MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: There was no need to hurry through dinner, Agnes, there are plenty of chairs.
[MRS. DORCHESTER follows MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER. She is a sweet placid-faced woman with white hair, not marcelled, and the rosy complexion of one who has lived without hurry on a country estate. She wears eye-glasses; she is gowned in rich gold silk and is rather too overladen with old-fashioned jewelry, ear-rings, bracelets, pendants, rings, mostly amber, gold and black onyx. She carries a capacious bag of black and gold brocade which contains her knitting and which she begins to pull out as soon as she is comfortably seated. The ball of wool and the baby sock she is knitting are soft blue.]
MRS. DORCHESTER: We missed out chance last night because you lingered over your coffee.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Dominatingly) I always linger over my coffee. I always did with Thomas when he was alive. Our family always has lingered over the coffee.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Mildly) In another moment there would not have been a chair vacant. Which one do you prefer?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Put one aside for Mrs. Blanchard. I nodded to her in this direction as we came out of the dining-room.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Sits) She will like this corner. We can see every one who crosses the lobby.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Using her lorgnette) How many sights and how many frights shall we see tonight? Really, Agnes, I wish you would give up wearing your old-fashioned onyx and amber. Why don't you turn in all that junk and get something new and fashionable? (Sits.)
MRS. DORCHESTER: Oh, I've never had any desire to buy jewelry since my husband died.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But that was ages ago. I've had all my diamonds reset since Thomas went. I had my wedding ring melted and molded again into an orange wreath.
MRS. DORCHESTER: There's the young bride who arrived today.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Where?
MRS. DORCHESTER: Over there near the fountain in a very low gown.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I don't see her.
MRS. DORCHESTER: She moved behind the column.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I can't see her. Why didn't you tell me before the column got in the way?
MRS. DORCHESTER: If you were not so vain, Phoebe, you would wear decent glasses like mine.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Indeed, I can see perfectly well.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Well, I don't blame you for using your lorgnette. It does add distinction to your Payne-Dexter manner.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Amused) What! Are you still impressed by my manner?
MRS. DORCHESTER: I have been for fifty years--dear me, Phoebe, is it really fifty years ago since you and I were débutantes?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Looking about carefully) Shhh! Don't let the hotel know I'm seventy.
MRS. DORCHESTER: No one guesses it.
MRS. PAYNE DEXTER: I certainly don't feel it, but let me tell you, these young débutantes of today with their supercilious airs, their sophisticated conversation, their smoking in public places, are not going to crowd me back into a grandmother's corner. No! I shall live another twenty years at least, if only to see these young things grow into the troubles of married life, and it will please me.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Why have you such animosity toward the débutantes? You terrorize them. Everywhere they side-step for you. In elevators, corridors, in the ballroom, on the beach, they put themselves out to be deferential to you. It is "Good morning, Mrs. Payne-Dexter," "Good afternoon, Mrs. Payne-Dexter," "Good evening, Mrs. Payne-Dexter," but they never see me, even though we have been here since the opening of the season.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: It is because you don't create the atmosphere which demands their attention. I am putting on all the Payne-Dexter airs I can think of to terrorize them: I want to make the débutantes and their smart young men side-step for me. Their youth and prettiness is no longer mine, but I hold over them the whip hand. I am a dowager, a member of the society that once ruled New York, and does still to a certain extent and they shall bow to me as long as I inhale one breath of life!
MRS. DORCHESTER: I do believe you are jealous of the present generation.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I am, I am fiercely jealous.
MRS. DORCHESTER: But we have had our own day, Phoebe, it is their turn. It is our time to sit back and give them a chance.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Agnes, you have kept your health living on your estate in Long Island, but you have watched the inevitable drying up of flowers and leaves in autumn and you have followed what seems to you the inevitable progress of autumn into winter--well, my hair may be white as snow, but my blood is still red!
MRS. DORCHESTER: Your vitality is a marvel to every one. Your club work, civic and social leadership make even the doctors amazed at you.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: The doctors are my worst enemies. They tell me I must not eat this, I must not do that. They tell me I am getting old, that I must rest. I do not wish to rest, I simply won't grow old. When one has been a leader, one can not let younger women usurp one's position.
