One-Act Plays
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a farce in one-act

by Arnold Bennett

The following one-act play is reprinted from Polite Farces for the Drawing-Room. Arnold Bennett. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1900. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.


FRANCIS GOWER, his Well-preserved Bachelor Uncle
MAY FORSTER, his Married Sister, 25
HELEN STANTON, his Wife's Married Sister, 28

[George Gower's drawing-room. Evening. George Gower is asleep in an easy-chair near the hearth. By his side is a fairly large occasional table, on which are some writing materials and an empty glass. Enter May Foster and Helen Stanton. They open the door quietly, and pause on the threshold to observe the sleeper. They are both in a pleased, gay mood of gentle excitation, but at first they speak low.]

MAY: The wretch still sleeps.

HELEN: Yes. A man is a marvellous thing. Such talent in some directions.

MAY: Let's wake him now. I should think he'd had enough.

HELEN: Enough! Well.... It's turned seven, and he must have dropped off just after lunch. Five hours!

MAY: [smiling kindly at her unconscious brother] Ah! He hasn't slept much for the last few nights; he's been so frightfully anxious.

HELEN: [raising her eyebrows] Anxious! And what about his poor wife -- what about Ada's anxiety? How he could sleep like this when he knew perfectly well ...

[She lifts her hands and finishes by smiling. The two young women approach George's chair on tiptoe, and indicate to each other by gestures that they will waken him in the orthodox way. Bending down, Helen sniffs at the empty glass.]

HELEN: Um! Whisky. Naturally.

[She bends to George's face to kiss him, but hesitates and looks at May.]

HELEN: Perhaps it would be better if you did it, dear. [May quickly kisses him.] The privileges of a sister-in-law vary in different families.

[George wakes up. May and Helen stand side by side facing him, their hands behind them, smiling, and full of mysteries.]

GEORGE: [mechanically reaching out for the glass] What did you say? I do believe I dropped off for a second or two. [Finding glass empty.] Dash! What a thirst I've got on today!

HELEN: There!

GEORGE: Well! What are you two staring at? How's Ada now? Doctor come yet?

MAY: [softly] George, it's a girl.

GEORGE: What's a girl? Who's a girl?

HELEN: It's a girl.

[Pause, while the fact of his fatherhood dawns upon George.]

GEORGE: [starting up] Well, I'm damned if this isn't the quickest thing of the kind that ever I heard of!

[He makes a bound for the door.]

MAY: [both the girls seizing him] George, come back. You mustn't go to her. She's asleep. [Soothing him and trying to calm his sudden tremendous excitement.]

GEORGE: Well, I am damned! Why, it can't be a quarter of an hour since I left her! [Sinks back into chair.]

HELEN: George Gower, does it not occur to you that these terrible oaths are sadly out of place? Recollect that as a father you are considerably less than a day old. Blasphemy from lips so young is an instance of infant depravity, such as even I, a district visitor, have seldom seen surpassed. Our curate at Ealing has composed a special form of prayer for young parents. I have brought it over with me, and I shall ask you to -- to make it your own. In the meantime I beg you not to disgrace the sacred name of father. Think of poor, dear Ada. Ah, my darling sister has behaved splendidly! Think of what she has been through!

George: That's just what I am thinking of, and the more I think the more I can't--

MAY: [Interrupting him] Why, George, you silly, you've been asleep five hours, and--

GEORGE: I swear I haven't.

HELEN: No more swearing, I entreat. You have been asleep five hours. It's turned seven o'clock. Your daughter is some three hours old ...

MAY: Yes, and everything went off beautifully. Ada cried a bit--

HELEN: Ada was simply superb.

MAY: Yes, she was, dear. She's asleep now, George. And the baby's the loveliest little thing--

HELEN: The doctor says he never saw a finer.

MAY: Yes, and the nurse says so, too. And she's got lots of hair.

HELEN: And cry--! She's got lungs like bellows.

GEORGE: [sitting up severely] Why didn't you come and wake me up? Answer me. For anything you knew, I might have been doing the most awful things to the sacred name of father during those three hours--and quite innocently. Helen, you at least ... [ends with a reproachful gesture]

HELEN: Well, I did ask May to go down and sit with you.

