To right, two yellow brick cottages belonging to Captain Hagberd, one inhabited by himself the other by the Carvils. A lamp-post in front. The red roofs of the town in the background. A sea-wall to left.
Time: The present-early autumn, towards dusk.
CURTAIN RISES DISCLOSING CARVIL and Bessie moving away from sea-wall. Bessie about twenty-five. Black dress; black straw hat. A lot of mahogany-coloured hair loosely done up. Pale face. Full figure. Very quiet. Carvil, blind, unwieldy. Reddish whiskers; slow, deep voice produced without effort. Immovable, big face.
Carvil (Hanging heavily on Bessie's arm). Careful! Go slow! (Stops; Bessie waits patiently.) Want your poor blind father to break his neck? (Shuffles on.) In a hurry to get home and start that everlasting yarn with your chum the lunatic?
Bessie. I am not in a hurry to get home, father.
Carvil. Well, then, go steady with a poor blind man. Blind! Helpless! (Strikes the ground with his stick.) Never mind! I've had time to make enough money to have ham and eggs for breakfast every morning—thank God! And thank God, too, for it, girl. You haven't known a single hardship in all the days of your idle life. Unless you think that a blind, helpless father———-
Bessie. What is there for me to be in a hurry for?
Carvil. What did you say?
Bessie. I said there was nothing for me to hurry home for.
Carvil. There is, tho'. To yarn with a lunatic. Anything to get away from your duty.
Bessie. Captain Hagberd's talk never hurt you or anybody else.
Carvil. Go on. Stick up for your only friend.
Bessie. Is it my fault that I haven't another soul to speak to?
Carvil (Snarls). It's mine, perhaps. Can I help being blind? You fret because you want to be gadding about—with a helpless man left all alone at home. Your own father too.
Bessie. I haven't been away from you half a day since mother died.
Carvil (Viciously). He's a lunatic, our landlord is. That's what he is. Has been for years—long before those damned doctors destroyed my sight for me. (Growls angrily, then sighs.)
Bessie. Perhaps Captain Hagberd is not so mad as the town takes him for.
Carvil. (Grimly). Don't everybody know how he came here from the North to wait till his missing son turns up—here—of all places in the world. His boy that ran away to sea sixteen years ago and never did give a sign of life since! Don't I remember seeing people dodge round corners out of his way when he came along High Street. Seeing him, I tell you. (Groan.) He bothered everybody so with his silly talk of his son being sure to come back home—next year—next spring—next month———. What is it by this time, hey?
Bessie. Why talk about it? He bothers no one now.
Carvil. No. They've grown too fly. You've got only to pass a remark on his sail-cloth coat to make him shut up. All the town knows it. But he's got you to listen to his crazy talk whenever he chooses. Don't I hear you two at it, jabber, jabber, mumble, mumble———
Bessie. What is there so mad in keeping up hope?
Carvil (Scathing scorn). Not mad! Starving himself to lay money by—for that son. Filling his house with furniture he won't let anyone see—for that son. Advertising in the papers every week, these sixteen years—for that son. Not mad! Boy, he calls him. Boy Harry. His boy Harry. His lost boy Harry. Yah! Let him lose his sight to know what real trouble means. And the boy—the man, I should say—must 've been put away safe in Davy Jones's locker for many a year—drowned—food for fishes—dead.... Stands to reason, or he would have been here before, smelling around the old fool's money. (Shakes Bessie's arm slightly.) Hey?
Bessie. I don't know. May be.
Carvil (Bursting out). Damme if I don't think he ever had a son.
Bessie. Poor man. Perhaps he never had.
Carvil. Ain't that mad enough for you? But I suppose you think it sensible.
Bessie. What does it matter? His talk keeps him up.
Carvil. Aye! And it pleases you. Anything to get away from your poor blind father.... Jabber, jabber—mumble, mumble—till I begin to think you must be as crazy as he is. What do you find to talk about, you two? What's your game?
(During the scene Carvil and Bessie have crossed stage from L. to R. slowly with stoppages.)
Bessie. It's warm. Will you sit out for a while?
Carvil (Viciously). Yes, I will sit out. (Insistent.) But what can be your game? What are you up to? (They pass through garden gate.) Because if it's his money you are after———-
Bessie. Father! How can you!
