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    The Second Act

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    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    SCENE:- Liberal Central Committee Rooms, East India Dock Road, Poplar. A large, high room on the first floor of an old-fashioned house. Two high windows right. A door at back is the main entrance. A door left leads to other rooms. The walls are papered with election literature. Conspicuous among the posters displayed is "A Man for Men." "No Petticoat Government." "Will you be Henpecked?" A large, round table centre is littered with papers and pamphlets. A large desk stands between the windows. A settee is against the left wall.

    [When the curtain rises, ROSE MERTON (otherwise "GINGER") is discovered seated, her left arm resting on the table. She is a young lady typical of the Cockney slavey type, dressed according to the ideas of her class as regards the perfect lady. Her hat is characteristic. Her gloves, her reticule, her umbrella--the latter something rather "saucy"--are displayed around her. She is feeling comfortable and airing her views. MRS. CHINN is laying the cloth over a portion of the table, with some tea-things. MRS. CHINN is a thin, narrow-chested lady with thin hands and bony wrists. No one since her husband died has ever seen her without her bonnet. Its appearance suggests the possibility that she sleeps in it. It is black, like her dress. The whole figure is decent, but dingy.]

    GINGER Wot I say about the question is -

    MRS. CHINN Do you mind moving your arm?

    GINGER Beg pardon. [She shifts.] Wot I say is, why not give us the vote and end all the talking?

    MRS. CHINN You think it would have that effect?

    GINGER Well! we don't want to go on being a nuisance--longer than we can possibly 'elp!

    MRS. CHINN Daresay you're right. It's about the time most people stop.

    GINGER You've never thought much about the question yourself, 'ave you, Mrs. Chinn?

    MRS. CHINN I ain't fretted much about it.

    GINGER Was a time when I didn't. I used to be all for--you know-- larking about. I never thought much about anything.

    MRS. CHINN Ah! it's a useful habit.

    GINGER What is?

    MRS. CHINN Thinking.

    GINGER It's what we women 'aven't done enough of--in the past, I mean. All that's going to be altered. In the future there's going to be no difference between men and women.

    MRS. CHINN [Slowly, quietly she turns upon GINGER her expressionless eyes.]

    GINGER Mentally, I mean, o' course.

    MRS. CHINN [Takes back her eyes.]

    GINGER Do you know, Mrs. Chinn, that once upon a time there was only one sex? [She spreads herself.] Hus!

    MRS. CHINN You ain't thinking of going back to it, are you?

    GINGER Not if the men be'ave themselves.

    MRS. CHINN Perhaps they're doing their best, poor things! It don't do to be too impatient with them.

    GINGER Was talking to old Dot-and-carry-one the other d'y. You know who I mean--chap with the wooden leg as 'as 'is pitch outside the "George." "Wot do you wimmen want worrying yourselves about things outside the 'ome?" 'e says to me. "You've got the children," 'e says. "Oh," I says, "and whose fault's that, I'd like to know? You wait till we've got the vote," I says, "we'll soon show you--"

    [SIGSBY enters. SIGSBY is a dapper little man, very brisk and bustling--hirsute--looks as if he wanted dusting, cleaning up generally.]

    SIGSBY That young blackguard come back yet?

    GINGER [At sound of SIGSBY'S voice she springs up. At first is about to offer excuses for being found seated, but recollects herself.]

    MRS. CHINN Which one, sir?

    SIGSBY Young Jawbones--what's he call himself?--Gordon.

    MRS. CHINN Not yet, sir.

    SIGSBY [Grunts.] My chop ready?

    MRS. CHINN I expect it's about done. I'll see.

    [She goes out.]

    SIGSBY [He turns to GINGER.] What can I do for you?

    GINGER [She produces a letter.] I was to wait for an answer.

    SIGSBY [He opens and reads it.] What do they expect me to do?

    GINGER 'Er ladyship thought as perhaps you would consult Mr. Chilvers 'imself on the subject.

    SIGSBY Look here. What I want to know is this: am I being asked to regard Lady Mogton as my opponent's election agent, or as my principal's mother-in-law? That point's got to be settled. [His vehemence deepens.] Look at all these posters. Not to be used, for fear the other side mayn't like them. Now Lady Mogton writes me that my candidate's supporters are not to employ a certain argument she disapproves of: because, if they do, she'll tell his wife. Is this an election, or is it a family jar?

    [JAWBONES enters. JAWBONES--otherwise WILLIAM GORDON--is a clean- shaven young hooligan. He wears a bicycle cap on the back of his head, allowing a picturesque tuft of hair to fall over his forehead. Evidently he is suffering from controlled indignation.]

    SIGSBY [Seeing him.] Oh, so you've come back, have you?

    JAWBONES I 'ave, wot's left of me.

    SIGSBY What have you been doing?

    JAWBONES Clinging to a roof for the last three hours.

