by John Galsworthy
A PLAY ON THE LETTER "I"
IN THREE ACTS
PERSONS OF THE PLAY
COLONEL HOPE, R.A., retired
MRS. HOPE, his wife
MISS BEECH, their old governess
LETTY, their daughter
ERNEST BLUNT, her husband
MRS. GWYN, their niece
JOY, her daughter
DICK MERTON, their young friend
HON. MAURICE LEVER, their guest
ROSE, their parlour-maid
TIME: The present. The action passes throughout midsummer day on the lawn of Colonel Hope's house, near the Thames above Oxford.
The time is morning, and the scene a level lawn, beyond which the river is running amongst fields. A huge old beech tree overshadows everything, in the darkness of whose hollow many things are hidden. A rustic seat encircles it. A low wall clothed in creepers, with two openings, divides this lawn from the flowery approaches to the house. Close to the wall there is a swing. The sky is clear and sunny. COLONEL HOPE is seated in a garden-chair, reading a newspaper through pince-nez. He is fifty-five and bald, with drooping grey moustaches and a weather-darkened face. He wears a flannel suit and a hat from
Panama; a tennis racquet leans against his chair. MRS. HOPE comes quickly through the opening of the wall, with roses in her hands. She is going grey; she wears tan gauntlets, and no hat. Her manner is decided, her voice emphatic, as though aware that there is no nonsense in its owner's composition. Screened from sight, MISS BEECH is seated behind the hollow tree; and JOY is perched on a lower branch hidden by foliage.
MRS. HOPE. I told Molly in my letter that she'd have to walk up, Tom.
COLONEL. Walk up in this heat? My dear, why didn't you order Benson's fly?
MRS. HOPE. Expense for nothing! Bob can bring up her things in the barrow. I've told Joy I won't have her going down to meet the train. She's so excited about her mother's coming there's no doing anything with her.
COLONEL. No wonder, after two months.
MRS. HOPE. Well, she's going home to-morrow; she must just keep herself fresh for the dancing tonight. I'm not going to get people in to dance, and have Joy worn out before they begin.
COLONEL. [Dropping his paper.] I don't like Molly's walking up.
MRS. HOPE. A great strong woman like Molly Gwyn! It isn't half a mile.
COLONEL. I don't like it, Nell; it's not hospitable.
MRS. HOPE. Rubbish! If you want to throw away money, you must just find some better investment than those wretched 3 per cents. of yours. The greenflies are in my roses already! Did you ever see anything so disgusting? [They bend over the roses they have grown, and lose all sense of everything.] Where's the syringe? I saw you mooning about with it last night, Tom.
COLONEL. [Uneasily.] Mooning!
[He retires behind his paper. MRS. HOPE enters the hollow of the tree.]
There's an account of that West Australian swindle. Set of ruffians! Listen to this, Nell! "It is understood that amongst the share- holders are large numbers of women, clergymen, and Army officers." How people can be such fools!
[Becoming aware that his absorption is unobserved, he drops his glasses, and reverses his chair towards the tree.]
MRS. HOPE. [Reappearing with a garden syringe. I simply won't have Dick keep his fishing things in the tree; there's a whole potful of disgusting worms. I can't touch them. You must go and take 'em out, Tom.
[In his turn the COLONEL enters the hollow of the tree.]
MRS. HOPE. [Personally.] What on earth's the pleasure of it? I can't see! He never catches anything worth eating.
[The COLONEL reappears with a paint pot full of worms; he holds them out abstractedly.]
MRS. HOPE. [Jumping.] Don't put them near me!
MISS BEECH. [From behind the tree.] Don't hurt the poor creatures.
COLONEL. [Turning.] Hallo, Peachey? What are you doing round there?
[He puts the worms down on the seat.]
MRS. HOPE. Tom, take the worms off that seat at once!
COLONEL. [Somewhat flurried.] Good gad! I don't know what to do with the beastly worms!
MRS. HOPE. It's not my business to look after Dick's worms. Don't put them on the ground. I won't have them anywhere where they can crawl about. [She flicks some greenflies off her roses.]
COLONEL. [Looking into the pot as though the worms could tell him where to put them.] Dash!
MISS BEECH. Give them to me.
MRS. HOPE. [Relieved.] Yes, give them to Peachey.
[There comes from round the tree Miss BEECH, old-fashioned, barrel-shaped, balloony in the skirts. She takes the paint pot, and sits beside it on the rustic seat.]
MISS BEECH. Poor creatures!
MRS. HOPE. Well, it's beyond me how you can make pets of worms- wriggling, crawling,
[ROSE, who is young and comely, in a pale print frock, comes from the house and places letters before her on a silver salver.]
[Taking the letters.]
What about Miss joy's frock, Rose?
ROSE. Please, 'm, I can't get on with the back without Miss Joy.
