A Collier's Friday Night by D. H. Lawrence
A PLAY IN THREE ACTS
(About 1909--first published 1934)
The action of the play takes place in the kitchen of the
The kitchen or living-room of a working-man's house. At the
back the fireplace, with a large fire burning. On the left, on
the oven side of the stove, a WOMAN of some fifty-five
years sits in a wooden rocking-chair, reading. Behind her and
above her, in the recess made by the fireplace, four shelves of
books, the shelf-covers being of green serge, with woollen ball
fringe, and the books being ill-assorted school books, with an
edition of Lessing, florid in green and gilt, but tarnished. On
the left, a window looking on a garden where the rain is dripping
through the first twilight. Under the window, a sofa, the bed
covered with red chintz. By the side of the window, on the wall
near the ceiling, a quiver clothes-horse is outspread with the
cotton articles which have been ironed, hanging to air. Under the
outspread clothes is the door which communicates with the
scullery and with the yard. On the right side of the fireplace,
in the recess equivalent to that where the bookshelves stand, a
long narrow window, and below it, a low, brown, fixed cupboard,
whose top forms a little sideboard, on which stand a large black
enamel box of oil-colours, and a similar japanned box of
water-colours, with Reeve's silver trade-mark. There is also on
the cupboard top a tall glass jar containing ragged pink
chrysanthemums. On the right is a bookcase upon a chest of
drawers. This piece of furniture is of stained polished wood in
imitation of mahogany. The upper case is full of books, seen
through the two flimsy glass doors: a large set of the
World's Famous Literature in dark green at the top--then on
the next shelf prize-books in calf and gold, and imitation soft
leather poetry-books, and a Nuttall's dictionary and Cassell's
French, German and Latin dictionaries. On each side of the
bookcase are prints from water-colours, large, pleasing and well
framed in oak. Between the little brown cupboard and the
bookcase, an arm-chair, small, round, with many little staves; a
comfortable chair such as is seen in many working-class kitchens;
it has a red chintz cushion. There is another Windsor chair on
the other side of the bookcase. Over the mantelpiece, which is
high, with brass candlesticks and two "Coronation" tumblers in
enamel, hangs a picture of Venice, from one of Stead's Christmas
Numbers--nevertheless, satisfactory enough.
The WOMAN in the rocking-chair is dressed in black,
and wears a black sateen apron. She wears spectacles, and is
reading The New Age. Now and again she looks over her
paper at a piece of bread which stands on a hanging bar before
the fire, propped up by a fork, toasting. There is a little pile
of toast on a plate on the boiler hob beside a large saucepan;
the kettle and a brown teapot are occupying the oven-top near
the WOMAN. The table is laid for tea, with four large
breakfast-cups in dark-blue willow-pattern, and plates similar.
It is an oval mahogany table, large enough to seat eight
comfortably. The WOMAN sees the piece of bread smoking,
and takes it from the fire. She butters it and places it on the
plate on the hob, after which she looks out of the window,
then, taking her paper, sits down again in her place.
SOMEONE passes the long narrow window, only the head being
seen, then quite close to the large window on the left. There is
a noise as the outer door opens and is shut, then the kitchen
door opens, and a GIRL enters. She is tall and thin, and
wears a long grey coat and a large blue hat, quite plain. After
glancing at the table, she crosses the room, drops her two
exercise-books on the wooden chair by the bookcase,
NELLIE LAMBERT: Oh! I am weary.
MOTHER: You are late.
NELLIE: I know I am. It's Agatha Karton--she is a great gaby.
There's always something wrong with her register, and old Tommy
gets in such a fever, the great kid.
She takes off her hat, and going to the door on right,
stands in the doorway, hanging it up with her coat on the pegs in
the passage, just by the doorway.
And I'm sure the youngsters have been regular little demons; I
could have killed them.
MOTHER: I've no doubt they felt the same towards you, poor
NELLIE (with a short laugh): I'll bet they did, for I
spanked one or two of 'em well.
MOTHER: Trust you, trust you! You'll be getting the mothers if
you're not careful.
NELLIE (contemptuously): I had one old cat this
afternoon. But I told her straight. I said: "If your Johnny, or
Sammy, or whatever he is, is a nuisance, he'll be smacked, and
there's an end of it." She was mad, but I told her straight; I
didn't care. She can go to Tommy if she likes: I know he'll fuss
her round, but I'll tell him too. Pah! he fusses the
creatures up!--I would!
She comes towards the table, pushing up her hair with her
fingers. It is heavy and brown, and has been flattened by her
hat. She glances at herself in the little square mirror which
hangs from a nail under the right end of the mantelpiece, a mere
unconscious glance which betrays no feeling, and is just enough
to make her negligently touch her hair again. She turns a trifle
fretfully to the table.
NELLIE: Is there only potted meat? You know I can't bear
MOTHER (conciliatorily): Why, I thought you'd like it,
a raw day like this--and with toast.
NELLIE: You know I don't. Why didn't you get some fruit?--a
little tin of apricots--
MOTHER: I thought you'd be sick of apricots--I know Ernest
NELLIE: Well, I'm not--you know I'm not. Pappy potted
She sits down on the sofa wearily. Her MOTHER pours
out two cups of tea, and replaces the pot on the hob.
MOTHER: Won't you have some, then?
NELLIE (petulantly): No, I don't want it.
The MOTHER stands irresolute a moment, then she goes
out. NELLIE reaches over to the bookshelves and takes a
copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which she opens on the
table, and reads, sipping her tea but not eating. In a moment or
two she glances up, as the MOTHER passes the window and
enters the scullery. There is the sound of the opening of a
NELLIE: Have you fetched some?--Oh, you are a sweetling!
The MOTHER enters, with a little glass dish of small
tinned apricots. They begin tea.
MOTHER: Polly Goddard says her young man got hurt in the pit
NELLIE: Oh--is it much? (She looks up from her
MOTHER: One of his feet crushed. Poor Polly's very sad. What
made her tell me was Ben Goddard going by. I didn't know he was
at work again, but he was just coming home, and I asked her about
him, and then she went on to tell me of her young man. They're
all coming home from Selson, so I expect your Father won't be
NELLIE: Goodness!--I hope he'll let us get our tea first.
MOTHER: Well, you were late. If he once gets seated in the
Miner's Arms there's no telling when he comes.
NELLIE: I don't care when he does, so long as he doesn't come
MOTHER: Oh, it's all very well!
They both begin to read as they eat. After a moment another
girl runs past the window and enters. She is a plump, fair girl,
pink and white. She has just run across from the next
GERTIE COOMBER: Hello, my duck, and how are you?
NELLIE (looking up): Oh, alright, my bird.
GERTIE: Friday to-night. No Eddie for you! Oh, poor Nellie!
Aren't I glad, though! (She snaps her fingers
The MOTHER laughs.
NELLIE: Mean cat!
GERTIE (giggling): No, I'm not a mean cat. But I like
Friday night; we can go jinking off up town and wink at the boys.
I like market night. (She puts her head on one side in a
peculiar, quaint, simple fashion.)
The MOTHER laughs.
NELLIE: You wink! If she so much as sees a fellow who'd
speak to her, she gets behind me and stands on one foot and then
GERTIE: I don't! No, I don't, Nellie Lambert. I go like this:
"Oh, good evening, how are you? I'm sure I'm very
pleased--" (She says this in a very quaint
"prunes-and-prisms" manner, with her chin in the air and her hand
extended. At the end she giggles.)
The MOTHER, with her cup in her hand, leans back and
laughs. NELLIE, amused in spite of herself, smiles
NELLIE: You are a daft object! What about last week, when
GERTIE puts her hand up and flips the air with affected
GERTIE: David Thompson! A bacon sawyer! Ph!
NELLIE: What a name! Not likely. Mrs Grocock! (She
giggles.) Oh dear no, nothing short of Mrs Carooso.
She holds back the skirts of her long pinafore with one
hand and affects the Gibson bend.
MOTHER (laughing heartily): Caruso! Caruso! A great fat
GERTIE: Besides, a collier! I'm not going to wash stinking
NELLIE: You don't know what you'll do yet, my girl. I never
knew such cheek! I should think you want somebody grand, you
GERTIE: I do that. Somebody who'll say, "Yes, dear. Oh
yes, dear! Certainly, certainly!"
She simpers across the room, then giggles.
NELLIE: You soft cat, you! But look here, Gert, you'll get
paid out, treating Bernard Hufton as you do.
GERTIE (suddenly irritated): Oh, I can't abide him. I
always feel as if I could smack his face. He thinks himself
slikey. He always makes my--
A head passes the narrow side window.
Oh, glory! there's Mr Lambert. I'm off!
She draws back against the bookcase. A man passes the large
window. The door opens and he enters. He is a man of middling
stature, a miner, black from the pit. His shoulders are pushed up
because he is cold. He has a bushy iron-grey beard. He takes from
his pocket a tin bottle and a knotted "snap" bag--his food bag of
dirty calico--and puts them with a bang on the table. Then he
drags his heavily-shod feet to the door on right; he limps
slightly, one leg being shorter than the other. He hangs up his
coat and cap in the passage and comes back into the living-room.
No one speaks. He wears a grey-and-black neckerchief and, being
coatless, his black arms are bare to the elbows, where end the
loose dirty sleeves of his flannel singlet. The MOTHER
rises and goes to the scullery, carrying the heavy saucepan.
The man gets hold of the table and pulls it nearer the fire, away
from his daughter.
NELLIE: Why can't you leave the table where it was! We don't
want it stuck on top of the fire.
FATHER: Ah dun, if you dunna.
He drags up his arm-chair and sits down at the table full
in front of the fire.
'An yer got a drink for me?
The MOTHER comes and pours out a cup of tea, then
goes back to the scullery.
It's a nice thing as a man as comes home from th' pit parched
up canna ha'e a drink got 'im. (He speaks
MOTHER: Oh, you needn't begin! I know you've been stopping,
FATHER: Dun yer?--Well, yer know too much, then. You wiser
than them as knows, you are!
There is a general silence, as if the three listeners were
shrugging their shoulders in contempt and anger. The FATHER
pours out his tea into his saucer, blows it and sucks it
up. NELLIE looks up from her book and glowers at him with
ferocity. GERTIE puts her hand before her mouth and
giggles behind his back at the noise. He does not drink much, but
sets the cup back in the saucer and lays his grimed arms wearily
along the table. The MOTHER enters with a plate of
MOTHER: Here, that's a clean cloth.
She does not speak unkindly.
FATHER (brutally): You should put a dotty (dirty) 'un
on, then. The MOTHER takes a newspaper and spreads it
over the cloth before him. She kneels at the oven, takes out a
stew-jar, and puts meat and gravy on the plate with the cabbage,
and sets it before him. He does not begin at once to eat. The
MOTHER puts back her chair against the wall and sits
MOTHER: Are your trousers wet?
FATHER (as he eats): A bit.
MOTHER: Then why don't you take them off?
FATHER (in a tone of brutal authority): Fetch my
breeches an' wa's'coat down, Nellie.
NELLIE (continuing to read, her hands pushed in among her
hair): You can ask me properly.
The FATHER pushes his beard forward and glares at
her with futile ferocity. She reads on. GERTIE COOMBER, at
the back, shifts from one foot to the other, then coughs behind
her hand as if she had a little cold. The MOTHER rises and
goes out by door on right.
FATHER: You lazy, idle bitch, you let your mother go!
NELLIE (shrugging her shoulders): You can shut up.
(She speaks with cold contempt.)
GERTIE sighs audibly. The tension of the scene will not let
her run home. NELLIE looks up, flushed, carefully avoiding
NELLIE: Aren't you going to sit down, Gert?
GERTIE: No, I'm off.
NELLIE: Wait a bit and I'll come across with you. I don't want
to stop here.
The FATHER stirs in his chair with rage at the
implication. The MOTHER comes downstairs and enters with a
pair of black trousers, from which the braces are trailing, and a
black waistcoat lined with cream and red lining. She drops them
against her husband's chair.
MOTHER (kindly, trying to restore the atmosphere):
Aren't you going to sit down, Gertie? Go on the stool.
GERTIE takes a small stool on the right side of fireplace,
and sits toying with the bright brass tap of the boiler. The
MOTHER goes out again on right, and enters immediately with
five bread tins and a piece of lard paper. She stands on the
hearthrug greasing the tins. The FATHER kicks off his
great boots and stands warming his trousers before the fire,
turning them and warming them thoroughly.
GERTIE: Are they cold, Mr Lambert?
FATHER: They are that! Look you, they steaming like a sweating
MOTHER: Get away, man! The driest thing in the house would
smoke if you held it in front of the fire like that.
FATHER (shortly): Ah, I know I'm a liar. I knowed it to
NELLIE (much irritated): Isn't he a nasty-tempered
GERTIE: But those front bedrooms are clammy.
FATHER (gratified): They h'are, Gertie, they h'are.