    SIGSBY Clinging to a roof! What for?

    JAWBONES [He boils over.] Wot for? 'Cos I didn't want to fall off! Wot do you think: 'cos I was fond of it?

    SIGSBY I don't understand -

    JAWBONES You find yourself 'alf way up a ladder, posting bills as the other side 'as took objection to--with a crowd of girls from Pink's jam factory waiting for you at the bottom with a barrel of treacle, and you WILL understand. Nothing else for me to do, o' course, but to go up. Then they took the ladder away.

    SIGSBY Where are the bills?

    JAWBONES Last I see of them was their being put into a 'earse on its way to Ilford Cemetery.

    SIGSBY This has got to be seen into. This sort of thing can't be allowed to go on. [He snatches up his hat.]

    JAWBONES There's another suggestion I'd like to make.

    SIGSBY [Pauses.]

    JAWBONES That is, if this election is going to be fought fairly, that our side should be provided with 'at-pins.

    SIGSBY [Grunts.] Tell Mrs. Chinn to keep that chop warm. [He goes out.]

    GINGER [She begins to giggle. It grows into a shrill hee-haw.]

    JAWBONES [He looks at her fixedly.]

    GINGER [Her laugh, under the stern eye of JAWBONES, dies away.]

    JAWBONES Ain't no crowd of you 'ere, you know. Nothing but my inborn chivalry to prevent my pulling your nose.

    GINGER [Cowed, but simmering.] Chivalry! [A shrill snort.]

    JAWBONES Yus. And don't you put a strain upon it neither. Because I tell you straight, it's weakening.

    GINGER [His sudden fierceness has completely cowed her.]

    JAWBONES You wimmin -

    [There re-enters Mrs. CHINN with a tray. He is between them.]

    That's old Sigsby's chop?

    MRS. CHINN Yes. He hasn't gone out again, has he?

    JAWBONES I'll 'ave it. Get 'im another. Guess 'e won't be back for 'alf an hour.

    MRS. CHINN He's nasty when his food ain't ready.

    JAWBONES [He takes the tray from her.] Not your fault. Tell 'im I took it from you by brute force.

    MRS. CHINN [She acquiesces with her usual even absence of all emotion.]

    JAWBONES You needn't stop. Miss Rose Merton will do the waiting.

    GINGER [Starts, then begins to collect her etceteras.]

    MRS. CHINN Perhaps there'll be time to cook him another.

    [She goes out.]

    JAWBONES Take off that cover.

    GINGER [She starts on a bolt for the door.]

    JAWBONES [He is quite prepared. In an instant he is in front of her.] No, yer don't.

    [A pause.]

    Take off that cover.

    GINGER [She still hesitates.]

    JAWBONES If yer don't do what I tell yer, I'll 'ide yer. I'm in the mood.

    GINGER [She takes off the cover.]

    JAWBONES [He seats himself and falls to.] Now pour me out a cup of tea.

    GINGER [Is pouring it out.]

    JAWBONES Know why yer doing it?

    GINGER [With shrill indignation.] Yus. Becos yer got me 'ere alone, yer beast, with only that cracked image of a Mrs. Chinn -

    JAWBONES That'll do.

    GINGER [It is sufficient. She stops.]

    JAWBONES None of your insults agen a lady as I 'olds in 'igh respect. The rest of it is all right. Becos I've got yer 'ere alone. You wimmin, you think it's going to pay you to chuck law and order. You're out for a fight, are yer?

    GINGER Yus, and we're going to win. Brute force 'as 'ad its d'y. It's brains wot are going to rule the world. And we've got 'em.

    [She has become quite oratorical.]

    JAWBONES Glad to 'ear it. Take my tip: you'll use 'em. Meanwhile I'll 'ave another cup o' tea.

    GINGER [She takes the cup--is making for the window.]

    JAWBONES [Fierce again.] I said tea.

    GINGER All right, I was only going to throw the slops out of window. There ain't no basin.

    JAWBONES I'll tell yer when I want yer to open the window and call for the p'lice. You can throw them into the waste-paper basket.

    GINGER [She obeys.]

    JAWBONES Thank you. Very much obliged. One of these d'ys, maybe, you'll marry.

    GINGER When I do, it will be a man, not a monkey.

    JAWBONES I'm not proposing. I'm talking to you for your good.

    GINGER [Snorts.]

    JAWBONES You've been listening to a lot of toffs. Easy enough for them to talk about wimmen not being domestic drudges. They keep a cook to do it. They don't pity 'e for being a down-trodden slive, spending sixteen hours a d'y in THEIR kitchen with an evening out once a week. When you marry it will be to a bloke like me, a working man . . .

    GINGER Working! [She follows it with a shrill laugh.]

