One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by Colin Campbell Clements

The following one-act play is reprinted from Ten Minute Plays. Ed. Pierre Loving. New York: Brentano's, 1923. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.


A Certain Lady of Quality
A British Officer, late of the Indian Army

[A secluded nook off the ballroom of a London house. Almost hidden by palm trees is a long comfortable divan piled with colored cushions. The nook in question is the sort of hide-and-seek place one has around one's house for young lovers. How Lady A--for she is something past sixty, ever came to be in the place, is more than we can understand. But there she is, just entering from the back and walking toward the divan when the curtain rises. Perhaps Cupid--oh no, the idea is preposterous, for, as I said before, Lady A--is past sixty (of course she doesn't look it--no woman ever does), and besides, she's dreadfully--er--Victorian.]A British Officer, late of the Indian Army

SHE: [Sinking down into the cushions on the divan she leans back and closes her eyes.] Oh, dear. Oh, dear me! How things have changed. [She's thinking of the debutantes with their absurd coiffures, their ridiculous gowns, their outrageous manners and their preposterous way of dancing.] How things have changed! I should never have believed it possible!

[An immaculately groomed old gentleman in uniform comes stumbling toward the divan.]

HE: Rot ... silly rot ... idiots! What is the world coming-- [He sees the lady.] Oh, I beg your pardon. I beg your pardon. I thought I was quite alone.

SHE: You were referring to the dancing?

HE: Quite right, quite right. My word, it's preposterous, isn't it?

SHE: [Raising her eyebrows] You mean so unconventional?

HE: That's a--hardly the word for it. [He begins nervously to search for his eyeglass.] Hardly the word for it.

SHE: These coming-out parties are not what they used to be when--

HE: Coming out--coming out; my word, nobody seems to be in these days!

SHE: [Who is slow at seeing jokes] The young ladies, I mean--the young ladies.

HE: [Who has found his eyeglass, and by a series of fantastic muscular contractions succeeds in fixing it firmly in his right eye] Exactly, exactly! Yes, the young ladies. 'Pon my word, there doesn't seem to be much left for them to come out of. Egad, they seem to be all arms and legs--ahem--limbs.

SHE: Won't you sit down, Colonel?

HE: [Petulantly] Genral, Madam. General.

SHE: [Lifting her lorgnette] General--pardon my mistake. Oh, yes, we were speaking of the dancing. You see the world moves so fast nowadays, and I suppose the dances must keep up with the world.

HE: The world--running away with itself!

SHE: [Toying with her white feather fan; when she speaks there is just the slightest quiver in her voice] It was different when we were young, but we must be tolerant. We are old people now.

HE: [The eyeglass snaps from his eye] Old? I beg your pardon! Not old, Madam, not really old. Middle-aged, perhaps, yes, middle-aged--but not old.

SHE: [Looking up out of the corners of her eyes which twinkle kindly] Yes, that's it, middle-aged.

HE: [Moving over to the divan, and, with some difficulty, sitting down; he rubs his knee cautiously. From somewhere behind the palms comes the din of a modern, ultra-modern "Jazz" orchestra] There goes that unspeakable music again, that infernal racket! It's like the tom-toms one hears in Africa! Much worse, in fact. Awful! [He pauses] Yes, I dare say you are right, quite right; times do change. But we seem to be going backward rather than forward. But we must accept the facts.

SHE: [With a sigh] Unfortunately.

HE: I had hoped-- [There is a crash in the music] I had hoped, when I accepted the invitation for this ball tonight, that I would find something--something to remind me, even remotely, of my youth, but 'pon my word, they've even done over the house!

SHE: [Leaning forward] Oh! You have been here before? May I ask--

HE: Yes, yes; done over the house! And in this horrible modern way, too!

SHE: No--you see, I know this house quite well. I believe nothing has been changed, nothing.

HE: Nothing changed? Really? Well, it seems changed; yes, it seems changed. Perhaps it is I who have--er--changed. [He is looking for his eyeglass again] Perhaps it is I who have changed.

SHE: [Turning suddenly] Perhaps; you know when one grows old--

HE: [Turning suddenly] Old, Madam, old?

