CON SORDINI: A PLAY IN ONE ACT
DR. JOHN CARFORD
|HER HUSBAND, A SOLICITOR
|DAUGHTER OF JULIA AND HERBERT
June is 17. All the others are in their late thirties or early forties.
The living room of the Henderson's home in a small provincial centre.
The present. A winter evening.
The scene is one leg of an L-shaped loom. In the centre of the wall right, there is a big fireplace with a fire burning. There is a door slightly to the left at back. The left wall of the stage is a tall archway, presumably Beading to the other wing of the room. The grand piano stands in the archway, cross-wise, so that EDNA’S back is to the audience as she sits at it. A long velvet curtain which is used to cut off the rest of the room is drawn right side.
(NOTE: If instruments are available for the quartette — two violins, viola and cello, there is no need for the L-shaped room and the quartette can be grouped in the centre of the room round a cluster of music stands — BEATRICE, first violin, at the back to the left of the audience — JULIA, second violin, in front of her — HERBERT, viola, at the back on the audience’s right hand, and JOHN, cello, in front of him.
If this scene can be used, there is no necessity for any alteration in the dialogue; necessary alterations in the movements at the beginning will be simple.)
DAVID is seated in a large armchair above the fireplace, but turned so that he faces across the room. JUNE is seated on the firestool, sheltering her face from the fire with an old-fashioned fan.
As the curtain rises, the last few passages of one Brahms piano Quintet are heard. As soon as the final chord is heard DAVID speaks.
DAVID (CLAPPING) Bravo! That was very well done.
JUNE If you play like that on the night, you’ll rock ’em.
EDNA (HALF TURNING AT THE PIANO) Well, let’s hope we do. (TURNING TO THE OTHERS IN THE OTHER PART OF THE ROOM.) Shall we run through the last movement again—
JOHN (COMING IN RUBBING HIS HANDS) Not till I’ve had a look at the fire. That end of the room is like a refrigerator. I'm frozen stiff—
JULIA and HERBERT follow him on, Julia with violin and bow in her hands. Herbert has his bow in his hand but lays it on the piano as he passes. He immediately gets out his pipe and starts to fill it, BEATRICE comes on last; she still has her violin under her chin and the bow in her hand as though she is ready to start again
HERBERT Casting aspersions on the amenities of my residence?
JOHN No—merely on this climate and the way this room does not warm up.
BEATRICE (SPEAKING WITH OBVIOUS AUTHORITY; SHE IS VERY MUCH THE LEADER OF THE QUINTET) John, I do wish you'd watch my beat as we pick up after that last rallentando…
JOHN Can't… (HE COMES OVER TO THE FIRESTOOL BEHIND JUNE) Move up, June, and make room for your ancient frozen uncle. That's a tricky passage for me, Beatrice; I can't watch the music and your beat at the same time.
JULIA We'd better take our time from John then, Bea…
BEATRICE (WITH EXASPERATED GESTURE) All right, please yourselves, of course. But I've always thought I was the leader.
JOHN (PLACATINGLY) It's only for a couple of bars, Bea, where are you going to sit, Julia?
David gives the armchair to Julia and seats himself on the arm of the couch just behind Edna. Herbert takes a low chair on the downstage side of the fire-place with his back against the wall. Only Beatrice still stands back.
JULIA (AS SHE SEATS HERSELF) I think you'll have to let him watch his music, Bea. He always sticks his tongue out at that particular passage. And that's a sure sign he's at his limit. Don't forget my childhood was starred with passages where John stuck his tongue out.
JUNE It must be a family failing, Mummy. You do it when you're cutting anything tough.
JULIA Do I?
JUNE Of course, you do, darling. Doesn't she, Daddy?
HERBERT The child is quite right, my dear. June does it herself when she's ruling lines.
DAVID Have you and Bea got any pleasant little family habits like that, Edna—because if so, I feel I should be told.
EDNA We have, probably—although I always think we're as unlike as sisters can be, don't you, Bea?
JOHN You are now, but you used not to be. I never knew which was which of you for years when we were all at school. You just merged into one conglomerate mass known as the Dennis girls.
HERBERT I used to know them by the wart. What became of that wart, Edna?
DAVID (IN MOCK HORROR) Darling! Something else you've kept from me.
EDNA (INDIGNANTLY) It was Bea who had the wart, not me at all.
JUNE Go on. This is lovely hearing about your sticky past. I just can't imagine Aunt Bea with a wart.