    JAWBONES Yus. There's always a class as laughs when you mention the word "work." Them as knows wot it is, don't. I've been at it since six o'clock this morning, carrying a ladder, a can of paste weighing twenty pounds, and two 'undred double royal posters. You try it! When 'e comes 'ome, 'e'll want 'is victuals. If you've got 'em ready for 'im and are looking nice--no reason why you shouldn't--and feeling amiable, you'll get on very well together. If you are going to argue with 'im about woman's sphere, you'll get the worst of it.

    GINGER You always was a bully.

    JAWBONES Not always. Remember last Bank 'oliday? [He winks.]

    GINGER [She tries not to give in.]

    JAWBONES 'Ave a cup of tea. [He pours it out for her.]

    GINGER [The natural woman steals in--she sits.]

    JAWBONES 'Ow are they doing you, fairly well?

    GINGER Oh! Well, nothing to grumble at.

    JAWBONES You can do a bit o' dressing on it.

    GINGER [She meets his admiring eye. The suffragette departs.] Dressing don't cost much--when you've got tyste.

    JAWBONES Wot! Not that 'at?

    GINGER Made it myself.


    GINGER Honour bright! Tell yer -

    [GEOFFREY and ST. HERBERT enter. JAWBONES and GINGER make to rise. GINGER succeeds.]

    GEOFFREY All right, all right. Don't let me disturb the party. Where's Mr. Sigsby?

    JAWBONES Gone to look up the police, I think, sir. [Having finished, he rises.] Some of those factory girls been up to their larks again.

    GEOFFREY Umph! What's it about this time?

    JAWBONES They've took objection to one of our posters.

    GEOFFREY What, another! [To ST. HERBERT.] Woman has disappointed me as a fighter. She's willing enough to strike. If you hit back, she's surprised and grieved.

    ST. HERBERT She's come to the game rather late.

    GEOFFREY She might have learned the rules. [To JAWBONES.] Which particular one is it that has failed to meet with their approval?

    JAWBONES It's rather a good one, sir, from our point of view: "Why she left her 'appy 'ome."

    GEOFFREY I don't seem to remember it. Have I seen it?

    JAWBONES I don't think you 'ave, sir. It was Mr. Sigsby's idea. On the left, the ruined 'ome, baby crying it's little 'eart out-- eldest child lying on the floor, scalded--upset the tea-kettle over itself--youngest boy in flames--been playing with the matches, nobody there to stop 'im. At the open door the father, returning from work. Nothing ready for 'im. On the other side--'ER, on a tub, spouting politics.

    GEOFFREY [To ST. HERBERT.] Sounds rather good.

    JAWBONES Wait a minute. There was a copy somewhere about--a proof. [He is searching for it on the desk--finds it.] Yus, 'ere 'tis. [To GINGER.] Catch 'old.

    [JAWBONES and GINGER hold it displayed.] That's the one, sir.

    ST. HERBERT Why is the working man, for pictorial purposes, always a carpenter?

    GINGER It's the skirt we object to.

    GEOFFREY The skirt! What's wrong with the skirt?

    GINGER Well, it's only been out of fashion for the last three years, that's all.

    GEOFFREY Oh! I see. [To ST. HERBERT.] We've been hitting them below the belt. What do you think I ought to do about it?

    ST. HERBERT What would you have thought yourself, three weeks ago?

    GEOFFREY You and I have been friends ever since we were boys. You rather like me, don't you?

    ST. HERBERT [Puzzled.] Yes.

    GEOFFREY If I were to suddenly hit you on the nose, what would happen?

    ST. HERBERT I understand. Woman has suddenly started hitting man on the nose. Her excuse being that she really couldn't keep her hands off him any longer.

    JAWBONES [He has pinned the poster to the wall.] They begun it. To 'ear them talk, you'd think as man had never done anything right.

    GEOFFREY He's quite right. Their posters are on every hoarding: "Who's made all the Muddles? Man!" "Men's Promises! Why, it's all Froth!" "Woman this Time!" I suppose it will have to go.

    JAWBONES [Hopefully.] Up, sir?

    GEOFFREY No, Jawbones. Into the dust-heap with the rest.

    [JAWBONES is disgusted. GINGER is triumphant.]

    GEOFFREY I must talk to Sigsby. He's taking the whole thing too seriously. It will be some time before we reach that stage. [To JAWBONES.] Ask Mrs. Chinn to bring me a cup of tea.

    [JAWBONES goes out.]

    [He seats himself at table and takes up some correspondence. To GINGER.] Are you waiting for any one?

    GINGER A letter from her ladyship. [She picks up from the desk and hands him the letter SIGSBY had thrown there.] Her ladyship thought you ought to be consulted.

    GEOFFREY [He reads the short letter with a gathering frown--hands it across to ST. HERBERT.]

    ST. HERBERT [Having read, he passes it back in silence.]

    GEOFFREY [To GINGER.] Do you know the contents of this letter?

    GINGER The matter has been discussed among us--informally.

    GEOFFREY Tell Lady Mogton I'll--talk to her myself on the subject.

