a farce in one-act
by Arnold Bennett
The following one-act play is reprinted from Polite Farces for the Drawing-Room. Arnold Bennett. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1900. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.
[Mrs. Prout’s study: luxuriously furnished; large table in centre, upon which are a new novel, press-cuttings, and the usual apparatus of literary composition. Christine is seated at the large table, ready for work, and awaiting the advent of Mrs. Prout. To pass the time she picks up the novel, the leaves of which are not cut, and glances at a page here and there. Enter Mrs. Prout, hurried and preoccupied; the famous novelist is attired in a plain morning gown, which in the perfection of its cut displays the beauty of her figure. She nods absently to Christine, and sits down in an armchair away from the table.]
CHRISTINE: Good morning, Mrs. Prout. I’m afraid you are still sleeping badly?
MRS. PROUT: Do I look it, girl?
CHRISTINE: You don’t specially look it, Mrs. Prout. But I observe. You are my third novelist, and they have all taught me to observe. Before I took up novelists I was with a Member of Parliament, and he never observed anything except five-line whips.
MRS. PROUT: Really! Five-line whips! Oblige my by putting that down in Notebook No. 2. There will be an M.P. in that wretched thirty-thousand word thing I’ve promised for the Christmas number of the New York Surpriser and it might be useful. I might even make an epigram out of it.
CHRISTINE: Yes, Mrs. Prout. [Writes.]
MRS. PROUT: And what are your observations about me?
CHRISTINE: [while writing] Well, this is twice in three weeks that you’ve been here five minutes late in the morning.
MRS. PROUT: Is that all? You don’t think my stuff’s falling off?
CHRISTINE: Oh, no, Mrs. Prout! I know it’s not falling off. I was just going to tell you. The butler’s been in, and wished me to inform you that he begged to give notice. [looking up] It seems that last night you ordered him to cut the leaves of our new novel [patting book maternally]. He said he just looked into it, and he thinks it’s disgraceful to ask a respectable butler to cut the leaves of such a book. So he begs to give warning. Oh, no, Mrs. Prout, your stuff isn’t falling off.
MRS. PROUT: [grimly] What did you say to him, girl?
CHRISTINE: First I looked at him, and then I said, “Brown, you will probably be able to get a place on the reviewing staff of The Methodist Recorder.”
MRS. PROUT: Christine, one day, I really believe, you will come to employ a secretary of your own.
CHRISTINE: I hope so, Mrs. Prout. But I intend to keep off the morbid introspection line. You do that so awfully well. I think I shall go in for smart dialogue, with marquises and country houses, and a touch of old-fashioned human nature at the bottom. It appears to me that’s what’s coming along very shortly…. Shall we begin, Mrs. Prout?
MRS. PROUT: [disinclined] Yes, I suppose so. [Clearing her throat.] By the way, anything special in the press-cuttings?
CHRISTINE: [fingering the pile of press-cuttings] Nothing very special. The Morning Call says, “genius in every line.”
MRS. PROUT: [blasé] Hum!
CHRISTINE: The Daily Reporter: “Cora Prout may be talented–we should hesitate to deny it–but she is one of several of our leading novelists who should send themselves to a Board School in order to learn grammar.”
MRS. PROUT: Grammar again! They must keep a grammar in the office! Personally I think it’s frightfully bad form to talk about grammar to a lady. But they never had any taste at the Reporter. Don’t read me any more. Let us commence work.
CHRISTINE: Which will you do, Mrs. Prout? [consulting a diary of engagements] There’s the short story for the Illustrated Monthly, six thousand, promised for next Saturday. There’s the article on “Women’s Diversions” for the British Review–they wrote for that Yesterday. There’s the serial that begins in the Sunday Daily Sentinel in September–you’ve only done half the first instalment of that. And of course there’s Heart Ache.
MRS. PROUT: I think I’ll go with Heart Ache. I feel it coming. I’ll do the short story for the Illustrated tomorrow. Where had I got to?
CHRISTINE: [choosing the correct notebook, reads] “The inanimate form of the patient lay like marble on the marble slab of the operating-table. ‘The sponge, Nurse,’ said the doctor, ‘where is it?'” That’s where you got to.
