A Pleasant Evening

or


A LITTLE DISSIPATION


A Farcical Comedy in Three Acts, by St. John Hankin | [2]


CHARACTERS

AUGUSTUS TOLLIT

MRS SIMCOX  . . .  . . .       His Aunt

MRS TRAVERS       )
                                  )  . . .  Her daughters
ANGELA SIMCOX  )

JACK SIDGREAVES

KITTY FRASER

EMMA  . . .  . . .     Maid at Gus’s lodgings

 

The action passes in a single scene at Gus’s Lodgings in Bayswater, and occupies some nine hours in all. | [3]

 

 

ACT I

THE SCENE of all three Acts passes in Augustus Tollit’s lodgings in Bayswater. It represents the usual first floor “set”, namely sitting room in front and bed-room divided off by folding doors (C.) behind. The folding doors are closed when the curtain rises. When opened they give a view of a part of the bed-room. The furniture of the sitting room is of the ordinary lodging-house order. An oblong table, with chairs round (laid for breakfast for one when the Scene opens) occupies the centre of the room. A sofa flanked by two arm chairs is in front of fireplace R. On either side of fireplace are windows with thickish “plushette” curtains. In middle of wall L., is characteristic lodging house chiffonier with cupboards for holding jam, biscuits, cruets, etc. Down L. a writing table with ink, pens, etc., chair before it. Up L. door to passage and staircase.

(When curtain rises the stage is empty. Then enter Emma, L. She goes over to fireplace, R., lifts cover of bacon dish and looks at contents, moves coffee and hot milk in grate nearer fire, then goes to door R. and knocks.)

GUS (Within) Come in!

EMMA (Opening door and speaking off) It’s eleven o’clock, Mr Tollit.

GUS (Within, pettishly) All right, all right!

EMMA Your breakfast will be quite spoilt.

GUS (Within) I know that, I’m coming in a minute.

(Emma shuts door R., and turns to go out, L. As she does so – Enter L., JACK SIDGREAVES, a jolly, rather boisterous looking youth of six and twenty. )

JACK Hullo, Emma! Mr Tollit not up yet? | [4]

EMMA Not yet, Mr Sidgreaves.

JACK (Looking at watch) Eleven o’clock! Disgraceful!

EMMA So I says, sir.

JACK Do you indeed Emma? Well, I’ll rouse him. (Goes R. and bangs on door vigorously)

(Exit EMMA)

GUS (Irritably, opening door suddenly and putting head out. He is in his shirt sleeves) Well! Well! What is it now! (Change of tone) Oh, it’s you Jack, is it? I thought it was Emma again.

JACK Does Emma usually knock like that?

GUS (Coming out of room putting on coat) I haven’t noticed her doing so. But there’s no knowing when she may begin. (Goes to fireplace and begins collecting breakfast things. )

JACK It’s perfectly scandalous, Gus, that you should be breakfasting at this hour. (Sits chair L. of table)

GUS I’m not breakfasting. I haven’t begun.

JACK Well, you ought to have finished hours ago. Look at me! I breakfasted at half past eight.

GUS (Fetching coffee from fireplace) That’s all very well, but you are not nourishing a hopeless attachment. (Pours out coffee)

JACK No, are you?

GUS You know I am. For Angela Simcox. (Eats bacon)

JACK Your little cousin down at Harrow. I didn’t know it was hopeless. | [5]

GUS Well, it is, then. Here’s what she wrote to me only last night. (Produces letter from pocket and reads in intervals of eating.) “Dear Gus, – What a funny boy you are! What is the use of proposing to me so often when I always say no? Aunt Miriam and I are coming up to town to-morrow to meet Emily, who is crossing from Calais. We shall look in on you for tea before going down to Harrow. Your Angela.” What do you think of that!

JACK (Carelessly) I don’t know. Who’s Emily?

GUS Angela’s sister, Mrs. Travers. She’s a widow – Charley Travers died last Spring. They lived in Paris.

JACK In Paris? O-ho! Is she pretty?

GUS Angela? Of course she is!

JACK No. Mrs. Travers.

GUS My dear fellow, don’t talk about Mrs. Travers. I want to talk about Angela. I’ve proposed to Angela every time I’ve seen her for the last eighteen months. And when I haven’t seen her I’ve proposed by letter. And she’s refused me every time. That sort of thing grows exceedingly monotonous.

JACK For her, you mean?

GUS No, I don’t. I mean for me. (Fills his mouth) She’ll break my heart if she doesn’t take care. Then she’ll be sorry.

JACK Will she?

GUS Of course she will. Angela’s very fond of me really. She doesn’t know it, but she is. I’d make her no end of a good husband.

JACK Do you really want her to accept you?

GUS I should think I did! | [6]

JACK Then I should stop proposing to her if I were you. (Rises)

GUS What rot!

JACK (Gets to fire) Not at all. You see she’s got into the habit of refusing you. Women are creatures of habit. You want to get her out of the habit. Then you must stop proposing. You’ve spoilt her with too much attention. Try a little judicious neglect.

GUS But I shall miss proposing to her awfully.

JACK You must find something else to occupy you. I should recommend a little dissipation.

GUS I don’t think Angela will approve of that.

JACK Of course she won’t. Then she’ll want to reform you. And when a girl wants to reform a man, she generally ends by marrying him. In fact, it’s the only idea girls have of reforming people.

GUS That’s all very well, but I’m sure Angela won’t like it. Besides, I’m not addicted to dissipation. I’ve never been dissipated in my life. I shouldn’t know how to begin.

JACK Oh, I’ll help you. It’s quite easy to be dissipated if you try.

GUS But shall I like it?

JACK Rather! You’ll like it first rate, I tell you what, Kitty Fraser is coming round to see me this morning about twelve. I’ll bring her down and introduce her to you.

GUS Will that be dissipation?

JACK It will be a step in the right direction. | [7]

GUS (Dubiously) But what sort of a person is Kitty Fraser?

JACK Oh, Kitty’s all right. Regular slap up sort of a girl. Like to see her photograph? She sent it to me only this morning. (Takes it out of pocket) Isn’t she a stunner?

GUS (Dubiously) I wonder whether I shall like a slap-up sort of a girl?

JACK Of course you will. Everybody likes Kitty. She’ll teach you a lot! I wonder if she’s come yet.

(Enter EMMA, L.)

(Crosses C. ) Has Miss Fraser gone up to me, Emma?

EMMA Yes, sir – went up about five minutes ago.

JACK Good! I’ll bring her down and introduce you. I won’t be a minute, Gus.

(Exit JACK, L. )

EMMA Haven’t you finished your breakfast yet, sir?

GUS Certainly not, Emma. (Eating steadily)

EMMA Oh, I thought perhaps you had, sir. Perhaps I’d better do your room before I clear away.

GUS That certainly seems the best arrangement.

(Exit EMMA, R. )

Emma! Emma!

(Re-enter EMMA)

EMMA Did you call me, sir?

GUS Yes. (Eats) I shall be having three ladies to tea to-day, about five. | [8]

EMMA Very well, sir.

GUS If it should happen to be your day for a clean apron, Emma, don’t hesitate to put it on.

EMMA Certainly not, sir.

(Exit R. )

GUS Delicate satire seems rather wasted on Emma. (Returns to his breakfast)

(Sound of loud, very shrill laughter heard outside)

What a very unpleasant noise! (Squirms slightly – the laugh continues) Oh, I don’t like it at all! (Puts fingers in ears)

(Enter JACK, followed by KITTY, the latter endeavouring to look sedate, KITTY is a vulgar, noisy, not unkindly girl of six and twenty)

JACK Kitty, I want to introduce to you my friend, Mr Tollit – Miss Kitty Fraser.

GUS (Rising hastily) Er . how do you do?

KITTY (Crosses R.C., clasping his hand warmly) First rate! How’s yourself?

GUS Thank you, I am quite well. Won’t you sit down?

KITTY I don’t mind if I do. (Seats herself in armchair above fire)

GUS You don’t mind my going on with my breakfast?

KITTY Not at all. (A pause during which GUS eats)

GUS It’s – er – a fine day.

KITTY (Giggling to JACK, who is L. of her) I say, isn’t he formal? (To GUS) Do you always begin about the weather when you talk to girls? | [9]

GUS It seemed a safe subject.

(KITTY bursts out into shrieks of laughter)

I say, please don’t do that.

KITTY Don’t do what?

GUS Laugh like that. The noise is most distressing to me.

(KITTY laughs more)

Stop it, I say, stop it. (Puts finger in ears)

KITTY Well, you are a soft one.

GUS And you’re rather a hard laugh, eh? He, he!

(KITTY is not amused)

(Aside) Rather a failure that! No sense of humour! – like Emma! (There is a pause)

KITTY (Rises, crosses to table – seeing photograph on table)

(JACK stands in front of fire)

Hullo; where did you get my photo from, young man?

GUS What? Oh, Jack brought it.

KITTY Like his cheek! Well, what do you think of it, since you have seen it? Stylish, eh?

GUS Er – yes – decidedly stylish (A pause)

KITTY (To JACK) I must say your friend isn’t what I’d call a talker, Jack.

JACK He’s a little shy, perhaps, at first. It’ll wear off. (Sits armchair below) | [10]

KITTY Well, he needn’t be shy with me, I’m sure.

GUS Thank you very much – er – Miss Fraser.

KITTY Miss Fraser! You are stiff! Prim, I call it! Why don’t you call me Kitty? (Moves to L. of GUS)

GUS (Laughing nervously) May I call you – er – Kitty?

KITTY Of course. And I’ll call you by your Christian name, too. What is it?

GUS I was christened Augustus.

KITTY (Sits L. of table) Then I shall call you Gussy. Do you like being called Gussy?

GUS (Frankly) Not at all.

KITTY (Skittishly) Then you’ll have to get used to it. For that’s what I shall call you.

GUS That’s very kind of you. (Silence)

KITTY Look here, we shall never get on at this rate. It’s all your fault, Jack. You make him nervous. Just you go away, and we shall get on first rate.

JACK (Rising) All right.

GUS (Rising also in alarm) No, no. I won’t have it. You’re not to go, Jack. I won’t let you.

KITTY (Laughing) Poor little Gussy, I believe he’s afraid to be alone with me, afraid I shall eat him – eh? Do you think I shall eat you, Gussy?

GUS (Sitting down again) Certainly not – er – Kitty. | [11]

KITTY I believe you do, though. (Rises and goes to him) Was em’s shy, then? (Sits down boisterously on his knee)

GUS (Alarmed) I say, don’t do that. Tell her not to, Jack.

(KITTY laughs loudly)

That laugh again! Stop it Kitty! (Puts fingers in ears) I won’t have it. (Rises hastily, thereby displacing her from his knee)

KITTY Was em frightened because em sat on em’s knee?

GUS (Crossly) No, I was not. But I can’t possibly eat my breakfast when anyone sits on my knee, and I can’t eat at all if you laugh in that ghastly manner. It takes away my appetite.

KITTY (Giggling) What a funny little man you are! Well, I must be off. I’ve got to meet a chappie at Edgware Road at twelve sharp. So long, Jack! Good-bye, Gussy! See you soon!