    GINGER Thank you. [She collects her etceteras.] Good afternoon.

    GEOFFREY [Shortly.] Good afternoon.

    GINGER [She bows graciously to ST. HERBERT, who responds. Goes out.]

    GEOFFREY The devil of it is that it's the truth.

    ST. HERBERT Somebody was bound to say it, sooner or later!

    GEOFFREY Yes, but one's own wife! This is a confoundedly awkward situation.

    ST. HERBERT [He comes to him, stands looking down at him.] Did it never occur to you, when you were advocating equal political rights for women, that awkward situations might arise?

    GEOFFREY [He leans back in his chair.] Do you remember Tommy the Terrier, as they used to call him in the House--was always preaching Socialism?

    ST. HERBERT Quite the most amusing man I ever met!

    GEOFFREY And not afraid of being honest. Do you remember his answer when somebody asked him what he would do if Socialism, by any chance, really became established in England? He had just married an American heiress. He said he should emigrate. I am still convinced that woman is entitled to equal political rights with man. I didn't think it was coming in my time. There are points in the problem remaining to be settled before we can arrive at a working solution. This is one of them. [He takes up the letter and reads.] "Are you prepared to have as your representative a person who for six months out of every year may be incapacitated from serving you?" It's easy enough to say I oughtn't to allow my supporters to drag in the personal element. I like it even less myself. But what's the answer?

    [JAWBONES enters with a tray.]

    JAWBONES [Places tray on table.] Tea's coming in a minute, sir. [He is clearing away.]

    GEOFFREY Never mind all that. [He hands him a slip.] Take this to the printers. Tell them I must have a proof to-night.

    JAWBONES Yes, sir. [Finds his cap and goes out.]

    ST. HERBERT The answer, I should say, would be that the majority of women will continue to find something better to do. The women who will throw themselves into politics will be the unattached women, the childless women. [In an instant he sees his mistake, but it is too late.]

    GEOFFREY [He rises, crosses to the desk, throws into a waste- paper-basket a piece of crumpled paper that was in his hand; then turns. The personal note has entered into the discussion.] The women who WANT to be childless--what about them?

    ST. HERBERT [He shrugs his shoulders.] Are there any such?

    GEOFFREY There are women who talk openly of woman's share in the general scheme being a "burden" on her--an "incubus."

    ST. HERBERT A handful of cranks. To the normal woman motherhood has always been the one supreme desire.

    GEOFFREY Because children crowned her with honour. The barren woman was despised. All that is changing. This movement is adding impulse to it.

    ST. HERBERT Movements do not alter instincts.

    GEOFFREY But they do. Ever since man emerged from the jungle he has been shedding his instincts--shaping them to new desires. Where do you find this all-prevailing instinct towards maternity? Among the women of society, who sacrifice it without a moment's hesitation to their vanity--to their mere pleasures? The middle- class woman--she, too, is demanding "freedom." Children, servants, the home!--they are too much for her "nerves." And now there comes this new development, appealing to the intellectual woman. Is there not danger of her preferring political ambition, the excitement of public life, to what has come to be regarded as the "drudgery" of turning four walls into a home, of peopling the silence with the voices of the children? [He crosses to the table- -lays his hand again upon the open letter.] How do you know that this may not be her answer--"I have no children. I never mean to have children"?

    [SIGSBY enters in company with BEN LAMB, M.P. LAMB is a short, thick-set, good-tempered man.]

    Ah, Lamb, how are you?

    LAMB [They greet one another.] How are things going?

    SIGSBY They're not going at all well.

    GEOFFREY Sigsby was ever the child of despondency.

    SIGSBY Yes, and so will you be when you find yourself at the bottom of the poll.

    GEOFFREY [The notion takes him by surprise.]

    LAMB It's going to be a closer affair than any of us thought. It's the joke of the thing that appears to have got hold of them. They want to see what will happen.

    GEOFFREY Man's fatal curiosity concerning the eternal feminine!

    SIGSBY Yes, and they won't have to pay for it. That will be our department.

    ST. HERBERT [To SIGSBY.] What do you think they'll do, supposing by any chance Mrs. Chilvers should head the poll?

    SIGSBY How do you mean--"what'll they do?"

    ST. HERBERT Do you think they'll claim the seat?

    SIGSBY Claim the seat! What do you think they're out for--their health? Get another six months' advertisement, if they don't get anything else. Meanwhile what's our position--just at the beginning of our ministerial career?

    GEOFFREY They will not claim the seat.

    SIGSBY How do you know?

    GEOFFREY I know my wife.

    LAMB [After a moment's silence.] Quite sure you do?

    GEOFFREY [Turns.]

    LAMB Ever seen a sheep fighting mad? I have. Damned sight worse than the old ram.

    GEOFFREY She doesn't fight the ram.