JOHN (REALISING BEATRICE IS NOT AMUSED) Come along and get warm, Bea dear.
BEATRICE It's no good all settling down. We've got to have another good solid go at the Brahms. This is probably the only opportunity we’ll have—you know how difficult it is to get John for a whole evening.
JOHN Keep your fingers crossed when you say that—there’s still the Sander baby…
BEATRICE I’d like to run right through that movement again.
JUNE It sounded heavenly to me, Aunt Bea.
BEATRICE (ON THE WAY TO BEING MOLLIFIED) We’re not bad—for provincials, although I say it as shouldn’t. Of course, you’ve only to turn on the radio to hear the real thing… (SHE WAITS FOR THE CHORUS OF DISSENT)
HERBERT We’re pretty good for amateurs.
JULIA Oh, nonsense, Bea.
EDNA We’re not provincial-trained, remember.
DAVID Don’t be modest, Beatrice—it doesn't suit you. You people have played together for so many years—
HERBERT (INTERPOLATING) Darn near twenty…
DAVID —there's a kind of unity in your playing that plenty of professionals can’t get. Praise where praise is due! The question now arises, what will you play for an encore… Even after a whole quintet, you’ll be encored if I know our local audiences.
JUNE With Uncle John the local quack and Daddy the local lawyer, both with unparalleled opportunities for blackmail, sure they’ll be encored. They know their onions, do our locals.
JULIA June darling! What a cynical little wretch you’re growing.
EDNA Yes; what about an encore?
BEATRICE What do you think about John’s little "Berceuse"? We’ve never played it in public and I really think it's quite good enough—
JOHN For an encore.
EDNA But there’s no piano in that. Wouldn't it look a bit peculiar—I mean if you went back without me?
BEATRICE Oh, yes—I didn't think of that.
JULIA How about "Traumerei"?
JUNE (IMPULSIVELY) Oh, no. It’s too sad. Play something lively.
BEATRICE H’m, yes, "Traumerei"—that’s a thought, Con sordini—it would be a good contrast to the mood of the quintet.
DAVID Con sordini? I suspect you when you talk in musical terms, Bea—
JUNE That just means with mutes, Uncle David. I hate muted music—it always seems to me as though it’s tearing at the mutes, trying to break free—
HERBERT Don’t be so fierce, my pet.
JUNE I hate things to be caged, Daddy; you know I always have. It reminds me too much of us—
DAVID What’s wrong with us, honey?
JUNE You’re not in it, Uncle David—you’re not a native like we are. Aunt Edna’s out of it too, since she’s been married no you. You two just live here because you like it; the moment you want to, you can just pack up and go.
HERBERT This is news to me. I didn't know you didn't like living here…
BEATRICE Don’t take any notice of her, Herbert. The young always despise their homes. It's natural, I suppose.
HERBERT (UNHAPPILY) I don't want June to be unhappy—no matter how natural it is. After all, she’s all we have—
JOHN (AFFECTIONATELY) All all of us have.
JUNE (GESTURING) You see! You people all depend on me so…
BEATRICE (LAUGHING, BUT DETERMINED TO STOP THIS NONSENSE) Depend on you! Really…June…
JUNE (STICKING TO HER GUNS) Don't laugh, Aunt Bea. You do, all of you. You're a sort of responsibility to me. I've been doing a lot of thinking since Pamela went to R.A.D.A. and Jenifer joined the Wrens. I’ll be eighteen in a couple of months, and I want to go to the Slade, or up to Edinburgh—or even join one of the services—but how can l?
BEATRICE It’s quite ridiculous for you to think of it, June. You're doing a really useful job here helping your Uncle John. And you've your parents to think of—
JULIA We don't want to be a responsibility to her, though, Bea. After all, Herbert and I aren't doddering yet…
BEATRICE Responsibility! I think the boot's on the other foot. No one could have seen better parents than you two have been to her…
JUNE But I’m not blaming anybody; it's just the way things are. Oh, gosh, I wish you could understand. You’ve been marvelous parents, Mummy and Daddy—and you others are marvelous uncles and aunts to me, all my life you've seen. But don't you understand—that's what makes the responsibility; I've had to be grateful to you—That sounds terrible…But…you've spent all your affection on me…
BEATRICE We've done everything because we love you, June. I'm sure we've never asked for gratitude.
JUNE (DESPAIRINGLY) Oh, dear, what made me start this! I should have known you'd have no idea what I was talking about. I am grateful, Aunt Bea…
EDNA Never mind, honey. We understand, don't we, David?
