to such an extent that I am
incapable of thinking of anything more intelligent.

Maud. I wish I could terrify you. Does nothing move you?

Sebastian (bowing slightly). Nothing!

Maud. A man of marble! It's quite impossible. Nobody's like that,
really.

Sebastian (politely). I should say that you had come as near to that
perfection as anyone has ever been. You're wonderful!

Maud. Well, I wish you wouldn't say so.

Sebastian (taking her hand and kissing it). So do I, but the words come
out before I know it I'm not really responsible for myself when I'm
with you. I lose all control.

Maud (snatching her hand away). Really sebastian, anyone hearing you
talk would think you were an impotent old man.

Sebastian. So I am.

Maud. What's inside you? What do you live for? Why are you never bored?

Sebastian. Have you ever noticed what a beautiful hand you have? Women
often overlook the one true beauty they possess.

Maud. That is a proof that it is really theirs. My hand is me.

Sebastian. I wasn't thinking of you. I was thinking of your hand which
is very lovely and is not you (He takes her hand again and inspects it
closely and with real passion) It is exquisite! (Returning to his usual
manner) It is such things that prevent me from ever being bored.

Maud. I hate that sort of clap-trap. Why do you try to impose on me
with it?

Sebastian. You have a wonderful gift for making a man feel a fool even
when he is being profoundly sensible.

Maud. I don't understand what all those words mean. It is impossible to
get near you: one is simply met with a cloud of words. You throw them
over one like a net, then retire and watch your victim struggling.

Sebastian. While you merely choke him with your beauty and watch his
death throes with amusement.

Maud (contemptuously). They never die.

Sebastian. Oh, yes, they do. They look at you and die, or some
imaginary phantasy awakes and dies fruitless within them.

Maud (fiercely). And does nothing die in me? Hundreds of creating
phantoms haunt me and project themselves as vivid as the shadows at
midday, but they all fade away like gibbering ghosts at every man's
face. Where is the man who can take them in his arms and give them
bodies and show their beauty to the world?

Sebastian. Anyone you choose to pick up.

Maud. Faugh!

Sebastian. Even I could do it, although you just called me an impotent
old man. (Pause.) Of course I should have to get drunk first.

Maud. Yes, that is always it, get drunk and then anything and
everything is possible. It doesn't matter how you get drunk, whisky,
music, lust, sentiment. But no man who is drunk shall ever have me, and
I'll not get drunk for any man.

Sebastian. Then you must resign yourself to a life of virgin
maidenhood. I have always thought it was a serious defect in our modern
civilization that we have no institution such as the Roman College
of Vestal Virgins. The convent is no longer fashionable, and besides
religion is only another form of intoxication. What is needed is a new
priesthood of Diana in which each virgin vows herself to the utmost
imaginative licentiousness with an oath never once to lose her balance
and tumble into the arms of reality, and a preliminary confession that
she doesn't believe in Diana in the least.

Maud. How unattractive it sounds! Why is it that as soon as an idea is
put into words one is disillusioned completely?

Sebastian. How beautiful is the God Love. At his very name  (reciting):
     There fell a light
 Upon the gold tranquility of Time
 And on the marble Silence music fell
      Like sparkling water...

...yet this great God cannot walk without arms and legs, and then he's
nothing but a man--or a woman.

Maud. Why don't you make love to me, Sebastian?

Sebastian. What, you want me to get drunk too!

Maud. You admire the beauty of my hand. Doesn't the really exquisite
line of my leg intoxicate you? (She draws her skirt up beyond her knee.)

Sebastian (grimly). Its beauty preserves me from that
madness...(Lightly.) Ah, I know if I once let myself become intoxicated
you would spurn me with contempt and that would be very unpleasant.

Maud. It might be very pleasant. Some men adore it.

Sebastian. Oh, I know all about that. I should suffer as exquisitely
as anyone. (His tone changing to one of calm abstraction as he walks
across the room.) But really you don't interest me very deeply. You
see I have got over that insatiable craving to beget offspring which
afflicts most men of my age and makes you irresistible.