    LAMB [He makes a sweeping movement that takes in the room, the election--all things.] What's all this? We thought woman hadn't got the fighting instinct--that we "knew her." My boy, we're in the infants' class.

    SIGSBY If you want to be his Majesty's Under-Secretary for Home Affairs, you take my tip, guv'nor, you'll win this election.

    GEOFFREY What more can I do than I'm doing? How can I countenance this sort of thing? [He indicates the posters.] Declare myself dead against the whole movement?

    LAMB You'll do it later. May as well do it soon.

    GEOFFREY Why must I do it?

    LAMB Because you're beginning to find out what it means.

    [A pause. The door is open. ANNYS is standing there.]

    ANNYS Dare we venture into the enemy's camp?

    [She enters, laughing, followed by ELIZABETH and PHOEBE. ANNYS is somewhat changed from the grave, dreamy ANNYS of a short week ago. She is brimming over with vitality--excitement. There is a decisiveness, an egoism, about her that seems new to her. The women's skirts make a flutter. A breeze seems to have entered. ANNYS runs to her husband. For the moment the election fades away. They are all smiles, tenderness for one another.]

    ANNYS Don't tell, will you? Mamma would be so shocked. Do you know you haven't been near me for three days?

    GEOFFREY Umph! I like that. Where were you last night?

    ANNYS Last night? In the neighbourhood of Leicester Square till three o'clock. Oh, Geoff, there's such a lot wants altering!

    [She turns to greet the others.]

    GEOFFREY Your ruining your health won't do it. You're looking fagged to death.

    ANNYS [She shakes hands with SIGSBY.] How are you? [To LAMB.] I'm so glad you're helping him. [She turns again to GEOFFREY.] Pure imagination, dearest. I never felt better in my life.

    GEOFFREY Umph! Look at all those lines underneath your eyes. [He shakes hands with ELIZABETH.] How do you do? [To PHOEBE.] How are you?

    ANNYS [She comes back to him--makes to smooth the lines from his forehead.] Look at all those, there. We'll run away together for a holiday, when it's all over. What are you doing this evening?

    SIGSBY You promised to speak at a Smoker to-night; the Bow and Bromley Buffaloes.

    ANNYS Oh, bother the Buffaloes. Take me out to dinner. I am free after seven.

    [MRS. CHINN has entered--is arranging the table for tea. ANNYS goes to her.]

    How are you, Mrs. Chinn?

    MRS. CHINN [She wipes her hand on her apron before taking ANNYS'S proffered hand.]

    GEOFFREY [To SIGSBY.] I can turn up there later in the evening. [He joins the others for a moment--talks with them.]

    MRS. CHINN [Now shaking hands.] Quite well, thank you, ma'am. [She has cast a keen, motherly glance at ANNYS.] I hope you're taking care of yourself, ma'am.

    ANNYS Of course I am. We Politicians owe it to our Party. [Laughs.] How are they getting on here, without me?

    MRS. CHINN Well, ma'am, from what I can see, I think Mr. Chilvers is trusting a little too much to his merits. Shall I bring some more cups and saucers, sir?

    GEOFFREY Ah! yes! [To ANNYS.] You'll have some tea?

    ANNYS Strong, please, Mrs. Chinn.

    [MRS. CHINN goes out.]

    [Laughs.] Yes, I know it's bad for me. [She puts a hand over his mouth.]

    PHOEBE Old Mother Chinn is quite right, you know, Geoff. You're not putting up a good fight.

    GEOFFREY [A slight irritability begins to show itself.] I frankly confess that I am not used to fighting women.

    ELIZABETH Yes. It was easier, no doubt, when we took it lying down.

    ANNYS You promised, if I brought you, that you would be good.

    GEOFFREY I wish it had been you.

    PHOEBE Yes, but we don't!

    [As she and ELIZABETH move away.]

    Did you have a row with the doctor when you were born?

    [To which ELIZABETH replies, though the words reach only PHOEBE: "I might have, if I had known that my mother was doing all the work, while he was pocketing the fee!"]

    LAMB You see, Mrs. Chilvers, our difficulty is that there is nothing to be said against you--except one thing.

    ANNYS What's that?

    LAMB That you're a woman.

    ANNYS [Smiling.] Isn't that enough?

    SIGSBY Quite enough, Mrs. Chilvers, if the guv'nor would only say it.

    ANNYS [To GEOFFREY.] Why don't you? I'll promise not to deny it.

    [The others drift apart. They group themselves near to the window. They talk together--grow evidently interested and excited.]

    GEOFFREY I have just had a letter from your--Election Agent, expressing indignation with one of my supporters for merely having hinted at the fact.

    ANNYS I don't understand.

    GEOFFREY [He takes from the table the letter and hands it to her in silence. He seats himself on the settee and watches her.]

    ANNYS [She seats herself on a chair just opposite to him; reads the letter through in silence.] In my case it does not apply.

