Read ACT I of Dolly Reforming Herself A Comedy in Four Acts , free online book, by Henry Arthur Jones, on

SCENE: Drawing-room at HARRY TELFER’S, The Gables, Crookbury Green, Surrey. A well-furnished room in a modern red brick country house. At the back, a little to the right, is a door leading into the hall. All along the right side is a glass partition, showing a conservatory which is entered by glass doors, one up stage, the other down. On the left side is a large fireplace. At the back, in the centre, is a handsome writing-desk with a shut down flap lid. Above the fireplace, facing the audience is a large sofa. To the right of sofa, and below it in the left centre of the room is a small table, and near to it an easy chair. Right centre down stage is a larger table.

TIME: The afternoon of 1ST January, 1907.

Discover at writing-table, back to audience, DOLLY TELFER, a bright little woman about thirty, busied with bills and papers. Bending over her, back to audience, is her father, MATT BARRON, a pleasant-looking, easy-going cynic of sixty. HARRY TELFER, DOLLY’S husband, an ordinary good-natured, weakish, impulsive Englishman about thirty-five, is standing with his back to the fire. Sitting on sofa, reading a scientific book, is PROFESSOR STURGESS, a hard, dry, narrow, fattish scientific man about forty-five. At the table, right, reading a French novel, is RENIE STURGESS, the Professor’s wife, a tall, dark, handsome woman about thirty.

Harry. No, I can’t say that I pay very much attention to sermons as a rule, but Pilcher gave us a regular downright, no-mistake-about-it, rouser at the Watch-night Service last night.

Matt. [Turning round.] I wonder what precise difference this rousing sermon will make in the conduct of any person who heard it.

Harry. Well, it’s going to make a lot of difference in my conduct. At least, I won’t say a lot of difference, because I don’t call myself a very bad sort of fellow, do you?

Matt. N-o No

Harry. At any rate I’m a thundering good husband, ain’t I, Dolly? [DOLLY takes no notice.] And I’ve got no flagrant vices. But I’ve got a heap of well a heap of selfish little habits, such as temper, and so on, and for the coming year I’m going to knock them all off.

Matt. That will be a score for Pilcher that is, if you do knock them off.

Harry. Oh, I’m thoroughly resolved! I promised Dolly last night, didn’t I, Dolly? [DOLLY takes no notice.] Dolly too! Dolly was awfully impressed by the sermon, weren’t you, Dolly?

Matt. [Looking round at DOLLY’S back.] Dolly was awfully impressed?

Harry. Yes. Before we went to bed she gave me her word, that if I’d give her a little help, she’d pay off all her bills, and live within her allowance for the future, didn’t you, Dolly?

Matt. Well, that will be another score for Pilcher that is, if Dolly does live within her allowance.

Harry. Oh, Dolly means it this time, don’t you Dolly?

Dolly. [Turns round on her stool, bills in hand.] I think it’s disgraceful!

Matt. What?

Dolly. These tradespeople! [Comes down to MATT.] I’m almost sure I’ve paid this bill once if not twice. Then there’s a mistake of thirty shillings in the addition you’re good at figures, Dad. Do add that up for me. My head is so muddled.

[Giving the bill to MATT.

Harry. Aren’t you glad, Doll, that you made that resolution not to have any more bills?

Dolly. It will be heavenly! To go about all day with the blessed thought that I don’t owe a farthing to anybody. It’s awful!

[Crunching a bill in her hand, and throwing it on to

Harry. Cheer up, little woman! You don’t owe such a very alarming amount, do you?

Dolly. Oh no! Oh no! And if you’ll only help me as you promised

Harry. We’ll go thoroughly into it by-and-by. In fact I did mean to give you a pleasant little Christmas surprise, and pay off all your debts.

Dolly. Oh, you angel! But why didn’t you do it?

Harry. I’ve done it so often! You remember the last time?

Dolly. [Making a wry face.] Yes, I remember the last time.

Harry. And here we are again!

Dolly. Oh, don’t talk like a clown!

Harry. But, my dear Dolly, here we are again.

Dolly. Well, I haven’t got the money sense! I simply haven’t got it! I was born without it!

Matt. [Hands her the bill.] The addition is quite correct.

Dolly. [Taking the bill.] You’re sure? Then I’m convinced I’ve paid it! [Looking at bill.] Yes! Thirty-four, seven, six. Professor Sturgess

Prof. [Looks up from his book] Yes?