Maud. You haven't. I feel it in your voice.

Sebastian. Very well, you must be content to feel it there...And now
I am going lest you smack my face or do anything to incite me to a
violence which is contrary to my whole nature.

Maud. Sebastian, darling, I love you.

Sebastian (sternly). Don't talk such nonsense to me. (Exit.)

(Same Scene. Enter from centre de Bomph.)

De Bomph. How wonderful you look!

Maud (disdainfully). Indeed! (She goes to mantelpiece and raising both
arms touches her hair lightly and surveys herself critically in the
mirror.)

(De Bomph watches her fascinated. She completely ignores him, and
proceeds to powder her nose. When finished she turns round)

Maud (Coolly.) Oh, are you still there! Oughtn't you to be playing?

De Bomph (reddening). Do you want me to play?

Maud. I! I'm perfectly indifferent. I never listen, but didn't Smaragda
ask you to play?

De Bomph (sullenly). I've played enough (Indicating settee.) Won't you
sit down?

Maud (contemptuously). Whatever for? (Crossing the room to door R.)

De Bomph. Where are you going?

(She does not answer, but at the door turns and gives him one
brilliant, disdainful, provoking smile and vanishes-- Bomph follows.
The room is empty for a few seconds. Presently Meyer, Sebastian and the
Prime Minister enter. The Prime Minister is in evening dress wearing
the O.M. Meyer carefully closes the folding doors.)

Prime Minister. My dear Sir Leo, I envy you your wonderful house. You
must have plundered the capitals of Europe.

Sebastian. His ancestors did.

Prime M. Well, we can't all have talented ancestors. None of mine ever
showed the slightest sign of intelligence.

Meyer (courteously). But they showed great faith in the future.

Sebastian. "Sufficient Unto the day was the evil thereof," they must
have thought--

Prime M. Ah, Sebastian, through contemplation of the devil they created
him, eh? That is the worst of piety. I'm a homeopathist. Minute doses
of virtue taken very rarely produce the best results.

Sebastian. But your speeches, Sir?

Prime M. Pooh, my speeches are poetry! In poetry exaggeration is
everything. Have these boys inherited their poetic gifts from their
father?

Meyer. Oh, not at all. Lord Simon is a very remarkable man, as you will
see, my dear Prime Minister, but he lives entirely in the past and--

Sebastian.--has every appearance of a half-wit.

P. Minister. I'm glad to hear it. That's very reassuring. You've got to
be of our friend Meyer's race to inherit both brains and money.

Sebastian. Yes, dear St. Vitus is the family sieve, brains slipped
through all right, but the money stuck.

P. Minister (laughs). Ha, ha, well, let's discuss what you want me to
do, for I haven't much time. Now I've not the least objection to giving
the Poet Laureateship to Sylvester, who as your brother, Sebastian,
must be both charming and talented.

Meyer. Wouldn't you like to meet him? He is here.

P. Minister (with a gesture). On no account! If I am to make him Poet
Laureate I must not meet him. If questions are asked in the House I
must be able to say that the new Poet Laureate is personally unknown to
me. Questions always are asked--the world's full of disappointed genius.

Meyer. Sylvester really is talented and very original.

P. Minister. That's just what I'm afraid of. If he were a non-entity
there would be no fuss. But I fear he is too modern, too queer, too
highbrow. There'll be a tremendous outcry. Every newspaper that has
ever forgotten there is a poet laureate will pour forth columns on the
need to have a poet to inspire the nation with it's old ideals, to
voice it's feelings on solemn occasions, to teach men and women how
to lead lives of selfless devotion to their country and their fellow
beings - as if they don't get enough of that sort of thing from me.

Sebastian. At any rate we won't be able to accuse you of a personal
interest in the appointment.