    GEOFFREY How do you know?

    ANNYS [The atmosphere has grown suddenly oppressive.] Oh, I--I think we might find some other reason than that. [She hands him back the letter.]

    GEOFFREY It's the only one of any importance. It embraces all the others. Shall woman be mother--or politician? [He puts the letter in his pocket.]

    ANNYS Why cannot she be both?

    GEOFFREY [He is looking at her searchingly.] Because if she is the one, she doesn't want to be the other.

    [A silence.]

    ANNYS You are wrong. It is the mother instinct that makes us politicians. We want to take care of the world.

    GEOFFREY Exactly. You think man's job more interesting than your own.

    ANNYS [After a moment.] Who told you that it was a man's job?

    GEOFFREY Well. [He shrugs his shoulders.] We can't do yours.

    ANNYS Can't we help each other?

    GEOFFREY As, for instance, in this election! [He gives a short laugh.]

    ANNYS Of course, this is an exceptional case.

    GEOFFREY It's an epitome of the whole question. You are trying to take my job away from me. To the neglect of your own.

    ANNYS [After another moment's silence.] Haven't I always tried to do my duty?

    GEOFFREY I have thought so.

    ANNYS Oh, my dear, we mustn't quarrel. You will win this election. I want you to win it. Next time we must fight side by side again.

    GEOFFREY Don't you see? Fighting you means fighting the whole movement. [He indicates the posters pinned to the walls.] That sort of thing.

    ANNYS [After a brief inspection.] Not that way. [Shaking her head.] It would break my heart for you to turn against us. Win because you are the better man. [Smiling.] I want you to be the better man.

    GEOFFREY I would rather be your husband.

    ANNYS [Smiling.] Isn't that the same thing?

    GEOFFREY No. I want a wife.

    ANNYS What precisely do you mean by "wife"?

    GEOFFREY It's an old-established word.

    [MRS. CHINN has entered to complete the tea arrangements. She is arranging the table.]

    MRS. CHINN There's a deputation downstairs, sir, just come for you.

    GEOFFREY What are they?

    MRS. CHINN It's one of those societies for the reform of something. They said you were expecting them.

    SIGSBY [Breaking away from the group by the window.] Quite right. [Looks at his watch.] Five o'clock, I'll bring them up.

    GEOFFREY Happen to know what it is they want to reform?

    SIGSBY [By door.] Laws relating to the physical relationship between the sexes, I think.

    GEOFFREY Oh, only that!

    SIGSBY Something of the sort.

    [He goes out. MRS. CHINN also by the other door.]

    GEOFFREY [Rising.] Will you pour out?

    ANNYS [She has been thinking. She comes back to the present.] We shan't be in your way?

    GEOFFREY Oh, no. It will make it easier to get rid of them.

    [ANNYS changes her chair. The others gather round. The service and drinking of tea proceeds in the usual course.]

    [To ELIZABETH.] You'll take some tea?

    ELIZABETH Thank you.

    GEOFFREY You must be enjoying yourself just now.

    ELIZABETH [Makes a moue.] They insist on my being agreeable.

    ANNYS It's so good for her. Teaches her self-control.

    LAMB I gather from Mrs. Spender, that in the perfect world there will be no men at all.

    ELIZABETH Oh, yes, they will be there. But in their proper place.

    ST. HERBERT That's why you didn't notice them.

    [The DEPUTATION reaches the door. The sound of voices is heard.]

    PHOEBE She's getting on very well. If she isn't careful, she'll end up by being a flirt.

    [The DEPUTATION enters, guided by SIGSBY. Its number is five, two men and three women. Eventually they group themselves--some standing, some sitting--each side of GEOFFREY. The others gather round ANNYS, who keeps her seat at the opposite side of the table.]

    SIGSBY [Talking as he enters.] Exactly what I've always maintained.

    HOPPER It would make the husband quite an interesting person.

    SIGSBY [Cheerfully.] That's the idea. Here we are, guv'nor. This is Mr. Chilvers.

    [GEOFFREY bows, the DEPUTATION also. SIGSBY introduces a remarkably boyish-looking man, dressed in knickerbockers.]

    SIGSBY This is Mr. Peekin, who has kindly consented to act as spokesman. [To the DEPUTATION, generally.] Will you have some tea?

    MISS BORLASSE [A thick-set, masculine-featured lady, with short hair and heavy eyebrows. Her deep, decisive tone settles the question.] Thank you. We have so little time.

    MR. PEEKIN We propose, Mr. Chilvers, to come to the point at once. [He is all smiles, caressing gestures.]

    GEOFFREY Excellent.

    PEEKIN If I left a baby at your door, what would you do with it?

    GEOFFREY [For a moment he is taken aback, recovers himself.] Are you thinking of doing so?

    PEEKIN It's not impossible.

    GEOFFREY Well, it sounds perhaps inhospitable, but do you know I really think I should ask you to take it away again.