MRS. DORCHESTER: You still have your leadership.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I still have it because I will have it, because I will not let it go, but I have to strive harder for it every year, every year I must grow more imperious, more dominating, more terrorizing to hold supremacy over this new independent generation. (Looks off left.) There is that little presumptuous May Whigham. She is eighteen and so rude I should like to spank her.
MRS. DORCHESTER: They all fear you, Phoebe.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (With grim humor) I hope so. I shall not be pushed into a corner as long as I still draw one breath of life!
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Looking off right) Good evening, Mrs. Blanchard.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: We have kept a chair for you.
[MRS. BLANCHARD enters upstage from audience. She is thin, a trifle bent with age and needs a walking cane. It is gold-topped and suspended on it is a fan of lavender plumes, and a gold mesh bag. In her left hand she carries a book. She is exquisitely gowned in light blue chiffon and rare old lace. Her face is like a cameo, scarcely a wrinkle in it, and her smile is illuminatingly young. She wears a diamond necklace but no rings.]
MRS. BLANCHARD: Good evening, Mrs. Payne-Dexter, Mrs. Dorchester.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Helping Mrs. Blanchard) Sit down, Mrs. Blanchard.
MRS. BLANCHARD: No, thank you, do not help me. I am about to throw it away.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Throw your cane away?
MRS. BLANCHARD: (With a light in her eyes) Yes, I am not going to need it in a week or so.
MRS. DORCHESTER: I heard of a woman the other day who dispensed with her cane.
MRS. BLANCHARD: Who was it?
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Nods off right) That golf champion, what's her name, she's over there--the one with the burnt V on her chest--she told me all about a case, but, dear me, I never can remember names.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I shall have to ask her about it.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Are you getting stronger Mrs. Blanchard?
MRS. BLANCHARD: I must get stronger. I am tired of depending upon a cane. Everywhere I go people are putting themselves out to be polite to me. Men help me, women send their men to help me, chauffeurs help me, bell-boys help me, waiters help me, débutantes help me--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Débutantes! I can scarcely believe it!
MRS. BLANCHARD: The débutantes hop around me like so many sand-flies--all of them wanting to help me walk. I feel like swatting them with this (shakes cane). Their politeness to my infirmity is an insult. If they would only be rude!
MRS. DORCHESTER: Mrs. Payne-Dexter was just complaining that they were too rude.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Rude! They are!
MRS. BLANCHARD: If they are rude to you it is a compliment. They do not look upon you as old and decrepid. I resent their solicitude. In a day or two I shall throw this old thing away! (She tosses the cane aside.)
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Mrs. Blanchard!
MRS. BLANCHARD: It is no idle threat, I mean it!
MRS. DORCHESTER: But you told me you had used it fifteen years.
MRS. BLANCHARD: So I have, and it is old enough to throw away. It is the oldest leg I have and it is going to be thrown away.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Oldest?
MRS. BLANCHARD: What are you doubting?
MRS. DORCHESTER: My dear Mrs. Blanchard, you just said your cane is the oldest leg you have--
MRS. BLANCHARD: So it is.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Humorously) Mrs. Dorchester would like to know just exactly how old the others are.
MRS. BLANCHARD: The others are just exactly not more than nine months!
MRS. DORCHESTER: Nine months!
MRS. BLANCHARD: Do you think I should say ninety years?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Isn't it a little nearer to the truth?
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Triumphantly) But it is not the truth! The wonderful truth is that my legs are not seventy-one years old, they are not more than nine months old. I have been reading an amazing book.
[She holds the book up.]
MRS. DORCHESTER: What is it?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Using lorgnette) Truth and Youth.
MRS. BLANCHARD: This book says that every cell in our body is completely new every nine months.
MRS. DORCHESTER: I heard about that. My daughter was reading a book about that, I forget what it was called.
MRS. BLANCHARD: Each cell reproduces itself according to the impression given to it by our subconscious mind. As we grow old we hold a thought of age and impress our cells with that thought, but if we rid ourselves of the illusion of old age we can remain ever young.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Let me have this book. I would pay a fortune for youth.
MRS. BLANCHARD: We do not have to pay for youth. We just have to think it and be it. It is very simple they say, when you have faith.
MRS. DORCHESTER: What was that book my daughter was reading--dear, dear, I never can remember names, and titles and numbers!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Too much wool, Agnes, I tell you you are growing old--
MRS. BLANCHARD: She does not look it.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Her mind is one hundred and fifty years old!