P. Minister. No but all the weeklies and literary papers will be full
of allusions to my illiteracy. Mr Pilbury Flower will say in 'The
situation' (he imitates Mr. Flower) "No doubt the prime minister has
taken expert advice before making this appointment as we ourselves
believe that he could not understand one single line that Mr. Snodgrass
has written." How do you think I like reading that sort of thing? (He
continues) 'The Times' will say "It was no doubt commednable that the
prime minister resisted the temptation to make a popular appointment
and we have reason to congratulate ourselves that the laureateship was
not given up for political services to one of those vulgar versifiers
whose poems so resemble the Prime Minister's own familiar form of
oratory; but we have only to become conscious of our profound relief
to discover with a shock how low have fallen all expectations of wise
leadership from the head of the present Government"--then they'll be
off on the Ruhr or Reparations or Housing!

Sebastian (calmly). Well, let them, it's only some poor sweated
journalist saying what his employer tells him.

P. Minister. Don't you believe it! The sweated journalist of to-day may
be the Prime Minister of to-morrow. That sweated journalist is paid to
say things his employer can't think of. If they awake an echo in the
heart of the nation you're done for!

Meyer. But the nation has so many hearts, she's like a woman.

Sebastian. And her suitors are all deceivers.

P. Minister. Well, gentlemen, it's quite obvious there must be
a bargain in this matter. You cannot expect me to make a public
exhibition of my qualities for nothing.

Sebastian. You are to meet Lady Torrent presently. You know what her
social influence is and how antagonistic she has always been to you. I
believe you will now find her friendly and--

P. Minister. I will do my best to make her so, but that is not enough.

Meyer. But if she brings a millionaire over to you?

P. Minister. Ah, but will she? No I want to meet Lady Torrent with a
weapon in my hands!

Sebastian. What weapon?

P. Minister. Tell me the name of her millionaire and it's a bargain.

Sebastian. But that would be betraying Lady torrents confidence.

P. Minister. Not if she's going to impart the information to me. I
shall give her every opportunity of telling me first.

Sebastian. I would much rather leave it to her.

P. Minister. Look here, Sebastian like all aristocrats born to do
nothing but sponge on the rest of the world, you want something for
nothing. You are trying to cheat me.

Sebastian (flushing). I beg your pardon. Here is the name (He writes
it on a slip of paper and passes it to the Prime Minister who takes it
without looking at it and puts it in his pocket)

P. Minister (genially). That's right, my boy Now I'll promise you
something- I'll not deprive Lady Torrent of her millionaire or her
theatre if I can help it There are other things she can do for me and
I'll now be able to ask her to do them. If she won't do them then
she'll lose her theatre but don't let that disturb you. It will simply
mean that the theatre really meant nothing to her after all.

Meyer. It seems a real enough passion with her.

P. Minister. "Seems"! My dear Sir Leo--the world is full of people
who seem serious until they are asked to pay for their desires.
Sacrifice is the test of passion. But nobody ever wants to give up
anything. The more useless it is, the more they fear other people may
find it valuable. Well now. (Turning to Sebastian.) We'd better have
your father in to see how much we can screw out of him for Sylvester
that's what I've got to do, isn't it? (Rubbing his hands gleefully.)
The amount of dirty work that gets put on to me in this world is
astonishing.

Meyer. I'll go and bring him. (Exit.)

P. Minister. Extraordinary people these Jews! All the world's shadiest
transactions are done in their houses but never by them.

Sebastian (walking about). Well, it's his own fault. My father should
have treated us decently then we shouldn't have to behave like this.