Carvil (Disregarding her). To make you independent of your poor blind father, then you are a fool. (Drops heavily on seat.) He's too much of a miser to ever make a will—even if he weren't mad.
Bessie. Oh! It never entered my head. I swear it never did.
Carvil. Never did. Hey! Then you are a still bigger fool.... I want to go to sleep! (Takes off' his hat, drops it on ground, and leans his head back against the wall.)
Bessie. And I have been a good daughter to you. Won't you say that for me?
Carvil (Very distinctly). I want—to—go—to—sleep. I'm tired. (Closes his eyes.)
(During that scene Captain Hagberd has been seen hesitating at the back of stage, then running quickly to the door of his cottage. He puts inside a tin kettle (from under his coat) and comes down to the railing between the two gardens stealthily).
Carvil seated. Bessie. Captain Hagberd (white beard, sail-cloth jacket).
Bessie (Knitting). You've been out this afternoon for quite a long time, haven't you?
Capt. Hagberd (Eager). Yes, my dear. (Slily) Of course you saw me come back.
Bessie. Oh, yes. I did see you. You had something under your coat.
Capt. H. (Anxiously). It was only a kettle, my dear. A tin water-kettle. I am glad I thought of it just in time. (Winks, nods.) When a husband gets back from his work he needs a lot of water for a wash. See? (Dignified.) Not that Harry'll ever need to do a hand's turn after he comes home... (Falters—casts stealthy glances on all sides).... tomorrow.
Bessie (Looks up, grave). Captain Hagberd, have you ever thought that perhaps your son will not. . .
Capt. H. (Paternally). I've thought of everything, my dear—of everything a reasonable young couple may need for housekeeping. Why, I can hardly turn about in my room up there, the house is that full. (Rubs his hands with satisfaction.) For my son Harry—when he comes home. One day more.
Bessie (Flattering). Oh, you are a great one for bargains. (Captain Hagberd delighted.) But, Captain Hagberd—if—if—you don't know what may happen—if all that home you've got together were to be wasted—for nothing—after all. (Aside.) Oh, I can't bring it out.
Capt. H. (Agitated; flings arms up, stamps feet; stuttering). What? What d'ye mean? What's going to happen to the things?
Bessie (Soothing). Nothing! Nothing! Dust—or moth—you know. Damp, perhaps. You never let anyone into the house . . .
Capt. H. Dust! Damp! (Has a throaty, gurgling laugh.) I light the fires and dust the things myself. (Indignant.) Let anyone into the house, indeed! What would Harry say! (Walks up and down his garden hastily with tosses, jings, and jerks of his whole body.)
Bessie (With authority.) Now, then, Captain Hagberd! You know I won't put up with your tantrums. (Shakes finger at him.)
Capt. H. (Subdued, but still sulky, with his back to her). You want to see the things. That's what you're after. Well, no, not even you. Not till Harry has had his first look.
Bessie. Oh, no! I don't. (Relenting.) Not till you're willing. (Smiles at Capt. H., who has turned half round already!) You mustn't excite yourself. (Knits.)
Capt. H. (Condescending). And you the only sensible girl for miles and miles around. Can't you trust me? I am a domestic man. Always was, my dear. I hated the sea. People don't know what they let their boys into when they send them to sea. As soon make convicts of them at once. What sort of life is it? Most of your time you don't know what's going on at home. (Insinuating.) There's nothing anywhere on earth as good as a home, my dear. (Pause.) With a good husband...
Carvil (Heard from his seat fragmentarily). There they go... jabber, jabber... mumble, mumble. (With a groaning effort?) Helpless!
Capt. H. (Mutters). Extravagant ham and eggs fellow. (Louder.) Of course it isn't as if he had a son to make a home ready for. Girls are different, my dear. They don't run away, my dear, my dear. (Agitated.)
Bessie (Drops her arms wearily). No, Captain Hagberd—they don't.
Capt. H. (Slowly). I wouldn't let my own flesh and blood go to sea. Not I.
Bessie. And the boy ran away.
Capt. H. (A little vacantly). Yes, my only son Harry. (Rouses himself.) Coming home to-morrow.
Bessie (Speaks softly). Sometimes, Captain Hagberd, a hope turns out false.
Capt. H. (Uneasy). What's that got to do with Harry's coming back?