Dolly. You understand all about psychology and the way our brains work.

Prof. I’ve given my entire life to their study, but I cannot claim that I understand them.

Dolly. But wouldn’t you say

Prof. What?

Dolly. I’m morally certain I’ve paid this bill.

Matt. Have you got the receipt?

Dolly. No! I must have mislaid it.

Matt. When, and where did you pay it?

Dolly. I cannot recall the exact circumstances. And now

Matt. And now ?

Dolly. Fulks and Garner have sent me a most impertinent note requesting immediate payment.

Prof. What is the particular brain process that you wish me to explain?

Dolly. How do you account for my having the most vivid impression that I’ve paid it so vivid that I cannot shake it off?

Prof. Well a

Matt. Isn’t it an instance of that obscure operation of the feminine mind whereby the merest wish becomes an accomplished fact?

Dolly. My dear Dad, I actually remember the exact amount: thirty-four, seven, six. Thirty-four, seven, six. I shall never enter Fulks and Garnet’s shop again!

Enter CRIDDLE. [Announces.] Captain Wentworth!

Enter CAPTAIN LUCAS WENTWORTH, a good-looking smart young army man about thirty. He is in riding-clothes. Exit CRIDDLE. At CAPTAIN WENTWORTH’S entrance RENIE shows keen interest, throws him a secret glance as he goes to shake hands with DOLLY.

Dolly. Ah, Lu! What, over again! Happy New Year once more!

Lucas. Same to you. [Shaking hands.] Happy New Year, everybody! Good afternoon, Harry!

[Nodding to HARRY.

Harry. Ditto, Lu.

Lucas. Ah, Uncle Matt! Happy New Year!

[Shaking hands.

Matt. Happy New Year, Lucas!

Lucas. Good afternoon, Mrs. Sturgess.

[Shaking hands with RENIE.

Renie. Good afternoon.

Lucas. None the worse for your outing last night, I hope?

Renie. Oh no, I’m sure Mr. Pilcher’s sermon ought to make us all very much better.

Dolly. May I introduce you to Professor Sturgess my cousin Captain Wentworth.

Lucas. How d’ye do?

Prof. How d’ye do?

Matt. So you came over to the Watch-night Service, I hear?

Lucas. Yes! I’d nothing much better to do, and Dolly was cracking up this new parson of yours, so I thought I’d jog over and sample him.

Matt. A dozen miles over here at midnight; an hour’s service in a cold church; and a dozen miles back to Aldershot, in the sleet and snow. I hope the sermon thoroughly braced you up!

Lucas. It did. It made me feel just as good as I knew how to be.

Matt. Here’s another score for Pilcher!

Dolly. Dad, I think it’s shocking bad taste of you to keep on sneering at Mr. Pilcher!

Matt. I’m not sneering. I’m only curious to follow up this wonderful sermon, and trace its results on all of you.

Dolly. Well, you can see its results. [LUCAS has got near to RENIE, stands with his back to her, takes out a letter from his coat-tail pocket, holds it out for her to take. She takes it, pops it in her novel, and goes on reading. He moves away from her.] Take only our own family. Harry and I both have turned over a new leaf. Renie, you said Mr. Pilcher had set you thinking deeply

Renie. Yes, dear, very deeply.

Dolly. Lu, you said the sermon had done you a lot of good.

Lucas. Heaps! I won’t say I’m going to set up for a saint straight off, because well I’m not so sure I could bring it off, even if I tried

Matt. That’s what holds me back, my wretched nervous fear that I shouldn’t bring it off. Still, in justice to Pilcher, I hope you’re not going to let his sermon be wasted.

Lucas. Oh, no! My first spare five minutes I’m going to brisk about, and do a bit of New Year’s tidying up.

[He is standing over RENIE, who has opened his letter in her
novel; he again exchanges a secret look of understanding with her,
and makes a sign to her to go into the conservatory.


Criddle. [Announcing.] Mr. Pilcher!

Enter the REVEREND JAMES PILCHER, a big, strong, bright, genial,
manly, hearty English parson about forty. Exit

Dolly. How d’ye do? [Shaking hands.

Pilcher. How d’ye do? Happy New Year, once more! Happy New Year, Mr. Barron!

Matt. [Shaking hands.] A happy New Year.

Pilcher. How do again, Telfer?

Harry. How are you?

