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Title: Three Mrs. Madderleys
Author: Josephine Tey (writing as Gordon Daviot)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1600361h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  March 2016
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Three Mrs. Madderleys


Gordon Daviot

Cover Image

A Play in One Act

First Published in Leith Sands and Other Short Plays, Duckworth, 1946

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2016


                         In order of appearance


The scene is the terrace of a hotel in a fashionable holiday resort. At
one of the little iron tables set among the potted shrubs is MARY
MADDERLEY. She is going to be forty-one next month, and has never
attempted to conceal the fact. Her rather long, kind face is innocent of
make-up. Her features, like her clothes, are good; but both lack verve.
Her manner is tinged with shyness, and there is an odd suggestion of
immaturity about her; as of one who has always lived dependent on
another. On the table in front of her is a half-drunk glass of pale

Along the terrace comes MARGOT MADDERLEY. She is twenty.
Self-confident, fashionable, very pretty. She has a bored expression and
a faintly hard-boiled air; but neither is native to her. The boredom was
merely "the thing" in the senior forms at her very expensive school; and
the hard-boiled air was "the thing" with her set in the years since she
left school. She is being pursued along the terrace, although she
doesn't know it, by a waiter clutching a library book. She sits down at
the table next to MARY'S, and begins a hunt through her bag for a

  MARY.: [Tentatively] If it is matches you are looking for, there are
some here on my table. [Her voice is sweet and immature.]

  MARGOT.: [In a bored contralto drawl] Yes. My damned lighter's lost

  WAITER.: [Coming up, breathless] Madame Madderley? Madame left her
book in the foyer. I thought Madame might miss it. [He has the air of a
puppy retrieving a stick; proud and willing.]

  MARGOT.: [Receiving it without enthusiasm] Oh. Thanks. Bring me a
pink gin, will you.

  WAITER.: At once, madame. [He goes.]

  MARGOT.: [Busy with her cigarette-lighting] Might as well be a

  MARY.: [Startled] A convict?

  MARGOT.: As go about with a library book. Name and number indelibly

  MARY.: [Smiling a little] Oh. I see. Yes; Cash's used to give me the
same feeling.

  MARGOT.: [Looking at her for the first time] Cash's?

  MARY.: Those names in tape on one's school clothes. One was labelled
down to the very combinations.

  MARGOT.: Never wore the things. [Relenting] But I remember Cash's.

  MARY.: [Looking at her kindly] I should hope so. [In answer to
MARGOT'S enquiring glance] It can't be very long since you stopped
wearing school things.

  MARGOT.: Between five and six thousand years.

  MARY.: [Smiling at her a little] You wear remarkably well. [As this
produces a more or less friendly glance from MARGOT] Forgive me, but I
think I heard the waiter call you Madderley. That's odd, because it is
not a very common name, and it happens to be mine too. [She is not
being in the least curious; merely friendly.]

  MARGOT.: [Not interested] Really? Well, it won't be mine for very

  MARY.: Oh? You are going to be married?

  MARGOT.: No. Divorced.

  MARY.: Oh; I am sorry.

  MARGOT.: Don't be. It is what is known as a happy release. [MARY makes
a small cooing noise of sympathy.] I made a horrible mistake. I married
for love.

  MARY.: But surely that is the proper thing to marry for!

  MARGOT.: Next time, I promise you, I shall be highly improper.
[Glancing at the ring on MARY'S hand] I see that you wear a ring.
Did you marry for love?

  MARY.: [Warmly] Oh, yes.

  MARGOT.: And did it work?

  MARY.: For twenty years it did.

  MARGOT.: And then?

  MARY.: He fell in love with someone else. [After a slight pause] Is
. . . that what has happened to you?

  MARGOT.: Oh, no. He dotes upon me. At least, he did until last night.

  MARY.: Last night? [Relieved] Oh, you mean you have just had a
quarrel, and that all this talk of divorce—

  MARGOT.: [Incisively] Last night is when he will have had my lawyer's

  MARY.: [Dashed] Oh.

  MARGOT.: [Pleased] It will be a shock to him.

  MARY.: Yes, I expect so.

  MARGOT.: He sees himself as a combination of King Arthur and Gabriel.
The Archangel Gabriel. The letter is to say he is a poor fish, a
crashing bore, and plain poison. Wrapped up legally, of course, but he
will get the general idea.

