The Complete Collection of W. Somerset Maugham - W. Somerset Maugham - ebook
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14 Complete Works of W. Somerset Maugham Caesar's WifeEast of SuezLiza of LambethOf Human BondageOrientationsPlays - Lady Frederick, The Explorer, A Man of HonorThe ExplorerThe HeroThe Land of PromiseThe Land of The Blessed VirginThe MagicianThe Making of a SaintThe Moon and SixpenceTrembling of a Leaf 

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The Complete Collection of W. Somerset Maugham

Caesar's Wife

East of Suez

Liza ofLambeth

Of Human Bondage

Orientations

Plays - Lady Frederick,TheExplorer, A Man of Honor

The Explorer

The Hero

The Land of Promise

The Land ofTheBlessed Virgin

The Magician

The Making of a Saint

The Moon and Sixpence

Trembling of a Leaf

THE PLAYS OF W. S. MAUGHAM

————

CAESAR'S WIFE

A COMEDYIn Three Acts

Price 2/6, in cloth 3/6

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

CÆSAR'S WIFE

By the same AuthorTHE UNKNOWNTHE CIRCLETHE EXPLORERJACK STRAWLADY FREDERICKLANDED GENTRYTHE TENTH MANA MAN OF HONOURMRS. DOTPENELOPESMITHTHE LAND OF PROMISELONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

CÆSAR'S WIFE

A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS

BY W. S. MAUGHAM

The Performing Rights of this play are fully protected, and permission to perform it, whether by Amateurs or Professionals, must be obtained in advance from the author's Sole Agent, R. Golding Bright, 20, Green Street, Leicester Square, London, W.C. 2, from whom all particulars can be obtained.

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN. 1922

This play was produced at the Royalty Theatre,on March 27th, 1919, with the following cast:SIRARTHURLITTLEC. Aubrey Smith.RONALDPARRYGeorge Relph.HENRYPRITCHARDV. Sutton Vane.GEORGEAPPLEBYTownsend Whitling.OSMANPASHAGeorge C. Desplas.VIOLETFay Compton.MRS.ETHERIDGEEva Moore.MRS.PRITCHARDHelen Haye.MRS.APPLEBYMrs. Robert Brough.CHARACTERSSIRARTHURLITTLE,K.C.B.,K.C.M.G.RONALDPARRY.HENRYPRITCHARD.RICHARDAPPLEBY,M.P.OSMANPASHA.VIOLET.MRS.ETHERIDGE.MRS.PRITCHARD.MRS.APPLEBY.

An English Butler; Native Servants; an Arab Gardener.

The scene is laid in Cairo, in the house and garden of the British Consular Agent.

CÆSAR'S WIFE

ACT I

SCENE: The morning-room in the Consular Agent's house at Cairo. The windows are Arabic in character and so are the architraves of the doors, but otherwise it is an English room, airy and spacious. The furniture is lacquer and Chippendale, there are cool chintzes on the chairs and sofas, cut roses in glass vases, and growing azaleas in pots; but here and there an Eastern antiquity, a helmet and a coat of mail, a piece of woodwork, reminds one of the Mussulman conquest of Egypt; while an ancient god in porphyry, graven images in blue pottery, blue bowls, recall an older civilisation still.

When the curtain rises the room is empty, the blinds are down so as to keep out the heat, and it is dim and mysterious. A SERVANTcomes in, a dark-skinned native in the gorgeous uniform, red and gold, of the Consular Agent's establishment, and draws the blinds. Through the windows is seen the garden with palm-trees, oranges and lemons, tropical plants with giant leaves; and beyond, the radiant blue of the sky. In the distance is heard the plaintive, guttural wailing of an Arab song. A GARDENERin a pale blue gaberdine passes with a basket on his arm.

SERVANT.

Es-salâm 'alêkum (Peace be with you).

GARDENER.

U'alêkum es-Salâm warahmet Allâh wa barakâta (And with you be peace and God's mercy and blessing).

[The SERVANTgoes out. The GARDENERstops for a moment to nail back a straggling creeper and then goes on his way. The door is opened. MRS. APPLEBYcomes in with ANNE ETHERIDGEand they are followed immediately by VIOLET. ANNEis a woman of forty, but handsome still, very pleasant and sympathetic; she is a woman of the world, tactful and self-controlled. She is dressed in light, summery things. MRS. APPLEBYis an elderly, homely woman, soberly but not inexpensively dressed. The wife of a North-country manufacturer, she spends a good deal of money on rather dowdy clothes. VIOLETis a very pretty young woman of twenty. She looks very fresh and English in her muslin frock; there is something spring-like and virginal in her appearance, and her manner of dress is romantic rather than modish. She suggests a lady in a Gainsborough portrait rather than a drawing in a paper of Paris fashions. Luncheon is just finished and when they come in the women leave the door open for the men to follow.]

MRS. APPLEBY.

How cool it is in here! This isn't the room we were in before lunch?

ANNE.

No. They keep the windows closed and the blinds drawn all the morning so that it's beautifully cool when one comes in.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I suppose we shan't feel the heat so much when we've been here a few days.

ANNE.

Oh, but this is nothing to what you'll get in Upper Egypt.

VIOLET.

[As she enters.] Is Mrs. Appleby complaining of the heat? I love it.

ANNE.

Dear Violet, wait till May comes and June. You don't know how exhausting it gets.

VIOLET.

I'm looking forward to it. I think in some past life I must have been a lizard.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I dare say the first year you won't feel it. I have a brother settled in Canada, and he says the first year people come out from England they don't feel the cold anything like what they do later on.

ANNE.

I've spent a good many winters here, and I always make a point of getting away by the fifteenth of March.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, are you staying as late as that?

ANNE.

Good gracious, no. You make Lady Little's heart positively sink.

VIOLET.

Nonsense, Anne, you know we want you to stay as long as ever you can.

ANNE.

I used to have an apartment in Cairo, but I've given it up now and Lady Little asked me to come and stay at the Agency while I was getting everything settled.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, then you knew Sir Arthur before he married?

ANNE.

Oh, yes, he's one of my oldest friends. I can't help thinking Lady Little must have great sweetness of character to put up with me.

VIOLET.

Or you must be a perfect miracle of tact, darling.

MRS. APPLEBY.

My belief is, it's a little of both.

ANNE.

When Arthur came to see me one day last July and told me he was going to marry the most wonderful girl in the world, of course I thought good-bye. A man thinks he can keep his bachelor friendships, but he never does.

MRS. APPLEBY.

His wife generally sees to that.

VIOLET.

Well, I think it's nonsense, especially with a man like Arthur who'd been a bachelor so long and naturally had his life laid out before ever I came into it. And besides, I'm devoted to Anne.

ANNE.

It's dear of you to say so.

VIOLET.

I came here as an absolute stranger. And after all, I wasn't very old, was I?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Nineteen?

VIOLET.

Oh, no, I was older than that. I was nearly twenty.

MRS. APPLEBY.

[Smiling.] Good gracious!

VIOLET.