DAVID Exactly what I was saying the other night—in slightly different words. Listen, June—we'll all miss you like blazes if you go away, but my dear, you've got to do what you feel is right for you, and not take any notice of what other people suggest your doing. It's your life, you know…
BEATRICE It's all right for you to come in at this stage, David; we've all loved June too much all her life to stand by and let her do something we know to be wrong...
DAVID I don't agree. You can't know…
HERBERT (BREAKING IN) What is it you want to do, June? Something definite…or is it just to get out on your own?
JUNE A really good art school, daddy…or one of the services if that costs too much…(THEN TRUTHFULLY) But it is getting away from here, in general terms…
BEATRICE If you take my advice, Herbert, you’ll just forget the whole idea…
JULIA In any case, there's no need to thrash it out here and now. It's a kind of domestic problem of our own.
HERBERT (STILL A BIT MISERABLE) But I want to get to the bottom of it.
JOHN What brought it all up, anyhow? June, you and I have talked about everything under the sun while we've been entering case histories and sending out accounts—I'm wondering why I've never heard of this wanderlust before…
JUNE It's been seething for a long while, Uncle John, but this cable Daddy got from Cousin Harriet seemed to kind of crystalise it.
DAVID The legendary Harriet.
BEATRICE (ON THE DEFENSIVE) Why call her legendary in that tone of voice, David?
DAVID (SHRUGGING HIS SHOULDERS) Well, I've heard so much and know so little. It's always been 'Herbert's cousin, Harriet Henderson—you know, the famous American columnist’. Does one say colum-ist or colum-nist, I wonder? You seem to take it for granted I know all about her.
EDNA (MILDLY) You could have asked me, darling.
DAVID H'm, yes—I never seem to think of it at the right time.
JUNE Oh, I’ve been brought up on Cousin Harriet. She just up and left one day. Went to London and got a job on a paper. Then went to New York and got a better job on a bigger paper, then did it all over again. Now she's syndicated in hundreds of newspapers from one side of the States to the other. She's like a comet…or a bird of paradise…
JULIA (INDULGENTLY) Don’t talk rot, darling, still, (REFLECTIVELY) perhaps you're not so far wrong—she is rather like a bird of paradise in flight.
HERBERT (SUCKING HIS PIPE) Didn't know you'd seen one.
JULIA Don't be so literal, Herbert—you know how I hate it; and don't suck that pipe, darling; the noise nearly drives me frantic—
EDNA Domestic interlude by the Hendersons.
DAVID Don’t sidetrack me. All right, she's Herbert's cousin. So what?
BEATRICE (ASSERTING HER NATURAL LEADERSHIP) There's really nothing to know, David. When we were adolescents, we were just a little compact group—Julia and John, the Carford twins—Edna and I, the Denis girls; and Herbert and little Harriet—she's younger by three or four years than the rest of us, she always used to trail us, trying to keep up with us—you know the way younger children do. We all adored her and were exasperated and impatient with her. She seemed to catch up with us quite suddenly, didn't she, Ed?
EDNA She certainly never went through the hobbledehoy stage...
JULIA No. One minute she was a kid and the next, the most sophisticated girl in town. You wouldn't remember, Herbert—it was your last year at Oxford and you didn't come home much that year. And John was in hospital, of course, when he was invalided home from Spain…
JUNE Hey, snap out of it. You're all getting morbid—Harriet's not dead—she's alive—she's coming to see us—sometime—if she can fit it in—
BEATRICE (THERE'S RESENTMENT HERE) If she can fit it in. You would think she'd make time to visit her home town the first time she's in England in almost twenty years.
DAVID She’d have contracts to fulfill— have to get so much stuff in every week, I should imagine.
HERBERT (MILDLY) How about waiting and seeing what happens? After all, she’s only been in England a few hours.
EDNA What did the cable say exactly, Herbert?
JULIA Just “Flying via England to Germany on assignment. Will stop in if possible to fit it in".
JUNE And the next thing, we open tonight's paper and there she is stepping out of a plane at London Airport on the front page. Just like that! But that's the kind of thing she seems to be doing all the time—brilliant, sudden, flashing things—
HERBERT Don’t build her up too much, honey. These American paper people seem to live in an atmosphere of ballyhoo.