P. Minister. Remember that argument the next time there's a strike.
I'm always talking like that to employers, but (completely changing
his expression and speaking with intense malevolence)--but let me
tell you, Sebastian, I don't believe it! It's really war to the knife
between everybody--War! War!! WAR!!! More prolonged, more frightful,
more subtle, more profound than our deepest imagination! This world's
an appalling battle-field and most of it's inhabitants are already
corpses--slain before they were born! (He changes his expression to
a charming smile and speaks in a soft gentle voice.) But they still
go about eating, sleeping and voting--voting for Medulla or me. Ha!
ha! (he laughs loudly) and (laughing softly) the funniest thing of
all--killing each other, ha! ha! corpses in soldiers' uniform busy
blowing each other to pieces with guns! Isn't it ludicrous (he laughs,
and then stops and looks about him fearfully and whispers) but isn't it
terrifying? (He takes Sebastian by the shoulder.) What does it mean?
(He stops and puts his hand to his forehead. You don't know what it is
to govern a country in these times. The strain of the last few weeks
has been awful. We are standing on a volcano and (laughing wildly)
everybody thinks it's extinct, ha! ha! I tell you, Sebastian, I'm going
back to Downing Street in twenty minutes and I tremble to think of what
may be awaiting me. (Changing his expression to a humorous grin?) And
a more gugger set of ministers than my colleagues could only be found
among the followers of Mr. Arthur Medulla.

(Enter Meyer with Lord Simon Snodgrass.)

Meyer (introducing them). The Prime Minister, Lord Simon Snodgrass!

(The Prime Minister resumes his mask of cat-like geniality.)

Lord Simon (trembling). I have never approved of you, sir, let me tell
you, never!

P. Minister (genially). I should never have expected it of you, Lord
Simon--I am of mushroom growth--sprung up in a night.

Lord Simon (more affably). But you are a man or action, you get things
done. Why have you made my son Poet Laureate?

P. Minister. I've not done so yet, Lord Simon, but it is my intention.

Lord Simon. I see no reason why he should be Poet Laureate. His
verses are unreadable. They have no form and no sense. They bear no
resemblance to the great works of the past.

P. Minister (politely). As I bear no resemblance to the great
Statesmen of the past. The world moves on, Lord Simon, and it desires
novelty--and there is not enough second-hand furniture to go round.

Lord Simon (stuttering). Second-hand furniture, sir! What do you mean?

P. Minister. We can't all be genuine antiques; but Sylvester is
something even better he's an original genius.

Lord Simon. And what is an original genius doing in my family, sir.
Original genius, let me tell you, is only another name for charlatanry.

P. Minister. But charlatanry added to genius is like a nought added to
a figure, it multiplies it by ten.

Lord Simon. I dislike these smart sayings, the world s full of them
to-day, full of smart sayings and shoddy performances. I had hoped to
see my sons men of taste and solidity, and not fashionable poetasters.
Let me tell you, sir, if Sylvester had genius I should be the first to
know it. I should feel it in my bones, but--

P. Minister (slightly changing his manner). Lord Simon, I represent
His Majesty's Government If His Majesty's Government thinks your son
the most worthy recipient of the Poet Laureateship there is nothing
more to be said It is not a question for a popular vote. What I have to
consider is Sylvester's refusal to accept the Laureateship.

Lord Simon (astonished). What! Sylvester has refused!

P. Minister. He has.

Lord Simon. And why?

P. Minister. He declines to say, but I think it can only be on the
ground that his family has not the means to sustain the dignity of the
position.

Lord Simon (violently). My son without the means to maintain the
dignity of a tuppeny-hapenny modern Poet Laureateship! By God sir, your
ignorance is notorious but none the less offensive. Let me tell you,
sir, my son has all that a son of mine requires and that is enough
for any Poet Laureate, or Prime Minister--and with no need for shady
speculations!

Sebastian (interposing). Father, the Prime Minister is a guest here
like yourself!

P. Minister (coolly and quite unperturbed). My dear Lord Simon,
nobody is more acutely aware of the value of financial independence
than myself, but long experience has taught me that those who protest
most vehemently of their financial position are generally men of
straw--however antique their origin.

Lord Simon (exploding). Men of straw! Do you think I'm a man of straw,
sir?

P. Minister. Lord Simon, I know nothing of you but your name. It is an
old one, but not necessarily a good one--on a cheque.