GERTIE (turning to avoid NELLIE'S contempt and
pottering the fire): I know the things I bring down from
ours, they fair damp in a day.
FATHER: They h'are, Gertie, I know it. And I wonder how 'er'd
like to clap 'er arse into wet breeches.
He goes scrambling off to door on right, trailing his
NELLIE (fiercely): Father!
GERTIE puts her face into her hands and laughs with a
half-audible laugh that shakes her body.
I can't think what you've got to laugh at, Gertie Coomber.
The MOTHER, glancing at her irate daughter, laughs
also. She moves aside the small wooden rocking-chair, and,
drawing forth a great panchion of dough from the corner under the
book-shelves, begins to fill the bread tins. She sets them on the
hearth--which has no fender, the day being Friday, when the steel
fender is put away, after having been carefully cleaned to be
saved for Saturday afternoon. The FATHER enters, the
braces of his trousers dangling, and drops the heavy moleskin pit
breeches in corner on right.
NELLIE: I wonder why you can't put them in the scullery; the
smell of them's hateful.
FATHER: You mun put up wi' it, then. If you were i' th' pit
you'd niver put your nose up at them again.
He sits down and recommences eating. The sound further
irritates his daughter, who again pushes her fingers into her
hair, covering her ears with her palms. Her father notices, and
his manners become coarser. NELLIE rises, leaving her book
open on the table.
NELLIE: Come on, Gert! (She speaks with contemptuous
The FATHER watches them go out. He lays his arms
along the newspaper, wearily.
FATHER: I'm too tired ter h'eat.
MOTHER (sniffing, and hardening a little): I wonder why
you always have to go and set her off in a tantrum as soon as you
FATHER: A cheeky bitch; 'er wants a good slap at th' side o'
MOTHER (incensed): If you've no more sense than that, I
FATHER: You don't wonder--you don't wonder! No, I know you
don't wonder. It's you as eggs 'em on against me, both on
MOTHER (scornfully): You set them against yourself. You
do your best for it, every time they come in.
FATHER: Do I, do I! I set 'em against me, do I? I'm going to
stand 'em orderin' me about, an' turnin' their noses up, am
MOTHER: You shouldn't make them turn their noses up, then. If
you do your best for it, what do you expect?
FATHER: A jumped-up monkey! An' it's you as 'as made 'em like
it, the pair on 'em. There's neither of 'em but what treats me
like a dog. I'm not daft! I'm not blind! I can see it.
MOTHER: If you're so clever at seeing it, I should have
thought you'd have sense enough not to begin it and carry it on
as you do.
FATHER: Me begin it! When do I begin it? You niver hear me say
a word to 'em, till they've snapped at me as if I was a--as if I
was a--No, it's you as puts 'em on in. It's you, you
He bangs the table with his fist. The MOTHER puts
the bread in the oven, from which she takes a rice pudding; then
she sits down to read. He glares across the table, then goes on
eating. After a little while he pushes the plate from him.
The MOTHER affects not to notice for a moment.
'An yer got any puddin'?
MOTHER: Have you finished?
She rises, takes a plate and, crouching on the hearth,
gives him his pudding. She glances at the clock, and clears the
tea-things from her daughter's place. She puts another piece of
toast down, there remaining only two pieces on the plate.
FATHER (looking at the rice pudding): Is this what
MOTHER: No; we had nothing.
FATHER: No, I'll bet you non 'ad this baby pap.
MOTHER: No, I had nothing for a change, and Nellie took her
FATHER (eating unwillingly): Is there no other puddin'
as you could 'a made?
MOTHER: Goodness, man, are you so mightily particular about
your belly? This is the first rice pudding you've had for
goodness knows how long, and--No, I couldn't make any other. In
the first place, it's Friday, and in the second, I'd nothing to
make it with.
FATHER: You wouldna ha'e, not for me. But if you 'a
MOTHER (interrupting): You needn't say any more. The
fact of the matter is, somebody's put you out at the pit, and you
come home to vent your spleen on us.
FATHER (shouting): You're a liar, you're a liar! A man
comes home after a hard day's work to folks as 'as never a word
to say to 'im, 'as shuts up the minute 'e enters the house, as
'ates the sight of 'im as soon as 'e comes in th' room--!
MOTHER (with fierceness): We've had quite enough, we've
had quite enough! Our Ernest'll be in in a minute and we're not
going to have this row going on; he's coming home all the way
from Derby, trailing from college to a house like this, tired out
with study and all this journey: we're not going to have it, I
Her husband stares at her dumbly, betwixt anger and shame
and sorrow, of which an undignified rage is predominant. The
MOTHER carries out some pots to the scullery, re-enters, takes
the slice of toast and butters it.
FATHER: It's about time as we had a light on it; I canna see
what I'm eatin'.
The MOTHER puts down the toast on the hob, and
having fetched a dustpan from the scullery, goes out on right to
the cellar to turn on the gas and to bring coals. She is heard
coming up the steps heavily. She mends the fire, and then lights
the gas at a brass pendant hanging over the table. Directly after
there enters a young man of twenty-one, tall and broad, pale,
clean-shaven, with the brownish hair of the "ginger" class, which
is all ruffled when he has taken off his cap, after having pulled
various books from his pockets and put them on the little
cupboard top. He takes off his coat at door right as his sister
ERNEST (blowing slightly through pursed lips): Phew! It
is hot in here!
FATHER (bluntly, but amiably): Hot! It's non hot! I
could do wi' it ten times hotter.
MOTHER: Oh, you! You've got, as I've always said, a hide like
a hippopotamus. You ought to have been a salamander.
FATHER: Oh ah, I know tha'll ha'e summat ter say.
MOTHER: Is it raining now, Ernest?
ERNEST: Just a drizzle in the air, like a thick mist.
MOTHER: Ay, isn't it sickening? You'd better take your boots
ERNEST (sitting in his sister's place on the sofa): Oh,
they're not wet.
MOTHER: They must be damp.
ERNEST: No, they're not. There's a pavement all the way. Here,
look at my rose! One of the girls in Coll. gave it me, and the
tan-yard girls tried to beg it. They are brazen hussies! "Gi'e's
thy flower, Sorry; gi'e's thy buttonhole"--and one of them tried
to snatch it. They have a bobby down by the tan-yard brook every
night now. Their talk used to be awful, and it's so dark down
there, under the trees. Where's Nellie?
MOTHER: In Coombers'.
ERNEST: Give me a bit of my paper, Father. You know the leaf I
want: that with the reviews of books on.
FATHER: Nay, I know nowt about reviews o' books. Here t'art.
FATHER hands the newspaper to his son, who takes out two
leaves and hands the rest back.
ERNEST: Here you are; I only want this.
FATHER: Nay, I non want it. I mun get me washed. We s'll ha'e
th' men here directly.
ERNEST: I say, Mater, another seven-and-six up your
MOTHER: I'm sure! And in the middle of the term, too! What's
it for this time?
ERNEST: Piers the Ploughman, that piffle, and two books
of Horace: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, dear old chap.
MOTHER: And when have you to pay for them?
ERNEST: Well, I've ordered them, and they'll come on Tuesday.
I'm sure I don't know what we wanted that Piers Ploughman
for--it's sheer rot, and old Beasley could have gassed on it
without making us buy it, if he'd liked. Yes, I did feel wild.
FATHER: I should non get tem, then. You needna buy 'em unless
you like. Dunna get 'em, then.
ERNEST: Well, I've ordered them.
FATHER: If you 'anna the money you canna 'a'e 'em, whether or
MOTHER: Don't talk nonsense. If he has to have them, he has.
But the money you have to pay for books, and they're no good when
you've done with them!--I'm sure it's really sickening, it
ERNEST: Oh, never mind, Little; I s'll get 'em for six
shillings. Is it a worry, Mütterchen?
MOTHER: It is, but I suppose if it has to be, it has.
ERNEST: Old Beasley is an old chough. While he was lecturing
this afternoon Arnold and Hinrich were playing nap; and the girls
always write letters, and I went fast asleep.
FATHER: So that's what you go'n to Collige for, is it?
ERNEST (nettled): No, it isn't. Only old Beasley's such
a dry old ass, with his lectures on Burke. He's a mumbling
parson, so what do you expect?
The FATHER grunts, rises and fetches a clean new
bucket from the scullery. He hangs this on the top of the boiler,
and turns on the water. Then he pulls on his flannel singlet and
stands stripped to the waist, watching the hot water dribble into
the bucket. The pail half-filled, he goes out to the scullery on
Do you know what Professor Staynes said this morning, Mother?
He said I'd got an instinct for Latin--and you know he's one of
the best fellows in England on the classics: edits Ovid and
whatnot. An instinct for Latin, he said.
MOTHER (smiling, gratified): Well, it's a funny thing
to have an instinct for.
ERNEST: I generally get an alpha plus. That's the highest, you
know, Mater. Prof. Staynes generally gives me that.
MOTHER: Your grandfather was always fond of dry reading:
economics and history. But I don't know where an instinct for
Latin comes from--not from the Lamberts, that's a certainty. Your
Aunt Ellen would say, from the Vernons.
She smiles ironically as she rises to pour him another cup
of tea, taking the teapot from the hob and standing it, empty, on
the father's plate.
ERNEST: Who are the Vernons?
MOTHER (smiling): It's a wonder your Aunt Ellen or your
Aunt Eunice has never told you. . . .
ERNEST: Well, they haven't. What is it, Mütter?
MOTHER (sniffing): A parcel of nonsense. . . .
ERNEST: Oh, go on, Ma, you are tantalizing! You hug it like
any blessed girl.
MOTHER: Yes, your Aunt Ellen always said she would claim the
peacock and thistle for her crest, if ever . . .
ERNEST (delighted): The Peacock and Thistle! It sounds
like the name of a pub.
MOTHER: My great-great-grandfather married a Lady Vernon--so
they say. As if it made any matter--a mere tale!
ERNEST: Is it a fact though, Matoushka? Why didn't you tell us
MOTHER (sniffing): What should I repeat such--
FATHER (shouting from the scullery, whence has come the
noise of his washing): 'An yer put that towil ter
MOTHER (muttering): The towel's dry enough.
She goes out and is heard taking the roller towel from
behind the outer door. She returns, and stands before the fire,
holding the towel to dry. ERNEST LAMBERT, having frowned
and shrugged his shoulders, is reading.
MOTHER: I suppose you won't have that bit of rice pudding?
Her son looks up, reaches over and takes the brown dish
from the hearth. He begins to eat from the dish.
ERNEST: I went to the "Savoy" to-day.
MOTHER: I shouldn't go to that vegetable place. I don't
believe there's any substance in it.
ERNEST: Substance! Oh, lord! I had an asparagus omelette, I
believe they called it; it was too much for me! A great stodgy
thing! But I like the Savoy, generally. It was--
Somebody comes running across the yard. NELLIE LAMBERT
enters with a rush.
NELLIE: Hello! have you done?
FATHER (from the scullery): Are you going to shut that
NELLIE (with a quick shrug of the shoulders): It
is shut. (brightly, to her brother) Who brought
this rose? It'll just do for me. Who gave it you?--Lois?
ERNEST (flushing): What do you want to know for? You're
always saying "Lois". I don't care a button about Lois.
NELLIE: Keep cool, dear boy, keep cool.
She goes flying lightly round, clearing the table. The
FATHER, dripping, bending forward almost double, comes
hurrying from the scullery to the fire. NELLIE whisks by
him, her long pinafore rustling.
FATHER (taking the towel): Ow (she) goes rushin' about,
draughtin'. (Rubs his head, sitting on his heels very close to
NELLIE (smiling contemptuously, to herself): Poor
FATHER (having wiped his face): An' there isn't another
man in th' kingdom as 'ud stan' i' that scullery stark naked.
It's like standin' i' t'cowd watter.
MOTHER (calmly): Many a man stands in a colder.
FATHER (shortly): Ah, I'll back; I'll back there is!
Other men's wives brings th' puncheon on to th' 'earthstone, an'
gets the watter for 'em, an'--
MOTHER: Other men's wives may do: more fools them: you won't
FATHER: No, you wunna; you may back your life o' that! An'
what if you 'ad to?
MOTHER: Who'd make me?
FATHER (blustering): Me.
MOTHER (laughing shortly): Not half a dozen such.
The FATHER grunts. NELLIE, having cleared the
table, pushes him aside a little and lets the crumbs fall into
FATHER: A lazy, idle, stinkin' trick!
She whisks the tablecloth away without speaking.
An' tha doesna come waftin' in again when I'm washin' me, tha
ERNEST (to his mother, who is turning the bread):
Fancy! Swinburne's dead.
MOTHER: Yes, so I saw. But he was getting on.
FATHER (to NELLIE, who has come to the boiler and is
kneeling, getting a lading-can full of water): Here, Nellie,
gie my back a wash.
She goes out, and comes immediately with flannel and soap.
She claps the flannel on his back.