JUNE But, Daddy, you’ve read her articles and travel books. You know they're brilliant stuff—
JULIA She’ll have a terrific fuss made of her everywhere she goes. We mustn't be surprised if she doesn't come. After all, she'll probably be a bit spoiled by it all.
JOHN (QUIETLY) I don’t think she'll be the least bit different.
JUNE And I'll bet she finds this dump not the least bit different either. I don't think even a stone in the road's been altered in the last hundred years—
JOHN That will please Harriet—there's an unchangeable quality in Harriet herself—
BEATRICE All this discussion is quite futile. If she comes, she comes. Now, what about running through "Traumerei"?
THE DOORBELL RINGS
JULIA Whoever could it be at this time of night—someone for you, I suppose, John?
JOHN If it's Mrs. Sanger's offspring, tell them I'm dead and have left the hotel.
JULIA GOES OUT DOOR BACKSTAGE
BEATRICE It shouldn't be for a fortnight yet.
JUNE (WHO KNOWS ALL THE CASE HISTORIES) Second week in December.
JOHN Have you ever known a Sanger on time! Just when I was having a quiet night off…
—HE BREAKS OFF ABRUPTLY AS JULIA'S VOICE IS HEARD RAISED EXCITEDLY. THEY ALL TURN TOWARDS THE DOOR. JULIA COMES IN RUNNING
JULIA It's her—it's Harriet!
HARRIET FOLLOWS HER IN, SHE IS A SMALL WOMAN, EXQUISITELY DRESSED IN COLORFUL CLOTHES
HARRIET Yes—it's Harriet. (SHE HAS A PLEASANT ACQUIRED AMERICAN ACCENT. SHE STANDS OFF FOR A MOMENT LOOKING AT THEM. ONE FEELS HER EMOTION, ALTHOUGH SHE DOES NOT SHOW IT). Edna—Herbert dear.
EDNA Oh, Harriet—not a bit changed. (SHE GOES OVER TO HARRIET AND THEY KISS)
HERBERT Welcome home, Harriet (HE PLACES HIS HANDS ON HER SHOULDERS AND LOOKS AT HER FOR A MOMENT, THEN BENDS DOWN AND KISSES HER LIGHTLY)
HARRIET And Beatrice.
BEATRICE We were just talking about you, Harriet - you do time your entrances, my dear. (SHE KISSES HER)
HARRIET TURNS TO JOHN. THEY BOTH STAND VERY STILL FOR A MOMENT, THEN SHE GIVES HIM BOTH HER HANDS. DAVID AND JUNE STAND A LITTLE OUTSIDE THE GROUP
HARRIET John…You haven't altered, John. (FOR A MOMENT, THEY ARE THE ONLY TWO THERE)
JOHN Nor you, Harry.
HARRIET (WITH A CATCH IN HER VOICE) The old name—no one has called me that in years…
EDNA This is my husband, Harriet—David Garnett.
HARRIET (SURPRISED) Your husband, Edna—no one told me—
SHE SHAKES HANDS WITH DAVID. THE MOVEMENT OF THE GROUP BRINGS JUNE INTO HER LINE OF VISION
JULIA My fault, Harriet—I haven’t written to you for months—
HARRIET (NOT LISTENING TO JULIA) Of course you’re June. But, my dear, you're grown up. I’ve been thinking of a girl with plaits…
JUNE I’m nearly eighteen. Cousin Harriet…
HARRIET (KISSING HER LIGHTLY) I think you’d better call me Harriet—everyone does, you know.
JULIA (HALF LAUGHING, HALF CRYING) I can’t believe it’s really you—all these years we’ve been reading about you, reading your books—looking for the child we used to know…We were just talking about you, too, wondering if you'd ever get here...
HARRIET It’s only for ten minutes—quite literally for ten minutes... Oh, the wangling I've had to do to get even that much…But when I found we'd be within twenty miles of home, I had to come…We take off again at midnight…from some airfield between here and the coast…
HERBERT There is a U.S. air station…
HARRIET It's pitch black…and I was straining my eyes all the way and couldn't see a thing…I hadn't realised what a drag it has…the place of one's beginnings.
HERBERT The moon should be up soon…you'll be able to see a bit…
BEATRICE But this isn’t all your visit.
HARRIET No, indeed. I'll be back in less than two weeks, I hope, and perhaps I can make it a real vacation then.
JOHN Sit here by the fire, Harriet…
HARRIET These cold houses…I'm spoiled for them, you know. (SITS IN ARMCHAIR ABOVE FIREPLACE) Sit over there where I can see you, June. You're not a bit like your photographs…
JUNE We knew they flattered me…
HARRIET They weren't nearly nice enough. She's like our family, Herbert.