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Good-naturedly) Not quite. I have had too many financial matters to attend to since my husband died to let me slip too far behind the times, but I believe in accepting old age with as good a grace as possible.
MRS. BLANCHARD: Rubbish! That is antediluvian! I am just beginning to learn how to live. Do you know I have just obtained my divorce?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Have you divorced Mr. Blanchard, after all these years?
MRS. BLANCHARD: Yes, after all these years. I suppose you know the story of my life. It was nationally commented upon when my daughter married the Duke of Caubreigh.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: My St. Louis friends often mentioned you, that is why I was so interested in meeting you here this season. When my husband was alive he used to hear things at the clubs.
MRS. BLANCHARD: No doubt he did. My husband has been notoriously unfaithful to me. I grieved about it for more than forty years and I never had the sense to get rid of him. Never had the courage until now--but now, it is all as clear as day to me-- If I have been a fool for forty years must I stay a fool forever? No, I kicked over the traces, with my wooden leg--and I am a free woman.
MRS. DORCHESTER: How odd, to think of your wilfully giving up your husband when we widows so wish ours back again.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Did your husband contest it?
MRS. BLANCHARD: My husband was amazed, indignant--he writes me imploring letters. He is old now and ready to settle down. Now, when he is ready to sit before the fireplace and watch me knit, I have played a trick on him--I am not ready to sit before the fireplace and I would rather play roulette than knit. By the way I gambled three hundred dollars away last night.
MRS. DORCHESTER: We left early.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: That is, at midnight.
MRS. DORCHESTER: We rode around a bit before coming in. It was so balmy and I just love to ride in the chairs.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I suppose it was not quite the thing for two lone women to ride around in the moonlight at midnight, but the colored boy said every one does it at Palm Beach.
MRS. DORCHESTER: It was very romantic.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: There is romance in every breeze through the palm trees.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Gaily) I didn't come back to the hotel until morning. I stayed on and played, had breakfast there--came home without a ring on my finger--handed them over as security to a friend who thought it funny to take them--
MRS. DORCHESTER: We missed you on the beach this morning.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I slept until luncheon. I am going back tonight to win my rings again. (She dangles a gold bag stuffed with bills.) Starting with five hundred tonight.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Before you know it you will have gambled a fortune away!
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Laughs) I'm not worrying. I receive an amazingly high alimony. The court figured that I would not live long and that I needed much medical care. Well, I am not paying out any money for medical care and when it comes to having a good time I am making up for forty years! I found only one man in my whole life whom I really loved and he was not my husband. (Hastily) Be shocked if you want to--I am free now and can speak of it.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: What happened?
MRS. BLANCHARD: I have never known what became of him.
MRS. DORCHESTER: I can't imagine what it must be not to love one's husband. I miss mine so!
MRS. BLANCHARD: I had been married only four months when I heard of my husband's infatuation for a married woman in our own set. He had married me only, it seems, to allay suspicion. Of course, I see now that I should have divorced him then and there, but I was very young and it wasn't being done in those days. I those hours of my disillusion a dashing young lieutenant understood my despair and planned to arouse my husband's jealousy and so bring him back to me--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Phoebe, stop fuddling with your door-key. It gets on my nerves.
MRS. BLANCHARD: He succeeded in arousing my husband's jealousy but meanwhile I had fallen in love with the lieutenant--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: And he with you no doubt?
MRS. BLANCHARD: Yes.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Mrs. Blanchard, it is a life-tragedy, but not a line of it shows in your face.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I wouldn't let it show in my face. I harbored a secret thought--a terrible thought that my husband might die, that I might be free to find the other again, that then he should not see an old wrinkled face after he had cherished the memory of my youth.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Think of living like that all these years when you might have had a divorce long ago.
MRS. BLANCHARD: It's humorous in a way, isn't it? That when women like you and Mrs. Dorchester are widowed, I had to put up with a husband who just wouldn't die?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: What became of the lieutenant?
MRS. BLANCHARD: He asked to be transferred to another post. He wanted to go as far away from me as possible--no distance seemed far enough to break the magnetic attraction between us. Finally he was sent as far away as China, and there we lost track of him in the Boxer rebellion.