MAY: [to Helen] But, dear, I couldn't have dreamt of leaving Ada.

HELEN: Why not, dear? I came over specially from Ealing, and left my own little ones and Ernest, in order to see after Ada myself.

MAY: And I came from Harrow, which is much further than Ealing. I haven't any little ones; but if I had I should have left them, I'm sure I should. I left Jack and the two kittens, and there was nothing left to leave.

HELEN: But it is a question of experience, dear.

MAY: Well, I don't know, dear. It seems to me that common sense and a cool head are better than experience.

HELEN: But surely, dear, you don't suggest----Oh! [Suddenly forgetting this little passage of arms, and thinking of something important.] We didn't---- [whispers in May's ear]

MAY: Gracious heavens! Do you think nurse will remember?

HELEN: Probably not. I have had three different nurses myself, and they're all alike. I'll just run up and see to it.

[George is mystified, as males are.]

MAY: Oh, no! I'll go, dear.

HELEN: Oh, no! I'll go, dear. Where were the safety pins put?

MAY: I know. I'll go.

HELEN: My dear, I really think ...

GEORGE: If it's anything serious, hadn't you better both go? Further delay might be fatal, and I should like to avoid being cut off in my infancy as a father.

HELEN: May shall go.

MAY: Not at all. I should much prefer Helen to go. She is so experienced.

[A pause; and then Helen, pursing her lips, and looking as much like a martyred saint as she can, departs.]

GEORGE: A girl! [Sighs.]

MAY: George, what's the matter? I thought all the time that you didn't receive our news with that ecstatic abandonment of joy which I believe is usual under the circumstances. Why aren't you glad and proud? Why don't you weep happy tears of relief and contentment? Is it possible you are so lost to all parental feeling as to be indifferent when your wife presents you with a dear little darling baby?

GEORGE: May, you're a very decent sort, but if you say two more words in that strain, I'll go upstairs and wring that kid's neck. I couldn't permit any child of mine to be niece to a woman who talked like that. Remember that as a father I have duties, responsibilities.

MAY: You're not well. I see it now. You're suffering. Of course it must be a great strain on the system to wake up and find yourself a father. George, forgive my hasty speech. You must take a little nourishment every quarter of an hour till the symptoms pass. [She pats him gently on the cheek.] A great strain it was!

GEORGE: Strain! If you knew the strain I've been bearing for months past! Haven't you noticed the dark rings under my eyes, the unnatural brightness of my orbs, the hectic flush on my cheeks, the bald spot on the back of my head? Strain!... My dear sister, I have a secret and terrible woe -- a woe which, with courage worthy of an Englishman and a parent, I have shared with none. May, I am undone!

MAY: [with accents of despairing sorrowful sympathy] Who has undone you?

GEORGE: My beloved wife, three hours since, as I slept. I feared it. I have feared it for many weeks. Listen. Five or six months ago, Uncle Francis said that if it was a son, he would settle ten thousand pounds upon it.

MAY: And if a daughter?

GEORGE: He coldly declined to consider the possibility of such a thing. You know the special brand of ass he is sometimes. I said nothing to anybody, not even to my wife, for I felt that it would worry her. Imagine my condition of mind, my agonising suspense. Do you wonder that I have been wakeful night after night? Do you wonder that, from pure weariness and fatigue, I should fall asleep on this very afternoon of my undoing? Oh, May! To be a father is not so simple and pleasing as the superficial observer might fancy.

MAY: [sympathetically] It certainly isn't, especially if you happen to be occupied with being nephew to Uncle Francis at the same time.

GEORGE: Uncle Francis! Uncle donkey! Uncle nincompoop! Uncle booby! Uncle b----!

MAY: George!

GEORGE: Bachelor! -- Pompous old bachelor. Upon my soul, to see the way bachelors behave themselves in these days makes me sick.

MAY: Don't forget you were a bachelor yourself less than a year ago.

