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- Getting Married - 20/36 -
THE BISHOP. They always are. This one is. [To Mrs Bridgenorth] Dont you think her letters are quite the best love-letters I get? [To the two men] Poor Alice has to read my love-letters aloud to me at breakfast, when theyre worth it.
MRS BRIDGENORTH. There really is something fascinating about Incognita. She never gives her address. Thats a good sign.
THE GENERAL. Mf! No assignations, you mean?
THE Bishop. Oh yes: she began the correspondence by making a very curious but very natural assignation. She wants me to meet her in heaven. I hope I shall.
THE GENERAL. Well, I must say I hope not, Alfred. I hope not.
MRS BRIDGENORTH. She says she is happily married, and that love is a necessary of life to her, but that she must have, high above all her lovers--
THE BISHOP. She has several apparently--
MRS BRIDGENORTH. --some great man who will never know her, never touch her, as she is on earth, but whom she can meet in Heaven when she has risen above all the everyday vulgarities of earthly love.
THE BISHOP [rising] Excellent. Very good for her; and no trouble to me. Everybody ought to have one of these idealizations, like Dante's Beatrice. [He clasps his hands behind him, and strolls to the hearth and back, singing].
Lesbia appears in the tower, rather perturbed.
LESBIA. Alice: will you come upstairs? Edith is not dressed.
MRS BRIDGENORTH [rising] Not dressed! Does she know what hour it is?
LESBIA. She has locked herself into her room, reading.
The Bishop's song ceases; he stops dead in his stroll.
THE GENERAL. Reading!
THE BISHOP. What is she reading?
LESBIA. Some pamphlet that came by the eleven o'clock post. She wont come out. She wont open the door. And she says she doesnt know whether she's going to be married or not till she's finished the pamphlet. Did you ever hear such a thing? Do come and speak to her.
MRS BRIDGENORTH. Alfred: you had better go.
THE BISHOP. Try Collins.
LESBIA. Weve tried Collins already. He got all that Ive told you out of her through the keyhole. Come, Alice. [She vanishes. Mrs Bridgenorth hurries after her].
THE BISHOP. This means a delay. I shall go back to my work [he makes for the study door].
REGINALD. What are you working at now?
THE BISHOP [stopping] A chapter in my history of marriage. I'm just at the Roman business, you know.
THE GENERAL [coming from the garden door to the chair Mrs Bridgenorth has just left, and sitting down] Not more Ritualism, I hope, Alfred?
THE BISHOP. Oh no. I mean ancient Rome. [He seats himself on the edge of the table]. Ive just come to the period when the propertied classes refused to get married and went in for marriage settlements instead. A few of the oldest families stuck to the marriage tradition so as to keep up the supply of vestal virgins, who had to be legitimate; but nobody else dreamt of getting married. It's all very interesting, because we're coming to that here in England; except that as we dont require any vestal virgins, nobody will get married at all, except the poor, perhaps.
THE GENERAL. You take it devilishly coolly. Reginald: do you think the Barmecide's quite sane?
REGINALD. No worse than ever he was.
THE GENERAL [to the Bishop] Do you mean to say you believe such a thing will ever happen in England as that respectable people will give up being married?
THE BISHOP. In England especially they will. In other countries the introduction of reasonable divorce laws will save the situation; but in England we always let an institution strain itself until it breaks. Ive told our last four Prime Ministers that if they didnt make our marriage laws reasonable there would be a strike against marriage, and that it would begin among the propertied classes, where no Government would dare to interfere with it.
REGINALD. What did they say to that?
THE BISHOP. The usual thing. Quite agreed with me, but were sure that they were the only sensible men in the world, and that the least hint of marriage reform would lose them the next election. And then lost it all the same: on cordite, on drink, on Chinese labor in South Africa, on all sorts of trumpery.
REGINALD [lurching across the kitchen towards the hearth with his hands in his pockets] It's no use: they wont listen to our sort. [Turning on them] Of course they have to make you a Bishop and Boxer a General, because, after all, their blessed rabble of snobs and cads and half-starved shopkeepers cant do government work; and the bounders and week-enders are too lazy and vulgar. Theyd simply rot without us; but what do they ever do for us? what attention do they ever pay to what we say and what we want? I take it that we Bridgenorths are a pretty typical English family of the sort that has always set things straight and stuck up for the right to think and believe according to our conscience. But nowadays we are expected to dress and eat as the week-end bounders do, and to think and believe as the converted cannibals of Central Africa do, and to lie down and let every snob and every cad and every halfpenny journalist walk over us. Why, theres not a newspaper in England today that represents what I call solid Bridgenorth opinion and tradition. Half of them read as if they were published at the nearest mother's meeting, and the other half at the nearest motor garage. Do you call these chaps gentlemen? Do you call them Englishmen? I dont.[He throws himself disgustedly into the nearest chair].
THE GENERAL [excited by Reginald's eloquence] Do you see my uniform? What did Collins say? It strikes the eye. It was meant to. I put it on expressly to give the modern army bounder a smack in the eye. Somebody has to set a right example by beginning. Well, let it be a Bridgenorth. I believe in family blood and tradition, by George.
THE BISHOP [musing] I wonder who will begin the stand against marriage. It must come some day. I was married myself before I'd thought about it; and even if I had thought about it I was too much in love with Alice to let anything stand in the way. But, you know, Ive seen one of our daughters after another--Ethel, Jane, Fanny, and Christina and Florence--go out at that door in their veils and orange blossoms; and Ive always wondered whether theyd have gone quietly if theyd known what they were doing. Ive a horrible misgiving about that pamphlet. All progress means war with Society. Heaven forbid that Edith should be one of the combatants!
St John Hotchkiss comes into the tower ushered by Collins. He is a very smart young gentleman of twenty-nine or thereabouts, correct in dress to the last thread of his collar, but too much preoccupied with his ideas to be embarrassed by any concern as to his appearance. He talks about himself with energetic gaiety. He talks to other people with a sweet forbearance (implying a kindly consideration for their stupidity) which infuriates those whom he does not succeed in amusing. They either lose their tempers with him or try in vain to snub him.
COLLINS [announcing] Mr Hotchkiss. [He withdraws].
HOTCHKISS [clapping Reginald gaily on the shoulder as he passes him] Tootle loo, Rejjy.
REGINALD [curtly, without rising or turning his head] Morning.
HOTCHKISS. Good morning, Bishop.
THE BISHOP [coming off the table]. What on earth are you doing here, Sinjon? You belong to the bridegroom's party: youve no business here until after the ceremony.
HOTCHKISS. Yes, I know: thats just it. May I have a word with you in private? Rejjy or any of the family wont matter; but--[he glances at the General, who has risen rather stiffly, as he strongly disapproves of the part played by Hotchkiss in Reginald's domestic affairs].
THE BISHOP. All right, Sinjon. This is our brother, General Bridgenorth. [He goes to the hearth and posts himself there, with his hands clasped behind him].
HOTCHKISS. Oh, good! [He turns to the General, and takes out a card-case]. As you are in the service, allow me to introduce myself. Read my card, please. [He presents his card to the astonished General].
THE GENERAL [reading] "Mr St John Hotchkiss, the Celebrated Coward, late Lieutenant in the 165th Fusiliers."
REGINALD [with a chuckle] He was sent back from South Africa because he funked an order to attack, and spoiled his commanding officer's plan.
THE GENERAL [very gravely] I remember the case now. I had forgotten the name. I'll not refuse your acquaintance, Mr Hotchkiss; partly because youre my brother's guest, and partly
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