Read CHAPTER VII of The Irrational Knot, free online book, by George Bernard Shaw, on

In the spring, eighteen months after his daughter’s visit to Carbury Towers, Mr. Reginald Harrington Lind called at a house in Manchester Square and found Mrs. Douglas at home.  Sholto’s mother was a widow lady older than Mr. Lind, with a rather glassy eye and shaky hand, who would have looked weak and shiftless in an almshouse, but who, with plenty of money, unlimited domestic service, and unhesitating deference from attendants who were all trained artists in their occupation, made a fair shew of being a dignified and interesting old lady.  When he was seated, her first action was to take a new photograph from a little table at her side, and hand it to him without a word, awaiting his recognition of it with a shew of natural pride and affection which was amateurish in comparison to the more polished and skilful comedy with which her visitor took it and pretended to admire it.

“Capital.  Capital,” said Mr. Lind.  “He must give us one.”

“You dont think that the beard has spoiled him, do you?” said Mrs. Douglas.

“Certainly not:  it is an improvement,” said Mr. Lind, decisively.  “You are glad to have him back again with you, I dare say.  Ah yes, yes” (Mrs. Douglas’s eyes had answered for her).  “Did he tell you that he met me?  I saw him on Wednesday last for the first time since his return to London.  How long was he away?”

“Two years,” she replied, with slow emphasis, as if such an absence were hardly credible.  “Two long years.  He has been staying in Paris, in Venice, in Florence:  a month here, a week there, dissatisfied everywhere.  He would have been almost as happy with me at home.  And how is Marian?”

“Well,” said Mr. Lind, smiling, “I believe she is still disengaged; and she professes to be fancy free.  She is fond of saying, generally, that she will never marry, and so forth.  That is the new fashion with young women ­if saying what they dont mean can be called a new fashion.”

“Marian is sure to get married,” said Mrs. Douglas.  “She must have had offers already.  There are few parents who have not cause to envy you.”

“We have both been happy in that respect, Mrs. Douglas.  Sholto is a highly distinguished young man.  I wish I had started in life with half his advantages.  I thought at one time he was perhaps becoming attached to Marian.”

“You are quite sure, Mr. Lind, that you could forgive his being a plain gentleman?  A little bird whispered to me that you desired a title for Marian.”

“My dear Mrs. Douglas, we, who are familiar with titles, understand their true value.  I should be very sorry to see Marian lose, by an unsuitable alliance, the social position I have been able to give her.  I should set my face resolutely against such an alliance.  But few English titles can boast a pedigree comparable with Sholto’s.  The name of Douglas is historic ­far more so than that of Lind, which is not even English except by naturalization.  Besides, Sholto’s talents are very remarkable.  He will certainly adopt a political career; and, with his opportunities and abilities, a peerage is anything but a remote contingency.”

“Sholto, you know, is perfectly unembarrassed.  There is not a charge on his property.  I think that even Marian, good as she is, and lovely as she is, will not easily find a better match.  But I am well known to be a little crazy about my dear boy.  That is because I know him so much better than anyone else does.  Now let us talk about other matters.  Let me see.  Oh yes, I got a prospectus of some company from the city the other day; and whose name should there be upon the list of directors but Reginald Harrington Lind’s!  And Lord Carbury’s, too!  Pray, is the entire family going into business?”

“Well, I believe the undertaking to be a commercially sound one; and ­”

“Fancy you talking about commercial soundness!”

“True.  It must sound strange to you.  But it is no longer unusual for men in my position to take an active part in the direction of commerce.  We have duties as well as privileges.  I gave my name and took a few shares chiefly on the recommendation of Jasper and of my own stockbroker.  I think there can be no doubt that Jasper and Mr. Conolly have made a very remarkable discovery, and one which must prove highly remunerative and beneficial.”

“What is the discovery?  I did not quite understand the prospectus.”

“Well, it is called the Conolly Electro-motor.”

“Yes, I know that.”

“And it ­it turns all sorts of machinery.  I cannot explain it scientifically to you:  you would not understand me.  But it is, in short, a method of driving machinery by electricity at a less cost than by steam.  It is connected in principle with the conservation of energy and other technical matters.  You must come and see the machinery at work some day.”

“I must, indeed.  And is it true that Mr. Conolly was a common working man?”

“Yes, a practical man, undoubtedly, but highly educated.  He speaks French and Italian fluently, and is a remarkable musician.  Altogether a man of very superior attainments, and by no means deficient in culture.”

“Dear me!  Jasper told me something of that sort about him; but Lady Carbury gave him a very different character.  She assured me that he was sprung from the dregs of the people, and that she had a great deal of trouble to teach him his proper place.  Still, we know that she is not very particular as to what she says when she dislikes people.  Yet she ought to know; for he was Jasper’s laboratory servant ­at least so she said.”

“Oh, surely not a servant.  Jasper never regarded him in that light.  The Countess disapproves of Jasper’s scientific pursuits, and sets her face against all who encourage him in them.  However, I really know nothing about Mr. Conolly’s antecedents.  His manner when he appears at our board meetings is quiet and not unpleasant.  Marian, it appears, met him at Towers Cottage the year before last, and had some scientific lessons from him.  He was quite unknown then.  It was rather a curious coincidence.  I did not know of it until about a month ago, when he read a paper at the Society of Arts on his invention.  I attended the meeting with Marian; and when it was over, I introduced him to her, and was surprised to learn that they knew one another already.  He told me afterward that Marian had shewn an unusual degree of cleverness in studying electricity, and that she greatly interested him at the time.”

“No doubt.  Marian interests everybody; and even great discoverers, when they are young, are only human.”

“Ah!  Perhaps so.  But she must have shewn some ability or she would never have elicited a remark from him.  He is full of his business.”

“And what is the latest news of the family scamp?”