MRS. DORCHESTER: And you never heard from him again?
MRS. BLANCHARD: No. The Government reported him as missing. No doubt the Chinese took him prisoner. If he died--and I think he must have died--all these years I have imagined that he died--I have felt his spirit near me--guiding me--watching over me--
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Shaking her head) Do you believe he could be near you? I don't believe that my husband is. I sit and knit and think of him, but the beyond seems nothing but void and silence.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Practically) Well, I believe in believing anything that helps you.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Shaking head) I can't get into communication.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Hopefully) Oh! I know Oliver Trent has never forgotten me. If he had lived or escaped, Oliver would have found me. I know Oliver died and that his spirit has been lovingly near me these twenty years!
MRS. DORCHESTER: My husband and I loved each other deeply. That love, it seems to me, should hold us together even after he has gone, but I can't believe that it does.
MRS. BLANCHARD: It does and it will, if you have faith. There is nothing but love--I am beginning to feel it--for a long while I tried to make myself believe it--for a long while I could only think, but now I am beginning to feel it--deep within me to realize it!--and I feel warm all through. Oh, I shall put aside my ancient legs! (She flings the cane aside.)
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Of course, he loved you--I am sure he did.
MRS. DORCHESTER: If he were only alive now that you have your divorce.
MRS. BLANCHARD: So you see my romance is only a shadow--only a thought--there is nothing tangible--I dared keep no letters, not one single token of his--only my thoughts, but those thoughts have kept me from going to pieces all these years.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: And the thoughts have kept your face so young.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I would not let me face change--if by some miracle I should see him again I must be as he remembered me--but I couldn't control my body as well--I seemed to get wearier and wearier of life until I needed a cane to lean on--and then I doubled up on that and here I am--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: And here you are threatening to walk without it.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Brightening) I will too, I will. I only sadden when I begin to think of the past. It's a bad habit. I shall not do it any more. Only if I could be sure he died with me in his heart, I wouldn't mind so much his not being alive. If I knew that all these years it has been he guiding me and not my imagination and self-deception, that he is near me all the time--if I could but know that.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I should certainly continue to believe that he remembered me.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Consolingly) I am sure he did.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Shakes her head) I built my life upon my faith in him--if I should be robbed of this belief in his love for me--I think it would--kill me.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But if you could have proof of his love--
MRS. BLANCHARD: (With shining eyes) Oh! If I could have proof.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Looking off stage) There's that beautiful Mrs. Courtney-Page. I should like to know her better. Shall we invite her to sit with us?
MRS. BLANCHARD: Who is she?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: The white-haired woman in white velvet carrying a black fan. She is just coming out of mourning for her last husband.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Last! How many did she have?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: The manicurist told me she had three--and the clerk in the jewel shop told me only one, they were appraising her pearls--she had such marvelous pearls--I'd love to see her pearls close by--wouldn't you?
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Amused) Oh! yes, do invite her over--I'd like to exchange data about husbands. Is she down her alone?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: They say she came alone--but I've noticed her on the beach with one man, and in a wheel-chair with another--she's alone now though and evidently looking for a place to sit--call her over, Agnes.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Timidly) But I don't know her. Phoebe, you call her.
MRS. BLANCHARD: Don't you know her, Mrs. Payne-Dexter?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I might pretend to. How do you do. (She bows amiably.)
[MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE enters from right. She is white-haired and about sixty, but she has a dash in her manner and her figure is stunning in a white velvet evening gown. She is the type that can be a vampire at any age. The gown has the medieval charm of long sleeves although it is very low at the throat. Her jewels are pearls, ropes of pearls. She carries a black feather fan, a black velvet bag, and a batch of mail among which is a black rimmed letter.]
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: How do you do--You must pardon me, I don't recall the name?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Mrs. Payne Dexter, of New York. Don't tell me, Mrs. Courtney-Page, that you have forgotten me.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: (With poise) Oh! yes--Mrs. Payne-Dexter--a name so well known--we met, I remember, exactly five years ago at the opera. Your box was next to the Carrolls'. We were their guests one evening when my late husband and I were in New York on a wedding trip.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Why, yes, of course, how clever of you to remember. My friends, Mrs. Dorchester, Mrs. Blanchard--
MRS. BLANCHARD: How do you do--won't you sit down?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Yes, thank you. (She sits.) I have noticed you, Mrs. Blanchard. Your cane? (She picks it up and courteously hands it to MRS. BLANCHARD.)