(Exit KITTY L. )

GUS Oh, lord! (Sinks into chair) I say, Jack, is that what you call a little dissipation?

JACK It’s a step in that direction.

GUS Then, I don’t think I shall like it.

JACK (Up to him, laughing) Nonsense, my dear chap. You can’t tell yet – you’ve hardly begun. Wait till you’ve got a little further. (Moves round to L. )

GUS Does it get less dreadful later on?

JACK Rather!

GUS (Querulously) I wish the first steps were not so distasteful. | [12]

JACK Nonsense, my dear chap. You’ll soon get into it. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Kitty and I are lunching together at one. I’ll tell her you’re awfully struck with her.

GUS But I’m not.

JACK Never mind. I’ll say you are. Then we’ll arrange an evening together. (Crosses down L. ) You shall stand supper somewhere.

GUS (Dubiously) Thank you!

JACK (Comes up) That’ll be first rate! I’ll see if she’s free to-night. If so, I’ll bring her round after your Aunt’s off the scene.

GUS (Rises, crosses to fire) I don’t believe I shall enjoy myself a bit!

JACK (C. ) Oh, yes, you will. You’ll have a deuce of a time! I’ll send you round a note if she can come. (Going L. ) And remember, no more proposing to Miss Angela for the present. You give her a rest.

(Enter EMMA with tray, R. )

Want to clear away, Emma?

EMMA (Crosses to table) It seems about time, sir, doesn’t it?

JACK I dare say. Come upstairs and smoke a cigarette, Gus, while she clears away.

GUS All right.

(Exit L. )

EMMA (Collecting things on tray, takes up photo, looks at it, then removing cloth, folding it up, and putting into chiffonier) Past twelve, and breakfast not cleared yet! What hours young gentlemen do keep! I wonder what their Ma’s would say if they knew. (Taking photo to mantel-| [13] piece) Brazen baggage! (Bell heard) There’s the bell and the missus do scold if anybody has to ring twice.

(Exit hastily, L. )

(Returns shortly afterwards with MRS SIMCOX, MRS TRAVERS and ANGELA)

Will you please to sit down, Ma’am. Mr Tollit will be down in a minute.

(MRS S. sits; MRS T. stands by sofa; ANGELA by fire)

(Exit EMMA hastily with breakfast tray)

EMILY (Taking off gloves) Gus seems to breakfast late!

MRS S- (Beaming through her spectacles) Breakfast, Emily! Nonsense! That was the dear boy’s luncheon.

EMILY Half past twelve! Rather early for luncheon.

MRS S- Not if he breakfasts at eight every morning. You forget you’re no longer in Paris, dear, where I’m told people breakfast at all hours.

EMILY Well, it’s possible to lunch off coffee and toast and bacon, of course. Gus may do it. But it isn’t usual.

ANGELA (Hotly) You’re not to sneer at Gus, Emily.

EMILY My dear Angela, I’m not sneering. And I’ve no wish to take away dear Gus’s character. But I know what young men are. (Sits above table)

(ANGELA sits armchair below)

MRS S- I hope not, my dear.

EMILY (Indifferently) Oh yes, I do. I suppose before I married poor Charley, I thought as Angela did. I forget. But now I’m wiser.

MRS S- My dear! I am sure Charley was a model husband. | [14]

EMILY It depends on what your standard is. Poor Charley was never intentionally kind. And if sometimes his conduct was slightly irregular – after all what can one expect? Men are like that.

MRS S- Emily! You amaze me. Do you mean to tell me that Charley deceived you? That all the time that he seemed such an excellent husband he was leading a double life?

EMILY Double! My dear mother! Poor Charley often lived as many as three or four separate lives at the same time – and all with different young persons.

MRS S- Dreadful!

EMILY But they all do it. I have no doubt if Gus were married he would be just the same.

ANGELA (Hotly) He wouldn’t! I’m sure he wouldn’t!

EMILY (Indifferently) Very well. Have it your own way.

MRS S- (Decisively) Gus, I am happy to say, gives us no anxiety.

EMILY How clever of him! Poor Charley was always giving me anxiety. But then he never could remember not to leave his letters about. Gus never leaves his letters about, I suppose.

MRS S- I haven’t noticed his doing so.

EMILY Ah! That was poor Charley’s one weakness. He always did.

ANGELA (Shocked) And you read them?

EMILY Of course I read them. And of course that rather gave the thing away.

ANGELA (Reproachfully) Oh, Emily, you oughtn’t to have read his letters! | [15]

EMILY That’s just what he used to say.

ANGELA Who?

EMILY Poor Charley. “If you read other people’s letters,” he said, “it’s ten to one you won’t like what’s in them. Why not leave them alone?”

ANGELA Was that all he said?

EMILY All I could possibly repeat, dear.

MRS S- But didn’t he promise not to offend again?

EMILY He promised not to leave his letters about again. But he always forgot.

ANGELA (Decidedly) I’m glad to say Gus isn’t at all like Charley in any respect.

EMILY Isn’t he?

ANGELA (Firmly) No, not the least little bit.

EMILY Well, he might easily resemble someone worse. I was very fond of poor Charley. I miss him very much, especially on journeys. Charley was awfully good over luggage.

MRS S- Well, Emily, I must say I’m shocked at what you tell me. It all comes of going to live in Paris. These things don’t happen in England.

EMILY Indeed? (Strolls to mantelpiece. Sees photograph) Hullo! I wonder who this young person can be? Look, Mother! (Gives to MRS S-)

(MRS S- rises – they meet up C. )

ANGELA (Eagerly) Let me look. (Looks) Oh! | [16]

MRS S- Rather a bold looking young woman, I must say.

EMILY (Pretending to be shocked) Oh, Gus! Gus!

ANGELA Emily, you’re not to sneer at Gus like that.

EMILY Sneering? Not a bit. I only thought that if Gus never leaves his letters about, he’s somewhat careless about his photographs.

ANGELA I shall ask Gus who it is directly he comes in!

EMILY By all means, dear. It will be excellent practice for him.

MRS S- What do you mean? (Sits above table)

EMILY I was always asking poor Charley awkward questions quite suddenly - just as you will do with Gus. At first he was awfully woolly in his answers, but later on he grew so expert I couldn’t for the life of me tell when he was lying and when he was telling the truth.

ANGELA (Hotly) Gus always tells the truth. (Crosses L. and sits on sofa)

EMILY Men always do till you drive them into a corner. Let’s hope this young person is not detaining Gus at this moment. He takes a long time in coming. Almost looks as if he wasn’t particularly eager to see us this morning.

ANGELA Don’t be a cat. I think it’s very mean of you to sit in a man’s rooms and talk about him like that. It’s not honourable.

EMILY (Shrugging shoulders) As you please, dear. (Puts photo on mantelpiece, sits in chair by fire and begins to read newspaper)

ANGELA (Presently goes over to her mother and speaks low) Mother dear! (Sits L. of table) | [17]

MRS S- Yes, Angela?

ANGELA It’s not true what Emily says about Gus, is it?

MRS S- No, no, dear. Of course not.

ANGELA Oh, I’m glad. (Pause) But what do you think that photograph can be?

MRS S- I don’t know. An actress, perhaps. You must ask, Gus.

ANGELA But why should Gus have her photograph in his room?

MRS S- That I don’t know either. You shall ask him, dear when he comes in.

ANGELA I hardly like to. You ask him, mother.

MRS S- Tell me, Angela, are you fond of Gus?

ANGELA Of course, Mother dear. Gus and I have been friends ever since we were little tots.

MRS S- But are you fonder of him than of your other friends?

ANGELA I think so.

MRS S- Then why don’t you marry him? He would make you a good husband, I think.

ANGELA Well, mother, you see, I’m not sure. I’m very fond of Gus. But I’m not certain that I want to marry him.

MRS S- I see. Well, you’re quite right to say “no” if you are not sure. But Gus is a good boy. I’m sorry you won’t have him.

ANGELA I don’t know that I won’t have him. I haven’t made up my mind. | [18]

MRS S- But you’ve refused him.

ANGELA Heaps of times! That’s because I haven’t made it up. But I can easily accept him one of these days if I find I really want to.

MRS S- You may not have the chance, child.

ANGELA (Rises. Lightly) Oh, I’m not at all afraid of that, Mother dear. As soon as Gus comes in and we’ve all shaken hands and you’ve taken Emily to his room to wash her hands and put her hat straight after her journey – which I’m sure she’s dying to do – Gus will begin. I know exactly what he’ll say. It will be: – “I say, Angela, I’m most awfully in love with you, you know. You might be decent and say you’ll marry me. I’m sure we’d get on awfully well together.”

MRS S- And you’ll say “yes”?

ANGELA (Laughing) And I shall say “no”. I always do, Sh! Here he is! (Moves away L. )

(Enter GUS, L., hurriedly)

GUS I say, I’m awfully sorry I’ve kept you waiting. Emma’s only just told me you were here. (Shaking hands) How do you do, Aunt Miriam? Hullo, Angela! How do you do, Emily? Had a good crossing?

EMILY Thanks. Detestable!

GUS Hard luck! But how is it you’ve got here so early?

EMILY I came by the night boat.

GUS I see. Angela said you wouldn’t be here till afternoon. I wasn’t expecting you till tea time.

EMILY Otherwise you would have had the breakfast things cleared away.

MRS S- My dear Emily, they were the luncheon things. (Rises | [19] and sits on sofa)

EMILY Which were they, Gus?

GUS (Laughing uneasily) The luncheon things, of course!

EMILY Just what poor Charley would have said.

GUS I beg your pardon?

EMILY Nothing.

MRS S- How have you been Gus? Working hard, I hope?

GUS Very hard, Aunt Miriam.

MRS S- And you make lots of new friends, too, no doubt.

GUS Oh, yes. One or two.

MRS S- I thought so. Who is the young lady on the mantelpiece over there, by the way? I don’t know the face.

GUS (Crosses to fire) On the mantelpiece?

(Sees KITTY’s picture. Is slightly confused.)

MRS S- Yes, A striking looking young person.

GUS That – er – that’s not mine. It belongs to another fellow. (Glibly) He brought it to show me this morning. He must have left it behind when he went away.

ANGELA There, you see, Emily!

EMILY Oh, yes, I see. And what may her name be?

GUS (Confused) I don’t know. She’s only a friend of his, you see. | [20]

EMILY (Drily) Didn’t he tell you her name?

GUS I dare say. If he did, I’ve forgotten.

EMILY It’s very odd that you should put her photograph in such a very prominent position on your mantelpiece when you don’t even know her name!

GUS (Hesitates) I – er – put it there to give back to him. Just to remind me, you know.

EMILY Just so! I quite understand,

GUS (Changing subject rapidly) (Crosses L. to sofa) And what would you like to do, Aunt Miriam? Shall I take you out to luncheon somewhere?

MRS S- But you’ve had luncheon, dear.

GUS (Confused) I? Oh yes, of course. But you haven’t. I could come and watch you.

MRS S- It is very kind of you to suggest it, but we are already engaged to luncheon – with the Percivals. We must start almost at once.

GUS I’m sorry.

EMILY (Rising, gets C.) Perhaps Gus wouldn’t mind if I put myself tidy here. After a journey one is simply unpresentable.