It was rather alarming to find oneself on a sudden the wife of a man in Arthur's position. I was dreadfully self-conscious; I felt that everybody's eyes were upon me. And you don't know how easy it is to make mistakes in a country that's half Eastern and half European.

ANNE.

To say nothing of having to deal with the representatives of half a dozen Great Powers all outrageously susceptible.

VIOLET.

And, you know, there was the feeling that the smallest false step might do the greatest harm to Arthur and his work here. I had only just left the schoolroom and I found myself almost a political personage. If it hadn't been for Anne I should have made a dreadful mess of things.

ANNE.

Oh, I don't think that. You had two assets which would have made people excuse a great deal of inexperience, your grace and your beauty.

VIOLET.

You say very nice things to me, Anne.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Your marriage was so romantic, I can't see how anyone could help feeling very kindly towards you.

VIOLET.

There's not much room for romance in the heart of the wife of one of the Agents of the foreign Powers when she thinks she hasn't been given her proper place at a dinner party.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I remember wondering at the time whether you weren't a little overcome by all the excitement caused by your marriage.

VIOLET.

I was excited too, you know.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Everyone had always looked upon Sir Arthur as a confirmed bachelor. It was thought he cared for nothing but his work. He's had a wonderful career, hasn't he?

VIOLET.

The Prime Minister told me he was the most competent man he'd ever met.

ANNE.

I've always thought he must be a comfort to any Government. Whenever anyone has made a hash of things he's been sent to put them straight.

VIOLET.

Well, he always has.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Mr. Appleby was saying only this morning he was the last man one would expect to marry in haste.

VIOLET.

Let's hope he won't repent at leisure.

ANNE.

[Smiling.] Mrs. Appleby is dying to know all about it, Violet.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm an old woman, Lady Little.

VIOLET.

[Gaily.] Well, I met Arthur at a week-end party. He'd come home on leave and all sorts of important people had been asked to meet him. I was frightened out of my life. The duchesses had strawberry leaves hanging all over them and they looked at me down their noses. And the Cabinet Ministers' wives had protruding teeth and they looked at me up their noses.

ANNE.

What nonsense you talk, Violet!

VIOLET.

I was expecting to be terrified of Arthur. After all, I knew he was a great man. But you know, I wasn't a bit. He was inclined to be rather fatherly at first, so I cheeked him.

ANNE.

I can imagine his surprise. No one had done that for twenty years.

VIOLET.

When you know Arthur at all well you discover that when he wants anything he doesn't hesitate to ask for it. He told our hostess that he wanted me to sit next to him at dinner. That didn't suit her at all, but she didn't like to say no. Somehow people don't say no to Arthur. The Cabinet Ministers' wives looked more like camels than ever, and by Sunday evening, my dear, the duchesses' strawberry leaves began to curl and crackle.

ANNE.

Your poor hostess, I feel for her. To have got hold of a real lion for your party and then have him refuse to bother himself with anybody but a chit of a girl whom you'd asked just to make an even number!

MRS. APPLEBY.

He just fell in love with you at first sight?

VIOLET.

That's what he says now.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Did you know?

VIOLET.

I thought it looked very like it, you know, only it was so improbable. Then came an invitation from a woman I only just knew for the next week-end, and she said Arthur would be there. Then my heart really did begin to go pit-a-pat. I took the letter in to my sister and sat on her bed and we talked it over. "Does he mean to propose to me," I said, "or does he not?" And my sister said: "I can't imagine what he sees in you. Will you accept him if he does?" she asked. "Oh, no," I said. "Good heavens, why he's twenty years older than I am!" But of course I meant to all the time. I shouldn't have cared if he was a hundred, he was the most wonderful man I'd ever known.

MRS. APPLEBY.

And did he propose to you that week-end, when he'd practically only seen you once before?

VIOLET.

I got down in the afternoon and he was there already. As soon as I swallowed a cup of tea he said: "Come out for a walk." Well, I'd have loved a second cup, but I didn't like to say so, so I went. But we had a second tea in a cottage half an hour later, and we were engaged then.

[APPLEBYcomes in with OSMAN PASHA. MR. APPLEBYis a self-made man who has entered Parliament; he is about sixty, grey-bearded, rather short and stout, with some accent in his speech, shrewd, simple and good-natured. He wears a blue serge suit. OSMAN PASHAis a swarthy, bearded Oriental, obese, elderly but dignified; he wears the official frock-coat of the Khedivial service and a tarbush.]

APPLEBY.

Sir Arthur is coming in one moment. He is talking to one of his secretaries.

VIOLET.

Really, it's too bad of them not to leave him alone even when he's snatching a mouthful of food.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous permettez que j'apporte ma cigarette, chère Madame.

VIOLET.

Of course. Come and sit here, Pasha.

APPLEBY.

I wanted to tell his Excellency how interested I am in his proposal to found a technical college in Cairo, but I can't speak French.

VIOLET.

Oh, but his Excellency understands English perfectly, and I believe really he talks it as well as I do, only he won't.

OSMAN PASHA.

Madame, je ne comprends l'anglais que quand vous le parlez, et tout galant homme sait ce que dit une jolie femme.

ANNE.

[Translating for theAPPLEBYS.] He says he only understands English when Lady Little speaks it, and every nice man understands what a pretty woman says.

VIOLET.

No one pays me such charming compliments as you do. You know I'm learning Arabic.

OSMAN PASHA.

C'est une bien belle langue, et vous, madame, vous avez autant d'intelligence que de beauté.

VIOLET.

I have a Copt who comes to me every day. And I practise a little with your brother, Anne.

ANNE.

[ToMRS. APPLEBY.] My brother is one of Sir Arthur's secretaries. I expect it was he that Mr. Appleby left with Sir Arthur.

VIOLET.

If it is I shall scold him. He knows quite well that he has no right to come and bother Arthur when he's in the bosom of his family. But they say he's a wonderful Arabic scholar.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous parlez de M. Parry? Je n'ai jamais connu un Anglais qui avait une telle facilité.

ANNE.

He says he's never known an Englishman who speaks so well as Ronny.

VIOLET.

It's a fearfully difficult language. Sometimes my head seems to get tied up in knots.

[Two SAISEScome in, one with a salver on which are coffee cups and the other bearing a small tray on which is a silver vessel containing Turkish coffee. They go round giving coffee to the various people, then wait in silence. When SIR ARTHURcomes in they give him his coffee and go out.]

ANNE.

It's wonderful of you to persevere.

VIOLET.

Oh, you know, Ronny's very encouraging. He says I'm really getting on. I want so badly to be able to talk. You can't think how enthusiastic I am about Egypt. I love it.

OSMAN PASHA.

Pas plus que l'Égypte vous aime, Madame.

VIOLET.

When we landed at Alexandria and I saw that blue sky and that coloured, gesticulating crowd, my heart leapt. I knew I was going to be happy. And every day I've loved Egypt more. I love its antiquities, I love the desert and the streets of Cairo and those dear little villages by the Nile. I never knew there was such beauty in the world. I thought you only read of romance in books; I didn't know there was a country where it sat by the side of a well under the palm-trees, as though it were at home.