(Wincing) Ooo! The nasty bitch!
NELLIE bubbles with laughter. The MOTHER turns
aside to laugh.
NELLIE: You great baby, afraid of a cold flannel!
She finishes washing his back and goes into the scullery to
wash the pots. The FATHER takes his flannel shirt from the
bookcase cupboard and puts it on, letting it hang over his
trousers. Then he takes a little blue-striped cotton bag from his
pit trousers' pocket and throws it on the table to his
FATHER: Count it. (He shuffles upstairs.)
The MOTHER counts the money, putting it in little
piles, checking it from two white papers. She leaves it on the
table. ERNEST goes into the scullery to wash his hands and
is heard talking to his sister, who is wiping the pots. A knock
at the outer door.
ERNEST: Good evening, Mr Barker.
A VOICE: Good evenin', Ernest.
A miner enters: pale, short, but well-made. He has a
hard-looking head with short black hair. He lays his cap on a
Good evenin', Missis. 'Asn't Carlin come? Mester upstairs?
MOTHER: Yes, he'll be down in a minute. I don't expect Mr
Carlin will be many minutes. Sit down, Mr Barker. How's that lad
BARKER: Well, 'e seems to be goin' on nicely, thank yer. Dixon
took th' splints off last wik.
MOTHER: Oh, well, that's better. He'll be alright directly. I
should think he doesn't want to go in the pit again.
BARKER: 'E doesna. 'E says 'e shall go farmin' wi' Jakes; but
I shanna let 'im. It's nowt o' a sort o' job, that.
MOTHER: No, it isn't. (Lowering her voice.) And how's
BARKER (also lowering his voice): Well, I don't know. I
want ter get back as soon as I'n got a few groceries an' stuff
in. I sent for Mrs Smalley afore I com'n out. An' I'm come an'
forgot th' market bag.
MOTHER (going into the scullery): Have mine, have mine.
Nay, I've got another. (Brings him a large carpet bag with
BARKER: Thank yer, Missis. I can bring it back next wik. You
sure you wunna want it?
Another knock. Enter another man, fair, pale, smiling, an
CARLIN: Hgh! Tha's bested me then? Good evenin', Missis.
BARKER: Yes, I'n bet thee.
Enter the FATHER. He has put on a turn-down collar
and a black tie, and his black waistcoat is buttoned, but he
wears no coat. The other men take off the large neckerchiefs,
grey and white silk, in fine check, and show similar collars.
The FATHER assumes a slight tone of superiority.
FATHER: Well, you've arrived, then! An' 'ow's the missis by
BARKER: Well, I dun know, Walter. It might be any minnit.
FATHER (sympathetically): Hu! We may as well set to,
then, an' get it done.
They sit at the table, on the side of the fire. ERNEST
LAMBERT comes in and takes an exercise-book from the shelves
and begins to do algebra, using a text-book. He writes with a
CARLIN: They gran' things, them fountain-pens.
BARKER: They are that!
CARLIN: What's th' mak on it, Ernest?
ERNEST: It's an Onoto.
BARKER: Oh-ah! An' 'ow dun yer fill it? They says as it
hold wi' a vacum.
ERNEST: It's like this: you push this down, put the nib in th'
ink, and then pull it out. It's a sort of a pump.
BARKER: Um! It's a canny thing, that!
CARLIN: It is an' a'.
FATHER: Yes, it's a very good idea. (He is slightly
MOTHER: Look at the bread, Ernest.
ERNEST: Alright, Mater.
She goes upstairs, it being tacitly understood that she
shall not know how much money falls to her husband's share as
chief "butty" in the weekly reckoning.
BARKER: Is it counted?
FATHER: Yes. It's alright, Ernest?
ERNEST (not looking up): Yes.
They begin to reckon, first putting aside the wages of
their day men; then the FATHER and BARKER take
four-and-three-pence, as equivalent to CARLIN'S rent,
which has been stopped; then the FATHER gives a coin each,
dividing the money in that way. It is occasionally a puzzling
process and needs the Ready Reckoner from the shelf
END OF ACT I
Scene, as before: the men are just finishing reckoning.
BARKER and CARLIN, talking in a mutter, put their money
in their pockets. ERNEST LAMBERT is drawing a circle with
a pair of compasses. CARLIN rises.
CARLIN: Well, I might as well be shiftin'.
BARKER: Ay, I mun get off.
Enter NELLIE, who has finished washing the pots,
drying her hands on a small towel. She crosses to the mirror
hanging at the right extremity of the mantelpiece.
CARLIN: Well, Nellie!
NELLIE (very amiably, even gaily): Good evening, Mr
Carlin. Just off?
CARLIN: Yes--ah mun goo.
BARKER: An' 'ow's th' instrument by now, Nellie?
NELLIE: The instrument? Oh, the piano! Ours is a tinny old
thing. Oh, yes, you're learning. How are you getting on?
BARKER: Oh, we keep goin' on, like. 'Ave you got any fresh
FATHER: Ah, I bet 'er 'as. Ow's gerrin' some iv'ry day or
NELLIE: I've got some Grieg--lovely! Hard, though. It is
funny--ever so funny.
BARKER: An' yer iver 'eared that piece "The Maiden's
NELLIE (turning aside and laughing): Yes. Do you like
it? It is pretty, isn't it?
BARKER: I 'ad that for my last piece.
NELLIE: Did you? Can you play it?
BARKER (with some satisfaction): Yes, I can do it
pretty fair. 'An yer got th' piece?
NELLIE: Yes. Will you play it for us? Half a minute.
She finishes stroking her hair up with her side-combs, and,
taking the matches from the mantelpiece, leads the way to the
FATHER: Yes, step forward, Joe.
BARKER goes out after NELLIE. Through the open door
comes the crashing sound of the miner's banging through The
Maiden's Prayer on an old sharp-toned piano. CARLIN
stands listening, and shakes his head at the FATHER,
who smiles back, glancing at the same time nervously at his
son, who has buried his hands in his hair.
CARLIN: Well, are ter comin' down, George? (He moves
towards the door.)
FATHER (lighting his pipe--between the puffs): In about
quarter of an hour, Fred.
CARLIN: Good night, then. Good night, Ernest. (He goes
The MOTHER is heard coming downstairs. She glances
at her son, and shuts the passage door. Then she hurries
to the oven and turns the bread. As she moves away again
her husband thrusts out his hand and gives her something.
FATHER (going towards the passage door): I know it's a
bad wik. (He goes out.)
MOTHER (counts the money he has given her, gives a little
rapid clicking with her tongue on the roof of her mouth, tossing
her head up once): Twenty-eight shillings! (Counts
again.) Twenty-eight shillings! (To her son.) And what
was the cheque?
ERNEST (looking up, with a frown of irritation): Eight
pounds one and six, and stoppages.
MOTHER: And he gives me a frowsty twenty-eight . . . and I've
got his club to pay, and you a pair of boots. . . . Twenty-eight!
. . . I wonder if he thinks the house is kept on nothing. . . .
I'll take good care he gets nothing extra, I will, too. . . . I
knew it, though--I knew he'd been running up a nice score at the
Tunns'--that's what it is. There's rent, six-and-six, and clubs
seven shillings, besides insurance and gas and everything else. I
wonder how he thinks it's done--I wonder if he thinks we live on
ERNEST (looking up with pain and irritation): Oh,
Mater, don't bother! What's the good? If you worry for ever it
won't make it any more.
MOTHER (softened, conquering her distress): Oh, yes,
it's all very well for you, but if I didn't worry what would
become of us I should like to know?
GERTIE COOMBER runs in. She is wearing a large blue felt
hat and a Norfolk costume; she is carrying a round basket. From
the parlour comes the sound of Grieg's Anitra's Tanz, and
then Ase's Tod, played well, with real sympathy.
GERTIE (with a little shy apprehension): Who's in the
MOTHER: It's only Mr Barker. (Smiling slightly.) He
wanted to show Nellie how well he could play "The Maiden's
GERTIE suddenly covers her mouth and laughs.
GERTIE (still laughing): He, he! I'll bet it was a
thump! Pomp! Pomp! (Makes a piano-thumping gesture.) Did
you hear it, Ernest?
ERNEST (not looking up): Infernal shindy.
GERTIE puts up her shoulders and giggles, looking askance
at the student who, she knows, is getting tired of
MOTHER: Yes, I wish he'd go--(almost
whispering)--and his wife is expecting to go to bed
GERTIE puts her lower lip between her teeth and looks
serious. The music stops. BARKER and NELLIE are
heard talking, then the FATHER. There is a click of boots
on the tiled passage and they enter.
NELLIE: What did you think of Mr Barker, Mother?--don't you
think it's good? I think it's wonderful--don't you, Ernest?
ERNEST (grunting): Um--it is.
GERTIE COOMBER suddenly hides behind her friend and
MOTHER (to BARKER): Yes, I'm sure you get on
BARKER: Yes, ah's non done so bad, I think.
FATHER: Tha 'asna, Joe, tha 'asna, indeed!
MOTHER: Don't forget the bag, Mr Barker--I know you'll want
BARKER: Oh, thank yer. Well, I mun goo. Tha'rt comin' down,
FATHER: Yes, I'm comin' down, Joe. I'll just get my top-coat
on, an' then--(He struggles awkwardly into his
BARKER resumes his grey muffler.
BARKER: Well, good night, everybody; good night, Ernest--an'
thank yer, Missis.
MOTHER: I hope things will be--(She nods
BARKER: Ah, thank yer, I hope it will. I expect so: there's no
reason why it shouldn't. Good night.
ALL: Good night, Mr Barker.
The FATHER and BARKER go out. Immediately
NELLIE flings her arms round GERTIE'S neck.
NELLIE: Save me, Gert, save me! I thought I was done for that
time. . . . I gave myself up! The poor piano! Mother, it'll want
tuning now, if it never did before.
MOTHER (with slight asperity, half-amused): It may want
at it, then.
GERTIE (laughing): You're done, Nellie, you're done
brown! If it's like dropping a saucepan-lid--no--you've got to
put up with it!
NELLIE: I don't care. It couldn't be much worse than it is,
rotten old thing. (She pulls off her pinafore and hangs it
over the back of a chair, then goes to the mirror, once more to
arrange her hair.)
GERTIE: Oh, come on, Nellie, Cornell's will be crammed.
NELLIE: Don't worry, my dear. What are you going to fetch?
GERTIE: No, I'm not--only bacon and cheese; they send you any
stuff: cat and candles--any muck!
The MOTHER takes the little stool and sits down on
it on the hearthrug, lacing up her boots.
MOTHER: I suppose you're not going out, Ernest?
MOTHER: Oh--so you can look after the bread. There are two
brown loaves at the top; they'll be about half an hour; the white
one's nearly done. Put the other in as soon as they come out.
Don't go and forget them, now.
MOTHER: He says "No!" (She shakes her head at him with
indulgent, proud affection.)
NELLIE (as if casually, yet at once putting tension into
the atmosphere): Is Mag coming down?
He does not answer immediately.
MOTHER: I should think not, a night like this, and all the mud
ERNEST: She said she'd come and do some French. Why?
NELLIE (with a half-smile, off-handedly): Nothing.
MOTHER: You'd never think she'd trapse through all this mud. .
NELLIE: Don't bother. She'd come if she had to have
water-wings to flop through.
GERTIE begins to giggle at the idea. The MOTHER
ERNEST (satirically): Just as you'd flounder to your
GERTIE lifts her hands with a little sharp gesture as if to
say, "Now the fun's begun!"
NELLIE (turning suddenly, afire with scorn): Oh, should
I? You'd catch me running after anybody!
MOTHER (rising): There, that'll do. Why don't you go up
town, if you're going?
NELLIE LAMBERT haughtily marches off and puts on a dark
coat and a blue hat.
NELLIE: Is it raining, Gert?
GERTIE: No, it's quite fine.
NELLIE: I'll bet it's fine!
GERTIE: Well, you asked me. It is fine; it's not
The MOTHER re-enters from the passage, bringing a
bonnet and a black coat.
NELLIE: Want me to bring anything, Mater?
MOTHER: I shall leave the meat for you.
NELLIE: Alright. Come on, Gert.
They go out.
MOTHER (She dreads that her son is angry with her and,
affecting carelessness, puts the question to him, to find
out): Should we be getting a few Christmas-tree things for
little Margaret? I expect Emma and Joe will be here for
Christmas: it seems nothing but right, and it's only six weeks
ERNEST (coldly): Alright.
He gets up and takes another book from the shelf without
looking at her. She stands a moment suspended in the act of
putting a pin through her bonnet.
MOTHER: Well, I think we ought to make a bit of Christmas for
the little thing, don't you?
ERNEST: Ay. You gave our things to the lads, didn't you?
(He still does not look up from his books.)
MOTHER (with a sound of failure in her voice): Yes. And
they've kept them better than ever I thought they would. They've
only broken your blue bird--the one you bought when you were
There is a noise of footsteps and a knock at the door.