GUS By all means. Aunt Miriam, will you take her to my room?

MRS S- Certainly.

(GUS opens door R. Exeunt MRS SIMCOX and EMILY R. There is a pause)

GUS I say, Angela | [21]

ANGELA (Aside) Now for it! (Prepares herself to receive inevitable offer of marriage. Sits R. of table)

GUS Is Emily going to live down at Harrow now?

ANGELA For the present.

GUS I suppose she was awfully cut up about Charley.

ANGELA I suppose so.

GUS I liked Charley. He was a real good sort.

ANGELA Emily said she missed him very much. (Another longer pause. Aside) He isn’t proposing with the alacrity to which I’m accustomed. (Another pause) In fact, he’s decidedly slow about it.

GUS I say –

ANGELA (Aside) At last! (Aloud) Well, Gus? (Sits in armchair)

GUS What are you all doing this afternoon?

ANGELA We’ve got some shopping to do. It’s Mother’s birthday to-morrow, you know. Had you forgotten?

GUS Oh, no. Of course not.

ANGELA I hope you’ve got her something nice. Emily and I are going to choose something for her this afternoon.

GUS (Sits at table) What will you get?

ANGELA I don’t know. We shall see what they have in the shops.

GUS You’ll come back here to tea before you go down to Harrow? | [22]

ANGELA Yes, if you’ll have us.

GUS Of course I will. And I’ll get a cake especially in your honour.

ANGELA How nice! A cake with icing on the top and cherries in it.

GUS Icing and cherries. (Crosses L.) I’ll remember.

(Re-enter EMILY and MRS SIMCOX, C. )

EMILY That’s better. Now I feel more presentable.

MRS S- Are you ready Angela?

ANGELA Yes, mother. (Rises)

MRS S- Then I think we should be going.

GUS (Goes up C. ) And I’ll see you here for tea about half past four?

MRS S- Very well. That will just give us comfortable time before the six train.

ANGELA Need we go by the six train, mother?

MRS S- It’s the train we always take, dear.

ANGELA Why shouldn’t we stay later this time, in honour of your birthday to-morrow? We might all go to a concert or something.

MRS S- Do you want to stay?

ANGELA Yes. We might have some dinner here first and go on afterwards. Wouldn’t that be jolly, Gus?

GUS Rather! | [23]

ANGELA (Clapping her hands) How nice! Say yes, Mummy!

MRS S- Very well. If Emily is not too tired?

EMILY Not at all, mother.

GUS Splendid! I’ll tell Mrs Jenkins we shall all want dinner here at seven sharp. She doesn’t cook half badly. That will give us time to get to the concert afterwards.

MRS S- That’s settled then. We’ll get the tickets this afternoon after luncheon. Good-bye, Gus.

(General good-byes)

Come children.

(Exeunt all the LADIES, escorted by GUS, who returns a moment later and rings for EMMA, then goes off C. and returns with boots. )

(Presently EMMA enters R. )

EMMA Did you ring, sir?

GUS Yes. (Holding boot in one hand) Emma, I wish you could manage to get breakfast cleared away here before mid-day.

EMMA So do I, sir.

GUS What do you mean?

EMMA Nothing, sir. Was that all you rang for?

GUS No. (Putting on boots) I shall want tea for Mrs Simcox and my cousins at half past four instead of five this afternoon.

EMMA Very well, sir. (Going)

GUS And, Emma, (Still lacing boots) I shall want dinner | [24]

here for four, at seven o’clock.

EMMA Will it be the same ladies at dinner, sir?

GUS Of course. Ask Mrs Jenkins to let us have something nice.

EMMA Will they be going out after tea, sir?

GUS No. I think not. Why? (Pausing over lacing boots)

EMMA On account of laying the table, sir. Perhaps I’d better lay it in the room across the landing. It’s not let just now. Then you won’t be disturbed, sir.

GUS Thanks, Emma. That’ll be excellent. (Finishes lacing boots, goes to writing table L. and pulls open drawer to get something out. Leaves drawer open. Crosses L. )

EMMA Mr. Sidgreaves left a message for you. He told me to give it you as soon as the ladies were gone. He wrote it on this card, sir.

GUS Give it me. (He is standing at writing table – reads the message on JACK’s card)

(EMMA gathers up his shoes to put in bedroom)

“Dear Gus. All right! Will bring Kitty round this evening a little before eight. Yours, Jack.” Kitty! Good Lord! I’d forgotten all about her! (Sharply to EMMA, just disappearing into bedroom) Here, I say, Emma, when did you get this?

EMMA About five minutes ago, sir.

GUS Was Mr Sidgreaves going out when he left it?

EMMA Yes, sir. I think so. At least, he was going out. But I think he went upstairs again for something. He may not have gone yet. | [25]

GUS (Dashing to door up L. ) Go up and see at once!

(Exit EMMA)

Jack! Jack! (Calls excitedly)

JACK (Without) Yes. What is it? I’m coming.

GUS Come here at once. (Is fussy and anxious)

(Enter SIDGREAVES, very calm. GUS begins to speak the moment he enters the room, waving the card at him)

Look here, Jack! I can’t have Kitty coming round here to-night. My Aunt will be here.

JACK Your Aunt! I thought she was coming this afternoon.

GUS So she is. And she’s staying to dinner. So’s Angela. And we’re all going to a concert afterwards.

JACK But you asked Kitty.

GUS I didn’t. You asked her.

JACK On your behalf. It was your invitation.

GUS Oh, don’t argue! The point is, I can’t have her here to-night. And you’ve got to tell her so. (Flings card angrily into drawer and closes it with a bang. )

JACK (Dubiously) I like that! What am I to say to her?

GUS Say anything you like. Say I’m dining out. Say I’m dead. Ask her to come some other night, any other night. You can manage it.

JACK But I don’t know where she is.

(BOTH move down) | [26]

GUS Leave a note for her at her home.

JACK Ten to one she won’t go home before she comes here. She lives out at Camberwell. She was lunching at a Restaurant with someone and had an engagement this afternoon.

GUS Where was she lunching?

JACK At Mariani’s, I expect. She generally goes there. But I’m not sure.

GUS Go and see.

JACK But if she’s not there?

GUS Go somewhere else. Go to all the Restaurants you know. Go to all the Restaurants in London. Only don’t let her come here to-night. Do go. (Bundles him out. Mops his brow feverishly.)
 

CURTAIN | [27]

 

 

 

ACT II | [28]

 

SCENE: – The Same

TIME: Some two or three hours later

(On table C. are cups, tea pot, milk, sugar, etc. and an elaborate cake for afternoon tea. On hob of fire kettle sings merrily. When curtain rises GUS is lounging in armchair before fire reading novel. Presently enter JACK)
 

GUS (Starting up) Well?

JACK She wasn’t there.

GUS At Mariani’s?

JACK No. Nor at any of the other places I went to. I’ve spent the last couple of hours driving round London in a cab, going into restaurants and coming out again – without eating anything! I can tell you it’s been pretty depressing.

GUS (Much alarmed) But you mustn’t give up. You must go on looking. (Trying to hustle him off again) You must ransack London.

JACK (Doggedly) No thank you. I’ve done enough. I’m very tired and as hungry as the Devil and I’m not going to stir.

GUS But my aunt –

JACK My dear Gus, I won’t go another step to save the whole of your female relations. There! (Sits down resolutely)

GUS But what’s to be done? | [29]

JACK I don’t know. You go and see if you can find her.

GUS But I can’t. I’m expecting Aunt Miriam at four. It’s nearly that now.

JACK I can’t help that. I’m dead beat. I say have you got anything for me to eat in the way of luncheon? I’m famished.

GUS Luncheon? Why it’s nearly tea-time. You can’t have luncheon here now.

JACK Then give me some of that cake. (Stretches out hand)

GUS (Snatches cake away) Certainly not. That cake is for Angela. I got it specially for her.

JACK She won’t eat it all, I suppose.

GUS Possibly not. But you will.

JACK Then pass over the bread and butter. (GUS does so. JACK begins to eat ravenously)

GUS What on earth’s to be done.

JACK (Shrugging shoulders and speaking with his mouth full) I don’t know.

GUS (Shaking him) But you must know. You’ve got me into this mess. You must get me out of it.

JACK I can’t help that. I’ve asked Kitty to be round here at a quarter to eight to go to a theatre with you and have supper afterwards. You agreed to my asking her. And you’ve got to take her.

GUS But I tell you I have Aunt Miriam and Emily and Angela staying to dinner and we’re all going to a concert together afterwards. I can’t be in two places at once. | [30]

JACK Then you must cut the concert.

GUS But I don’t want to cut it. I’d rather go to it than take Kitty out to supper. I don’t like Kitty!

JACK (Eating) I daresay.

GUS Besides Angela will be awfully disappointed. She asked me to go particularly.

JACK So will Kitty.

GUS Hang Kitty. And I say, Jack, I wish you wouldn’t go leaving her photograph about in my room. It’s very compromising.

JACK Aunt not favourably impressed?

GUS She was not. And Emily asked me all sorts of questions, wanted to know her name and so on. Here, take the beastly thing. (Chucks him photograph)

JACK (Catching it) What did you tell her?

GUS Said I didn’t know. Said it was left here by a friend by mistake.

JACK She didn’t believe that I bet.

GUS I don’t think she did. But Aunt Miriam seemed quite satisfied.

JACK Mrs Simcox must have a very trusting disposition. Look here, Gus, how are you going to get out of this concert?

GUS I’m not going to get out of it.

JACK If you don’t, Kitty will come round here while you’re at dinner, and fetch you. Kitty’s got a temper of her own! | [31]

GUS (Doubtfully) Will she?

JACK I believe she would.

GUS But you could prevent her?

JACK I doubt it. You don’t know Kitty!

GUS (Irritably) What a dangerous young woman. Confound it, Jack, I wish you wouldn’t introduce me to people like that. You know I don’t like them.

JACK Very sorry, my dear chap. But it’s done now. The only thing is to make the best of it. You must make some excuse to your Aunt. She seems a guileless old lady. You’d better be taken suddenly ill.

GUS (Crossly) But I’m not a bit ill. I was never better in my life.

JACK Rot, my dear fellow. You must pretend to be ill. Have you never shammed ill to get out of keeping an engagement with your Aunt before?

GUS Never!

JACK Then it’s high time you began.

GUS But I don’t know how.

JACK I’ll teach you. I wonder what sort of illness would suit you best. Let me see, you' re an awful beggar for eating. Why not say a stomach ache?

GUS Certainly not!

JACK You don’t fancy a stomach ache? Not picturesque enough, eh? Shall we say a headache then? It often arises from the same thing.

GUS Then I decline to have a headache. | [32]

JACK Well, I daresay you’re right. It’s so difficult to make a headache convincing. There are no outward symptoms. On the whole I recommend you to take cold. A few sneezes, free play with the handkerchief, and there you are.

GUS (Doubtfully) I don’t believe I could make a cold a bit convincing.

JACK Nonsense, my dear fellow. You must practise. Come now. Sneeze!

GUS (After ineffectual effort) I can’t.

JACK Of course you can. Look at me. A-----tuscha! There!