MRS. HOPE. Well, then you must just find her. I don't know where she is.
ROSE. [In a slow, sidelong manner.] If you please, Mum, I think Miss Joy's up in the----
[She stops, seeing Miss BEECH signing to her with both hands.]
MRS. HOPE. [Sharply.] What is it, Peachey?
MISS BEECH. [Selecting a finger.] Pricked meself!
MRS. HOPE. Let's look!
[She bends to look, but Miss BEECH places the finger in her mouth.]
ROSE. [Glancing askance at the COLONEL.] If you please, Mum, it's below the waist; I think I can manage with the dummy.
MRS. HOPE. Well, you can try. [Opening her letter as ROSE retires.] Here's Molly about her train.
MISS BEECH. Is there a letter for me?
MRS. HOPE. No, Peachey.
MISS BEECH. There never is.
COLONEL. What's that? You got four by the first post.
MISS BEECH. Exceptions!
COLONEL. [Looking over his glasses.] Why! You know, you get 'em every day!
MRS. HOPE. Molly says she'll be down by the eleven thirty. [In an injured voice.] She'll be here in half an hour! [Reading with disapproval from the letter.] "MAURICE LEVER is coming down by the same train to see Mr. Henty about the Tocopala Gold Mine. Could you give him a bed for the night?"
[Silence, slight but ominous.]
COLONEL. [Calling into his aid his sacred hospitality.] Of course we must give him a bed!
MRS. HOPE. Just like a man! What room I should like to know!
MRS. HOPE. As if Molly wouldn't have the pink!
COLONEL. [Ruefully.] I thought she'd have the blue!
MRS. HOPE. You know perfectly well it's full of earwigs, Tom. I killed ten there yesterday morning.
MISS BEECH. Poor creatures!
MRS. HOPE. I don't know that I approve of this Mr. Lever's dancing attendance. Molly's only thirty-six.
COLONEL. [In a high voice.] You can't refuse him a bed; I never heard of such a thing.
MRS. HOPE. [Reading from the letter.] "This gold mine seems to be a splendid chance. [She glances at the COLONEL.] I've put all my spare cash into it. They're issuing some Preference shares now; if Uncle Tom wants an investment"--[She pauses, then in a changed, decided voice ]--Well, I suppose I shall have to screw him in somehow.
COLONEL. What's that about gold mines? Gambling nonsense! Molly ought to know my views.
MRS. HOPE. [Folding the letter away out of her consciousness.] Oh! your views! This may be a specially good chance.
MISS BEECH. Ahem! Special case!
MRS. HOPE. [Paying no attention.] I 'm sick of these 3 per cent. dividends. When you've only got so little money, to put it all into that India Stock, when it might
be earning 6 per cent. at least, quite safely! There are ever so many things I want.
COLONEL. There you go!
MRS. HOPE. As to Molly, I think it's high time her husband came home to look after her, instead of sticking out there in that hot place. In fact
[Miss BEECH looks up at the tree and exhibits cerebral excitement]
I don't know what Geoff's about; why doesn't he find something in England, where they could live together.
COLONEL. Don't say anything against Molly, Nell!
MRS. HOPE. Well, I don't believe in husband and wife being separated. That's not my idea of married life.
[The COLONEL whistles quizzically.]
Ah, yes, she's your niece, not mime! Molly's very----
MISS BEECH. Ouch! [She sucks her finger.]
MRS. HOPE. Well, if I couldn't sew at your age, Peachey, without pricking my fingers! Tom, if I have Mr. Lever here, you'll just attend to what I say and look into that mine!
COLONEL. Look into your grandmother! I have n't made a study of geology for nothing. For every ounce you take out of a gold mine, you put an ounce and a half in. Any fool knows that, eh, Peachey?
MISS BEECH. I hate your horrid mines, with all the poor creatures underground.
MRS. HOPE. Nonsense, Peachey! As if they'd go there if they did n't want to!
COLONEL. Why don't you read your paper, then you'd see what a lot of wild-cat things there are about.
MRS. HOPE. [Abstractedly.] I can't put Ernest and Letty in the blue room, there's only the single bed. Suppose I put Mr. Lever there, and say nothing about the earwigs. I daresay he'll never notice.
COLONEL. Treat a guest like that!
MRS. HOPE. Then where am I to put him for goodness sake?
COLONEL. Put him in my dressing-room, I'll turn out.
MRS. HOPE. Rubbish, Tom, I won't have you turned out, that's flat. He can have Joy's room, and she can sleep with the earwigs.
JOY. [From her hiding-place upon a lower branch of the hollow tree.] I won't.
[MRS. HOPE and the COLONEL jump.]
COLONEL. God bless my soul!