The MOTHER answers.
(Trying to be affable, but diffident, her gorge having
risen a little.) Oh, is it you, Maggie? Come in. How ever
have you got down, a night like this? Didn't you get over the
ankles in mud?
She re-enters, followed by a ruddy girl of twenty, a
full-bosomed, heavily-built girl, of medium stature and handsome
appearance, ruddy and black. She is wearing a crimson
tam-o'-shanter and a long grey coat. She keeps her head lowered,
and glancing only once splendidly at ERNEST, replies with
a strange, humble defiance:
MAGGIE: No--oh, it's not so bad: besides, I came all round by
MOTHER: I should think you're tired, after school.
MAGGIE: No; it's a relief to walk in the open; and I rather
like a black night; you can wrap yourself up in it. Is Nellie
MOTHER (stiffly): Yes; she's gone up town.
MAGGIE (non-significantly): Ah, I thought I passed her.
I wasn't sure. She wouldn't notice me; it is dark over the
MOTHER: Yes, it is. I'm sure I'm awful at recognizing
MAGGIE: Yes--and so am I, generally. But it's no good
bothering. If they like to take offence, they have to. . . . I
can't help it.
The MOTHER sniffs slightly. She goes into the
passage and returns with a string net bag. She is ready to go
MOTHER (still distantly): Won't you take your things
off? (Looks at the bread once more before going.)
MAGGIE: Ah, thanks, I will.
She takes on her hat and coat and hangs them in the
passage. She is wearing a dark blue cloth "pinafore-dress", and
beneath the blue straps and shoulder pieces a blouse of fine
woollen stuff with a small intricate pattern of brown and red.
She is flushed and handsome; her features are large, her eyes
dark, and her hair falls in loose profusion of black tendrils
about her face. The coil at the back is coming undone; it is
short and not heavy. She glances supremely at ERNEST,
feeling him watching her.
MOTHER (at the oven): You hear, Ernest? This white cake
will be done in about five minutes, and the brown loaves in about
ERNEST: Alright, my dear.
This time it is she who will not look at him.
MAGGIE (laughing a low, short laugh): My hair!--is it a
sight? I have to keep my coat collar up, or it would drop right
down--what bit of it there is.
She stands away from the mirror, pinning it up; but she
cannot refrain from just one glance at herself.
ERNEST LAMBERT watches her, and then turns to his
MOTHER, who is pulling on a pair of shabby black gloves.
MRS LAMBERT, however, keeps her eyes consciously averted; she
is offended, and is a woman of fierce pride.
MOTHER: Well, I expect I shall see you again, Maggie.
MAGGIE (with a faint, grave triumph): It depends what
time you come back. I shan't have to be late.
MOTHER: Oh, you'll be here when I get back.
MAGGIE (submissive, but with minute irony): Very
MOTHER: And don't forget that bread, Ernest.
She picks her bag off the table and goes out, without
having looked at either of them.
ERNEST (affectionately): No, Little, I won't.
There is a pause for a moment. MAGGIE PEARSON sits
in the arm-chair opposite him, who is on the sofa, and looks
straight at him. He raises his head after a moment and smiles at
MAGGIE: Did you expect me?
ERNEST (nodding): I knew you'd come. You know, when you
feel as certain as if you couldn't possibly be mistaken. But I
did swear when I came out of Coll. and found it
MAGGIE: So did I. Well, not swear, but I was mad. Hasn't it
been a horrid week?
ERNEST: Hasn't it?--and I've been so sick of things.
MAGGIE: Of what?
ERNEST: Oh, of fooling about at College--and everything.
MAGGIE (grimly): You'd be sicker of school.
ERNEST: I don't know. At any rate I should be doing something
real, whereas, as it is--oh, Coll.'s all foolery and
MAGGIE: I wish I had a chance of going. I feel as if they'd
been pulling things away from me all week--like a baby that has
had everything taken from it.
ERNEST (laughing): Well, if school pulls all your
playthings and pretty things away from you, College does worse:
it makes them all silly and idiotic, and you hate them--and--what
MAGGIE (seriously): Why? How?
ERNEST: Oh, I don't know. You have to fool about so much, and
listen when you're not interested, and see old professors like
old dogs walking round as large as life with ancient bones
they've buried and scratched up again a hundred times; and
they're just as proud as ever. It's such a farce! And when you
see that farce, you see all the rest: all the waddling tribe of
old dogs with their fossil bones--parsons and professors and
councillors--wagging their tails and putting their paws on the
bones and barking their important old barks--and all the puppies
yelping loud applause.
MAGGIE (accepting him with earnestness): Ay! But are
they all alike?
ERNEST: Pretty well. It makes you a bit sick. I used to think
men in great places were great--
MAGGIE (fervently): I know you did.
ERNEST: --and then to find they're no better than
yourself--not a bit--
MAGGIE: Well, I don't see why they should be.
ERNEST (ignoring her): --it takes the wind out of your
sails. What's the good of anything if that's a farce?
ERNEST: The folks at the top. By Jove, if you once lose your
illusion of "great men", you're pretty well disillusioned of
everything--religion and everything.
MAGGIE sits absorbedly, sadly biting her forefinger:
an act which irritates him.
(Suddenly): What time did Mother go out?
MAGGIE (starting): I don't know--I never noticed the
ERNEST (rising and going to the oven, picking up the
oven-cloth from the hearth): At any rate I should think it's
He goes to the oven door, and takes from the lower shelf a
"cake" loaf, baked in a dripping-pan, and, turning it over, taps
it with his knuckles.
ERNEST: I should think it's done. I'll give it five minutes to
He puts the bread in the oven shelf, turns the brown
loaves, and shuts the oven door. Then he rises and takes a little
notebook from the shelf.
Guess what I've been doing.
MAGGIE (rising, dilating, reaching towards him): I
don't know. What?
ERNEST (smiling): Verses.
MAGGIE (putting out her hand to him, supplicating):
Give them to me!
ERNEST (still smiling): They're such piffle.
MAGGIE (betwixt supplication and command): Give them to
He hands her the little volume, and goes out to the
scullery. She sits down and reads with absorption. He returns in
a moment, his hands dripping with clear water, and, pulling
forward the panchion from the corner, takes out the last piece of
white dough, scrapes the little pieces together, and begins to
work the mass into a flattish ball, passing it from hand to hand.
Then he drops the dough into the dripping-pan, and leaves it
standing on the hearth. When he rises and looks at her, she looks
up at him swiftly, with wide, brown, glowing eyes, her lips
parted. He stands a moment smiling down at her.
ERNEST: Well, do you like them?
MAGGIE (nodding several times, does not reply for a
second): Yes, I do.
ERNEST: They're not up to much, though.
MAGGIE (softly): Why not?
ERNEST (slightly crestfallen at her readiness to accept him
again): Well, are they?
MAGGIE (nodding again): Yes, they are! What makes you
say they're not? I think they're splendid.
ERNEST (smiling, gratified, but not thinking the same
himself): Which do you like best?
MAGGIE (softly and thoughtfully): I don't know. I think
this is so lovely, this about the almond tree.
ERNEST (smiling): And you under it.
She laughs up at him a moment, splendidly.
But that's not the best.
MAGGIE (looking at him expectantly): No?
ERNEST: That one, "A Life History", is the best.
MAGGIE (wondering): Yes?
ERNEST (smiling): It is. It means more. Look how full
of significance it is, when you think of it. The profs. would
make a great long essay out of the idea. Then the rhythm is
finer: it's more complicated.
MAGGIE (seizing the word to vindicate herself when no
vindication is required): Yes, it is more complicated: it is
more complicated in every way. You see, I didn't understand it at
first. It is best. Yes, it is. (She reads it again.)
He takes the loaf from the oven and puts the fresh one
ERNEST: What have you been doing?
MAGGIE (faltering, smiling): I? Only--only some
ERNEST: What, your diary?
MAGGIE (laughing, confused): Ah--but I don't think I
want you to see it.
ERNEST: Now, you know you wrote it for me! Don't you think it
was a good idea, to get you to write your diary in French? You'd
never have done any French at all but for that, and you'd
certainly never have told me. . . . You never tell me your
MAGGIE: There's nothing to tell.
ERNEST (shaking his finger excitedly): That's just what
you say, that's just what you say! As many things happen for you
as for me.
MAGGIE: Oh, but you go to Derby every day, and you see folks,
ERNEST (flinging his hand at her): Piffle! I tell
you--do I tell you the train was late? Do I--?
MAGGIE (interrupting, laughing in confusion and
humility): Yes, you do--ah!
He has stopped suddenly with tremendous seriousness and
MAGGIE (nervous, apologizing, laughing): On
Sunday--when you told me you'd have--
ERNEST (flinging her words aside with excited gesture):
There you are!--you're raking up a trifle to save you from the
main issue. Just like a woman! What I said was (He becomes
suddenly slow and fierce.) you never tell me about you, and
you drink me up, get me up like a cup with both hands and drink
yourself breathless--and--and there you are--you, you never pour
me any wine of yourself--
MAGGIE (watching him, fascinated and a little bit
terror-struck): But isn't it your fault?
He turns on her with a fierce gesture. She starts.
ERNEST: How can it be, when I'm always asking you--?
(He scratches his head with wild exasperation.)
MAGGIE (almost inaudibly): Well--
He blazes at her so fiercely, she does not continue, but
drops her head and looks at her knee, biting her finger.
ERNEST (abruptly): Come on--let's see what hundreds of
mistakes . . .
She looks at him; dilates, laughs nervously, and goes to
her coat, returning with a school exercise-book, doubled
He sits on the sofa, brings her beside him with a swift
gesture. Then he looks up at the fire, and starts away round the
ERNEST (going into the scullery and crossing the room with
dustpan): I must mend the fire. There's a book of French
verse with my books. Be looking at that while I . . .
His voice descends to the cellar, where he is heard
hammering the coal. He returns directly.
She stands at the little cupboard, with her face in a book.
She is very short-sighted.
He mends the fire without speaking to her, and goes out to
wash his hands.
ERNEST (returning): Well, what do you think of it? I
got it for fourpence.
MAGGIE: I like it ever so much.
ERNEST: You've hardly seen it yet. Come on.
They sit together on the sofa and read from the
exercise-book, she nervously.
(Suddenly): Now, look here--Oh, the poor verbs! I don't
think anybody dare treat them as you do! Look here!
She puts her head closer.
He jerks back his head, rubbing his nose frantically,
Your hair did tickle me!
She turns her face to his, laughing, with open mouth. He
breaks the spell.
Well, have you seen it?
MAGGIE (hesitating, peering across the lines):
ERNEST (suddenly thrusting his finger before her):
There! I wonder it doesn't peck your nose off. You are
She has discovered her mistake and draws back with a little
vibrating laugh of shame and conviction.
You hussy, what should it have been?
MAGGIE (hesitating): "Eurent?"
ERNEST (sitting suddenly erect and startling her up
too): What! The preterite? The preterite? And
you're talking about going to school!
She laughs at him with nervous shame; when he glares at
her, she dilates with fine terror.
MAGGIE (in the depths of laughing despair, very softly and
timidly): I don't know.
ERNEST (relaxing into pathetic patience): Verbs of
motion take être, and if you do a thing frequently,
use the imperfect. You are--Well, you're inexpressible!
They turn to the diary: she covered with humiliation, he
aggrieved. They read for a while, he shaking his head when her
light springing hair tickles him again.
(Softly): What makes you say that?
MAGGIE (softly): What?
ERNEST: That you are "un enfant de Samedi"--a Saturday
MAGGIE (mistrusting herself so soon): Why--it's what
they say, you know.
ERNEST (gently): How?
MAGGIE: Oh--when a child is serious; when it doesn't play
except on Saturdays, when it is quite free.
ERNEST: And you mean you don't play?
She looks at him seriously.
No, you haven't got much play in you, have you?--I fool about
MAGGIE (nodding): That's it. You can forget things and
play about. I always think of Francis Thompson's Shelley,
you know--how he made paper boats. . . .
ERNEST (flattered at the comparison): But I don't make
paper boats. I tell you, you think too much about me. I tell you
I have got nothing but a gift of coloured words. And do I teach
you to play?--not to hold everything so serious and earnest?
(He is very serious.)
She nods at him again. He looks back at the paper. It is
finished. Then they look at one another, and laugh a little
laugh, not of amusement.
ERNEST: Ah, your poor diary! (He speaks very
She hides her head and is confused.
I haven't marked the rest of the mistakes. Never mind--we
won't bother, shall we? You'd make them again, just the same.
She laughs. They are silent a moment or two; it is very
You know (He begins sadly, and she does not
answer.)--you think too much of me--you do, you know.
She looks at him with a proud, sceptical smile.
(Suddenly wroth): You are such a flat, you won't
believe me! But I know--if I don't, who does? It's just
like a woman, always aching to believe in somebody or other, or
something or other.