GUS A--tuscha!

JACK Not bad. Try again. A--tuscha!

GUS A--tuscha!

JACK That’s it. Again.

GUS A--tuscha.

JACK Bravo. Keep it up. You’re improving.

GUS A-tuscha! A-tuscha! A---tuscha! Is that all right?

JACK First rate. You’d take in the entire college of Physicians.

GUS (Wiping his brow) I really do think I do it rather well.

JACK Then you can give them some dinner and send them off to their concert before Kitty and I turn up. What time does it begin? | [33]

GUS Eight o’clock.

JACK Then they’ll leave here about quarter to. They won’t come back after it’s over, I suppose.

GUS Oh, no. They’ll go straight down to Harrow.

JACK All right. I tell you what. I’ll bring Kitty here soon after eight instead of nine, and we’ll look in a theatre before we have supper.

GUS Very well.

JACK (Notices cake) I say, I like your taste in cakes. (Is about to eat it)

GUS (Taking away knife) No you don’t. That cake isn’t for you, Jack. It’s for Angela. I chose it specially.

JACK Then I shall stay and have some when she comes.

GUS Well, you won’t have to wait long.

(Ring is heard)

I expect that’s they.

JACK All right. Don’t forget about the cold.

GUS (Sound of approaching people heard without) I say, shall I begin to sneeze as soon as they come in?

JACK No, let’s have our tea in peace. You wait till I give the signal. Then you can sneeze your head off.

EMMA Mrs Simcox. (Turns up electric lights)

(Enter MRS SIMCOX, EMILY and ANGELA L. carrying parcels)

GUS All right. Draw those curtains.

(EMMA draws curtains R. and exit) | [34]

GUS Well, have you done your shopping?

ANGELA Yes. We’ve spent fortunes.

GUS Very extravagant of you! Let me introduce Mr. Sidgreaves, Mrs Simcox, Mrs Travers. This is my cousin Angela. Are you ready for tea, Aunt?

MRS S- (Sitting down) Quite, thank you.

(GUS makes tea with kettle)

JACK What have you been buying, Miss Simcox?

ANGELA Oh, Emily bought a hat, and mother bought some towels and dull things for the house, and I bought some gloves and a tie and some handkerchiefs, and – all sorts of things you wouldn’t understand.

JACK Are we to be allowed to see them?

ANGELA Certainly not. And then Emily and I bought a handkerchief case for mother because it’s her birthday to-morrow. But we had to buy that when she wasn’t looking because it’s to be a surprise, and she isn’t to know anything about it till we give it her.

JACK Oh, it’s Mrs Simcox birthday to-morrow, is it?

ANGELA Yes. I hope Gus has got her something nice. Do you know if he has?

JACK I’m afraid I don’t. But if he had I shouldn’t be able to tell you should I – as it’s a secret?

ANGELA Oh, I think I might be told. I hate secrets unless I know them.

JACK Ah well. I’m afraid I can’t tell you.

ANGELA You mean that you won’t. | [35]

JACK Perhaps.

GUS (Pouring out tea) Here, Jack, you lazy beggar, come and help us with the tea instead of talking nonsense to Angela.

JACK All right. (Taking cup)

GUS (Jealously) What was she talking to you about?

JACK Don’t be jealous, old chap. She was trying to get out of me what present you had bought for your Aunt’s birthday.

GUS Good Lord. I’d forgotten all about it. I meant to get something when I went out. (To Aunt M. ) Cream and sugar, Aunt Miriam?

MRS S- Please.

GUS Emily?

EMILY No sugar for me.

GUS This is for Aunt Miriam, this is for Emily.

(JACK takes them obediently)

Plenty of sugar for you, Angela, I know. (Goes to her with cup)

ANGELA Thanks.

GUS Bread and butter for you, Aunt Miriam?

MRS S- Thank you.

GUS And you, Angela?

JACK Don’t you, Miss Simcox. There’s a perfectly adorable cake he’s trying to keep from you. You say cake. | [36]

GUS I like that. Jack wanted to begin it before you arrived, and as I wouldn’t let him he tries to take away my character. (Hands it to her) Have some?

ANGELA Thank you.

MRS S- We got the concert tickets, Gus.

GUS (Starts violently and drops knife of cake) Did you Aunt? How clumsy of me!

MRS S- Yes. At the Queen’s Hall. A classical concert. It begins at eight.

JACK A classical concert? That sounds delightful.

ANGELA Perhaps, mother, Mr Sidgreaves would like to come with us. I am sure we could get another seat if he would like it. (To JACK) And Gus would give you some dinner here with us.

JACK Thank you very much. I’m afraid I can’t manage it this evening. I’ve got another engagement.

MRS S- (Politely) I am sorry.

GUS More tea, Aunt Miriam?

MRS S- Thank you.

(JACK goes to her and takes her cup to GUS)

JACK (To GUS while he is pouring out tea) I think you might begin now.

GUS All right. Wait till I’ve put down the tea-pot. (Does so) A--- tuscha. Excuse me, Aunt Miriam. (Finishes pouring out tea)

(JACK takes cup)

Emily? | [37]

EMILY Thank you.

GUS (Going to her) A--tuscha! (Takes cup from her) Give Aunt Miriam some cake, Jack. A--tuscha!

EMILY My dear Gus, for goodness' sake don’t make that noise.

GUS Very sorry. Afraid I’ve caught cold. (Takes her cup) Cake?

EMILY A small piece, please.

(GUS goes to table to cut it)

JACK (Joining him) That’s right. Keep it up.

GUS A-tuscha! A-tuscha! A-tuscha! (Takes cake to EMILY)

EMILY Are you fond of classical music, Mr Sidgreaves?

JACK Very! (Returns to table to GUS) They don’t seem much impressed. Give 'em some more.

GUS (Sneezes repeatedly. Aside to JACK) Help me out, you fool.

JACK My dear chap, your cold sounds rather bad. Doesn’t it, Miss Simcox? (To ANGELA) More tea?

ANGELA I dare say it won’t be much!

GUS (Aside) Heartless girl! (aloud, sneezing) There seems to be a beastly draught somewhere.

MRS S- I don’t observe any draught.

GUS (Sulkily) I do then. Give me some of that cake, Jack.

ANGELA (Laughing) I’m sure cake isn’t good for a cold, Gus. | [38]

GUS I’ll chance it. (Cuts himself off large piece) Have some, Jack?

JACK (Going to table) Thanks. (To GUS) Keep it up, old man.

GUS (Sneezes repeatedly) I don’t believe I shall be able to go out to-night.

ANGELA Not go to the concert, Gus? What a shame!

GUS It’s all very well. (Sneezes) But there’s no use taking any risks.

MRS S- If it’s really so bad, perhaps it would be better for you to stay at home.

GUS I’m sure it would. A--tuscha!

JACK Well, I must be off. Good-bye, Mrs Simcox (Says good-bye to each lady) Good-bye, Gus. Hope your cold will be all right soon. (aside) To-night at eight.

(Exit)

ANGELA But it won’t be any fun if Gus won’t be there.

MRS S- My dear Angela, there’s no use in Gus making himself ill for the sake of an evening’s amusement.

GUS (Heartily) None at all!

ANGELA I don’t believe you want to come.

GUS Of course I want to come. A-tuscha! Absurd! But concerts are always so draughty. I suppose it’s the wind instruments.

MRS S- Well, perhaps you’d really better give it up. And I should think you should go round to the nearest chemist’s and ask him to give you something for it. | [39]

GUS I hardly think it’s necessary, Aunt.

MRS S- Just some black current lozenges dear, to suck.

GUS Oh, all right. I don’t mind black current lozenges.

MRS S- You must wrap yourself up well.

(GUS exit C. returning with overcoat)

Put a muffler round your neck. (She helps GUS into coat and swathes him in muffler) There! I don’t think you’ll come to much harm now.

GUS Rather not. I’ll be back in ten minutes.

(Exit L. A pause)

EMILY (Rising and coming down stage) Curious things these sudden colds! I remember poor Charley was a martyr to them.

MRS S- I thought Charley was always a remarkably strong man.

EMILY He was, except about classical music. But at the mere mention of concert, especially a classical concert he caught cold at once.

MRS S- Of course concerts are draughty things as Gus says.

EMILY So draughty, dear, that men take cold even before they go to them. They are so delicate, poor creatures!

ANGELA (Indignantly) You don’t mean to suggest that Gus hasn’t a real cold.

EMILY I’m sure I don’t know, Angela. It may be a real cold. Though the symptoms seem to me suspicious.

ANGELA But you heard him sneezing.

EMILY Yes. I remember those sneezes. Poor Charley was an adept at sneezing. A-tuscha! A-tuscha! | [40]

MRS S- But why should Gus pretend to have a cold if he has not one?

EMILY I don’t know about Gus. With Charley it was generally some more attractive engagement in another direction.

ANGELA Disgraceful!

EMILY Usually disgraceful, my dear, of course!

MRS S- (With decision) I shall ask Gus for an explanation directly he returns!

ANGELA An explanation of what, mother?

MRS S- Of his pretending to have a cold in order to avoid going to a concert with us.

ANGELA But I believe it’s a real cold.

EMILY And anyhow he’s sure to say it is.

MRS S- That’s true. (Pause) Then what are we to do? Emily, suggest something.

EMILY I’m afraid we can’t do anything without more evidence. I often had that difficulty with poor Charley. (Turns towards fire again) What’s become of that young person’s photograph?

MRS S- Isn’t it there?

EMILY I don’t see it. Gus seems to have lost no time in getting it out of the way.

ANGELA No doubt he has sent it back to the person to whom it belongs. It belonged to a friend.

EMILY Yes, I remember the story. | [41]

ANGELA (Defiantly) Well, I believe he has sent it back. There.

EMILY And anyhow he’s sure to say he has if you ask him. Charley always did. But I generally found it knocking about in one of his drawers afterwards. (Goes to writing table and opens drawer)

ANGELA Emily! What are you doing?

EMILY Looking for it, my dear. No it isn’t here. No. (Picks up note or bus: glances at them then throws them down disappointed. At last picks up card carelessly. Sees note on back. Reads it) Ah!

MRS S- What is it, Emily?

EMILY (Laughing) Nothing. Only a message to Gus.

MRS S- You’re hiding something from us.

EMILY Oh, no. (Laughs again) How like poor Charley!

ANGELA How horrid you are, Emily. Give it me. (Snatches it reads) “Dear Gus. All right. Will bring Kitty round this evening a little before eight. Yours Jack." Shameful!

MRS S- I never should have thought it of Gus!

ANGELA So her name’s Kitty.

EMILY Probably. Unless that’s another one.

MRS S- Really, Emily!

EMILY My dear mother, I remember poor Charley!

ANGELA And that’s why he won’t come to the concert. | [42]

EMILY I expect so. Is it dated?

ANGELA Yes. Wednesday.

EMILY This is Wednesday. No doubt it is for to-night! Jack, of course, is Mr. Sidgreaves. He said he had an engagement!

ANGELA Oh, mother! mother! (Buries her head in her mother’s lap and cries)

MRS S- There, there, dear, don’t cry.

ANGELA (Sobbing) I’m so unhappy.