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Courteously taking it as an evidence of courteous consideration) Thank you.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Mrs. Dorchester and I have been spending the season in Palm Beach. Mrs. Dorchester is a native of Long Island.
MRS. BLANCHARD: And I came down from St. Louis and had the good fortune to become acquainted with them, personally. I have always known Mrs. Payne-Dexter by reputation.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Blanchard of St. Louis. The name is familiar--
MRS. BLANCHARD: My daughter married the Duke of Caubreigh--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Oh! yes--yes--but just lately--it seems to me I saw that name lately.
MRS. BLANCHARD: No doubt you did. I am celebrating my divorce!
MRS. DORCHESTER: I think she has a great deal of courage to face the world alone--voluntarily.
MRS. BLANCHARD: It is rejuvenating to feel so marvelously free.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: She is quite right. Why should a woman remain in bondage when there is at every turn a new chance for a better alliance!
MRS. BLANCHARD: Good gracious! Do you believe me capable of marrying again at my age?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Why not? A woman can marry any man she wants.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Mildly) Oh! The man may get the woman he wants, Henry kept insisting until I married him, but I don't think it's the other way round; do you, Phoebe?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Dominating manner) I don't know. I worked very hard for Thomas but I got him.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I haven't any opinion. The one I wanted I met only when it was too late.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: What do you mean by too late?
MRS. BLANCHARD: After I was married to someone else.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: But now you are divorced--
MRS. BLANCHARD: Oh! it's too late now. My romance was over twenty years ago.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Do you really think a woman can marry any man she wants?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: I've proved it. I was engaged three times, married once, once widowed, and now I have another fiancé. Isn't that proof?
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Suavely) You are, if you will pardon my frankness, a very handsome woman, Mrs. Courtney-Page. Such attractions would not require much further effort on your part.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Thank you, but there is a science about attracting love as there is about everything else. There hasn't been a moment in my life when I haven't been in love.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Rather snortingly) That's impossible! There aren't enough people in the world for that!
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: (With real tenderness) Oh! yes there are--as long as you hold the thought of love, you will find those you can love--and as long as you love it will attract it in return.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Where is your home now, Mrs. Courtney-Page.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Chicago, but I was born in San Francisco. I was Emily Tardon.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Emily Tardon! You don't mean it! Are you truly! Why, it just seems yesterday when all the magazines were full of your photographs, the most beautiful débutante on the western coast!
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: They did make a fuss about it when I became engaged to Harlow Bingham--I was only eighteen then. When I look back and think what a brilliant career I might have had with Harlow--well--you know he died--(she sighs)--before we were married--an accident--horse-racing. Poor Harlow, he gave me my first pearls. (She unconsciously plays with a strand of pearls.)
MRS. BLANCHARD: Magnificent pearls!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Using lorgnette) I have scarcely been able to keep my eyes off of them.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: This strand--the shortest and smallest--was given to me by Harlow Bingham upon our engagement. He gave me a solitaire too, but the pearls were a gift of thanks because I had given up the desire to go on the stage to marry him.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Oh, did you want to be an actress?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: I have wanted nothing more all of my life.
MRS. BLANCHARD: You would have made a good one too.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: My family opposed me as all families do.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: They did in those days.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: So I had to give up the idea of acting on the stage. (But it is evident that she has been acting in real life ever since.)
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (In a whisper, looking down right) Look, look, that's the man who tried to flirt with me the other day at the tea dance in the Grove.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Don't you know who that is?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: No.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: That's Beverly Strawn, our best seller novelist.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Gracious! Hide me! He must have been picking me out for the dowager mother-in-law in his next novel--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Did you marry Mr. Courtney-Page after MR.--what's his name died-- Your first fiancé?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: No. I became engaged to Philip Harlow, an Englishman I met in Egypt. He was on his way to South Africa. He had been in diplomatic service in India and had been transferred. He brought me this second strand--the second largest and longest--from India. He went ahead to South Africa to prepare a home intending to come back for me, but he died of fever--and we--were never married.
MRS. BLANCHARD: How thrillingly tragic!