OSMAN PASHA.

Vous êtes charmante, madame. C'est un bien beau pays. Il n'a besoin que d'une chose pour qu'on puisse y vivre.

ANNE.

[Translating.] It's a beautiful country. It only wants one thing to make it livable. And what is that, your Excellency?

OSMAN PASHA.

La liberté.

APPLEBY.

Liberty?

[ARTHURhas come in when first VIOLETbegins to speak of Egypt and he listens to her enthusiasm with an indulgent smile. At the Pasha's remark he comes forward. ARTHUR LITTLEis a man of forty-five, alert, young in manner, very intelligent, with the urbanity, self-assurance, tact, and resourcefulness of the experienced diplomatist. Nothing escapes him, but he does not often show how much he notices.]

ARTHUR.

Egypt has the liberty to do well, your Excellency. Does it need the liberty to do ill before it loses the inclination to do it?

VIOLET.

[ToMRS. APPLEBY.] I hope you don't mind Turkish coffee?

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, no, I like it.

VIOLET.

I'm so glad. I think it perfectly delicious.

ARTHUR.

You have in my wife an enthusiastic admirer of this country, Pasha.

OSMAN PASHA.

J'en suis ravi.

ARTHUR.

I've told Ronny to come in and have a cup of coffee. [ToANNE.] I thought you'd like to say how d'you do to him.

ANNE.

Are you very busy to-day?

ARTHUR.

We're always busy. Isn't that so, Excellency?

OSMAN PASHA.

En effet, et je vous demanderai permission de me retirer. Mon bureau m'appelle.

[He gets up and shakes hands with VIOLET.]

VIOLET.

It was charming of you to come.

OSMAN PASHA.

Mon Dieu, madame, c'est moi qui vous remercie de m'avoir donné l'occasion de saluer votre grâce et votre beauté.

[He bows to the rest of the company. ARTHURleads him towards the door and he goes out.]

ANNE.

You take all these compliments without turning a hair, Violet.

ARTHUR.

[Coming back.] You know, that's a wonderful old man. He's so well-bred, he has such exquisite manners, it's hard to realise that if it were possible he would have us all massacred to-morrow.

APPLEBY.

I remember there was a certain uneasiness in England when you recommended that he should be made Minister of Education.

ARTHUR.

They don't always understand local conditions in England. Osman is a Moslem of the old school. He has a bitter hatred of the English. In course of years he has come to accept the inevitable, but he's not resigned to it. He never loses sight of his aim.

APPLEBY.

And that is?

ARTHUR.

Why, bless you, to drive the English into the sea. But he's a clever old rascal, and he sees that one of the first things that must be done is to educate the Egyptians. Well, we want to educate them too. I had all sorts of reforms in mind which I would never have got the strict Mohammedans to accept if they hadn't been brought forward by a man whose patriotism they believe in and whose orthodoxy is beyond suspicion.

ANNE.

Don't you find it embarrassing to work with a man you distrust?

ARTHUR.

I don't distrust him. I have a certain admiration for him, and I bear him no grudge at all because at the bottom of his heart he simply loathes me.

APPLEBY.

I don't see why he should do that.

ARTHUR.

I was in Egypt for three years when I was quite a young man. I was very small fry then, but I came into collision with Osman and he tried to poison me. I was very ill for two months, and he's never forgiven me because I recovered.

APPLEBY.

What a scoundrel!

ARTHUR.

He would be a little out of place in a Nonconformist community. In the good old days of Ismael he had one of his wives beaten to death and thrown into the Nile.

APPLEBY.

But is it right to give high office to a man of that character?

ARTHUR.

They were the manners and customs of the times.

MRS. APPLEBY.

But he tried to kill you. Don't you bear him any ill will?

ARTHUR.

I don't think it was very friendly, you know, but after all no statesman can afford to pay attention to his private feelings. His duty is to find the round peg for the round hole and put him in.

ANNE.

Why does he come here?

ARTHUR.

He has a very great and respectful admiration for Violet. She chaffs him, if you please, and the old man adores her. I think she's done more to reconcile him to the British occupation than all our diplomacy.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It must be wonderful to have power in a country like this.

VIOLET.

Power? Oh, I haven't that. But it makes me so proud to think I can be of any use at all. I only wish I had the chance to do more. Since I've been here I've grown very patriotic.

[RONALD PARRYcomes in. He is a young man, very good-looking, fresh and pleasant, with a peculiar charm of manner.]

ARTHUR.

Ah, here is Ronny.

RONNY.

Am I too late for my cup of coffee?

VIOLET.

No, it will be brought to you at once.

RONNY.

[Shaking hands with VIOLET.] Good morning.

VIOLET.

This is Mr. Parry. Mr. and Mrs. Appleby.

RONNY.

How d'you do?

ARTHUR.

Now, Ronny, don't put on your Foreign Office manner. Mr. and Mrs. Appleby are very nice people.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I'm glad you think that, Sir Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Well, when you left your cards with a soup ticket from the F.O. my heart sank.

APPLEBY.

There, my dear, I told you he wouldn't want to be bothered with us.

ARTHUR.

You see, I expected a pompous couple who knew all about everything and were going to tell me exactly how Egypt ought to be governed. A Member of Parliament doesn't inspire confidence in the worried bosom of a Government official.

VIOLET.

I don't know if you think you're putting Mr. and Mrs. Appleby at their ease, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

Oh, but I shouldn't say this if I hadn't been most agreeably disappointed.

MRS. APPLEBY.

I never forget the days when Mr. Appleby used to light the kitchen fire himself and I used to do the week's washing every Monday morning. I don't think we've changed much since then, either of us.

ARTHUR.

I know, and I'm really grateful to the Foreign Office for having given you your letter.

MRS. APPLEBY.

It's been a great treat to us to come and see you. And it's done my heart good to see Lady Little. If you don't mind my saying so she's like a spring morning and it makes one glad to be alive just to look at her.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't!

ARTHUR.

I'm inclined to feel very kindly to everyone who feels kindly towards her. You must enjoy yourselves in Upper Egypt and when you come back to Cairo you must let us know.

APPLEBY.

I'm expecting to learn a good deal from my journey.

ARTHUR.

You may learn a good deal that will surprise you. You may learn that there are races in the world that seem born to rule and races that seem born to serve; that democracy is not a panacea for all the ills of mankind, but merely one system of government like another, which hasn't had a long enough trial to make it certain whether it is desirable or not; that freedom generally means the power of the strong to oppress the weak, and that the wise statesman gives men the illusion of it but not the substance—in short, a number of things which must be very disturbing to the equilibrium of a Radical Member of Parliament.

ANNE.

On the other hand, you'll see our beautiful Nile and the temples.

ARTHUR.

And perhaps they'll suggest to you that however old the world is it's ever young, and that when all's said and done the most permanent on the face of the earth is what seems the most transitory—the ideal.

APPLEBY.

Fanny, it looks to me as though we'd bitten off as big a piece of cake as we can chew with any comfort.