    PEEKIN Yes, but by the time you find it there, I shall have disappeared--skedaddled.

    HOPPER Good. [He rubs his hands. Smiles at the others.]

    GEOFFREY In that case I warn you that I shall hand it over to the police.

    PEEKIN [He turns to the others.] I don't myself see what else Mr. Chilvers could be expected to do.

    MISS BORLASSE He'd be a fool not to.

    GEOFFREY Thank you. So far we seem to be in agreement. And now may I ask to what all this is leading?

    PEEKIN [He changes from the debonnair to the dramatic.] How many men, Mr. Chilvers, leave their babies every year at the door of poverty-stricken women? What are they expected to do with them?

    [A moment. The DEPUTATION murmur approval.]

    GEOFFREY I see. But is there no difference between the two doors? I am not an accomplice.

    PEEKIN An accomplice! Is the ignorant servant-girl--first lured into the public-house, cajoled, tricked, deceived by false promises--the half-starved shop-girl in the hands of the practised libertine--is she an accomplice?

    MRS. PEEKIN [A dowdily-dressed, untidy woman, but the face is sweet and tender.] Ah, Mr. Chilvers, if you could only hear the stories that I have heard from dying lips.

    GEOFFREY Very pitiful, my dear lady. And, alas, only too old. But there are others. It would not be fair to blame always the man.

    ANNYS [Unnoticed, drawn by the subject, she has risen and come down.] Perhaps not. But the punishment always falls on the woman. Is THAT quite fair?

    GEOFFREY [He is irritated at ANNYS'S incursion into the discussion.] My dear Annys, that is Nature's law, not man's. All man can do is to mitigate it.

    PEEKIN That is all we ask. The suffering, the shame, must always be the woman's. Surely that is sufficient.

    GEOFFREY What do you propose?

    MISS BORLASSE [In her deep, fierce tones.] That all children born out of wedlock should be a charge upon the rates.

    MISS RICKETTS [A slight, fair, middle-aged woman, with a nervous hesitating manner.] Of course, only if the mother wishes it.

    GEOFFREY [The proposal staggers him. But the next moment it inspires him with mingled anger and amusement.] My dear, good people, have you stopped for one moment to consider what the result of your proposal would be?

    PEEKIN For one thing, Mr. Chilvers, the adding to the populace of healthy children in place of the stunted and diseased abortions that is all that these poor women, out of their scanty earnings, can afford to present to the State.

    GEOFFREY Humph! That incidentally it would undermine the whole institution of marriage, let loose the flood-gates that at present hold immorality in check, doesn't appear to trouble you. That the law must be altered to press less heavily upon the woman--that the man must be made an equal sharer in the penalty--all that goes without saying. The remedy you propose would be a thousand times worse than the disease.

    ANNYS And meanwhile? Until you have devised this scheme [there is a note of contempt in her voice] under which escape for the man will be impossible?

    GEOFFREY The evil must continue. As other evils have to until the true remedy is found.

    PEEKIN [He has hurriedly consulted with the others. All have risen--he turns to GEOFFREY.] You will not support our demand?

    GEOFFREY Support it! Do you mean that you cannot yourselves see that you are holding out an indemnity to every profligate, male and female, throughout the land--that you would be handicapping, in the struggle for existence, every honest man and woman desirous of bringing up their children in honour and in love? Your suggestion is monstrous!

    PEEKIN [The little man is not without his dignity.] We apologise, Mr. Chilvers, for having taken up your time.

    GEOFFREY I am sorry the matter was one offering so little chance of agreement.

    PEEKIN We will make only one slight further trespass on your kindness. Mrs. Chilvers, if one may judge, would seem to be more in sympathy with our views. Might we--it would be a saving of time and shoe leather [he smiles]--might we take this opportunity of laying our case before her?

    GEOFFREY It would be useless.

    [A short silence. ANNYS, with ELIZABETH and PHOEBE a little behind her, stands right. LAMB, SIGSBY, and ST. HERBERT are behind GEOFFREY centre. The DEPUTATION is left.]

    HOPPER Do we gather that in this election you speak for both candidates?

    GEOFFREY In matters of common decency, yes. My wife does not associate herself with movements for the encouragement of vice.

    [There is another moment's silence.]

    ANNYS But, Geoffrey, dear--we should not be encouraging the evil. We should still seek to find the man, to punish him. The woman would still suffer -

    GEOFFREY My dear Annys, this is neither the time nor place for you and me to argue out the matter. I must ask you to trust to my judgment.

    ANNYS I can understand your refusing, but why do you object to my -

    GEOFFREY Because I do not choose for my wife's name to be linked with a movement that I regard as criminal. I forbid it.

    [It was the moment that was bound to come. The man's instincts, training, have involuntarily asserted themselves. Shall the woman yield? If so, then down goes the whole movement--her claim to freedom of judgment, of action, in all things. All watch the struggle with breathless interest.]