Lord Simon. Damnation, sir. You insult me! Do you suggest my name is
not good on a cheque!

P. Minister (almost sneering). Well, sir, do you expect me to give your
son the money to accept the Poet Laureateship--

Lord Simon (screaming). No, sir, I don't. And you shall have a cheque
for £10,000 to give my son with the Laureateship, and may the devil
take you both.

P. Minister (coolly). Your promise would be quite sufficient, Lord
Simon.

Lord Simon (furiously). I'll write you a cheque now, d'you hear, now!
(To Meyer.) Give me a pen.

Meyer. There's pen and ink downstairs, if you want them, Lord Simon.

P. Minister. I'd much rather you thought it over, Lord Simon. It is a
large sum.

Lord Simon (trembling with rage). No, now! now! Come at once, sir! A
large sum!! To me, it's nothing! Nothing!!

Meyer. This way, Lord Simon.

(Exeunt. Prime Minister winks at Sebastian.)

P. Minister (following). My dear Sebastian, he's like wax.

(Enter Dumbell who opens folding doors, after arranging them he goes
out. Enter Lady Torrent and Maud.)

Lady T. (hurriedly). I want you to drive the Prime Minister straight
down to Sutton Veney. You'll arrive there in the morning. The car's
outside, waiting. I'll tell him you'll drive him to Downing Street and
you'll have to do what you can when he finds out you're not taking him
there. I've phoned Carrington you're coming. And remember you're not to
bring me into it. It's to be a prank of your own, for a bet.

Maud. What a bore! And I was just beginning to amuse myself with that
young man.

Lady T. Well, take him with you if you can rely on him. He might be
useful. (Pause.) Simpson's a good driver and you'll be out of London
in about half an hour, and then you'll be all right. You'll have to
try and prevent him noticing the time. It doesn't take more than ten
minutes from here to Downing Street, and he might be able to attract
attention if he found out before you got him out of the suburbs.

Maud. It's all very well, but he may become violent; he's not a
gentleman.

Lady T. My dear, if he becomes violent put your arms round his neck and
cling to him.

Maud (cynically). Very pleasant for me!

Lady T. It ought to just suit you. Your young friend will tear you from
his arms and sit on his head.

Maud. Quite an ideal arrangement! How amusing! How long am I to keep
him?

Lady T. I'll 'phone you to-morrow. They're with Sebastian and St.
Vitus, Dumbell says; come and I'll introduce you. No, this way.

(Exeunt R. Enter Smaragda and de Bomph.)

Smaragda. Everybody's downstairs eating. Play something.

De Bomph (restlessly walking up and down and looking at doors). I'm not
in the mood.

Smaragda (sitting down). It's a terrible strain to have imagination--it
can create a multitude of devils to destroy one.

De Bomph (excitedly). Yes, but they fight each other.

Smaragda. And they are not only devils, but spirits--Holy spirits--the
angels and demons of ancient religions. Who knows whether they walk the
earth as they walk the mind.

De Bomph (turning to her). You cannot talk to these English, they are
dead...poof! Shells of snails--escargots! and the snails have been
eaten. I read your Milton, do you remember?

(reciting)
  Here lands the Fiend, a spot like which perhaps
  Astronomer in the Sun's lucent orb
  Through his glazed optic tube yet never saw.
  I he place he found beyond expression bright
  Compared with ought on Earth, metal or stone-
  Not all parts like, but all alike informed
  With radiant light, as glowing iron will fire.
  What wonder then if fields and regions here
  Breathe forth elixir pure, and rivers run
  Potable gold, when, with one virtuous touch
  I he arch-chemic Sun, so far from us remote,
  produces, with terrestrial humour mixed,
  Here in the dark so many precious things...

And I asked Sebastian and Sylvester about him but they shrugged their
shoulders and said he was boring--boring! Everything is boring. Yes
they are right. They do not live in the world of demons. They are like
empty skulls on the battlefield while the air is thick with spirits,
fighting. What is my music but their cries of agony as they are torn to
pieces and bloodless join together again legions of them! But Sebastian
thinks it is a new and clever noise I make. Pooh! How disgusting! I
spit out these imbeciles! (He spits into the fireplace.)

