In Four Acts.
(Altered from the Novel for Performance on the Stage.)
[ENTERED AT STATIONERS' HALL.]
Published by the Author,
90, Gloucester Place, Portman Square.
All Rights Reserved
PERSONS OF THE DRAMA.
Visitors, Servants, School-children, &c. &c.
Scene: The First Act in Somersetshire. The Second Act in York and its neighbourhood. The Third Act at Aldborough. The Fourth Act in Yorkshire.
PERIOD: The Present Time.
(DATE MARCH 1, 1870.)
SCENE.-- The drawing-room of the late MR. VANSTONE'S house at Combe Raven, in Somersetshire. Entrances at the side, right and left. At the back, in the centre, an entrance to another room, closed by rich curtains which draw aside, and part in the middle. MR. PENDRIL, GEORGE BARTRAM, and MISS GARTH, are discovered seated at a table; MISS GARTH being dressed in deep mourning. MR. PENDRIL sits in the centre, fronting the audience, with his papers before him. GEORGE and MISS GARTH are at opposite sides of the table.
Miss G. (pointing to MR. PENDRIL'S papers). Have you written to Michael Vanstone, Mr. Pendril?
Mr. P. Yes. (He takes up a paper.) Here is a copy of my letter.
Miss G. Have you received Michael Vanstone's answer?
Mr. P. (taking up another paper). By this morning's post. Here is the answer.
Geo. Don't keep us in suspense! Good news or bad?
Mr. P. Bad -- as bad can be.
Miss G. Michael Vanstone keeps the money?
Mr. P. He keeps the money.
Miss G. Poor Norah!
Geo. Poor Magdalen!
(A pause. MISS GARTH and GEORGE look at each other in silent distress.)
Mr. P. (addressing them alternately). George Bartram, Miss Garth, we must look the worst in the face boldly. The law leaves the orphan daughters of Andrew Vanstone at their uncle Michael's mercy. And their uncle Michael's decision has thrown them helpless and homeless on the world.
Geo. Not helpless, while I can work for them.
Miss G. Not homeless, while I am a living woman! One word, Mr. Pendril. Would it melt this man's hard heart if you did more than write to him? Suppose you pleaded with him for his brother's children at a personal interview?
Mr. P. That is the very question which I was about to submit to you. George, I want your advice as well as Miss Garth's. You were poor Andrew Vanstone's trusted friend ----
Miss G. Friend! He might have been more than a friend. He might have been Andrew Vanstone's son-in-law but for Magdalen's infatuated attachment to Francis Clare.
Geo. (gently). Don't blame Magdalen, Miss Garth. I am almost old enough to be her father. (Speaking modestly, without the slightest bitterness.) Francis Clare has every advantage over me. He is young, he is handsome ----
Miss G. He is idle, he is selfish. He has neither head nor heart. Magdalen will live to rue the day when she gave her love to a man who is utterly unworthy of her.
Geo. Let us drop the subject. (To MR. PENDRIL) You said just now you wished to take my advice.
Mr. P. Your advice -- as Andrew Vanstone's friend. And Miss Garth's advice as the governess who has brought up his girls from childhood. I wish to read to both of you my letter to Michael Vanstone, and the answer which he has sent to me in return. If you advise me after that to try the effect of a personal interview with him, I will start to-day by the first train.
Miss G. (rising). Shall I fetch Magdalen?
Mr. P. Where is she?
Miss G. (pointing to the curtains at the back). With her sister in that room.
Mr. P. I thought Norah's sitting-room was up-stairs?
Miss G. We have made a little change in the last two days. The windows of the room in there open on the garden. When Norah is weary of her books and her music, it is a relief to her -- in her helpless condition, poor soul -- to look out at the trees and the flowers.
Mr. P. Can they hear us?
Miss G. Impossible, the curtains are doubled. Why do you ask?
Mr. P. Norah must not hear us. And Magdalen must not come in here.
Geo. Why not? Sooner or later she and her sister must know the truth.
Mr. P. Magdalen must not be present. Remember the stain that rests on the memory of her parents! My letter to Michael Vanstone discloses the miserable secret of his brother's life. Can I read it -- can I read the vile reply that has been sent to me -- in Magdalen's presence? I am sure you agree with me, it is not to be done.
(MISS GARTH and GEORGE assent by a gesture. At the same moment, the curtains are parted in the middle, and a maid-servant appears in the room.)
The Servant (to MISS GARTH): Miss Magdalen's love, ma'am. She has been told that Mr. Pendril is here. Is there any objection to her joining you in this room?
Miss G. Mr. Pendril is engaged for the present. When he is able to attend to Miss Magdalen's wishes I will let her know. (The Servant waits.) Well, is there anything more?
The Servant (handing a visiting-card to MISS GARTH.) The gentleman is waiting outside, ma'am. He wishes to know if there is any answer.
Miss G. (reading the card). Captain Wragge again!
Mr. P. Who is Captain Wragge?
Miss G. A distant relation of poor Mrs. Vanstone. An impudent vagabond who was once in the Militia I believe. He has had the insolence to write to Magdalen offering his condolences, and in the next sentence requesting a temporary loan of fifty pounds to purchase decent mourning. And here he is waiting for an answer! What had we better do?
Mr. P. Take no notice of him. If he attempts to force his way into the house ----
Miss G. Impudent as he is, he will scarcely venture to do that.
Mr. P. If he should venture, refer him to me. (He turns to the Servant waiting at the back.) No answer.
(The maid-servant withdraws, closing the curtains behind her.
Mr. P. (to GEORGE.) Has she closed the curtains again?
Geo. (after looking). Yes.
Mr. P. (to MISS GARTH). You are sure the girls can't hear us?
Miss G. You may read the correspondence without the slightest fear of their hearing us.
Mr. P. (taking up the copy of his letter). From myself to Michael Vanstone; Bolton-Manthorpe, near York. (He reads.) "Sir, -- You have already heard of the sudden death of your younger brother, Mr. Andrew Vanstone, in the late lamentable railway accident. I deeply regret to inform you that the death of Mrs. Vanstone has followed the catastrophe. She was in delicate health at the time, and she sank under the nervous shock occasioned by a too sudden communication of the calamity that had fallen on her. To this sad news, it is my professional duty to add a statement of some importance to yourself. The late Mr. Vanstone has died intestate, and the law makes you, as next-of-kin, sole heir to his property, to the total exclusion of the two daughters whom he has left behind him."
Geo. (to MISS GARTH). I know Michael Vanstone is a rich man. But I fancy my uncle told me his income died with him?
Miss G. You must have misunderstood Admiral Bartram. There is no such excuse for Michael Vanstone as you suppose. His life-interest in the house at Bolton-Manthorpe, and in the handsome income attached to it, is continued to his son after him. (To Mr. PENDRIL). Go on.
Mr. P. (continuing). "The circumstances under which you inherit the money are painful in the last degree. In justice to you and to your brother's children, I must, nevertheless, relate them. Briefly, I am constrained to tell you that the late Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone lived together as man and wife, without being married, from the time of their first meeting to a period of less than a month since. At that time, the death of Mr. Vanstone's lawful wife whom he had married privately, and from whom he had been privately separated more than twenty years -- left him free to make the mother of his children his wife in the sight of the law. Without informing any one, myself included, of what he meant to do, he married her in London last month. I enclose you a copy of the certificate."
Geo. (to MISS GARTH. Is it possible that Michael Vanstone knew nothing of his brother's true position?
Miss G. It is certain that he knew nothing. I, who lived in the same house with them, knew nothing. Is it likely that Andrew's brother -- estranged from him by a family quarrel -- could have been better informed than I was? (To MR. PENDRIL). Well?
Mr. P. (continuing) "Ten days since I received a hurried letter from your late brother, revealing the truth. I enclose a copy of the letter. Like many other people, the late Mr. Vanstone was not aware that a man's marriage invalidates, by law, any previous will that he may have executed. Mr. Vanstone discovered this by accident, in the course of conversation with a friend. The will he had made before his marriage, providing amply for his daughters as well as for their mother, was now waste paper. The instant he became aware of that fact, he wrote to secure an interview with me, proposing to follow his letter to London in the course of a few hours. The train he travelled by was the train that met with the accident. And of the three passengers killed on the spot, your brother was one."
Miss G. Does the man live who could read that and deprive the children of their birthright?
Mr. P. You will soon see. (He resumes reading the letter.) "On receiving the news of Mr. Vanstone's death, I instantly started for Somersetshire. As the widow of a man who had died intestate, Mrs. Vanstone had her legal right to a third of his personal property. The one chance for her daughters was, that she should execute a will, leaving that third divided between them. When I reached the house, Mrs. Vanstone was insensible. She never rallied between that time and the time of her death. The cruel result, in plain words, is this: Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children, and the law leaves them penniless at their uncle's mercy."
Geo. A law that punishes the children for the parents' fault! A mockery of justice!
Mr. P. No! a defence of Virtue
Geo. The Virtue which defends itself by making the innocent suffer for the guilty is, to my mind, Vice in disguise. Go on! Go on!
Mr. P. (continuing) "I have only to add, sir, that of the two young ladies thus sorely and undeservedly afflicted, the elder sister is a bedridden invalid, suffering from a spinal complaint. The younger is a beautiful girl of eighteen. One has been used to all the alleviations, the other to all the luxuries, that wealth can give. Both are now absolutely dependent on your decision. I will not do you the injustice of doubting what that decision will be." (He looks up.) In those words I ended my letter.
Miss G. The answer! Read the answer.
Geo. (looking towards the curtains). One moment! Did I see the curtains move? (He rises, examines the curtains, and returns to his place.) No -- I was mistaken. Let us hear the answer.
Mr. P. (taking up the reply). From Mr. Michael Vanstone, in answer to Mr. Pendril. (As MR. PENDRIL opens the letter, the whole attention of GEORGE and MISS GARTH being absorbed on him, the curtains at the back are softly parted, and MAGDALEN VANSTONE appears stealthily in view. She listens, without advancing into the room, her face expressing breathless attention and nothing more. MR. PENDRIL proceeds to read the letter. ) "Sir, -- I acknowledge the receipt of your letter informing me that my brother has died intestate, leaving two illegitimate daughters, and that I am the heir to his property. I receive and keep this inheritance: first, as my right; secondly, as a compensation for former injustice which I (as the elder son) suffered at my father's hands; and, thirdly, as a proper penalty paid by my younger brother for the base intrigue by which he succeeded in disinheriting me. So much for the money. The next question is the question of my brother's bastard children.
Miss G. Oh, if Magdalen heard that!
(MAGDALEN shows no signs of emotion.)
Mr. P. (reading). "The elder of the two girls, as I understand, is bedridden. The younger is strong enough to work for her living. I will assist them -- one to get into a charitable asylum, the other to start virtuously in life -- by a present of one hundred pounds each. That sum paid, my duty is done, and my connexion with my late brother's children is at an end." (He closes the letter. )
Geo. (indignantly). A personal interview is out of the question with such a man as that!
Miss G. (lifting her hands in despair). How are we to tell Magdalen?
Mag. (advancing quietly, clothed in deep mourning). There is no need to tell her. (The persons present start to their feet in astonishment.) She knows it already.
Miss G. (approaching her) Magdalen!
Geo. (to himself). Has she heard all?
Mag. (overhearing him, and quietly repeating MR. PENDRIL'S words). "Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children, and the law leaves them penniless at their uncle's mercy."
Miss G. (shrinking back from MAGDALEN). Magdalen! you frighten me!
Mag. (gently). Frighten you? See how quiet I am! My listening has done no harm, Miss Garth. It has done good; it has spared you the distress of telling me the truth. Don't be alarmed about Norah. I have closed the curtains. Norah can't hear us. (She crosses to GEORGE.) Try not to think worse of me than I deserve, George. I can't cry -- my heart is numbed. (She turns to MR. PENDRIL.) There can be no harm, sir, in my being present now. Go on with the business. I promise to be quiet. I promise to disturb nobody.
(She seats herself apart on a sofa. Her head drops on her bosom. She falls into thought.)
Mr. P. (aside to MISS GARTH, indicating MAGDALEN). Only eighteen! -- and too deep for my sounding!
(He returns to his place.)
Geo. (aside to MISS GARTH). Only eighteen! What patience -- what courage -- what admirable self-control!
Miss G. Only eighteen! -- and she frightens me. I, who have known her from a child!
Mag. (from the sofa). Mr. Pendril, I have not heard all that you wrote to Michael Vanstone. Did you tell him how it happened that my sister and I are left helpless?
Mr. P. Yes.
Mag. Did he know that my father was on his way to you, to make a second will, when the accident killed him?
Mr. P. I sent him a copy of your father's letter.
Mag. The letter which implored you to set aside all other engagements, and "relieve him from the dreadful thought that his daughters were unprovided for"? The letter which said he should "not rest in his grave, if he left us disinherited"?
Mr. P. That letter.
Mag. Did you tell him that my mother's share in the money would have been left to us, if she could have lifted her dying hand in your presence?
Mr. P. I have told him that -- I have told him everything. What am I to write back, in answer to his offer of the hundred pounds?
Mag. Let me think.
(She rises and paces the room slowly.)
Miss G. (astonished). Think! Do you want to think before you refuse it?
Geo. The man's offer is an insult. A deliberate insult. Is it possible you don't feel it?
Mag. I told you just now, George, my heart was numbed. (To MR. PENDRIL.) I take it on myself, sir, to answer for Norah. Refuse, if you please, in Norah's name.
Mr. P. In her name only? What am I to say in yours?
Mag. Tell Michael Vanstone to think again before he robs me of my birthright, and starts me in life with a hundred pounds. (With quiet, deliberate emphasis.) I will give him time to think.
(She returns to the sofa. MR. PENDRIL takes pen, ink, and paper, and writes.)
Geo. (to Miss GARTH). What does she mean?
Miss G. I don't know. I am shaken in my opinion of her. I tell you again, she frightens me.
Geo. There is something in her mind that she is hiding from us all. I don't like it! I don't like it!
Mag. (from the sofa). Miss Garth, I want to know more about Michael Vanstone than I know now. Is he an old man?
Miss G. Seventy-five, or seventy-six years old.
Miss G. A widower.
Mag. Where does he live?
Miss G. At Bolton-Manthorpe, near York.
Mag. Has he any children?
Miss G. He has one son -- Mr. Noel Vanstone. Why do you ask these questions?
Mag. (gently). I am sorry to have asked them, if you disapprove of it.
Mr. P. You are aware, Miss Garth, that this house -- with all that is in it -- is now the property of Michael Vanstone. There is no need to hurry your departure ----
Miss G. If this is Michael Vanstone's house, sir, Norah and Magdalen will leave it to~morrow -- and leave it with me.
Mr. P. For London?
Miss G. For my sister's house in London. While I have a home, they have a home -- with the old friend who loves them dearly. (MAGDALEN suddenly rises, crosses to MISS GARTH, and silently kisses her. There is a stool at MISS GARTH'S feet. MAGDALEN seats herself on it, and rests her head on MISS GARTH'S lap. It is all done simply, without tears and without any extraordinary demonstrations of gratitude. MISS GARTH looks down at her with a sigh of relief.) Ah, Magdalen! now I know you again!
Mr. P. (rising). The steward is waiting with his accounts. The claims of the servants must be investigated, and settled. A long morning's work is before me. I must leave you for the present.
Geo. (to Mr. PENDRIL) You have a great deal to do. Can I help you?
Mr. P. Certainly, if you don't mind the trouble.
(He leads the way out on the right.)
Geo. (aside, stopping and looking back at MAGDALEN). I must speak privately to her, before the day is out.
(He follows MR. PENDRIL.)
Miss G. Magdalen! What are you thinking of? (MAGDALEN neither answers nor moves. There is a pause, broken softly by the notes of a harp sounding from the inner room, and playing the air of "Home, Sweet Home." The playing continues under the voices (softened by the intervening curtains) during the dialogue which follows. MISS GARTH looks towards the curtained entrance.) Norah's harp! The air that was always her poor father's favourite. It brings the tears into my eyes to hear it now. (She suddenly lifts MAGDALEN'S head and looks at her.) And her eyes are dry! Magdalen! Magdalen! What are you thinking of?
Mag. (absently). Norah plays charmingly, Miss Garth. And what a pretty air! I quite agree with my poor father -- one never tires of "Home, Sweet Home."
Miss G. You are not answering my question. For the third time, what are you thinking of?
Mag. (suddenly). Of what Norah and I owe to Michael Vanstone.
Miss G. Why think of that? What good can it do now?
Mag. (pursuing her own thoughts). This is the house in which we were born. We leave it to-morrow -- through him! Norah's hard lot has one more misery added to it. She must suffer poverty as well as pain now -- through him! I was to have married Frank, and to have brought him a fortune. I am as poor as he is. We must part and pine, for years and years to come -- through him! through him!
