Show Type
  • : 1
  • : 1
Age Ranges
  • Late Teen
  • Young Adult
  • Adult
England, 1900s
Act 1

Scene Context

Aurora's young lover, Henry, has just come to see her. However, she greets him with the news that

Scene Text

HE [kissing her hand] At last!

SHE. Henry: something dreadful has happened.

HE. What's the matter?

SHE. I have lost your poems.

HE. They were unworthy of you. I will write you some more.

SHE. No, thank you. Never any more poems for me. Oh, how could I have been so mad! so rash! so imprudent!

HE. Thank Heaven for your madness, your rashness, your imprudence!

SHE [impatiently] Oh, be sensible, Henry. Can't you see what a terrible thing this is for me? Suppose anybody finds these poems! what will they think?

HE. They will think that a man once loved a woman more devotedly than ever man loved woman before. But they will not know what man it was.

SHE. What good is that to me if everybody will know what woman it was?

HE. But how will they know?

SHE. How will they know! Why, my name is all over them: my silly, unhappy name. Oh, if I had only been christened Mary Jane, or Gladys Muriel, or Beatrice, or Francesca, or Guinevere, or something quite common! But Aurora! Aurora! I'm the only Aurora in London; and everybody knows it. I believe I'm the only Aurora in the world. And it's so horribly easy to rhyme to it! Oh, Henry, why didn't you try to restrain your feelings a little in common consideration for me? Why didn't you write with some little reserve?

HE. Write poems to you with reserve! You ask me that!

SHE [with perfunctory tenderness] Yes, dear, of course it was very nice of you; and I know it was my own fault as much as yours. I ought to have noticed that your verses ought never to have been addressed to a married woman.

HE. Ah, how I wish they had been addressed to an unmarried woman! how I wish they had!

SHE. Indeed you have no right to wish anything of the sort. They are quite unfit for anybody but a married woman. That's just the difficulty. What will my sisters-in-law think of them?

HE [painfully jarred] Have you got sisters-in-law?

SHE. Yes, of course I have. Do you suppose I am an angel?

HE [biting his lips] I do. Heaven help me, I do—or I did—or [he almost chokes a sob].

SHE [softening and putting her hand caressingly on his shoulder] Listen to me, dear. It's very nice of you to live with me in a dream, and to love me, and so on; but I can't help my husband having disagreeable relatives, can I?

HE [brightening up] Ah, of course they are your husband's relatives: I forgot that. Forgive me, Aurora. [He takes her hand from his shoulder and kisses it. She sits down on the stool. He remains near the table, with his back to it, smiling fatuously down at her].

SHE. The fact is, Teddy's got nothing but relatives. He has eight sisters and six half-sisters, and ever so many brothers—but I don't mind his brothers. Now if you only knew the least little thing about the world, Henry, you'd know that in a large family, though the sisters quarrel with one another like mad all the time, yet let one of the brothers marry, and they all turn on their unfortunate sister-in-law and devote the rest of their lives with perfect unanimity to persuading him that his wife is unworthy of him. They can do it to her very face without her knowing it, because there are always a lot of stupid low family jokes that nobody understands but themselves. Half the time you can't tell what they're talking about: it just drives you wild. There ought to be a law against a man's sister ever entering his house after he's married. I'm as certain as that I'm sitting here that Georgina stole those poems out of my workbox.

HE. She will not understand them, I think.

SHE. Oh, won't she! She'll understand them only too well. She'll understand more harm than ever was in them: nasty vulgar-minded cat!

HE [going to her] Oh don't, don't think of people in that way. Don't think of her at all. [He takes her hand and sits down on the carpet at her feet]. Aurora: do you remember the evening when I sat here at your feet and read you those poems for the first time?

SHE. I shouldn't have let you: I see that now. When I think of Georgina sitting there at Teddy's feet and reading them to him for the first time, I feel I shall just go distracted.

HE. Yes, you are right. It will be a profanation.

SHE. Oh, I don't care about the profanation; but what will Teddy think? what will he do? [Suddenly throwing his head away from her knee]. You don't seem to think a bit about Teddy. [She jumps up, more and more agitated].

HE [supine on the floor; for she has thrown him off his balance] To me Teddy is nothing, and Georgina less than nothing.

SHE. You'll soon find out how much less than nothing she is. If you think a woman can't do any harm because she's only a scandalmongering dowdy ragbag, you're greatly mistaken. [She flounces about the room. He gets up slowly and dusts his hands. Suddenly she runs to him and throws herself into his arms]. Henry: help me. Find a way out of this for me; and I'll bless you as long as you live. Oh, how wretched I am! [She sobs on his breast].

HE. And oh! how happy I am!

SHE [whisking herself abruptly away] Don't be selfish.