MRS. DORCHESTER: I could not have endured it.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: And the other strands--you have two more--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: This third one was the gift of my husband, Mr. Courtney-Page. I would not let him give them to me until after we were married.
MRS. DORCHESTER: That was a wise precaution. They say pearls mean tears.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: It is surprising that he risked giving you pearls at all.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: He felt he had to because he was jealous of the others--of course, I couldn't throw the others away--they were so beautiful and so costly--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Naturally not.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: So he finally purchased a strand in Vienna--larger and longer than the other.
MRS. BLANCHARD: And then did he die too?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Oh! no, Mr. Courtney-Page was the third man I was engaged to, but the only one I married. He died scarcely a year ago.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Takes some digestive tablets out of her bag and offers them) Will you have a life-preserver? I ate something tonight that didn't quite agree with me. (She takes one.)
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Takes one) Thank you.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Offering) Mrs. Blanchard?
MRS. BLANCHARD: No, thanks, I don't need them any more since I am taking the new diet.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: What is your new diet?
[MRS. DORCHESTER silently offers MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE, who takes one.]
MRS. BLANCHARD: Nuts, fruit, no meat, no bread, no hot vegetables, no coffee, no tea--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Have you stopped eating altogether?
MRS. BLANCHARD: Only fruit and nuts--I feel as light as a feather--in another day I shall walk and throw away this stick!
MRS. DORCHESTER: You said in another week you would throw it away.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Now be careful, don't take risks!
MRS. BLANCHARD: The book says we must not have negatives in our mind. I tell you that if I can have enough faith I shall walk alone!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Oh! the book.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Handing book to MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER) Truth and Youth.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Reading from book at random) "The average man and woman of middle age chooses a comfortable chair and settles down into it with the thought that life is finished and it is necessary to await the end. Women do this more than men. When women see their little children grown to manhood and independent of them, they feel that their use in life is over. Nothing is more untrue. The grandmother is a free--"
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Interrupting as she glances off down left) Just a moment, Phoebe, excuse me, but what did you say was the name of the woman in jet--walking with the aviator--did she fly down with him from New York?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: That's Hilda Dane, one of the Follies. They say she has her skin insured when she's on the beach.
MRS. BLANCHARD: I have never seen her skin. She paints it up with whitewash and her lips are thick with red paint. Yesterday on the beach she wore a lemon colored woolen cape with a big sable collar and every diamond that has ever been given to her.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Is she married to the aviator?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Going back to her book) Don't ask absurd questions, Agnes. "The grandmother is a free woman, she has a new youth. She has the vision of experience with which to experiment for greater wisdom--" Ah, Agnes, you must read this book--it will stir you up--your very mind is getting to be like wool.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Amused) I have always been more domestic than you, Phoebe.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Domestic! Haven't I done my share? Haven't I run a house in New York, a house in Newport, a house in London, apartments in Paris, I even had a palace one season in Venice--no, it is not domesticity that is making you old, it is mental lethargy.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: That is the worst enemy to youth, mental lethargy, I refust to have it!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Mrs. Dorchester doesn't live for herself anymore. When she is at home, she is a slave to her grandchildren, when she is away she can scarcely take time from the wool to look at a coconut grove.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Looking away) Oh, I can knit without looking.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: I am more selfish. I let my children and grandchildren alone. As long as they are not starving, it is no business of mine to live for them. I do not spend my evenings knitting baby socks. I have my opera box, I give dinner parties and entertain distinguished foreign visitors. I have my club committees, my charities, and I am studying art so as to be able to add to my husband's collection of paintings--as a memorial to him--and I am taking up Spanish because I am planning to spend next season in Buenos Aires. But you, Agnes, you make your children dependent upon you--you are always nursing some grandchild through something.
MRS. DORCHESTER: But, when they are ill, I must help them.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: You think you must and they let you think it because they don't want to hurt your feelings by letting you know they don't need you. You take care of a grandchild so its own mother can go and play bridge, you save your son a nurse's bill while he spends the money playing polo at the country club.
MRS. DORCHESTER: But it isn't a happy thought not to be needed.
MRS. BLANCHARD: You were telling us about your pearls, Mrs. Courtney-Page. It is an exquisite pleasure to look at them.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: This fourth strand, the largest and longest, is the gift of my new fiancé. I am down here waiting for time to pass--we shall be married as soon as it seems correct.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Dear me (She looks off down left), there's Mrs. Wallace Morse in another gown--and as usual no petticoat.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Well, I think she does wear one!