Miss G. Magdalen! You are thinking as you should not think; you are looking as you should not look ----
Mag. Am I? Don't notice me. I'll submit! I'll submit!
Miss G. I want to speak to you about Francis Clare.
Mag. Yes? Ah, poor Frank!
Miss G. You know that his uncle has made him an offer of employment in China. A great mercantile house. A prospect of a partnership. A certainty of his making money, if he is industrious and patient.
Mag. If I had my fortune to give him, he would not want the money. Never mind. Go on.
Miss G. My opinion of Francis Clare differs widely from yours. But you will agree with me in this. He is as likely as not to let the opportunity slip, unless you exert your influence over him. Will you exert it? For his sake -- as things are now -- will you send him to China?
Mag. Don't ask me!
Miss G. I must ask you. Are you fond enough of Francis Clare not to stand in his light?
Mag. Fond? I would die for him!
Miss G. Will you send him to China?
Mag. Have a little pity on me, Miss Garth. I have lost my father. I have lost my mother. I have lost my fortune. And now I am to lose Frank. Hard -- -even a sensible woman like you must admit that it's hard!
Miss G. I do admit it. Still the fortune you were to have brought him (it cannot be denied, my love) has changed owners ----
Mag. (to herself). It may change owners again.
Miss G. What do you mean?
Mag. One of my fancies -- not worth pursuing.
Miss G. I have only one word more to say. If Francis Clare stays at home, he will be the ruin of both of you. He will persuade you to marry him, poor as he is; and the time will come (I know the man!) when he will turn round and reproach you with being a burden on him.
Mag. (starting to her feet). The time will never come! Frank shall take no burden when he takes me. I'll be the good angel of his life. I'll not go a penniless girl to him and drag him down. Send him here! If my heart breaks in doing it, I'll tell him we must say good-bye.
Miss G. (rising). Well done, Magdalen! (She embraces MAGDALEN.) My child, I am fonder of you and prouder of you than ever! Frank is at the cottage. I'll go myself and bring him to you. Wait here.
(She goes out on the right.)
Mag. (bursting out). Oh, that wrong! that wrong! that insufferable wrong! I won't submit! If I die under it, I won't submit! (Her attention is attracted by the notes of the harp, which have been heard faintly thus far all through.) The music! the music maddens me, it's so tame, so quiet, so subdued. (She goes to the curtains, opens them, and speaks through.) Norah, darling! I'm writing. Would you mind waiting a little till I have done? (The music ceases. She closes the curtains again and comes back.) Now I can think! What am I? A nameless, homeless wretch. The law that takes care of other girls casts me like carrion to the winds. Need I mind what I do? Have I a place in the world to lose? I have nothing to lose! Oh, my father! my father! the wrong your brother has done us haunts me like a possession of the devil. The resolution to right it burns in me like fire. (Pacing the stage impatiently as she says those words, she accidentally catches sight of herself in the glass and stops.) Yes! there I am -- the fine girl they all admire; the beautiful creature who draws all eyes after her wherever she goes! Old or young, where is the man who can resist me, as long as I keep my looks? Michael Vanstone! Michael Vanstone! I might open that closed hand of yours--- (She shrinks back, shuddering, from the sight of herself.) Horrible! What thoughts come to me! What wickedness whispers in me and tempts me! Why doesn't Miss Garth come back? Those old people are so slow. Frank! Where is Frank? (GEORGE enters on the right.) Who's that? George!
Geo. Give me a minute, Magdalen. I have something to say to you.
Mag. About myself?
Mag. The subject is hateful to me. I can't listen to it.
Geo. If I speak of myself instead of you, will you listen then?
Geo. You know, Magdalen, that I love you dearly.
Mag. Why speak of it, George? Why distress yourself and me? I have given you a sister's affection. I can give no more.
Geo. (pursuing his thought). I have but one object to live for -- your happiness. I can sacrifice everything that makes existence dear to me for your sake. It is my love for you which makes me strong enough to do that. I know it is a hopeless love, Magdalen. You shall not be reminded of it again.
Mag. You had something to say to me. What is it?
Geo. You shall hear. You know that I made some friends at college, who have remained my friends in after-life. One of them is now a man in a high position. He is a Cabinet Minister. He has over and over again said to me: "You are my best and dearest friend, George. Have you no ambition? Is there nothing you can ask me for while I am a Minister, with good things in my gift?" I have never yet attempted to profit by his kindness. I believe he would refuse me nothing. My interest with him, Magdalen, is at your service.
Mag. At my service? I don't understand.
Geo. You have forbidden me to speak on the subject of yourself. I will only say that I am distressed about you. You meet the new trial that has fallen on you in a manner which startles and perplexes me. I see but one saving influence for you in the future which I can trust -- the influence of the man whom you love. Now that you are both poor, there is no present prospect of your marrying. For your sake, Magdalen, I will make the sacrifice -- the terrible sacrifice to me -- of helping your marriage. Say the word, and I will go to my friend the Minister, and use my interest with him -- not for myself, but for Francis Clare.
Mag. (deeply affected). You are the most generous of living men. (She seizes his hand and kisses it.) Oh, I am unworthy of you, George! I am unworthy of you!
(She turns aside from him and bursts into tears.)
Geo. For Heaven's sake, compose yourself. I can't bear to distress you.
Mag. You do me good. Days and days have passed, and the tears have been dried up in me. You -- you have set them free. Leave me for a little. Dear, good George, leave me for a little!
Geo. Will you speak to me again later in the day?
Mag. Yes, yes! (GEORGE goes out. ) What is there in me that feels when that man touches it, and never feels at other times? I admire him, I am grateful to him, why don't I love him? He deserves it. Perhaps he deserves it better than Frank. And yet there is some perversity in me that loves Frank best. (She takes a turn on the stage, stops by the table, and, resting her hand on it, accidentally touches MICHAEL VANSTONE'S letter, which MR. PENDRIL has left with the other papers.) Can I accept George's offer? It opens a glimpse of happiness for me; it spares Frank the hard trial of exile from home; and yet I shrink -- (She is conscious of touching the letter, and takes it up. ) What's this? Michael Vanstone's letter! Can I marry, and forget these words? Can I enter on a new life, with the bitter memory of this to poison it at its source? Oh, those thoughts! those thoughts! Are they still so near my heart that a morsel of paper can bring them back to me? (She flings the letter on the table.) Frank! I am afraid of myself! Come and help me! (MISS GARTH enters alone.) Where is Frank? (MISS GARTH is silent. MAGDALEN seizes her by both shoulders, and looks her eagerly in the face.) There's something wrong. Tell me what it is. At once! at once!
Miss G. My love, you have shown rare courage under hard trials. Summon that courage again. Francis Clare is, what I have always told you he was, unworthy of you.
Mag. I don't care to hear what you think of him. Where is he?
Miss G. At home.
Mag. At home? Did he know I was waiting to see him?
Miss G. He knew it.
Mag. Did he refuse to come here with you?
Miss G. He refused.
Mag. Did you tell him what had passed between us?
Miss G. I repeated every word.
Mag. And he stays at home? I don't understand it. I shall go to him myself.
(She attempts to leave the room. MISS GARTH stops her.)
Miss G. You must not stir a step. You, degrade yourself if you ever see him, or speak to him again. Magdalen, you are poor! He recoils from your poverty! Magdalen, you have faced the sacrifice of sending him to China. He shrinks from the sacrifice! He puts the worst construction on your motives; he doubts your fidelity; he denies your love; he basely breaks his plighted word ----
Mag. (staggering back). Frank deserts me!
Miss G. My child! my child! his own coward lips have said it. All is over between him and you. (With a cry of, despair MAGDALEN flings herself on the sofa. MISS GARTH hurries to her, and attempts to rouse her.) Magdalen! Magdalen! look at me! listen to me! She doesn't move, she doesn't hear; I can't rouse her! (A shabbily-dressed stranger saunters into the room, on the left, with his hat on. MISS GARTH hearing him, looks round, and exclaims), Captain Wragge!
(MAGDALEN, roused by MISS GARTH'S exclamation, starts, and looks up at the intruder. The captain takes off his hat with a flourish, and addresses the ladies with vagabond self-possession.)
Wragge. Can I be of any use?
(The curtain falls.)
(DATE July 1, 1870.)
SCENE.-- In the neighbourhood of York. Four months have passed since the First Act.
The stage represents the interior of a large tent, supposed to be arranged for a School Festival. The tent is open at the back, disclosing a lawn and flower-garden, with trees and a country-house on the horizon. A band plays at intervals, as if heard in a distant part of the grounds. The tent is decorated with flags and flowers. Besides an entrance at the back, there is an entrance at the side on the right. A long empty tea-table and benches, supposed to be continued off the stage, are also placed on the right. On the left, at the side, a rustic bench and one or two stools. The bench is placed at right angles to the foot-lights, with some flags waiting to be used in the decorations, hung over the back. At the opening of the scene the tent is empty, and the band is heard faintly playing in the distance. MAGDALEN enters hurriedly by the side entrance on the right. She is plainly dressed in walking costume, but not in mourning.
Mag. (in great agitation). George Bartram is here! I saw him searching among the visitors -- I heard him inquiring -- I have escaped his notice by the merest accident. Am I safe in this place?
(She glances towards the opening of the tent at the back, utters a cry of alarm, and, crossing the stage to the left-hand extremity, crouches behind the bench. The flags hanging over the back hide her from the view of any one entering the tent.)
Mag. (seen by the audience only). He is coming this way. He is coming into the tent!
(GEORGE BARTRAM appears at the back, and looks in.)
Geo. She is not among the people listening to the music. She is not in the tent. And yet, a young lady answering her description has been seen here, at the School Festival. Where can I look for her next? (He glances towards the side entrance on the right.) That side of the park is the one side that I have not searched yet.
(He goes out on the right. MAGDALEN leaves her hiding-place.)
Mag. Parted from my sister! hidden from my best friend! Nothing to justify me, nothing to sustain me, but my resolution to recover the birthright of which we have been robbed. (She looks in the direction by which GEORGE has left the tent.) Forgive me, George -- and forget me! Our paths in life are separate paths from this day. (She seats herself on the bench, with her back towards the opening of the tent.) I have been followed from London to this place. How has it been done? (CAPTAIN WRAGGE appears at the back, and waits, listening.) I left in the early morning -- I took the cab myself from the stand -- I saw no familiar face at the station -- and yet they must have traced me to the railway! How?
Wragge. By means of the cab, Miss Vanstone.
Mag. (starting to her feet). Who are you?
Wragge (advancing). I am a species of relation -- a connexion of your poor dear mother's. I made a morning call on you in Somersetshire four months' since. My name is Wragge. (Spelling his name, and ticking the letters off on his fingers.) W, R, A, double G, E -- Wragge. Beautiful weather, isn't it?
Mag. I remember you. I have reasons for wishing to be alone. Good morning. (She attempts to go out at the back. WRAGGE places himself in her way.) Let me pass, if you please.
Wragge. Not just yet.
Mag. Why not?
Wragge. Because Mr. George Bartram is still in the park. Give him time, and he will go away. He hasn't gone yet.
Mag. What do you know about him?
Wragge. Two trifling facts. First fact: Mr. Bartram ordered me out of the house, when I made that call in Somersetshire -- I don't forgive him! Second fact: Mr. Bartram is here for the purpose of taking you back to your friends. You will be quite safe from discovery, if you will only wait in the tent till the next train starts for Scarborough.
Mag. (to herself). What does he mean?
Wragge. (confidentially). I am all on your side -- I'm determined to help you. I have told Mr. Bartram that I saw you at the station, waiting for the next train to Scarborough. We've done him, my dear -- we've done him.
Mag. By what right do you meddle in my affairs? You know nothing about them.
Wragge. Nothing whatever. I am waiting to be informed. Confide in me as a relative; come and sit down. No? You hesitate? You distrust me? Is it possible you have heard anything to my disadvantage?
Mag. Quite possible.
Wragge. Aye! aye! Don't spare my feelings. Speak out. What have you heard?
Mag. I have heard you are a Rogue.
Wragge. Have you, indeed? A Rogue. Now, observe! There are many varieties of Rogue. Let me tell you my variety to begin with. I am a Swindler.
Mag. (looking at him in amazement). He openly acknowledges it!
Wragge. "Swindler" is nothing but a word of two syllables. S, W, I, N, D -- Swind; L, E, R -- Swindler. Definition -- a Moral Agriculturist; a man who cultivates the field of human sympathy. Don't be shocked -- I am putting things right at starting. You know I am a Rogue. It is most important to your present interests that you should know exactly what sort of Rogue I am.
Mag. Important to my interests?
Wragge. Certainly. What do I see, when I look at you? I see a young lady who has a motive of her own for running away from friends and home. Is that true?
Mag. Say it is true, what then?
Wragge. Is it true again that you are anxious to escape being discovered by Mr. George Bartram?
Mag. I own that, too.
Wragge. Is Mr. George Bartram a man of honour?
Mag. He is the most honourable man living.
Wragge. Very good. Here is a fugitive young lady, all alone in a strange place. Her foremost anxiety is to avoid the most honourable man living. What follows logically? She can't object to a few minutes' conversation with a Rogue -- and she is naturally interested in knowing what sort of rogue he is! Come and sit down.
Mag. With a Swindler?
Wragge. Take a large view of the case -- now, do take a large view! Here am I, a needy object. Very good. Is it, or is it not, the duty of a Christian community to help the needy? If you say, No -- you simply shock me, and there is an end of it. If you say, Yes -- then I beg to ask, why am I to blame for making a Christian community do its duty? You may say, Is a careful man who has saved money bound to spend it on a careless stranger who has saved none? Why, of course he is! And on what ground, pray? Good heavens! on the ground that he has got the money, to be sure! What! your pockets are full, and my pockets are empty, and you refuse to help me! Sordid wretch! do you think I will allow you to violate the sacred obligations of charity in my person? I won't allow it -- I say distinctly I won't allow it. Those are my principles as a Moral Agriculturist.
Mag. Principles which admit of trickery.
Wragge. Am I to blame if the field of human sympathy can't be cultivated in any other way? Ask my brother agriculturists in the farming line. Do they get their crops for the asking? No! they must circumvent arid Nature, exactly as I circumvent sordid Man. They must plough and sow, and top-dress and bottom-dress, and deep-drain and surface-drain, and all the rest of it. Why check me in the vast occupation of deep-draining mankind? Why persecute me for professionally exciting the noblest feelings of our common nature? You can't do it. In justice to all parties, you can't do it. Come and sit down.
Mag. I have neither time nor inclination to hear more.
(She again attempts to go out. WRAGGE again stops her.)
Wragge. Perhaps you object to the tent? Permit me to escort you, by the back way, to the house. There are refreshments to be had at the house.
Mag. (sternly). I neither eat nor drink in Michael Vanstone's house!
Wragge. In whose?
Mag. In Michael Vanstone's.
Wragge. Bless my soul! Don't you know that Michael Vanstone is dead?
Mag. (starting back). Dead?
Wragge. More than two months since.
Mag. (to herself). Dead!
(She leaves WRAGGE and walks apart, absorbed in her own thoughts.)
Wragge (aside). Nota bene. She wanted something of Michael Vanstone! Query -- Does she want that same something now of Michael Vanstone's son? (He approaches MAGDALEN.) Cheer up! The family is not extinct. Michael Vanstone has left a son -- Mr. Noel Vanstone -- the present possessor of this house and park.
Mag. (turning on him suddenly). Who has the money gone to?
Wragge. To Noel Vanstone.
Mag. All of it?
Wragge. Every farthing. (MAGDALEN walks away again, once more deep in thought. WRAGGE continues, aside.) My right hand lays my left hand a wager. Mr. Michael Vanstone's death has left more than Mr. Michael Vanstone bargained for to be inherited by his son!
Mag. (returning). Do you know anything about Noel Vanstone?
Mag. Are you a friend of his?
Wragge. I am personally a total stranger to him.
Mag. And yet you know all about him?
Wragge. Come and sit down. (MAGDALEN seats herself on the bench. WRAGGE continues aside as he follows her.) She has sat down at last! I'm her confidential friend from this moment.
(He seats himself opposite to MAGDALEN on a rustic stool.)
Mag. Explain yourself.
Wragge. Permit me to revert to my profession.
Mag. To swindling?
Wragge. To Moral Agriculture.
Mag. Is it necessary?
Wragge. Absolutely necessary, if I am to explain myself.
Mag. Go on.