MRS. PROUT: Yes, I remember. New line. “Isabel gazed at him imperturbably.” New line. Quote-marks. “‘I fear, Doctor,” she remarked, ‘that in a moment of forgetfulness you have sewn it up in our poor patient.'” New line. Quote-marks. “‘Damn!’ said the doctor, ‘so I have.'” Rather good, that, Christine, eh? [Christine writes in shorthand.]
CHRISTINE: Oh, Mrs. Prout, I think it’s beautiful. So staccato and crisp. By the way, I forgot to tell you that there’s a leader in the Daily Snail on that frightful anonymous attack in the Forum against your medical accuracy. [looking at Mrs. Prout, who is silent, but shows signs of agitation] You remember– “Medicine in Fiction.” The Snail backs up the Forum for all it’s worth…. Mrs. Prout, you are ill. I was sure you were. What can I get for you?
MRS. PROUT: [weakly wiping her eyes] Nonsense, Christine. I am a little unstrung, that is all. I want nothing.
CHRISTINE: Your imagination is too much for you.
MRS. PROUT: [meekly] Perhaps so.
CHRISTINE: [firmly] But it isn’t all due to an abnormal imagination. You’ve never been quite cheerful since you turned Mr. Adrian out.
MRS. PROUT: You forget yourself, Christine.
CHRISTINE: I forget nothing, Mrs. Prout, myself least of all. Mr. Adrian is your dead husband’s son, and you turned him out of your house, and now you’re sorry.
MRS. PROUT: Christine, you know perfectly well that I–er–requested him to go because he would insist on making love to you, which interfered with our work. Besides, it was not quite nice for a man to make love to the secretary of his stepmother. I wonder you are indelicate enough to refer to the matter. You should never have permitted his advances.
CHRISTINE: I didn’t permit them. I wasn’t asked to. I tolerated them. I hadn’t been secretary to a lady novelist with a stepson before, and I wasn’t quite sure what was included in the duties. I always like to give satisfaction.
MRS. PROUT: You do give satisfaction. Let that end the discussion.
CHRISTINE: [pouting; turning to her notebook; reads] “‘Damn!’ said the doctor, ‘so I have'” [Pause.] “‘Damn!’ said the doctor, ‘so I have'” [Pause.]
MRS. PROUT: Christine, did you find out who was the author of that article on “Medicine in Fiction?”
CHRISTINE: Is that what’s bothering you, Mrs. Prout? Of course it was a nasty attack, but it is very unlike you to trouble about critics.
MRS. PROUT: It has hurt me more than I can say. That was why I asked you to make a few discreet inquiries.
CHRISTINE: I did ask at my club.
MRS. PROUT: And what did they think there?
CHRISTINE: They laughed at me, and said everyone knew you had written it yourself just to keep the silly season alive, July being a sickly month for reputations.
MRS. PROUT: What did you say to that?
CHRISTINE: I should prefer not to repeat it.
MRS. PROUT: Christine, I insist. Your modesty is becoming a disease.
CHRISTINE: I said they were fools–
MRS. PROUT: A little abrupt, perhaps, but effective.
CHRISTINE: –not to see that the grammar was different from ours.
MRS. PROUT: Oh! That was what you said, was it?
CHRISTINE: It was, and it settled them.
MRS. PROUT: [assuming a confidential air] Christine, I believe I know who wrote that article.
MRS. PROUT: Dr. Gardner. [Bursts into tears.]
CHRISTINE: [soothing her] But he lives on the floor below, in the very flat underneath this.
MRS. PROUT: [choking back her sobs] Yes. It is too dreadful.
CHRISTINE: But he comes here nearly every evening.
MRS. PROUT: [sharply] Who told you that?
CHRISTINE: Now, Mrs. Prout, let me implore you to be calm. The butler told me. I didn’t ask him, and as I cannot be expected to foretell what my employer’s butler will say before he opens his mouth, I am not to blame. [Compresses her lips.] Shall we continue?
MRS. PROUT: Christine, do you think it was Dr. Gardner? I would give worlds to know.
