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- How He Lied to Her Husband - 5/6 -
SHE. Not at all. [She goes out].
When the two men are alone together, Bompas deliberately takes the poems from his breast pocket; looks at them reflectively; then looks at Henry, mutely inviting his attention. Henry refuses to understand, doing his best to look unconcerned.
HER HUSBAND. Do these manuscripts seem at all familiar to you, may I ask?
HER HUSBAND. Yes. Would you like to look at them a little closer? [He proffers them under Henry's nose].
HE [as with a sudden illumination of glad surprise] Why, these are my poems.
HER HUSBAND. So I gather.
HE. What a shame! Mrs Bompas has shown them to you! You must think me an utter ass. I wrote them years ago after reading Swinburne's Songs Before Sunrise. Nothing would do me then but I must reel off a set of Songs to the Sunrise. Aurora, you know: the rosy fingered Aurora. They're all about Aurora. When Mrs Bompas told me her name was Aurora, I couldn't resist the temptation to lend them to her to read. But I didn't bargain for your unsympathetic eyes.
HER HUSBAND [grinning] Apjohn: that's really very ready of you. You are cut out for literature; and the day will come when Rory and I will be proud to have you about the house. I have heard far thinner stories from much older men.
HE [with an air of great surprise] Do you mean to imply that you don't believe me?
HER HUSBAND. Do you expect me to believe you?
HE. Why not? I don't understand.
HER HUSBAND. Come! Don't underrate your own cleverness, Apjohn. I think you understand pretty well.
HE. I assure you I am quite at a loss. Can you not be a little more explicit?
HER HUSBAND. Don't overdo it, old chap. However, I will just be so far explicit as to say that if you think these poems read as if they were addressed, not to a live woman, but to a shivering cold time of day at which you were never out of bed in your life, you hardly do justice to your own literary powers--which I admire and appreciate, mind you, as much as any man. Come! own up. You wrote those poems to my wife. [An internal struggle prevents Henry from answering]. Of course you did. [He throws the poems on the table; and goes to the hearthrug, where he plants himself solidly, chuckling a little and waiting for the next move].
HE [formally and carefully] Mr Bompas: I pledge you my word you are mistaken. I need not tell you that Mrs Bompas is a lady of stainless honor, who has never cast an unworthy thought on me. The fact that she has shown you my poems--
HER HUSBAND. That's not a fact. I came by them without her knowledge. She didn't show them to me.
HE. Does not that prove their perfect innocence? She would have shown them to you at once if she had taken your quite unfounded view of them.
HER HUSBAND [shaken] Apjohn: play fair. Don't abuse your intellectual gifts. Do you really mean that I am making a fool of myself?
HE [earnestly] Believe me, you are. I assure you, on my honor as a gentleman, that I have never had the slightest feeling for Mrs Bompas beyond the ordinary esteem and regard of a pleasant acquaintance.
HER HUSBAND [shortly, showing ill humor for the first time] Oh, indeed. [He leaves his hearth and begins to approach Henry slowly, looking him up and down with growing resentment].
HE [hastening to improve the impression made by his mendacity] I should never have dreamt of writing poems to her. The thing is absurd.
HER HUSBAND [reddening ominously] Why is it absurd?
HE [shrugging his shoulders] Well, it happens that I do not admire Mrs Bompas--in that way.
HER HUSBAND [breaking out in Henry's face] Let me tell you that Mrs Bompas has been admired by better men than you, you soapy headed little puppy, you.
HE [much taken aback] There is no need to insult me like this. I assure you, on my honor as a--
HER HUSBAND [too angry to tolerate a reply, and boring Henry more and more towards the piano] You don't admire Mrs Bompas! You would never dream of writing poems to Mrs Bompas! My wife's not good enough for you, isn't she. [Fiercely] Who are you, pray, that you should be so jolly superior?
HE. Mr Bompas: I can make allowances for your jealousy--
HER HUSBAND. Jealousy! do you suppose I'm jealous of YOU? No, nor of ten like you. But if you think I'll stand here and let you insult my wife in her own house, you're mistaken.
HE [very uncomfortable with his back against the piano and Teddy standing over him threateningly] How can I convince you? Be reasonable. I tell you my relations with Mrs Bompas are relations of perfect coldness--of indifference--
HER HUSBAND [scornfully] Say it again: say it again. You're proud of it, aren't you? Yah! You're not worth kicking.
Henry suddenly executes the feat known to pugilists as dipping, and changes sides with Teddy, who it now between Henry and the piano.
HE. Look here: I'm not going to stand this.
HER HUSBAND. Oh, you have some blood in your body after all! Good job!
HE. This is ridiculous. I assure you Mrs. Bompas is quite--
HER HUSBAND. What is Mrs Bompas to you, I'd like to know. I'll tell you what Mrs Bompas is. She's the smartest woman in the smartest set in South Kensington, and the handsomest, and the cleverest, and the most fetching to experienced men who know a good thing when they see it, whatever she may be to conceited penny-a-lining puppies who think nothing good enough for them. It's admitted by the best people; and not to know it argues yourself unknown. Three of our first actor-managers have offered her a hundred a week if she'd go on the stage when they start a repertory theatre; and I think they know what they're about as well as you. The only member of the present Cabinet that you might call a handsome man has neglected the business of the country to dance with her, though he don't belong to our set as a regular thing. One of the first professional poets in Bedford Park wrote a sonnet to her, worth all your amateur trash. At Ascot last season the eldest son of a duke excused himself from calling on me on the ground that his feelings for Mrs Bompas were not consistent with his duty to me as host; and it did him honor and me too. But [with gathering fury] she isn't good enough for you, it seems. You regard her with coldness, with indifference; and you have the cool cheek to tell me so to my face. For two pins I'd flatten your nose in to teach you manners. Introducing a fine woman to you is casting pearls before swine [yelling at him] before SWINE! d'ye hear?
HE [with a deplorable lack of polish] You call me a swine again and I'll land you one on the chin that'll make your head sing for a week.
HER HUSBAND [exploding] What--!
He charges at Henry with bull-like fury. Henry places himself on guard in the manner of a well taught boxer, and gets away smartly, but unfortunately forgets the stool which is just behind him. He falls backwards over it, unintentionally pushing it against the shins of Bompas, who falls forward over it. Mrs Bompas, with a scream, rushes into the room between the sprawling champions, and sits down on the floor in order to get her right arm round her husband's neck.
SHE. You shan't, Teddy: you shan't. You will be killed: he is a prizefighter.
HER HUSBAND [vengefully] I'll prizefight him. [He struggles vainly to free himself from her embrace].
SHE. Henry: don't let him fight you. Promise me that you won't.
HE [ruefully] I have got a most frightful bump on the back of my head. [He tries to rise].
SHE [reaching out her left hand to seize his coat tail, and pulling him down again, whilst keeping fast hold of Teddy with the other hand] Not until you have promised: not until you both have promised. [Teddy tries to rise: she pulls him back again]. Teddy: you promise, don't you? Yes, yes. Be good: you promise.
HER HUSBAND. I won't, unless he takes it back.
SHE. He will: he does. You take it back, Henry?--yes.
HE [savagely] Yes. I take it back. [She lets go his coat. He gets up. So does Teddy]. I take it all back, all, without reserve.
SHE [on the carpet] Is nobody going to help me up? [They each take a hand and pull her up]. Now won't you shake hands and be good?
HE [recklessly] I shall do nothing of the sort. I have steeped
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