Wragge. I don't boast -- I simply state a fact. It is my nature to be orderly -- and orderly I am. I place Moral Agriculture on precisely the same footing as any other business. I put it all down in black and white. Like other commercial men, I have my books. Take a specimen of the system -- and judge for yourself if I don't see through Noel Vanstone to the marrow of his bones. In Book number One I have all my districts mapped out -- Military district, Agricultural district, Clerical district, et cetera, et cetera. In Book number Two are the cases that I plead: Family of an officer who fell in the Crimea; Wife of a poor curate stricken down by nervous debility; Widow of a grazier in difficulties, gored to death by a mad bull, et cetera, et cetera. In Book number Three are the people who have heard of the officer's family, the curate's wife, and the grazier's widow, and the people who have not; the people who have said Yes, and the people who have said No; the people to try again; the people to beware of, et cetera, et cetera. In Book number Four are my adopted handwritings of public characters; my testimonials to my own worth and integrity; my heartrending statements of the officer's family, the curate's wife, the grazier's widow, stained with tears, blotted with emotion, et cetera, et cetera. -- I put it frankly, with a dash of humour. I'm not in the least out of breath. I'll go on again, if you like, with the greatest pleasure.
Mag. I have heard. enough of you and your books. I want to hear something of Noel Vanstone.
Mag. If you can.
Wragge. If I can? I see. Your impatience despises details. Your impatience is wrong. The value of anything which one human being has to communicate to another lies entirely in the details. -- Did you know anything of Michael Vanstone?
Mag. (sternly). I knew the worst of him!
Wragge. Double the worst of him, treble the worst of him, and you have Michael Vanstone's son. Is that brief enough for you?
Mag. I don't believe it.
Wragge. What did I tell you just now? You want the details. I have tried Noel Vanstone with the officer's family, the curate's wife, and the grazier's widow in succession. Not a halfpenny to be extracted from him! Here is this School Festival, held from time immemorial in these grounds. Michael Vanstone paid the expenses. Noel Vanstone subscribes half a guinea, and leaves the neighbourhood to do the rest. I'm here to-day to see with my own eyes what the most miserly man in England is like. I declare to heaven, if I can get the opportunity, I'll descend to extremities -- I'll pick his pocket!
Mag. I won't believe he is worse than his father till I see it for myself! Where is he now?
Wragge. Listening to the music -- and looking as if his half-guinea had paid for it all.
Mag. (eagerly). I must see him, I must hear him, I must judge him -- without his knowing who I am. It must be done before I rest to-night!
Wragge (as if waiting to hear more). Yes?
Wragge (persisting). Well?
Mag. Have you nothing to suggest?
Wragge. Have you nothing to say?
(A pause. They look each other steadily in the face. MAGDALEN rises. WRAGGE keeps his seat.)
Mag. I understand! If I am to have your assistance, I must take you into my confidence first.
Wragge. My own idea, hit off to a T.
Mag. (aside). Who am I, to pick and choose the instruments that I employ? I am one of the outlaws of Society, and he is another! (To WRAGGE.) You have forced your acquaintance on me. I can guess why. You are in want of money.
Wragge. (modestly). The field of human sympathy has not recently answered my expectations of a crop.
Mag. You think I am rich?
Wragge (as before). I am under that amiable delusion.
Mag. I have sold my jewellery and my dresses for two hundred pounds, and I have not got another farthing in the world.
(He starts to his feet as he utters the exclamation. The energy and passion in MAGDALEN'S nature begin to show themselves as she answers him. The scene that follows between them must be played with the utmost fire and rapidity on both sides.)
Mag. You think I have left a comfortable home. I have left a situation as nursery governess. I have left Norah supported by charity. I have left Miss Garth and her sister ruined by the failure of the bank in which their savings were placed.
Wragge. You stun me! Your father was a rich man. Where has his money gone to?
Mag. (breaking out). The law has taken his money from his children. The law gave it to Michael Vanstone, and Michael Vanstone kept it. Don't ask me how and why, or you will madden me. You wonder why I have come to this place. I came here a homeless, nameless, desperate wretch, to open Michael Vanstone's closed hand or perish in the attempt. Never mind how. I had my plan. He is dead -- it's useless to revert to it. Our birthright has gone from him to his son. His son shall do us justice, or his son shall repent it to the last day of his life. Now you know my secret! Which will you do, cheat me or serve me?
Wragge. (with downright sincerity). I'm damned if I cheat you! I'll serve you on your own terms.
Mag. (eagerly). You shan't regret it. Advise me! Help me! Before the day is out ----
Wragge. Before an hour is over your head!
Wragge. I'll introduce you to Noel Vanstone
Mag. You! Why, you have been trying --
Wragge. Finish the sentence -- trying to cheat him. That's the introduction!
Mag. I don't understand.
Wragge. Listen! I shall scrape acquaintance with him in the interests of his pocket. In plain English, I shall warn him against myself. "My dear sir, beware of the officer's family, the curate's wife, the grazier's widow, they are all the inventions of a rascal who infests this neighbourhood under the name of Wragge." That's the line to take! And I'm the man to take it! (He turns to go out at the back. MRS. WRAGGE appears at the opening of the tent. Her voice, look, and manner are all suggestive of a weak intellect. She is timid with her husband, and easily confused by the sight of a stranger. WRAGGE impatiently addresses her.) What do you want?
Mrs. W. If you please, captain -- (She sees MAGDALEN.) Oh Lord! the captain's got company with him.
Mag. (to WRAGGE). Who is this?
Wragge. A companion for you while I am gone. Quite harmless -- only my wife. (To MRS. WRAGGE.) Well?
Mrs. W. If you please, captain, the music sets my head Buzzing. I'm much obliged to you for the holiday. I think I had better go home.
Wragge (loudly). Stay here, and keep this lady company. I introduce you to this lady. My niece, Mrs. Wragge! -- my niece!
Mrs. W. (curtsying and smiling vacantly). Oh, indeed? the captain's niece. I'm sorry, miss -- no, I don't mean I'm sorry -- I'm glad --
Wragge (shouting at her). Glad, of course!
Mrs. W. (meekly repeating). Glad, of course!
Wragge (to MAGDALEN). Mrs. Wragge is not deaf. She's only a little slow -- constitutionally torpid. Shout at her, and her mind comes up to time. Speak to her, and she drifts miles away from you directly. (To MRS. WRAGGE, shouting.) Put your bonnet straight! (To MAGDALEN.) I beg your pardon, I'm a martyr to my own sense of order. I must have everything about me -- my wife included -- tidy and straight. Mrs. Wragge, as you see, is habitually crooked. (To MRS. WRAGGE.) More to the right! (MRS. WRAGGE pulls her bonnet to the left.) The other way! (MRS. WRAGGE obeys.) More still! That will do. (To MAGDALEN.) Can you really endure Mrs. Wragge? A thousand thanks. You are quite safe here till tea-time. I'll be back directly.
(He goes out at the back.)
Mrs. W. I am glad to be here along with you, miss. (She looks round the tent.) I like this place. It's away from the music here. The music sets my head Buzzing.
Mag. (puzzled). Buzzing! (To herself.) What does the poor creature mean?
Mrs. W. I've had the Buzzing in my head, off and on -- how many years? (Eagerly.) Have you ever been at Darch's Dining-rooms, in London?
Mrs. W. (getting excited). That's where the Buzzing in my head first began. I was employed to wait on the gentlemen, at Darch's Dining-rooms -- I was. The gentlemen all came together; the gentlemen were all hungry together; the gentlemen all gave their orders together. Don't you see?
Mag. I think I do. You had to keep their orders separate in your memory? and the trying to do that confused you?
Mrs. W. (highly excited). That's it! Boiled pork and greens and peas-pudding for Number One. Stewed beef and carrots and gooseberry tart for Number Two. Cut of mutton, and quick about it, well done and plenty of fat, for Number Three. Codfish and parsnips, two chops to follow, hot and hot, or I'll be the death of you, for Number Four. Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten! Carrots, and gooseberry tart -- peas-pudding and plenty of fat -- pork and beef, and cut 'em all, and quick about it -- stout for one and ale for t'other -- and stale bread here, and new bread there -- and this gentleman likes cheese, and that gentleman doesn't. Matilda, 'Tilda, 'Tilda, 'Tilda, fifty times over, till I didn't know my own name again -- oh Lord! oh Lord! all together, all at the same time, all out of temper, all buzzing in my poor head like forty-thousand-million bees! (Looking round in terror to the back, and catching MAGDALEN by both arms.) Don't tell the captain! don't tell the captain!
Mag. (kindly). Hush! hush! The captain hasn't heard you. (Putting her hand on MRS. WRAGGE'S forehead.) Poor thing! How hot her head is! There! there! don't talk again just yet.
Mrs. W. Thankee, miss. Darch's Dining-rooms sets me off somehow. It don't last long. I'm all right again now. (Admiring MAGDALEN'S hand.) What a pretty hand you have got! How soft and white it is! I try to be a lady -- I always keep my gloves on -- but I can't get my hands like yours. I'm nicely dressed though -- ain't I? I had as pretty a bonnet as yours once. I wore it when I married the captain.
Mag. Where did you meet with the captain?
Mrs. W. At the Dining-rooms. He was the hungriest and the loudest to wait upon of the lot of 'em. He used to swear -- oh, didn't he use to swear! When he left off swearing at me, he married me. Not that I was obliged to marry him, you know. Bless you, I had my pick!
Mag. Your pick?
Mrs. W. My pick of the gentlemen at Darch's Dining-rooms. Why not? When you have a trifle of money left you that you didn't expect -- if that don't make a lady of you, what does? I picked the captain, I did. He told me I wanted a man like him to take care of me and my money. I'm here, the money's gone, and the captain's as hungry and as loud to wait upon as ever. I do everything for him. Did you notice his chin, miss?
Mag. I can't say I did.
Mrs. W. You look at it when he comes back, and you tell me if he isn't nicely shaved! I shave him. He had me taught. I brush his hair and cut his nails; he's awfully particular about his nails. (CAPTAIN WRAGGE reappears at the back.) So he is about his trousers and his boots, and his pomatum, and his flesh-brush, and his breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners, and teas ----
Wragge (shouting). Mrs. Wragge!
Mrs. W. Oh, Lord!, here he is again!
Wragge (entering, and pointing indignantly to MRS. WRAGGE'S heels). Down at heel again! The left shoe. Pull if up at heel, Mrs. Wragge -- pull it up at heel! (To MAGDALEN.) I've done it! Noel Vanstone has received me with open arms. He is going (with my assistance) to catch Captain Wragge. There is only one thing you need remember in speaking to him. My name is Bygrave, and you are Miss Bygrave, my niece. Come and be introduced.
Mag. (hesitating). Is it safe to leave the tent yet?
Wragge. Trust me to keep you out of Mr. Bartram's way. As for the tent, the servants are coming in to lay the table, with Mrs. Lecount at their head. I would rather not trust you alone with Mrs. Lecount.
Mag. The housekeeper? I have heard of her! You are quite right. Let us go.
Mrs. W. (piteously). If you please, captain, what is to become of me?
Wragge. Are you up at heel?
Mrs. W. Yes, captain.
Wragge. Go home, then. Tell the landlady I shall be back to dinner, with the appetite of a wolf. Stop! There is another message for the landlady. She is to get the spare bedroom ready for my niece. My niece will stay with us.
Mag. (pointing off at the right). Look! the servants ----
Wragge (looking off). And Mrs. Lecount!
(He gives his arm to MAGDALEN. They go out at the back.)
Mrs. W. (alone). What did the captain tell me? (Trying to repeat the message.) My niece will be back to dinner with the appetite of a wolf, and the landlady is to get a spare bed for the captain. What have I done to offend the captain?
Enter MRS. LECOUNT, followed by the servants, carrying a table-cloth, cups, saucers, plates, &c. MRS. LECOUNT is a middle-aged woman, dressed quietly, but in excellent taste. She speaks in a foreign accent; assuming, while in the presence of others, an extreme gentleness of tone and suavity of manner.
Mrs. L. (noticing MRS. WRAGGE). A stranger here! Pardon me, madam, the tent is not open to visitors, until the children are at tea.
Mrs. W. (confused). Oh, Lord! I beg your pardon, I'm sure.
(She attempts to go out on the right, and entangles herself with the servants.)
Mrs. L. (pointing to the back). That way, madam.
Mrs. W. Thankee, ma'am. (Aside.) Oh, my heart alive! ain't she beautifully dressed!
(MRS. WRAGGE curtsys, with her eyes fixed admiringly on MRS. LECOUNT, and goes out at the back.)
Mrs. L. (looking after her). I have heard of harmless lunatics. I never saw one before. (She turns and addresses the servants.) Pay attention, my friends, to the comfort of these poor children, they have so few comforts of their own.
(ADMIRAL BARTRAM appears at the opening of the tent.)
Adm. B. (heartily). Hallo! I'm glad to see this. Those unfortunate school-children will get something to eat and drink at any rate.
Mrs. L. Admiral Bartram! You have come here to see if the children get something? Ah, you are so interested in the children!
Adm. B. Interested in them? My heart bleeds for them, Mrs. Lecount. Instead of romping and rolling over each other on the grass, the miserable little wretches are all marching two and two round the grounds, with an unlicked cub of a curate at their head, lecturing them on botany as they go. That's not my notion of a holiday for children! I came here to please Noel, and I'm going home again to please myself.
Mrs. L. So soon, admiral? Mr. Noel will be so disappointed!
Adm. B. I wanted to speak to Noel before I left -- but there's no getting at him. He's surrounded on this melancholy occasion by the Vicar and the Member, and all the minor bores of the neighbourhood.
Mrs. L. Can I give him any message, sir?
Adm. B. Thank you, Mrs. Lecount. Between ourselves, I wanted to speak once more to Noel about the Miss Vanstones.
Mrs. L. Ah, that is a very painful subject! Your nephew, Mr. George Bartram ----
Adm. B. I have heard of it. George lost his temper with Noel because Noel would do nothing for those two poor girls. I don't justify George's violence. At the same time, I think Noel is wrong in declining to do anything for the Miss Vanstones. He ought to halve the money with them. Tell him I said so, Mrs. Lecount, with my love. That's the message. This is my nearest way out, isn't it? Good day.
(He goes out on the right, the servants respectfully making way for him.)
Mrs. L. (alone). Halve the money with them? Mr. Noel is not very wise. But I think he is not quite such a fool as to do that! If he halves the money with anybody -- let him do it with me.
Enter GEORGE BARTRAM at the back.
Geo. Am I in the way, Mrs. Lecount?
Mrs. L. Mr. George! your uncle has just gone. He was so sorry about your misunderstanding with Mr. Noel. Have you come back to make it up?
Geo. I'll make it up, Mrs. Lecount, when Noel has acted towards the Miss Vanstones more justly than his father did. Till that time comes, I am present at the school festival as one of the public -- nothing more.
Mrs. L. What an interest you take, sir, in these Miss Vanstones!
Geo. You were good enough to take some interest in them too, Mrs. Lecount, when I last saw you. I want to appeal to that interest now. -- You know that Magdalen Vanstone has left her friends?
Mrs. L. The young ladies of England are so independent, Mr. George!
Geo. Thus far, I have failed to find her. I am now going to continue the search at some distance from this place. In the mean time, if Magdalen should be hidden in the neighbourhood, I have provided myself with some handbills, in case of the worst. (He produces some printed handbills.) I want you to take one of them.
Mrs. L. (looking at the handbill). What! you are going to advertise her publicly to all the world?
Geo. Not till every other resource has failed me. I give the handbill to you privately. Study the description of her personal appearance, so that you may recognise her if she should pass your way. Detain her in that case on the best pretence you can find -- and let me know at my lawyer's in York. I shall be back to-morrow. Will you do this?
Mrs. L. I am always ready, sir, to make myself useful -- if I can.
Geo. Thank you -- I ask no more. (He turns to go, and comes back.) If you should meet with Magdalen, pray be gentle with her. She needs kindness, Mrs. Lecount. She has been sorely tried. (He goes out at the back.)
Mrs. L. He is in love with her. What fools the men are! Is the tea-table ready for these brats of children?
(She looks towards the table. The servants have completed the preparations, and have retired during the scene between MRS. LECOUNT and GEORGE) Ah, my heavens, how I do hate children! (Looking at the handbill.) What is all this nonsense about? Let me read. (She reads.) "Left her home in London on the morning of the 30th of June, a young lady. Age eighteen. Tall -- light hair and eyes. Walks with grace and ease; speaks with openness and resolution; has the look and manner of a cultivated lady. Personal mark, two little moles close together on the left side of the neck. Whoever will restore her to her friends shall receive a handsome reward. Apply to Mr. Pendril, Lincoln's-inn-fields, London." What a fuss about a runaway girl! Bah! Let her go! (The music is heard playing a march. MRS. LECOUNT looks off to the right.) Here is the army of brats -- with Mr. Noel for general, marching at their head!