Pilcher. Good morning, Mrs. Sturgess.

Renie. Good morning.

[At PILCHER’S entrance she has hidden her French novel behind her in the chair. In shaking hands with PILCHER it drops on to the floor and LUCAS’S letter drops out. LUCAS goes to pick it up, MR. PILCHER is before him, picks up the novel and letter and hands them to RENIE. In taking them she shows some confusion.

Pilcher. [Genially.] Improving the New Year by getting a thorough knowledge of Parisian life and manners, I see.

Renie. [Confused.] No! I had begun the book a week ago and so I thought a I’d better finish it.

Lucas. Good morning, Mr. Pilcher.

Pilcher. [Shaking hands.] Good morning.

Lucas. Rattling good sermon you gave us last night.

Pilcher. I’m glad you thought it worth coming so far to hear.

Lucas. Not at all. Jolly well worth coming for, eh, Mrs. Sturgess?

[With a sly little look and shake of the head at RENIE.

Renie. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Pilcher. [A little surprised.] Enjoyed it! Now I meant to make you all very uncomfortable!

Dolly. Oh, you gave us a good shaking up, and we deserved it! I don’t think you’ve met Professor Sturgess?

Pilcher. [Advancing to PROFESSOR.] No, but I’ve read his book, “Man, the Automaton.”

Prof. [Bowing.] Not with disapproval, I trust?

Pilcher. [Shaking hands very cordially.] With the most profound disapproval, with boundless, uncompromising dissent and antagonism!

Prof. I’m sorry!

Pilcher. Why, you deny that man has any vestige of free will.

Prof. Certainly. The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that free will is a purely subjective illusion.

Dolly. Do you mean that when I will to do a certain thing I can’t do it? Oh, that’s absurd. For instance, I will to go and touch that chair! [She goes and touches it.] There! [Triumphantly.] I’ve done it! That shows I’ve got free will. [The PROFESSOR shakes his head.] Well, then how did I do it?

Prof. I affirm that your willing to touch that chair or not to touch it, your actual touching it, or not touching it; your possession or non-possession of a criminal impulse

Dolly. I haven’t any criminal impulses

Prof. [Shakes his head and goes on.] Your yielding to that criminal impulse or your not yielding to it all these states of consciousness are entirely dependent upon the condition, quantity and arrangement of certain atoms in the gray matter of your brain. You think, you will, you act according as that gray matter works. You did not cause or make that condition of the atoms of your gray matter, therefore you are not responsible for thinking or acting in this way or that, seeing that your thoughts, and your actions, and that direction of your impulses which you call your will, are all precisely determined and regulated by the condition and arrangement of these minute atoms of your gray matter!

Dolly. [Has at first listened with great attention, but has grown bewildered as the PROFESSOR goes on.] I don’t care anything about my gray matter! I’ve quite made up my mind I won’t have any more bills!

Pilcher. [Turning to RENIE.] Does Mrs. Sturgess agree with the Professor’s doctrine?

Renie. No, indeed! To say that we’re mere machines it’s horrid.

Prof. The question is not whether it’s horrid, but whether it’s true.

Pilcher. What do you think, Mr. Barron?

Matt. It’s a very nutty and knotty problem. I’m watching to see Dolly and Harry solve it!

Dolly. See us solve it! How?

Matt. You and Harry heard a most thrilling, soul-stirring sermon last night.

Pilcher. You had good hearsay accounts of my sermon?

Matt. Excellent! I should have heard it myself, but I’ve reached an age when it would be dangerous to give up any of my old and cherished bad habits. So in place of going to church and selfishly reforming myself, I shall have to be content with watching Dolly and Harry reform themselves.

Dolly. Don’t take any notice of him, Mr. Pilcher, he’s the most cynical, hardened reprobate! I have to blush for him a hundred times a day.

[RENIE strolls casually into conservatory by lower door. LUCAS
casually follows her.

Matt. And in order to settle once and for all this vexed question of free will and moral responsibility, I’ll bet you, Harry, a simple fiver, and I’ll bet you Dolly, a new Parisian hat, and half a dozen pairs of gloves that you won’t live up to your good resolutions, and that on next New Year’s Day you’ll neither of you be one ha’penny the better for all the wise counsels Mr. Pilcher gave you last night.

Harry. A fiver! Done!

Dolly. I’ll take you, too! In fact, I’ll double it; two new Parisian hats, and a dozen pairs of gloves!