  MARY.: Dear me. How long have you lived with this . . . horror?

  MARGOT.: Eighteen months. Seventeen months and twenty-nine days too
long. But I was romantic about him. He looks a little like Gabriel,
you see. Stern, and beautiful, and the perfect gent.

  MARY.: [A far-away look in her eyes] Ah, yes.

  MARGOT.: You recognise the type?

  MARY.: Yes.

  MARGOT.: [Examining her with more interest] You are still in love
with your husband, aren't you?

  MARY.: [Matter-of-fact] Oh, yes. One doesn't fall out of love just
because the other one does, you know. That is why I can't help being a
little sorry for your poor archangel. If he loves you so much, he is not
likely to be cured by a lawyer's letter.

  MARGOT.: John has never been in love with anyone but himself.

  MARY.: [Her attention wholly arrested] John?

  MARGOT.: He dotes on me just as he dotes on his old sherry, and his new
golf clubs, and his old Spode.

  MARY.: [Her worst fears confirmed] Spode!

  MARGOT.: Yes; china, you know. He collected me, along with the other
things. Ah, here is my drink!

  WAITER.: [Coming up with a tray] One pink gin for madame.

  MARY.: [In a faint voice] I think I should like one of those.

  MARGOT.: You haven't finished your sherry. Is it revolting?

  MARY.: No; but I think I could do with one of these.

  WAITER.: At once, madame.

  MARY.: I shall finish the sherry while you are bringing it.

  WAITER.: Very good, madame. [He goes.]

  MARGOT.: [Taking her first sip, with satisfaction] John didn't
approve of pink gins.

  MARY.: [Unguardedly] No.

  MARGOT.: How do you mean, no?

  MARY.: [Retrieving hastily] I mean, the Gabriel type don't, do they?

  MARGOT.: No. That is one of the flaws I had as a collector's piece. He
was always pointing out my flaws. [MARY'S ears prick a little, as if
that had a familiar sound.] I was quite worried about them until I got
wise to him.

  MARY.: Until you . . . ?

  MARGOT.: Until the halo dropped off.

  MARY.: [Faintly] Did that take long?

  MARGOT.: It began to slip towards the end of the second month. By the
sixth it had gone. There was a tiny bald spot there instead. I told him
about the bald spot, but he was furious and went and spent the night at

  MARY.: Marion.

  MARGOT.: Marion is John's mother. He said it was to talk about her
investments, but it was just because of the bald spot. His mental age is
five and a half.

  MARY.: [Half fascinated, half repudiating] But he is a . . . He is
very good at his profession, surely?

  MARGOT.: [In a that-proves-nothing tone] Oh, yes. A great many
lunatics are mathematical geniuses. What a man does in an office is
no guide to what he is capable of doing outside it.

  MARY.: No; no, I suppose not.

  MARGOT.: It was a shock to find I had married someone aged five and a

  MARY.: Yes. Yes, I suppose it must.

  MARGOT.: Especially when he is forty-two and looks like Gabriel.

  MARY.: But . . . [She looks round for some defence of John.]

  MARGOT.: But what?

  MARY.: But surely he has—has qualities; great charm, perhaps?

  MARGOT.: He has so much charm that it drips off him. After a little you
don't notice anything but the pool on the floor.

  MARY.: And is he not faithful? And honest?

  MARGOT.: Oh, yes. He also washes behind his ears.

  MARY.: [Giving it up] I am sorry you couldn't make it a success. You
are so young and—and vivid. John is bound to miss you frightfully.

  MARGOT.: [Equably] Oh, no. He has Mary.

  MARY.: [Electrified] Mary!

  MARGOT.: His first wife. We lived with Mary.

  MARY.: But—but how could you?

  MARGOT.: I couldn't. Mary licked me.

  MARY.: I don't understand.

  MARGOT.: Mary was perfect. There was nothing I did from morning till
night but Mary had done it better. The only way I was Mary's successor
was chronologically. No one arranged flowers like Mary, no one wore
clothes like Mary, no one knew how to cure his colds in the head like
Mary—and my God, what colds! No one was ever so wise, so kind, so
lovely, so intelligent as Mary. Living with John was a bore, but living
with Mary was unbearable. I never saw the woman, but if she suffered
John for twenty years and still kept his admiration she must have either
the soul of a saint or the hide of a rhinoceros. I wish that man would
come with your drink. I want another. [Considering MARY] You know, I
wouldn't have said that gin was your tipple.