MRS. HOPE. You wretched girl! I told you never to climb that tree again. Did you know, Peachey? [Miss BEECH smiles.] She's always up there, spoiling all her frocks. Come down now, Joy; there's a good child!
JOY. I don't want to sleep with earwigs, Aunt Nell.
MISS BEECH. I'll sleep with the poor creatures.
MRS. HOPE, [After a pause.] Well, it would be a mercy if you would for once, Peachey.
COLONEL. Nonsense, I won't have Peachey----
MRS. HOPE. Well, who is to sleep there then?
JOY. [Coaxingly.] Let me sleep with Mother, Aunt Nell, do!
MRS. HOPE. Litter her up with a great girl like you, as if we'd only one spare room! Tom, see that she comes down--I can't stay here, I must manage something. [She goes away towards the house.]
COLONEL. [Moving to the tree, and looking up.] You heard what your aunt said?
JOY. [Softly.] Oh, Uncle Tom!
COLONEL. I shall have to come up after you.
JOY. Oh, do, and Peachey too!
COLONEL. [Trying to restrain a smile.] Peachey, you talk to her. [Without waiting for MISS BEECH, however, he proceeds.] What'll your aunt say to me if I don't get you down?
MISS BEECH. Poor creature!
JOY. I don't want to be worried about my frock.
COLONEL. [Scratching his bald head.] Well, I shall catch it.
JOY. Oh, Uncle Tom, your head is so beautiful from here! [Leaning over, she fans it with a leafy twig.]
MISS BEECH. Disrespectful little toad!
COLONEL. [Quickly putting on his hat.] You'll fall out, and a pretty mess that'll make on--[he looks uneasily at the ground]--my lawn!
[A voice is heard calling "Colonel! Colonel!]"
JOY. There's Dick calling you, Uncle Tom.
DICK. [Appearing in the opening of the wall.] Ernie's waiting to play you that single, Colonel!
JOY. Quick, Uncle Tom! Oh! do go, before he finds I 'm up here.
MISS. BEECH. Secret little creature!
[The COLONEL picks up his racquet, shakes his fist, and goes away.]
JOY. [Calmly.] I'm coming down now, Peachey.
Look out! I'm dropping on your head.
MISS BEECH. [Unmoved.] Don't hurt yourself!
[Joy drops on the rustic seat and rubs her shin. Told you so!]
[She hunts in a little bag for plaster.]
JOY. [Seeing the worms.] Ugh!
MISS BEECH. What's the matter with the poor creatures?
JOY. They're so wriggly!
[She backs away and sits down in the swing. She is just seventeen, light
and slim, brown-haired, fresh-coloured, and grey-eyed; her white frock reaches
to her ankles, she wears a sunbonnet.] Peachey, how long were you Mother's
MISS BEECH. Five years.
JOY. Was she as bad to teach as me?
MISS BEECH. Worse!
[Joy claps her hands.]
She was the worst girl I ever taught.
JOY. Then you weren't fond of her?
MISS BEECH. Oh! yes, I was.
JOY. Fonder than of me?
MISS BEECH. Don't you ask such a lot of questions.
JOY. Peachey, duckie, what was Mother's worst fault?
MISS BEECH. Doing what she knew she oughtn't.
JOY. Was she ever sorry?
MISS BEECH. Yes, but she always went on doin' it.
JOY. I think being sorry 's stupid!
MISS BEECH. Oh, do you?
JOY. It isn't any good. Was Mother revengeful, like me?
MISS BEECH. Ah! Wasn't she?
JOY. And jealous?
MISS BEECH. The most jealous girl I ever saw.
JOY. [Nodding.] I like to be like her.
MISS BEECH. [Regarding her intently.] Yes! you've got all your troubles before you.
JOY. Mother was married at eighteen, wasn't she, Peachey? Was she-- was she much in love with Father then?
MISS BEECH. [With a sniff.] About as much as usual. [She takes the paint pot, and walking round begins to release the worms.]
JOY. [Indifferently.] They don't get on now, you know.
MISS BEECH. What d'you mean by that, disrespectful little creature?
JOY. [In a hard voice.] They haven't ever since I've known them. MISS BEECH. [Looks at her, and turns away again.] Don't talk about such things.
JOY. I suppose you don't know Mr. Lever? [Bitterly.] He's such a cool beast. He never loses his temper.
MISS BEECH. Is that why you don't like him?
JOY. [Frowning.] No--yes--I don't know.
MISS BEECH. Oh! perhaps you do like him?
JOY. I don't; I hate him.
MISS BEECH. [Standing still.] Fie! Naughty Temper!
JOY. Well, so would you! He takes up all Mother's time.
MISS BEECH. [In a peculiar voice.] Oh! does he?
JOY. When he comes I might just as well go to bed. [Passionately.] And now he's chosen to-day to come down here, when I haven't seen her for two months! Why couldn't