I say, what will you have? Baudelaire?
MAGGIE (not understanding): What?
MAGGIE (nervous, faltering): But who's--?
ERNEST: Do you mean to say you don't know who Baudelaire
MAGGIE (defensively): How should I?
ERNEST: Why, I gassed to you for half an hour about him, a
month back--and now he might be a Maori--!
MAGGIE: It's the names--being foreign.
ERNEST: Baudelaire--Baudelaire--it's no different from
MAGGIE (laughing): It sounds a lot better.
ERNEST (laughing, also, and opening the book): Come on!
Here, let's have Maîtresse des Maîtresses;
MAGGIE (with gentle persuasiveness): Yes. You'll read
ERNEST: You can have a go, if you like.
They both laugh. He begins to read Le Balcon in
tolerably bad French, but with some genuine feeling. She watches
him all the time. At the end, he turns to her in triumph, and she
looks back in ecstasy.
There! isn't that fine?
She nods repeatedly.
That's what they can do in France. It's so heavy and full and
voluptuous: like oranges falling and rolling a little way along a
dark-blue carpet; like twilight outside when the lamp's lighted;
you get a sense of rich, heavy things, as if you smelt them, and
felt them about you in the dusk: isn't it?
She nods again.
Ah, let me read you The Albatross. This is one of the
best--anybody would say so--you see, fine, as good as anything in
the world. (Begins to read.)
There is a light, quick step outside, and a light tap at
the door, which opens.
They frown at each other, and he whispers:
ERNEST: Damn! (Aloud.) Hell, Beat!
There enters a girl of twenty-three or four; short, slight,
pale, with dark circles under her rather large blue eyes, and
with dust-coloured hair. She wears a large brown beaver hat
and a long grey-green waterproof-coat.
BEATRICE WYLD: Hello, Ernest, how are ter? Hello, Mag! Are
they all out?
ERNEST (shutting up the book and drawing away from
MAGGIE. The action is reciprocal--BEATRICE WYLD seats
herself in the armchair opposite): They've gone up town. I
don't suppose Nellie will be long.
BEATRICE (coughing, speaking demurely): No, she won't
see Eddie to-night.
ERNEST (leaning back): Not till after ten.
BEATRICE (rather loudly, sitting up): What! Does he
come round after they shut up shop?
ERNEST (smiling ironically): Ay, if it's getting on for
BEATRICE (turning in her chair): Good lawk!--are they
that bad? Isn't it fair sickenin'?
ERNEST: He gets a bit wild sometimes.
BEATRICE: I should think so, at that price. Shall you ever get
like that, Mag?
MAGGIE: Like what, Beatrice?
BEATRICE: Now, Maggie Pearson, don't pretend to be 'ormin'.
She knows as well as I do, doesn't she, Ernest?
MAGGIE: Indeed I don't. (She is rather high-and-mighty, but
BEATRICE: Garn! We know you, don't we, Ernie? She's as bad as
anybody at the bottom, but she pretends to be mighty 'ormin'.
MAGGIE: I'm sure you're mistaken, Beatrice.
BEATRICE: Not much of it, old girl. We're not often mistaken,
are we, Ernie? Get out; we're the "dead certs"--aren't we,
Willie? (She laughs with mischievous exultance, her tongue
between her teeth.)
MAGGIE (with great but ineffectual irony): Oh, I'm glad
somebody is a "dead cert". I'm very glad indeed! I shall know
where to find one now.
BEATRICE: You will, Maggie.
There is a slight, dangerous pause.
BEATRICE (demurely): I met Nellie and Gertie,
ERNEST: Ay, you would.
MAGGIE (bitterly): Oh, yes.
BEATRICE (still innocently): She had got a lovely rose.
ERNEST: Yes, she thought Eddie would be peeping over the
mousetraps and bird-cages. I bet she examines those
drowning-mouse engines every time she goes past.
BEATRICE (with vivacity): Not likely, not likely! She
marches by as if there was nothing but a blank in the atmosphere.
You watch her. Eyes Right!--but she nudges Gert to make
her see if he's there.
ERNEST (laughing): And then she turns in great
BEATRICE: No, she doesn't. She keeps "Eyes Front", and smiles
like a young pup--and the blushes!--Oh, William, too lov'ly f'r
ERNEST: I'll bet the dear boy enjoys that blush.
BEATRICE: Ra-ther! (Artlessly revenant à son
mouton.) And he'll have the rose and all, to rejoice the
cockles of his heart this time.
ERNEST (trying to ward it off): Ay. I suppose you'll
see him with it on Sunday.
BEATRICE (still innocently): It was a beauty,
William! Did you bring it for her?
ERNEST: I got it in Derby.
BEATRICE (unmasking): Did you? Who gave it you,
ERNEST (evasively, pretending to laugh): Nay, it
wouldn't do to tell.
BEATRICE: Oh, William, do tell us! Was it the Dark, or
ERNEST: What if it was neither?
BEATRICE: Oh, Willie, another! Oh, it is
shameful! Think of the poor things, what damage you may do
ERNEST (uneasily): Yes, they are delicate pieces of
goods, women. Men have to handle them gently; like a man selling
BEATRICE (hesitating, then refraining from answering this
attack fully): It's the hat-pins, Willie dear. But do
tell us. Was it the Gypsy?--let's see, you generally call it her
in German, don't you?--What's the German for gypsy, Maggie?--But
was it the Gypsy, or the Athletic Girl that does Botany?
ERNEST (shaking his head): No. It was an
BEATRICE (knitting her brows): Is that the German for
another? Don't say so, William! (Sighs heavily.) "Sigh no
more, ladies"--Oh, William! And these two are quite fresh ones,
and all. Do you like being a mutton-bone, William?--one
bitch at one end and one at the other? Do you think he's
such a juicy bone to squabble for, Maggie?
MAGGIE (red and mortified): I'm sure I don't think
anything at all about it, Beatrice.
BEATRICE: No; we've got more sense, we have, Maggie. We know
him too well--he's not worth it, is he?
MAGGIE PEARSON does not reply.
BEATRICE WYLD looks at her dress, carefully rubbing off
some spot or other; then she resumes:
BEATRICE: But surely it's not another, Willie?
ERNEST: What does it matter who it is? Hang me, I've not
spoken to--I've hardly said ten words--you said yourself, I've
only just known them.
BEATRICE: Oh, Willie, I'm sure I thought it was most
desperate--from what you told me.
There is another deadly silence. BEATRICE resumes
innocently, quite unperturbed.
Has he told you, MAGGIE?
MAGGIE (very coldly): I'm sure I don't know.
BEATRICE (simply): Oh, he can't have done, then. You'd
never have forgot. There's one like a Spaniard--or was it like an
ERNEST: Go on. Either'll do.
BEATRICE: A Spanish Amazon, Maggie--olive-coloured, like the
colour of a young clear bit of sea-weed, he said--and, oh, I
know! "great free gestures"--a cool clear colour, not red. Don't
you think she'd be lovely?
MAGGIE: I do indeed.
BEATRICE: Too lovely f'r anyfing?--And the other. Oh, yes:
"You should see her run up the college stairs! She can go three
at a time, like a hare running uphill."--And she was top of the
Inter. list for Maths and Botany. Don't you wish you were at
MAGGIE: For some things.
BEATRICE: I do. We don't know what he's up to when he's
there, do we?
MAGGIE: I don't know that we're so very anxious--
BEATRICE (convincingly): We're not, but he thinks we
are, and I believe he makes it all up. I bet the girls just
think: "H'm. Here's a ginger-and-white fellow; let's take a bit
of the conceit out of him"--and he thinks they're gone on him,
MAGGIE: Very likely.
BEATRICE: He does, Maggie; that's what he does. And
I'll bet, if we could hear him--the things he says about us! I'll
bet he says there's a girl with great brown eyes--
ERNEST: Shut up, Beat! you little devil--you don't know when
BEATRICE (affecting great surprise): William! Maggie!
There is another silence, not ominous this time, but
charged with suspense.
What am I a devil for? (Half timidly.)
ERNEST (flushing up at the sound of her ill-assurance):
Look here; you may just as well drop it. It's stale, it's flat.
It makes no mark, don't flatter yourself--we're sick of it,
that's all. It's a case of ennui. Vous m'agacez les nerfs.
Il faut aller au diable. (He rises, half laughing, and goes
for the dust-pan.)
BEATRICE (her nose a trifle out of joint): Translate
for us, Maggie.
MAGGIE shakes her head, without replying. She has a slight
ERNEST crosses the room to go to coal-cellar.
BEATRICE coughs slightly, adjusts her tone to a casual,
disinterested conversation, and then says, from sheer inability
to conquer her spite:
You do look well, Maggie. I don't think I've seen
anybody with such a colour. It's fair fine.
MAGGIE laughs and pulls a book towards her. There is
ERNEST'S steps are heard descending to the cellar and
hammering the coal. Presently he re-mounts. The girls are
silent, MAGGIE pretending to read; BEATRICE
staring across the room, half smiling, tapping her
ERNEST (hurrying in and putting the coal on the hob):
Begum, what about the bread?
MAGGIE (starting up and dilating towards him with her old
brilliance): Oh, what have we--? Is it--? Oh!
ERNEST has forestalled her at the oven. There issues a
great puff of hot smoke. He draws back a little, and MAGGIE
utters a quick, tremulous "Oh!"
BEATRICE (with concern): Hel-lo, Ernest! that smells a
He pulls out the loaves one after another. There is one
brown loaf much blackened, one in tolerable condition, and the
white "cake" very much scorched on one side.
BEATRICE begins to laugh, in spite of her sympathy at the
dismay; he is kneeling on the hearth, the oven door open, the
oven-cloth in his hand, and the burnt bread toppled out of its
tins on the hearth before him. MAGGIE is bending over his
shoulder, in great concern. BEATRICE sputters with more
laughter. ERNEST looks up at her, and the dismay and
chagrin on his face change also to an irresistible troubled
amusement at the mishap, and he laughs heartily. MAGGIE
joins in, strainedly at first, then with natural shaking, and
all three laugh with abandonment, BEATRICE putting her
hand up over her face, and again doubling over till her head
touches her knees.
ERNEST: No--no! Won't Ma be wild, though!--What a beastly
BEATRICE breaks out afresh, and he, though grieved, bubbles
again into grudging laughter.
Another day and the rotten fire would burn slow, but to-night
it's ramped like--
BEATRICE: Hell, Ernie!
She goes off again into a wild tossing of laugher,
hesitating a moment to watch him as he lugubriously picks
up the worst loaf and eyes it over.
ERNEST (grimly): It's black bread now, that they talk
about. (He sniffs the loaf.)
BEATRICE resumes her mad, interrupted laughter. MAGGIE
sits down on the sofa and laughs till the tears come.
ERNEST taps the loaf with his finger.
BEATRICE: Are you trying to see if it's done, William?
(From naïve irony she departs into laughter.)
ERNEST (answers, his lugubrious soul struggling with
laughter, the girls laughing the while): No; I was listening
if it sounded hollow. Hark!
They listen. Laughter.
It sounds cindery. I wonder how deep it goes. (In a spirit
of curiosity, he rises and fetches a knife, and, pulling a
newspaper over the hearth, begins to cut away the burnt crust.
The bread-charcoal falls freely on the paper. He looks at the
loaf.) By Jove, there is a lot! It's like a sort of
The girls laugh their final burst, and pant with
exhaustion, their hands pressed in their sides.
It's about done for, at any rate. (Puts it down and takes
another brown loaf; taps it.) This is not so bad, really, is
it? (Sadly.)It sounds a bit desiccated, though. Poor Ma!
(He laughs.) She'll say it's your fault, Mag.
MAGGIE (with astonished, incredulous laughter): Me?
BEATRICE: She will, Mag, she will! She'll say if you hadn't
been here making a fuss of him--
MAGGIE (still laughing): I'd better go before she
BEATRICE: You want to scrape that with the nutmeg-grater,
Ernest. Where is it? Here, give it me.
She takes the loaf, and ERNEST goes out and returns
with the grater. She begins to grate the loaf.
MAGGIE takes up the white "cake" and feels the pale side,
tapping the bottom.
MAGGIE (with decision): This isn't done. It's no good
cutting it off till it's all finished. I may as well put it in
again. (She feels the heat of the two shelves, and puts the
loaf on the upper.)
ERNEST picks up the ruined loaf.
ERNEST: What will she say when she sees this?
MAGGIE: Put it on the fire and have done with it.
They look at her in some astonishment at the vandalism of
ERNEST: But . . . (He looks at the loaf on all
MAGGIE: It's no good, and it'll only grieve their poor hearts
if they see it. "What the heart doesn't . . ."
BEATRICE: Ay, put it on, William. What's it matter? Tell 'em
the cat ate it.
ERNEST (hesitating): Should I?
BEATRICE (nudging his elbow): Ay, go on.