  MARY.: It isn't, usually.

  MARGOT.: I hope my matrimonial infelicities haven't brought yours to
the surface again.

  MARY.: I'm afraid they have, rather. You see, I'm Mary.

  MARGOT.: [Caught off-balance for once] You are! [Considering her
anew] Well! [Recovering her poise] That makes John a liar as well as
a poor fish.

  MARY.: John?

  MARGOT.: He said you dressed better than any woman he ever knew.

  MARY.: [Humbly] No, I'm afraid I never took much interest in clothes.
[Looking at MARGOT with simple admiration] They told me you were
pretty. [The emphasis is on "told"; she is merely confirming the

  MARGOT.: [Drawling] Thanks. All my own work. Why don't you give
chemistry a chance?

  MARY.: [At a loss] I don't under—

  MARGOT.: You are much better looking than I am. I know John said you
were very economical—

  MARY.: He said that!

  MARGOT.: —but five pounds spent in the right places and you would be a
raving beauty.

  MARY.: I suppose it's dreadful of me, but I would rather have the five

  MARGOT.: Didn't you do anything to keep John? I mean, when he began to

  MARY.: It wasn't a slip; it was a landslide. He just came home one day
and told me that he had fallen in love with someone else.

  MARGOT.: I can see him. Very grave, and frank, and noble.

  MARY.: There wasn't much I could do about it, was there?

  MARGOT.: You could have shot me, but I suppose it didn't occur to you.

  MARY.: No. I just hoped that you would make him happy.

  MARGOT.: [In simple comment] My God! [Cheerfully] Well, now I know
why providence kept me from murdering John.

  MARY.: Why?

  MARGOT.: So that you could have him back intact.

  MARY.: [Sweetly and mildly] But I don't want him back.

  MARGOT.: [Staggered for once] You don't!

  MARY.: No; I have only just this moment got free of him.

  MARGOT.: But a minute ago you told me you were still in love with him.

  MARY.: That was before I heard about all my charming qualities.

  MARGOT.: What has that to—

  MARY.: You see, I lived with someone too. Only the person I lived with
was my mother-in-law.

  MARGOT.: Marion.

  MARY.: Yes.

  MARGOT.: Not actually?

  MARY.: No, the way you lived with me. For twenty years I tried to be
like Marion. John adored his mother, and I tried not to be a—an
anti-climax. But it was difficult. What was it you said: "No one was
ever so wise, so kind, so intelligent, so lovely"—as Marion. No one
wore clothes like Marion, arranged flowers like Marion—and so on and so
on and so on.

  MARGOT.: Well, I'll be . . .!

  MARY.: Marion is rather wonderful, of course. So I didn't mind trying
to live up to her.

  MARGOT.: Didn't mind!

  MARY.: Not actively. I was very humble about myself. After twenty years
I was a little tired but still humble, and still trying. When John fell
in love with you I took it that I had failed.

  MARGOT.: And your heart broke.

  MARY.: My heart cracked wide open. It mended with a click five minutes
ago. To be exact, on the word "economical". You're sure John told you I
was economical?

  MARGOT.: Every time a bill came in. Are you not?

  MARY.: For twenty years he told me daily what a bad manager I was. He
was very sweet about it; very patient; always hoping I would do better
next time.

  MARGOT.: [Contemplating it] You know, all we've been, you and I, is a
couple of donkeys with carrots dangled in front of our noses.

  MARY.: With a difference. [In answer to MARGOT'S eyebrows] I ran
after my carrot.

  MARGOT.: You certainly ran.

  MARY.: You mustn't blame me too much. Marion brought him up to expect
perfection. Do you know her?

  MARGOT.: [Extra sec] We have met. A strong-minded woman.

  MARY.: Yes. John was stamped in her image before we met. It seemed
natural to conform to the mould. She rarely came to see us, and yet she
pervaded the house.

  MARGOT.: You practically stank the place out when I lived there.

  MARY.: [With a laughing expulsion of her breath] I even came to this
place because she used to talk about it. Her sister is married to a
clergyman here. Ah, here is the waiter.

  WAITER.: One pink gin for madame.

  MARGOT.: O—h, no! We have changed all that. You take that away and
bring us a bottle of champagne.