Smaragda. I am glad you understand Milton.

De Bomph. When I read the name Lucifer I tremble. I know Lucifer. He
is so calm, so bright with flaxen-silver hair and limbs like shining
armour. When he looks over the hills as Day falls, lying like a huge
bronze shadow with hilly shoulders and valleys between his limbs and
rises with invisible wings into the sky, I ask myself do I see this
in my mind, this apparition? What is this outstretched hilly body and
this star? What is this land on which I gaze? these phantoms, these
spirits...you, Smaragda.

Smaragda (dreamily). I!

De Bomph (moving his hands before his eyes as if feeling for words).
Your face, it is a flower upon a bush, a smile woven upon matter, an
angel emerging from stone. It will soon disappear like all the other
demons that haunt the universe, but where did it go, will it come
again into the world--that mysterious face! (Clenching his hands with
an intense expression.) What is it? What are you Smaragda, and what
is that other woman? (Pause.) She is another demon. But what is the
meaning of that smiling mask? It does not smile at me but at a devil
in me. They smile at each other as they tear each other to pieces. I
am like the sea in which millions of grinning monsters float, or like
the air in which they appear and disappear, awake and fade without
leaving a ripple anywhere. But if I let that devil take me to her, all
the other devils will vanish. There will be peace! I shall become dead
matter again. I shall have frozen into a shape that does not alter,
like the earth's outlines in the minds of dead men. (Pauses--he walks
up and down?) She has only the one mask, therefore she is a devil, but
you and I, Smaragda, have more, and we are not devils. The devils are
those with only one mask, but what are we? Why do we come? What are we
doing here among these devils in masks? What is this Grand Charade in
which the stars and mountains are the faces of the dead? Who is there
behind it all? Who is speaking to you, Smaragda, now?

Smaragda (softly). She is very beautiful, more beautiful than I am, but
I rejoice in her beauty. I am unattainable, there is no man yet born to
be my lover, but she is attainable. Yet she is not for you, only for
the devil within you.

De Bomph. And he must be fed; but he will grow so big, he will destroy
everything.

Smaragda (clearly). He will destroy nothing. Even as he becomes big he
will become thin as a shadow, he will suddenly vanish into air, for he
is only an appearance. (Changing her tone.) Do you know that I feel we
shall all vanish to-night?

De Bomph (stopping still). What!

Smaragda (rising). Yes, we shall all vanish to-night! You will not see
me again. (Holding out her hand?) Goodbye! I don't know to whom it
is that I am saying Goodbye, but I feel that it is to myself. Dear,
beloved self, farewell--Oh, why am I crying? (Exit back.)

(De Bomph turns and stands still, leaning against the mantelpiece with
his back to the room. Presently after a few moments of silence, Maud
enters?)

Maud. Mr. De Bomph. I am going to drive the Prime Minister to Downing
Street. Would you care to come with me?

De Bomph (turning with a quiet expression). I have a devil who is
entirely at your service, madam--

Maud. That is not a very polite way of accepting an invitation.

De Bomph. It is the devil, not politeness you want.

Maud (coldly). I'll have no devil who isn't polite.

De Bomph (slightly grimly). He's a very humble devil; he begs on his
knees to be allowed to come.

(Enter Lady Torrent and the Prime Minister.)

P. Minister. Well, now I must be off.

Maud (to Prime Minister). This is Mr. De Bomph, a great friend of
Sebastian's who is coming with us.

P. Minister (acknowledging De Bomph with a nod). What a disappointment.
I thought I was to have you all to myself.

Maud. You'll soon have quite enough of me.

P. Minister. That would be impossible I am sure. Don't you agree, Mr.
De Bomph?

De Bomph. I think of Miss Torrent one would either have too much or too
little.

