REGINALD'S DRAMA

Reginald closed his eyes with the elaborate weariness of

one who has rather nice eyelashes and thinks it useless to

conceal the fact.

“One of these days,” he said, “I shall write a really

great drama. No one will understand the drift of it, but

every one wiII go back to their homes with a vague feeling

of dissatisfaction with their lives and surroundings. Then

they will put up new wall-papers and forget.”

“But how about those that have oak panelling all over the

house?” said the Other.

“They can always put down new stair-carpets,” pursued

Reginald, “and, anyhow, I’m not responsible for the

audience having a happy ending. The play would be quite

sufficient strain on one’s energies. I should get a bishop

to say it was immoral and beautiful—no dramatist has

thought of that before, and every one would come to condemn

the bishop, and they would stay on out of sheer nervousness.

After all, it requires a great deal of moral courage to

leave in a marked manner in the middle of the second act,

when your carriage isn’t ordered till twelve. And it would

commence with wolves worrying something on a lonely

waste—you wouldn’t see them, of course; but you would hear

them snarling and scrunching, and I should arrange to have a

wolfy fragrance suggested across the footlights. It would

look so well on the programmes, `Wolves in the first act, by

Jamrach.’ And old Lady Whortleberry, who never misses a

first night, would scream. She’s always been nervous since

she lost her first husband. He died quite abruptly while

watching a county cricket match; two and a half inches of

rain had fallen for seven runs, and it was supposed that the

excitement killed him. Anyhow, it gave her quite a shock;

it was the first husband she’d lost, you know, and now she

always screams if anything thrilling happens too soon after

dinner. And after the audience had heard the Whortleberry

scream the thing would be fairly launched.”

“And the plot?”

“The plot,” said Reginald, “would be one of those

little everyday tragedies that one sees going on all round

one. In my mind’s eye there is the case of the

Mudge-Jervises, which in an unpretentious way has quite an

Enoch Arden intensity underlying it. They’d only been

married some eighteen months or so, and circumstances had

prevented their seeing much of each other. With him there

was always a foursome or something that had to be played and

replayed in different parts of the country, and she went in

for slumming quite as seriously as if it was a sport. With

her, I suppose, it was. She belonged to the Guild of the

Poor Dear Souls, and they hold the record for having nearly

reformed a washerwoman. No one has ever really reformed a

washerwoman, and that is why the competition is so keen.

You can rescue charwomen by fifties with a little tea and

personal magnetism, but with washerwomen it’s different;

wages are too high. This particular laundress, who came

from Bermondsey or some such place, was really rather a

hopeful venture, and they thought at last that she might be

safely put in the window as a specimen of successful work.

So they had her paraded at a drawing-room “At Home” at

Agatha Camelford’s; it was sheer bad luck that some liqueur

chocolates had been turned loose by mistake among the

refreshments—really liqueur chocolates, with very little

chocolate. And of course the old soul found them out, and

cornered the entire stock. It was like finding a

whelk-stall in a desert, as she afterwards partially

expressed herself. When the liqueurs began to take effect,

she started to give them imitations of farmyard animals as

they know them in Bermondsey. She began with a dancing

bear, and you know Agatha doesn’t approve of dancing, except

at Buckingham Palace under proper supervision. And then she

got up on the piano and gave them an organ monkey; I gather

she went in for realism rather than a Maeterlinckian

treatment of the subject. Finally, she fell into the piano

and said she was a parrot in a cage, and for an impromptu

performance I believe she was very word-perfect; no one had

heard anything like it, except Baroness Boobelstein who has

attended sittings of the Austrian Reichsrath. Agatha is

trying the Rest-cure at Buxton.”

“But the tragedy?”

“Oh, the Mudge-Jervises. Well, they were getting along

quite happily, and their married life was one continuous

exchange of picture-postcards; and then one day they were

thrown together on some neutral ground where foursomes and

washerwomen overlapped, and discovered that they were

hopelessly divided on the Fiscal Question. They have

thought it best to separate, and she is to have the custody

of the Persian kittens for nine months in the year—they go

back to him for the winter, when she is abroad. There you

have the material for a tragedy drawn straight from

life—and the piece could be called `The Price They Paid

for Empire.’ And of course one would have to work in studies

of the struggle of hereditary tendency against environment

and all that sort of thing. The woman’s father could have

been an Envoy to some of the smaller German Courts; that’s

where she’d get her passion for visiting the poor, in spite

of the most careful upbringing. C’est le premier pa qui

compte, as the cuckoo said when it swallowed its

foster-parent. That, I think, is quite clever.”

“And the wolves?”

“Oh, the wolves would be a sort of elusive undercurrent

in the background that would never be satisfactorily

explained. After all, life teems with things that have no

earthly reason. And whenever the characters could think of

nothing brilliant to say about marriage or the War Office,

they could open a window and listen to the howling of the

wolves. But that would be very seldom.”