Bessie. It's good to hope for something. But suppose now———-(Feeling her way.) Yours is not the only lost son that's never...
Capt. H. Never what! You don't believe he's drowned. (Crouches, glaring and grasping the rails.)
Bessie (Frightened, drops knitting). Captain Hagberd—don't. (Catches hold of his shoulders over the railings?) Don't—my God! He's going out of his mind! (Cries.) I didn't mean it! I don't know.
Capt. H. (Has backed away. An affected burst of laughter). What nonsense. None of us Hagberds belonged to the sea. All farmers for hundreds of years, (fraternal and cunning?) Don't alarm yourself, my dear. The sea can't get us. Look at me! I didn't get drowned. Moreover, Harry ain't a sailor at all. And if he isn't a sailor, he's bound to come back—to-morrow.
Bessie (Has been facing him; murmurs). No. I give it up. He scares me. (Aloud, sharply.) Then I would give up that advertising in the papers.
Capt. H. (Surprised and puzzled). Why, my dear? Everybody does it. His poor mother and I have been advertising for years and years. But she was an impatient woman. She died.
Bessie. If your son's coming, as—as you say—what's the good of that expense? You had better spend that half-crown on yourself. I believe you don't eat enough.
Capt. H. (Confused). But it's the right thing to do. Look at the Sunday papers. Missing relatives on top page—all proper. (Looks unhappy.)
Bessie (Tartly). Ah, well! I declare I don't know what you live on.
Capt. H. Are you getting impatient, my dear? Don't get impatient—like my poor wife. If she'd only been patient she'd be here. Waiting. Only one day more. (Pleadingly.) Don't be impatient, my dear.
Bessie. I've no patience with you sometimes.
Capt. H. (Flash of lucidity). Why? What's the matter? (Sympathetic.) You're tired out, my dear, that's what it is.
Bessie. Yes, I am. Day after day. (Stands listless, arms hanging down.)
Capt. H. (Timidly). House dull?
Bessie (Apathetic). Yes.
Capt. H. (As before). H'm. Wash, cook, scrub. Hey?
Bessie (As before). Yes.
Capt. H. (Pointing stealthily at the sleeping Carvil). Heavy?
Bessie. (In a dead voice). Like a millstone.
Capt. H. (Burst of indignation). Why don't that extravagant fellow get you a servant?
Bessie. I don't know.
Capt. H. (Cheerily). Wait till Harry comes home. He'll get you one.
Bessie (Almost hysterical; laughs). Why, Captain Hagberd, perhaps your son won't even want to look at me—when he comes home.
Capt. H. (In a great voice). What! (Quite low.) The boy wouldn't dare. (Rising choler.) Wouldn't dare to refuse the only sensible girl for miles around. That stubborn jackanapes refuse to marry a girl like you! (Walks about in a fury.) You trust me, my dear, my dear, my dear. I'll make him. I'll—I'll ———— (Splutters.) Cut him off with a shilling.
Bessie. Hush! (Severe.) You mustn't talk like that. What's this? More of your tantrums?
Capt. H. (Quite humble). No, no—this isn't my tantrums—when I don't feel quite well in my head. Only I can't stand this... I've grown as fond of you as if you'd been the wife of my Harry already.
And to be told———— (Cant restrain himself; shouts.)
Bessie. Sh————! Don't you worry! (Wearily.)
I must give that up too, I suppose. (Aloud.) I didn't mean it, Captain Hagberd.
Capt. H. It's as if I were to have two children to-morrow. My son Harry—and the only sensible girl————. Why, my dear, I couldn't get on without you. We two are reasonable together. The rest of the people in this town are crazy. The way they stare at you. And the grins—they're all on the grin. It makes me dislike to go out. (Bewildered.) It seems as if there was something wrong about—somewhere. My dear, is there anything wrong—you who are sensible.. .
Bessie (Soothingly tender). No, no, Captain Hagberd. There is nothing wrong about you anywhere.
Carvil (Lying back). Bessie! (Sits up.) Get my hat, Bessie.... Bessie, my hat.... Bessie.... Bessie. ...
(At the first sound Bessie picks up and puts away her knitting. She walks towards him, picks up hat, puts it on his head).