He puts the loaf on the fire, which is not yet mended, and
they stand watching the transparent flames lick it up.
ERNEST (half sad, whimsically, repentant): The Staff of
MAGGIE: It's a faggot now, not a staff.
ERNEST: Ah, well! (He slides all the cinders and
BEATRICE'S scrapings together in the newspaper and pours them
in the fire.)
BEATRICE (holding up her scraped loaf): It doesn't
show, being brown. You want to wrap it in a damp cloth now. Have
you got a cloth?
ERNEST: What?--a clean tea-towel?
BEATRICE: Ay, that'll do. Come here; let's go and wet it.
She goes out, and re-enters directly with the towel screwed
up. She folds it round the loaf, the others watching. She sets
the shrouded loaf on the table, and they all sit down. There is a
Have you given over coming down to chapel now, Maggie?
MAGGIE: N-no. I don't know that I have. Why?
BEATRICE: You don't often put in an appearance now.
MAGGIE (a trifle petulantly): Don't I? Well, I don't
feel like it, I suppose.
BEATRICE: William, you have something to answer for, my boy.
(She speaks portentously.)
ERNEST: Shall I? Ne'er mind; I'll say "adsum" every time.
Recording Angel: "Ernest Lambert."--"Adsum!"
BEATRICE: But you don't know what the little Mas say about
you, my lad.
ERNEST: The dear little Mas! They will be gossiping
BEATRICE (springing from her chair): Look out! there's
Nellie. Take that in th' pantry, William. Come out!
She thrusts the towelled loaf into ERNEST'S hands,
and he hurries away with it, while she hastily shoots the coal on
the fire, and, putting down the dust-pan by the boiler, sits in
her chair and looks "'ormin'."
Enter NELLIE LAMBERT and GERTIE COOMBER,
NELLIE (bending her head to shield her eyes): Hasn't Ma
come? I never saw her. Hullo, Maggie, you've not gone yet,
you see. (She sniffs and goes straight to the oven.)
Goodness, what a smell of burning! Have you been and forgotten
the bread? (She kneels and looks in the oven.)
BEATRICE (very quietly and negligently): Ernest forgot
that one. It's only a bit caught.
NELLIE peeps in the panchion where the other loaves
are--those baked by the mother.
NELLIE: He generally forgets if Maggie's here.
BEATRICE bursts out laughing.
MAGGIE (rising, indignant): Why, Nellie, when has it
ever been burnt before?
NELLIE (smiling a careless smile): Many a time.
MAGGIE: Not when I've been here.
NELLIE: Aren't you going to sit down a bit, Gert?
GERTIE: No, I'm off. Our Frances'll be wanting her ducks.
(She laughs, but does not go.)
MAGGIE, her head hanging, goes to put on her hat and coat.
The other girls smile, meaningly, at one another.
Are you going, then, Maggie?
MAGGIE (distantly): Yes, it's getting late. I've a long
walk, you see.
GERTIE: You have! I'm glad I've not got it. I often wonder how
you dare go through those woods on a pitch-dark night.
BEATRICE: I daresn't. (She laughs at herself.)
MAGGIE: I'd rather go through our wood than through Nottingham
Road, with the people--!
BEATRICE: I'm glad you would, for I wouldn't.
ERNEST LAMBERT pulls on his overcoat and his cap. He
gathers certain books. He looks at MAGGIE, and she at
MAGGIE: Well, good night, everybody. I shall have to go.
(She hesitates, finding it difficult to break away.)
BEATRICE AND NELLIE: Good night.
GERTIE: Good night, Maggie. I hope it won't be too muddy for
MAGGIE laughs slightly.
NELLIE (as the two go through the door, loudly): And
don't be ever so late back, our Ernest!
They do not reply. As their steps are heard passing the
wide window, BEATRICE flings up her arms and her feet in
an ungraceful, exultant glee, flicking her fingers with noiseless
BEATRICE (in an undertone): I gave her beans!
NELLIE (turning, with a smile, and lighting up): Did
you? What did you say?
GERTIE (amused, giggling, but shamefaced): Did
BEATRICE (exultant): Oh, lum! I'll bet her cheeks are
END OF ACT II
The same room, half an hour later.
BEATRICE WYLD sits in the arm-chair, and NELLIE LAMBERT
on the sofa, the latter doing drawn-thread work on a white
tray-cloth, part of which is fixed in a ring: at this part
NELLIE is stitching.
BEATRICE: Ah, it makes you grin! the way she used to talk
before she had him!
NELLIE: She did. She thought nobody was as good as her Arthur.
She's found her mistake out.
BEATRICE: She has an' all! He wanted some chips for his
supper the other night, when I was there. "Well," I said, "it's
not far to Fretwell's, Arthur." He did look mad at me. "I'm not
going to fetch chips," he said, a cocky little fool; and he
crossed his little legs till I should 'a liked to have smacked
his mouth. I said to her, "Well, Mabel, if you do, you're
a fool!"--in her state, and all the men that were about! He's not
a bit of consideration. You never saw anybody as fagged as she
NELLIE: She does. I felt fair sorry for her when I saw her
last Sunday but one. She doesn't look like she used.
BEATRICE: By Jove, she doesn't! He's brought her down a good
many pegs. I shouldn't wonder if she wasn't quite safe, either.
She told me she had awful shooting pains up her side, and they
last for five minutes.
NELLIE (looking up): Oh?
BEATRICE: Ay! I'm glad I'm not in her shoes. They may talk
about getting married as they like! Not this child!
NELLIE: Not to a thing like him.
BEATRICE: I asked her if she didn't feel frightened, an' she
said she didn't care a scrap. I should care, though--and I'll bet
she does, at the bottom.
The latch clicks. The MOTHER enters, carrying a
large net full of purchases, and a brown-paper parcel. She lets
these fall heavily on the table, and sits on the nearest chair,
panting a little, with evident labour of the heart.
MOTHER: Yes, my lady!--you called for that meat, didn't
NELLIE (rising and going to look in the parcels): Well,
my duck, I looked for you downtown; then when I was coming back,
I forgot all about it.
MOTHER: And I--was silly enough--to lug it myself--
NELLIE (crossing to her mother, all repentant): Well,
what did you for?--you knew I could fetch it again!
You do do such ridiculous things! (She begins to take off her
MOTHER: Yes! We know your fetching it--again. If I hadn't met
little Abel Gibson--I really don't think I should have got
BEATRICE (leaning forward): If Nellie forgets it, you
should forget it, Mrs Lambert. I'm sure you ought not to go
lugging all those things.
MOTHER: But I met young Abel Gibson just when I was thinking I
should have to drop them--and I said: "Here, Abel, my lad, are
you going home?" and he said he was, so I told him he could carry
my bag. He's a nice little lad. He says his father hasn't got
much work, poor fellow. I believe that woman's a bad manager.
She'd let that child clean up when he got home--and he said his
Dad always made the beds. She's not a nice woman, I'm sure.
(She shakes her head and begins to unfasten her coat.)
NELLIE, seeing her mother launched into easy gossip, is at
ease on her score, and returns to the bags.
You needn't go looking; there's nothing for you.
NELLIE (petulantly): You always used to bring us
MOTHER: Ay, I've no doubt I did. . . . (She sniffs and
looks at BEATRICE WYLD.)
NELLIE (still looking, unconvinced): Hello! Have a
grape, Beatrice. (She offers BEATRICE a white-paper bag
of very small black grapes.)
MOTHER: They want washing first, to get the sawdust out. Our
Ernest likes those little grapes, and they are cheap: only
BEATRICE (looking up from the bag): Oh, they are cheap.
No, I won't have any, Nellie, thanks.
NELLIE: I'll wash them.
MOTHER: Just let the tap run on them--and get a plate.
NELLIE: Well, as if I shouldn't get a plate! The little Ma
thinks we're all daft.
MOTHER (sniffing--it is her manner of winking): Is all
the bread done?
NELLIE: Yes. I took the last out about a quarter of an hour
MOTHER (to BEATRICE): Was Maggie Pearson gone when you
BEATRICE: No--she's only been gone about three-quarters of an
MOTHER (tossing her head and lowering her tone
confidentially): Well, really! I stopped looking at a man
selling curtains a bit longer than I should, thinking she'd be
BEATRICE: Pah!--it makes you sick, doesn't it?
MOTHER: It does. You wouldn't think she'd want to come
trailing down here in weather like this, would you?
BEATRICE: You wouldn't. I'll bet you'd not catch me!--and she
knows what you think, alright.
MOTHER: Of course she does.
BEATRICE: She wouldn't care if the old Dad was here, scowling
at her; she'd come.
MOTHER: If that lad was at home.
BEATRICE (scornfully): Ay!
The MOTHER rises and goes out with her coat.
NELLIE enters, with a plate of wet black grapes.
NELLIE: Now, Beat! (Offering the grapes.)
BEATRICE: No, Nellie, I don't think I'll have any.
NELLIE: Go on--have some! Have some--go on! (Speaks rather
BEATRICE takes a few grapes in her hand.
What a scroddy few! Here, have some more.
BEATRICE (quietly): No, Nellie, thanks, I won't have
any more. I don't think they'd suit me.
NELLIE sits down and begins to eat the grapes, putting the
skins on a piece of paper.
The MOTHER re-enters. She looks very tired. She
begins carrying away the little parcels.
NELLIE: Don't you put those away, mother; I'll do it in a
The MOTHER continues. NELLIE rises in a
moment or two, frowning.
You are a persistent little woman! Why don't you wait a
bit and let me do it?
MOTHER: Because your father will be in in a minute, and I
don't want him peeking and prying into everything, thinking I'm a
millionaire. (She comes and sits down in her rocking-chair by
NELLIE continues to carry away the goods, which have
littered the table, looking into every parcel.
NELLIE: Hello! what are these little things?
MOTHER: Never you mind.
NELLIE: Now, little woman, don't you try to hug yourself and
be secretive. What are they?
MOTHER: They're pine-kernels. (Turning to BEATRICE.)
Our Ernest's always talking about the nut-cakes he gets at Mrs
Dacre's; I thought I'd see what they were like. Put them away;
don't let him see them. I shan't let him know at all, if they're
not up to much. I'm not going to have him saying Mother Dacre's
things are better than mine.
BEATRICE: I wouldn't--for I'm sure they're not.
MOTHER: Still, I rather like the idea of nuts. Here, give me
one; I'll try it.
They each eat a pine-kernel with the air of a connoisseur
(smiling to herself): Um--aren't they oily!
BEATRICE: They are! But I rather like them.
NELLIE: So do I. (Takes another.)
MOTHER (gratified): Here, put them away, miss!
NELLIE takes another. The MOTHER rises and snatches
them away from her, really very pleased.
There won't be one left, I know, if I leave them with
her. (She puts them away.)
NELLIE (smiling and nodding her head after her mother; in a
whisper): Isn't she fussy?
BEATRICE puts out her tongue and laughs.
MOTHER (returning): I tried a gelatine sponge last
week. He likes it much better than cornflour. Mrs Dacre puts them
in mincemeat, instead of suet--the pine-kernels. I must try a
BEATRICE: Oh! it sounds better.
MOTHER (seating herself): It does. (She looks down
at the bread.)
BEATRICE puts up her shoulders in suspense.
I think you let this one dry up.
NELLIE: No, I didn't. It was our Ernest who let it burn.
MOTHER: Trust him! And what's he done? (She begins to
BEATRICE pulls a very wry face, straightens it quickly and
BEATRICE: Is your clock right, Mrs Lambert?
MOTHER (looking round at the clock): Ten minutes--ten
minutes fast. Why, what time is it?
BEATRICE: Good lack! (Rising suddenly.) It's half-past
ten! Won't our Pa rave! "Yes, my gel--it's turning-out time
again. We're going to have a stop put to it." And our mother will
recite! Oh, the recitations!--there's no shutting her up when she
begins. But at any rate, she shuts our Pa up, and he's a nuisance
when he thinks he's got just cause to be wrath.--Where did I put
MOTHER: I should think that Nellie's put hers on top. (She
looks at NELLIE.) Don't sit there eating every one of those
grapes. You know our Ernest likes them.
NELLIE (suddenly incensed): Good gracious! I don't
believe I've had more than half a dozen of the things!
MOTHER (laughing and scornful): Half a dozen!
NELLIE: Yes, half a dozen.--Beatrice, we can't have a thing in
this house--everything's for our Ernest.
MOTHER: What a story! What a story! But he does like
those little grapes.
NELLIE: And everything else.
MOTHER (quietly, with emphasis): He gets a good deal
less than you.
NELLIE (withdrawing from dangerous ground): I'll
GERTIE COOMBER runs in.
BEATRICE: Hello, Gert, haven't you seen John?
GERTIE (putting up her chin): No.
BEATRICE: A little nuisance!--fancy!
GERTIE: Eh, I don't care--not me.
NELLIE: No, it's her fault. She never does want to see him. I
wonder any fellow comes to her.