P. Minister (laughs). Goodbye, Lady lorrent. We meet again soon.

Lady T. (smiling). Ah! Shall we recognise each other?

P. Minister (genially). Well, I hope you won't starting cutting me
at our second meeting, you know if you do--(holds up his finger
threateningly)--Goodbye.

(Exeunt except Lady Torrent. Presently Sir Leo enters.)

Sir Leo. Well he's gone and he s got £10,000 out of Lord Simon for
Sylvester.

Lady T. Where's Percy and Medulla, I've not seen them for a long time?

Sir Leo. Percy kept out of the way. The Prime Minister didn't know he
was here, but they know he's here at Downing Street. He's expecting to
be rung up to go there any moment. They're downstairs playing Bridge
with that awful couple you insisted on my asking.

Lady T. They're very influential. He's far more widely read than
Pilbery-Flower and she's—

(Enter Sylvester and Sebastian.)

Sylvester (gaily). Well, Old St. Vitus has gone--we've just had an
affectionate parting (Waving cheque.) Do you know the Prime Minister
rooked him for £10,000. It's more than we've all had out of him for the
last ten years. What an incredible ruffian he must be. He'll get my
vote next time. He's the man to diddle Europe.

Sebastian. (calmly). But we also happen to be Europeans.

(A terrific explosion is heard in the far distance. They all stand
absolutely stilly then after a few moments dead silence.)

Lady T. (paling). What was that?

(They look at each other, straining to hear if another follows, but all
is quiet?)

Sebastian (quietly). Some gasometer, I should think.

(Enter Pilbery-Flower.)

Flower. Did you hear that? Something terrible is happening.

(They stand still. Enter Percy Parson agitated followed by Medulla and
Mr. and Mrs. Fortnight-Taylor.)

Parsons. They've just rung up from Downing Street. The Prime Minister
is wanted at once. I said he'd left, but (looking around) he hasn't
arrived.

Sebastian. He ought to be there any moment.

Parsons (in a strained voice). It was the Foreign Secretary himself
speaking, and when I said I'd come along immediately he cut me short.
"For God's sake stay where you are", he said and cut off.

(They all stand silent looking at one another. Long pause.)

Mr P. Flower. What is that? (He walks across the room sniffing?)

(The others watch him fascinated)

My God! Can't you smell it? It's come at last!

Medulla (in a terrible whisper). What do you mean?

Mr P. Flower. They're here, above us in the air. It's dropping down
like a dew (falling on his knees) The gentle dew from heaven...My God!

Meyer (screaming). Open those doors I (He rushes to the folding doors
and flings them aside)

Sebastian (rushing after him). What are you doing? Are you mad?

Mr. P. Flower. There's no escape, none. It penetrates everywhere and
it's almost invisible. This is the end. Babylon Egypt Rome and now the
British empire

Meyer. (screaming) Let me get out, you devil! Dumbell! Dumbell!

Mr F Taylor. Down into the cellars. It's our only hope! Down! down! (He
rushes to the door, then all follow.)

Lady T. (wringing her hands). Maud, Maud darling!

Sebastian (gently). Come along. There's just a chance she's got beyond
the radius and escaped.

Mr. P. Flower. Yes, but what to?

(Exeunt.)

The stage is completely empty. A faint vapour may be seen ascending but
it clears. The curtains are then to be seen open and the evening star
is seen shining through the window as at the beginning of the play.

(Then a voice Speaks ):

The Voice.

I am Smaragda's lover. I am He
Who dwells behind all masks. Now they have vanished
These players of my dreaming. A world has faded
Of moving forms that had enchanted voices
And like the bells in towers of vanished cities
That print romance upon the ruined landscape
Their chimes ring on within the fleshly memory.
Slowly the landscape changes, so change bodies
Which are the landscape of the Spirit, singing
As the bells sing on hill and plain and valley.
This country of imagination vanished
Look and behold my countenance among you!

CURTAIN



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THE END


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