MRS. BLANCHARD: Aren't you lucky to find a fiancé again! I am afraid I couldn't bring myself to care for any man as much as I have cared for one in the past.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Nor I.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Hump! Men aren't worth bothering about.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: I was so lost without marriage companionship that when I was in Paris last autumn, I picked out the most eligible man I could find. He is quite old, but very nice and has valuable mines in Australia.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Is he a Frenchman?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: No, an American, but he hasn't been in this country since he was sent to the American Legation in China. He has had an exciting life. He was taken prisoner in the Boxer rebellion and was reported missing for years, but a faithful Chinese servant smuggled him to Australia.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Begins to tremble with premonition--her hands quiver as they clutch her cane) Your fiancé, his name--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Oliver Trent--president of the Australia Mining Company of--
[With a gasp of anguish, MRS. BLANCHARD looses her hold on the cane; it falls unheeded to the floor.]
MRS. BLANCHARD: Oliver Trent--you said Oliver Trent?
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Blandly) Why--wasn't that the name of the man you loved--wasn't that the name, Phoebe?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: The man, Mrs. Blanchard--I don't understand--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Trying to relieve the situation) Mrs. Blanchard had been telling us about a friend of hers who had been lost in the Boxer rebellion. She thought he had died. No doubt it is a consolation to her to know that he still lives.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Wilted and old-looking) No, Mrs. Courtney-Page, I can scarcely bear the fact that he still lives. I have held him in my heart as one dead for twenty years. I have lived on the thought that he loved me. He loved me once, but I know now that men cannot be true. When he went to China he put me out of his mind forever. He has forgotten me--for younger and handsomer women.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Hump! I wouldn't let it worry m. Men are not worth such life-long adoration. You look about and some one else--
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Gently) Perhaps, Mrs. Courtney-Page will give him up, if we tell her what he means to you.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Fiercely) I want my own--not what is cast off--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: (Drawing her chair closer to MRS. BLANCHARD and speaking gently) You want me to give him up? (She fondles the largest strand of pearls reluctantly.) It would be hard for me to do--It wasn't easy to win him. I had to use all the art I have learned in past experiences to get him. He has never been married and is a little afraid--but I won him--if I give him up, are you sure he would remember you?
MRS. BLANCHARD: (In anguish of spirit but under control) No. Do not trouble. I shall have to bear it. I--I feel quite blind--as if I had been struck on the head--but maybe it is just my heart. You see he and I were very much in love, but I was married and he had to go away. He promised not to forget. But he was young and--and maybe I shouldn't have believed him. When I never heard again and the Government reported him missing, every one said he must be dead. That last day before he went, I met him clandestinely in the Park. I cut off a bit of my hair that day. It was golden then, like golden amber he said, and he put it into an amber locket he wore on his watch charm.
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Drops her knitting needles and lets her wool roll to the floor) I remember, I remember, amber locket--from a watch charm--I have it here--I've had it twenty years--made into a bracelet (She takes off bracelet). My son brought it home from the Philippines--it was given to him by a Chinese servant--
MRS. BLANCHARD: (In extreme excitement) The locket--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: A Chinese servant--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Yes, the very one you said rescued him. I remember it all now. How stupid of me not to think of it before, but as Phoebe says, my mind's all wool--that Chinese servant--
MRS. BLANCHARD: Yes--yes--go on!
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Speedily) You know the Boxers stormed the Legation--he fought desperately and valiantly, the Chinese servant described all that--how he was taken prisoner and tortured so he almost lost his mind. At night he raved in delirium. He called a woman's name, but there was no one of that name in the Legation--my son told me but I have such a wretched memory for names--but it wasn't a real name that one could identify--it must have been a nickname--
MRS. BLANCHARD: Was it Dee-dee?
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Pouncingly) Dee-dee, Dee-dee, that's what it was! Oh! my stupid head!
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Pathetically) It meant "dear."
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Lovingly at MRS. DORCHESTER with increasing suspense) Why have you kept this from us all this time?