HERBERT She always reminds me a little of your father, Harriet.
JUNE I feel like a prize cow at the Show. Aunt Bea thinks I favour the Carfords.
HARRIET You poor child—I suppose you get that kind of thing all the time. It used to infuriate me when I was your age.
BEATRICE Never mind about family likenesses—there isn't time. Tell us about yourself, Harriet. Those scrappy letters you write once a year have nothing in them at all. You haven't married..?
HARRIET (SLOWLY) No…I haven't married…(THEN WITH DELIBERATE BRISKNESS) I’ve never really had time; one has rather to give one's mind to this business of getting married…
EDNA Sounds as though you think it's a waste of time, Harry.
HARRIET You didn't hurry yourself, Edna. (SHE STUDIES DAVID FOR A MOMENT) And aren’t you glad you waited?
EDNA (LAUGHING) Don’t flatter him, Harriet—He's wretchedly satisfied with himself already…
DAVID I'm glad she waited, Harriet.
HARRIET But what about your music, Edna…I always expected somehow that you'd go on with it—you were certainly good enough.
EDNA Mother was ill for so long and when Bea and John got married, someone had go look after the parents. I don't know—I don't think I was that good.
BEATRICE It probably saved you a lot of disappointment and disillusionment, Ed.
JUNE I can understand why you say you haven’t had time to get married, Cousin—I mean Harriet—when anyone’s got the exciting things to do that you have. Are things really so lovely and vivid and interesting, when you're in them, I mean…
HARRIET Sometimes—but not always. And sometimes a long, long way from it. It isn’t wildly exciting to have the washboy boil your woollens, for instance—but it sounds funny in a book. It’s the interest you put in yourself—you’ve got to be terrifically interested—then things are exciting.
JULIA The places you've been sound so exotic, Harriet—Persia and Tibet and Uruguay…As highly coloured as a parrot. It makes you want to pick up a toothbrush and an umbrella and start on the spot...
JOHN But the excitement has to be in you yourself—that’s it, isn’t it, Harriet?
BEATRICE Reading about it has made our life seem very dull and humdrum. This never was what one could call a lively town…
JUNE (QUICKLY) Then why are you so keen on my staying here, Aunt Bea…
BEATRICE I don’t want you to go hungering for the moon, June. You seem to doubt it…but I am fond enough of you not to want you to be hurt…
JUNE But it hasn’t hurt Harriet!
HARRIET (HOPPING IN) What is it you want to do, June?
JUNE (LUGUBRIOUSLY) That's the trouble—I don't really know. You know what it's like here—you learn a little music, a little painting, play fair tennis and fair golf, ride a little…dance when you can—but it’s all just filling in the time. It hasn't been so bad since I've been Uncle John's secretary, but even so, it all seems so pointless—not what I think living ought to be…It ought to be full of vitality and colour—like your life—
HARRIET Does it seem like that to you? (FOR A MOMENT SHE RELAXES AND YOU REALISE SHE MUST BE FORTY)The place doesn’t really matter that much, you know, We must think about this, June…I’ve just remembered I’m your godmother, and I have some responsibilities haven’t I?
JUNE (HAPPILY) I’ll remind you of that.
HERBERT You flew straight here, Harriet?
HARRIET By military-plane, no less. A whole plane full of big-wigs—moustaches and embonpoint, you know. Rather fun, though—they’d forget every now and then that one of the Sex was present and talk in man language. Then the poor dears would remember and the backs of their necks go scarlet. I wanted to tell them I’d heard most of the words before—but I don’t know—there’s something about a General that makes me go all "dear-little-womanish".
JULIA The day when you're a dear little woman will be the day, believe me.
BEATRICE It still seems to me extraordinary flying you all this way to write a few articles—but I suppose one should be used to these extravagances by now, especially with Americans…
HARRIET It’s all to be domestic intimate stuff—for the ordinary everyday people who want to know how their boys are making out among the Germans, and what sort of life the wives have, and so on. Good for morale, of course, as long as they have to maintain an army in Europe… (SHE STOPS ABRUPTLY) I’ve only been here ten minutes and I've slipped back into being English. I was thinking of the people in the States as an outsider then…peculiar, isn't it?
JULIA (SUDDENLY REMEMBERING SHE IS THE HOSTESS) Harriet—what about food—have you time for some?