HE [humbly] Yes: I deserve that. I think if I were going to the stake with you, I should still be so happy with you that I could hardly feel your danger more than my own.

SHE [relenting and patting his hand fondly] Oh, you are a dear darling boy, Henry; but [throwing his hand away fretfully] you're no use. I want somebody to tell me what to do.

HE [with quiet conviction] Your heart will tell you at the right time. I have thought deeply over this; and I know what we two must do, sooner or later.

SHE. No, Henry. I will do nothing improper, nothing dishonorable. [She sits down plump on the stool and looks inflexible].

HE. If you did, you would no longer be Aurora. Our course is perfectly simple, perfectly straightforward, perfectly stainless and true. We love one another. I am not ashamed of that: I am ready to go out and proclaim it to all London as simply as I will declare it to your husband when you see—as you soon will see—that this is the only way honorable enough for your feet to tread. Let us go out together to our own house, this evening, without concealment and without shame. Remember! we owe something to your husband. We are his guests here: he is an honorable man: he has been kind to us: he has perhaps loved you as well as his prosaic nature and his sordid commercial environment permitted. We owe it to him in all honor not to let him learn the truth from the lips of a scandalmonger. Let us go to him now quietly, hand in hand; bid him farewell; and walk out of the house without concealment and subterfuge, freely and honestly, in full honor and self-respect.

SHE [staring at him] And where shall we go to?

HE. We shall not depart by a hair's breadth from the ordinary natural current of our lives. We were going to the theatre when the loss of the poems compelled us to take action at once. We shall go to the theatre still; but we shall leave your diamonds here; for we cannot afford diamonds, and do not need them.

SHE [fretfully] I have told you already that I hate diamonds; only Teddy insists on hanging me all over with them. You need not preach simplicity to me.

HE. I never thought of doing so, dearest: I know that these trivialities are nothing to you. What was I saying—oh yes. Instead of coming back here from the theatre, you will come with me to my home—now and henceforth our home—and in due course of time, when you are divorced, we shall go through whatever idle legal ceremony you may desire. I attach no importance to the law: my love was not created in me by the law, nor can it be bound or loosed by it. That is simple enough, and sweet enough, is it not? [He takes the flower from the table]. Here are flowers for you: I have the tickets: we will ask your husband to lend us the carriage to show that there is no malice, no grudge, between us. Come!

SHE [spiritlessly, taking the flowers without looking at them, and temporizing] Teddy isn't in yet.

HE. Well, let us take that calmly. Let us go to the theatre as if nothing had happened, and tell him when we come back. Now or three hours hence: to-day or to-morrow: what does it matter, provided all is done in honor, without shame or fear?

SHE. What did you get tickets for? Lohengrin?

HE. I tried; but Lohengrin was sold out for to-night. [He takes out two Court Theatre tickets].

SHE. Then what did you get?

HE. Can you ask me? What is there besides Lohengrin that we two could endure, except Candida?

SHE [springing up] Candida! No, I won't go to it again, Henry [tossing the flower on the piano]. It is that play that has done all the mischief. I'm very sorry I ever saw it: it ought to be stopped.

HE [amazed] Aurora!

SHE. Yes: I mean it.

HE. That divinest love poem! the poem that gave us courage to speak to one another! that revealed to us what we really felt for one another! That—

SHE. Just so. It put a lot of stuff into my head that I should never have dreamt of for myself. I imagined myself just like Candida.

HE [catching her hands and looking earnestly at her] You were right. You are like Candida.

SHE [snatching her hands away] Oh, stuff! And I thought you were just like Eugene. [Looking critically at him] Now that I come to look at you, you are rather like him, too. [She throws herself discontentedly into the nearest seat, which happens to be the bench at the piano. He goes to her].

HE [very earnestly] Aurora: if Candida had loved Eugene she would have gone out into the night with him without a moment's hesitation.

SHE [with equal earnestness] Henry: do you know what's wanting in that play?

HE. There is nothing wanting in it.

SHE. Yes there is. There's a Georgina wanting in it. If Georgina had been there to make trouble, that play would have been a true-to-life tragedy. Now I'll tell you something about it that I have never told you before.

HE. What is that?

SHE. I took Teddy to it. I thought it would do him good; and so it would if I could only have kept him awake. Georgina came too; and you should have heard the way she went on about it. She said it was downright immoral, and that she knew the sort of woman that encourages boys to sit on the hearthrug and make love to her. She was just preparing Teddy's mind to poison it about me.

HE. Let us be just to Georgina, dearest

SHE. Let her deserve it first. Just to Georgina, indeed!

HE. She really sees the world in that way. That is her punishment.

SHE. How can it be her punishment when she likes it? It'll be my punishment when she brings that budget of poems to Teddy. I wish you'd have some sense, and sympathize with my position a little.