MRS. APPLEBY.

Oh, well, we'll do our best. And though I never could do arithmetic I've always thought perhaps one might be saved without. Good-bye, Lady Little, and thank you for having us.

VIOLET.

Good-bye.

[There are general farewells and they go to the door. RONNYopens it for them. They go out.]

RONNY.

I forgot to tell you, sir, Mrs. Pritchard has just telephoned to ask if she can see you on a matter of business.

ARTHUR.

[With a grim smile.] Say I'm very busy to-day, and I regret exceedingly that it will be quite impossible for me to see her.

RONNY.

[With a twinkle in his eye.] She said she was coming round at once.

ARTHUR.

If she's made up her mind to see me at all costs she might have saved herself the trouble of ringing up to find out if it was convenient.

ANNE.

Your sister is a determined creature, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I know. I have some authority in the affairs of this country, but none over dear Christina. I wonder what she wants.

VIOLET.

Let us hope for the best.

ARTHUR.

I've noticed that whenever anyone wants to see me very urgently it's never to give me anything. When Christina wants to see me urgently my only safety is in instant flight.

VIOLET.

You must be nice to her, Arthur. If you're not she'll only take it out of me.

ARTHUR.

It's monstrous, isn't it?

VIOLET.

After all, she kept house for you for ten years. Admirably, mind you.

ARTHUR.

Admirably. She has a genius for order and organisation in the house. Everything went like clockwork. She never wasted a farthing. She saved me hundreds of pounds. She led me a dog's life. I've come to the conclusion there's nothing so detestable as a good housekeeper.

VIOLET.

How fortunate you married me, then! But you can't expect her to see that point of view. It's very hard for her to be turned out of this very pleasant billet, and it's natural that when you won't do something she asks you she should put it down to my influence.

ANNE.

It must have been a very difficult position for you.

VIOLET.

I did all I could to make her like me. I did feel rather like a usurper, you know. I tried to make her see that I didn't at all want to put on airs.

ARTHUR.

Fortunately she's taken it very well. I confess I was a little nervous when she told me she meant to stay on in Egypt to be near her son.

ANNE.

It would be a detestable person who didn't like Violet, I think.

ARTHUR.

Detestable. I should have no hesitation in having him deported.

RONNY.

I think I'd better be getting back to my work.

ANNE.

Oh, Ronny, would you like me to come and help you with your packing?

VIOLET.

[ToRONNY.] Are you going somewhere?

RONNY.

I'm leaving Cairo.

ANNE.

Didn't you know? Ronny has just been appointed to Paris.

VIOLET.

Is he going to leave Egypt for good?

[She is taken aback by the news. She clenches her hand on the rail of a chair; ARTHURand ANNEnotice the little, instinctive motion.]

RONNY.

I suppose so.

VIOLET.

But why was it kept from me? Why have you been making a secret of it?

ARTHUR.

Darling, no one's been making a secret of it. I—I thought Anne would have told you.

VIOLET.

Oh, it doesn't matter at all, but Ronny has been in the habit of doing all sorts of things for me. It would have been convenient if I'd been told that a change was going to be made.

ARTHUR.

I'm very sorry. It was only arranged this morning. I received a telegram from the Foreign Office. I thought it would interest Anne, so I sent Ronny along to tell her.

VIOLET.

I hate to be treated like a child.

[There is a moment's embarrassment.]

ANNE.

It was stupid of me. I ought to have come and told you. I was so pleased and excited that I forgot.

VIOLET.

I don't quite know why you should have been so excited.

ANNE.

It will be very nice for me to have Ronny so near. You see, now I've given up my flat I shan't come to Egypt very often and I should never have seen Ronny. I can run over to Paris constantly. Besides, it's a step, isn't it? And I want to see him an Ambassador before I die.

VIOLET.

I don't see what good it will do him in Paris to speak Arabic like a native.

ARTHUR.

Oh, well, that is the F.O. all over. The best Persian scholar in the Service has spent the last six years in Washington.

RONNY.

It's been a great surprise for me. I expected to remain in Egypt indefinitely.

VIOLET.

[Recovering herself.] I expect you'll have a very good time in Paris. When do you go?

RONNY.

There's a boat the day after to-morrow. Sir Arthur thought I'd better take that.

VIOLET.

[Scarcely mistress of herself.] As soon as that! [Recovering, gaily.] We shall miss you dreadfully. I can't imagine what I shall do without you. [ToANNE.] You can't think how useful he's been to me since I came here.

RONNY.

It's very kind of you to say so.

VIOLET.

He's invaluable at functions and things like that. You see, he knows where everyone should sit at dinner. And at first he used to coach me with details about various people so that I shouldn't say the wrong thing.

ARTHUR.

If you had you'd have said it so charmingly that no one would have resented it.

VIOLET.

I'm so afraid that the man who takes Ronny's place will refuse to write my invitations for me.

ARTHUR.

It's not exactly the duty of my secretaries.

VIOLET.

No, but I do hate doing it myself. And Ronny was able to imitate my handwriting.

ARTHUR.

I'm sure he could never write as badly as you.

VIOLET.

Oh, yes, he could. Couldn't you?

RONNY.

I managed to write quite enough like you for people not to notice the difference.

VIOLET.

You know, there are thirty-two invitations to do now.

ANNE.

Why don't you send cards?

VIOLET.

Oh, I think a letter is so much more polite. Somehow I don't feel old enough to ask people to dine with me in the third person.

RONNY.

I'll come and do them the moment Sir Arthur can let me go.

ARTHUR.

You'd better do them before Violet goes out.

VIOLET.

That'll be very soon. The Khedive's mother has asked me to go and see her at half-past three. I'll get the list now, shall I? I don't think I'll wait for Christina. If she wants to see you on business I dare say she'd rather I wasn't there.

ARTHUR.

Very well.

VIOLET.

[ToRONNY.] Will you come here when you're ready?

RONNY.

Certainly.

[She goes out.]

ARTHUR.

Have you finished that report yet?

RONNY.

Not quite, sir. It will be ready in ten minutes.

ARTHUR.

Put it on my desk.

RONNY.

All right, sir.

[Exit. ARTHURand ANNEare left alone. He looks at her reflectively.]

ARTHUR.

Violet is very sensitive to anything that might be considered a slight.

ANNE.

It's very natural, isn't it? A high-spirited girl.

ARTHUR.

She likes me to tell her my arrangements. It gives her a little feeling of importance to know things before other people.

ANNE.

Oh, of course. I quite understand. I should do the same in her place.

ARTHUR.

I ought to have remembered and told her that Ronny was going. She was just a little vexed because she thought I'd been fixing things up behind her back.

ANNE.

Yes, I know. It would naturally put her out for a moment to learn on a sudden that one of the persons she'd been thrown in contact with was going away.

ARTHUR.

[With a twinkle in his eye.] I'm wondering if I must blame you for the loss of an excellent secretary.

ANNE.

Me?

ARTHUR.

