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- MAJOR BARBARA - 3/24 -
LADY BRITOMART [sharply] Stephen!
STEPHEN. Of course if you are determined--
LADY BRITOMART. I am not determined: I ask your advice; and I am waiting for it. I will not have all the responsibility thrown on my shoulders.
STEPHEN [obstinately] I would die sooner than ask him for another penny.
LADY BRITOMART [resignedly] You mean that I must ask him. Very well, Stephen: It shall be as you wish. You will be glad to know that your grandfather concurs. But he thinks I ought to ask Andrew to come here and see the girls. After all, he must have some natural affection for them.
STEPHEN. Ask him here!!!
LADY BRITOMART. Do not repeat my words, Stephen. Where else can I ask him?
STEPHEN. I never expected you to ask him at all.
LADY BRITOMART. Now don't tease, Stephen. Come! you see that it is necessary that he should pay us a visit, don't you?
STEPHEN [reluctantly] I suppose so, if the girls cannot do without his money.
LADY BRITOMART. Thank you, Stephen: I knew you would give me the right advice when it was properly explained to you. I have asked your father to come this evening. [Stephen bounds from his seat] Don't jump, Stephen: it fidgets me.
STEPHEN [in utter consternation] Do you mean to say that my father is coming here to-night--that he may be here at any moment?
LADY BRITOMART [looking at her watch] I said nine. [He gasps. She rises]. Ring the bell, please. [Stephen goes to the smaller writing table; presses a button on it; and sits at it with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, outwitted and overwhelmed]. It is ten minutes to nine yet; and I have to prepare the girls. I asked Charles Lomax and Adolphus to dinner on purpose that they might be here. Andrew had better see them in case he should cherish any delusions as to their being capable of supporting their wives. [The butler enters: Lady Britomart goes behind the settee to speak to him]. Morrison: go up to the drawingroom and tell everybody to come down here at once. [Morrison withdraws. Lady Britomart turns to Stephen]. Now remember, Stephen, I shall need all your countenance and authority. [He rises and tries to recover some vestige of these attributes]. Give me a chair, dear. [He pushes a chair forward from the wall to where she stands, near the smaller writing table. She sits down; and he goes to the armchair, into which he throws himself]. I don't know how Barbara will take it. Ever since they made her a major in the Salvation Army she has developed a propensity to have her own way and order people about which quite cows me sometimes. It's not ladylike: I'm sure I don't know where she picked it up. Anyhow, Barbara shan't bully me; but still it's just as well that your father should be here before she has time to refuse to meet him or make a fuss. Don't look nervous, Stephen, it will only encourage Barbara to make difficulties. I am nervous enough, goodness knows; but I don't show it.
Sarah and Barbara come in with their respective young men, Charles Lomax and Adolphus Cusins. Sarah is slender, bored, and mundane. Barbara is robuster, jollier, much more energetic. Sarah is fashionably dressed: Barbara is in Salvation Army uniform. Lomax, a young man about town, is like many other young men about town. He is affected with a frivolous sense of humor which plunges him at the most inopportune moments into paroxysms of imperfectly suppressed laughter. Cusins is a spectacled student, slight, thin haired, and sweet voiced, with a more complex form of Lomax's complaint. His sense of humor is intellectual and subtle, and is complicated by an appalling temper. The lifelong struggle of a benevolent temperament and a high conscience against impulses of inhuman ridicule and fierce impatience bas set up a chronic strain which has visibly wrecked his constitution. He is a most implacable, determined, tenacious, intolerant person who by mere force of character presents himself as--and indeed actually is--considerate, gentle, explanatory, even mild and apologetic, capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty or coarseness. By the operation of some instinct which is not merciful enough to blind him with the illusions of love, he is obstinately bent on marrying Barbara. Lomax likes Sarah and thinks it will be rather a lark to marry her. Consequently he has not attempted to resist Lady Britomart's arrangements to that end.
All four look as if they bad been having a good deal of fun in the drawingroom. The girls enter first, leaving the swains outside. Sarah comes to the settee. Barbara comes in after her and stops at the door.
BARBARA. Are Cholly and Dolly to come in?
LADY BRITOMART [forcibly] Barbara: I will not have Charles called Cholly: the vulgarity of it positively makes me ill.
BARBARA. It's all right, mother. Cholly is quite correct nowadays. Are they to come in?
LADY BRITOMART. Yes, if they will behave themselves.
BARBARA [through the door] Come in, Dolly, and behave yourself.
Barbara comes to her mother's writing table. Cusins enters smiling, and wanders towards Lady Britomart.
SARAH [calling] Come in, Cholly. [Lomax enters, controlling his features very imperfectly, and places himself vaguely between Sarah and Barbara].
LADY BRITOMART [peremptorily] Sit down, all of you. [They sit. Cusins crosses to the window and seats himself there. Lomax takes a chair. Barbara sits at the writing table and Sarah on the settee]. I don't in the least know what you are laughing at, Adolphus. I am surprised at you, though I expected nothing better from Charles Lomax.
CUSINS [in a remarkably gentle voice] Barbara has been trying to teach me the West Ham Salvation March.
LADY BRITOMART. I see nothing to laugh at in that; nor should you if you are really converted.
CUSINS [sweetly] You were not present. It was really funny, I believe.
LADY BRITOMART. Be quiet, Charles. Now listen to me, children. Your father is coming here this evening. [General stupefaction].
LOMAX [remonstrating] Oh I say!
LADY BRITOMART. You are not called on to say anything, Charles.
SARAH. Are you serious, mother?
LADY BRITOMART. Of course I am serious. It is on your account, Sarah, and also on Charles's. [Silence. Charles looks painfully unworthy]. I hope you are not going to object, Barbara.
BARBARA. I! why should I? My father has a soul to be saved like anybody else. He's quite welcome as far as I am concerned.
LOMAX [still remonstrant] But really, don't you know! Oh I say!
LADY BRITOMART [frigidly] What do you wish to convey, Charles?
LOMAX. Well, you must admit that this is a bit thick.
LADY BRITOMART [turning with ominous suavity to Cusins] Adolphus: you are a professor of Greek. Can you translate Charles Lomax's remarks into reputable English for us?
CUSINS [cautiously] If I may say so, Lady Brit, I think Charles has rather happily expressed what we all feel. Homer, speaking of Autolycus, uses the same phrase.
LOMAX [handsomely] Not that I mind, you know, if Sarah don't.
LADY BRITOMART [crushingly] Thank you. Have I your permission, Adolphus, to invite my own husband to my own house?
CUSINS [gallantly] You have my unhesitating support in everything you do.
LADY BRITOMART. Sarah: have you nothing to say?
SARAH. Do you mean that he is coming regularly to live here?
LADY BRITOMART. Certainly not. The spare room is ready for him if he likes to stay for a day or two and see a little more of you; but there are limits.
SARAH. Well, he can't eat us, I suppose. I don't mind.
LOMAX [chuckling] I wonder how the old man will take it.
LADY BRITOMART. Much as the old woman will, no doubt, Charles.
LOMAX [abashed] I didn't mean--at least--
LADY BRITOMART. You didn't think, Charles. You never do; and the result is, you never mean anything. And now please attend to me, children. Your father will be quite a stranger to us.
LOMAX. I suppose he hasn't seen Sarah since she was a little kid.
LADY BRITOMART. Not since she was a little kid, Charles, as you express it with that elegance of diction and refinement of thought that seem never to desert you. Accordingly--er-- [impatiently] Now I have forgotten what I was going to say. That
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