HARRIET I’d love a cup of tea. I hadn't thought of it till you spoke…anyway, there may not be time for a meal at the airfield...
JULIA It won’t take a moment to boil a kettle. (SHE GOES OFF QUICKLY THROUGH THE ARCHWAY)
HERBERT What about your chauffeur?
HARRIET My goodness—I’d forgotten my two sweet old Generals sleeping in the car. Do you think you could give them a drink, Herbert…They won't come in, but if you could take it out to the car—a whisky and soda—I don’t suppose you run to rye…
HERBERT I’ll take them out a sandwich too…eh?
HARRIET Divine—they'll adore it. (HE GOES OFF THROUGH ARCHWAY)
EDNA Sure you wouldn’t rather have a whisky yourself, Harriet?
HARRIET No, thank you—tea for me. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed tea till I had some when we landed today.
JUNE Don’t they drink tea, Harriet?
HARRIET Not tea as we know it. But then their coffee—that’s not coffee as we know it either…
BEATRICE Don’t fill June's head with a lot of romantic ideas, Harriet—she has a natural bent that way already.
HARRIET You haven't altered, Bea, have you? Still knowing the way people should go end seeing they Keep to it.
BEATRICE Oh, Harriet—is that fair?
HARRIET Probably not—but I’ve got into the habit of saying what I think. You get a build-up in my game, you know, and you have to live up to it. My reputation is devastating frankness—it becomes a habit.
EDNA Your way must be strewn with people who'd like to cut your throat, poor Harriet. (SHE LAUGHS AS SHE SPEAKS)
HARRIET Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, you know. On the whole, my victims don’t mind.
BEATRICE Thank goodness, we don't crave publicity—
HARRIET lucky people—but that's why I'm disappointed in you, you know. I thought you'd do something with your music, Edna—and John, you should have been well on the way to big things by now—you were so brilliant as a student.
JOHN It doesn't always follow, Harry. One gets fond of a groove—
HARRIET But that's what I can't understand, John, You weren't born for a groove—
JUNE He isn't fond of it either; don't you believe him, Harriet. Since he's seen out of the army, he's thought of nothing else but some kind of plastic surgery he was doing there—
HARRIET The army...of course, you were in the late do. I thought Spain might have cured you of armies, John…
JOHN I never got closer to the front than the East Coast, I enjoyed it though—lots of boredom, of course, but some interesting stuff as well.
JUNE Uncle John talks to me while we're working—there's a refresher course he's keen on. Why don't you egg him on, Harriet?
BEATRICE June, you're a perfect little fiend tonight. Not content with upsetting your unfortunate parents, you want to unsettle John…
JUNE But he's unsettled already—aren’t you, darling?
JOHN Pipe dreams, my child…
HARRIET You used to talk about post-graduate work in Vienna, John.
JOHN The war killed all that.
HARRIET Plastic surgery…there's a big institute in Boston, isn't there?
JOHN (SHORTLY) Yes, I know about it.
BEATRICE I think a good general practitioner's worth a dozen specialists—more good to the community, I mean. That’s what I've always said, haven't I, John?
JOHN (NOT TOO GOOD-HUMOUREDLY) Yes, you have, my dear.
A CLOCK STRIKES TEN
HARRIET Not ten o'clock already…oh dear.
BEATRICE I'll hurry Julia on... (GOES OFF THROUGH ARCHWAY)
EDNA We should have been helping her all along—she's hardly had a word with Harriet. David, bring over that coffee table, darling. (SHE GOES OFF)
DAVID PICKS UP FOLDING TABLE, BRINGS IT CLOSE TO HARRIET AID PUTS IT UP. HERBERT APPEARS IN ARCHWAY
HERBERT David, come and help me feed the army.
DAVID O.K. Won't be a moment. (HE FINISHES PUTTING UP THE TABLE)
JUNE Oh, let me help too, Daddy, I want to see the Generals… (HERBERT GOES OFF AND JUNE RUNS AFTER HIM)
DAVID Now, for the Generals (HE LOOKS AT JOHN AND HARRIET, FINDS THEY ARE ABSORBED IN EACH OTHER AND QUIETLY GOES OFF THROUGH THE ARCHWAY)
HARRIET (LOOKING AT JOHN WHO IS STARING AT HER) Well?
JOHN You were right to go, Harriet.
HARRIET You think I’ve improved?
JOHN You haven’t changed—you're just yourself—and that was always absolutely all right with me.