I don't know why the F.O. should suddenly have made up their minds that your brother was wanted in Paris. Have you been pulling strings?

ANNE.

[Smiling.] What a suspicious nature you have!

ARTHUR.

Anne, own up.

ANNE.

I thought Ronny was getting into a groove here. There didn't seem to be much more for him to do than he has been doing for some time. If you will have the truth, I've been moving heaven and earth to get him moved.

ARTHUR.

How deceitful of you not to have said a word about it!

ANNE.

I didn't want to make him restless. I knew he'd be mad to go to Paris. I thought it much better not to say anything till it was settled.

ARTHUR.

D'you think he's mad to go to Paris?

ANNE.

[Fencing with him.] Any young man would be.

ARTHUR.

I wonder if he'd be very much disappointed if I made other arrangements.

ANNE.

What do you mean, Arthur? You wouldn't prevent him from going when I've done everything in the world to get him away.

ARTHUR.

[Abruptly.] Why should you be so anxious for him to go?

[She looks at him for an instant in dismay.]

ANNE.

Good heavens, don't speak so sharply to me. I told Violet just now. I wanted him to be more get-at-able. I think he stands a much better chance of being noticed if he's in a place like Paris.

ARTHUR.

[With a smile.] Ah, yes, you said you were coming less frequently to Egypt than in the past. It might be worth while to keep Ronny here in order to tempt you back.

ANNE.

Egypt isn't the same to me that it was.

ARTHUR.

I hope my marriage has made no difference to our friendship, Anne. You know how deeply I value it.

ANNE.

You used to come and see me very often. You knew I was discreet and you used to talk over with me all sorts of matters which occupied you. I was pleased and flattered. Of course I realised that those pleasant conversations of ours must stop when you married. I only came here this winter to collect my goods and chattels.

ARTHUR.

You make me feel vaguely guilty towards you.

ANNE.

Of course you're nothing of the sort. But I don't want Violet to feel that I am making any attempt to—to monopolise you. She's been charming to me. The more I know her the more delightful I find her.

ARTHUR.

It's very nice of you to say so.

ANNE.

You know I've always had a great admiration for you. I'm so glad to see you married to a girl who's not unworthy of you.

ARTHUR.

I suppose it was a dangerous experiment for a man of my age to marry a girl of nineteen.

ANNE.

I think one can admit that. But you've always been one of the favourites of the gods. You've made a wonderful success of it.

ARTHUR.

It needs on a husband's part infinite tact, patience, and tolerance.

ANNE.

You have the great advantage that Violet is genuinely in love with you.

ARTHUR.

I suppose only a fatuous ass would confess that a beautiful girl was in love with him.

ANNE.

You make her very happy.

ARTHUR.

There's nothing I wouldn't do to achieve that. I'm more desperately in love with Violet even than when I first married her.

ANNE.

I'm so glad. I want nothing but your happiness.

ARTHUR.

Here is Christina.

[The door opens as he says these words and an English BUTLERushers in MRS. PRITCHARD. She is a tall, spare woman, with hair turning grey, comely, upright in her carriage, with decision of character indicated by every gesture; but though masterful and firm to attain her ends, she is an honest woman, direct, truthful and not without humour. She is admirably gowned in a manner befitting her station and importance.]

BUTLER.

Mrs. Pritchard.

[Exit.]

ARTHUR.

I knew it was you, Christina. I felt a sense of responsibility descend upon the house.

CHRISTINA.

[Kissing him.] How is Violet?

ARTHUR.

Lovely.

CHRISTINA.

I was inquiring about her health.

ARTHUR.

Her health is perfect.

CHRISTINA.

At her age one's always well, I suppose. [KissingANNE.] How d'you do? And how are you, my poor Arthur?

ARTHUR.

You ask me as though I was a doddering old gentleman, crippled with rheumatism. I'm in the best of health, thank you very much, and very active for my years. [CHRISTINAhas seen a flower on the table that has fallen from a bowl, and picks it up and puts it back in its place.] Why do you do that?

CHRISTINA.

I don't like untidiness.

ARTHUR.

I do.

[He takes the flower out again and places it on the table.]

CHRISTINA.

I was expecting to find you in your office.

ARTHUR.

Do you think I'm neglecting my work? I thought it more becoming to wait for you here.

CHRISTINA.

I wanted to see you on a matter of business.

ARTHUR.

So I understood from your message. I feel convinced you're going to put me in the way of making my fortune.

ANNE.

I'll leave you, shall I?

CHRISTINA.

Oh, no, pray don't. There's not the least reason why you shouldn't hear what it's all about.

ARTHUR.

You're not going to make my fortune after all. You're going to ask me to do something.

CHRISTINA.

What makes you think that?

ARTHUR.

You want a third person present to be witness to my brutal selfishness when I refuse. I know you, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

[Smiling.] You're much too sensible to refuse a perfectly reasonable request.

ARTHUR.

Let us hear it. [She sits down on the sofa. The cushions have been disordered by people sitting on them and she shakes them out, and pats them and arranges them in their place.] I wish you'd leave the furniture alone, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

I cannot make out what pleasure people take in seeing things out of their proper place.

ARTHUR.

You're very long in coming to the point.

CHRISTINA.

I hear that the Khedive has quarrelled with his secretary.

ARTHUR.

You're a marvellous woman, Christina. You get hold of all the harem gossip.

CHRISTINA.

It's true, isn't it?

ARTHUR.

Yes. But I only heard of it myself just before luncheon. How did it come to your ears?

CHRISTINA.

That doesn't matter, does it? I have a way of hearing things that may be of interest to me.

ARTHUR.

I'm afraid I'm very dense, but I don't see how it can be of any particular interest to you.

CHRISTINA.

[Smiling.] Dear Arthur. The Khedive has asked you to recommend him an English secretary.

ANNE.

Has he really? That's a change. He's never had an English secretary before.

ARTHUR.

Never.

ANNE.

It's a wonderful opportunity.

ARTHUR.

If we get the right man he can be of the greatest possible help. If he's tactful, wise, and courteous, there's no reason why in time he shouldn't attain very considerable influence over the Khedive. If we can really get the Khedive to work honestly and sincerely with us, instead of hampering us by all kinds of secret devices, we can do miracles in this country.

ANNE.

What a splendid chance for the man who gets the job!

ARTHUR.

I suppose it is. If he has the right qualities he may achieve anything. And after all, it's a splendid chance to be able to render such great service to our own old country.

CHRISTINA.

Has the Khedive given any particulars about the sort of man he wants?

ARTHUR.

He naturally wants a young man and a good sportsman. It's important that he should be able to speak Arabic. But the qualifications which will satisfy the Khedive are nothing beside those which will satisfy me. The wrong man may cause irreparable damage to British interests.

CHRISTINA.

Have you thought that Henry would be admirably suited?

ARTHUR.

I can't say I have, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

He's young and he's very good at games. He speaks Arabic.

ARTHUR.

Quite well, I believe. I think he's very well suited to the post he has. It would be a pity to disturb him when he's just got at home with the work.

CHRISTINA.