Bessie, my... (Hat on head; shouting stops.) Bessie. (Quietly). Will you go in, now? Carvil. Help me up. Steady. I'm dizzy. It's the thundery weather. An autumn thunderstorm means a bad gale. Very fierce—and sudden. There will be shipwrecks to-night on our coast.
(Exit Bessie and Carvil through door of their cottage. It has fallen dusk.)
Capt. H. (Picks up spade). Extravagant fellow! And all this town is mad—perfectly mad. I found them out years ago. Thank God they don't come this way staring and grinning. I can't bear them. I'll never go again into that High Street. (Agitated.) Never, never, never. Won't need to after to-morrow. Never! (Flings down spade in passion.)
(While Hagberd speaks, the bow window of the Carvils is lit up, and Bessie is seen settling her father in a big armchair. Pulls down blind. Enter Lamplighter. Capt. H. picks up the spade and leans forward on it with both hands; very still, watching him light the lamp.)
Lamplighter (Jocular). There! You will be able to dig by lamplight if the fancy takes you.
(Exit Lamplighter to back.)
Capt. H. (Disgusted). Ough! The people here. . . (Shudders.)
Lamplighter's Voice (Heard loudly beyond the cottages). Yes, that's the way.
(Enter Harry from back.)
Harry Hagberd (thirty-one, tall, broad shoulders, shaven face, small moustache. Blue serge suit. Coat open. Grey flannel shirt without collar and tie. No waistcoat. Belt with buckle. Black, soft felt hat, wide-brimmed, worn crushed in the crown and a little on one side. Good nature, recklessness, some swagger in the bearing. Assured, deliberate walk with a heavy tread. Slight roll in the gait. Walks down. Stops, hands in pockets. Looks about. Speaks.) This must be it. Can't see anything beyond. There's somebody. (Walks up to Capt. Hagberd's gate?) Can you tell me... (Manner changes. Leans elbow on gate?) Why, you must be Capt. Hagberd himself.
Capt. H. (In garden, both hands on spade, peering, startled). Yes, I am.
Harry (Slowly). You've been advertising in the papers for your son, I believe.
Capt. H. (Off his guard, nervous). Yes. My only boy Harry. He's coming home to-morrow. (Mumbles.) For a permanent stay.
Harry (Surprised). The devil he is! (Change of tone?) My word! You've grown a beard like Father Christmas himself.
Capt. H. (Impressively). Go your way. (Waves one hand loftily?) What's that to you. Go your way. (Agitated?) Go your way.
Harry. There, there. I am not trespassing in the street—where I stand—am I? Tell you what, I fancy there's something wrong about your news. Suppose you let me come in—for a quiet chat, you know.
Capt. H. (Horrified). Let you—you come in!
Harry (Persuasive). Because I could give you some real information about your son. The—very—latest—tip. If you care to hear.
Capt. H. (Explodes). No! I don't care to hear. (Begins to pace to and fro, spade on shoulder. Gesticulating with his other arm.) Here's a fellow—a grinning town fellow, who says there's something wrong. (Fiercely.) I have got more information than you're aware of. I have all the information I want. I have had it for years—for years—for years—enough to last me till to-morrow! Let you come in, indeed! What would Harry say?
(Bessie Carvil appears at cottage door with a white wrap on her head and stands in her garden trying to see).
Bessie. What's the matter?
Capt. H. (Beside himself). An information fellow. (Stumbles.)
Harry (Putting out arm to steady him, gravely). Here! Steady a bit! Seems to me somebody's been trying to get at you. (Change of tone.) Hullo! What's this rig you've got on?... Storm canvas coat, by George! (He gives a frig, throaty laugh.) Well! You are a character!
Capt. H. (Daunted by the allusion, looks at coat). I—I wear it for—for the time being. Till—till—to-morrow. (Shrinks away, spade in hand, to door of his cottage.)
Bessie (Advancing). And what may you want, sir?
Harry (Turns to Bessie at once; easy manner). I'd like to know about this swindle that's going to be sprung on him. I didn't mean to startle the old man. You see, on my way here I dropped into a barber's to get a twopenny shave, and they told me there that he was something of a character. He has been a character all his life.
Bessie (Wondering). What swindle?
Capt. H. A grinning fellow! (Makes sudden dash indoors with the spade. Door slams. Affected gurgling laugh within.)