GEORGE: Only in practice; not in theory, not in theory. I maintain that all bachelors are idiots. Look at Uncle Francis! There's a nice sample!... I believe the beggar knew it would be a girl all the time. But in any case, why couldn't he keep his precious plan of benevolence to himself till I was actually a father. Then, unless the sex of my child happened to please his fastidious taste, he need have said nothing; I should have been spared all this anxiety, and I should have been no worse off.

MAY: Well, George, it's a great pity, of course. I suppose he won't withdraw the condition?

GEORGE: [sniffing] Not he!

MAY: [trying to be brave] After all, you are no worse off! Uncle hasn't robbed you of anything.

GEORGE: Oh, hasn't he? I like that! You aren't a father, May, and you can't enter into a father's feelings. Now what I feel is that he has robbed me. He's robbed me of precisely ten thousand pounds. Here am I, engaged in the arduous and expensive task of founding a family. I see ten thousand pounds within my grasp. The inhuman monster positively dangles it before me, and then, through no fault of mine--I repeat, through no fault of mine--it is snatched away.

MAY: [caressing him] Never mind, George. You're doing splendidly in your profession, you know you are, and you'll soon have got a large practice together, and made ten thousand pounds all of your own. Never mind.

GEORGE: But I do mind. I will mind. I won't be robbed. I absolutely decline to be jockeyed out of a large sum of money on a mere--a mere--a mere quibble of physiology. The idea is revolting to my legal intellect. Something must be done, and done quickly.

MAY: I'm afraid it's a little late, George.

GEORGE: Rot! We must think of something--instantly. Uncle Francis is certain to call tonight. I wish he lived in the next hemisphere instead of in the next street; that would give us a chance. May, you must help me; I rely on you.

MAY: But really, George, I don't see--

GEORGE: I shall be sure to think of some scheme in a minute or two. [Re-enter Helen.] Hush! I shan't say anything to her.... Well, sweet sister-in-law.

HELEN: [delightedly to May] That darling is perfectly marvellous. Nurse brought her up to the light just now, and she blinked her eyes like anything.

MAY: [with equal delight and astonishment] No! Just fancy, George!

GEORGE: Yes. Imagine the intelligence involved in that apparently simple act. That's what you call "taking notice," I suppose?

HELEN: The little pet blinked her ridiculous little eyes several times.

GEORGE: About how many times?

HELEN: [after looking at him] I daresay you think you're very funny, George....

MAY: [instinctively coming to the rescue of the sex] George, don't be silly. You've no notion of good taste.

GEORGE: Well, she called my daughter's eyes ridiculous. I don't think that was quite in the best taste, especially after an acquaintance of only three hours.

HELEN: [to George] Dear Ada is awake now, and she did say she would like to see you for a minute, but I doubt whether in your present mood-- [George is at the door in a second.] George! [Stopping him peremptorily.]


HELEN: [going up to him and putting a hand on his arm entreatingly] Be good to her, George. And mind, you must only stay a minute or two. My dear [to May], you had better go with him. We cannot be too careful. And I will just scribble a line to Ernest. [Sits down to write at table.]

MAY: [to George] Now, papa.

[Exit George and May.]

HELEN: [Reading what she writes] "My love. Just a word to let you know that all is well, and Ada has a little daughter, rather weak and puny, I fear, but we cannot expect all children to be as strong as ours. Ada was very brave, but it is fortunate I came, as no one seemed to have any idea of how to manage. May Foster is very kind-hearted, but so girlish. Shall return Thursday, if I can be spared. Love to the chicks. Don't forget what I told you about going to bed early. With fondest love from your little Nell. P.S. No time for more." [Folding up letter. Enter Francis Gower, with hat and stick.]

FRANCIS: Good evening--er----

HELEN: Ah! Good evening. [Getting up.] I must introduce myself. I am Mrs. Ernest Stanton, George Gower's sister-in-law. You, I feel sure, are Mr. Francis Gower, George's uncle.

FRANCIS: [shaking hands with assiduity] Delighted to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Stanton. You knew me for a Gower at once, then?

HELEN: Yes, you have the unmistakable Gower eyes--wicked eyes--only more so. [They sit down.]

FRANCIS: You flatter me.