(Enter by the side entrance on the right the schoolchildren, led by NOEL VANSTONE. At the same time the clergy, the teachers, and the visitors, CAPTAIN WRAGGE and MAGDALEN being among them, all enter the tent by the opening at the back. NOEL brings the front rank of children to a halt in the open space left between the tea-table and the bench. His manner is feebly consequential. He is smartly dressed, in a light suit, with a hat and shoes to match, and has a rose in his button-hole.)
Noel (using his little walking-cane like a sword). Halt! Attention! Keep your hands off the table! (Calling to the musicians.) Stop the march! (The music ceases. NOEL addresses MAGDALEN in his most gracious manner.) Nobody else, Miss Bygrave, could have got those children into the tent without confusion. The management of crowds is a peculiar gift. I possess it. (He turns again to the children.) Right about face! (The children all turn towards the audience.) Attention! Silence in the ranks!
(He passes down the ranks of the children, settling them in their places. The visitors talk among themselves. WRAGGE speaks aside to MAGDALEN.)
Wragge. What do you think of him, so far?
Mag. So far, a fool -- nothing worse.
Wragge (significantly). Wait a little!
Mrs. L. (looking at MAGDALEN). A new acquaintance of Mr. Noel's! Who is Miss Bygrave, I wonder?
Noel (addressing the visitors). Ladies and gentlemen! The children will sing a Grace. A verse before tea -- a verse after tea. The Festival to conclude with a march back through the grounds, headed. by Me. Is the programme thoroughly understood? Sing the Grace!
(The children sing in unison a verse of some simple Grace, accompanied or not accompanied, as may be found most desirable, NOEL VANSTONE every now and then beating time with his cane, all wrong, and leering at MAGDALEN. The first verse or verses finished, NOEL takes command of the children once more. )
Noel. Very well! very well! creditable to the school. (To MAGDALEN.) Did you notice, Miss Bygrave, they all took the time from Me? (To the children.) Attention! Right about face! (The children turn so as to face the table.) Take your seats. Visitors who may be kindly willing to wait on the children are at liberty to make themselves useful. (The servants having moved the bench so that the children can sit at table, the visitors help them to tea and cake. WRAGGE, MAGDALEN, MRS. LECOUNT, and NOEL group themselves on the left-hand side of the stage, leaving the larger half of it, on the right, free to the visitors, the servants, and the children. NOEL addresses MAGDALEN.) Administrative ability is everything on these occasions, Miss Bygrave. I inherit administrative ability from my father. (He turns to MRS. LECOUNT, who stands apart jealously watching MAGDALEN, and looking from time to time at the printed bill in her hand.) Lecount, come and be introduced. This is Mr. Bygrave. (WRAGGE takes off his hat to MRS. LECOUNT.) Mr. Bygrave has laid me under an obligation.
Wragge. Don't mention it, Mr. Vanstone!
Noel. You remember those begging-letters, Lecount? I said, at the time, a swindle. Mr. Bygrave knows who the fellow is. Mr. Bygrave is going to help me to catch him. He may be among the visitors at this moment. (To WRAGGE.) What is Wragge like?
Wragge. A, short, fat man, most richly and expensively dressed.
Noel. Do you see Wragge anywhere?
Wragge (after carefully looking). No -- I don't see Wragge.
Noel. Lecount, let me introduce you to Miss Bygrave. (To MAGDALEN.) Lecount is my housekeeper. Lecount was my father's housekeeper. I don't know what I should do without her. I have got a heart complaint, Miss Bygrave. Nobody has ever had anything like it before. Nobody knows how to manage it but Lecount. My life is literally in Lecount's hands.
Mrs. L. (steadily scrutinising MAGDALEN'S face.) Mr. Noel is too good to me! You enjoy this scene, Miss Bygrave? You feel an interest in these poor children?
Mag. (coldly.) Have we met before, Mrs. Lecount?
Mrs. L. Ah, no! Why do you ask?
Mag. You look at me with an appearance of curiosity which I am at a loss to account for.
Mrs. L. I admire beauty, Miss Bygrave, that is all.
(She moves so as to be able to see the left side of MAGDALEN'S neck, and furtively consults the printed bill. The four characters are placed thus on the stage: MRS. LECOUNT at the extreme left, MAGDALEN next to her, WRAGGE next to MAGDALEN, NOEL on the right.)
Wragge (aside to MAGDALEN). Mind what you are about!
Mrs. L. (aside) I don't see the two little moles on the neck.
Mrs. L. Yes, sir.
Noel. What's that paper you have got in your hand.
Mrs. L. (crossing to NOEL, WRAGGE taking her place on MAGDALEN'S left). A little romance in itself, Mr. Noel. A reward for discovering a young lady who has run away from home.
(MAGDALEN starts violently. WRAGGE seizes her by the hand.)
Wragge (aside to MAGDALEN). Steady!
Noel. With a young gentleman, of course? Lucky dog!
Wragge (crossing behind MAGDALEN, and placing himself between her and MRS. LECOUNT). Might I see it?
(He attempts to take the bill.)
Mrs. L. (snatching it away from him). Pardon me, Mr. Bygrave, I must not show it to strangers.
Noel. I'm not a stranger, Lecount. Show it to me!
Mrs. L. You are my master, Mr. Noel. (She gives him the bill.)
Noel (looking at the bill). A charming girl, evidently. Mr. Bygrave, listen to this.
Wragge (aside to MAGDALEN). Keep behind me!
Noel (reading here and there only from the bill). "Age eighteen; walks with grace and ease; personal mark, two little moles on the left side of the neck."
Mag. (outraged). Oh!
Mrs. L. (trying to see MAGDALEN). Did Miss Bygrave speak?
Wragge. I spoke. I expressed a natural interest in a fine girL I said -- oh!
Noel. What a neck it must be! One quite longs to kiss the two little moles!
(MAGDALEN mutely expresses her indignation.)
Mrs. L. (to WRAGGE). Are you hiding your niece from me, Mr. Bygrave?
Wragge. My niece is shy, Mrs. Lecount. Your admiration rather discomposes her.
Noel (to MRS. LECOUNT). Where did you get this handbill, Lecount?
Mrs. L. I hardly like to tell you, Mr. Noel. It was given to me by Mr. George Bartram.
(NOEL starts, and looks offended.)
Mag. (amazed and distressed). George!
Mrs. L. (hearing her, and looking round WRAGGE). Miss Bygrave, do you know him?
Wragge. Well! A distant connexion of ours. George Bartram of Bombay. (Aside to MAGDALEN.) Control yourself!
Noel. It's not the same, Mr. Bygrave. Not Bartram of Bombay. If I had known George was here, Lecount, I should have insisted on an apology. What did he mean by giving you the handbill?
Mrs. L. It is his infatuation, Mr. Noel. You must make allowances for him. The runaway young lady with the moles is -- Miss Magdalen Vanstone.
Wragge (speaking aloud). Let's see how the children are getting on. (He gives MAGDALEN his arm, and continues aside.) Has she seen the moles on your neck?
Mag. My hair hides them, as my hair is dressed to-day.
(WRAGGE and MAGDALEN walk aside a little.)
Noel. Don't talk of the Miss Vanstones, Lecount. I'm sick of the very sound of their names.
Mrs. L. Forgive me, sir, if I say one little word more. I have a message to give you about these Miss Vanstones.
Mag. (aside to WRAGGE). Do you hear that?
(She drops WRAGGE'S arm, but continues to stand near him, listening intently. They are both at some little distance from NOEL and MRS. LECOUNT.)
Noel. Who gave you the message?
Mrs. L. Admiral Bartram, sir.
Noel. You must have made some mistake. You're getting addle-headed, you good creature!
Mrs. L. I have made no mistake. The admiral -- in so many words -- expresses his sympathy with the Miss Vanstones. He recommends you, most seriously recommends you, to halve the money with them. There is the message, sir.
Noel. Halve the money with them! I wouldn't give them a sixpence, Lecount, if they were both on their knees before me at this moment!
(WRAGGE turns instantly on MAGDALEN, with his hand lifted to check an anticipated outbreak. To his amazement she is, outwardly, quite calm.)
Wragge (starting). She is as cool as I am!
Mag. (with her hand on her bosom and her teeth set). She is controlling herself!
Mrs. L. (intentionally aggravating NOEL). Be careful, Mr. Noel. They say the young one of the two -- the runaway -- is a dangerous person to make an enemy of.
Noel. Pooh! pooh! If the young one (as you call her) annoys me, the young one will see the inside of a police court. Not a sixpence to either of them, Lecount! My mind is made up -- drop the subject. (He turns to MAGDALEN.) I hope you're not bored, Miss Bygrave? I hope I may count on seeing you again?
Mag. (significantly). You may count certainly, Mr. Vanstone, on seeing me again. (NOEL bows, simpers, and passes on to the tea-table. MAGDALEN turns to WRAGGE, and continues aside to him.) If you let him say another word to me, I won't answer for the consequences!
Wragge. Come this way.
(He takes her towards the opening of the tent. MRS. LECOUNT, who has hitherto remained in her place steadily watching MAGDALEN, slowly approaches the tea-table. At the same moment the teacher of the school gives the signal to the children to rise, by striking three strokes with a mallet on the table. The visitors disperse in the tent. MAGDALEN and WRAGGE are seen pacing backwards and forwards outside, before the opening of the tent, screened from the observation of NOEL and MRS. LECOUNT by the front rank of the visitors. NOEL resumes the direction of the proceedings. )
Noel. Silence, for the Grace after tea! (The children sing another verse of the Grace. At the close of it, MAGDALEN and WRAGGE re-enter the tent, keeping back in the left-hand corner, so as to be out of the way of the visitors when they leave the place. NOEL gives the children the word of command for leaving.) Left about face! File out! (The children slowly file out, singing the last verses of the Grace. Their voices grow fainter in the distance. NOEL turns to MRS. LECOUNT, who is near him) Lecount! you have upset me about those Miss Vanstones. (He puts his hand on his heart.) I have got that cursed palpitation again.
Mrs. L. Sit down and rest, Mr. Noel.
Noel. How can I sit down, when I have got to take the children back to the house? Nobody can do it but me!
Mrs. L. Take my arm, sir.
(NOEL takes her arm. They go out together on the right to join the children. The visitors leave the tent by the back. MAGDALEN and WRAGGE come down to the front together. The voices of the children are still heard more and more faintly to the end of the Act.)
Wragge (looking round him). We are alone. What do you say now?
Mag. (with concentrated energy). Noel Vanstone shall render back to the last farthing the birthright of which he has robbed my sister and me.
Wragge. Bravely resolved. You saw your way with his father, if his father had lived. Do you see your way with him?
Mag. Not yet.
Wragge. I see it plainly.
Mag. Point it out.
Wragge. You must have noticed yourself that you have produced a strong impression on Noel Vanstone.
Mag. (angrily). Don't waste time and words! How are we to begin?
Wragge. We are to begin by improving our acquaintance with him. He is going to Aldborough, on the Suffolk coast, for the benefit of his health. We must go there too.
Mag. And what then?
Wragge. Is it possible you don't see? You want -- thousand by thousand -- to squeeze the little miser's money out of him.
Mag. Only the money that is ours!
Wragge. Only the money that is yours. There is one certain way, and but one, of doing that.
Mag. (impatiently). In two words, what is it?
Wragge. In two words, marry him!
MAGDALEN starts back thunderstruck. The last faint sound of the children's voices dies away in the distance. The curtain falls.)
IN THREE SCENES.
(DATE JULY 16, 1870.)
FIRST SCENE.--The beach at Aldborough, Suffolk. Time, morning. On the horizon, the sea and the low coast, crowned by a martello tower. In the middle distance, on the (actor's) right hand, the old town-hall of Aldborough, close on the margin of the sea. Further inland, modern seaside villas. In the foreground, on the left, the verandah and doorsteps by which CAPTAIN WRAGGE'S villa is entered. In the middle of the stage, the garden of the villa, bounded by a fence, with one or two iron garden chairs standing about. On the right-hand side, a portion of the public promenade, which serves as the entrance on the right, and communicates with the garden by a gate. The entrance on the left is by the way in and out of CAPTAIN WRAGGE'S villa. A fortnight has passed since the preceding Act.
At the rise of the curtain, MRS. LECOUNT is discovered on the right, standing outside the cottage-gate, and looking at MAGDALEN, who is seated in the garden, at some little distance up the stage, with her eyes fixed on the sea, unconscious of MRS. LECOUNT'S presence, lost in her own thoughts.
Mrs. L. There she sits! plotting to be mistress of Mr. Noel's house, in my place. Do it, my young lady, if you can. (She looks away from MAGDALEN, and pursues her own thoughts.) Proof! nothing will open Mr. Noel's eyes but proof. I have my own suspicion, which tells me who that girl really is -- but I have no more. What is wanting to put the proof in my hands? I have only to see the lawyer, whose name is at the bottom of Mr. George's printed bill. But seeing the lawyer means going to London. And going to London, means leaving my blind little fool of a master to marry Miss Bygrave in my absence.
(CAPTAIN WRAGGE appears on the left, descending the steps of the cottage. He is dressed like a respectable middle-aged gentleman, and is in high spirits.)
Wragge. Mrs. Lecount! Good morning, ma'am. (He advances to the gate.) Glorious weather, isn't it? Come in!
Mrs. L. (declining). Thank you, sir. I am on my way to do my marketing for the house. I only stopped to admire your pretty cottage.
Wragge. You are too good! I hope you have better accounts of your brother, ma'am?
Mrs. L. Ah! you know about my brother, Mr. Bygrave?
Wragge. Mr. Noel tells me you have a brother settled at Penzance, in Cornwall -- a brother who has been dangerously ill.
Mrs. L. He is getting better, Mr. Bygrave. I have heard again from his doctor this morning.
Wragge. I congratulate you. Shall we see Mr. Noel to-day?
Mrs. L. He will pass this way, sir, at his customary time, for his customary walk -- with Me.
(She bows to WRAGGE, and goes out on the right.)
Wragge. Stick to him as tight as you like, you she-cat. He will be married, in spite of you, in three days' time! (His tone changes, and becomes serious.) I wonder what humour Magdalen is in this morning? It's no easy task to manage her, now the day is fixed. (He turns round and sees MAGDALEN at the back, still absorbed in herself.) There she is! Good morning, my dear. What are you doing there? Admiring the view?
Mag. (coming slowly down to the front). What is to-day?
Mag. How many days ----? (She stops.)
Wragge. Before the wedding day? You marry him on Wednesday next.
Mag. (to herself in low, despairing tones; counting the days on her fingers). Sunday -- one. Monday -- two. Tuesday -- three. Something may happen to him. Something may happen to me. One of us may die.
Wragge. Can't you realise it? Let me help you. Here is your Marriage License! That's something real, isn't it? I am going to-day to give the usual notice at the parish church here. There's reality for you again. Solid reality. Fees.
Mag. (wildly). Don't show it to me! Don't speak of it! Where is your wife?
Wragge. Safe in-doors -- out of Mrs. Lecount's reach. I have given her a cookery-book, and I have insisted on her learning how to cook me an omelette before I let her stir out of the house. She's safe in the kitchen -- with omelette on the brain -- till Wednesday next. (MAGDALEN turns towards the cottage.) Where are you going?
Mag. (sternly). I am going to take refuge from myself -- and from you.
Wragge. With Mrs. Wragge?
Mag. (on the first step). Poor Mrs. Wragge's life is hard enough already. It shall not be made harder to serve our vile interests. You have set her her lesson. I am going to help her to learn it.
Wragge. One word before you begin. Noel Vanstone is coming here directly, while his housekeeper's back is turned. Am I, or am I not, to squeeze him on the subject of a marriage settlement?
Mag. Say nothing about it. Leave the use to which he is to put his money for the future in my hands.
(She goes into the cottage.)
Wragge. In her hands! There was a light in her eye that boded ill to somebody when she said that! (NOEL VANSTONE appears on the promenade at the right. WRAGGE hurries to meet him.) Good morning, Mr. Vanstone.
Noel (in terror at the gate). Where's Lecount?
Wragge. Gone to market. Come in.
Noel. I'll stop in the garden. Lecount can't listen here. (He takes a chair.) Can I see Miss Bygrave?
Wragge. My niece is not visible yet. Later in the day, when you come out for your walk. -- In the mean while, let us get to business. Do you thoroughly understand what we are to do between this and the wedding-day?
Noel. Suppose we go over it again -- for form's sake?
Wragge. Very good. We start from this position. For obvious reasons, your marriage is to be kept a secret from Mrs. Lecount, until you are off for the honeymoon, out of her reach. How do we manage to make your housekeeper leave this place?
Noel (in high glee). By a pious fraud!