HE. [going away from the piano and beginning to walk about rather testily] My dear: I really don't care about Georgina or about Teddy. All these squabbles belong to a plane on which I am, as you say, no use. I have counted the cost; and I do not fear the consequences. After all, what is there to fear? Where is the difficulty? What can Georgina do? What can your husband do? What can anybody do?

SHE. Do you mean to say that you propose that we should walk right bang up to Teddy and tell him we're going away together?

HE. Yes. What can be simpler?

SHE. And do you think for a moment he'd stand it, like that half-baked clergyman in the play? He'd just kill you.

HE [coming to a sudden stop and speaking with considerable confidence] You don't understand these things, my darling, how could you? In one respect I am unlike the poet in the play. I have followed the Greek ideal and not neglected the culture of my body. Your husband would make a tolerable second-rate heavy weight if he were in training and ten years younger. As it is, he could, if strung up to a great effort by a burst of passion, give a good account of himself for perhaps fifteen seconds. But I am active enough to keep out of his reach for fifteen seconds; and after that I should be simply all over him.

SHE [rising and coming to him in consternation] What do you mean by all over him?

HE [gently] Don't ask me, dearest. At all events, I swear to you that you need not be anxious about me.

SHE. And what about Teddy? Do you mean to tell me that you are going to beat Teddy before my face like a brutal prizefighter?

HE. All this alarm is needless, dearest. Believe me, nothing will happen. Your husband knows that I am capable of defending myself. Under such circumstances nothing ever does happen. And of course I shall do nothing. The man who once loved you is sacred to me.

SHE [suspiciously] Doesn't he love me still? Has he told you anything?

HE. No, no. [He takes her tenderly in his arms]. Dearest, dearest: how agitated you are! how unlike yourself! All these worries belong to the lower plane. Come up with me to the higher one. The heights, the solitudes, the soul world!

SHE [avoiding his gaze] No: stop: it's no use, Mr Apjohn.

HE [recoiling] Mr Apjohn!!!

SHE. Excuse me: I meant Henry, of course.

HE. How could you even think of me as Mr Apjohn? I never think of you as Mrs Bompas: it is always Cand— I mean Aurora, Aurora, Auro—

SHE. Yes, yes: that's all very well, Mr Apjohn [He is about to interrupt again: but she won't have it] no: it's no use: I've suddenly begun to think of you as Mr Apjohn; and it's ridiculous to go on calling you Henry. I thought you were only a boy, a child, a dreamer. I thought you would be too much afraid to do anything. And now you want to beat Teddy and to break up my home and disgrace me and make a horrible scandal in the papers. It's cruel, unmanly, cowardly.

HE [with grave wonder] Are you afraid?

SHE. Oh, of course I'm afraid. So would you be if you had any common sense. [She goes to the hearth, turning her back to him, and puts one tapping foot on the fender].

HE [watching her with great gravity] Perfect love casteth out fear. That is why I am not afraid. Mrs Bompas: you do not love me.

SHE [turning to him with a gasp of relief] Oh, thank you, thank you! You really can be very nice, Henry.

HE. Why do you thank me?

SHE [coming prettily to him from the fireplace] For calling me Mrs Bompas again. I feel now that you are going to be reasonable and behave like a gentleman. [He drops on the stool; covers his face with his hand; and groans]. What's the matter?

HE. Once or twice in my life I have dreamed that I was exquisitely happy and blessed. But oh! the misgiving at the first stir of consciousness! the stab of reality! the prison walls of the bedroom! the bitter, bitter disappointment of waking! And this time! oh, this time I thought I was awake.

SHE. Listen to me, Henry: we really haven't time for all that sort of flapdoodle now. [He starts to his feet as if she had pulled a trigger and straightened him by the release of a powerful spring, and goes past her with set teeth to the little table]. Oh, take care: you nearly hit me in the chin with the top of your head.

HE [with fierce politeness] I beg your pardon. What is it you want me to do? I am at your service. I am ready to behave like a gentleman if you will be kind enough to explain exactly how.

SHE [a little frightened] Thank you, Henry: I was sure you would. You're not angry with me, are you?

HE. Go on. Go on quickly. Give me something to think about, or I will—I will—[he suddenly snatches up her fan and it about to break it in his clenched fists].

SHE [running forward and catching at the fan, with loud lamentation] Don't break my fan—no, don't. [He slowly relaxes his grip of it as she draws it anxiously out of his hands]. No, really, that's a stupid trick. I don't like that. You've no right to do that. [She opens the fan, and finds that the sticks are disconnected]. Oh, how could you be so inconsiderate?

HE. I beg your pardon. I will buy you a new one.

SHE [querulously] You will never be able to match it. And it was a particular favorite of mine.