CHRISTINE: [Coldly analytic] Do you mean that you would give worlds to know that it was Dr. Gardner, or that it wasn’t Dr. Garnder? Or would give worlds merely to know the author’s name–no matter who he might be?
MRS. PROUT: [sighing] You are dreadfully unsympathetic this morning.
CHRISTINE: I am placid, nothing else. Please recollect that when you engaged me you asked if you might rely on me to be placid, as your previous secretary, when you dictated the pathetic chapters, had wept so freely into her notebook that she couldn’t transcribe her stuff, besides permanently injuring her eyesight. Since you ask my opinion as to Dr. Gardner being the author of this attack on you, I say that he isn’t. Apart from the facts that he lives on the floor below, and that he is, so the butler says, a constant visitor in the evenings, there is the additional fact–a fact which I have several times observed for myself without the assistance of the butler–that he likes you.
MRS. PROUT: You have noticed that. It is true. But the question is: Does he like me sufficiently not to attack my work in the public press? That is the point. The writer of that cruel article begins by saying that he has no personal animus, and that he is actuated solely by an enthusiasm for the cause of medicine and the medical profession.
CHRISTINE: Can you mean to infer, Mrs. Prout, that the author of the article might, as a man, like you, while as a doctor he despised you?
MRS. PROUT: [whimpering again] That is my suspicion.
CHRISTINE: But Dr. Gardner does more than like you. He adores you.
MRS. PROUT: He adores my talent, my genius, my fame, my wealth; but does he adore me? I am not an ordinary woman, and it is no use pretending that I am. I must think of these things.
CHRISTINE: Neither is Dr. Gardner an ordinary doctor. His researches into toxicology–
MRS. PROUT: His researches are nothing to me. I wish he wasn’t a doctor at all.
CHRISTINE: Even doctors have their place in the world, Mrs. Prout.
MRS. PROUT: They should not meddle with fiction, poking their noses–
CHRISTINE: But if fiction meddles with them?… You know fiction is very meddlesome. It pokes its nose with great industry.
MRS. PROUT: [pulling herself together] Christine, you have never understood me. Let us continue.
CHRISTINE: [with an offended air, turning once more to her notebook] “‘Damn!’ said the doctor, ‘so I have.'”
MRS. PROUT: [coughing] New line. “A smile flashed across the lips of Isabel as she took up a glittering knife—-” [Gives a great sob.] Oh, Christine! I’m sure Dr. Gardner wrote it.
CHRISTINE: Very well, madam. He wrote it. We have at last settled something. [Mrs. Prout buries her face in her hands. Christine looks up, and after an instant’s pause springs toward her.] You poor dear! You are perfectly hysterical this morning. You must go and lie down for a little. A horizontal posture is what you need.
MRS. PROUT: Perhaps you are right. I will leave you for an hour. [Totters to her feet.] Take down this note for Dr. Gardner. He may call this morning. In fact, I rather think he will. “The answer to the question is ‘No'”–capital N.
CHRISTINE: Shall I sign it?
MRS. PROUT: Yes; sign it “C.P.” And if he comes, give it him yourself, and say that I can see no one. And, Christine, would you mind [crying gently again] seeing the b-b-butler, and try to reason him into a sensible attitude towards my n-n-novels. In my present state of health I couldn’t stand any change. And he is so admirable at table.
CHRISTINE: Shall I offer some compromise in our next novel? I might require what is the irreducible minimum of his demands.
MRS. PROUT: [faintly] Anything, anything, if he will stay.
CHRISTINE: [following Mrs. Prout to the door, and touching her shoulder caressingly] Try to sleep.
[Exit Mrs. Prout. Christine whistles in a low tone as she returns meditatively to her seat.]
CHRISTINE: [looking at notebook] “Isabel took up a glittering knife,” did she? “The answer to the question is ‘No,'” with a capital N. “C.P.” sounds like Carter Peterson. Now, as I have nothing to do, I think I will devote the morning to an article on “Hysteria in Lady Novelists.” Um! Ah! “The answer to the question is ‘No'”–capital N. What question? Can it be that the lily-white hand of the author of Heart Ache has … [Knock.] Come in. [Enter Dr. Gardner.]
GARDNER: Oh, good morning, Miss Feversham.