Wragge. By a pious fraud. We know that Mrs. Lecount has a brother in Cornwall, from whom she has expectations. We know that the brother has been very ill. We arrange, through a friend of mine, that Mrs. Lecount shall receive a telegram from Penzance, on Monday next, calling her instantly to her brother's bedside. Will she go; leaving you behind her, a prey to Mr. Bygrave and his niece?
Noel (as before). Not she!
Wragge. Not she! How do we meet that difficulty?
Noel (as before). You're to come and drink tea with us to-night -- and you're to quarrel with me -- and we are not to communicate again, till Lecount has left Aldborough.
Wragge. And you volunteer -- don't forget that! -- to accompany Lecount as far as London. What do you tell her?
Noel (as before). I tell her I'm sick of Aldborough after what has happened. I mean to try a week or so, for a change, in London.
Wragge. Perfect! Lecount knows that no communication has passed between us, and believes you on the evidence of her own senses. She goes on to Cornwall by the train on Monday night. You return here by the train on Tuesday morning. And you are married on Wednesday, two hours before Mrs. Lecount can possibly get back from Penzance to this place. Neat -- isn't it?
Noel. You're a wonderful man, Mr. Bygrave!
Wragge. Ha! ha! ha! One would think I had never done anything all my life but take people in!
Noel (humouring the joke). I'd better look after my purse! How do I know I'm not in the company of a swindler?
Wragge. How indeed! There's many a true word spoken in jest -- eh?
(They both laugh heartily. NOEL VANSTONE suddenly remembers his position.)
Noel (starting to his feet). You don't see anything of Lecount, do you? She'll be back directly. I think I'll go!
Wragge. We shall see you after breakfast?
Noel. Yes! yes! (He hastens out on the right.)
Wragge (looking after him). He is a miser; he is a coward; he will be married for his money in three days more to the bitterest enemy he has on earth. If the whole of Noel Vanstone's fortune was offered me, to stand in Noel Vanstone's shoes -- rich as he is, I wouldn't take it! (He turns towards the cottage, and sees MAGDALEN descending the steps with MRS. WRAGGE.) What do I see? Mrs. Wragge publicly exhibited in broad daylight? (To MAGDALEN.) My dear girl, what are you thinking of?
Mag. She is pining for fresh air, and she shall have it. I won't leave her by herself, and I won't take her beyond the garden. Be satisfied with that.
Wragge (yielding). It's your risk, mind; I have nothing to do with it. (MRS. WRAGGE produces a shabby old book, and seats herself, studying it intently. WRAGGE turns towards the cottage.) Mind you get rid of her before Noel Vanstone comes this way with Mrs. Lecount.
Mag. Mrs. Lecount accompanies her master?
Wragge. Don't be alarmed. Mrs. Lecount won't overhear what her master says to you to-day. I undertake to centre her attention entirely on myself.
Wragge. There is one weak point in the housekeeper's character. Her late husband was a professor. A scientific man is an irresistible man to Mrs. Lecount, for her late husband's sake. Bear that in mind, and look at this invaluable book. (He hands MAGDALEN a little book.)
Mag. (reading the title). "Joyce's Scientific Dialogues."
Wragge. I propose to fascinate Mrs. Lecount in the character of a scientific man -- crammed for the occasion out of "Joyce's Dialogues." (He takes back the book.) I'll just run over one or two of the toughest bits in-doors by myself. Don't let my wife out of your sight.
(He goes into the cottage.)
Mag. More deception! More disguises and falsehoods!
(She turns towards MRS. WRAGGE.) Let me do something innocent and harmless, or my horror of myself will be more than I can bear! (She seats herself by MRS. WRAGGE, with an effort to be cheerful and patient.) Well, my poor friend, have I helped you a little? Do you understand it better now?
Mrs. W. I don't know. Sometimes I think I've got it, and it goes away from me. Sometimes I think I haven't got it, and it all comes back in a heap.
Mag. Suppose you read the receipt again -- out loud to me?
Mrs. W. (reading). "Omelette, with herbs: Beat up two eggs with a little water or milk, salt, pepper, chives, and parsley. Mince small." (To MAGDALEN.) How am I to mince small when it's all mixed up and running?
Mag. You are to mince the parsley, I suppose.
Mrs. W. (reading). "Put a piece of butter the size of your thumb into the frying-pan." (To MAGDALEN.) Look at my thumb, and then look at yours. Whose thumb does she mean?
Mag. Let us say your thumb.
Mrs. W. (reading). "Pour in the omelette." There! I can do that. "Allow it to set. Raise it round the edge. When done, turn it over to double it." Oh, the number of times I've turned it over and doubled it in my head! "Keep it soft. Put the dish on the frying-pan, and turn it over." (To MAGDALEN.) Which am I to turn over? Oh, mercy! tell me which, the dish or the frying-pan?
Mag. Put the dish on the frying-pan, and then turn the frying-pan over.
Mrs. W. I want to get it into my head. Say the last part of it again.
Mag. And then turn the frying-pan over.
Mrs. W. (vacantly). Ah, that's it! And then turn the frying-pan, then turn the frying-pan, then turn the frying-pan over! It sounds like poetry, don't it?
(WRAGGE'S voice is heard from the cottage.)
Wragge (shouting). Mrs. Wragge!
Mrs. W. Oh Lord! here he is again!
Wragge (appearing on the steps with a telescope in his hand, and addressing MAGDALEN). They are coming this way. I have seen them from the window. (To MRS. WRAGGE.) Go in! Stop! Down at heel again! The right shoe. Pull it up at heel, Mrs. Wragge, pull it up at heel! (MRS. WRAGGE obeys, and goes on to the steps.) Ascend those steps exactly in the middle! More to the left -- more still. Now go in! (MRS. WRAGGE enters the cottage. WRAGGE turns again to MAGDALEN.) I have Joyce at my fingers' ends. We must establish a code of signals before Mrs. Lecount comes in. You see this telescope?
Mag. (wearily). Yes.
Wragge. When I shift the telescope from my left hand to my right, I am talking Joyce. When I shift it back again from my right hand to my left, I am talking Wragge. In the first case, don't interrupt me -- that's all. Steady! Here they are! (NOEL VANSTONE and MRS. LECOUNT appear on the right. WRAGGE hurries out to them.) Don't pass us, Mr. Vanstone. Come in for a minute, Mrs. Lecount.
(NOEL goes in, and pays his respects to MAGDALEN, MRS. LECOUNT keeping close to him, and bowing stiffly to MAGDALEN. WRAGGE busies himself in placing chairs for the party.)
Wragge. Sit down, Mrs. Lecount. Sit down, Mr. Vanstone.
(NOEL places himself next to MAGDALEN. MRS. LECOUNT seats herself on the other side of him. WRAGGE takes his position next to MRS. LECOUNT.
Mag. (forcing herself to say something). You were complaining of your health yesterday, Mr. Vanstone. I hope you feel better this morning?
Noel (tenderly). I feel the influence already of your inquiries.
Mrs. L. (sharply). You feel the influence, Mr. Noel, of your good breakfast and your good night's rest.
Noel (petulantly). I don't feel anything of the sort, Lecount!
(He continues his conversation with MAGDALEN.)
Wragge (aside). Joyce is wanted! (He shifts his telescope from the left hand to the right, and addressing MRS. LECOUNT, points to the sea.) A glorious scene yonder, ma'am! The merchant shipping of the world sailing for the Thames with the morning tide. Is it possible to look at that peaceful fleet, and not be reminded -- (he pauses, and looks hard at MRS. LECOUNT) -- you know -- I needn't tell you!
Mrs. L. Pardon me, Mr. Bygrave, those ships remind me of nothing.
Wragge (persuasively). Yes! yes!
Mrs. L. Of what do they remind me, sir?
Wragge. Of the Theory of Floating Vessels. (He runs on smoothly, as if the next words were quite a matter of course.) All bodies that float on the surface of the water, displace as much fluid as is equal in weight to the weight of the bodies. You know! you know!
Mrs. L. (flattered). I regret to say I do not know, sir.
Wragge (enthusiastically). Then you shall know! I have stated the principle. Now let us apply it in a popular and convincing way. (MRS. LECOUNT'S attention wanders. She looks round suspiciously at NOEL, who is still talking to MAGDALEN. WRAGGE proceeds.) Say, you and I are sailors. Do you suffer at sea?
Mrs. L. (to herself). What is Mr. Noel saying to her?
Wragge (persisting). Do you suffer at sea ----?
Noel (continuing the conversation aloud). I assure you it's true, Miss Bygrave. The coast here is all crumbling away. Mine is the only safe house in Aldborough. My house is built on piles -- the strongest piles in England.
Mag. (answering him wearily). When the sea invades us, we must all fly for refuge to your house.
Noel. I could almost wish the invasion might happen.
Mrs. L. (loudly). Mr. Noel ----!
Noel (continuing to MAGDALEN). I should then have the happiness of offering my house to you!
(He continues his attentions to MAGDALEN.)
Wragge (persisting). Do you suffer at sea?
Mrs. L. (irritated into answering him). Yes, I do, sir!
Wragge. So do I -- horribly! We won't be sailors -- say, we are shipowners instead. How does the firm of Lecount and Bygrave -- we really must get on with the Theory of Floating Vessels! -- how does the firm of Lecount and Bygrave keep its ship and cargo above water? The firm takes care that ship and cargo shall be of less weight than the weight of a quantity of water -- (MRS. LECOUNT'S attention wanders again) -- pray, follow me here! -- of a quantity of water--
Mrs. L. (turning again to NOEL). Mr. Noel! you are sitting here, when you ought to be taking your walk.
Wragge (to MRS. LECOUNT). Of a quantity of water ----
Mrs. L. (angrily turning to him). What quantity of water, sir?
Wragge (enthusiastically). Equal in bulk to that part of the vessel which it will be safe to immerse in the water. Now, ma'am, salt water (as every schoolboy knows) being thirty times heavier than fresh water, when we load our vessel for the Thames, what does the firm of Lecount and Bygrave do?
Mrs. L. (turning again towards NOEL). Mr. Noel!
Wragge (to MRS. LECOUNT). What does the firm of Lecount and Bygrave do?
Mrs. L. (sharply to WRAGGE). Will you let me speak, sir?
Wragge (admiring her). You know beforehand what the firm does? Admirable and accomplished woman! We load, don't we ----?
Mrs. L. (to NOEL). If you are determined not to take your walk, Mr. Noel ----
Wragge. We load, don't we ----?
Mrs. L. (rising and continuing to NOEL). If you set the doctor's orders at defiance, sir, there is nothing left for me but to go home again. (She approaches the gate.)
Wragge (aside to NOEL). Go for your walk! (NOEL rises, and kisses MAGDALEN'S hand. MAGDALEN keeps her seat, shrinking at the touch of his lips. WRAGGE follows MRS. LECOUNT, forcing her to listen to him. ) We load -- as you say -- with one-thirtieth part less than we can carry at sea. Or we take one-thirtieth part of the cargo out, at the mouth of the Thames. Or, we do neither the one nor the other; and when we get to the fresh water -- say at Putney -- down we go to the bottom of the river as a matter of scientific certainty. The Theory of Floating Vessels, Mrs. Lecount. Entirely at your service!
Noel (sulkily joining MRS. LECOUNT). Lecount! I'm waiting. (MRS. LECOUNT submissively gives him her arm. He turns to WRAGGE.) We shall see you to-night, Mr. Bygrave?
Wragge. To-night -- with pleasure. (NOEL and MRS. LECOUNT go out on the right. WRAGGE fans himself with his handkerchief.) Poof! Joyce is harder work than I bargained for. (He turns and observes MAGDALEN, still seated, as NOEL VANSTONE has left her, absorbed in her own horror of the coming marriage. WRAGGE starts, and speaks to her gently.) My dear girl! you're not ill -- are you?
Mag. (not heeding him, counting again on her fingers). Sunday -- one. Monday -- two. Tuesday -- three. Wednesday ---- (She shudders; her voice fails her, and her hands drop on her lap.)
Wragge (daunted). I can't have this! It looks like a reproach to me. If you can't face the marriage -- if you prefer leaving Noel Vanstone in possession of your father's money -- say the word. The people at the church here want three clear days' notice of a marriage. If the notice is to be given, I must give it to-day.
Mag. (faintly, without looking at him). Give it!
Wragge. You really mean me to go?
Mag. (as before). Go!
Wragge (to himself). She can't say I didn't warn her. Now for the church!
(He goes out on the right. The scene closes on MAGDALEN, still petrified in her chair, and changes to
THE SECOND SCENE.-- A Front Scene representing a room in MR. PENDRIL'S chambers, at Lincoln's Inn. Side entrances, right and left. Time, night. Three days are supposed to have passed since the First Scene. It is Tuesday night.
Enter MR. PENDRIL and MISS GARTH on the left; MR. PENDRIL has an open letter in his hand.
Mr. P. I must apologise for receiving you in this comfortless room, Miss Garth. I have a few friends to dinner to-night, and we can only consult privately here.
Miss G. (eagerly). What have you heard?
Mr. P. Magdalen has been discovered at Aldborough, by Noel Vanstone's housekeeper, Mrs. Lecount. I received this letter from her, by private messenger, an hour since, and instantly sent off to you. Read it.
(He gives MISS GARTH the letter.)
Miss G. (after looking over the first page of the letter). Not a doubt! It is Magdalen! (She turns to the second page and starts.) What's this? On the point of being married to Noel Vanstone, in a false character, and under a false name? Oh! You don't believe that!
Mr. P. See what Mrs. Lecount says of it.
Miss G. (reading a passage in the letter). "The moment I got to my brother's house, I found out the trick that had been played upon me. The object is plain. She has got me out of her way, and she means to marry Mr. Noel in my absence." (MISS GARTH turns to MR. PENDRIL.) The bare thought of it horrifies me! What are we to do?
Mr. P. We must wait to hear further from Mrs. Lecount. You have not read the postscript.
Miss G. (reading the postscript). "I have gone to speak to Mr. George Bartram at his chambers. You shall see me, or hear from me, afterwards." Can we trust Mrs. Lecount?
Mr. P. We may trust her, where her own interests are concerned. (He looks of on the right.) Here is more news coming.
Miss G. (looking off). George Bartram! (GEORGE enters on the right. MISS GARTH eagerly appeals to him.) What have you heard? Can Mrs. Lecount stop this horrible marriage?
Geo. Do Magdalen justice! Mrs. Lecount is her enemy -- Mrs. Lecount may be doing her grievous wrong.
Mr. P. I would not advise you to rely on that.
Geo. I don't rely on it. I am now on my way to the terminus to order a special train for Aldborough, to-morrow morning.
Miss G. A special train?
Geo. The earliest passenger train to-morrow only reaches Aldborough at half-past one in the afternoon. By special train, we shall get there in time to stop the marriage -- if marriage is really contemplated.
Miss G. Are you going to Aldborough with Mrs. Lecount?
Geo. Certainly, for Magdalen's sake.
Mr. P. You still believe in her?
Geo. I know what is noble in Magdalen's nature, Mr. Pendril. I know how unsuspiciously a noble nature receives first impressions, how slow it is to calculate, how quick it is to feel. It may fall, on the hard journey of life, but it has in it the capacity to rise again. Magdalen will yet appeal against your hard judgment of her. Till that time comes, I can see that her own keen sense of the wrong that she has suffered is her own worst enemy. I can make allowance for generous impulses led astray by temptation and bad advice. In one word, I can sympathise with her, and I go to Aldborough with Mrs. Lecount.
Mr. P. Why do you wait till to-morrow if you take a special train?
Geo. There is no other alternative. Mrs. Lecount is not able to travel to-night.
Miss G. Fatigue?
Geo. Partly fatigue. She has travelled from London to Penzance, and then back again from Penzance to London, with only a half-hour's interval between the journeys. But there is another reason. When she left my chambers, she left for a long interview with her lawyer.
Mr. P. What does she want with her lawyer?
Geo. From certain expressions which she let fall, I suspect she is going back to Noel Vanstone provided with the necessary form for making his will.
Mr. P. Quite likely.
Geo. (to Miss GARTH). Have you any message to Magdalen? You shall hear from me by telegraph.
Miss G. I will send my message by telegraph, when I know that Magdalen is not married.
Geo. Good-night, Mr. Pendril. They may want notice at the terminus. I have no time to lose.
(He goes out on the right.)
Miss G. (to MR. PENDRIL). How will it end?
Mr. P. The telegraph will tell us. Don't let it dwell on your mind. You will find friends of yours among my guests. Come and join them.
(He gives MISS GARTH his arm. They go out at the left. The scene changes to
THIRD SCENE.-- The drawing-room of NOEL VANSTONE'S villa at Aldborough. Time, the next morning. A bow-window at the back, with a view over the sea. Entrances at the side, right and left. A sofa in a prominent position, so that it can be seen by the whole audience. A small writing-table in one part of the room, a side-table in another, with a bottle of wine, on it and some glasses. WRAGGE and NOEL VANSTONE are discovered in the room.