Matt. Done, my dear!

Pilcher. I hope I sha’n’t be accused of talking shop if I venture to recall that betting was one of the bad habits I especially warned my congregation against, last night!

Harry. By Jove, yes I’d forgotten all about that! Of course, if you wish us to cry off

Pilcher. Well, not exactly. I might perhaps suggest an alternative plan which was tried with great success in my late parish

Dolly. What was that?

Pilcher. A very capital good fellow an auctioneer and land surveyor, my churchwarden in fact, by name Jobling found that in spite of constant good resolutions, certain small vices were gradually creeping upon him. There was an occasional outburst of temper to his clerks, an occasional half glass too much; and on one lamentable market day, he actually discovered himself using bad language to Mrs. Jobling

Dolly. [Looking at HARRY.] Oh! Ah!

Matt. Jobling’s gray matter can’t have been in good working order.

Pilcher. We corrected that! We got his gray matter under control.

Dolly. How?

Pilcher. My Christmas Blanket Club happened to be on the road to bankruptcy. By the way, our Blanket Club here is in low water. Well, I gave Jobling a small box with a hole at the top sufficiently large to admit half a crown. And I suggested that whenever he was betrayed into one of these little slips, he should fine himself for the benefit of my Blanket Club

Harry. Good business! Dolly, where’s that collecting-box they sent us from the Hospital for Incurables?

Dolly. In the cupboard in the next room.

Harry. Right-o! No time like the present! [Exit.]

Matt. And how did you get out of this dilemma?

Pilcher. Dilemma?

Matt. Did your Blanket Club remain in bankruptcy, or what must have been an even more distressing alternative to you, did Jobling continue to use bad language to his wife?

Pilcher. We struck a happy medium. My Blanket Club balance was considerably augmented, and Jobling’s behaviour considerably improved under the stress of the fines.

Re-enter HARRY with an old, dusty collecting-box on which is
printed in large letters, “County Hospital for Incurables."

Harry. [Placing the box on the table.] There! My name’s Jobling for the present! By Jove! that was a very neat idea of yours.

Pilcher. Ah, by the way, I didn’t give you Jobling’s tariff

Harry. Tariff?

Pilcher. Jobling’s tariff for a mild little profanity like “By Jove,” was a mere sixpence.

Harry. Oh! [Feels in his pocket.

Pilcher. Of course you needn’t adopt Jobling’s scale.

Harry. Oh yes! I’ll toe the mark! [Takes six pence out of his pocket and puts it in his box.] I’m determined I’ll cure myself of all these bad little tricks

Matt. [To DOLLY, pointing to the money-box.] Are you going to contribute?

Dolly. [Snappishly.] Perhaps, when I’ve paid off my bills.

Matt. [To PILCHER.] Will you kindly let my daughter have your lowest tariff for ladies?

Dolly. Oh, please don’t be in such a hurry. What about your own contribution? Mr. Pilcher, I hope you don’t intend to let my father escape.

Pilcher. I understood Mr. Barron was prepared to risk a five-pound note that you and Mr. Telfer will not carry your New Year resolutions into practice?

Matt. With the almost certain chance of drawing a five-pound note from Harry and a new hat from Dolly.

Pilcher. I’m afraid I can’t hold out those inducements. But I can offer you the very pleasing alternatives of chuckling over your daughter’s and Mr. Telfer’s lapses, or of contributing five pounds to an excellent charity!

Matt. H’m! Well I’ll do my best to oblige you, Mr. Pilcher! Let me see!

[Looking round, his eye falls on RENIE and LUCAS who, at the beginning of the above conversation have gone into conservatory at lower door, and now come out again at upper door. She has a hot-house flower in her hand, and they are eagerly absorbed in their conversation. The PROFESSOR talking to HARRY and not noticing.

Renie. [Becoming aware that MATT is watching them.] Yes, that arrangement of the stamens is quite unusual. It’s what the gardener calls a “sport”

Lucas. [Examining the flower.] Jolly good sport, too!

Matt. I’m not sure that we haven’t even better sport here

Renie. [Coming to him.] Sport? What sport? can we join?

Matt. That’s just what I was going to propose. There are four of you here, who heard Mr. Pilcher’s excellent discourse last night. And you are all determined to turn over a new leaf this year. Isn’t that so?

Dolly. Yes!

Harry. I know I am.

Matt. Mrs. Sturgess?