MRS S- My darling, what is the matter?

ANGELA About Gus. How could he!

MRS S- How indeed! Still you mustn’t cry about it. You’ll make yourself ill.

ANGELA You don’t understand. I thought Gus loved me. He used to tell me so (Sobs) often! And now this shameless girl!

EMILY My dear Angela, she may be a perfectly respectable person. Though I’m bound to say her picture didn’t look like it.

ANGELA That would be worse.

MRS S- Worse?

ANGELA Yes. If she’s respectable Gus may be engaged to her. He may marry her.

EMILY Angela, I believe you’re jealous! | [43]

ANGELA (Stormily) I am, furiously jealous. Oh, I’d like to scratch her eyes out. To come here making appointments with Gus when all the time he was proposing to me.

MRS S- But you always refused him, dear.

ANGELA I know. Because I wasn’t sure whether I loved him. But I know now.

MRS S- Poor child.

ANGELA And now I see he never cared for me really. He can’t have done or he wouldn’t be running after other girls.

EMILY I don’t think that follows.

ANGELA What do you mean?

EMILY Poor Charley used to be in love with quite a number of people at the same time.

MRS S- Really, Emily!

ANGELA And when I was so fond of him too!

EMILY You didn’t let him know that, dear.

ANGELA He ought to have known it! It was very stupid of him. And now I shall never care for him any more.

EMILY Nonsense, Angela. You are making far too much fuss about this.

ANGELA No, I’m not. I felt there was something wrong this morning when he first came in.

MRS S- How was that, Angela?

ANGELA (Tearfully) Why, when you and Emily were in the other room, and Gus and I were alone together, he never pro- | [44]

posed to me at all. He talked of quite other things. (sobs) He’s never missed such an opportunity before!

EMILY My dear, he’ll propose to you again before long. A man doesn’t break off the habit of a life-time like that.

ANGELA (Crossly) He won’t! He won’t (Stamps her foot)

EMILY As you please. But I think you’re very absurd. I wish I’d never found the wretched letter. Why will men never take proper care of their correspondence! (Throws it back into drawer and closes it angrily) It’s most inconsiderate of them!

MRS S- (With decision) I shall speak to Gus about it directly he returns.

ANGELA And so shall I! (Fiercely)

EMILY My dear mother! Impossible!

MRS S- Why impossible?

EMILY What are you to say to him?

MRS S- I shall ask him to explain that letter.

EMILY Which I found while hunting through his drawers! Rather gives us away, doesn’t it?

MRS S- It’s not pleasant for you, of course.

EMILY Nor for you, mother dear. Oh, we’re all in the same boat. I found the letter, you insisted on knowing what was in it, and Angela read it. We’re all tarred with the same brush.

MRS S- That’s true!

ANGELA I don’t care! | [45]

EMILY Well, if you tell Gus what we’ve done, he’ll never have anything more to do with us. I doubt if Angela will like that?

ANGELA (Fiercely) It will not make the slightest difference as far as I am concerned! (Takes up book and pretends to be absorbed in it for the next ten minutes of this scene, completely ignoring GUS on his entrance)

MRS S- But what are we to do?

EMILY Nothing, of course. That’s what I used to do with poor Charley.

MRS S- Do you mean to say we are to go to the concert and leave Gus to keep his appointment with this – this person!

EMILY It seems to be the only course open to us.

MRS S- That is not my view of the duty I owe to my nephew.

EMILY What do you propose then?

MRS S- I propose that we send for a doctor. He would see at once that Gus had not a real cold.

EMILY But he wouldn’t tell us. Doctors never confess that their patients have nothing the matter with them. It would strike at the root of their practise.

MRS S- Nonsense, Emily.

EMILY Oh yes, it would. If doctors only attended people who were really ill, they wouldn’t earn enough to pay their house rent. From their point of view the more people who pretend to be unwell the better. They prescribe a pill, pocket a guinea, and nobody is any the worse. That’s what poor Charley’s doctor used to do,

MRS S- (With dignity) Then I must say I think your husband was singularly unfortunate in his medical attendant. | [46]

EMILY That was not Charley’s opinion.

MRS S- (Resolutely) Well, one thing I’m determined on. Gus shall come with us to the concert to-night.

EMILY By all means – if you can get him to. But you must be careful not to let him see you suspect anything.

MRS S- What does it matter if he suspects?

EMILY My dear mother, after all you’re only Gus’s Aunt. You’ve no control over him. If you let him see you know anything about Kitty he may own up quite frankly that he has another engagement which he prefers to a classical concert with us, and that he intends to keep it.

MRS S- He wouldn’t dare!

EMILY I don’t know. It’s astonishing what courage it gives a man to have been found out. He has nothing further to conceal, you see.

MRS S- What do you advise then?

EMILY You might try persuasion. It can do no harm. But you must do it gently. You may wheedle him perhaps.

MRS S- To think that I should have to resort to subterfuge with my own nephew.

EMILY Yes. It’s wonderful what one may come to. Here he is. You’d better take your tone from me.

(Enter GUS muffled in coat and scarf)

(Sweetly) Well, did you get your lozenges?

GUS Yes. (Taking off coat etc. )

EMILY (Solicitous) I do hope you haven’t made your cold worse. | [47]

GUS Thanks, I think not. (Uses handkerchief elaborately) I was well wrapped up.

MRS S- (Very sweetly) What did the chemist say, dear?

GUS Nothing much.

MRS S- (Sweetly) He didn’t think it was anything serious?

GUS Oh no.

MRS S- Then perhaps you will be able to come to the concert after all.

GUS (Hastily) I’m afraid I can’t do that.

MRS S- Why not dear? If he thought you were all right.

GUS He didn’t. He said it was only a cold of course, but an awfully bad cold.

MRS S- But you’re not sneezing at all now.

GUS I shall though in a minute. (Does so) There you see!

MRS S- But he didn’t say anything about your not going out to-night.

GUS He did though! He said a lot. He said it would never do for me to go out. He said it might settle on my chest.

MRS S- But if you were well wrapped up?

GUS Still it’s better not to run risks. A cold on the chest you see might be very serious. He laid great stress on that.

MRS S- But it isn’t on your chest yet. | [48]

GUS I’m not sure of that. Anyhow it will be if I’m not careful. (Sneezes vigorously)

EMILY Then you won’t come with us to-night?

GUS (Irritably) My dear Emily, of course not. When a man has a cold that may settle on his chest, he can’t be too careful. He said I’d a very delicate chest.

MRS S- (Decidedly) Well, if it’s as bad as that, Gus, I shall stay in and nurse you. (GUS’s jaw falls)

GUS No, no. I couldn’t think of it.

MRS S- (Firmly) I shall certainly do so.

GUS I won’t have it. (Virtuously) My dear Aunt, I can’t allow you to sacrifice your pleasure on my account.

MRS S- (Sweetly) But, my dear boy, I should prefer it. I couldn’t enjoy the concert a bit while you were at home here ill.

GUS But it’s only a cold.

MRS S- Yes, but such a bad cold!

EMILY A cold that might settle on your chest, you know!

MRS S- And you’ve such a delicate chest, dear! I couldn’t think of going.

GUS (Sulkily) All right. Have it your own way. But there’s really no necessity.

MRS S- And I think you should go to bed at once.

GUS I’m hanged if I will.

MRS S- I really think you should, don’t you, Emily? | [49]

EMILY I have no doubt of it.

GUS Well, I’m not going, that’s all.

MRS S- (Pained) I didn’t think you would speak like that, Gus! It almost seems as if your cold was not nearly so bad after all.

GUS But I told you what the chemist said. (Sneezes) There! You can hear how bad it is!

MRS S- Then you certainly ought to go to bed.

GUS (Crossly) Very well.

MRS S- (Sweetly) And I’ll make a large mustard plaster and as soon as you’re in bed I’ll put it on you. There’s nothing like mustard to keep a cold off the chest. Will you ring please, Angela?

(ANGELA rings)

GUS No. No. I can’t allow you to take all this trouble, Aunt Miriam. I shall do quite well if I just go to bed quietly.

MRS S- (Sweetly) It’s no trouble at all, Gus. In fact I shall like it.

GUS (Grumbling) That’s all very well. But shall I?

MRS S- Of course! When a cold is really bad a mustard plaster is very comforting. Isn’t it, Emily?

EMILY I believe most comforting, – when a cold is really bad.

GUS (Aside) I seem to have rather overdone this cold.

(Enter EMMA L. )

MRS S- You can take away the tea things. And will you ask Mrs Perkins to send up some mustard, Emma, in a tin. A large tin. And some warm water. Mr Tollit has a bad cold, and I am going to make him a mustard plaster. | [50]

EMMA Very well, ma'am.

(Exit EMMA L. with tray)

GUS I do wish you wouldn’t bother, Aunt Miriam. I’m sure I shall be all right in the morning, without all this fuss. And I don’t believe I shall like a mustard plaster a bit!

MRS S- (Sweetly) But it’s always better to make sure, isn’t it? Now run away and take off your things.

GUS All right. I must scribble a note first. (Sits down at writing table and writes note)

EMILY (Aside) To Mr Sidgreaves no doubt.

MRS S- (To EMILY) What for?

EMILY (To MRS S. ) To cancel the appointment, of course. What a nuisance!

MRS S- (To EMILY) Why?

EMILY (To MRS S. ) Don’t you want to see her?

MRS S- (To EMILY grimly) I shall see her. (aloud) Is your note done, dear?

GUS Yes. (Fastens down envelope. Rises)

MRS S- Then go and take off your things. I will have it sent. Who is it for?

GUS It’s only for Jack Sidgreaves. I’ll take it. His rooms are just upstairs. (Goes towards door)

MRS S- (With great solicitude) No, no, Gus! You mustn’t think of it. Passages are so draughty. It would never do.

GUS Oh come! Considering you sent me out to the chemist’s! | [51]

MRS S- But we didn’t know how bad you were then!

GUS (Aside) I certainly seem to have overdone this cold!

MRS S- Give it me, dear, and I’ll send it by Emma. (Takes it from him)

GUS (Grumbling) Very well. But it’s giving you a lot of trouble.

MRS S- (Sweetly) Trouble! Not a bit. Go now, Gus. Go and undress.

(Exit GUS C. to bedroom)

EMILY Mother, you’re a born diplomatist!

MRS S- (Complete change of manner, lowered voice) The kettle! Quick!

EMILY What are you going to do?

MRS S- Open it, of course.

EMILY I say, isn’t that carrying things rather far? I never did that even with poor Charley!

MRS S- Don’t be ridiculous, Emily. It’s my duty to protect Gus from this person, and I mean to do it. (Crosses swiftly to kettle, takes off lid, and proceeds to steam envelope)

EMILY Well, I think it’s playing it rather low.

MRS S- I dare say. But you began it. You found the other letter. I do wish steam didn’t burn one’s fingers so much.

EMILY I hope it’s not a long process?

MRS S- Why? | [52]

EMILY Only that the maid may be here at any moment.

MRS S- It’s done. (Puts down kettle, goes to table, opens letter and reads) “Dear Jack, don’t bring Kitty round to-night. Aunt Miriam will be here so the coast won’t be clear. Yours, Gus”.