Wragge (giving NOEL his hand). Accept my congratulations, Mr. Vanstone! Nothing has occurred to disturb the marriage ceremony. You and my niece are man and wife. (NOEL silently nods his acknowledgments, and puts his hand to his heart.) Any pain at the heart?
Noel. Not exactly pain, a horrid sinking.
Wragge (aside, looking at him). That diseased heart of his is no fancy! (To NOEL.) Take a glass of wine.
(He gives NOEL a glass of wine, and takes one himself.)
Noel (looking at the clock on the chimney-piece). A quarter to twelve! I want to get a good start of Lecount. Where is my wife?
Wragge. Putting on her travelling-dress. We will send and say the carriage is at the door. (He rings the bell. A female servant appears.) Is your mistress dressed yet for the journey?
The Servant. Dressed -- and gone out, sir.
Noel (in alarm). Gone out!
Wragge. Odd, isn't it? (To the Servant.) You needn't wait.
The Servant. If you please, sir, a gentleman called just now, and left this card and letter for you.
(She hands the letter and the card to WRAGGE, and goes out.)
Wragge (looking at the card). The local chemist! I never take physic -- what the deuce can the chemist mean by writing to me?
Noel (terrified). It's a blind to deceive us. The chemist is a spy of Lecount's! If you don't mind, I'll wait and see what comes of it in the next room.
(NOEL goes out on the left.)
Wragge (looking after him). What a life he must have led with Mrs. Lecount! (He opens and reads the letter.) "To Thomas Bygrave, Esq." What's this? (He takes out some postage stamps.) Postage stamps! (He reads.) "Sir, -- Excuse my intruding on you. I have a word to write to you in private on the subject of your niece. I know the young lady by sight, having often seen her walking with you on the public promenade. A few minutes since she came into my shop. I must beg you not to he alarmed. She said she was suffering from toothache, and she asked me for an ounce of laudanum." (He stops in alarm.) Poison! (He goes on reading.) "I may have been wrong, but I thought I saw signs of very serious agitation in her face and manner. I have daughters of my own, and I felt warned to be careful. I served the young lady with a bottle of harmless coloured liquid, and I hasten immediately to communicate with you. The money your niece gave me is enclosed in postage stamps. And I beg to add that the circumstance will be kept strictly secret by yours obediently, ----" (WRAGGE puts the letter into his pocket, and speaks, after an interval, in tones of sincere distress.) She whispered in my ear when the service began, "Don't be afraid of me." And this is how it ends! This is how she faces the prospect of going away with Noel Vanstone as his wife! What will happen when she discovers that she has been saved in spite of herself? I know her! She will seek some new means of self-destruction before the day is out. What am I to do? (He goes to the window, looks out, and returns.) She is coming in! My wife has met her at the door. Has she drunk the harmless draught?
Enter on the right MAGDALEN and MRS. WRAGGE. WRAGGE stands apart observing MAGDALEN.
Mrs. W. (timidly). You don't seem happy now you're married. Are you troubled in your mind?
Mag. (putting her arm affectionately round MRS. WRAGGE). My poor dear! I puzzle you, don't I? You mustn't fret about me. My trouble will soon be over.
Wragge (aside). She has drunk it. She believes she has poisoned herself!
Mag. (continuing, very tenderly). When you are an old, old woman, you will remember me kindly, won't you? You will say, "She wasn't a bad girl. Hundreds worse than she was live and proper, and nobody blames them."
Mrs. W. (distressed). What do you mean? You're not going to die before I am?
Mag. I'm talking nonsense! All girls talk nonsense, don't they? And I am no better than the rest of them. (WRAGGE approaches. MAGDALEN turns towards him.) I have been down to the beach to say good-bye to the sea. Where is Mr. Vanstone?
Wragge. In there. (Aside, as he goes to open the door on the left.) How resigned she is to going away with him now! (He opens the door. NOEL appears.)
Noel. Is it all right?
Wragge. Quite right!
Mag. (quietly, without looking at NOEL). I am ready for the journey, Mr. Vanstone.
Noel (uneasily). Delighted to hear it. (To WRAGGE.) I feel faint again. Could you put me some brandy into the carriage?
Wragge (to MRS. WRAGGE). Run over to our house, and fetch the flask out of my room.
Mrs. W. Yes, captain. (She goes out on the right.)
Mag. We might call at your house as we go by. It would save Mrs. Wragge the trouble of coming back. (Aside to WRAGGE, very earnestly.) Try not to be hard on your wife! If you have any friendly remembrance of me, be kind to poor Mrs. Wragge for my sake. (She turns to NOEL.) Shall we go down-stairs?
(NOEL offers her his arm, and accompanies her to the door on the right.)
Wragge (aside). If I let her go, I let her destroy herself! (Calling her back from the door.) Stop a minute!
Noel (in alarm.) What's the matter?
Wragge. Nothing. Don't hurry! (Aside.) I don't know what to say, for the first time in my life!
Mag. (leaving NOEL to look at WRAGGE). You seem to be vexed about something.
Wragge. No! no!
Noel (calling to WRAGGE) Don't keep us here! I want to get away!
(MAGDALEN joins NOEL again at the door.)
Wragge. Stop! (MAGDALEN looks round at him in surprise.) I have something to say to you. (Aside.) What am I to say?
Noel (impatiently). Let us go! let us go!
Wragge (to MAGDALEN). You -- you said something, just now -- about my wife ----
Mag. Hush! Surely I heard your wife's voice?
Mrs. W. (calling outside). Mr. Noel! Mr. Noel!
Noel. I'm caught! (He makes for the door on the left.)
Wragge (stopping him). Pooh! The train doesn't reach Aldborough till half-past one.
Mrs. W. (announcing, in total ignorance of the catastrophe which is going to happen). Mrs. Lecount!
(NOEL utters a cry of terror, and catches WRAGGE helplessly by the arm. MAGDALEN remains perfectly composed. WRAGGE recovers his spirits, in the presence of an emergency which he knows how to deal with.)
Wragge (to NOEL). Be a man on your wedding-day! Who cares for Lecount? (He addresses MRS. WRAGGE.) Tell the carriage to go on, and wait at my house. (To MAGDALEN.) If this ends in a scandal, we may just as well draw the idlers outside away from the door.
(MRS. LECOUNT enters on the right, followed by GEORGE BARTRAM. MRS. WRAGGE, who has made way for her at the door, goes out when the entrance is clear. MRS. LECOUNT advances deliberately to NOEL, carrying a little leather travelling-bag in her hand. GEORGE looks at MAGDALEN in silent sorrow. MAGDALEN'S head sinks on her bosom.)
Mrs. L. (composed and resolute). The carriage at the door, Mr. Noel, and the wedding favours, tell me what has happened. If I am not in time to prevent your marriage, I am in time, thank God, to preserve your life. (She turns to GEORGE, and points to MAGDALEN.) Mr. Bartram, who is that woman?
Geo. (sorrowfully to MAGDALEN.). You have only to say the word -- I will leave you without opening my lips.
Mag. (quietly and firmly). I will spare you the cruel necessity of exposing me. (She turns with dignity to MRS. LECOUNT.) I am Magdalen Vanstone.
(NOEL utters a faint exclamation of horror, and falls swooning. WRAGGE catches him, and, assisted by MRS. LECOUNT, places him on the sofa. This done, MRS. LECOUNT signs angrily to WRAGGE to leave her to recover her master alone. WRAGGE bows with ironical politeness, and then turns to observe MAGDALEN, who has again addressed herself to GEORGE.)
Mag. One word before we part for ever. Don't think me worse than I am. It is true that I have married Noel Vanstone this morning. You can guess what the object was. It ends here. He will never take me home with him as his wife. Placed between death and degradation, I have chosen death. Blame nobody. And remember this: If I have done wrong, I have atoned for it with my life.
(She hands the bottle which she has bought at the chemist's, empty, to GEORGE.)
Geo. (looking at the inscription). "Poison!"
Mag. Forgive me, and forget me.
(She goes into the room on the left. As GEORGE springs forward to follow her, WRAGGE stops him and whispers in his ear; then points to the door by which MAGDALEN has disappeared, and speaks his next words aloud.)
Wragge. The verandah, outside that room, leads by steps into the garden. Take Magdalen to my house; and -- (he hesitates) -- somebody must tell her what I have just told you?
Geo. (gravely). You can trust her old friend. I will tell her. (He goes out on the left.)
Wragge (to himself, with an air of relief). That's settled! Now for Mrs. Lecount! (He turns and sees NOEL VANSTONE recovering.) You've brought him to, ma'am?
Mrs. L. (indignantly). What are you doing here, sir?
Wragge (coolly). I am here as the representative of Mrs. Noel Vanstone When Mr. Noel Vanstone is better -- say in half an hour -- he will find me ready to discuss terms. In the mean time, I mark the trick. Good morning! (He goes out on the right.)
Mrs. L. (to NOEL). I am grieved to agitate you, sir, after what you have gone through. But, as things are now, the woman who has married you has a direct interest in your death. If you die without leaving a will, the law gives your widow one-third of the money you leave behind you.
Noel (rousing himself). Fetch a lawyer! I'll make my will directly!
Mrs. L. There is no need, sir, to call in a stranger. My lawyer in London has provided me with the necessary form. I have passed a sleepless night in serving your interests, Mr. Noel. That is the return I make to you for deceiving me.
Noel (gratefully). You good Lecount! you excellent Lecount! (He rises and walks feebly to the writing-table.) Where's the will?
Mrs. L. Take a glass of wine first, sir. (She gives him a glass of wine, and continues aside.) The blue paleness is still in his face. The blue paleness is a bad sign. (To NOEL.) Do you feel stronger, sir?
Noel. Yes. Read me the will.
Mrs. L. (taking a paper from her travelling-bag). Here it is, sir. (She reads.) "This is the last Will and Testament of me, Noel Vanstone, now living at Aldborough, Suffolk. I hereby appoint Rear-Admiral Arthur Bartram, of St. Crux-in-the-Marsh, Yorkshire, sole executor of this my will. I give and bequeath to Madame Virginie Lecompte (widow of Professor Lecompte, late of Zurich) ----" At that place there is a blank left, sir. It is for you to say by what legacy you reward my faithful services to your father and to yourself.
Noel (uneasily). What should you say to -- a thousand pounds?
Mrs. L. (rising). So! You insult me, Mr. Noel, after what I have done for you to-day?
Noel. Two thousand!
Mrs. L. (gathering up her papers). I will not intrude myself any longer, sir, in Mrs. Noel Vanstone's place.
Noel (clasping his hands in entreaty). Four thousand!
Mrs. L. I wish you good morning, Mr. Noel.
(She goes to the door on the right.)
Noel (in an agony of despair). Five thousand!!!
Mrs. L. (turning round at the door). Free of legacy duty?
Mrs. L. Good morning, sir.
Mrs. L. (returning to her place). Five thousand pounds, free of legacy duty, is a fair acknowledgment of my services, sir, on the part of a rich man like you. Set it down there. (She places the will before NOEL, who fills in the blank.) Thank you, sir. We will now read the rest of your will. (She reads over NOEL'S shoulder.) "The whole residue of my estate, after payment of my burial expenses and my lawful debts, I give and bequeath to Rear-Admiral Bartram, my executor aforesaid, to be by him applied to such uses as he may think fit."
Noel. Is that all?
Mrs. L. The forms relating to the signatures follow, sir. I will ring for the servants to be witnesses. (She rings. The female Servant appears.) Tell James he is wanted, and come back here with him yourself.
Noel. Why do I leave my money to Admiral Bartram?
Mrs. L. You have no relations living, Mr. Noel. You leave your money to your oldest and best friend. Sign, and I shall have something more to say to you about this. (The two servants enter on the right. MRS. LECOUNT addresses them.) You are called in to witness your master's signature to his will. Sign, Mr. Noel. (NOEL signs. MRS. LECOUNT continues to the servants.) Sign your names there. (The servants sign.) Thank you. That will do. (The servants go out on the right.)
Noel (faintly). Is it all over, Lecount? I'm dreadfully shaken; I want to lie down again.
Mrs. L. There is one thing more to do, sir. When your will is proved, your widow can see it by paying a shilling at the office in London. Do you wish to leave Admiral Bartram exposed to the plots of the vile woman who is now your wife?
Noel (reviving for a moment). No! no ! no!
Mrs. L. Don't excite yourself, Mr. Noel. (She takes a second paper out of her bag.) Here is the way to be even with her! You have left your property to the admiral in this will, which your widow sees. Take the property away from him again, in this private letter, which remains a dead secret between the admiral and yourself. The thing is quite lawful; and the lawyer's name for it is -- a Secret Trust. (She hands the letter to NOEL.)
Noel (sinking once more). My eyes are heavy, Lecount. Read the letter.
Mrs. L. There is a blank place here also, sir, which must be first filled up. Let us fill it up with the name of your next oldest friend -- Mr. George Bartram.
Noel (drowsily). George! Haven't I quarrelled with George?
Mrs. L. He quarrelled with you, Mr. Noel. But he has atoned for it now. It is through him that I have got here, before your wife had time to take you away. Mr. George hired a special train.
Noel (reviving a little). Does George pay for it?
Mrs. L. Yes, sir.
Noel (sinking back). Put down his name, Lecount.
Mrs. L. (after inserting GEORGE'S name). It is done. Now, Mr. Noel, this is what you say in the letter. You first warn the admiral that Magdalen Vanstone is in no case to have the money. And you then direct him to give his legacy to his nephew on two conditions -- conditions which his nephew will certainly fulfil. First, that Mr. George marries. Second, that your widow shall not be his wife. There is an obstacle in her way, sir, which she will not get over! -- no, not even with Mr. Bygrave to help her! Are you asleep, Mr. Noel?
Noel (rousing himself). Only tired.
(MRS. LECOUNT puts the letter before him.)
Mrs. L. Sign your name once more, sir, and you shall have a nice sleep. (Giving him the pen.) There -- in that place.
Noel (wildly). Where?
Mrs. L. (guiding his hand). Here, sir. (NOEL with a last effort, signs. MRS. LECOUNT raises him from the chair.) Now, Mr. Noel, come and rest on the sofa. (He lies quietly with closed eyes. MRS. LECOUNT returns to the writing-table in triumph.) Done, and well done! I am even with Magdalen Vanstone at last! Let me seal up the will and the Trust. (She lights a taper; a knock is heard at the door on the right. MRS. LECOUNT pauses with the papers in her hand.) Come in! (CAPTAIN WRAGGE appears. MRS. LECOUNT ironically salutes him.) Are you back again, Mr. Bygrave? I mark the trick this time, sir. Mr. Noel has made his will, and here it is!
(She holds up the will, then places it on the table by the side of the Trust.)
Wragge. The trick is yours, ma'am, but the rubber is not played yet. (He advances close to MRS. LECOUNT, and stands at the opposite side of the writing-table, at which she is sitting.) The will amply revenges you on Mr. Noel's widow, I have no doubt. I am here now to assert the interests of Mr. Noel's wife.
(He looks down at the documents on the table.)
Mrs. L. (putting her hand over the papers). Not quite so near, Mr. Bygrave!
Wragge (drawing back, and speaking aside). Not quite quick enough, ma'am! News for Magdalen! There is another paper besides the will. And it's endorsed: "Secret Trust."
Mrs. L. (enclosing the papers). Has your niece sent you here to beg for money?
Wragge. My niece has not sent me here. I assert her claims on my own responsibility. (He turns towards the sofa.) Mr. Noel appears to he asleep! I am afraid I must wake him.
Mrs. L. (sealing the envelope). He will give you nothing, when you have woke him. He will appeal to the law. The law will release him from a woman who has married him by a trick.
Wragge. The law will hear both sides, Mrs. Lecount. In the mean time, his wife is his wife, and I mean to wake him. (He goes to the sofa, stoops over NOEL, and recoils from him with a cry of horror. MRS. LECOUNT rises in alarm. WRAGGE points to the sofa, and calls to her under his breath.) Come here!
(MRS. LECOUNT goes to the unoccupied side of the sofa, lays her hand on NOEL'S heart, starts back from the sofa, and looks across it, at the Captain, in silent dismay. The curtain falls.
IN THREE SCENES.
(DATE SEPT. 20, 1870.)
FIRST SCENE.-- A sitting-room in a lodging-house in London, poorly furnished. Side entrances on the right and on the left. A cheap American clock upon the mantelpiece. Writing materials on a table. Two months are supposed to elapse between the third act and the fourth.