Renie. Yes, indeed!

Matt. Lucas, you?

Lucas. Yes, Uncle.

Matt. On the first of January next, I am prepared to put a sovereign in that money-box for every one of you who can honestly declare that he has broken himself or herself of his bad habits during the year.

Lucas. I say, not all our bad habits?

Matt. H’m. I don’t wish to be exacting I’ve no doubt each of you has his own little failing or weakness. Well, come to me and say on your honour that you’ve conquered this or that pet special weakness and in goes my sovereign.

Lucas. You don’t really mean it?

Matt. Indeed I do. I hope you won’t stand out and spoil sport, eh?

Lucas. Oh, I don’t mind coming in just for the lark of the thing.

Matt. Then you all agree?

Dolly. Oh yes.

Harry. Certainly.

Matt. Mrs. Sturgess?

Renie. We don’t know where we may be next Christmas.

Dolly. You’ll be here with us. I invite you on the spot. You accept?

Renie. Yes, delighted, if my husband

Prof. Very pleased.

Matt. Well, Mr. Pilcher, I think I’ve made your Blanket Club a very handsome offer.

Pilcher. Very handsome. [Taking out watch.] I hope our friends will cordially respond, for the sake of my Blanket Club.

Dolly. You’ll stay for a cup of tea?

Pilcher. I’ve heaps of New Year’s calls to make. I’m afraid I must be going; good afternoon, Professor!

Prof. Good afternoon.

Pilcher. Good afternoon, Telfer.

Harry. Good afternoon.

Pilcher. Good-bye, Mrs. Sturgess.

Renie. Good-bye. So many thanks for your eloquent sermon.

[Shaking hands.

Pitcher. Now, was I eloquent? I suppose I was, since I’ve produced such an invigorating New Year atmosphere.

[RENIE moves her French novel.

Matt. And brought Lucas over from Aldershot in the snow!

Lucas. Rather! I shall come again next year.

[Shaking hands.

Pilcher. Do. And then we shall be able to estimate the effect of my eloquence.

Matt. [Tapping the money-box.] We shall!

Pilcher. Good-bye, Mrs. Telfer.

Dolly. Good-bye. [Rings bell.

Pilcher. Good-bye, Mr. Barron.

Matt. Good-bye.

Pilcher. You might be inclined to risk a sovereign on yourself for the Blanket Club?

Matt. I daren’t. I can’t trust my gray matter I should make a dreadful fiasco.

[CRIDDLE appears at door.

Pilcher. Mrs. Telfer, I leave him in your hands.

[Exit PILCHER. CRIDDLE closes the door after him.

Matt. Dolly, I don’t mind having that new Parisian hat on with you.

Dolly. Done! I don’t mind how much I punish you.

Prof. [Taking out his watch.] Half past three, my dear.

Renie. I don’t think I’ll go out this afternoon.

Prof. Oh, you’d better take your little constitutional. You missed it yesterday. I’m sure your restlessness is due to your not taking regular exercise.

Renie. Which way are you going? [Yawning.

Prof. My usual round, up to the White House and back by the fish-pond.

Renie. Perhaps I’ll join you at the fish-pond.

Prof. [To MATT.] Nothing like living by rule and measure.

Matt. I shouldn’t wonder. I’ve never tried it.

Prof. I ascribe my constant good health and contentment to my unvarying routine of work and diet and exercise. [Exit.

Matt. Then where do my constant good health and contentment come from?

Lucas. Dolly, I left my evening kit here. Could you put me up for the night?

Dolly. Delighted! You’ll make up our rubber.

Lucas. Right!

Matt. Not going to ride back to Aldershot again to-night?

Lucas. Not to-night, thank you.

Matt. Just a shade too bracing, eh?

Lucas. Just a shade! Dolly, I haven’t seen your new fish-pond. Is anybody going to meet the Professor?

[Glancing at RENIE.

Matt. I am. [Linking his arm in LUCAS’S.] We’ll get into an unvarying routine of exercise for the next hour. Come along!

[Takes LUCAS off as he is exchanging a look with RENIE. RENIE makes to follow them, stops at door, turns back a little, stops, takes out LUCAS’S letter from her French novel, goes to fire and reads it. Meanwhile the following scene takes place between DOLLY and HARRY.

Harry. [To DOLLY.] Now, Dolly, we can go through your bills.

[Going to her writing-desk.

Dolly. Yes. Hadn’t I better sort them out first?