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Gaining assurance) How could I know my son's story was about Mrs. Blanchard until she mentioned the watch charm?--but now it all comes back to me--at night in delirium he called this name--how he loved this woman--he took the watch charm and opened it and kissed the blonde lock of hair, and he treasured it as nothing else he had. He treasured it so highly that he gave it to his Chinese servant to keep for him--for fear they would rob him of it. They took his money and everything else he had but the servant kept the amber safely--but--but--
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Wrapt attention) But then how did you forget it?
MRS. DORCHESTER: That's just it--I'll tell you how it was--Oh! my stupid memory. Phoebe, stop fiddling with your door key, you distract me-- The amber--the Chinese servant smuggled him into a boat--
MRS. BLANCHARD: Who was smuggled into the boat?
MRS. DORCHESTER: Mr. What's his name--your--
MRS. BLANCHARD: Oliver Trent--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Yes, into the boat--and in the excitement of concealing him behind some kegs--the ship began to move and the Chinese servant had to run to get off and in running he forgot to give up the amber watch charm--and so he kept it--he kept it as a talisman and a few years later when he served my son in the Philippines, he gave it to him as a talisman when my son was very ill with fever--and my son became superstitious about it and had it set into a bracelet for me as my protection--now, I shall give it to you--for it is your talisman, Mrs. Blanchard, a talisman of his undying love.
[MRS. BLANCHARD is incapable of speech, but she takes the bracelet in both hands and raises it to her lips; a light of inspiration comes into her eyes.]
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: And that is why I had such difficulty in making him care for me. He told me about his first love--he spoke of her as Dee-dee and he told me that when he lost the amber--he felt that she had gone out of his life forever--he said that she was married and it was unlawful for him to think of her--but he has never forgotten--he told me he would love her always--and when I tell him of you, Mrs. Blanchard, he will come to you at once, for you have been right--his love has been yours and is yours still. I think you ought to have these pearls.
MRS. BLANCHARD: (Her eyes illumined, her body stronger) Oh! no, thank you--I don't want them--I--I--have this. (She holds the locket in her two hands and rises; forgetting her cane.) Excuse me, ladies, if I go to my room--I--I have had my answer out of the silence--and I'm a little--unstrung.
[She walks out right with great dignity and composure, a grand dame in manner even in her ecstasy and the light in her eyes is a triumph of youth.]
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (Looking after her in awe) Without her cane!
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Don't remind her!
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Sighing) Poor dear--poor dear--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Was that all true what you said, Agnes? I never heard you talk so fast in all your life--and how you suddenly got such memory! You never told me anything about that amber charm and you've worn it forever, seems to me!
MRS. DORCHESTER: Father gave it to me my twenty-first birthday to save a lock of my blonde hair. I risked the chance that mine was a duplicate of hers.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: And all you said was a lie?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: It doesn't matter. We shall make it come true.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But when she finds out that you have deceived her--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: She will never find out. I shall warn him to hide away his amber watch charm.
MRS. DORCHESTER: Does he still wear it?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Yes; and many other charms, from other loves--they say he has been a great beau--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: The outrageous flirt!
MRS. DORCHESTER: Poor dear Mrs. Blanchard. I thought she would die--I was afraid she was dying--I had to say something to bring her to.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But what have you gained by these lies?
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Does she not walk?
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: (With awe) Yes, it is a miracle.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Merely a miracle of the realization of love--
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But it is built on a false belief. He has not been true to her.
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Mrs. Payne-Dexter, I have never questioned the reality of any one's love for me. That which counts is, after all, only that which is in our own hearts. If Mrs. Blanchard is convinced of his love--that is all that is really necessary.
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: But when you marry him--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: I shall not marry him--I shall only keep the pearls--
MRS. DORCHESTER: But if you love him--
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: Well as for that--I always can find someone else--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Gracious, my wool is a mess!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: You'd better give up knitting, Agnes, and turn to story-writing--you've quite surprised me with your sudden brilliance. Bell-boy, you may have these glasses--
MRS. DORCHESTER: Your diamond, platinum lorgnette!
MRS. PAYNE-DEXTER: Hump! Do you think I have to manufacture a love-affair to help me get rid of my glasses?
MRS. DORCHESTER: (Scarcely able to grasp the idea) She walked without her cane!
MRS. COURTNEY-PAGE: (With a sentimental smile) Oh! To stay young, one must love.