On the rise of the curtain, MISS GARTH is discovered, with her bonnet and shawl on, taking leave of a gentleman, who bows to her, and goes out on the left. At the same moment MAGDALEN appears at the door on the right, and approaches MISS GARTH.
Mag. Has the new doctor just left you?
Miss G. Yes.
Mag. What does he say about Norah?
Miss G. He agrees with our regular medical man. The disorder from which your sister has so long suffered has reached a crisis. For the first time there is a chance of her being restored to health, provided we can meet the expenses of the treatment.
Mag. Are the expenses serious?
Miss G. To us, most serious. Many -- I dare not say how many -- hundred pounds.
Mag. (warmly). The hundredth part, perhaps, of the inheritance which my father meant to leave to Norah and to me! -- the hundredth part of the money which is at this moment in the hands of another person, we don't even know whom. Oh, if I could solve the mystery of the Secret Trust! -- if I could discover the person who has defrauded us this time!
Miss G. Magdalen! Magdalen! are those old hopeless aspirations not dead in you yet?
Mag. The sense of wrong, the hatred of injustice, lives in me while I live.
Miss G. Why dwell on the past? Your life is all before you.
Mag. (sadly). What future have I?
Miss G. You have but to say the word; and George Bartram offers you a future, as his wife.
Mag. (suddenly softening). After what I have done?
Miss G. He has forgiven and forgotten what you have done.
Mag. I have not forgotten it. Too late! too late! Don't speak of it again.
Miss G. I must speak of it again, for Norah's sake.
Mag. Anything else, any sacrifice of myself, for Norah, But oh, I can't sacrifice George, so noble, so generous, so good, to such a woman as I am! The time was -- if I had only known it then as I know it now -- when I might have been worthy of him. The time has gone by. Oh me! young as I am, too late! too late! (She rises, and points abruptly to the clock.) Look at the clock! Your class at the school is waiting for you.
Miss G. (rising). Try to think more justly and more hopefully, Magdalen. Let me find you with a quieter mind when I come back. (She goes out on the left.)
Mag. (to herself). With a quieter mind? Ah, Miss Garth, if you only knew how the old sense of that insufferable wrong burns in me still! If you only knew that I am at this moment in secret expectation of a visit from Captain Wragge! Why not? Is there anything degrading, this time, in the object that I am trying to reach? A person unknown is in possession of our birthright. Can any living creature blame me for wanting to find out who that person is? Now, too, when our poverty is an obstacle to Norah's recovery! Now, when my sister's life may depend on what my devotion and my intercession can do! (Looking round impatiently.) Where is Captain Wragge? I appointed the time when Miss Garth would be at the school. Has he made any mistake?
The Servant. A gentleman to see you, ma'am.
Mag. Show him in.
(WRAGGE enters on the left in a new black suit, with a large frill to his shirt, and a new hat and cane; dressed as a quack doctor.)
Wragge. Charmed, my dear girl, to see you again! (Shaking hands with her.) Upon my life this is very pleasant. Like old times, isn't it?
Mag. (looking at him in surprise). Captain Wragge ----
Wragge (interrupting her). Doctor Wragge, if you please.
Mag. What does this change mean?
Wragge. My dear child, human life is one perpetual change. The animal economy, as we doctors say, is always throwing off particles, and putting other particles on. I have done with Moral Agriculture, and I have taken to Medical Agriculture instead. Formerly I preyed on the public sympathy. Now I prey on the public stomach. A word in your ear -- the public stomach pays.
Mag. I don't understand you.
Wragge. I will make myself clear. The founders of my fortunes are three in number. Their names are Aloes, Scammony, and Gamboge. In plainer words, I am now living -- on a Pill! You settled with me liberally, if you remember, my dear, when you left Aldborough with Mr. George Bartram? Very good. I invested my capital in a horse and phaeton; I purchased my drugs and pill-boxes on credit; and, from that time to this, I have scoured the country in my phaeton, with the cheapest pill that has ever been sold in England. Mrs. Wragge accompanies me, in the form of a living advertisement of the virtues of Scammony and Gamboge. She is the afflicted woman whom I have cured of indescribable agonies from every malady under the sun. I issue her portrait on the wrappers of the boxes, with a neat inscription, thus: "Before she took the Pill you might have blown this patient away with a feather. Look at her now!" What are the results? Five hundred thousand boxes of Pills have gamboged the population already. And here am I, with my clothes paid for, and a balance at the bank -- solvent, flourishing, popular, and all on a Pill!
Mag. Am I to understand from this, that it is no longer your interest to help me?
Wragge. By no means. In the first place, I look upon you as my niece. My niece may rely on me. In the second place, additional capital is always welcome in a vast enterprise like mine. The old terms, my dear, command the old services, provided you don't interfere with the sale of the Pill. You got my letter from St. Crux?
Mag. Your letter fails to answer my inquiries. You have found out that Admiral Bartram keeps the Trust at St. Crux under lock and key -- but you have not discovered for me the person who is named in the Trust. You must go back to Yorkshire.
Wragge. I am going back professionally, to prey on the public stomach. As to my going back to the admiral's house -- useless! Impossible to find out the person named in the Trust without seeing the Trust itself.
Wragge. Well -- the one way of making any further discoveries is to get, unsuspected, into the house. I can't do that.
Mag. Somebody must do it.
Wragge. Exactly. Somebody must do it. (He takes a newspaper out of his pocket.) I have got a little surprise in store for you. Don't look at the newspaper -- look at me. Could you assume a disguise of a sort that would be quite new to you?
Wragge. Could you resist Mr. George Bartram -- if he happened to discover you?
Mag. Ask your own experience. Did I resist George Bartram at Aldborough? But for him, I should never have gone back to Norah and Miss Garth. But for him, I should have found my way to my own death, in spite of you all!
Wragge (aside). Nota bene -- beware of Mr. George Bartram! (To MAGDALEN.) I won't ask you to resist him. Could you keep out of his way, if he happened to be looking for you?
Mag. (with an effort). Yes -- if the object was worth the sacrifice.
Wragge. The object is to discover the person named in the Trust. As for the sacrifice, read that advertisement, and judge for yourself.
(He points to the place, and gives her the newspaper.)
Mag. (reading aloud). "Wanted a parlour-maid. Young and active, with a good character. Address by letter (with written references enclosed), the Housekeeper, St. Crux Abbey, St. Crux-in-the-Marsh, Yorkshire."
Wragge. Do you understand now?
Mag. (thoughtfully). Perfectly. (She hands back the newspaper.) The parlour-maid would have opportunities of getting at the admiral's keys. On the face of it, it looks a mean thing to do. It's a theft.
Wragge. It's a forced loan -- nothing more. You borrow his keys -- and return them. You look at the Trust -- and put it back again. Who is injured by that?
Mag. (to herself). It's our money, disposed of without our knowledge. If I can discover the person who has got it; if I can influence the person who has got it -- Norah's recovery is provided for. (To WRAGGE.) Where are you to find the references which secure me the place?
Wragge. Leave that to me.
Mag. Is there no other obstacle in the way?
Wragge. None that I know of.
Mag. Remember Aldborough! (She pauses, shuddering.) Suppose Mrs. Lecount should cross my path for the second time?
Wragge. Mrs. Lecount has retired to live on her means in her native place -- Zurich. She will find the lake nice and handy -- just the thing for trying the Theory of Floating Vessels!
Mag. How long can you give me to decide
Wragge. Decide to-day. The post goes out at six.
Mag. Where can I meet you at five o'clock? A quiet place, away from this part of London.
Wragge. Go to Gray's Inn. Ask the porter at the gate to direct you to Field Court. You will find me there. Anything more?
Mag. Leave me! Miss Garth will be coming back. Mr. Pendril may call. Field Court ----
Wragge. At five o'clock. (He goes out on the left.)
Mag. (after a pause). George! What will George think of me? (She checks herself with an impatient stamp of her foot.) What has he to do with it? I must, and will, decide for myself! (She takes a turn on the stage.) The motive is a righteous one. I'll do it! (She seats herself at the table and takes up the pen.) A line to tell them not to be uneasy about me. A kiss to Norah -- and the first cab that passes will take me to Gray's Inn. (She writes a few lines and stops.) Suppose George should come to St. Crux, while I am there? Suppose George should find me -- disguised as a servant; employed as a spy? (She rises and throws down the pen.) I won't do it!
The Servant. Mr. Pendril, ma'am.
Mag. Show Mr. Pendril in. (The Servant goes out.) He knows George's movements. He can tell me if there is any fear of my meeting George at St. Crux.
Mr. P. Don't let me disturb you, Magdalen. Can I speak to Miss Garth?
Mag. She will be back directly, if you don't mind waiting. (She adds timidly.) We were talking of George this morning. Have you seen him lately?
Mr. P. I have seen him to-day. He has just returned from St. Crux.
Mag. Returned? I thought this was the shooting season.
Mr. P. Quite right. George goes back for the shooting -- in a fortnight's time.
Mag. (aside). A fortnight? -- an eternity! I'll do it. (To MR. PENDRIL) I have a note to write. Will you excuse me?
Mr. P. One word before you take up your pen. Have you, by any chance, heard anything more of that vagabond, Wragge?
Mag. (starting). What do you mean?
Mr. P. I can't be quite sure -- but I thought I saw somebody like him crossing the street as I came up to this door.
Mag. Impossible. You must have been mistaken. (She turns towards the left entrance.) Here is Miss Garth.
MISS GARTH enters on the left. MAGDALEN goes back to the writing-table and finishes her note.
Miss G. (advancing to shake hands). Mr. Pendril! (She looks at him, and suddenly lowers her voice.) Your face tells me you have something serious to say. Bad news?
Mr. P. (looking towards MAGDALEN, and speaking in an undertone.) Don't alarm yourself. I want to speak to you alone.
Mag. (rising, and addressing MISS GARTH, with the letter folded in her hand). Have you any message for Norah? I am going to see if she wants anything.
Miss G. No. (MAGDALEN goes out on the right. MISS GARTH continues to MR. PENDRIL.) Your news! your news!
Mr. P. You have borne sorrow, Miss Garth -- can you bear joy?
Miss G. Tell me at once. In the plainest language -- in the fewest words.
Mr. P. (looking towards the door on the right.) Hush!
(The door opens, and MAGDALEN re-appears, pale, and with an expression of suppressed suffering. MR. PENDRIL and MISS GARTH look at her in momentary embarrassment. She pauses as she crosses the stage at the back, and speaks.)
Mag. Don't let me interrupt you. Norah is reading. I am going up to my room.
(She goes out slowly on the left.)
Miss G. (to MR. PENDRIL). We are alone again. Go on!
Mr. P. I have just returned from St. Crux. The admiral has revealed the secret of the Trust. The person named in it is -- George Bartram!
Miss G. (clasping her hands in breathless interest). Oh!
Mr. P. Wait! The admiral is instructed to give the money to his nephew -- on his nephew's marriage only. And, further, on condition that George does not marry Magdalen Vanstone.
Miss G. (despondently). Is this the good news you promised me a moment since?
Mr. P. Wait once more! You know the admiral's temper. Imagine him tied down by the condition I have just mentioned, and informed, by George's own lips, that George will die a single man, unless he marries Magdalen. Does your woman's wit see a way out of that?
Miss G. Suppose George marries Magdalen? What does the Trust tell the admiral to do with the money in that case?
Mr. P. You would have made a good lawyer, Miss Garth! You have hit the weak point in Mr. Noel Vanstone's cunningly-devised letter. In the case you have mentioned, the money remains with the admiral. The Trust is content with the one cruel condition which prevents Magdalen from recovering her birthright as George's wife. The Trust entirely forgets that Magdalen has a sister, and never once mentions Norah's name!
Miss G. (starting to her feet). The admiral ----?
Mr. P. The admiral restores the property to Norah. Andrew Vanstone's daughters inherit their birthright, after all!
Miss G. Oh, my darlings! my darlings!
(She sinks back into her chair.)
Mr. P. (continuing). And mind this! I was not the man who found the way out of the difficulty. It was George. I was not the man who contended with the admiral's scruples, and conquered them. It was George.
Miss G. Where is he? Let me thank him on my bended knees.
Mr. P. He waits for Magdalen's decision. He shrinks from owing to her sense of obligation, what he will only owe to her love. "Tell nobody but Miss Garth, in the first place," he said to me. "Leave it to her to break the news to Norah, and leave it to both of them only to mention me to Magdalen, if they think right."
Miss G. If I think right? Magdalen shall reward him for this, if I drag her to the church door with my own hands! Where is she? (She rings a bell. The Maidservant enters.) Miss Magdalen?
The Servant. Miss Magdalen has gone out, ma'am.
Miss G. Gone out? She said she was going up to her room.
The Servant. I found this note in her room, ma'am. (She gives MISS GARTH the note, and goes out.)
Miss G. (looking at the direction). Addressed to me! (She opens the note, shudders, and looks away from it.) The last time she left us, there was a note found in her room. I daren't read it!
(She hands the letter to MR. PENDRIL.)
Mr. P. (after looking at the letter). Gone!
(The scene closes on them, changing to
SECOND SCENE.--(Front Scene.) A room in the village inn at St. Crux. A large bow-window open in the Flat, with nothing seen through it but the sky. Entrances at the side, right and left. A rumour of voices heard, as proceeding from a crowd under the window.
A Waiter at the inn enters on the left, followed by MAGDALEN, in the dress of a respectable servant.
The Waiter. You can't see the doctor, miss.
Mag. Why not?
The Waiter. Lord bless you! he has roused up the whole village. He's selling the Pill. (Pointing to the open window.) You may see him for yourself.
MAGDALEN goes to the window -- then turns once more to the waiter.)
Mag. Send down to him, and say I am here. The doctor will see me.
The Waiter. What name, miss?
Mag. No name. Say "the parlour-maid wishes to speak to him." (The Waiter goes out on the right. MAGDALEN continues wearily.) Three days -- only three days since I left London -- and the purpose to which I have devoted myself revolts me already! Has George put a new nature into me? Go where I may, I am haunted by the thought of him. To-morrow shall find me freed from this vile disguise!
Wragge. My dear girl, what did I bargain for? I said it in so many words. "Command my services, as long as you don't interfere with the sale of the Pill."
Mag. I have a reason for interfering. Make up your mind this time to the loss of your profits. I leave St. Crux to-night.
Mag. Not even suspected.
Wragge. Have you laid hands on the Trust?
Wragge. And yet you want to leave to-night?
Mag. George Bartram is in search of me. George Bartram is expected tonight at St. Crux.
Wragge (resignedly). I see! I see! I am sorry for your sister. Her interests are at stake, poor soul, as well as my profits. (He points to the window.) I have left my young man below to represent me with the sick public. One question before I go back. Do you know where the Trust is at this moment?
Mag. The admiral has locked it up in an old bureau that stands in the banqueting-hall.
Wragge. Can you get at his keys?
Mag. I can't steal his keys -- no, not even for Norah's sake.
Wragge. Stuff and nonsense! Where does he keep the keys at night?
Mag. In a basket on the table at his bedside.
Wragge. Does he lock his door?
Mag. I don't know. I daren't try.
Wragge. What are you afraid of?
Mag. I am afraid of meeting him. (In a whisper.) He is a sleep-walker! The servants warned me, on my first night at St. Crux, not to be frightened if I chanced to meet him walking in his sleep. I should be frightened out of my senses if I met him.
Wragge (looking towards the window). The sick public is suspiciously quiet. (To MAGDALEN.) I must attend to my customers. I have only one word more to say. Tell me plainly -- have you courage enough to go back to the house to-night?
Mag. Why do you ask the question?
Wragge. I hate being beaten; and I hate losing my profits. In plain English, I mean to have a try for the Trust myself. (Aside) A bit of wire -- in my hand -- will open the bureau as well as the admiral's key.
Mag. how are you to get at the Trust?
Wragge. That is my business. When do they go to bed at St. Crux? Early?
Mag. The lights are out in the Banqueting Hall at ten.
Wragge. Go back, and put a candle in one of the windows when it's safe for me to come in. (MAGDALEN hesitates.) Your sister's interests are concerned as well as mine. Yes? or No?
Mag. (with an effort). Yes.
(Voices are heard under the window. "The doctor! the doctor!")
Wragge (hurrying to the window). The voice of the sick public! The cry of the people for the Man of the People! (To MAGDALEN.) I won't fail you. Go!
Mag. (at the left entrance). Oh, that the night was over, and the risk run! (She goes out.)
Wragge (addressing the mob from the window). Gentlemen! here I am again, after an interval of necessary repose. Do my eyes deceive me, or is it possible that there are some of you who have not yet purchased the Pill? I address myself to those persons. I put a question to those persons in Roman history. My suffering friends! what do you think of the Emperor Nero? "A monster of cruelty," I hear somebody say. Nothing of the sort! The private correspondence of the period, lately turned up, proves Nero's cruelties to have been solely attributable to Nero's bile. If I had been driving about ancient Rome at the time, Nero might hare descended to posterity in the character of a thoroughly estimable man! Moral: profit by your historical experience, and buy the Pill.