HENEL: Flatter you, Mr. Gower? How so? When I see eyes like yours I always say to myself that their owner has ensured the happiness of some innocent and trusting woman--

FRANCIS: I beg pardon--I am not, er----

HELEN: By not marrying her.

FRANCIS: In that sense I may certainly claim to be the benefactor of your sex. When I review in my mind the vast phalanx of charming women whom I have not married, I--

HELEN: [interrupting him drily] Of course you want to know about Ada?

FRANCIS: Yes, I thought I would come round and inquire before sitting down to dinner. I was given to understand that there was an expectation, a surmise, a suspicion that--er----

HELEN: Well, Mr. Gower, I have good news for you. Ada has a daughter.

FRANCIS: A daughter! How delightful! [Smiles to himself with secret joy.] You said a daughter?

HELEN: Yes. Just after three this afternoon. Rather an unusual hour.

FRANCIS: Indeed! Er---- Indeed! I fear I am quite at sea in the minute details of these matters. Are--are mother and child both doing well?

HELEN: Splendidly, splendidly. My sister has behaved admirable.

[During the foregoing conversation Helen has just put her letter in an envelope, and addressed it. She now goes to the mantelpiece and rings bell.]

FRANCIS: And the child -- how did it behave?

HELEN: [smiles cautiously] Oh, well, Mr. Gower, as you say, you are rather at sea in these matters.

FRANCIS: It is so difficult to mould one's inquiries in quite the right form. Now, at funerals, I assure you, I am unimpeachable. I have often been told so. Question of practice, I suppose. It is a most singular thing to me, having regard to the alarming increase in our population, how many funerals there seem to be, and how few births. Perhaps that has not occurred to you, Mrs. Stanton?

HELEN: [after ringing bell again] Indeed not. Quite the opposite, in fact. Did you hear that bell ring?

FRANCIS: Distinctly.

HELEN: That is the fifth time I have rung it, at least. These events upset a household from attic to basement.

FRANCIS: [mildly surprised] So far? Can I be of any assistance to you?

HELEN: Oh, no, thanks. I only want to get this letter posted. If you will excuse me one second. [He rises and opens door for her.]

FRANCIS: Of course George is in high spirits?

HELEN: [going out] Oh, yes. But he conceals his feelings. Men do, you know. They think it's manly. [Exit.]

FRANCIS: Just so. Well, Mother Nature, you with the inscrutable ways-- [sits down] you've saved me ten thousand pounds by this day's work. I reverence you.... You're a bit of the right sort. [Smiling with silent satisfaction.] I've got through safe this time, as it happens. But I must really cure myself of these fits of impulsive generosity. Now if it had been a boy, I suppose George would actually have expected me to fork out that ten thousand, and I suppose like a good-natured ass I should have done so. [The door bursts open, and George and May enter quickly.]

MAY: [to George, as they enter] Isn't she a pretty little thing?

[The two perceive Uncle Francis and stop short.]

GEORGE: Yes, he is. [With a tremendous portentous look at May, pulling himself together.] Hullo, Uncle Francis.

MAY: [with a look at George appealing for instructions] Good evening, Uncle. Rather warm isn't it, for the time of year?

FRANCIS: You look rather warm, my dear May. [Shakes hands.]

GEORGE: Well, what's the news, Uncle? [Shakes hands.] Been to the City?

FRANCIS: No. This is the first time I've been out today. I thought I'd just walk round before dinner to inquire.

GEORGE: To inquire? About what? Oh! Ah! Yes, of course! You mean about Ada. Well, Uncle, I'm glad to say it's all right, isn't it, May?

MAY: Yes, it's absolutely all right.

GEORGE: Ada is doing well, and I am the father of a fine boy.

FRANCIS: [imperturbable] A boy!

GEORGE: Yes. Now, come, Uncle, bear up. I know it must be a blow to you. But, heavens! What's ten thousand pounds to a man of your fortune? Why, it's less than a fiver to me, isn't it, May?

MAY: Yes, George, it is. I think it was noble of you, Uncle, to offer that ten thousand pounds, though the actual parting with it, to a person of your economic mind, cannot fail to be agonising.