SHE: I should say, middle-aged; when one reaches--

HE: Middle-aged! Why, I'm just in the prime of my life ... just in the prime! Don't feel a day over twenty, not a day. [He slaps his knee, and immediately wishes he hadn't. Confidentially.] Why, at the War Office, they still call me "Richard."

SHE: [In a whisper] Richard?

HE: [Good-naturedly] Yes. And at the East Indian United Service they call me--they call me "Dick"! Not to my face, mind you. But they do call me "Dick."

SHE: [She has turned and is looking up into his face] Richard? East Indian United Service Club? May I ask--

HE: Yes, yes, that's it. [He chuckles.] That's it! So you see I'm not so old, Madam. [His chest expands perceptibly.] Of course, I have accomplished a great deal during the short time I have been in Her Maj-- [He coughs nervously] that is, His Majesty's service. It's forty-one years ago tomorrow that I went out, and I've seen service, my word, for a young chap, I have seen service!

SHE: Forty-one years ... forty-one years ago?

HE: Yes, yes, quite right. And, as I was saying, I had hoped to find something of my youth here, some of the old corners and nooks and faces. [He pauses for a moment and looks up at the ceiling.] Some of the old familiar faces. One in particular.

SHE: [Stretching out her hand] Then you--

HE: Oh, dear, yes, very much so. I suppose every youngster is--until he gets sense. Oh, I was very much in love at the time, foolishly so. Couldn't live without her, and all that sort of thing. She was a snappy little thing ... clever, pretty, very pretty, as I remember--blue eyes and golden hair--that sort of girl.

SHE: [Nervously toying with her fan] And you--you quite forgot her when you went away?

HE: [Looking up quickly] Yes, yes ... I quite forgot her, quite forgot her. Life in the service is strenuous, you know. Besides, there's hunting, polo, and that sort of thing.

SHE: [In a low whisper] And--and married someone else?

HE: [Exploding] Never! Oh, I beg your pardon. [He relaxes again] No -- no, I never married. Hadn't the time, matter of fact.

SHE: And--and the young lady?

HE: [Shrugging his shoulders] I dare say she is the mother of a large family now. Oh, dear me, how times do change. As I was saying, I was very much in love with her, at the time--at the time, you understand. But the family--her family, you understand, rather objected to me, so I--I broke off the whole affair, joined the Indian service [He leans far back and takes a deep breath] --and I've been quite content, quite.

SHE: Yes? And you--you haven't tried to see--the--young lady since you returned to England?

HE: See her? See her? Oh, dear, no. It might be--er--rather, rather embarrassing for both of us. [He closes his eyes] You see, we were practically engaged at the time. That is, I hadn't come right down to asking, but you know how some things are understood, so to speak.

SHE: [Quickly] But you went away and left--

HE: Not exactly left her; let me see, let me see, as I recall it, I believe I did ask her to marry me.

SHE: And she refused?

HE: Let me see, did she refuse? [He taps his head absent-mindedly] Did she refuse? Ah, now I remember! She said we would have to think it all over very carefully. Yes, that's it, her very words, "very carefully"! I remember how she wrinkled up her little snub nose and--

SHE: [Throwing back her head and staring coldly at the man beside her] Sir, that is--

HE: [Good-naturedly] Yes, yes, her little snub nose. [He looks up suddenly.] Oh, mind you, it was a nice little nose!

SHE: And did you think it over carefully, "very carefully"?

HE: Not at all! I was a bit of a wild dog in those days, you know ... like most young men. My pride was hurt. [He chuckles softly] I was a proud young fellow ... like most young men, you understand. Of course I expected her to fall in my arms--and live there happily ever after--that is, not in my arms, you know, but--

SHE: As your wife. I understand.

HE: As my wife? Oh, yes, yes.

SHE: You were a romantic youth.

HE: Very, very--exceedingly so. I believe I must have been reading Disraeli's novels at the time. Rubbish!

SHE: But you, you--quite lost all trace of the--young lady?

HE: Quite. [He pauses a moment] Oh, I was a conceited young ass.... Like most young men, you know. Wouldn't have written for worlds! Several years afterward I read in the Times that Ann--

SHE: [Turning away quickly] Ann?

HE: Yes, Ann, Ann. Pretty name, isn't it? I was always fond of the name. As I was saying, several years afterward, I read in the Times that she had gone with her father to Florence; since then--nothing.

SHE: And so your romance ended?