HARRIET (STARTLED) I didn’t know that, John…
JOHN It was written all over my face, I thought.
HARRIET (GENTLY) It’s history now, my dear.
JOHN (A LITTLE BITTERLY) Yes…ancient history.
HARRIET This plastic surgery you're so keen to do, John…What about it?
JOHN I did a bit in the war years…and there are some new techniques I’d like to study. There’s a type of occupational therapy that marches with it…But you know how it is…I’m getting old now…
HARRIET Is it only that that stops you?
JOHN (A THOUGHT TOO QUICKLY) Don’t take any notice of young June. She and Bea don't hit it off too well.
HARRIET She’s very fond of you.
JOHN Yes—but she doesn't realise that wives have a right to be conidered, Bea's bark always has been worse than her bite…on the whole, she's very rarely wrong in her decisions.
HARRIET (SLOWLY) I wonder if I was right to go.
JOHN Why did you, Harriet...the very week I was coming home? I've always felt...wrongly perhaps…Anyway, what's the good of digging up this "history", as you called it?
HARRIET (PERSISTENTLY) What is it you've always felt, John…is it something I've a right to know?
JOHN (WRYLY) Well...you didn't wait to hear it the first time.
HARRIET I didn't wait! (SHARPLY) John, what are you talking about?
JOHN That message I gave Bea for you… (THE THINGS HE HAS BEEN THINKING FOR TWENTY YEARS RATHER WELL UP AND HE SPEAKS QUICKLY) When she told me you were going to New York, I was just about frantic...I couldn't write with both my hands in plaster…I thought you'd know why I sent the message, and wait. When you didn't…well, that seemed to be the answer.
HARRIET What was the message, John?
JOHN Not to go...not under any circumstances, to go till I got back. Bea didn’t give it to you…?
HARRIET (SLOWLY) yes, she gave it to me. She told me you had said you hoped you'd be home before I left. She probably didn't realise… (HER VOICE TRAILS AWAY. THEY BOTH KNOW THAT BEATRICE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT SHE WAS DOING) …Bea was so poised, so sure or herself then, John...twenty-four to my raw nineteen. I knew she'd get whatever she wanted…I wasn't sure then that she didn’t deserve to…It seemed the least hurtful thing, just to cut and run. It took a bit of doing…
JOHN We were stupid ultra-sensitive young fools, Harriet. A bit of common sense, a little less pride…
HARRIET It's easy to say now, John. But you haven't been unhappy—I don’t think I could bear that…
JOHN No...quite honestly, no. There haven't been any depths dug there haven’t been any heights either. You took the colour out of life when you went…It's your special quality to make things so much more vivid...
JULIA ENTERS THROUGH ARCHWAY WITH TABLE CLOTH. DAVID FOLLOWS CARRYING A LADEN TRAY. BEATRICE AND EDNA FOLLOW—EACH CARRIES SOMETHING. THEY HURRIEDLY SPREAD THE THINGS ON THE TABLE WHILE JULIA POURS A CUP OF TEA
JULIA It is milk, but no sugar, still?
HARRIET Yes...fancy your remembering.
BEATRICE Have one of these sausage rolls, Harriet—they're Edna's special…Remember?
HARRIET (TAKING ONE AND BITING INTO IT) H’m, h'm, you do still put onion in them, Ed?
EDNA It can't—it positively can't be twenty years!
JOHN Harriet and I have been exhuming the past.
BEATRICE A profitless pastime, I should think… (SHE LOOKS UP AND MEETS JOHN'S EYES. SHE SLOWLY STRAIGHTENS AND BECOMES TENSE AS HE ANSWERS)
JOHN Very much on the contrary.
JULIA You see how still we’ve stood, Harriet, all these years.
HARRIET You can’t know how I’ve envied you sometimes—all this peace and security.
EDNA Envy! That sounds funny coming from you.
HARRIET It shouldn’t; I mean it. You get caught up in these...rackets…like a top spinning. If you slow down, you fall over and the others go right on over you. Even excitement gets monotonous.
BEATRICE Humdrum has its virtues then…
JOHN Only when you choose it deliberately...not when you have it thrust on you.
HERBERT AND JUNE ENTER BACKSTAGE
JUNE What sweeties your Generals are, Harriet.
HERBERT Your driver says three more minutes, Harriet, and not a moment more.