HE [shortly] Then you will have to do without it: that's all.

SHE. That's not a very nice thing to say after breaking my pet fan, I think.

HE. If you knew how near I was to breaking Teddy's pet wife and presenting him with the pieces, you would be thankful that you are alive instead of—of—of howling about five shillings worth of ivory. Damn your fan!

SHE. Oh! Don't you dare swear in my presence. One would think you were my husband.

HE [again collapsing on the stool] This is some horrible dream. What has become of you? You are not my Aurora.

SHE. Oh, well, if you come to that, what has become of you? Do you think I would ever have encouraged you if I had known you were such a little devil?

HE. Don't drag me down—don't—don't. Help me to find the way back to the heights.

SHE [kneeling beside him and pleading] If you would only be reasonable, Henry. If you would only remember that I am on the brink of ruin, and not go on calmly saying it's all quite simple.

HE. It seems so to me.

SHE [jumping up distractedly] If you say that again I shall do something I'll be sorry for. Here we are, standing on the edge of a frightful precipice. No doubt it's quite simple to go over and have done with it. But can't you suggest anything more agreeable?

HE. I can suggest nothing now. A chill black darkness has fallen: I can see nothing but the ruins of our dream. [He rises with a deep sigh].

SHE. Can't you? Well, I can. I can see Georgina rubbing those poems into Teddy. [Facing him determinedly] And I tell you, Henry Apjohn, that you got me into this mess; and you must get me out of it again.

HE [polite and hopeless] All I can say is that I am entirely at your service. What do you wish me to do?

SHE. Do you know anybody else named Aurora?

HE. No.

SHE. There's no use in saying No in that frozen pigheaded way. You must know some Aurora or other somewhere.

HE. You said you were the only Aurora in the world. And [lifting his clasped fists with a sudden return of his emotion] oh God! you were the only Aurora in the world to me. [He turns away from her, hiding his face].

SHE [petting him] Yes, yes, dear: of course. It's very nice of you; and I appreciate it: indeed I do; but it's not reasonable just at present. Now just listen to me. I suppose you know all those poems by heart.

HE. Yes, by heart. [Raising his head and looking at her, with a sudden suspicion] Don't you?

SHE. Well, I never can remember verses; and besides, I've been so busy that I've not had time to read them all; though I intend to the very first moment I can get: I promise you that most faithfully, Henry. But now try and remember very particularly. Does the name of Bompas occur in any of the poems?

HE [indignantly] No.

SHE. You're quite sure?

HE. Of course I am quite sure. How could I use such a name in a poem?

SHE. Well, I don't see why not. It rhymes to rumpus, which seems appropriate enough at present, goodness knows! However, you're a poet, and you ought to know.

HE. What does it matter—now?

SHE. It matters a lot, I can tell you. If there's nothing about Bompas in the poems, we can say that they were written to some other Aurora, and that you showed them to me because my name was Aurora too. So you've got to invent another Aurora for the occasion.

HE [very coldly] Oh, if you wish me to tell a lie—

SHE. Surely, as a man of honor—as a gentleman, you wouldn't tell the truth, would you?

HE. Very well. You have broken my spirit and desecrated my dreams. I will lie and protest and stand on my honor: oh, I will play the gentleman, never fear.

SHE. Yes, put it all on me, of course. Don't be mean, Henry.

HE [rousing himself with an effort] You are quite right, Mrs Bompas: I beg your pardon. You must excuse my temper. I have got growing pains, I think.

SHE. Growing pains!

HE. The process of growing from romantic boyhood into cynical maturity usually takes fifteen years. When it is compressed into fifteen minutes, the pace is too fast; and growing pains are the result.

SHE. Oh, is this a time for cleverness? It's settled, isn't it, that you're going to be nice and good, and that you'll brazen it out to Teddy that you have some other Aurora?

HE. Yes: I'm capable of anything now. I should not have told him the truth by halves; and now I will not lie by halves. I'll wallow in the honor of a gentleman.

SHE. Dearest boy, I knew you would. I—Sh! [she rushes to the door, and holds it ajar, listening breathlessly].

HE. What is it?

SHE [white with apprehension] It's Teddy: I hear him tapping the new barometer. He can't have anything serious on his mind or he wouldn't do that. Perhaps Georgina hasn't said anything. [She steals back to the hearth]. Try and look as if there was nothing the matter. Give me my gloves, quick. [He hands them to her. She pulls on one hastily and begins buttoning it with ostentatious unconcern]. Go further away from me, quick. [He walks doggedly away from her until the piano prevents his going farther]. If I button my glove, and you were to hum a tune, don't you think that—

HE. The tableau would be complete in its guiltiness. For Heaven's sake, Mrs Bompas, let that glove alone: you look like a pickpocket.