GERTIE (nonchalantly): Um--so do I.
BEATRICE: Get out, Gert; you know you're fretting your heart
out 'cause he's not come.
GERTIE (with great scorn): Am I? Oh, am I? Not
me! If I heard him whistling this moment, I wouldn't go out to
NELLIE: Wouldn't you! I'd shove you out, you little cat!
GERTIE (with great assumption of amusing dignity): Oh,
would you, indeed!
They all laugh.
BEATRICE pins on her hat before the mirror.
You haven't got Ernest to take you home to-night, Beat. Where
is he? With Maggie Pearson? Hasn't he come back yet?
MOTHER (with some bitterness): He hasn't. An' he's got
to go to college to-morrow. Then he reckons he can get no work
GERTIE: Ha!--they're all alike when it suits them.
MOTHER: I should thank her not to come down here messing every
Friday and Sunday.
NELLIE: Ah, she's always here. I should be ashamed of
BEATRICE: Well--our Pa! I must get off. Good night, everybody.
See you to-morrow, Nell.
NELLIE: I'll just come with you across the field.
She fetches a large white cashmere shawl and puts it over
her head. She disposes it round her face at the mirror.
BEATRICE winks at the MOTHER.
GERTIE: She's going to look for Eddie.
NELLIE (blushing): Well, what if I am? Shan't be many
MOTHER (rather coldly): I should think not! I don't
know what you want at all going out at this time o' night.
NELLIE shrugs her shoulders, and goes out with BEATRICE
WYLD, who laughs and bids another good night.
MOTHER (when they have gone): A silly young hussy,
gadding to look for him. As if she couldn't sleep without
GERTIE: Oh, he always says, "Come and look for me about
eleven." I bet he's longing to shut that shop up.
MOTHER (shortly): Ha! he's softer than she is, and I'm
sure that's not necessary. I can't understand myself how folks
can be such looneys. I'm sure I was never like it.
GERTIE: And I'm sure I never should be. I often think, when
John's coming, "Oh, hang it, I wish he'd stay away!"
MOTHER: Ah, but that's too bad, Gertie. If you feel like that
you'd better not keep it on any longer.--Yet I used to be about
the same myself. I was born with too much sense for that
sort of slobber.
GERTIE: Yes, isn't it hateful? I often think, "Oh, get off
with you!" I'm sure I should never be like Nellie.--Isn't Ernest
late? You'll have Mr Lambert in first.
MOTHER (bitterly): He is late. He must have gone every
bit of the way.
GERTIE: Nay, I bet he's not--that.
There is silence a moment.
The MOTHER remembers the bread.
MOTHER (turning round and looking in the panchion):
Well, there ought to be two more brown loaves. What have they
done with them, now? (Turns over the loaves, and looks
GERTIE (laughing): I should think they've gone and
eaten them, between them.
MOTHER: That's very funny. (She rises, and is going to look
round the room.)
There is a whistle outside.
GERTIE (turning her head sharply aside): Oh,
hang it! I'm not going--I'm not!
MOTHER: Who is it? John?
GERTIE: It is, and I'm not going.
The whistle is heard again.
He can shut up, 'cause I'm not going!
MOTHER (smiling): You'll have to just go and speak to
him, if he's waiting for you.
The whistle is heard louder.
GERTIE: Isn't it hateful! I don't care. I'll tell him I was in
bed. I should be if my father wasn't at the "Ram".
MOTHER (sighing): Ay! But you may guess he's seen
Nellie, and she's been saying something to him.
GERTIE: Well, she needn't, then!
The whistle goes again.
GERTIE cannot resist the will of the other, especially as
the MOTHER bids her go. She flings her hand, and turns
with great impatience.
He can shut up! What's he want to come at this time for? Oh,
She goes out slowly and unwillingly, her lips closed
angrily. The MOTHER smiles, sighs, and looks sad and tired
MOTHER (to herself): It's a very funny thing!
She wanders round the room, looking for the bread. She
lights a taper and goes into the scullery.
(re-passing, she repeats): A very remarkable
She goes into the pantry on right, and after a moment
returns with the loaf in the damp cloth, which she has unfolded.
She stands looking at the loaf, repeating a sharp little sound
against her palate with her tongue, quickly vibrating her head up
(to herself): So this is it, is it? It's a nice
thing!--And they put it down there, thinking I shouldn't see it.
It's a nice thing! (Goes and looks in the oven, then says
bitterly): I always said she was a deep one. And he thinks
he'll stop out till his father comes!--And what have they done
with the other?--Burnt it, I should think. That's what they've
done. It's a nice thing--a nice thing! (She sits down in the
rocking-chair, perfectly rigid, still overdone with weariness and
anger and pain.)
After a moment, the garden gate is heard to bang back, and
a heavy step comes up the path, halting, punctuated with the
scratch and thrust of a walking-stick, rather jarring on the
The FATHER enters. He also bends his head a little
from the light, peering under his hat-brim.
The MOTHER has quickly taken the withered loaf and
dropped it in among the others in the panchion.
The FATHER does not speak, but goes straight to the
passage, and hangs up his hat, overcoat, and jacket, then returns
and stands very near the fire, holding his hands close down to
the open ruddy grate. He sways slightly when he turns, after a
moment or two, and stands with his hands spread behind his back,
very near the fire.
The MOTHER turns away her head from him.
He remains thus for a minute or so, then he takes a step
forward, and, leaning heavily on the table, begins to pick the
grapes from the plate, spitting out the skins into his right hand
and flinging them at random towards the fire behind his back,
leaning all the time heavily with the left hand on the
After a while this irritates the MOTHER
MOTHER: You needn't eat all those grapes. There's somebody
FATHER (speaking with an exaggerated imitation of his son's
English): "Somebody else!" Yes, there is "somebody else"!
(He pushes the plate away and the grapes roll on the
table.) I know they was not bought for me! I know it! I know
it! (His voice is rising.) Somebody else! Yes, there
is somebody else! I'm not daft! I'm not a fool. Nothing's
got for me. No-o. You can get things for them, you can.
The MOTHER turns away her head, with a gesture of
(Continues with maddening tipsy, ironic snarl): I'm not
a fool! I can see it! I can see it! I'm not daft! There's nothing
for me, but you begrudge me every bit I put in my mouth.
MOTHER (with cold contempt): You put enough down your
own throat. There's no need for anybody else. You take good care
you have your share.
FATHER: I have my share. Yes, I do, I do!
MOTHER (contemptuously): Yes, you do.
FATHER: Yes, I do. But I shouldn't if you could help it, you
begrudging bitch. What did you put away when I came in, so that I
shouldn't see it? Something! Yes! Something you'd got for them!
Nobody else. Yes! I know you'd got it for somebody
MOTHER (quietly, with bitter scorn): As it happens, it
FATHER (his accent is becoming still more urban. His O's
are A's, so that "nothing" is "nathing"): Nathing! Nathing!
You're a liar, you're a liar. I heard the scuffle. You don't
think I'm a fool, do you, woman?
She curls her lips in a deadly smile.
FATHER: I know, I know! Do you have what you give me
for dinner? No, you don't. You take good care of it!
MOTHER: Look here, you get your good share. Don't think
you keep the house. Do you think I manage on the few lousy
shillings you give me? No, you get as much as you deserve, if any
man did. And if you had a rice pudding, it was because
we had none. Don't come here talking. You
look after yourself, there's no mistake.
FATHER: An' I mean to, an' I mean to!
MOTHER: Very well, then!
FATHER (suddenly flaring): But I'm not going to be
treated like a dog in my own house! I'm not, so don't
think it! I'm master in this house, an' I'm going to be. I
tell you, I'm master of this house.
MOTHER: You're the only one who thinks so.
FATHER: I'll stop it! I'll put a stop to it. They can go--they
MOTHER: You'd be on short commons if they did.
FATHER: What? What? Me! You saucy bitch, I can keep myself,
an' you as well, an' him an' all as holds his head above me--am
doing--an' I'll stop it, I'll stop it--or they can go.
MOTHER: Don't make any mistake--you don't keep us. You
hardly keep yourself.
FATHER: Do I?--do I? And who does keep 'em, then?
MOTHER: I do--and the girl.
FATHER: You do, do you, you snappy little bitch! You do, do
you? Well, keep 'em yourself, then. Keep that lad in his idleness
MOTHER: Very willingly, very willingly. And that lad works ten
times as hard as you do.
FATHER: Does he? I should like to see him go down th' pit
every day! I should like to see him working every day in th'
hole. No, he won't dirty his fingers.
MOTHER: Yes, you wanted to drag all the lads into the pit, and
you only begrudge them because I wouldn't let them.
FATHER (shouting): You're a liar--you're a liar! I
never wanted 'em in th' pit.
MOTHER (interrupting): You did your best to get the
other two there, anyway.
FATHER (still shouting): You're a liar--I never did
anything of the sort. What other man would keep his sons doing
nothing till they're twenty-two? Where would you find another?
Not that I begrudge it him--I don't, bless him. . . .
MOTHER: Sounds like it.
FATHER: I don't. I begrudge 'em nothing. I'm willing to do
everything I can for 'em, and 'ow do they treat me? Like a dog, I
say, like a dog!
MOTHER: And whose fault is it?
FATHER: Yours, you stinking hussy! It's you as makes 'em like
it. They're like you. You teach 'em to hate me. You make me like
dirt for 'em: you set 'em against me . . .
MOTHER: You set them yourself.
FATHER (shouting): You're a liar! (He jumps from his
chair and stands bending towards her, his fist clenched and ready
and threatening.) It's you. It always 'as been you. You've
Enter ERNEST LAMBERT.
ERNEST (pulling off his cap and flashing with anger):
It's a fine row you're kicking up. I should bring the neighbours
FATHER: I don't care a damn what I do, you sneering devil,
you! (He turns to his son, but remains in the same crouching,
ERNEST (flaring): You needn't swear at me, either.
FATHER: I shall swear at who the devil I like. Who are you,
you young hound--who are you, you measley little--
ERNEST: At any rate, I'm not a foul-mouthed drunken fool.
FATHER (springing towards him): What! I'll smite you to
the ground if you say it again, I will, I will!
He turns his face aside in contempt from the fist
brandished near his mouth.
FATHER (shouting): What! Say it! I'll drive my fist
ERNEST (suddenly tightening with rage as the fist is pushed
near his face): Get away, you spitting old fool!
The FATHER jerks nearer and trembles his fist so
near the other's nose that he draws his head back, quivering with
intense passion and loathing, and lifts his hands.
MOTHER: Ernest, Ernest, don't!
There is a slight relaxation.
(Lamentable, pleading): Don't say any more, Ernest! Let
him say what he likes. What should I do if . . .
There is a pause.
ERNEST continues rigidly to glare into space beyond his
The FATHER turns to the MOTHER with a
snarling movement, which is nevertheless a movement of defeat. He
withdraws, sits down in the arm-chair, and begins, fumbling, to
get off his collar and tie, and afterwards his boots.
ERNEST has taken a book, and stands quite motionless,
looking at it. There is heard only the slash of the FATHER'S
bootlaces. Then he drags off the boot, and it falls with a
ERNEST, very tense, puts down the book, takes off his
overcoat, hangs it up, and returns to the side of the sofa
nearest the door, where he sits, pretending to read.
There is silence for some moments, and again the whip of
boot-laces. Suddenly a snarl breaks the silence.
FATHER: But don't think I'm going to be put down in my own
house! It would take a better man than you, you white-faced
jockey--or your mother either--or all the lot of you put
together! (He waits awhile.) I'm not daft--I can see what
she's driving at. (Silence.) I'm not a fool, if you think
so. I can pay you yet, you sliving bitch! (He sticks out his
chin at his wife.)
ERNEST lifts his head and looks at him.
(Turns with renewing ferocity on his son): Yes, and you
either. I'll stand no more of your chelp. I'll stand no
more! Do you hear me?
ERNEST looks down at his book.
The FATHER turns to the MOTHER.
FATHER: Ernest! Ay, prompt him! Set him on--you know how to do
it--you know how to do it!
There is a persistent silence.
I know it! I know it! I'm not daft, I'm not a fool! (The
other boot falls to the floor.)
He rises, pulling himself up with the arms of the chair,
and, turning round, takes a Waterbury watch with a brass chain
from the wall beside the bookcase: his pit watch that the
MOTHER hung there when she put his pit-trousers in the
cupboard--and winds it up, swaying on his feet as he does so.
Then he puts it back on the nail, and a key swings at the end of
the chain. Then he takes a silver watch from his pocket, and,
fumbling, missing the keyhole, winds that up also with a key,
and, swaying forward, hangs it up over the cupboard. Then he
lurches round, and, limping pitiably, goes off upstairs. There is
a heavy silence. The Waterbury watch can be heard
ERNEST: I would kill him, if it weren't that I shiver at the
thought of touching him.