    ANNYS [She speaks very slowly, very quietly, but with a new note in her voice.] I am sorry, but I have given much thought to this matter, and--I do not agree with you.

    MRS. PEEKIN You will help us?

    ANNYS I will do what I can.

    PEEKIN [He takes from his pocket a folded paper.] It is always so much more satisfactory when these things are in writing. Candidates, with the best intentions in the world, are apt to forget. [He has spread the paper on a corner of the table. He has in his hand his fountain-pen.]

    ANNYS [With a smile.] I am not likely to forget, but if you wish it--[She approaches the table.]

    GEOFFREY [He interposes. His voice is very low, almost a whisper.] My wife will not sign.

    ANNYS [She also speaks low, but there is no yielding in her voice.] I am not only your wife. I have a duty also to others.

    GEOFFREY It is for you to choose. [He leaves the way open to her.]

    [The silence can almost be felt. She moves to the table, takes up the paper. It contains but a few lines of writing. Having read it, she holds out her hand for the pen. PEEKIN puts it in her hand. With a firm hand she signs, folds the paper, and returns it to him. She remains standing by the table. With the removal of the tension there comes a rustle, a breaking of the silence.]

    MISS RICKETTS [She seizes ANNYS's hand, hanging listlessly by her side, and, stooping, kisses it.]

    MISS BORLASSE That is all, isn't it?

    PEEKIN We thank you, Mrs. Chilvers. Good afternoon.

    ANNYS [The natural reaction is asserting itself. She pulls herself together sufficiently to murmur her answer.] Good afternoon.

    MRS. PEEKIN [The DEPUTATION is moving away; she takes from her waist a small bunch of flowers, and, turning, places them in ANNYS'S hand.]

    ANNYS [She smiles, remains standing silent, the flowers in her hand.]

    ["Good afternoons" are exchanged with some of the others. Finally:]

    PEEKIN Good afternoon, Mr. Chilvers.

    GEOFFREY [Who has moved away.] Good afternoon.

    [The DEPUTATION joins SIGSBY by the door. He leads them out.]

    ELIZABETH [To PHOEBE.] Are you going my way?

    PHOEBE [She glances round at ANNYS.] Yes, I'll come with you.

    ST. HERBERT I will put you into a bus, if you will let me. We don't sport many cabs in East Poplar. [He is helping ELIZABETH with her cloak.]

    ELIZABETH Thank you.

    LAMB I've got to go up West. [To GEOFFREY.] Will you be at the House this evening?

    GEOFFREY [He is standing by the desk pretending to look at some papers]. I shall look in about ten o'clock.

    LAMB One or two things I want to say to you. Goodbye for the present.

    GEOFFREY Goodbye!

    PHOEBE Goodbye, old man. [She stretches out her hand.]

    GEOFFREY Goodbye. [She shakes hands with a smile, exchanges a casual "goodbye" with ELIZABETH.]

    [They go towards the door.]

    [SIGSBY re-enters.]

    SIGSBY [To LAMB.] Are you going?

    LAMB Yes. I'll see you to-morrow morning. About ten o'clock.

    SIGSBY I shall be here. [He exchanges a "good afternoon" with the others.]

    [They go out. SIGSBY crosses and goes into the other room.]

    ANNYS [She has let fall the flowers on the table. She crosses to where GEOFFREY still stands by the desk, his back towards her. She stretches out her hand, touches him. He does not move.] Geoffrey!

    [But still he takes no notice.]

    I am so sorry. We must talk it over quietly--at home.

    GEOFFREY [He turns.] Home! I have no home. I have neither children nor wife. I KEEP a political opponent.

    [ANNYS starts back with a cry. He crosses in front of her and seats himself at the table. The flowers are lying there; he throws them into the waste-paper basket.]

    ANNYS [She puts on her cloak, moves towards the door. Half-way she pauses, makes a movement towards him. But he will not see. Then a hard look comes into her eyes, and without another word she goes out, leaving the door open.]

    [SIGSBY is heard moving in the other room.]

    GEOFFREY [He is writing.] Sigsby.

    SIGSBY Hallo!

    GEOFFREY That poster I told young Gordon I wouldn't sanction, "The Woman spouting politics, the Man returning to a slattern's home."

    [SIGSBY enters.]

    SIGSBY I have countermanded them.

    GEOFFREY Countermand them again. We shall want a thousand.

    SIGSBY [Can hardly believe his ears.]

    GEOFFREY [With a gesture round the room.] All of them. "A Man for Men!" "Save the Children!" "Guard your Homes!" All the damned collection. Order as many as you want.

    SIGSBY [His excitement rising.] I can go ahead. You mean it?

    GEOFFREY [He looks at him.] It's got to be a fight! [A moment. He returns to his writing.] Telephone Hake that I shall be dining at the Reform Club.

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