CHRISTINE: Good morning, Dr. Gardner. You seem surprised to see me here. Yet I am to be found in this chair daily at this hour.
GARDNER: Not at all, not at all. I assure you I fully expected to find both you and the chair. I also expected to find Mrs. Prout.
CHRISTINE: Are you capable of interrupting our literary labours? We do not receive callers so early, Dr. Gardner. Which reminds that I have several times remarked that this study ought not to have a door opening into the corridor.
GARDNER: As for that, may I venture to offer the excuse that I had an appointment with Mrs. Prout?
CHRISTINE: At what hour? She never makes appointments before noon.
GARDNER: I believe she did say twelve o’clock.
CHRISTINE: [looking at her watch] And it is now twenty-five minutes to ten. Punctuality is a virtue. You may be said to have raised it to the dignity of a fine art.
GARDNER: I will wait [sits down]. I trust I do not interrupt?
CHRISTINE: Yes, Doctor, I regret to say that you do. I was about to commence the composition of an article.
GARDNER: Upon what?
CHRISTINE: Upon “Hysteria in Lady Novelists.” It is my specialty.
GARDNER: Surely lady novelists are not hysterical.
CHRISTINE: The increase of hysteria among that class of persons is one of the saddest features of the age.
GARDNER: Dear me! [enthusiastically] But I can tell you the name of one lady novelist who isn’t hysterical–and that, perhaps, the greatest name of all–Mrs. Prout.
CHRISTINE: Of course not, of course not, Doctor. Nevertheless, Mrs. Prout is somewhat indisposed this morning.
GARDNER: Cora–ill! What is it? Nothing serious?
CHRISTINE: Rest assured. The merest slight indisposition. Just sufficient to delay us an hour or two with out work. Nothing more. Nerves, you know. The imagination of a great artist, Dr. Gardner, is often too active, too stressful, for the frail physical organism.
GARDNER: Ah! You regard Mrs. Prout as a great artist?
CHRISTINE: Doctor–even to ask such a question…! Do not you?
GARDNER: I? To me she is unique. I say, Miss Feversham, were you ever in love?
CHRISTINE: In love? I have had preferences.
GARDNER: Among men?
CHRISTINE: No; among boys. Recollect I am only twenty, though singularly precocious in shrewdness and calm judgment.
GARDNER: Twenty? You amaze me, Miss Feversham. I have often been struck by your common sense and knowledge of the world. They would do credit to a woman of fifty.
CHRISTINE: I am glad to notice that you do not stoop to offer me vulgar compliments about my face.
GARDNER: I am incapable of such conduct. I esteem your mental qualities too highly. And so you have had your preferences among boys?
CHRISTINE: Yes, I like to catch them from eighteen to twenty. They are so sweet and fresh then, like new milk. The employé of the Express Dairy Company who leaves me my half-pint at my lodgings each morning is a perfectly lovely dear. I adore him.
GARDNER: He is one of your preferences, then?
CHRISTINE: A preference among milkmen, of whom, as I change my lodgings frequently, I have known many. Then there is the postman–not a day more than eighteen, I am sure, though that is contrary to the regulations of St. Martin’s-le-Grand. Dr. Gardner, you should see my postman. When he brings them I can receive even rejected articles with equanimity.
GARDNER: I should be charmed to see him. But tell me, Miss Feversham, have you had no serious preferences?
CHRISTINE: You seem interested in this question of preferences.
GARDNER: I am.
CHRISTINE: Doctor, I will open my heart to you. It is conceivable you may be of use to me. You are on friendly terms with Adrian, and doubtless you know the history of his exit from this house. [Gardner nods, with a smile.] Doctor, he and I are passionately attached to each other. Our ages are precisely alike. It is a beautiful idyll, or rather it would be, if dear Mrs. Prout did not try to transform it into a tragedy. She has not only turned the darling boy out, but she has absolutely forbidden him the house.
GARDNER: Doubtless she had her reasons.