Arthur, you can't compare a very badly paid job in the Ministry of Education with a private secretaryship to the Khedive.

ARTHUR.

The best job for a man is the one he's most fitted to do.

CHRISTINA.

You've got no fault to find with Henry. He's a very good worker, he's honest, industrious, and painstaking.

ARTHUR.

You don't praise a pair of boots because you can walk in them without discomfort; if you can't you chuck them away.

CHRISTINA.

What d'you mean by that?

ARTHUR.

The qualities you mention really don't deserve any particular reward. If Henry hadn't got them I'd fire him without a moment's hesitation.

CHRISTINA.

I have no doubt you'd welcome the opportunity. It's the greatest misfortune of Henry's life that he happens to be your nephew.

ARTHUR.

On the other hand, it's counterbalanced by his extraordinary good luck in being your son.

CHRISTINA.

You've stood in his way on every possible occasion.

ARTHUR.

[Good-humouredly.] You know that's not true, Christina. I've refused to perpetrate a number of abominable jobs that you've urged me to. He's had his chances as everyone else has. You're an admirable mother. If I'd listened to you he'd be Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister by now.

CHRISTINA.

I've never asked you to do anything for Henry that wasn't perfectly reasonable.

ARTHUR.

It's evident then that we have different views upon what is reasonable.

CHRISTINA.

I appeal to you, Anne: do you see any objection to suggesting Henry to the Khedive as a private secretary?

ARTHUR.

I knew that's what she wanted you here for, Anne, to be a witness to my pig-headed obstinacy.

CHRISTINA.

Don't be absurd, Arthur. I'm asking Anne for an unprejudiced opinion.

ARTHUR.

Anne is unlikely to have an opinion of any value on a matter she knows nothing about.

ANNE.

[With a chuckle.] That is a very plain hint that I can't do better than hold my tongue. I'll take it, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

It's so unreasonable of you, Arthur. You won't listen to any argument.

ARTHUR.

The only one you've offered yet is: here's a good job going, Henry's your nephew, give it him. My dear, don't you see the Khedive would never accept such a near relation of mine?

CHRISTINA.

I don't agree with you at all. The fact of his asking you to recommend an English secretary shows that he wants to draw the connection between you and himself closer. After all, you might give the boy a chance.

ARTHUR.

This is not an occasion when one can afford to give a chance. It's hit or miss. If the man I choose is a failure the Khedive will never ask me to do such a thing for him again. I can't take any risks.

CHRISTINA.

Will you tell me what qualifications Henry lacks to make him suitable for the post?

ARTHUR.

Certainly. It's true he speaks Arabic, but he doesn't understand the native mind. Grammars can't teach you that, my dear, only sympathy. He has the mind of an official. I often think that you must have swallowed a ramrod in early life and poor Henry was born with a foot-rule in his inside.

CHRISTINA.

I am not amused, Arthur.

ARTHUR.

I have no doubt in course of time he'll become a very competent official, but he'll never be anything else. He lacks imagination, and that is just as necessary to a statesman as to a novelist. Finally he has no charm.

CHRISTINA.

How can you judge? You're his uncle. You might just as well say I have no charm.

ARTHUR.

You haven't. You're an admirable woman, with all the substantial virtues which make you an ornament to your sex, but you have no charm.

CHRISTINA.

[With a grim smile.] I should be a fool if I expected you to pay me compliments, shouldn't I?

ARTHUR.

You would at all events be a woman who is unable to learn by experience.

CHRISTINA.

Besides, I don't agree with you. I think Henry has charm.

ARTHUR.

Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.

CHRISTINA.

Really, Arthur, it amazes me that a man in your position can be influenced by such absurd trifles. It's so unfair, when a boy has a dozen solid real virtues that you should refuse to recommend him for a job because he hasn't got in your opinion a frivolous, unsubstantial advantage like charm.

ARTHUR.

Unsubstantial it may be, but frivolous it certainly isn't. Believe me, charm is the most valuable asset that any man can have. D'you think it sounds immoral to say it compensates for the lack of brains and virtue? Alas! it happens to be true. Brains may bring you to power, but charm enables you to keep it. Without charm you will never lead men.

CHRISTINA.

And do you imagine you're likely to find a young Englishman who's a sportsman and an Arabic scholar, who has tact, imagination, sympathy, wisdom, courtesy and charm?

ANNE.

If you do, Arthur, I'm afraid he won't remain here very long, because I warn you, I shall insist on marrying him.

ARTHUR.

It's not so formidable as it sounds. I'm going to suggest Ronny.

CHRISTINA.

[Astounded.] Ronald Parry! That's the very last person I should have thought you'd be inclined to suggest.

ARTHUR.

[Sharply.] Why?

ANNE.

[With dismay.] You don't really mean that, Arthur?

ARTHUR.

Why not?

CHRISTINA.

[ToANNE.] Didn't you know?

ANNE.

It's the last thing that would ever have entered my head.

CHRISTINA.

I thought you'd made all arrangements for sending him away.

ARTHUR.

I made no arrangements at all. I received a telegram from the F.O. saying that he'd been appointed to Paris.

ANNE.

[After a very short pause.] Don't you think you'd better leave it at that?

ARTHUR.

No, I don't. I'm going to wire to London explaining the circumstances and suggesting that I think him very suitable for the post that's just offered itself.

ANNE.

[Trying to take it lightly.] I feel rather aggrieved, after all the efforts I've made to get him appointed to Paris.

CHRISTINA.

Oh, he owes that to you, does he? You thought it would be better for him to leave here?

ARTHUR.

[Deliberately.] I don't quite understand what you're driving at, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

[Taking him up defiantly.] I cannot imagine anyone more unsuitable than Ronald Parry.

ARTHUR.

That is for me to judge, isn't it?

ANNE.

Perhaps the Foreign Office will say they see no reason to change their mind.

ARTHUR.

I don't think so.

ANNE.

Have you told Ronny?

ARTHUR.

No, I thought it unnecessary till I'd found out whether the Khedive would be willing to take him.

CHRISTINA.

I'm amazed, Arthur. When Henry told me Ronald Parry was going I couldn't help thinking it was very desirable.

ARTHUR.

Why?

[She looks at him, about to speak, then hesitates. She does not dare, and resolves to be silent. ANNEcomes to the rescue.]

ANNE.

Christina knows that I shall be very little in Egypt in future and how fond Ronny and I are of one another. We naturally want to be as near each other as we can.

CHRISTINA.

[With a chuckle.] It really amuses me that you should refuse to give a good job to Henry because you've made up your mind to give it to Ronald Parry.

[ARTHURwalks up to her deliberately and faces her.]

ARTHUR.

If you've got anything to say against him say it.

[They stare at one another for a moment in silence.]

CHRISTINA.

If you have nothing against him there's no reason why I should.

ARTHUR.

I see. I have a good deal to do this afternoon. If you have nothing more to say to me I'd like to get back to my work.

CHRISTINA.

Very well, I'll go.

ARTHUR.

You won't stop and see Violet?

CHRISTINA.

I don't think so, thank you.