GEORGE: Yes, indeed. When I first heard that my child was a boy, I said: "I wish for uncle's sake it had been a girl." Didn't I, May?

MAY: You did, George. You were sitting in that chair, and I stood here, and you said: "I wish for uncle's sake it had been a girl." Those were the very words you used.

GEORGE: [to Francis] My sympathies went out instantly to you, Uncle. You who will have to write me a cheque for ten thousand pounds this very night. Personally, I should prefer to consider your offer cancelled. But I feel convinced that you would never consent to such a course. You are a man of your word. You said you would settle ten thousand pounds upon my child if it was a boy. It is a boy, and you will.

FRANCIS: You're sure it's a boy?

GEORGE: [aside to May] Now what the deuce-- [to Francis] Sure it's a boy! Well, what do you take me for?

FRANCIS: I take you for a father, suffering from some nervous disorder.

GEORGE: You mean I'm a little excited. Well, isn't that natural? You wait till you're a father, Uncle--I bet you it'll make you sit up. But fancy you asking me if I'm sure my own child is a boy!

MAY: Yes, fancy! Uncle, you should be more careful. To a man in George's delicate condition, so recently a father, anything in the nature of a shock might easily bring about the most serious results.

UNCLE: You are right, my dear little girl. Pardon a rough old bachelor not accustomed to the etiquette of paternity. I suppose you haven't yet decided on a name, or names, for this marvellous infant?

GEORGE: [looking at May helplessly] Well, er--

MAY: Dear Ada was saying only just now that at any rate he must be named Francis. Probably his name will be George Francis, but he will always be called Frankie, after you.

FRANCIS: My dear, I am deeply touched by this little mark of consideration.

GEORGE: Yes, Uncle. Of course we aren't the sort of individuals that proclaim their private feelings from the house-tops [Francis walks about and twists his moustache], but we think a great deal of you--a great deal. We look up to you. We admire your notion of the duties and responsibilities of a great-uncle. We, er-- And perhaps you'd like to give me the cheque now, Uncle, and then you won't forget it. [Francis takes no heed. Aside to May.] If we can once get the cheque, he'll never stop it, you know, and we can undeceive him afterwards, and tell him it was a joke and all that sort of thing.

MAY: Er-- [goes up to Francis and puts her hands on his shoulders] You are a dear old thing! [She is just about to kiss him when the door opens and Helen enters.]

GEORGE: [suddenly frantic] Helen, you'd better go upstairs; they've been knocking on the ceiling like anything for the last five minutes. I believe they want something.

HELEN: [quietly] George, you've had too much Whisky. I've just come from dear Ada.

[May has dropped her hands from Francis's shoulders and looks stonily at Helen.]

GEORGE: [calmly desperate] Helen, this is Uncle Francis. You haven't met before, I think.

HELEN: Oh, yes. We met a minute or two ago, and I was telling Mr. Gower what a fine little girl Ada has.

[With a stifled shriek May sinks into a chair. George also sits down, lamentably sighing. Pause, in which only Helen is mystified.]

FRANCIS: Mrs. Stanton, as the head of the Gower family, I feel it my duty to apologize beforehand. You are about to witness what is known as a "scene" -- that is, unless you would prefer to retire.

HELEN: Not in the least, I assure you.

FRANCIS: Not merely a "scene," but a "family scene"; which, I believe, is the most highly developed form of "scene" known to science.

HELEN: Pray, don't mention it. I am quite accustomed-- That is, short of bloodshed, I can stand anything. But I do think bloodshed is horrid. [Sits down with pleasurable anticipation.]

FRANCIS: [nodding suavely in acquiescence] The preliminaries being settled, we may proceed. George, why have you been lying to me?

GEORGE: Lying to you, Uncle?

MAY: Lying, Uncle?

[Suddenly crosses over to Helen and they embrace, Helen sympathetically rising to the height of May's emotion. May then sits down again.]

FRANCIS: I used the word.

GEORGE: [forcing a laugh] Oh, yes. I see what you mean. I see what you mean now. I see--

FRANCIS: What eyesight!

GEORGE: Well, I was just carried away by one of those sudden impulses that one has, you know. That was it, wasn't it, May?