CHRISTINE: Oh, I’m sure she had. Only, you see, her reasons aren’t ours. Of course we could marry at once if we chose. I could easily keep Adrian. I do not, however, wish to inconvenience dear Mrs. Prout. It is a mistake to quarrel with the rich relations of one’s future husband. But I was thinking that perhaps you, Doctor, might persuade dear Mrs. Prout that my marriage to Adrian need not necessarily interfere with the performance of my duties as her secretary.
GARDNER: Anything that I can do, Miss Feversham, you may rely on me doing.
CHRISTINE: You are a dear.
GARDNER: But why should you imagine that I have any influence with Mrs. Prout?
CHRISTINE: I do not imagine; I know. It is my unerring insight over again, my faultless observation. Doctor, you did not begin to question me about love because you were interested in my love affairs, but because you were interested in your own, and couldn’t keep off the subject. I read you like a book. You love Mrs. Prout, my dear Doctor. Therefore you have influence over her. No woman is uninfluenced by the man who loves her.
GARDNER: [laughing between self-satisfaction and self-consciousness] You have noticed that I admire Mrs. Prout? It appears that nothing escapes you.
CHRISTINE: That is a trifle. The butler has noticed it.
GARDNER: The butler!
CHRISTINE: The butler.
GARDNER: [with abandon] Let him. Let the whole world notice. Miss Feversham, be it known that I love Mrs. Prout with passionate adoration. Before the day is out I shall either be her affianced bridegroom–or I shall be a dead man.
CHRISTINE: [leaning forward; in a low, tense voice] You proposed to her last night?
GARDNER: I did.
CHRISTINE: And you were to come for the answer this morning?
GARDNER: Yes. Can you guess that I am eager–excited? Can you not pardon me for thinking it is noon at twenty-five minutes to ten? Ah, Miss Feversham, if Adrian adores you with one-tenth of the fire with which I adore Mrs. Prout–
CHRISTINE: Stop, Doctor. I do not wish to be a burnt sacrifice. Now let me ask you a question. You have seen that attack on Mrs. Prout, entitled “Medicine in Fiction,” in this month’s Forum. Do you know the author of it?
GARDNER: I don’t. Has it disturbed Mrs. Prout?
CHRISTINE: It has. Did she not mention it to you?
GARDNER: Not a word. If I did know the author of it, if I ever do know the author of it, I will tear him [fiercely] limb from limb.
CHRISTINE: I trust you will chloroform him first. It will be horrid of you if you don’t.
GARDNER: I absolutely decline to chloroform him first.
CHRISTINE: You must.
GARDNER: I won’t.
CHRISTINE: Never mind. Perhaps you will be dead. Remember that you have promised to kill yourself today on a certain contingency. Should you really do it? Should you really put an end to your life if Mrs. Prout gave you a refusal?
GARDNER: I swear it. Existence would be valueless to me.
CHRISTINE: By the way, Mrs. Prout told me that if you called I was to say that she could see no one.
GARDNER: See no one! But she promised …
CHRISTINE: However, she left a note.
GARDNER: [starting up] Give it me instantly. Why didn’t you give it me before?
CHRISTINE: I had no opportunity. Besides, I haven’t transcribed it yet. It was dictated.
GARDNER: Dictated? Are you sure?
CHRISTINE: [seriously] Oh, yes, she dictates everything.
GARDNER: Well, well, read it to me, read it to me. Quick, I say.
CHRISTINE: [turning over leaves rapidly] Here it is. Are you listening?
GARDNER: Great Heaven!
CHRISTINE: [reads from her shorthand note] “The answer to your question is—-“
GARDNER: Go on.
CHRISTINE: [drawing her breath first] “Yes.–C.P.” There! I’ve saved your life for you.
GARDNER: You have indeed, my dear girl. But I must see her. I must see my beloved Cora.
CHRISTINE: [taking his hand] Accept my advice, Doctor–the advice of a simple, artless girl. Do not attempt to see her today. There are seasons of emotion when a woman [stops] … Go downstairs and write to her, and then give the letter to me. [Pats him on the back.]
GARDNER: I will, by Jove. Miss Feversham, you’re a good sort. And as you’ve told me something, I’ll tell you something. Adrian is going to storm the castle today.
CHRISTINE: Adrian! [A knock. Enter Adrian.]
ADRIAN: Since you command it, I enter.
