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- The Doctor's Dilemma - 20/24 -

burning bush?

MRS DUBEDAT. Yes, Yes. Oh, my dear, how it strains my heart to remember it now!

LOUIS. Does it? It fills me with joy. Tell them about it.

MRS DUBEDAT. It was nothing--only that once in my old Cornish home we lit the first fire of the winter; and when we looked through the window we saw the flames dancing in a bush in the garden.

LOUIS. Such a color! Garnet color. Waving like silk. Liquid lovely flame flowing up through the bay leaves, and not burning them. Well, I shall be a flame like that. I'm sorry to disappoint the poor little worms; but the last of me shall be the flame in the burning bush. Whenever you see the flame, Jennifer, that will be me. Promise me that I shall be burnt.

MRS DUBEDAT. Oh, if I might be with you, Louis!

LOUIS. No: you must always be in the garden when the bush flames. You are my hold on the world: you are my immortality. Promise.

MRS DUBEDAT. I'm listening. I shall not forget. You know that I promise.

LOUIS. Well, thats about all; except that you are to hang my pictures at the one-man show. I can trust your eye. You wont let anyone else touch them.

MRS DUBEDAT. You can trust me.

LOUIS. Then theres nothing more to worry about, is there? Give me some more of that milk. I'm fearfully tired; but if I stop talking I shant begin again. [Sir Ralph gives him a drink. He takes it and looks up quaintly]. I say, B. B., do you think anything would stop you talking?

B. B. [almost unmanned] He confuses me with you, Paddy. Poor fellow! Poor fellow!

LOUIS [musing] I used to be awfully afraid of death; but now it's come I have no fear; and I'm perfectly happy. Jennifer.

MRS DUBEDAT. Yes, dear?

LOUIS. I'll tell you a secret. I used to think that our marriage was all an affectation, and that I'd break loose and run away some day. But now that I'm going to be broken loose whether I like it or not, I'm perfectly fond of you, and perfectly satisfied because I'm going to live as part of you and not as my troublesome self.

MRS DUBEDAT [heartbroken] Stay with me, Louis. Oh, dont leave me, dearest.

LOUIS. Not that I'm selfish. With all my faults I dont think Ive ever been really selfish. No artist can: Art is too large for that. You will marry again, Jennifer.

MRS DUBEDAT. Oh, how can you, Louis?

LOUIS [insisting childishly] Yes, because people who have found marriage happy always marry again. Ah, I shant be jealous. [Slyly.] But dont talk to the other fellow too much about me: he wont like it. [Almost chuckling] I shall be your lover all the time; but it will be a secret from him, poor devil!

SIR PATRICK. Come! youve talked enough. Try to rest awhile.

LOUIS [wearily] Yes: I'm fearfully tired; but I shall have a long rest presently. I have something to say to you fellows. Youre all there, arnt you? I'm too weak to see anything but Jennifer's bosom. That promises rest.

RIDGEON. We are all here.

LOUIS [startled] That voice sounded devilish. Take care, Ridgeon: my ears hear things that other people's cant. Ive been thinking--thinking. I'm cleverer than you imagine.

SIR PATRICK [whispering to Ridgeon] Youve got on his nerves, Colly. Slip out quietly.

RIDGEON [apart to Sir Patrick] Would you deprive the dying actor of his audience?

LOUIS [his face lighting up faintly with mischievous glee] I heard that, Ridgeon. That was good. Jennifer dear: be kind to Ridgeon always; because he was the last man who amused me.

RIDGEON [relentless] Was I?

LOUIS. But it's not true. It's you who are still on the stage. I'm half way home already.

MRS DUBEDAT [to Ridgeon] What did you say?

LOUIS [answering for him] Nothing, dear. Only one of those little secrets that men keep among themselves. Well, all you chaps have thought pretty hard things of me, and said them.

B. B. [quite overcome] No, no, Dubedat. Not at all.

LOUIS. Yes, you have. I know what you all think of me. Dont imagine I'm sore about it. I forgive you.

WALPOLE [involuntarily] Well, damn me! [Ashamed] I beg your pardon.

LOUIS. That was old Walpole, I know. Don't grieve, Walpole. I'm perfectly happy. I'm not in pain. I don't want to live. Ive escaped from myself. I'm in heaven, immortal in the heart of my beautiful Jennifer. I'm not afraid, and not ashamed. [Reflectively, puzzling it out for himself weakly] I know that in an accidental sort of way, struggling through the unreal part of life, I havnt always been able to live up to my ideal. But in my own real world I have never done anything wrong, never denied my faith, never been untrue to myself. Ive been threatened and blackmailed and insulted and starved. But Ive played the game. Ive fought the good fight. And now it's all over, theres an indescribable peace. [He feebly folds his hands and utters his creed] I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen. [He closes his eyes and lies still].

MRS DUBEDAT [breathless] Louis: are you--

Walpole rises and comes quickly to see whether he is dead.

LOUIS. Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet. I should like to rest my head on your bosom; only it would tire you.

MRS DUBEDAT. No, no, no, darling: how could you tire me? [She lifts him so that he lies on her bosom].

LOUIS. Thats good. Thats real.

MRS DUBEDAT. Dont spare me, dear. Indeed, indeed you will not tire me. Lean on me with all your weight.

LOUIS [with a sudden half return of his normal strength and comfort] Jinny Gwinny: I think I shall recover after all. [Sir Patrick looks significantly at Ridgeon, mutely warning him that this is the end].

MRS DUBEDAT [hopefully] Yes, yes: you shall.

LOUIS. Because I suddenly want to sleep. Just an ordinary sleep.

MRS DUBEDAT [rocking him] Yes, dear. Sleep. [He seems to go to sleep. Walpole makes another movement. She protests]. Sh--sh: please dont disturb him. [His lips move]. What did you say, dear? [In great distress] I cant listen without moving him. [His lips move again; Walpole bends down and listens].

WALPOLE. He wants to know is the newspaper man here.

THE NEWSPAPER MAN [excited; for he has been enjoying himself enormously] Yes, Mr Dubedat. Here I am.

Walpole raises his hand warningly to silence him. Sir Ralph sits down quietly on the sofa and frankly buries his face in his handkerchief.

MRS DUBEDAT [with great relief] Oh thats right, dear: dont spare me: lean with all your weight on me. Now you are really resting.

Sir Patrick quickly comes forward and feels Louis's pulse; then takes him by the shoulders.

SIR PATRICK. Let me put him back on the pillow, maam. He will be better so.

MRS DUBEDAT [piteously] Oh no, please, please, doctor. He is not tiring me; and he will be so hurt when he wakes if he finds I have put him away.

SIR PATRICK. He will never wake again. [He takes the body from her and replaces it in the chair. Ridgeon, unmoved, lets down the back and makes a bier of it].

MRS DUBEDAT [who has unexpectedly sprung to her feet, and stands dry-eyed and stately] Was that death?


MRS DUBEDAT [with complete dignity] Will you wait for me a moment? I will come back. [She goes out].

WALPOLE. Ought we to follow her? Is she in her right senses?

SIR PATRICK [with quiet conviction]. Yes. Shes all right. Leave her alone. She'll come back.

RIDGEON [callously] Let us get this thing out of the way before she comes.

The Doctor's Dilemma - 20/24

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