MAY: Yes, George, that must have been it. The sort of thing that comes over you, Uncle, before you know where you are.

FRANCIS: Comes over me?

GEORGE: No, Uncle, not you. You won't understand it, I'm afraid. You're too old. You've got past the age for impulse. It's a disease that comes somewhere between measles and gout. It only affects the younger generation.

FRANCIS: [showing perhaps the slightest passing trace of heat] I'm too old, am I? I belong to the older generation, I suppose. [with terrible cold sarcasm] Toothless gums, palsied limbs, doddering idiot, and so on. [Smiling calmly again, but distinctly very angry beneath the Arctic smile.] If you look as well as me at forty-two, sir, you'll be lucky--damned lucky.

HELEN: [half to herself, enjoying it] As Ernest often says, the band is beginning to play. I seem to hear the strains in the distance.

GEORGE: [getting up] Forty-two!... Uncle!

MAY: [with shocked surprise] Forty-two!

FRANCIS: Sit down, sir.

GEORGE: [sitting down] Well--you called me a liar, but it occurs to me I'm not the only--

FRANCIS: Yes, I do call you a liar--a liar from the basest, the most mercenary motives. You told me your child was a boy.

GEORGE: Tut, tut. A slip of the tongue. You exaggerate trifles. Besides, for anything I knew, my child was a boy. I admit I had been told it was a girl; but you know what women are, Uncle, especially at these times--absolutely unreliable. I was merely, as it were, hoping for the best.

FRANCIS: Have you not just returned from viewing the body?

MAY: [musingly] Now we're at an inquest.

GEORGE: I saw a kind of vermilion blob, surrounded by woolen fabrics, and I was given to understand that what I beheld was a human nose. But before I could satisfy myself even on that minor point I was told to go, as Ada mustn't be excited.

HELEN: I hope you'll all acquit me of any desire to take part in this scene; but do I gather, Mr. Gower, that George has attempted to deceive you as to the--er--sex of his--er--offspring?

FRANCIS: You do gather, Mrs. Stanton; you emphatically do gather.

HELEN: George, I'm surprised at you; I really am. To think that your poor dear wife should have gone through what she has gone through this day--and you not satisfied! George, I blush for you ... Then you were ashamed of your daughter. You wanted a son: a son that you could train up in your own sinful habits of blasphemy, self-indulgence, and deceit! All I can say is, I'm glad, profoundly glad, that it is a girl.

FRANCIS: Mrs. Stanton, so am I. You have a truly noble mind.

HELEN: [continuing to George] What could be the object of such a childish deception? Even you must have foreseen that it couldn't last; that there must come a time when the dreadful secret would reach your good, kind uncle's ears.

FRANCIS: I will tell you his object, Mrs. Stanton. As you may possibly have heard, I am an industrious and painstaking person. I work hard and live plainly, and by the exercise of those gifts which heaven has been pleased to grant me, I have accumulated a fortune--some would call it a large fortune; I merely call it a fortune. I daresay I am worth a hundred thousand pounds. Now you might imagine that, possessing this and a clear conscience, I am happy. But there is another and darker side to the picture which I am endeavouring to paint, Mrs. Stanton. I am cursed, continually cursed, in spite of what George is pleased to consider my advanced age, with an impulse--the impulse of unrestrained generosity. [George and May exchange a look heavy with meaning.] Acting under this impulse, about six months ago, when George imparted to me the information that--er--he, that Ada--when, I say, George, imparted to me the information, I said: "George, if your child is a boy, I will settle ten thousand on him." You see boys are so helpless. A boy can't marry a rich husband; can't make his own clothes; can't, if the worst comes to the worst, go out as mother's help--that is why I said, "if it is a boy I will settle ten thousand pounds on your child." I was under no obligation to make the offer. I acted more from impulse, the impulse of absurd generosity. And how does George repay me? By lying to me, and, what is worse, getting his sister to lie to me. In order to obtain a paltry ten thousand pounds he is willing to stain his honour with a lie. Bah! You, Mrs. Stanton, with characteristic insight and common-sense, have at once put your finger on the most despicable aspect of this painful affair. The lie was useless, futile, silly. [A slight pause ensues after this damning indictment.]