Mrs. W. If you please, captain--
Wragge. (seizing her before she can say more, placing her in front of the window, and continuing his address.) You won't buy the Pill? You won't profit by historical experience? Then take contemporary fact. Let me introduce you to this lady. (Aside to MRS. WRAGGE.) Curtsy to them directly! (MRS. WRAGGE makes several brisk curtsies. The mob cheer.) Inhabitants of St. Crux! Here is a case of fifty years indescribable agony from heartburn, indigestion, asthma, pleurisy, flatulence, elephantiasis, delusions, fits. Before she took the Pill you might have blown this patient away with a feather. Look at her now! (A loud burst of cheering. WRAGGE turns in triumph from the window, and releases his wife.) The sale's set going again. (To MRS. WRAGGE.) What do you think of your husband's eloquence? The ancient Orpheus only moved rocks. The modern Orpheus empties pockets. I am the modern Orpheus.
Mrs. W. (repeating vacantly). You are the modern Orpheus.
Wragge. Put your cap straight! More to the right -- that will do. You came in with a message. What is it?
Mrs. W. It's a gentleman down-stairs. He sent me up here ----
Wragge. (pointing to her shoe). Down at heel again! Pull it up! Stand straight! I decline to receive messages from a crooked woman. More to the left -- more still. That will do. (GEORGE BARTRAM enters on the right. WRAGGE continues to MRS. W.) What does the gentleman want?
Geo. (advancing). I want to speak to you.
Wragge. Mr. George Bartram! (To his wife.) You may go to bed. Don't let me find you sleeping crooked! (MRS. W. goes out on the right. WRAGGE continues to GEORGE.) At your service, sir. What is it?
Geo. This, in few words. Magdalen Vanstone has left her friends for the second time. On the day when she went away you were seen crossing the street in which she lived. You know where she is.
Wragge. Do I?
Geo. She has left her home, ignorant of something which has happened in her absence. Give me the opportunity of enlightening her -- and she will go back instantly to her sister and Miss Garth. Will you tell me where she is?
Wragge. Will you tell me what has happened in her absence?
Geo. (aside). I won't trust the fellow. (To WRAGGE.) It doesn't concern you, as a stranger.
Wragge (turning away). It doesn't concern me, as a stranger, to tell you where she is.
Geo. I don't appeal to your interest -- I appeal to your better nature! Would you do Magdalen a good turn if you could?
Wragge (sincerely). With the greatest pleasure, Mr. Bartram.
Geo. Does what little you have heard of me incline you to think that I am a man whose word is so be relied on?
Geo. I pledge you my word of honour that I can quiet all Magdalen's anxieties, if you give me an opportunity of speaking to her. Will you give it?
Wragge. I'll take a moment to consider. (He walks aside and continues to himself.) Why not kill two birds with one stone? I'll have my try for the Trust first. And I'll make a clean breast of it to Mr. Bartram afterwards. (To GEORGE.) You shall have the opportunity if you will give me time.
Geo. How long?
Wragge. Till eleven, to-night.
Geo. Where can I see you?
Wragge. Where are you likely to be?
Geo. At St. Crux.
Wragge. I will meet you in the garden.
Geo. (going out on the right). At eleven, without fail?
Wragge (going out on the left). At eleven, without fail.
(The scene changes, and reveals:
THIRD SCENE.--THE BANQUETING HALL.-- The hall extends diagonally across the stage. The wall, in the Flat, is pierced by a row of four high windows. In the centre of the row, dividing the second window from the third, is a glass door, supposed to lead into the garden. The windows and the door are screened by curtains. A fire is burning in an old-fashioned stove. Besides the entrance by way of the glass door, there is a second entrance on the right, at the further extremity of the hall, closed by a sliding door, which works backwards and forwards with a grating sound, just loud enough to be heard by the audience and no more. There is also a third (side) entrance on the left, behind an old-fashioned bureau, which stands close in front of the stage, at its left-hand extremity. On the top of it are placed some china ornaments and a box of matches. The hall is lit by candles. ADMIRAL BARTRAM and GEORGE are discovered at the supper-table.
Geo. (passing the bottle). You don't drink, admiral. Here we are, supping in the ancient Refectory of the monks of St. Crux. The monks didn't turn their backs on good wine. (He offers to fill the Admiral's glass. The Admiral declines.) No? Forgive me the question, sir. You are strangely out of spirits. Have you got something on your mind?
Adm. B. (irritably). It's what I have always got on my mind. Poor dead Noel -- and that unlucky letter of his which the lawyers call a Trust.
Geo. You don't mean to say that you have kept the letter?
Adm. B. I do!
Geo. There's the fire. Burn it -- and forget it. It's waste paper, now you have restored the property to Norah. (The Admiral sighs.) Do you regret your own good action, sir?
Adm. B. (irritably). I don't regret my own good action. I am not forbidden by my instructions to do what I have done. Still, if Noel knew the use I have put his money to ---- Damn it! the Trust pursues me like a curse! I think of it by day; I dream of it by night ----
Geo. (taking a letter from his pocket). Here is something better for you to think of and dream of! The story of a good action, uncle, recorded by a good girl. Read that.
Adm. B. (looking at the letter). Addressed to you -- and signed "Norah Vanstone." (He reads.) "I have just heard that Admiral Bartram restores to us, at your intercession, all that our dear father once wished and meant us to have. Say to your uncle, George, that I think of him and pray for him, as the second father whom God has sent to us in our affliction." (He looks up from the letter.) Poor thing! I'm glad I did it, George -- I'm glad I did it. (He goes on reading.) "But one thing is wanting, now, to clear our future prospect of its last cloud. Find Magdalen, dearest George; and bring her back to us as your promised wife. Then, and then only, the future will have made amends for the past -- and our gratitude and our happiness will be complete." (He hands the letter back to GEORGE.) Very nicely written. A very pretty letter.
Geo. (rising). Where is the Trust, sir?
Adm. B. (pointing to the bureau). There.
Geo. Don't let it worry you any more. Burn it, before you go to bed to-night.
Adm. B. I'm an old fool, George -- I can't make up my mind to burn it.
Geo. Then let me burn it for you. Do you think Noel had any right -- after publicly leaving you the legacy -- to pledge you privately to any other than a just and merciful use of it?
Adm. B. Certainly not!
Geo. Give me the key. (The Admiral unwillingly gives the key. GEORGE opens the bureau.) Which drawer, uncle?
Adm. B. The third drawer. (GEORGE opens the drawer, and takes out the Trust. The Admiral vacillates again.) No! Let it be. I'll take the night to think of it.
Geo. Second thoughts are not always best, admiral!
Adm. B. I insist on your putting it back! I won't have it burnt. At any rate, not to-night.
Geo. As you please, sir. (Standing with his back to the Admiral, and seen by the audience only, he rapidly compares NORAH'S letter with the Trust, and continues aside.) The same size, and the same coloured paper! I'll deliver him from his own incubus. The next time he looks at the Trust, he shall find Norah's letter in its place!
Adm. B. What are you about there?
Geo. (putting NORAH'S letter into the drawer, and taking out the letter containing the Trust). I am locking the bureau.
Adm. B. (rising). I'll lock it myself. (He approaches the bureau. ) I want to look in, and see the Trust safe with my own eyes.
(He peers into the open drawer. GEORGE crosses to the open stove on the other side of the stage. Whilst he speaks his next words, the Admiral, satisfied with seeing the Trust apparently left in its usual place, locks the bureau.)
Geo. (aside, at the stove). Perish, wretched record of malice and cunning, injustice and ill-will!
(He throws the Trust into the fire.)
Adm. B. (putting the key in his pocket). I am not unreasonable, George. I promise to think it over to-night; and, if I'm in the mind, I'll burn it to-morrow. In the mean time, I am going to bed. What are you going to do?
Geo. I shall smoke a cigar in the garden.
Adm. B. Good night, George.
Geo. Good night, sir.
(The Admiral goes out on the right, opening the sliding door, and closing it again behind him. The audience hear the grating sound of the door before GEORGE speaks.
Geo. (looking at his watch). Ten o'clock! An hour to wait before Captain Wragge gives me the meeting. (He takes out his cigar-case.) If my uncle dreams of the Trust to-night, it will be for the last time. When he next opens it, to-morrow, that worry will be off his mind. (He goes to one of the windows, looks through the curtain, and comes back again.) A lovely moon! Not a cloud in the sky. Where is Magdalen at this moment? Near? or far? Something -- I don't know what -- tells me she is near. (He goes to one of the candles to light his cigar. A man-servant enters on the left with a night-lamp in his hand.) Hallo! who is this?
The Servant. I beg your pardon, sir! I only came to clear the table, and put out the lights.
Geo. All right! I am going into the garden to smoke. Leave the glass door open, so that I can get in again. (He takes up his hat) Now for a stroll in the moonlight! (He goes out by the glass door.)
The Servant (calling off, on the left). Stephen!
(A Second Servant appears; takes the supper-tray, &c., &c., from the First Servant, and goes out on the left. The First Servant then extinguishes the candles, and rakes out the fire. That done, he goes to the windows and the door, and draws back the curtains which have hitherto screened them. The moonlight streams in, making broad strips of light on the floor of the hall, alternating with strips of black shadow thrown on it by the pediments between the windows. Having left the glass door open, the Servant looks round for the last time, sees everything right, and goes out with his lamp. For a little while the stage is left empty, the interval being filled up by the orchestra playing very low, the violins with the mutes on. At the end of the interval WRAGGE appears at the glass door.)
Wragge. I have narrowly missed meeting Mr. Bartram in the garden. (He looks round the hall.) The only way of avoiding him was to run the risk, and venture in here. (He looks at his watch.) Ten o'clock -- and no light in the window yet. What is Magdalen about, I wonder?
(GEORGE appears at the glass door.)
Geo. Did I see a man pass this way? Yes! there he is! (He advances noiselessly towards WRAGGE.)
Wragge (hesitating). What had I better do? Go back to the garden? or stop here? (GEORGE suddenly touches him on the shoulder. WRAGGE turns in alarm.) Who's that?
Geo. George Bartram.
(GEORGE steps back for a moment, locks the glass door, and puts the key in his pocket.)
Wragge (loftily). What does this mean, Mr. Bartram?
Geo. It means that I can draw my own conclusions from what I see. You were to have met me at eleven. You come here at ten. The place was the garden. I find you in the house. Magdalen Vanstone is in the house too!
Wragge. Quite a mistake, I assure you.
Geo. You don't leave St. Crux till I am satisfied. Where is she?
Wragge (aside). The Trust is in the bureau, there! I can't be doing wrong, if I get him out of this room. (To GEORGE.) In the garden.
Geo. Come back then to the garden.
(He opens the glass door again, and takes WRAGGE by the arm. As they go out together, MAGDALEN appears at the sliding door.)
Mag. (hesitating at the entrance). Not a sound to break the silence! not a living creature near! Nothing but the black shadow and the ghastly moon. (She advances a step, and looks behind her.) The door! I must secure Wragge from being surprised. I must close the door. (She closes the door, and pauses again.) The dreadful stillness! not even a breath of air stirring! Is the place as empty as it looks? How can I tell, standing here? I'll count three, and cross the hall. One, two, three! (She rapidly crosses the hall, and stops at the supper-table.) He told me to show a light in the window. (She takes a candle from the table.) Where are the matches? There is a box on the bureau. (She goes with the candle to the bureau, and lights it -- then starts, and, leaving the candle on the bureau, looks suspiciously towards the sliding door, and listens.) Did I hear a sound? Is the door moving?
(The door slowly slides back with its grating sound. MAGDALEN stands looking towards it petrified with terror. A figure in white appears at the door, pauses, and advances slowly, alternately seen in the moonlight and lost in the shadows. It is ADMIRAL BARTRAM, clothed in his white dressing-gown, with his basket of keys in his hand, walking in his sleep.)
Mag. (drawing back from him as he approaches her, and speaking under her breath). The admiral! Walking in his sleep!
Adm. B. (in the monotonous tone of a man speaking in a dream). Put it back in the drawer! Noel's last letter to me. I won't have it burnt, George. I won't have it burnt.
Mag. (as before). Dreaming! dreaming of the Trust!
Adm. B. Let it be. I want to look in. I want to see it safe with my own eyes.
(He takes the key from his basket, then places the basket on the top of the bureau, opens the bureau and the drawer, lifts up the letter in it, and stands for a moment with the letter in his hand. MAGDALEN attempts to take it from him, and draws back, recoiling from his face.)
Mag. (in a whisper). His glassy eyes are staring at me in their sleep! I daren't take it from him.
(The Admiral replaces the letter and closes the drawer. He locks the bureau, then pauses, leaving the key in the lock, and thinking in his dream.)
Adm. B. George? What did I promise him when I locked up the Trust?
(Absorbed in recovering the lost link, he takes the basket from the top of the bureau, leaving the key in the lock, and returns slowly along the way by which he came. Arrived near the sliding door, he pauses, recovers the lost idea, and speaks again.)
Adm. B. I'm not unreasonable, George. I promise to think it over to-night. If I'm in the mind, I'll burn it to-morrow. Good night, George -- good night.
(He slowly disappears, leaving the sliding door open. MAGDALEN, who has hitherto watched him, spellbound, looks back at the bureau, and sees the key left in the lock.)
Mag. He has left the key! Fortune favours me at last. Now for the Trust! (She lays her hand on the key, and suddenly hesitates.) What would George say, if he saw me now? It's mean -- it's unworthy of me -- it's acting the part of a thief. Oh, Norah! Norah! the thought of it revolts me -- though I know it is for your sake.
(Her head droops -- she sinks on a chair near the bureau, and hides her face in her hands. WRAGGE appears again at the glass door.)
Wragge. I have given him the slip in the shrubbery. If I can only find Magdalen ---- (He looks towards the bureau.) There she is! (He approaches MAGDALEN.) I have been discovered. (MAGDALEN looks up with a faint cry of alarm.) Come away -- we haven't a moment to lose. (Stooping over her, he sees the key in the lock.) The key in the lock! What does that mean?
Mag. Don't ask me!
Wragge. Scruples? When the game is in your own hands! (He looks round towards the glass door.) He isn't after me yet -- I'll risk it! (He unlocks the bureau, and opens the first drawer.) Garden seeds. That won't do. (He opens the second drawer.) Receipted bills. Memorials of the admiral's folly! (He opens the third drawer.) A letter! Is this it?
(He hands the letter, open, to MAGDALEN.)
Mag. (starting). Norah's handwriting! Addressed to George! Ought I to read it?
(She pauses, thinking, with the unread letter in her hand. GEORGE appears at the glass door. WRAGGE sees him, and crouches out of sight behind the bureau.)
Geo. The fellow has escaped me. Has he ventured back here? (He approaches the bureau, and sees MAGDALEN.) Who is that woman? One of the servants! What is she doing at her master's bureau?
(He advances softly, close to the bureau. At the same moment, MAGDALEN, deciding the question in her mind, says to herself, "No!" As she folds up the unread letter, she raises her head. The light of the candle falls on her face.)
Geo. (thunderstruck). Magdalen!!!
(MAGDALEN springs to her feet, recognises him, and falls insensible into his arms. The letter drops from her hand to the floor.)
Wragge (aside -- rising cautiously from behind the bureau). Is it the Trust? or isn't it? I'll secure it, if it is!
(He picks up the letter. GEORGE places MAGDALEN in an arm-chair, looks round for help, and sees WRAGGE.)
Geo. Open a window. Give her air!
(WRAGGE opens one of the windows, returns, and runs his eye over the letter by the light of the candle, while GEORGE tries to recover MAGDALEN.)
Wragge (looking up in amazement from the letter). The money restored? (He indicates GEORGE and MAGDALEN.) The marriage will follow! I may go back to my Pill.
Geo. (on his knees before MAGDALEN). Disguised in a servant's dress! Found near an open bureau! (To WRAGGE.) What does it mean?
Wragge. It means nothing unworthy of her. I opened the bureau -- not she. (He places the letter on the bureau). The letter will enlighten the lady. The lady will enlighten you.
Geo. (trying to rouse her). Magdalen! dear Magdalen!
(WRAGGE turns back to go out by the glass door. MAGDALEN opens her eyes, sees GEORGE at her feet, and faintly utters his name. Her head sinks in confusion on GEORGE'S shoulder. GEORGE clasps his arms round her. WRAGGE, looking back from the door, takes off his hat with his customary flourish, and speaks his parting words.)
Wragge. Accept my best congratulations. Good evening!