GARDNER: Let me pass, bold youth.
[Exit Dr. Gardner hurriedly.]
ADRIAN: [overcome with Gardner’s haste] Why this avalanche? Has something happened suddenly?
CHRISTINE: Several things have happened suddenly, Adrian, and several more will probably happen when your mamma discovers that you are defying her orders in this audacious manner. Why are you here? [Kisses him.] You perfect duck!
ADRIAN: [gravely] I am not here, Miss Feversham–
CHRISTINE: “Miss Feversham” — and my kiss still warm on his lips!
ADRIAN: I repeat, Miss Feversham, that I am not here. This [pointing to himself] is not I. It is merely a rather smart member of the staff of the Daily Snail, come to interview Cora Prout, the celebrated novelist.
CHRISTINE: And I have kissed a Snail reporter. Ugh!
ADRIAN: Impetuosity has ruined many women.
CHRISTINE: It is a morning of calamities [Assuming the secretarial pose.] Your card, please.
ADRIAN: [handing card] With pleasure.
CHRISTINE: [taking card by the extreme corner, perusing it with disdain, and then dropping it on the floor] We never see interviewers in the morning.
ADRIAN: Then I will call this afternoon.
CHRISTINE: You must write for an appointment.
ADRIAN: Oh! I’ll take my chances, thanks.
CHRISTINE: We never give them: it is our rule. We have to be very particular. The fact is, we hate being interviewed, and we only submit to the process out of a respectful regard for the great and enlightened public. Any sort of notoriety, any suggestion of self-advertisement, is distasteful to us. What do you wish to interview us about? If it’s the new novel, we are absolutely mum. Accept that from me.
ADRIAN: It isn’t the new novel. The Snail wishes to know whether Mrs. Prout feels inclined to make any statement in reply to that article, “Medicine in Fiction,” in the Forum.
CHRISTINE: Oh, Adrian, do you know anything about that article?
ADRIAN: Rather! I know all about it.
CHRISTINE: You treasure! You invaluable darling! I will marry you tomorrow morning by special licence–
ADRIAN: Recollect, it is a Snail reporter whom you are addressing. Suppose I were to print that!
CHRISTINE: Just so. You are prudence itself, while I, for the moment, happen to be a little–a little abnormal. I saved a man’s life this morning, and it is apt to upset one’s nerves. It is a dreadful thing to do–to save a man’s life. And the consequences will be simply frightful for me. [Buries her face in her hands.]
ADRIAN: Christine [taking her hands], what are you raving about? You are not yourself.
CHRISTINE: I wish I wasn’t. [Looking up with forced calm.] Adrian, there is a possibility of your being able to save me from the results of my horrible act, if only you will tell me the name of the author of that article in the Forum.
ADRIAN: [tenderly] Christine, you little know what you ask. But for you I will do anything…. Kiss me, my white lily. [She kisses him.]
CHRISTINE: [whispers] Tell me.
[He folds her up in his arms. Enter Mrs. Prout excitedly.]
MRS. PROUT: [as she enters] Christine, that appalling butler has actually left the house… [Observing group.] Heavens!
CHRISTINE: [quietly disengaging herself] You seem a little better, Mrs. Prout. A person to interview you from the Daily Snail. [Pointing to Adrian.]
MRS. PROUT: Adrian!
ADRIAN: Yes, Mamma.
MRS. PROUT: [opening her lips to speak and then closing them] Sit down.
ADRIAN: Certainly, Mamma. [Sits.]
MRS. PROUT: How dare you come here?
ADRIAN: I don’t know how, Mamma. [Picks up his card from the floor and hands it to her; then resumes his seat.]
MRS. PROUT: [glancing at card] Pah!
CHRISTINE: That’s just what I told the person, Mrs. Prout. [Mrs. Prout burns her up with a glance.]
MRS. PROUT: You have, then, abandoned your medical studies, for which I had paid all the fees?
ADRIAN: Yes, Mamma. You see, I was obliged to earn something at once. So I took to journalism. I am getting on quite nicely. The editor of the Snail says that I may review your next book.
MRS. PROUT: Unnatural stepson, to review in cold blood the novel of your own stepmother! But this morning I am getting used to misfortunes.