HELEN: George, did your wife know of your uncle's offer?

GEORGE: No, I kept it from her. I thought it would worry her.

MAY: That's perfectly true, Helen. He said so to me himself.

HELEN: I do not approve of secrets between husband and wife. It would have been better if you had told dear Ada.

GEORGE: But what difference could it have made? Uncle only made the offer--

HELEN: One never knows ... Ah! George!

FRANCIS: [suddenly to May] As for you, May, you have pained me beyond expression.

HELEN: [interrupting with womanly tact] Now as I have been dragged into this little--shall I say "difficulty?"--let me end it for you. I always think it is such a pity to allow a quarrel to grow; one should stamp it out in the bud. George--and you, May--you must beg your uncle's pardon. I am sure he will grant it.

FRANCIS: [with Christian resignation] Willingly.

GEORGE: Oh, very well then, if there is to be such a fuss about a mere nothing, a momentary forgetfulness, excusable I should have thought in a man suffering the first pangs of fatherhood, I beg pardon. I apologise. I grovel.

MAY: If uncle can take any pleasure in the self-abasement of a fellow-creature, and that fellow-creature a woman, I also grovel.

HELEN: [brightly] There, there. That's all right. Shake hands. [They shake hands with mutual forgiveness.] There! It's all done with and forgotten. A little tact, I have invariably found, is all that is necessary in these affairs, and I'm sure I'm very glad to have been of assistance. And now, Uncle Francis--I may call you uncle?--you will write out the cheque.

FRANCIS: The cheque?

HELEN: [calmly] The cheque for ten thousand pounds.

FRANCIS: [almost staggered, yet still imperturbable] The cheque for ten thou----! [Stops.]

HELEN: You surely are not going to withhold it--especially after George and May have apologised so prettily. You surely aren't going to cast a slur, as it were, upon my niece, and my poor dear sister who has behaved so splendidly today!

GEORGE: [suddenly tumbling to the game] You surely aren't going to--

MAY: My dear uncle, you surely aren't going to--

FRANCIS: [after a pause] George, is your child a boy or is it not?

GEORGE: I'm informed that he isn't--that she isn't.

FRANCIS: Well, then, upon what possible ground can you claim my ten thousand pounds? Allow me to remark that I have not the slightest intention of parting with it.

HELEN: Mr. Gower, I am deeply disappointed in you. Common humanity alone-- [Breaks off.]

MAY: Uncle, you have pained me beyond expression. [Both the women begin to cry softly.]

GEORGE: [looking to heaven] My poor wife and innocent babe!

HELEN: Great wealth may be to its owner a blessing or a curse. Alas! I fear it is too often the latter. It hardens the heart, blunts the finer susceptibilities, and transforms into a fiend what under more favourable circumstances might have been a human being. I have noticed the same phenomena given in my own children when Ernest gives them sixpence.

FRANCIS: [striving after dignity without self-consciousness] By Jove! It's eight o'clock. I shall be late for dinner.

HELEN: Yes, that's it. Go--go--and consume dainties out of season, and drink expensive wines, while your own flesh-and-blood eat the bread of sorrow. Centre all your thoughts on yourself. Shut your eyes to the grief and suffering which surround you. Think only of the carnal appetite. There is the rich man all over!

MAY: Trample on us. Drag the Juggernaut of your gold across our defenceless bodies. What is the shriek of pain, the moan of anguish to you, so long as your millions increase and multiply.

GEORGE: Now, Helen, you see my uncle, my so-called uncle, in his true colours!

[Francis gazes with longing at the door.]

Helen: I do, George. I do, and I cannot bear the sight. I will go to my poor sister who is to be robbed of ten thousand pounds for a mere--a mere indiscretion. I must try to comfort her as best I can. It will be a fearful shock to the poor thing. It might kill her, but of course she must be told.

GEORGE: True, the news may kill her, but, as you say, she must be told.

HELEN: I will do my best to comfort her--I cannot say more. We must hope for the best.

GEORGE: Ah! Her you may comfort, but who shall pour balm into the wound of my defenceless child, whose career is blasted, so to speak, before it has cut its first tooth?

