The study of JOHN BUILDER in the provincial town of Breconridge.
A panelled room wherein nothing is ever studied, except perhaps
BUILDER'S face in the mirror over the fireplace. It is, however,
comfortable, and has large leather chairs and a writing table in the
centre, on which is a typewriter, and many papers. At the back is a
large window with French outside shutters, overlooking the street,
for the house is an old one, built in an age when the homes of
doctors, lawyers and so forth were part of a provincial town, and
not yet suburban. There are two or three fine old prints on the
walls, Right and Left; and a fine, old fireplace, Left, with a
fender on which one can sit. A door, Left back, leads into the
dining-room, and a door, Right forward, into the hall.
JOHN BUILDER is sitting in his after-breakfast chair before the fire
with The Times in his hands. He has breakfasted well, and is in
that condition of first-pipe serenity in which the affairs of the.
nation seem almost bearable. He is a tallish, square, personable
man of forty-seven, with a well-coloured, jowly, fullish face,
marked under the eyes, which have very small pupils and a good deal
of light in them. His bearing has force and importance, as of a man
accustomed to rising and ownerships, sure in his opinions, and not
lacking in geniality when things go his way. Essentially a
Midlander. His wife, a woman of forty-one, of ivory tint, with a
thin, trim figure and a face so strangely composed as to be almost
like a mask (essentially from Jersey) is putting a nib into a pen-
holder, and filling an inkpot at the writing-table.
As the curtain rises CAMILLE enters with a rather broken-down
cardboard box containing flowers. She is a young woman with a good
figure, a pale face, the warm brown eyes and complete poise of a
Frenchwoman. She takes the box to MRS BUILDER.
CAMILLE fetches a vase. MRS BUILDER puts the flowers into the vase.
CAMILLE gathers up the debris; and with a glance at BUILDER goes
Glorious October! I ought to have a damned good day's shooting
with Chantrey tomorrow.
MRS BUILDER [Arranging the flowers] Aren't you going to the office
Well, no, I was going to take a couple of days off. If you
feel at the top of your form, take a rest--then you go on feeling at the
top. [He looks at her, as if calculating] What do you say to looking up
MRS BUILDER [Palpably astonished] Athene? But you said you'd done
BUILDER [Smiling] Six weeks ago; but, dash it, one can't have done with
one's own daughter. That's the weakness of an Englishman; he can't keep
up his resentments. In a town like this it doesn't do to have her living
by herself. One of these days it'll get out we've had a row. That
wouldn't do me any good.
I'm to be nominated for Mayor next month. Harris tipped me the
wink at the last Council meeting. Not so bad at forty-seven--h'm? I can
make a thundering good Mayor. I can do things for this town that nobody
BUILDER [Good-humouredly] Well, it's partly that. But [more
seriously] it's more the feeling I get that I'm not doing my duty by her.
Goodness knows whom she may be picking up with! Artists are a loose lot.
And young people in these days are the limit. I quite believe in moving
with the times, but one's either born a Conservative, or one isn't.
So you be ready at twelve, see. By the way, that French maid of yours,
THE MAYOR of Breconridge enters, He is clean-shaven, red-faced,
light-eyed, about sixty, shrewd, poll-parroty, naturally jovial,
dressed with the indefinable wrongness of a burgher; he is followed
by his Secretary HARRIS, a man all eyes and cleverness. TOPPING
BUILDER [Rising] Hallo, Mayor! What brings you so early? Glad to see
you. Morning, Harris!
MAYOR [Chuckling] We do--we do! You'll say "yes," I see. No false
modesty! Come along, 'Arris, we must go.
Well, Mayor, I'll think it over, and let you have an answer.
You know my faults, and you know my qualities, such as they are. I'm
just a plain Englishman.
We don't want anything better than that. I always say the great
point about an Englishman is that he's got bottom; you may knock him off
his pins, but you find him on 'em again before you can say "Jack
Robinson." He may have his moments of aberration, but he's a sticker.
Morning, Builder, morning! Hope you'll say "yes."
When the door is dosed BUILDER stands a moment quite still with a
gratified smile on his face; then turns and scrutinises himself in
the glass over the hearth. While he is doing so the door from the
dining-room is opened quietly and CAMILLE comes in. BUILDER,
suddenly seeing her reflected in the mirror, turns.
CAMILLE [Smiling] I prefare to be mademoiselle, Monsieur.
BUILDER [Dubiously] Well, it's all the same to us. [He takes a letter
up from the table] You might take this to Mrs Builder too. [Again their
fingers touch, and there is a suspicion of encounter between their eyes.]
BUILDER [Turning to his chair] Don't know about that woman--she's a
He compresses his lips, and is settling back into his chair, when
the door from the hall is opened and his daughter MAUD comes in; a
pretty girl, rather pale, with fine eyes. Though her face has a
determined cast her manner at this moment is by no means decisive.
She has a letter in her hand, and advances rather as if she were
stalking her father, who, after a "Hallo, Maud!" has begun to read
Go on--"To assume greater responsibilities, I feel it my duty
to come forward in accordance with your wish. The--er--honour is one of
which I hardly feel myself worthy, but you may rest assured--"
You can't irritate me more than by having secrets. See what
that led to in your sister's case. And, by the way, I'm going to put an
end to that this morning. You'll be glad to have her back, won't you?
Your mother and I are going round to Athene at twelve o'clock.
I shall make it up with her. She must come back here.
MAUD [Aghast, but hiding it] Oh! It's--it's no good, father. She
We shall see that. I've quite got over my tantrum, and I
expect she has.
MAUD [Earnestly] Father! I do really assure you she won't; it's only
wasting your time, and making you eat humble pie.
Well, I can eat a good deal this morning. It's all nonsense!
A family's a family.
MAUD [More and more disturbed, but hiding it] Father, if I were you,
I wouldn't-really! It's not-dignified.
You can leave me to judge of that. It's not dignified for the
Mayor of this town to have an unmarried daughter as young as Athene
living by herself away from home. This idea that she's on a visit won't
wash any longer. Now finish that letter--"worthy, but you may rest
assured that I shall do my best to sustain the--er--dignity of the
office." [MAUD types desperately.] Got that? "And--er--preserve the
tradition so worthily--" No-- "so staunchly"--er--er--
Nobody much. There isn't anybody here to associate with. It's
all hopelessly behind the times.
Oh! you think so! That's the inflammatory fiction you pick up.
I tell you what, young woman--the sooner you and your sister get rid of
your silly notions about not living at home, and making your own way, the
sooner you'll both get married and make it. Men don't like the new
spirit in women--they may say they do, but they don't.
MAUD [With the paper] Yes. Look here, Topping! Can you manage--
on your bicycle--now at once? I want to send a message to Miss Athene
--awfully important. It's just this: "Look out! Father is coming."
[Holding out the paper] Here's her address. You must get there and away
again by twelve. Father and mother want the car then to go there. Order
it before you go. It won't take you twenty minutes on your bicycle.
It's down by the river near the ferry. But you mustn't be seen by them
either going or coming.
If I should fall into their hands, Miss, shall I eat the