ANGELA (Throwing down book) Oh, how wicked of him!

EMILY Poor Gus! I’m afraid I’ve got him into a mess!

MRS S- Nonsense, Emily. Gus will be grateful to you some day.

EMILY I doubt it! Hush! Emma!

(MRS SIMCOX conceals note)

(Enter EMMA carrying tray on which is very large tin of Keene’s mustard, jug of warm water, a small pudding basin and a spoon)

EMMA Here is the mustard, ma'am. Mrs Perkins is sorry to have kept you waiting, but we had to send out for it. Ours was run so low!

MRS S- Thank you, Emma. That will do nicely.

ÈMMA Shall I mix it for you, ma'am?

MRS S- No, thanks. I can manage.

(Exit EMMA)

ANGELA (Jumping up) Let me, mother!

MRS S- No, no, dear. I will do it.

(ANGELA returns to her seat. MRS SIMCOX goes to table)

EMILY Are you going to suppress Gus’s note?

MRS S- (Putting it back in envelope) I shall certainly not send it. (Opens mustard tin) | [53]

EMILY You want to see her here yourself?

MRS S- Yes. I mean to give her a piece of my mind!

EMILY What fun!

MRS S- (Grimly) Whether it’s fun or not, you won’t be here to see it, my dear!

EMILY Why not?

MRS S- You will have gone to the concert with Angela. (Begins to mix mustard)

EMILY My dear mother, you may arrange what you please about Angela, but I am going to stay here with you. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

ANGELA And I shall stay too!

MRS S- Nonsense, children. This will not be at all a suitable occasion to be present.

EMILY It may not be suitable for Angela. But I’m a married woman, and a widow as well. It can’t possibly do me any harm.

MRS S- But somebody must take Angela.

ANGELA I won’t go! I won’t!

MRS S- Angela. You refuse to go when I tell you? I have never heard such a thing! Emily is her own mistress. I cannot insist on her going to a concert if she does not wish it. But with you it is different. I will not allow you to stay!

ANGELA Very well, mother. If you insist I shall tell Gus all about everything! I’m not going to allow Emily to be here when that person comes if I’m not. I’ve the best right to be here. Gus never proposed to Emily.

MRS S- Really, Angela! | [54]

EMILY It’s no good mother. We’re none of us going. If you’re to have the pleasure of putting a mustard plaster on Gus, we want to see him squirming under it. Don’t we, Angela?

ANGELA Yes!

MRS S- Well, I think it’s most unseemly. This young woman is evidently not a person you ought either of you to be brought in contact with. I am particularly surprised at you, Angela. I thought you were more dutiful.

EMILY (Aside) Don’t scold her mother. Can’t you see she’s awfully upset about all this! You won’t get her to go.

MRS S- (To EMILY) Poor child! She doesn’t look at all well. (Aloud) Very well, my dear. If you are determined to stay you must stay. (Turns head aside) This mustard is very strong.

EMILY The mustard plaster really was an inspiration of yours, mother. Why did I never think of one for poor Charley!

MRS S- (Sardonically) It was certainly an opportunity wasted.

(Enter GUS, C., in shirt sleeves, with collar undone)

Well, Gus? Are you nearly ready?

GUS Nearly.

MRS S- That’s right. (Grimly) So’s the mustard. Do you want anything?

GUS Only my slippers. Here they are. (Picks them up from corner and crosses to table) I say you have made a lot!

MRS S- (Sweetly) You see, you’ve such a broad chest. | [55]

GUS Ush! I daresay. Where am I to have dinner.

MRS S- We’ll send some in to you. But I expect you won’t want much dinner!

GUS I’m certainly going to have a particularly jolly evening.

(ANGELA laughs)

You might sympathise with me, Angela, instead of laughing in that heartless way.

ANGELA (Fiercely) Well, I don’t sympathise with you the least little bit!

GUS You little vixen!

MRS S- (Stopping stirring) There, that’s done! Have got any brown paper, Gus?

GUS (Sulkily) Yes, in my bedroom somewhere.

MRS S- I’ll come and get some. Will you show me where it is?

GUS If I can find it.

(Exeunt GUS and MRS SIMCOX, C. )

(As soon as they close door, ANGELA comes swiftly to table, opens tin, pours plentiful additional supply of mustard into bowl, adds water and proceeds to mix it)

EMILY (Languidly) My dear Angela, what are you doing?

ANGELA (Fiercely) Making more mustard.

EMILY What for?

ANGELA For Gus, of course. I hope it will take the skin off him! | [56]

EMILY You’re very vicious!

ANGELA Haven’t I a right to be? Hasn’t he pretended to be in love with me for ages? And all the while he’s been thinking of this Kitty! (Mixes mustard fiercely)

EMILY Not all the while.

ANGELA Part of it then. Why, he proposed to me, by letter, only the day before yesterday. (Turns head aside and wipes eyes)

EMILY Angela! I believe you’re crying.

ANGELA I’m not. It’s only the mustard; it’s so hot.

EMILY (Laughing) I dare say Gus will find it so!

ANGELA I hope he will. Oh, an idea! (Runs to cupboard of chiffonier and searches hurriedly)

EMILY What is it now?

ANGELA (Emerging triumphant) The cayenne pepper! (Shows it) I’ll teach him to make love to other people! (Pours liberal supply into basin and stirs vigorously)

EMILY (Laughing) Poor Gus!

ANGELA Gus is a little wretch, and you’re not to pity him! (Goes on stirring)

EMILY My dear, he’s no worse than other men.

ANGELA Then they ought all to be made to smart for it! (Pours mustard triumphantly out of spoon) Gus will!

EMILY I hear mother. | [57]

ANGELA Do you? (Runs to cupboard and replaces cayenne, then resumes seat demurely)

(Enter MRS SIMCOX, C., carrying large piece of brown paper)

EMILY Is he in bed?

MRS S- Just. (Goes to table) I think I’ve made more mustard than we shall want.

ANGELA (Innocently) Never mind. Better use it all, mother dear!

EMILY By all means. This is not a time for Homoeopathy!

MRS S- That’s true. (Begins to spread it thickly on folded brown paper)

ANGELA You’ll let me take Gus up his dinner, won’t you, mother?

MRS S- Would you like to?

ANGELA Yes, please.

MRS S- Well, it’s more than he deserves; but if you wish to you shall.

ANGELA Then I shall see that he keeps his plaster on!

MRS S- Oh, I’ll fasten it so that he can’t get it off!

ANGELA But, I’d rather, mother.

MRS S- Very well, child. Open the door!

(ANGELA opens door, C.)

I’m coming, Gus.

(Exit C., carrying mustard plaster in triumph)
 

CURTAIN   | [58]

 

 

 

ACT III   | [59]

SCENE: – The Same

(When the curtain rises the stage is empty.
Presently enter C. GUS. He is wrapped in a dressing gown, below which may be seen pyjamas and bedroom slippers. He looks rather rotund and swollen as though much wrapped up
)
 

GUS (Looking cautiously through door C.) No one here? They’re all at dinner, I suppose. (Comes in and goes towards fireplace R. grumbling) Nobody offers me any dinner! And nobody offers to take this infernal mustard plaster off either. I’d take it off myself, only Aunt Miriam would make such a fuss. (Sits down on sofa) Heigho! It is warm! (attempts to fan himself with the front of his dressing gown) Confound it, I don’t seem to be able to get any air at all except round my ankles and they’re too cold already. (Stares gloomily into fire) I’d no idea mustard was so hot!

(Enter L. ANGELA, brings tray on which is some soup)

GUS Hullo, is that you Angela?

ANGELA (Coldly) Yes. Why are you not in bed?

GUS It got so hot there. I couldn’t stay.

ANGELA (Sarcastically) Aren’t you afraid of making your cold worse?

GUS Confound my cold. (Peevishly) Besides, I can’t eat lying down, can I?

ANGELA Very well. But you must keep your dressing gown tight shut if you stay here. (Puts up his collar and buttons it making him look more like a mummy than ever) and have an overcoat over your knees – (puts coat over him) Now you can have your soup. | [60]

GUS Thanks. (Takes soup on his knee) I say, can’t I have this thing off now?

ANGELA The mustard plaster. Certainly not!

GUS It’s burning like anything.

ANGELA (Calmly) That is what mustard plasters are for.

GUS (Querulously) But I’m sure I’ve had it on long enough. What’s the time?

ANGELA Just eight.

GUS And I’ve had it on since half past six!

ANGELA (Indifferently) I dare say. Drink your soup.

GUS (Doing so) You don’t seem to mind much.

ANGELA Why should I?

GUS I should mind if you had a beastly mustard plaster burning the skin off you.

ANGELA (Viciously) I think you’re making a great fuss about nothing. You’ve not had it on half long enough! Just wait till it’s been on another hour, and then you’ll see!

GUS (Querulously) But I don’t want to see.

ANGELA Have you finished your soup?

GUS Yes. Take it away. I can’t eat.

ANGELA (Taking soup away) Perhaps I’d better not bring you any more dinner then? | [61]

GUS (Peevishly) Nonsense, Angela. Of course I want dinner. I must eat to keep up my strength. But I shan’t enjoy it.

ANGELA They say, “starve a cold”.

GUS (Disgusted) They don’t say anything of the kind. They say “feed a cold” and I’m jolly well going to do it.

(ANGELA laughs)

That’s right – laugh away. But it’s a lot more amusing for you than it is for me. I can tell you!

(Exit ANGELA, with soup on tray)

Heartless little wretch! Really I don’t know what girls are coming to nowadays. They seem to have lost all feminine compassion! (fans himself again with dressing gown) Ouf! I wish I could get the beastly thing off.

(Enter R. JACK in evening dress followed by KITTY – GUS does not see him)

JACK (Boisterously) Hullo, Gus!

GUS (Jumping up with a start, throwing coat off his knees) Jack! What the Dickens are you doing here? And Kitty too! Go away at once –

JACK What are we doing here? What are you doing here, you mean. In those preposterous clothes too.

GUS (Almost in a fever of terror) Go away I tell you. Go away both of you. If you’re seen here there’ll be the devil to pay.

KITTY Seen indeed. And why shouldn’t we be seen, pray? A pretty way to receive visitors.

GUS I can’t help that. For Heaven’s sake, Kitty, go away at once. Jack, take her away before someone comes.

JACK Before who comes? | [62]

GUS Aunt Miriam, Emily, Angela – (sinks his voice). They’re having dinner over there. (points R. )

JACK Haven’t they gone yet?

GUS (Almost dancing with terror) They’re not going. They’ll be here all the evening. Didn’t you get my note?

JACK No. What note?

GUS Telling you not to come.

KITTY Well, it’s like your impudence. (sits down fiercely) You asked me here, and here I stay!

JACK Why didn’t they go?

GUS It’s all that infernal nonsense about my cold. You remember my cold?

JACK Rather – a-tuscha! (laughs)

GUS (In terror) Hush! They’ll hear you.

JACK (Checks himself) All right. Go on.

GUS Well, I acted the beastly thing so well that they got quite anxious about it. So instead of going to the concert, they all stayed at home to nurse me!

KITTY (Contemptuously) Is that all?