HE: It will never--yes, yes, quite so. It ended.

SHE: [After a long pause] You never married?

HE: No, hadn't the time, always busy. Oh, I did think of it now and then, not often, mind you, but now and then. Life in the service does get lonely at times, when the hunting season is off, especially.

SHE: Oh--

HE: But I don't mind saying that a man should get married. Yes, indeed ... yes, indeed. My word, I did need some one to take care of me, some one to--

SHE: You've outgrown that need?

HE: [Looking up suspiciously] Yes, quite, oh, quite--my man is vary capable. Quite. [The stillness is broken by harsh laughter and the sound of crashing, ear-splitting music.] There goes that infernal music again.

SHE: Why, it's a waltz. [They both sit in silence listening to the music; she quickly brushes a tear from her cheek.] Yes--a waltz. Ah, what happy days those were! Music brings back so many memories. And the young people are happy. Ah, forty-two years ago I, too, could dance and laugh as they, but--

HE: [Fumbling for his eyeglasses] You--really?

SHE: Yes--in this very house, forty-two years ago.

HE: [Through his glass he gazes at the lady next to him.] Forty-two years ago; 'pon my word, so long ago as that?

SHE: Is it so long ago?

HE: Forty-two years, forty-two years-- [He jerks back his head suddenly.] I say, we must have known each other--then.

SHE: Perhaps--perhaps.

HE: Do you know, I believe I didn't catch your name. Awfully stupid of me--awfully. I have the pleasure of--

SHE: Yes, perhaps we did know each other then, and again, perhaps we didn't.

HE: Quite right. And--you've lived in England ever since?

SHE: No, after you-- [She coughs.] That is, I've lived out of England a great deal. I have a small villa near Florence.

HE: Have you really? Delightful place, Florence.

SHE: Yes, though a bit lonely at times.

HE: Is it really? You know, I had always thought of it as quite gay. That only goes to show how mistaken one can be.

SHE: [Her thoughts far away] Yes ... yes.

HE: But--but I suppose you have your children about you, and all that sort of thing.

SHE: No, I never married.

HE: That's a bit unusual, isn't it?

SHE: [Without looking up] Is it?

HE: [Sliding away to the farthest end of the divan] And, I suppose you never will?

SHE: No ... no.

HE: [Looking up at her through half-closed eyes] You know-- [There is a crash in the music.] There goes that infernal music again!

SHE: Yes. Perhaps we had better join the company, Colonel--er--General Farrington.

HE: [Puzzled] General Sir Richard Farrington.

SHE: Oh, I beg your pardon!

HE: And may I have the pleasure of knowing to whom I am indebted for a very pleasant half-hour--may I have the pleasure of knowing to whom I have been speaking?

SHE: [After a rather awkward pause] Why--yes--I am Lady Ann Trevers.

HE: Lady Ann Trevers? [Sir Richard stumbles in trying to get to his feet] Not Lady Ann of--

SHE: Yes, Sir Richard.

HE: 'Pon my word! God bless my soul! Ann Trevers ... Ann Trevers! I might have known you the moment I saw you--but I must admit I don't see so well as I used, that is, not quite so well. Ann Trevers! And to think that after all these years and in this very house--

SHE: Yes, Richard.

HE: [Now trembling with excitement] Ann! You said you never married?

SHE: Never married. No.

HE: 'Pon my word, but I thought--

SHE: You were mistaken. It was you--I loved then.

HE: [Somehow he has got hold of Lady Ann's hand and is, a bit awkwardly, but ardently, pressing it to his lips.] And when you said, "We must think it all over very carefully," you really meant--

SHE: Yes, I really meant--

HE: Now isn't that just like a woman! [He leans far back and scratches his head doubtfully.] Isn't that just like a woman!

SHE: Is it?

[From somewhere a waltz is heard. A great golden moon has risen out of the East and is peeping in at the windows.]

HE: Ah me, what happy days those were.

SHE: What happy days.

HE: Yes ... yes. [He looks up suddenly.] My word, isn't that a waltz they're playing?

SHE: Yes--a waltz.

HE: Ann, will you finish this waltz with me?

SHE: Yes, Richard.

[Lady Ann holds out her hand, he takes it, and draws her to him.]

[It is best to lower the curtain here.]


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