[She goes out. He opens the door for her.]

ANNE.

Why didn't you tell me just now that you'd decided to keep Ronny in Cairo?

ARTHUR.

I thought it was unnecessary till everything was settled. I daresay you'll be good enough to hold your tongue about it.

ANNE.

Have you definitely made up your mind?

ARTHUR.

Definitely.

[They look at one another steadily.]

ANNE.

I think I'll go up to my room. I keep to my old habit of a siesta after luncheon.

ARTHUR.

I wish I could get Violet to take it.

ANNE.

She's so young, she doesn't feel the need of it yet.

ARTHUR.

Yes, she's so young.

[ANNEgoes out. For a moment ARTHURgives way to discouragement. He feels old and tired. But he hears a footstep and pulls himself together. He is his usual self, gay, gallant and humorous, when VIOLETenters the room.]

VIOLET.

I saw Christina drive away. What did she want?

ARTHUR.

The earth.

VIOLET.

I hope you gave it her.

ARTHUR.

No, I'm trying to get the moon for you just now, darling, and I thought if I gave her the earth it really would upset the universe a little too much.

VIOLET.

I thought I'd better do these invitations before I dressed.

ARTHUR.

You're not going to put on a different frock to go and have tea with the Khedive's mother? You look charming in that.

VIOLET.

I think it's a little too young. It was all right for the morning.

ARTHUR.

Of course you are older this afternoon, that's quite true.

VIOLET.

Can you spare Ronny just now?

ARTHUR.

[After an instant's pause.] Yes, I'll send him to you at once.

VIOLET.

[As he is going.] I shall be back in time to give you your tea.

ARTHUR.

That will be very nice. Good-bye till then.

[He goes out. She is meditative. She gives a slight start as RONNYcomes in.]

VIOLET.

I hope I haven't torn you away from anything very important.

RONNY.

I was only typing a very dull report. I'd just finished it.

VIOLET.

You mustn't ever bother about me if it's not convenient, you know.

RONNY.

I shan't have much chance, shall I?

VIOLET.

No.... Look, here's the list.

[She hands him a sheet of paper on which names are scribbled, and he reads it.]

RONNY.

It looks rather a stodgy party, doesn't it? I see you've crossed my name out.

VIOLET.

It's not much good asking you when you won't be here. Whom d'you advise me to ask in your place?

RONNY.

I don't know. I hate the idea of anyone being asked in my place. Shall I start on them at once?

VIOLET.

If you don't mind. I have to go out, you know.

[He sits down at a writing table.]

RONNY.

I'll start on those I dislike least.

VIOLET.

[With a chuckle.] Don't you remember when Arthur said I must ask the Von Scheidleins how we hated to write them a civil letter?

RONNY.

[Writing.] Dear Lady Sinclair.

VIOLET.

Oh, she asked me to call her Evelyn.

RONNY.

Hang! I'll have to start again.

VIOLET.

It always make me so uncomfortable to address fat old ladies by their Christian names.

RONNY.

I'll end up "yours affectionately," shall I?

VIOLET.

I suppose you're awfully excited at the thought of going?

RONNY.

No.

VIOLET.

It's a step for you, isn't it? I ... I ought to congratulate you.

RONNY.

You don't think I want to go, do you? I hate it.

VIOLET.

Why?

RONNY.

I've been very happy here.

VIOLET.

You knew you couldn't stay here for the rest of your life.

RONNY.

Why not?

VIOLET.

[With an effort at self-control.] Who is the next person on the list?

RONNY.

[Looking at it.] Will you miss me at all?

VIOLET.

I suppose I shall at first.

RONNY.

That's not a very kind thing to say.

VIOLET.

Isn't it? I don't mean to be unkind, Ronny.

RONNY.

Oh, I'm so miserable!

[She gives a little cry and looks at him. She presses her hands to her heart.]

VIOLET.

Let us go on with the letters.

[Silently he writes. She does not watch him, but looks hopelessly into space. She is unable to restrain a sob.]

RONNY.

You're crying.

VIOLET.

No, I'm not. I'm not. I swear I'm not. [He gets up and goes over to her. He looks into her eyes.] It came so suddenly. I never dreamt you'd be going away.

RONNY.

Oh, Violet!

VIOLET.

Don't call me that. Please don't.

RONNY.

Did you know that I loved you?

VIOLET.

How should I know? Oh, I'm so unhappy. What have I done to deserve it?

RONNY.

I couldn't help loving you. It can't matter if I tell you now. It's the end of everything. I don't want to go without your knowing. I love you. I love you. I love you.

VIOLET.

Oh, Ronny!

RONNY.

It's been so wonderful, all these months. I've never known anyone to come up to you. Everything you said pleased me. I loved the way you walk, and your laugh, and the sound of your voice.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't!

RONNY.

I was content just to see you and to talk with you and to know you were here, near me. You've made me extraordinarily happy.

VIOLET.

Have I? Oh, I'm so glad.

RONNY.

I couldn't help myself. I tried not to think of you. You're not angry with me?

VIOLET.

I can't be. Oh, Ronny, I've had such a rotten time. It came upon me unawares, I didn't know what was happening. I thought I only liked you.

RONNY.

Oh, my dearest! Is it possible ...?

VIOLET.

And when it struck me—oh, I was so frightened. I thought it must be written on my face and everyone must see. I knew it was wrong. I knew I mustn't. I couldn't help myself.

RONNY.

Oh, say it, Violet. I want to hear you say it: "I love you."

VIOLET.

I love you. [He kneels down before her and covers her hands with kisses.] Oh, don't, don't!

RONNY.

My dearest. My very dearest.

VIOLET.

What have I done? I made up my mind that no one should ever know. I thought then it wouldn't matter. It needn't prevent me from doing my duty to Arthur. It didn't interfere with my affection for him. I didn't see how it could hurt anyone if I kept my love for you locked up in my heart, tightly, and it made me so happy. I rejoiced in it.

RONNY.

I never knew. I used to weigh every word you said to me. You never gave me a sign.

VIOLET.

I didn't know it was possible to love anybody as I love you, Ronny.

RONNY.

My precious!

VIOLET.

Oh, don't say things like that to me. It breaks my heart. I wouldn't ever have told you only I was upset by your going. If they'd only given me time to get used to the thought I wouldn't ... I wouldn't make such a fool of myself.

RONNY.

You can't grudge me that little bit of comfort.

VIOLET.

But it all came so suddenly, the announcement that you were going and your going. I felt I couldn't bear it. Why didn't they give me time?

RONNY.

Don't cry, my dearest, it tortures me.

VIOLET.

This is the last time we shall be alone, Ronny. I couldn't let you go without ... oh, my God, I can't bear it.

RONNY.

We might have been so happy together, Violet. Why didn't we meet sooner? I feel we're made for one another.

VIOLET.

Oh, don't talk of that. D'you suppose I haven't said to myself: "Oh, if I'd only met him first"? Oh, Ronny, Ronny, Ronny!

RONNY.