Harry. [Taking up bills.] Oh, I’ll help you sort them out

Dolly. Take care! You’ll muddle all my papers. [Taking bills out of his hands, and closing down the writing-desk.] I want to have a little talk with Renie you’d better join them at the fish-pond.

Harry. Well, so long as you do get them sorted, and squared up. What about after tea?

Dolly. All right. After tea.

Harry. After tea. We’ll have a nice cosy half-hour, all to ourselves, and sweep them all out of our minds.

[With a gesture.

Dolly. [Nods cheerfully.] Yes, a nice cosy half-hour and sweep them all out of our minds. [With his gesture. Exit HARRY briskly. She repeats his gesture.] Sweep them all out of our minds. [Opening desk and regarding bills with dismay.] Oh, don’t I wish I could! Oh, Renie!

[RENIE is busy with her letter at the fire.

Renie. [Puts letter into pocket.] What is it?

Dolly. [Has taken up one or two bills.] These bills! These awful bills! These vampires!

Renie. Yes, dear! I suppose it’s rather dreadful, but it must be sweet to have a dear, kind husband who’ll pay them all off.

Dolly. Harry? He made a dreadful fuss last time. And then I didn’t show him all.

Renie. Well, dear, after all, it’s only bills

Dolly. Only bills! Only? Well, I’m going to show him every one this time. And what a lesson it shall be to me! That’s why I’m so grateful to Mr. Pilcher.

Renie. Why?

Dolly. Yesterday afternoon I thought I’d screw up my courage to go through the bills just to see where I was. My dear, I was paralysed! I had the most appalling time! Well, Mr. Pilcher’s sermon came just in the nick of time. I thought “what an idiot I must be to endure all this misery just for want of a little resolution.”

Renie. Mr. Pilcher’s sermon came just in the nick of time for me too.

Dolly. Did it?

Renie. I had an awful afternoon yesterday!

Dolly. You?! You haven’t any bills?

Renie. No! [Sighs.] I almost wish I had.

Dolly. Wish you had?!

Renie. I almost envy you the delicious experience of having to confess

Dolly. Yes dear, you always were fond of scenes, but I’m not!

Renie. And then the heavenly feeling of being forgiven, and taken in the arms of the man you love!

Dolly. Yes, that part of it is all right. It’s what comes before

[With a little shudder.

Renie. After all, your husband isn’t a machine. He is a human being!

Dolly. Oh, Harry’s a perfect dear in most things, but he has got a temper!

Renie. My husband never even swears at me! Oh, Dolly, you are lucky!

Dolly. Hum!

Renie. Oh, Dolly [Sighs and goes away.

Dolly. Is anything the matter?

Renie. No dear. Nothing, except oh, life is so hard! so hard!

Dolly. Renie, if you’re in trouble

Renie. Thank you, dear. I knew you’d help me.

Dolly. Yes, so long as it isn’t money. And even then I’d help you, only I can’t.

Renie. It isn’t money.

Dolly. Then what is it?

Renie. [Looking at DOLLY curiously.] I wonder if you would understand.

Dolly. I’ll do my best.

Renie. It’s such a strange story. [Moving away, DOLLY makes a little dubious grimace behind her back. RENIE suddenly comes up to DOLLY very effusively.] Dolly, I will trust you. You know I thoroughly admire and honour my husband.

Dolly. [A little startled.] Ye-es.

Renie. You know that nothing could ever induce me to wrong him for a moment?

Dolly. No

Renie. Nothing could be further from my thoughts.

Dolly. No but is there anybody Renie, who is it?

Renie. Give me your sacred promise you’ll never breathe a word to any living soul?

Dolly. Not a word who is it?

Renie. Not even to your husband?

Dolly. Not even to my husband.

Renie. Nor to him?

Dolly. Him? No, of course not. Who is it?

Renie. Well, dear, you know what my life has been. Few women have met with so little real sympathy as I. Few women have suffered

Dolly. No, dear. Who is it? Do I know him?

Renie. Your cousin Lucas has a deep and sincere admiration for me.

Dolly. Lu!? Lu!? Of course! I might have known he’d never ride a dozen miles in the snow for a sermon! It’s disgraceful of him!

Renie. No, dear, he’s not to blame. We are neither of us to blame.

Dolly. [Contemptuously.] Oh! Why you haven’t known him a month, have you?