GUS (Crossly) No. It’s not all. Aunt Miriam insisted on sending me to bed, and putting a huge mustard plaster on me. I’ve got it on now!

KITTY (Pulling open his dressing gown, and then bursting out laughing) A mustard plaster! Poor little Gussy! Ha!ha!Ha!ha! | [63]

JACK Ha!ha!ha!

GUS (Almost beside himself with terror) Stop that ghastly noise, both of you. Stop her, Jack! She’ll bring someone in, and then the fat will be in the fire. Hush! I believe that’s Angela’s step.

(All listen with strained attention)

JACK False alarm.

GUS (Wiping the sweat from his brow) Thank goodness.

JACK But why didn’t you send me word?

GUS (In a hoarse whisper) I did, I tell you. I sent you a note this afternoon when this nonsense about them staying at home was settled.

JACK Who took it?

GUS Emma, of course.

JACK (Going to bell) I never got it. Let’s ask Emma.

GUS Don’t ring. They’ll hear you. Besides, what’s the good? You didn’t get it and there’s an end of it. I do wish you’d go, both of you.

JACK Did you give it her yourself?

GUS No, Aunt Miriam said she would see about it.

JACK Oh!

KITTY Oh!

GUS (Frantic with irritation) What on earth are you making that noise for? Do for heaven’s sake say what you mean, and don’t stand lowing like a couple of cows. | [64]

KITTY Gently, Gussy. Keep your temper.

GUS (Furious) Keep my temper. I wonder how you’d keep your temper if you’d had a mustard plaster two feet square on for a couple of hours! With a prospect of its remaining there for an indefinite period!

JACK Why don’t you take it off?

GUS I can’t. I’m swathed in flannel like an infernal mummy and the flannel is fastened in some diabolical manner behind my back so that I can’t undo it.

(KITTY bursts out laughing again)

Good Lord, what is there to laugh at now?

KITTY (Controlling herself) If you only knew how funny you look!

GUS (Disgusted) Funny! Well, I don’t feel funny I can tell you. I feel devilish uncomfortable.

(KITTY laughs)

There she goes again!

JACK Well, you are rather an object, you know. (Laughs)

GUS Oh, don’t you begin again. It’s quite enough to have one person giggling. (listens) There really is someone coming this time. Hide yourselves. Quick!

(JACK and KITTY hide behind Plushette curtains of window as ANGELA enters R. with tray. GUS hurriedly re-arranges himself on sofa, and pulls coat over knees)

Whew! That was a shave!

ANGELA I’ve brought you some chicken. Chicken is good for a cold, isn’t it? | [65]

GUS (Sulkily) I dare say.

ANGELA (Sitting down after putting tray on his knees) You might say “thank you” when I bring you your dinner. But perhaps people with really bad colds don’t say “thank you”.

GUS I don’t believe you really think I’ve got a cold at all. (eats)

ANGELA How can you say such a thing! When we’ve all stayed away from a concert on purpose to nurse you, and mother and I have made you a nice large mustard plaster to cure you.

GUS Oh, you had a hand in that, had you?

ANGELA Yes. I supplied the cayenne pepper. To make it hotter you know.

GUS (Almost weeping) Well, I think it’s very unkind of you, Angela. We’ve always been friends. I didn’t think you’d turn against me!

ANGELA (Fiercely) Oh, indeed! We’ve always been friends, have we? And there’s nobody else of course to whom you’ve transferred your affections.

GUS Of course not. Absurd! (eats)

ANGELA (Exasperated) How can you sit there placidly eating your dinner and telling such dreadful stories I can’t think.

GUS (Crossly) I’m not telling stories. (eats) And as for eating my dinner, if this is your idea of placid eating, it isn’t mine. You try eating your dinner with half a pound of mustard on your chest and cayenne pepper and see if you’ll be placid! (eats) I tell you I’m in torture.

ANGELA (Remorsefully) Poor Gus. Does it really burn much? | [66]

GUS Burn! (Wrathfully) Considering I’ve had the beastly contrivance on for the best part of three hours –

ANGELA Not three hours, Gus.

GUS It seems like three then. Take this away. I can’t eat any more. And then to pretend that I’ve ever cared for anyone but you! It’s intolerable. Especially as you know quite well it isn’t true.

ANGELA (Gently) Isn’t it true, Gus?

GUS (Crossly) No. It isn’t. And you know it isn’t.

ANGELA (Taking tray) Well, I’ll try and believe it. I will really. (Hesitates) And I’m sorry about the cayenne pepper, Gus. (going)

GUS Angela! (Tries to stop her)

ANGELA No. No – I must go back to the others.

(Exit R. quickly)

GUS (Delightedly) I believe she does like me after all.

(JACK and KITTY emerge from their respective hiding places)

JACK (In a whisper) All safe?

GUS Eh? Oh, you’re there still, are you? I’d forgotten about you.

KITTY You’re not very complimentary I must say.

GUS Urr! (To JACK) You heard what she said, I suppose.

JACK About the cayenne pepper? Rather!

GUS (Impatiently) No! No! about transferring my affections and all that. | [67]

JACK (Nods) She evidently suspects something. I believe your aunt read that letter, Gus.

GUS She couldn’t. I fastened it up myself.

JACK Then she unfastened it again. What was in it? Do you remember?

GUS Oh, just – “Dear Jack, don’t bring Kitty round to-night, Aunt Miriam will be here.”

JACK That’s it, you see!

GUS But I should never have thought that Aunt Miriam would open another person’s letter.

JACK My dear chap, women will do anything!

KITTY Thank you! But I say, what’s to be done? We must get him out of this scrape somehow.

JACK Yes, but how? That’s the question.

KITTY We must think of something. Gussy you must think too.

GUS (Irritably) I’m thinking right enough. But it’s dashed little use – And Angela may come in again before we know where we are.

JACK Suppose Kitty and I simply don’t turn up to-night?

GUS They’ll wait till you do. And all time I shall have this mustard plaster on me. Thank you for nothing!

JACK They can’t keep it on for ever.

GUS They can keep it on another three hours! Their last | [68]

train doesn’t go till nearly midnight. Besides that would not explain my note.

JACK (Pondering) That’s true.

GUS And until that note is explained, I’ve no chance with Angela.

KITTY (Suddenly) I have it!

GUS (Crossly) What?

KITTY The very thing! (Beginning to laugh) Ha, ha, ha!

GUS (Jumping up) For Heaven’s sake, don’t make that noise. They’ll hear you as sure as fate.

KITTY All right! Quiet Gussy. We’ll save you. Come along, Jack. (going)

GUS (Alarmed) Stop! What are you going to do?

KITTY No time to tell you now. They may come in at any moment. I’ll arrange it all right with Jack.

GUS Remember, if you make a mess of it, it’s all up with me.

KITTY Don’t you be afraid. We’ll manage it (shaking his hand) Good bye, Gussy – You’re not a bad little chap. (going)

GUS (Protesting) But I say –

(Exeunt JACK and KITTY)

Gone, by Jove! And goodness knows what fool’s trick she may not be going to play. I suppose this is Jack’s idea of “a little dissipation” – Ugh! (rearranges himself on couch) Gad! how this thing burns! (stirs uneasily) Aunt Miriam ought to have been a Grand Inquisitor! | [69]

(Enter MRS SIMCOX, EMILY and ANGELA)

MRS S- (Very sweetly) Is that you, Gus?

GUS (Gruffly) Yes.

MRS S- Are you better, dear?

GUS Oh, I’m all right.

MRS S- I don’t think you should be out of bed. Are you sure you’re warm enough..

GUS Thank you, I’m quite warm enough!

MRS S Feeling comfortable then?

GUS Awfully comfortable, (aside) old hypocrite!

MRS S- Still, I can’t believe you ought to stay here. The draughts, you know. You remarked on them only this afternoon. Go to your room like a good boy.

GUS (Crossly) All right. I’m going. (Rises and goes up C. turns and shakes fist at MRS SIMCOX’s back, then Exit C. )

ANGELA Don’t you think it’s time to take his mustard plaster off now, mother?

MRS S- There is no hurry, Angela.

ANGELA But it’s hurting him. I’m sure it’s hurting him awfully.

MRS S- I daresay it bites pretty well. It will teach him a lesson.

ANGELA But he’s had it on long enough. | [70]

MRS S- I think not. Gus has deceived us wickedly. He has pretended to be ill when he wasn’t in order to keep an assignation with a shameless young person. He deserves punishment, I am punishing him.

ANGELA I think you are cruel.

EMILY Angela! Considering the cayenne pepper!

ANGLA (Half crying) Oh I was a little wretch. But I didn’t think what I was doing. I never meant to hurt him really. Emily, don’t you think he ought to have it off?

EMILY I think mother is rather hard on Gus, I must say.

MRS S- Not a bit harder than he deserves.

EMILY (Shrugging her shoulders) By the way mother, what have you done with that note?

MRS S- (Yawning) What note, Emily?

EMILY The note that ought to have gone to Mr Sidgreaves.

MRS S- (Sleepily) It’s in my pocket, I believe.

EMILY When Mr Sidgreaves and his young friend arrive – Gus will want to know why it wasn’t sent.

MRS S- (Yawning) When Mr Sidgreaves and his young friend arrive, Gus will hardly venture to ask questions at all I expect. Dear me, I’m very sleepy. (Yawns)

EMILY (Yawning) You’ll make me sleepy too if you keep yawning like that.

MRS S- I generally like a nap after dinner now. (Yawns) Have you told the maid not to say we are still here when Mr Sidgreaves comes? | [71]

EMILY It is not necessary, mother, Mr Sidgreaves has rooms here. He will come in with his latch key. (Yawns) It is mainly for occasions of this kind that bachelors have latch keys, I believe.

MRS S- (Sleepily) I dare say. (Nodding) Don’t forget to wake me before nine o’clock, Angela. (Falls asleep)

(There is a pause – MRS SIMCOX is heard to breathe regularly)

ANGELA (Hotly) Well, I call it a shame!

EMILY (Sleepily) What, Angela?

ANGELA To keep Gus in agonies all this time.

(MRS SIMCOX snores gently)

EMILY Still worrying over that cayenne pepper? I should not bother if I were you. (Yawning) Does the mater often snore when she goes to sleep after dinner?

ANGELA Generally.

EMILY I wish she wouldn’t then.

ANGELA I never thought she would have been so unkind to Gus.

EMILY Gus again! Mother’s mild enough, usually, but she’s a demon when she’s roused! (sleepily) Don’t talk there’s a good girl. I think I’m going to sleep too. Wake me before Kitty comes.

ANGELA All right.

(Pause. ANGELA picks up book. EMILY begins to breathe regularly MRS S. snores convincingly)

How mother snores! (ponders) I wonder if Emily is asleep too? (softly) Emily! (louder) Emily! No answer. I believe she really is. (Rises cautiously and looks at her) I suppose she’s rather tired after a night journey. Poor Gus! I wonder if he’s very uncomfortable? (Tiptoes to door C. with great pre- | [72] caution, knocks very softly, opens door slightly and whispers) Gus!

GUS (Gruffly) What is it?

ANGELA Hush! It’s me, Angela. How are you feeling?