ADRIAN: It cuts me to the heart to hear you refer to any action of mine as a misfortune for you. Perhaps you would prefer that I should at once relieve you of my presence.
MRS. PROUT: Decidedly, yes–that is, if Christine thinks she can do without the fifth act of that caress which I interrupted.
CHRISTINE: The curtain was already falling, madam.
MRS. PROUT: Very well. [To Adrian.] Good day.
ADRIAN: As a stepson I retire. As the “special” of the Daily Snail I must insist on remaining. A “special” of the Daily Snail is incapable of being snubbed. He knows what he wants, and he gets it, or he ceases to be a “special” of the Daily Snail.
MRS. PROUT: I esteem the press, and though I should prefer an existence of absolute privacy, I never refuse its demands. I sacrifice myself to my public, freely acknowledging that a great artist has no exclusive right to the details of his own daily life. A great artist belongs to the world. What is it you want, Mr. Snail?
ADRIAN: I want to know whether you care to say anything in reply to that article on “Medicine in Fiction” in the Forum.
MRS. PROUT: [sinking back in despair] That article again! [Sitting up.] Tell me–do you know the author?
ADRIAN: I do.
MRS. PROUT: His name!
ADRIAN: He is a friend of mine.
MRS. PROUT: His name!
ADRIAN: I am informed that in writing it he was actuated by the highest motives. His desire was not only to make a little money, but to revenge himself against a person who had deeply injured him. He didn’t know much about medicine, being only a student, and probably the larger part of his arguments could not be sustained, but he knew enough to make a show, and he made it.
MRS. PROUT: His name! I insist.
ADRIAN: Adrian Spout or Prout–I have a poor memory….
MRS. PROUT: Is it possible?
ADRIAN: Need I defend myself, Mamma? Consider what you had done to me. You had devastated my young heart, which was just unfolding to its first passion. You had blighted the springtime of the exquisite creature [looking at Christine, who is moved by the feeling in his tones]–the exquisite creature who was dearer to me than all the world. In place of the luxury of my late father’s house you offered me–the street….
CHRISTINE: Yes … and Gower Street.
ADRIAN: You, who should have gently fostered and encouraged the frail buds of my energy and intelligence–you cast me forth …
CHRISTINE: Cast them forth.
ADRIAN: Cast them forth, untimely plucked, to wither, and perhaps die, in the deserts of a great city. And for what? For what?
CHRISTINE: Merely lest she should be deprived of my poor services. Ah! Mrs. Prout, can you wonder that Mr. Adrian should actively resent such conduct–you with your marvellous knowledge of human nature?
MRS. PROUT: Adrian, did you really write it?
ADRIAN: Why, of course. You seem rather pleased than otherwise, Mamma.
MRS. PROUT: [after cogitating] Ah! You didn’t write it, really. You are just boasting. It is a plot, a plot!
ADRIAN: I can prove that I wrote it, since you impugn my veracity.
MRS. PROUT: How can you prove it?
ADRIAN: By producing the cheque which I received from the Forum this very morning.
MRS. PROUT: Produce it, and I will forgive all.
ADRIAN: [with a sign to Christine that he entirely fails to comprehend the situation] I fly. It is in my humble attic, round the corner. Back in two minutes. [Exit Adrian.]
MRS. PROUT: Christine, did he really write it?
CHRISTINE: Can you doubt his word? Was it for lying that you ejected the poor youth from this residence?
MRS. PROUT: Ah! If he did! [Smiles.] Of course Dr. Gardner has not called?
CHRISTINE: Yes, he was in about twenty minutes ago.
MRS. PROUT: [agonised] Did you give him my note?
MRS. PROUT: Thank Heaven!
CHRISTINE: I had not copied it out, so I read it to him.
MRS. PROUT: You read it to him?
CHRISTINE: Yes; that seemed the obvious thing to do.
MRS. PROUT: [in black despair] All is over. [Sinks back.]
[Enter Dr. Gardner hastily.]
GARDNER: [excited] I was looking out of the window of my flat when I saw Adrian tear along the street. I said to myself, “A man, even a reporter, only runs like that when a doctor is required, and urgently required. Someone is ill, perhaps my darling Cora.” So I flew upstairs.