Renie. I met him for the first time in this room three weeks ago last Thursday afternoon.

Dolly. It’s a great pity the Professor didn’t come down with you.

Renie. That would have made no difference. It had to be!

Dolly. What had to be? Renie, how far has this gone? You’ve been meeting him alone

Renie. Once or twice.

Dolly. You’ve slipped away every afternoon this week.

Renie. However often I may have met him, he has offered me nothing but the most chivalrous attention. He has always respected me

Dolly. Well then, he mustn’t respect you any more. It must be stopped.

Renie. Dolly, I didn’t expect you to take up this attitude.

Dolly. You don’t suppose I’m going to have this sort of thing in my own house, do you?

Renie. What sort of thing?

Dolly. Do you remember the awful row I got into at school when your boy’s love letter was discovered in the Banbury cakes you’d persuaded me to take in for you?

Renie. But you received Banbury cakes of your own!

Dolly. Not since I’ve been married. Of course before your marriage your outrageous flirting didn’t much matter

Renie. Outrageous flirting? If I seemed to flirt

Dolly. Seemed?!

Renie. It was only in the vain hope of meeting with one who could offer me the perfect homage that I have always felt would one day be mine.

Dolly. Well, he mustn’t offer it here! I shall tell him so very plainly. He’d better not stay to dinner.

Renie. There is no reason Captain Wentworth should not stay to dinner. He has given me the one absolutely blameless unselfish devotion of his life. I’ve accepted it on that distinct understanding. I’ve trusted you with my secret, a secret honourable alike to Captain Wentworth and myself. You’ve promised not to breathe a word to any living soul. You surely don’t mean to break your word?

Dolly. I don’t mean to stand the racket of your Banbury cakes.

Renie. I didn’t expect you to be so unsympathetic. You promised to help me!

Dolly. Help you! How did you expect me to help you?

Renie. My husband has to go to Edinburgh next week to give a course of lectures there.

Dolly. Well?

Renie. He wants me to go with him. Dearest, it would be perfectly sweet of you to ask me to stay on another fortnight here.

Dolly. [Makes a little movement of indignant surprise.] I see!

Renie. There could be no possible harm in it now that you know our attachment is quite innocent and that you can look after me every moment. Dearest, you might oblige me in a tiny little matter like this.

Dolly. [After a pause.] I’ll think it over

Renie. Thank you so much.

Dolly. Renie, you said Mr. Pilcher’s sermon came just in the nick of time

Renie. So it did.

Dolly. You don’t call this the “nick of time"?!

Renie. Yes, indeed. I went to church in a perfect fever. I didn’t know what to do. Well, as I listened to Mr. Pilcher everything became quite clear to me. I resolved I would accept Captain Wentworth’s pure unselfish devotion and make it a lever to raise all my ideals and aspirations!

Dolly. But there wasn’t anything in Mr. Pilcher’s sermon about

Renie. Oh yes, there was a lot about ideals and aspirations.

Dolly. Yes, but not the sort of aspirations you have for Lucas. I suppose you know he makes love to every woman he comes across?

Renie. He told me he had been led into one or two unworthy attachments.

Dolly. Yes! That’s quite right. So he has! One or two!

Renie. That was before he met me.

Dolly. Yes, and this will be before he meets the next lady.

Renie. [Looks at DOLLY severely.] My dear Dolly, with your light frivolous nature it is impossible for you to understand a pure and exalted attachment like ours. Listen! [Taking out a letter.] This will show you his fine nature, his fine feelings “From the first moment I saw you ”

MATT enters.

Renie. [Putting letter in pocket.] Well, have you had a pleasant walk?

Matt. Very pleasant and instructive. The Professor asked me to remind you that he’s waiting for you at the fish-pond.

Renie. I’d better go. I shall get a little lecture all to myself if I don’t. [Going off, to DOLLY.] Thank you, dear, so much for your kind invitation to stay on!

Dolly. Don’t mention it!

Renie. I shall try to manage it. [Exit.

Dolly. Yes, I’m sure you will.

Matt. Mrs. Sturgess going to stay on?

Dolly. She wants me to invite her. But I won’t if I can help it. [Goes to him suddenly.] Dad!

Matt. Well?

Dolly. That wretched Lucas!

Matt. What about him?

Dolly. No, I’ve promised her not to breathe a word. So you must guess. [Pause.] Have you guessed?