GUS Beastly!

ANGELA Poor dear! (Looks round cautiously) Put on your dressing gown and come here a minute. Quietly!

(A pause, then GUS appears in dressing gown at doorway C. )

GUS (Crossly) What do you want?

ANGELA Hush! You’ll wake them.

GUS (In a whisper) Are they asleep?

ANGELA Yes.

GUS (Disgusted) Heartless beasts! They wouldn’t sleep so soundly if they’d half a yard of mustard on their chests and cayenne pepper.

ANGELA (Tearfully) Don’t! I’m so sorry, Gus. Does it hurt awfully?

GUS Like the devil.

ANGELA Why don’t you take it off?

GUS I can’t. Aunt Miriam saw to that when she pinned all the flannel round me. I’ve tried to loosen it but I only pricked my fingers.

ANGELA Let me do it. | [73]

GUS Will you? I say, Angela, you’re a brick.

ANGELA Sh! They’ll hear you.

GUS (In whisper) What will Aunt Miriam say?

ANGELA She won’t know. You must stay in your bed room as if you still had it on.

GUS But she’s bound to find out when she comes to take it off. And then you’ll get scolded.

ANGELA (Recklessly) I don’t care. Let her scold.

GUS No. Hang it all, I’m not going to get you into a scrape. It would be mean.

ANGELA (Remorsefully) Oh, Gus! In spite of the cayenne pepper?

GUS Hang the cayenne pepper.

ANGELA No. I won’t have it. I mean to take it off whatever you say. Hush!

(Goes into room C. )

(Returns almost immediately in triumph. MRS SIMCOX still snores gently)

There, that’s done! (speaking off C. in whisper) Can you manage now, Gus?

GUS All right, thanks!

ANGELA (Shuts door) I’m glad I helped him whoever Kitty is! I’m glad! But I don’t think he ought to have kissed me!

(MRS SIMCOX stirs uneasily) | [74]

Mother’s waking up. (Tiptoes to her own seat) Only just in time.

MRS S- (Opening her eyes) Have I been asleep, Angela?

ANGELA (Demurely) A little, mother.

MRS S- (Turning to EMILY) And Emily too – at her age! Wake up, Emily.

(EMILY still asleep)

ANGELA She had no sleep last night on the boat.

MRS S- That’s true. Is it nearly nine?

ANGELA Very nearly.

MRS S- Then they’ll be here almost at once. You’d better wake her, Angela.

ANGELA All right. (Goes over to EMILY and touches her gently) Emily! (Louder) Emily! Wake up – dear! It’s close on nine.

EMILY Is it? (alarmed) They’ve not been, have they?

ANGELA No.

EMILY Thank goodness. I was afraid I’d missed them. (Stretches herself) Well, I feel better.

MRS S- Do you think they will be punctual?

EMILY Certainly. People are invariably punctual for an appointment of this description.

MRS S- My dear Emily, what can you know about it?

EMILY (Yawning) My authority is poor Charley. | [75]

MRS S- I shall never be able to forgive Gus, never!

ANGELA I don’t believe it’s Gus’s fault at all. I believe it’s all that horrid girl’s. I expect she led him on.

EMILY That’s what Eve would have said if there’d been another woman in existence.

ANEGLA I don’t care – I’m sure I’m right.

(Enter L. JACK SIDGREAVES alone – he affects embarrassment through this scene)

MRS S- (Jumping up fiercely) Mr Sidgreaves –

EMILY (Aside) Mother! We mustn’t have a scene. (aloud politely) Good evening, Mr Sidgreaves.

JACK (Nervously) Er – good evening – I thought I should find Gus here.

MRS S- It’s an unpleasant surprise to you, no doubt.

EMILY (Aside) Hush mother. Be civil to him, or we shan’t get a chance of seeing her. (aloud) Gus will be here in a moment, Mr Sidgreaves.

JACK (Going) It doesn’t matter. Some time when he is disengaged – (going)

MRS S- (With ghastly politeness) Pray don’t go, Mr Sidgreaves. Gus is expecting you.

JACK Did he say so?

MRS S- Certainly. But you were to bring someone with you, I believe?

JACK (Confused) Indeed? | [76]

MRS S- I think so. Kitty, Mr Sidgreaves.

JACK Ah yes, Kitty, of course. (Laughs guiltily)

MRS S- (Sternly) I fail to see anything to laugh at, Mr Sidgreaves.

EMILY (Restraining her) My dear mother, Mr Sidgreaves will explain the joke to us in a moment.

JACK (Confused) Of course. With pleasure. But I didn’t know you knew anything about Kitty, Mrs Simcox.

MRS S- No?

JACK I understood from Gus that it was a secret. (Grinning affably)

MRS S- (Sweet) Did you indeed? (aside) Impudent young villain! (aloud) Oh no, it’s

not a secret. We know all about Kitty, I assure you.

JACK Then there’s no longer any need for concealment.

MRS S- (Sweetly) Not the slightest. (aside) Oh, if I could get a mustard plaster on him!

EMILY (Politely) But why haven’t you brought her?

JACK I have brought her. She’s downstairs.

ANGELA (Jumping up) Where?

JACK In the cab.

ANGELA (Rushing to door) Now for it.

MRS S- Angela! Come back! Where are you going? | [77]

ANGELA (Furiously) To the cab to see Kitty! (Open door R.)

JACK (Putting hand on her arm) Better not, Miss Simcox. She may scratch.

ANGELA Scratch! The shameless monster!

JACK Her temper’s a little uncertain with strangers.

ANGELA Oh!

JACK But if you’ll wait a moment, I’ll bring her up to you. (Going R.)

(ALL rush to stop him, and hold him by the coat)

MRS S- No, no, Mr Sidgreaves. You don’t leave this room till we’ve seen her.

JACK (Feigning astonishment) But I’m going to bring her to you.

MRS S- I daresay. But when once you’re downstairs you’ll jump into your cab and be off. And then we shall never see her.

JACK Why should I? Since you know all about her, there’s nothing to conceal.

EMILY That’s true. I’m afraid we must trust him, mother.

MRS S- I’d much rather not. (solemnly) Mr Sidgreaves if we let you leave this room will you give us your word of honour to come back at once and bring Kitty with you?

JACK Of course I will. She’ll catch cold if I keep her much longer in that cab.

MRS S- Your word of honour as a gentleman? | [78]

JACK As a gentleman.

(They release him – exit R.)

MRS S- I suppose he will bring her?

EMILY Oh yes – but I’m afraid she’s going to be violent.

MRS S- Apparently. Shall we call Gus in case of emergencies?

EMILY It might be as well. Besides, it will be amusing to see his face when Kitty enters. It will be a picture.

ANGELA Emily, how horrid you are!

MRS S- Very well. (Goes C. and knocks) Gus! (Opens door)

GUS (Gruffly) Yes!

MRS S- (Sweetly) Put on your dressing gown, dear, and come here.

GUS What for?

MRS S- There’s a visitor to see you!

GUS All right.

MRS S- (Closing door) They’re coming upstairs. I wonder if it would be a good thing to have a weapon of some kind? (Takes shovel dubiously)

EMILY Excellent – give me the poker, mother. Angela, take the tongs. Now we shall start fair!

(ALL stand in attitudes of expectancy with fire-irons looking towards door R. Gus opens door C. and stands doubtfully in doorway – he wears dressing gown buttoned up to his neck. under it shows trousers, shoes and socks) | [79]

GUS Now for a row!

(Enter JACK, carrying wicker basket)

ANGELA He hasn’t brought her after all.

MRS S- (Sternly) Mr Sidgreaves, where is Kitty?

EMILY Where is she, Mr Sidgreaves?

JACK (Opening basket and disclosing very large Persian cat) Here she is! Isn’t she a beauty!

GUS (Aside) Saved – by Jove!

MRS S

EMILY Why, it’s only a cat!

ANGELA

JACK (Maliciously) Of course. What did you expect?

GUS What should she be but a cat?

MRS S- But we thought –

EMILY Yes, we imagined –

JACK Well, what did you think, Mrs Simcox?

GUS Yes, what did you think, Aunt Miriam?

MRS S- Well, never mind what we thought.

JACK But what on earth are you all doing with those fire irons?

(ALL put them down foolishly)

MRS S- Well, it was because – | [80]

EMILY It was Kitty you see. You said she might scratch.

JACK I see!

ANGELA Oh, Gus! (Throws herself into his arms)

(GUS returns the embrace tenderly, but gingerly also as befits a man who has no skin left on his chest)

MRS S- (Pulling herself together) Angela! This demonstration is somewhat premature.

(ANGELA disengages herself)

What we still have to learn is why Mr Sidgreaves goes about to his friends' rooms carrying a cat in a basket at this time of night.

JACK Er – the fact is –

(ANGELA nurses cat tenderly)

MRS S- Well?

EMILY Well?

GUS (Coming to the rescue) You see it’s a present Aunt Miriam. A present for to-morrow. For your birthday, don’t you see!

MRS S- But why all this mystery? Why didn’t you tell us before?

GUS It was to be a secret you know, a surprise. Birthday presents generally are surprises, aren’t they?

JACK And generally unpleasant ones.

MRS S- Still, I don’t understand.

GUS (Volubly) It’s all quite simple. I asked Jack to keep Kitty for me while you were here. So that you shouldn’t see her you know. Jack was to bring her round | [81] after you’d gone, and I was going to send her by train to you at Harrow.

(JACK makes frantic signs to GUS to stop – He pays no attention)

Then she would have reached you first thing to-morrow morning. When you stayed in to nurse my cold, of course I had to send him a note not to bring her. By the way, Jack, didn’t you get my note?

JACK Note? No. What note?

GUS Oh, I must speak to Emma at once. (Goes to bell)

MRS S- Stop, Gus. Was that the note you gave me to send?

GUS Yes.

MRS S- (Producing it from pocket) Why I believe I’ve been carrying it about in my pocket ever since. How careless of me!

GUS Very!

EMILY (Aside) Mother, you really are a genius!

ANGELA I must give Kitty something to eat. (Goes to chiffonier) Will she eat cake, do think, Mr Sidgreaves?

JACK There would be no harm in trying.

ANGELA (Cuts off a piece) Come, mother. Let’s try.

(THE LADIES gather round cat up stage)

JACK (Aside to GUS) I say, old man, you’ve done it.

GUS (To JACK, peevishly) What’s the matter now?

JACK What on earth made you make a present of that cat to your aunt? | [82]

GUS Why shouldn’t I? She’s my aunt.

JACK But she’s not your cat. She belongs to the people next door.

GUS Oh, lord!

MRS S- (Coming down stage) Goodness me! I’ve forgotten all about poor Gus’s mustard plaster. I must take it off at once.

GUS (Opening dressing gown and showing himself fully dressed underneath) It’s off already. (Throws off dressing gown)

MRS S- When was it taken off?

GUS While you were asleep, Aunt Miriam.

EMILY Oh, Angela!

MRS S- (Sternly) Did you do this, Angela?

ANGELA (Coaxingly) Yes, mother dear. Gus and I are engaged you see. So I had to be kind to him!

(GUS embraces her – cautiously guarding his chest however, as the curtain falls)

 

CURTAIN