  MARY.: But I would like to have the gin. I've never had one, you know.

  MARGOT.: Gin may be good for drowning one's sorrows in, but it is no
drink for a celebration. You bring us some Pol Roger, waiter. The best
vintage year you have.

  WAITER.: At once, Madame.

  MARY.: Very well. But I insist on tasting a pink gin, so you may leave
it, waiter.

  WAITER.: Very good, madame. [He goes.]

  MARY.: John, as you remarked, didn't approve of gin. [She embarks on
her drink with an air of having at last achieved equality with John.]

  MARGOT.: My blessing on your emancipation.

  MARY.: It tastes rather like wood shavings.

  MARGOT.: It gets better as you go on.

  MARY.: Poor darling John.

  MARGOT.: Hurrah!

  MARY.: Why?

  MARGOT.: You have reached the stage of patronising him.

  MARY.: I was thinking of the shock that lawyer's letter would be to

  MARGOT.: You were not. You were thinking how nice it was that he was
going to be shocked.

  MARY.: Was I? Perhaps I was. How malicious of me. Oh, well; Marion will
be there to hold his hand.

  MARGOT.: As it happens, she won't.

  MARY.: No? Why?

  MARGOT.: Because she is coming down the path from the annexe at this

  MARY.: Marion is! This path?

  MARGOT.: In her black-and-white foulard and her garden-party hat. Good
God, don't drink gin in a gulp like that! [Raising her voice to greet
MARION as she approaches] Hello, there.

   MARION is a good-looking woman; tall, grey, slender, with a pleasant
      voice and a firm, composed manner. Her clothes are in excellent
      taste, and they are worn much better than MARY'S are.

  MARION.: Margot! My dear child! What are you doing here?

  MARGOT.: Waiting for a drink.

  MARION.: And Mary too! How nice. And how very surprising.

  MARGOT.: Will you have this chair. The champagne won't be long.

  MARION.: Champagne! You extravagant hussies. Are you celebrating

  MARY.: We are about to celebrate our coming of age.

  MARION.: My darling Mary, you sound as if you had been celebrating
already. Where is John?

  MARGOT.: It being ten and one-half minutes to one o'clock, John is at
this moment descending the second flight of stairs at the office on his
way to lunch.

  MARION.: You mean that John is not here?

  MARGOT.: Not even in spirit.

  MARY.: Poor John. [She gives a sudden little giggle.]

  MARION.: Mary, my dear! [Glancing at MARY'S drink; quite
uncensorious] Is that gin?

  MARY.: It's a pink gin.

  MARION.: Is that a good introduction to champagne, do you think? And
anyhow, why "poor John"?

  MARGOT.: She is sorry for John because I have left him.

  MARION.: Left him? Behind? Or for good?

  MARGOT.: Both. [Genuine] I'm sorry if it distresses you.

  MARION.: [Slowly] I regret it, of course. It is a pity. But I must
confess that from some points of view it may be an excellent thing.

  MARGOT.: [Aggressive; taking it for granted that MARION thinks that
she is good riddance] You do!

  MARION.: Don't think me harsh, my dear—I'm devoted to John, you
know—but I can't help thinking that—well, that he was becoming just
the least little bit in the world smug.

  MARY.: [Into the astonished pause] Marion, you surprise me.

  MARGOT.: She staggers me.

  MARION.: Why?

  MARGOT.: One hadn't expected you to be critical of John. After all, he
is your creation.

  MARION.: Only physically. The rest is Nannie's.

  MARY.: Nannie?

  MARION.: You didn't know Nannie. She was my mother's old nurse. A
strong-minded woman. [This is what MARGOT has said of her, although
she does not know it.] I, being a young widow with a profession to
occupy me, had to leave John to Nannie. I may as well confess to you
that I was inordinately jealous of Nannie. She always did everything
better than I did.

  MARGOT.: [Her attention arrested] She what?

  MARION.: [Misunderstanding her emphasis] I mean, things for John.
Domestic things.

  MARGOT.: For instance?

  MARION.: Oh . . . [she looks round for samples] if I bought him
woollies they were too thick and scratched; if I told him stories at
night Nannie had told him better ones; if I took him for a walk it
wasn't as exciting as Nannie's, because Nannie's walks had ponds in
them, and fish, and what not . . . [With the breath of a rueful laugh]
I spent the best years of my life trying to live up to Nannie.