MOTHER: Oh, you mustn't! Think how awful it would be if there
were anything like that. I couldn't bear it.
ERNEST: He is a damned, accursed fool!
The MOTHER sighs. ERNEST begins to
There is a quick patter of feet, and GERTIE COOMBER
comes running in.
GERTIE: Has Mr Lambert come?
MOTHER: Ay--in bed.
GERTIE: My father hasn't come yet. Isn't it sickening?
MOTHER: It is, child. They want horsewhipping, and those that
serve them, more.
GERTIE: I'm sure we haven't a bit of peace of our lives. I'm
sure when mother was alive, she used to say her life was a
burden, for she never knew when he'd come home, or how.
MOTHER: And it is so.
GERTIE: Did you go far, Ernest?
ERNEST (not looking up): I don't know. Middling.
MOTHER: He must have gone about home, for he's not been back
GERTIE: There's our Frances shouting!
She runs off.
MOTHER (quietly): What did you do with that other
ERNEST (looking up, smiling): Why, we forgot it, and it
got all burned.
MOTHER (rather bitterly): Of course you forgot it. And
where is it?
ERNEST: Well, it was no good keeping it. I thought it would
only grieve your heart, the sight of it, so I put it on the
MOTHER: Yes, I'm sure! That was a nice thing to do, I must
say! . . . Put a brown loaf on the fire, and dry the only other
one up to a cinder!
The smile dies from his face, and he begins to
(She speaks bitterly): It's always alike, though. If
Maggie Pearson's here, nobody else matters. It's only a laughing
matter if the bread gets burnt to cinders and put on the fire.
(Suddenly bursts into a glow of bitterness.)It's all very
well, my son--you may talk about caring for me, but when it comes
to Maggie Pearson it's very little you care for me--or Nellie--or
ERNEST (dashing his fingers through his hair): You talk
just like a woman! As if it makes any difference! As if it
makes the least difference!
MOTHER (folding her hands in her lap and turning her face
from him): Yes, it does.
ERNEST (frowning fiercely): It doesn't. Why should it?
If I like apples, does it mean I don't like--bread? You know, Ma,
it doesn't make any difference.
MOTHER (doggedly): I know it does.
ERNEST (shaking his finger at her): But why should it,
why should it? You know you wouldn't be interested in the things
we talk about: you know you wouldn't.
MOTHER: Why shouldn't I?
ERNEST: Should you, now? Look here: we talked about French
poetry. Should you care about that?
You know you wouldn't! And then we talked about those pictures
at the Exhibition--about Frank Brangwyn--about Impressionism--for
ever such a long time. You would only be bored by that--
MOTHER: Why should I? You never tried.
ERNEST: But you wouldn't. You wouldn't care whether it's
Impressionism or pre-Raphaelism. (Pathetically.)
MOTHER: I don't see why I shouldn't.
ERNEST (ruffling his hair in despair; after a pause):
And, besides, there are lots of things you can't talk to your own
folks about, that you would tell a stranger.
MOTHER (bitterly): Yes, I know there are.
ERNEST (wildly): Well, I can't help it--can I, now?
MOTHER (reluctantly): No--I suppose not--if you say
ERNEST: But you know--!
MOTHER (turning aside again; with some bitterness and
passion): I do know, my boy--I do know!
ERNEST: But I can't help it.
His MOTHER does not reply, but sits with her face
Can I, now? Can I?
MOTHER: You say not.
ERNEST (changing the position again): And you wouldn't
care if it was Alice, or Lois, or Louie. You never row me if I'm
a bit late when I've been with them. . . . It's just Maggie,
because you don't like her.
MOTHER (with emphasis): No, I don't like
her--and I can't say I do.
ERNEST: But why not? Why not? She's as good as I am--and I'm
sure you've nothing against her--have you, now?
MOTHER (shortly): No, I don't know I've anything
ERNEST: Well, then, what do you get so wild about?
MOTHER: Because I don't like her, and I never shall, so there,
ERNEST: Because you've made up your mind not to.
MOTHER: Very well, then.
ERNEST (bitterly): And you did from the beginning, just
because she happened to care for me.
MOTHER (with coldness): And does nobody else care for
you, then, but her?
ERNEST (knitting his brows and shaking his hands in
despair): Oh, but it's not a question of that.
MOTHER (calmly, coldly): But it is a question of
ERNEST (fiercely): It isn't! You know it isn't! I care
just as much for you as ever--you know I do.
MOTHER: It looks like it, when night after night you leave me
sitting up here till nearly eleven--and gone eleven
ERNEST: Once, Mother, once--and that was when it was her
MOTHER (turning to him with the anger of love): And how
many times is it a quarter to eleven, and twenty to?
ERNEST: But you'd sit up just the same if I were in; you'd sit
up reading--you know you would.
MOTHER: You don't come in to see.
ERNEST: When I am in, do you go to bed before then?
MOTHER: I do.
ERNEST: Did you on Wednesday night, or on Tuesday, or on
MOTHER: No; because you were working.
ERNEST: I was in.
MOTHER: I'm not going to go to bed and leave you
sitting up, and I'm not going to go to bed to leave you to come
in when you like . . . so there!
ERNEST (beginning to unfasten his boots): Alright--I
can't help it, then.
MOTHER: You mean you won't.
There is a pause. ERNEST hangs his head, forgetting
to unlace his boot further.
ERNEST (pathetically): You don't worry our Nellie.
Look, she's out now. You never row her.
MOTHER: I do. I'm always telling her.
ERNEST: Not like this.
MOTHER: I do! I called her all the names I could lay my tongue
to last night.
ERNEST: But you're not nasty every time she goes out to see
Eddie, and you don't for ever say nasty things about him. . .
There is a moment of silence, while he waits for an
ERNEST: And I always know you'll be sitting here working
yourself into a state if I happen to go up to Herod's Farm.
MOTHER: Do I?--and perhaps you would, if you sat here waiting
ERNEST: But, Ma, you don't care if Nellie's out.
MOTHER (after brooding awhile; with passion): No, my
boy, because she doesn't mean the same to me. She has never
understood--she has not been--like you. And now--you seem to care
nothing--you care for anything more than home: you tell me
nothing but the little things: you used to tell me everything;
you used to come to me with everything; but now--I don't
do for you now. You have to find somebody else.
ERNEST: But I can't help it. I can't help it. I have to grow
up--and things are different to us now.
MOTHER (bitterly): Yes, things are different to
us now. They never used to be. And you say I've never tried to
care for her. I have--I've tried and tried to like her, but I
can't, and it's no good.
ERNEST (pathetically): Well, my dear, we shall have to
let it be, then, and things will have to go their way. (He
speaks with difficulty.)You know, Mater--I don't care for
her--really--not half as I care for you. Only, just now--well, I
can't help it, I can't help it. But I care just the same--for
MOTHER (turning with a little cry): But I thought you
He takes her in his arms, and she kisses him, and he hides
his face in her shoulder. She holds him closely for a moment;
then she kisses him and gently releases him. He kisses her.
She gently draws away, saying, very tenderly:
MOTHER: There!--Nellie will be coming in.
ERNEST (after a pause): And you do understand, don't
MOTHER (with great gentleness, having decided not to
torment him): Yes, I understand now. (She bluffs
ERNEST takes her hand and strokes it a moment. Then he
bends down and continues to unfasten his boots. It is very
I'm sure that hussy ought to be in--just look at the time!
ERNEST: Ay, it's scandalous!
There are in each of their voices traces of the recent
anguish, which makes their speech utterly insignificant.
Nevertheless, in thus speaking, each reassures the other that the
moment of abnormal emotion and proximity is passed, and the usual
position of careless intimacy is reassumed.
MOTHER (rising): I shall have to go and call her--a
There is a rattle of the yard gate, and NELLIE runs
in, blinking very much.
NELLIE (out of breath; but very casually): Hello, our
Ernest, you home?
MOTHER: Yes, miss, and been home long ago. I'll not have it,
my lady, so you needn't think it. You're not going to be down
there till this time of night! It's disgraceful. What will his
mother say, do you think, when he walks in at past eleven?
NELLIE: She can say what she likes. Besides, she'll be in
MOTHER: She'll hear him, for all that. I'd be ashamed of
myself, that I would, standing out there slobbering till this
time of night! I don't know how anyone can be such a fool!
NELLIE (smiling): Perhaps not, my dear.
MOTHER (slightly stung): No, and I should be sorry. I
don't know what he wants running up at this time of a night.
NELLIE: Oh, Mother, don't go on again! We've heard it a dozen
MOTHER: And you'll hear it two dozen.
ERNEST, having got off his shoes, begins to take off his
collar and tie.
NELLIE sits down in the arm-chair.
NELLIE (dragging up the stool and beginning to unlace her
boots): I could hear my father carrying on again. Was he a
MOTHER: Is he ever anything else when he's like that?
NELLIE: He is a nuisance. I wish he was far enough!
Eddie could hear every word he said.
ERNEST: Shame! Shame!
NELLIE (in great disgust): It is! He never hears
anything like that. Oh, I was wild. I could have killed him!
MOTHER: You should have sent him home; then he'd not have
heard it at all.
NELLIE: He'd only just come, so I'm sure I wasn't going to
send him home then.
ERNEST: So you heard it all, to the mild-and-bitter end?
NELLIE: No, I didn't. And I felt such a fool!
ERNEST: You should choose your spot out of earshot, not just
by the garden gate. What did you do?
NELLIE: I said, "Come on, Eddie, let's get away from this
lot." I'm sure I shouldn't have wondered if he'd gone home and
never come near again.
MOTHER (satirically): What for?
NELLIE: Why--when he heard that row.
MOTHER: I'm sure it was very bad for him, poor boy.
NELLIE (fiercely): How should you like it?
MOTHER: I shouldn't have a fellow there at that time at
ERNEST: You thought a father-in-law that kicked up a shindy
was enough to scare him off, did you? Well, if you choose your
girl, you can't choose your father-in-law--you'll have to tell
NELLIE has taken off her shoes. She stands in front of the
mirror and uncoils her hair, and plaits it in a thick plait which
hangs down her back.
MOTHER: Come, Ernest; you'll never want to get up in the
NELLIE (suddenly): Oh! There now! I never gave him that
rose. (She looks down at her bosom and lifts the head of a
rather crushed rose.)What a nuisance!
ERNEST: The sad history of a rose between two hearts:
"Rose, red rose, that burns with a low flame,
What has broken you?
Hearts, two hearts caught up in a game
NELLIE (blushing): Go on, you soft creature! (Looks
at the rose.)
ERNEST: Weep over it.
ERNEST: And pickle it, like German girls do.
NELLIE: Don't be such a donkey.
ERNEST: Interesting item: final fate of the rose.
NELLIE goes out; returns in a moment with the rose in an
egg-cup in one hand, and a candle in the other.
The MOTHER rises.
ERNEST: I'll rake, Mother.
NELLIE lights her candle, takes her shawl off the table,
kisses her mother good night, and bids her brother good night as
he goes out to the cellar.
The MOTHER goes about taking off the heavy green
tablecloth, disclosing the mahogany, and laying a doubled
table-cloth half across. She sets the table with a cup and
saucer, plate, knife, sugar-basin, brown-and-white teapot and
tea-caddy. Then she fetches a tin bottle and a soiled snapbag,
and lays them together on the bare half of the table. She puts
out the salt and goes and drags the pit-trousers from the
cupboard and puts them near the fire.
Meanwhile ERNEST has come from the cellar with a
large lump of coal, which he pushes down in the fireplace so that
it shall not lodge and go out.
MOTHER: You'll want some small bits.--And bring a few pieces
for him in the morning.
ERNEST (returning to the cellar with the dust-pan):
Alright! I'll turn the gas out now.
The MOTHER fetches another candle and continues her
little tasks. The gas goes suddenly down and dies slowly
ERNEST comes up with his candlestick on a shovelful of
coal. He puts the candle on the table, and puts some coal on the
fire, round the "raker". The rest he puts in the shovel on the
hearth. Then he goes to wash his hands.
The MOTHER, leaving her candle in the scullery,
comes in with an old iron fire-screen which she hangs on the bars
of the grate, and the ruddy light shows over and through the worn
ERNEST is heard jerking the roller-towel. He enters, and
goes to his mother, kissing her forehead, and then her cheek,
stroking her cheek with his finger-tips.
ERNEST: Good night, my dear.
MOTHER: Good night.--Don't you want a candle?
ERNEST: No--blow it out. Good night.
MOTHER (very softly): Good night.
There is in their tones a dangerous gentleness--so much
gentleness that the safe reserve of their souls is
ERNEST goes upstairs. His bedroom door is heard to
The MOTHER stands and looks in the fire. The room is
lighted by the red glow only. Then in a moment or two she goes
into the scullery, and after a minute--during which running of
water is heard--she returns with her candle, looking little and
bowed and pathetic, and crosses the room, softly closing the
passage door behind her.
END OF ACT III