“Do you mean my Reginald?”

“Dear me, no!  What a shame to call poor Reggy a scamp!  I mean young Marmaduke, of course.  Is it true that he has a daughter now?”

“Oh yes.  Perfectly true.”

“The reprobate!  And he was always such a pleasant fellow.”

“Yes; but he is annoyingly inconsiderate.  About a fortnight ago, Marian and Elinor went to Putney to a private view at Mr. Scott’s studio.  On their way back they saw Marmaduke on the river, and, rather unnecessarily, I think, entered into conversation with him.  He begged them to come to Hammersmith in his boat, saying that he had something there to shew them.  Elinor, it appears, had the sense to ask whether it was anything they ought not to see; but he replied on his honor that it was something perfectly innocent, and promised that they should be delighted with it.  So they foolishly consented, and went with him to Hammersmith, where they left the river and walked some distance with him.  He left them in a road somewhere in West Kensington, and came back after about fifteen minutes with a little girl.  He actually presented her to Marian and Elinor as a member of the family whom they, as a matter of course, would like to know.”

“Well, such a thing to do!  And what happened?”

“Marian seems to have thought of nothing but the prettiness of the unhappy child.  She gravely informed me that she forgave Marmaduke everything when she saw how he doted on it.  Elinor has always shewn a disposition to defend him ­”

“She is full of perversity, and always was.”

“ ­and this incident did not damage his credit with her.  However, after the little waif had been sufficiently petted and praised to gratify Master Marmaduke’s paternal feelings, they came home, and, instead of holding their tongues, began to tell all our people what a dear little child Marmaduke had, and how they considered that it ought not to be made to suffer for his follies.  In fact, I think they would have adopted it, if I had allowed them.”

“That is Marian all over.  Some of her ideas will serve her very well when she goes to heaven; but they will get her into scrapes in this wicked world if you do not take care of her.”

“I fear so.  For that reason I tolerate a degree of cynicism in Elinor’s character which would otherwise be most disagreeable to me.  It is often useful in correcting Marian’s extravagances.  Unfortunately, the incident at Hammersmith did not pass off without making mischief.  It happens that my sister Julia is interested in a Home for foundling girls ­a semi-private place, where a dozen children are trained as domestic servants.”

“Yes.  I have been through it.  It is very neat and pretty; but they really treat the poor girls as if they ought to be thankful for permission to exist.  Their dresses are so ugly!”

“Possibly.  I assure you that presentations are much sought after, and are very difficult to get.  Julia is a patroness.  Marian told her about this child of Marmaduke’s; and it happened that a vacancy had just occurred at the Home in consequence of one of the girls dying of melancholia and spinal affection.  Julia, who has perhaps more piety than tact, wrote to Marmaduke offering to present his daughter, and expatiating on the advantages of the Home to the poor little lost one.  In her desire to reclaim Marmaduke also, she entrusted the letter to George, who undertook to deliver it, and further Julia’s project by personal persuasion.  George described the interview to me, and shewed me, I am sorry to say, how much downright ferocity may exist beneath an apparently frank, jovial, reckless exterior like Marmaduke’s.”

“Well, I hardly wonder at his refusing.  Of course, he might have known that the motive of the offer was a kind one.”

“Refused!  A gentleman can always refuse an offer with dignity.  Marmaduke was outrageous.  George ­a clergyman ­owed his escape from actual violence to the interference of the woman, and to a timely representation that he had undertaken to bear the message in order to soften any angry feelings that it might give rise to.  Marmaduke repeatedly applied foul language to his aunt and to her offer; and George with great difficulty dissuaded him from writing a most offensive letter to her.  Julia was so hurt by this that she complained to Dora ­Marmaduke’s mother ­who had up to that time been kept in ignorance of his doings; and now it is hard to say where the mischief will end.  Dora is overwhelmed by the revelation of the life her son is leading.  Marmaduke has consequently forfeited his father’s countenance, which had to be extended to him so far as to allow of his occasional appearance at home, in order to keep Dora in the dark.  Now that she is enlightened, of course there is an end of all that, and he is forbidden the house.”

“What a lot of mischief!  Dear me!”

“So I said to Marian.  Had she refused to go up the river with Marmaduke, as she should have done, all this would not have occurred.  She will not see it in that light, but lays all the blame on her aunt Julia, whose offer fell somewhat short of her own notions of providing for the child’s future.”

“How does Marmaduke stand with respect to money?  I suppose his father has stopped his allowance.”

“No.  He threatened to do it, and went so far as to make his solicitor write to that effect to Marmaduke, who had the consummate impudence to reply that he should in that case be compelled to provide for himself by contracting a marriage of which he could not expect his family to approve.  Still, he added, if the family chose to sever their connexion with him, they could not expect him to consult their feelings in his future disposal of himself.  In plain English, he threatened to marry this woman if his income was cut off.  He carried his point, too; for no alteration has been made in his allowance.  Indeed, as he has money of his own, and as part of the property is entailed, it would be easier to irritate him uselessly than to subject him to any material deprivation.”

“The young scamp!  I wonder he was clever enough to take advantage like that.”

“He has shewn no lack of acuteness of late.  I suspect he is under shrewd guidance.”

“Have you ever seen the ­the guidance?”

“Not in person.  I seldom enter a theatre now.  But I am of course familiar with her appearance from the photographic portraits of her.  They are in all the shop windows.”

“Yes.  I think I have noticed them.”

“And now, Mrs. Douglas, I fear I have paid you a very long visit.”

“Why dont you come oftener?”

“I wish I could find time.  I have not so much leisure for enjoyment as I used.”

“I am not so sure of that.  But we are always glad to have a chat with one another, I know.  We are agreed about the dear children, I think?”

“Cordially.  Cordially.  Good-bye.”