  MARGOT.: [In great delight] MARY! She had a carrot too!

  MARION.: A what?

  MARY.: [Happily; making a sing-song chant of it] No one told stories
like Nannie, no one arranged flowers like Nannie, no one wore clothes
like Nannie, no one was ever so wise, so kind, so intelligent, so

  MARION.: Mary, my dear, you are drunk. You are behaving very
strangely, you two.

  MARGOT.: You tell her, Mary. You're a graduate.

  MARION.: What is all this, Mary?

  MARY.: Marion, I hate to tell you, but you are a donkey.

  MARION.: Margot, you appear to be sober. Will you tell me.

  MARGOT.: It's not gin that Mary's drunk with, but relief.

  MARION.: Relief from what?

  MARGOT.: John. She has just discovered that he is a blackmailer.

  MARION.: Margot, do stop this absurdity, and tell me . . .

  MARGOT.: Remember the way he used to hold Nannie over your head?

  MARION.: I don't know that I should put it that way exactly. [But her
tone is doubtful; that is just what he used to do.]

  MARGOT.: He dug a lot of extras out of you with Nannie for a lever,
didn't he. [It is statement, not question.]

  MARION.: You don't put it very elegantly, my dear, but—

  MARGOT.: [Translating MARION'S "but" into her own idiom] But that
was the set-up. Well, he has been using that Nannie technique ever
since. For twenty years he held you over Mary's head. And for the last
eighteen months he has held Mary over mine.

  MARION.: Mary! Is this true? Mary, pay attention!

  MARY.: [Dreamily] I never noticed before what a nice face you have,

  MARION.: [Sharply] Mary! Did John make me into a bogy for you? I
could never forgive him for that.

  MARY.: [Kindly] Not a bogy, exactly. Just a carrot.

  MARION.: A carrot! Oh . . . [light dawns] Oh, I see what you mean
about the donkey. Yes, of course. That is just what we have been. But to
think that John . . . I can't believe it.

  MARY.: Do you mind if I ask you something, Marion? It's something
rather personal. Are you very good at arranging flowers?

  MARION.: I loathe arranging flowers. A fiddling business. Why?

  MARY.: Yes, I was afraid of that. Dear me, the hours I have wasted. I
remember once throwing away some lovely herbaceous things and starting
again on sweet-peas at the last moment, because they wouldn't come

  MARION.: You mean, because I was coming?

  MARY.: I wouldn't be surprised if you're not even punctual. It was just
John's way of getting his meals on time.

  MARION.: Is that how . . . [words fail her] The . . . [she looks
round for an appropriate epithet for her son, and at last finds one]
the MONSTER! You have no idea how much I tried to be a nice
mother-in-law. Not coming too often, or interfering, or offering advice,
or being last-generation about things. I was so pleased with myself,
too! I prided myself on being a model mother-in-law. And all I've been
is a bogy.

  MARY.: Not a bogy, Marion; just a—

   Before she can say "carrot", the WAITER comes up with the wine.

  WAITER.: The wine for madame.

  MARGOT.: Yes, that looks all right. Open it.

  WAITER.: Perhaps if it cooled a little longer . . .

  MARGOT.: No, we'll drink it now. Bring a third glass. Oh, you've
brought one.

  WAITER.: I saw madame arrive.

  MARY.: Don't look so sad, Marion.

  MARGOT.: That isn't sorrow. It's helpless rage.

  MARION.: You are right, Margot. When I think of my wasted
opportunities. The things I could have done.

  MARGOT.: With what?

  MARION.: The back of a hair-brush.

  MARGOT.: Don't take it too hard, Marion. John's a genius in his way. To
use the same technique on three generations and get away with it . . .

  MARY.: Two generations, Margot. Only Marion and I were fools. You saved
the honour of womanhood.

  MARION.: Mary darling, I doubt very much whether you should have
champagne. What are we going to drink to? [Exit WAITER.]

  MARGOT.: To the damnation of John.

  MARION.: To our emancipation from John.

  MARY.: No; no, we will drink to Margot.

  MARION.: To Margot?

  MARY.: Because she belongs to a generation that will have no more

  MARION.: [Laughing] To you, Margot, with all my heart!

  MARY.: To Margot!

  MARGOT.: [Heartily agreeing] To me!



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