Matt. [After a pause.] Yes. Well, I [Begins to chuckle.] So Lucas is up to his old games!

Dolly. My own guest! Under my own roof! It’s too horrid of him.

Matt. [Chuckling.] It is! It’s too bad! The rascal.

Dolly. Oh, it’s more than half her fault! It’s just like her!

[MATT suddenly bursts from a chuckle into a roar.

Dolly. What are you laughing at?

Matt. I’ve just left [Chuckling.] I’ve just left the Professor down at the fish-pond explaining to Lucas all about his gray matter, and [Roars.

Dolly. I don’t see anything to laugh at.

Matt. Twelve miles in the snow I say, Doll, we’re making a splendid start for the New Year!


Dolly. Dad! Will you please leave off? [Shaking his shoulder.] Will you be serious?

Matt. Yes, my dear!! [Pulling himself together and straightening his features.] Yes, I will. After all, it’s a serious matter.

Dolly. It’s very serious for me, in a neighbourhood like this!

Matt. It’s serious for me, as I was Lucas’s guardian. And it’s serious for him. If he goes and plays the fool, it may spoil his career the young ass!

Dolly. Very well, then, will you please treat it seriously and set to work and help me?

Matt. How far have matters gone?

Dolly. Oh, there’s no real harm done at present.

Matt. How do you know?

Dolly. Oh, Lucas is writing her silly letters and she’s talking about his pure and exalted devotion, and making it a lever to raise all her ideals and aspirations.

Matt. [Shakes his head.] That looks bad! That looks very dangerous for her.

Dolly. Oh, no; she knows how to take care of herself. But it’s dangerous for me!

Matt. How, dangerous for you?!

Dolly. If there’s the least bit of scandal she’ll contrive to drag me into it! I know her so well.

Matt. [Walking about, cogitating.] Yes, and we mustn’t let Lucas make a mess of it.

Dolly. What can we do?

Matt. When I was over at Aldershot last week Sir John said something about giving Lucas an A. D. C. in India. I’ll drive over to-morrow and ask Sir John to pack Lucas out of the country for a year or two!

Dolly. That’s a good idea. But it may take some time?

Matt. A week or so, perhaps more.

Dolly. But if they find out they’re going to be parted, it is just this next week when there will be all the danger.

Matt. That’s true.

Dolly. They ought to be parted to-night.

Matt. They ought! They ought! Not a doubt about it! Not a shadow of doubt! They ought to be parted to-night!

Dolly. Dad! I believe I can frighten Renie out of it.

Matt. Frighten her?

Dolly. I’ll try! And you must take Lucas in hand

Matt. H’m! Isn’t Harry the right person ?

Dolly. No, I sha’n’t tell Harry. Harry would only get into a temper and muddle it. No, you must get Lucas to take himself off.

Matt. Take himself off!

Dolly. I won’t have him here. You can tell him so. Be very severe with him.

Matt. [Dubious.] H’m!

Dolly. Take a very high tone.

Matt. I’m not sure that taking a high tone is quite in my line.

Dolly. Then please try it. Dad, you do realize how very serious this is, don’t you?

Matt. Yes, of course. Very well, I’ll tackle Lucas. We’ll see what a high tone will do with him. Heigho! Sad! Sad!! Sad!!! Sad! Sad!! Sad!!!

Dolly. Hush!

LUCAS and HARRY enter. LUCAS looks round for RENIE. DOLLY and MATT talk in whispers as if settling a plan. HARRY goes up to the collecting-box, takes out his knife and begins to scrape off the label.

Dolly. [In a very severe tone to LUCAS, who is peeping into conservatory.] Are you looking for anything?

Lucas. I was wondering whether there was any tea going.

Dolly. [Same severe tone.] The tea is not in the conservatory.

Lucas. No, but I thought it might be getting on to the time

Dolly. [Same tone.] The tea will be served in due course.

Lucas. [Surprised at her tone.] Is anything the matter?

[DOLLY looks at him severely, says nothing, turns to MATT. LUCAS
looks puzzled, goes away, and again looks furtively into
conservatory for

Harry. [Scraping away at the collecting-box.] Don’t forget, Doll our cosy half hour after tea

[Nodding at the writing-desk.

Dolly. I won’t forget.

Matt. [Has come up behind HARRY, touches the arm he is scraping with.] Hospital for Incurables! I shouldn’t scrape that off at present.


(Four or five hours pass between Acts I and II.)