HELEN: You may well ask, George. But you ask in vain. Wealth has no ear for the wail of an infant. Wealth is preoccupied with its dinner.

MAY: [appealingly] Uncle, are you quite, quite determined?

FRANCIS: [coughing] Yes, May, I fear I am. And I insist on being allowed to depart.

ALL THREE: Oh, go, go. Do not let us keep you from your repast.

FRANCIS: [moving to door] Possibly--I say possibly--I may repeat my offer, if at some future time you, George--that is, Ada, should have a boy. I have noticed that some parents have large families--families in which both sexes are represented. If so--

HELEN: Alas! a frail hope, a hope probably delusive! Our dear curate at Ealing has nine daughters ...

GEORGE: [with cold politeness] I thank you, Uncle Francis, but I have no expectation of being able to avail myself of your offer. Helen, we must resign ourselves.

HELEN: We must.

MAY: Yes, yes.

HELEN: But do not let us bear spite; Mr. Gower, we freely forgive you. Personally I shall pray for you.

MAY: Yes, Uncle, we feel it our duty to forgive you, and dear Helen will pray for you.

HELEN: [showing her forgiveness, and with a new idea in her head] Before leaving, Mr. Gower, you must really come upstairs and see the baby. She's a charming little creature. [Aside to George while Francis is collecting his hat and stick.] If we could get him upstairs-- [George comprehends that in the presence of maternity and infancy, his uncle may be less obdurate.]

FRANCIS: [edging towards the door] I do not doubt it, but I would really prefer to be excused.

HELEN: But Ada said to me specially that you were to go up. She wants you dreadfully to see her baby, her first-born. You must feel how heavy the little dear is.

FRANCIS: I shall be charmed to -- when it is a little bigger.

MAY: Surely you will not disappoint dear Ada! Surely you don't bear malice!

FRANCIS: I would rather ...

GEORGE: [taking him by the arm] Come along, Uncle, we'll all go.

HELEN: Yes, we'll accompany you. You needn't be afraid.

FRANCIS: [for the first time showing signs of losing his equanimity; faintly] Not tonight. Some other time.

GEORGE: Oh, come on!

FRANCIS: [holding back with all his strength] George, I will not. The two great rules of my life are never to enter a sick-room, and never to handle babies. And you ask me to break them both at once.

HELEN: Oh, stuff!

MAY: The man's shy, actually. Make him come, George.

FRANCIS: [appealingly] No, no, George, I entreat. I once handled a baby.


FRANCIS: I dropped it! [Consternation.]

MAY: Did it die?

FRANCIS: No, I have sometimes wished it had.

GEORGE: Who was it?

FRANCIS: It was you, George, and your mother fainted.

GEORGE: Oh! You dropped me, did you? Was I injured for life, maimed, crippled?

FRANCIS: Happily not.

GEORGE: I jolly good thing for you. I'll teach you to drop me and make my mother faint. Come on now!

FRANCIS: Excuse me, I pray you to excuse me. [To himself.] I'd give a good deal to be out of this.

HELEN: [solemnly] How much would you give?

MAY: Would you give a lot?

GEORGE: Would you give ten thousand pounds? [Almost shaking him. Dramatic pause.]

FRANCIS: [faintly, but quite self-possessed] I feel it coming.

HELEN: What?

FRANCIS: It. My impulse of extravagant generosity, my terrible charitableness. [He makes an inarticulate noise.] There! There!

MAY: Perhaps pen and ink would assuage the agony.

FRANCIS: Perhaps.

[They lead him to the table. He sits down and pulls cheque book out of his pocket. May hands him the pen. He begins to write.]

HELEN: [reading over his shoulder] "Pay George Gower ten thousand pounds." ... Now the signature.

FRANCIS: [pausing on the verge of the signature] Understand! I don't have to see that baby till it's six months old, and I don't have to handle it till it's a year -- no, two years old.

[George nods, all smiles. Francis signs with a flourish. Tears cheque out of book, and hands it to May. May hands it to George, who receives it in ecstatic silence. Francis heaves a profound sigh.]


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