MRS. PROUT: [with a shriek] Dr. Gardner!
GARDNER: You are indeed ill, my beloved. [Approaching her.] What is the matter?
MRS. PROUT: [waving him off] It is nothing, Doctor. Could you get me some salts? I have mislaid mine. [Sighs.]
GARDNER: Salts! In an instant. [Exit Dr. Gardner.]
MRS. PROUT: Christine, you said you read my note to Dr. Gardner.
CHRISTINE: Yes, Mrs. Prout.
MRS. PROUT: His behaviour is singularly in the extreme. He seems positively overjoyed, while the freedom of his endearing epithets—- What were the precise terms I used? Read me the note.
CHRISTINE: Yes, Mrs. Prout. [reads demurely] “The answer to your question is ‘Yes,'”–with a capital N.
MRS. PROUT: “Yes” with a capital N?
CHRISTINE: [calmly] I mean with a capital Y.
[Christine and Mrs. Prout look steadily at each other. Then they both smile. Enter Dr. Gardner.]
GARDNER: [handing the salts] You are sure you are not ill?
MRS. PROUT: [smiling at him radiantly] I am convinced of it. Christine, will you kindly reach me down the dictionary from that shelf?
[While Christine’s back is turned Dr. Gardner gives, and Mrs. Prout returns, a passionate kiss.]
CHRISTINE: [handing dictionary] Here it is, Mrs. Prout.
MRS. PROUT: [after consulting it] I thought I could not be mistaken. Christine, you have rendered me a service [regarding her affectionately] — a service for which I shall not forget to express my gratitude; but I am obliged to dismiss you instantly from my service.
CHRISTINE: Dismiss me, madam?
GARDNER: Cora, can you be so cruel?
MRS. PROUT: Alas, yes! She has sinned the secretarial sin which is beyond forgiveness. She has misspelt.
MRS. PROUT: It is too true.
GARDNER: Tell me the sad details.
MRS. PROUT: She has been guilty of spelling “No” with a “Y.”
GARDNER: Dear me! And a word of one syllable, too! Miss Feversham, I should not have thought it of you. [Enter Adrian.]
ADRIAN: [as he hands a cheque for Mrs. Prout’s inspection] Here again, Doctor?
GARDNER: Yes, and to stay.
MRS. PROUT: Adrian, the Doctor and I are engaged to be married. And talking of marriage, you observe that girl there in the corner. Take her and marry her at the earliest convenient moment. She is no longer my secretary.
ADRIAN: What! You consent?
MRS. PROUT: I consent.
ADRIAN: And you pardon my article?
MRS. PROUT: No, my dear Adrian, I ignore it. Here, take your ill-gotten gains. [Returning cheque.] They will bring you no good. And since they will bring you no good, I have decided to allow you the sum of five hundred pounds a year. You must have something.
CHRISTINE: [advancing to take Mrs. Prout’s hand] Stepmother-in-law!
GARDNER: Cora, you are an angel.
MRS. PROUT: Merely an artist, my dear Tom, merely an artist. I have the dramatic sense–that is all.
ADRIAN: Your sense is more than dramatic, it is common; it is even horse. What about the Snail “special,” mummy?
MRS. PROUT: My attitude is one of strict silence.
ADRIAN: But I must go away with something.
MRS. PROUT: Strict silence. The attack is beneath my notice.
ADRIAN: But what can I say.
CHRISTINE: Say that Mrs. Prout’s late secretary, Miss Feversham, having retired from her post, has already entered upon a career of original literary composition. That will be a nice newsy item, won’t it?
ADRIAN: [taking out notebook] Rather! What is she at work on?
CHRISTINE: Oh, well, I scarcely–
GARDNER: I know–“Hysteria in Lady Novelists.”
MRS. PROUT: What?
GARDNER: [to Christine] Didn’t you tell me so?
CHRISTINE: Of course I didn’t, Doctor. What a shocking memory you have! It is worse than my spelling.
GARDNER: Then what did you say?
CHRISTINE: I said, “Generosity in Lady Novelists.”