I never dared to think that you loved me. It's maddening that I must go. It's horrible to think of leaving you now.

VIOLET.

No, it's better. We couldn't have gone on like that. I'm glad you're going. It breaks my heart.

RONNY.

Oh, Violet, why didn't you wait for me?

VIOLET.

I made a mistake. I must pay for it. Arthur's so good and kind. He loves me with all his heart. Oh, what a fool I was! I didn't know what love was. I feel that my life is finished, and I'm so young, Ronny.

RONNY.

You know I'd do anything in the world for you.

VIOLET.

My dear one. [They stand, face to face, looking at one another wistfully and sadly.] It's no good, Ronny, we're both making ourselves utterly miserable. Say good-bye to me and let us part. [He draws her towards him.] No, don't kiss me. I don't want you to kiss me. [He takes her in his arms and kisses her passionately.] Oh, Ronny, I do love you so. [At last she tears herself away from him. She sinks into a chair. He makes a movement towards her.] No, don't come near me now. I'm so tired.

[He looks at her for a moment, then he goes back to the table and sits down to write the letters. Their eyes meet slowly.]

RONNY.

It's good-bye, then?

VIOLET.

It's good-bye.

[She presses her hands to her heart as though the aching were unendurable. He buries his head in his hands.]

END OF THE FIRST ACT

ACT II

The scene is the garden of the Consular Agent's residence. It is an Eastern garden with palm-trees, magnolias, and flowering bushes of azaleas. On one side is an old Arabic well-head decorated with verses from the Koran; a yellow rambler grows over the ironwork above. Rose-trees are in full bloom. On the other side are basket chairs and a table. At the bottom of the garden runs the Nile and on the farther bank are lines of palm-trees and the Eastern sky. It is towards evening and during the act the sun gradually sets.

The table is set out with tea-things. ANNEis seated reading a book. The gardener in his blue gaberdine, with brown legs and the little round cap of the Egyptian workman, is watering the flowers. CHRISTINAcomes in.

ANNE.

[Looking up, with a smile.] Ah, Christina!

CHRISTINA.

I was told I should find you here. I came to see Violet, but I hear she hasn't come back yet.

ANNE.

She was going to see the Khedive's mother.

CHRISTINA.

I think I'll wait for her.

ANNE.

Would you like tea? I was waiting till Violet came in. I expect she's been made to eat all sorts of sweet things and she'll want a cup of tea to take the taste out of her mouth.

CHRISTINA.

No, don't have it brought for me.... I can never quite get over being treated as a guest in the house I was mistress of for so many years. [To the Gardener.] Imshi (Get out).

GARDENER.

Dêtak sa 'ideh (May thy night be happy).

[He goes out.]

ANNE.

Your knowledge of Arabic is rather sketchy, Christina.

CHRISTINA.

I never see why I should trouble myself with strange languages. If foreigners want to talk to me they can talk to me in English.

ANNE.

But surely when we're out of our own country we're foreigners.

CHRISTINA.

Nonsense, Anne, we're English. I wonder Arthur allows Violet to learn Arabic. I can't help thinking it'll make a bad impression on the natives. I managed this house on fifty words of Arabic.

ANNE.

[Smiling.] I'm convinced that on a hundred you'd be prepared to manage the country.

CHRISTINA.

I don't think you can deny that I did my work here competently.

ANNE.

You're a wonderful housekeeper.

CHRISTINA.

I have common sense and a talent for organisation. [Pursing her lips.] It breaks my heart to see the way certain things are done here now.

ANNE.

You must remember Violet is very young.

CHRISTINA.

Much too young to be a suitable wife for Arthur.

ANNE.

He seems to be very well satisfied, and after all he is the person most concerned.

CHRISTINA.

I know. His infatuation is—blind, don't you think?

ANNE.

[Coolly.] I think it's very delightful to see two people so much in love with one another.

CHRISTINA.

D'you know that I used to be fearfully jealous of you, Anne?

ANNE.

[Amused.] I know that you thoroughly disliked me, Christina. You didn't trouble to hide it.

CHRISTINA.

I was always afraid that Arthur would marry you. I didn't want to be turned out of this house. I suppose you think that's horrid of me.

ANNE.

No, I think it's very natural.

CHRISTINA.

I didn't see why Arthur should marry. I gave him all the comforts of home life. And I thought it would interfere with his work. Of course I knew that he liked you. I suffered agonies when he used to go and dine with you quietly. [With a sniff.] He said it rested him.

ANNE.

Perhaps it did. Did you grudge him that?

CHRISTINA.

I knew you were desperately in love with him.

ANNE.

Need you throw that in my face now? Really, I haven't deserved it.

CHRISTINA.

My dear, I wish he had married you. It never struck me he'd marry a girl twenty years younger than himself.

ANNE.

He never looked upon me as anything but a friend. I don't suppose it occurred to him for an instant that my feeling might possibly be different.

CHRISTINA.

It was stupid of me. I ought to have given him a hint.

ANNE.

[With a smile.] You took care not to do that, Christina. Perhaps you knew that was all it wanted.

CHRISTINA.

[Reflectively.] I don't think he's treated you very well.

ANNE.

Nonsense. A man isn't obliged to marry a woman just because she's in love with him. I don't see why loving should give one a claim on the person one loves.

CHRISTINA.

You would have made him a splendid wife.

ANNE.

So will Violet, my dear. Most men have the wives they deserve.

CHRISTINA.

I marvel at your kindness to her. You're so tolerant and sympathetic, one would never imagine she's robbed you of what you wanted most in the world.

ANNE.

I shouldn't respect myself very much if I bore her the shadow of a grudge. I'm so glad that she's sweet and charming and ingenuous; it makes it very easy to be fond of her.

CHRISTINA.

I know. I wanted to dislike her. But I can't really. There is something about her which disarms one.

ANNE.

Isn't it lucky? It's a difficult position. That irresistible charm of hers will make everything possible. After all, you and I can agree in that we both want Arthur to be happy.

CHRISTINA.

I wonder if there's much chance of that.

[ANNElooks at her for a moment inquiringly, and CHRISTINAcoolly returns the stare.]

ANNE.

Why did you come here this afternoon, Christina?

CHRISTINA.

[With a faint smile.] Why did you take so much trouble to get your brother moved to Paris?

ANNE.

Good heavens, I told you this morning.

CHRISTINA.

D'you think we need make pretences with one another?

ANNE.

I don't think I quite understand.

CHRISTINA.

Don't you? You wanted Ronny to leave Egypt because you know he's in love with Violet.

[For a moment ANNEis a little taken aback, but she quickly recovers herself.]

ANNE.

He's very susceptible. He's always falling in and out of love. I had noticed that he was attracted, and I confess I thought it better to put him out of harm's way.

CHRISTINA.

How cunning you are, Anne! You won't admit anything till you're quite certain the person you're talking to knows it. You know as well as I do that Violet is just as much in love with him.

ANNE.

[Much disturbed.] Christina, what are you going to do? How could I help knowing? You've only got to see the way they look at one another. They're sick with love.

CHRISTINA.