HARRIET I’ll be back…I don’t think I could go if I didn’t know I’ll be back… (SHE PUTS DOWN HER CUP AND STANDS UP)
JOHN That’s a promise, Harriet?
HARRIET Yes, it’s a promise. And Julia—I think I’m going to borrow my goddaughter for a few months...
JUNE Oh, Harriet!
JULIA (QUITE HAPPILY) We’ll talk about it when you come back…but hurry, darling…you'll miss that plane. Goodbye...
HARRIET Au ’voir, Beatrice. David, I’m looking forward to getting to know you.
DAVID That goes for me too—till we meet again then, Harriet.
EDNA Goodbye, my dear...happy landings…
HARRIET Good luck, Edna…gosh, why don’t people tell me things?
HERBERT Hurry up, Harriet…
HARRIET I'm coming. John...
JOHN (HOLDING BOTH HER HANDS IN HIS) You’re coming back.
JULIA AND HERBERT GO OUT AHEAD OF HARRIET BACKSTAGE
HARRIET (AT DOOR) Goodbye...Oh, goodbye…I'm going to weep down the necks of my generals all the way to the airfield...
JUNE We'll be seeing you... (HARRIET GOES OUT)
BEATRICE Well…that’s that.
EDNA Isn’t she exciting, David?
DAVID What do I say to that? I liked her—she's got a stimulating quality; yes, I suppose you'd call her exciting…
EDNA Oh, don't be exasperating.
DAVID Come to my aid, John…I'm being henpecked.
JOHN (RETURNING FROM HIS THOUGHTS) Eh? Oh, Harriet…
JUNE Wake up, darling. Whom do you think we're talking about—the queen of Sheba?
A DOOR CLOSES CUT SIDE AND IMMEDIATELY JULIA AND HERBERT COME BACK BACKSTAGE
JULIA (AS SHE COMES IN) Well, isn't that just like Harriet? Darts in, stirs things up, then darts off again.
BEATRICE And is just as likely to stir up mud as anything else.
JULIA (A LITTLE DASHED) But she does add a bit of oomph to things, doesn't she?
JUNE She's just like I thought she'd be.
EDNA Just like she’s always been, really.
BEATRICE (STILL DRYLY) Well, now that the visiting celebrity has gone—how about our rehearsal?
HERBERT (LOOKING AT THE TABLE) How about our supper?
BEATRICE No. We'd better finish our rehearsal first. Once you men hare dawdled over your supper, it will be too late to start rehearsing again. Rehearsal first; then supper. It's easy enough to mare fresh tea…
EDNA (REGRETFULLY) I don’t feel a bit like it after all this excitement—but I suppose we’d better. (GOES OVER TO PIANO AND TURNS OVER SOME MUSIC. SHE SELECTS A BOOK PLACES IT ON THE BACK AND SITS)
BEATRICE Come along, Herbert.
HERBERT Coming, you female Svengali.
BEATRICE Do come on, John...
JULIA (PICKING UP HER VIOLIN) We'll have to decide soon what we will do for the Show Week concert.
BEATRICE (TO JOHN WHO HAS STARTED TO MOVE TOWARDS THE ARCHWAY) There's your mute on the mantelpiece - you'll need it.
JOHN TAKES THE MUTE PROM THE MANTELPIECE, MOVES TO CENTRE STAGE WITH IT IN HIS HAND, THEN STANDS FOR A SECOND LOOKING DOWN AT IT
JOHN I'll need it...but not for long. By the way, Julia, don’t count me in for the Show Week concert...
EDNA Don't count you in…?
JOHN I've decided to go to Boston…I can, you know…it's been put up to me officially.
BEATRICE Don't be ridiculous, John—you can't make up your mind like that...
JOHN Why not? June's quite right, you know. There's no need to use mutes unless we want to.
BEATRICE I'll talk...
JOHN No need to use mutes…
BEATRICE DROOPS SUDDENLY. SHE TURNS AND WALKS OFF THROUGH THE ARGHWAY. JOHN FOLLOWS HER. AT THE ARCHWAY HE TURNS AND LOOKS AT JUNE WHO RAISES HER CLASPED HANDS ABOVE HER HEAD IN SALUTE. DAVID SEATS HIMSELF IN THE ARMCHAIR JUNE SITS DOWN ON THE FIRESTOOL AS THEY WERE WHEN THE PLAY OPENED. THE FIRST NOTES OF "TRAUMEREL" PLAYED ON THE CELLO ARE HEARD AS
THE CURTAIN FALLS SLOWLY