ACT III
Scene I
 

Ten o'clock the following morning, in the study of the Mayor of Breconridge, a panelled room with no window visible, a door Left back and a door Right forward. The entire back wall is furnished with books from floor to ceiling; the other walls are panelled and bare. Before the fireplace, Left, are two armchairs, and other chairs are against the walls. On the Right is a writing-bureau at right angles to the footlights, with a chair behind it. At its back corner stands HARRIS, telephoning.

HARRIS
What--[Pause] Well, it's infernally awkward, Sergeant. . . . The Mayor's in a regular stew. . . . [Listens] New constable? I should think so! Young fool! Look here, Martin, the only thing to do is to hear the charge here at once. I've sent for Mr Chantrey; he's on his way. Bring Mr Builder and the witnesses round sharp. See? And, I say, for God's sake keep it dark. Don't let the Press get on to it. Why you didn't let him go home--! Black eye? The constable? Well, serve him right. Blundering young ass! I mean, it's undermining all authority. . . . Well, you oughtn't--at least, I. . . Damn it all!--it's a nine days' wonder if it gets out--! All right! As soon as you can. [He hangs up the receiver, puts a second chair behind the bureau, and other chairs facing it.] [To himself] Here's a mess! Johnny Builder, of all men! What price Mayors!

The telephone rings.

Hallo? . . . Poaching charge? Well, bring him too; only, I say, keep him back till the other's over. By the way, Mr Chantrey's going shooting. He'll want to get off by eleven. What? . . Righto !

As he hangs up the receiver the MAYOR enters. He looks worried, and is still dressed with the indefinable wrongness of a burgher.

MAYOR
Well, 'Arris?

HARRIS
They'll be over in five minutes, Mr Mayor.

MAYOR
Mr Chantrey?

HARRIS
On his way, sir.

MAYOR
I've had some awkward things to deal with in my time, 'Arris, but this is just about the [Sniffs] limit.

HARRIS
Most uncomfortable, Sir; most uncomfortable!

MAYOR
Put a book on the chair, 'Arris; I like to sit 'igh.

HARRIS puts a volume of Eneyclopaedia on the Mayor's chair behind the bureau.

[Deeply] Our fellow-magistrate! A family man! In my shoes next year. I suppose he won't be, now. You can't keep these things dark.

HARRIS
I've warned Martin, sir, to use the utmost discretion. Here's Mr Chantrey.

By the door Left, a pleasant and comely gentleman has entered, dressed with indefinable rightness in shooting clothes.

MAYOR
Ah, Chantrey!

CHANTREY
How de do, Mr Mayor? [Nodding to HARRIS] This is extraordinarily unpleasant.

The MAYOR nods.

What on earth's he been doing?

HARRIS
Assaulting one of his own daughters with a stick; and resisting the police.

CHANTREY
[With a low whistle] Daughter! Charity begins at home.

HARRIS
There's a black eye.

MAYOR
Whose?

HARRIS
The constable's.

CHANTREY
How did the police come into it?

HARRIS
I don't know, sir. The worst of it is he's been at the police station since four o'clock yesterday. The Superintendent's away, and Martin never will take responsibility.

CHANTREY
By George! he will be mad. John Builder's a choleric fellow.

MAYOR
[Nodding] He is. 'Ot temper, and an 'igh sense of duty.

HARRIS
There's one other charge, Mr Mayor--poaching. I told them to keep that back till after.

CHANTREY
Oh, well, we'll make short work of that. I want to get off by eleven, Harris. I shall be late for the first drive anyway. John Builder! I say, Mayor--but for the grace of God, there go we!

MAYOR
Harris, go out and bring them in yourself; don't let the servants--

HARRIS goes out Left. The MAYOR takes the upper chair behind the bureau, sitting rather higher because of the book than CHANTREY, who takes the lower. Now that they are in the seats of justice, a sort of reticence falls on them, as if they were afraid of giving away their attitudes of mind to some unseen presence.

MAYOR
[Suddenly] H'm!

CHANTREY
Touch of frost. Birds ought to come well to the guns--no wind. I like these October days.

MAYOR
I think I 'ear them. H'm.

CHANTREY drops his eyeglass and puts on a pair of "grandfather" spectacles. The MAYOR clears his throat and takes up a pen. They neither of them look up as the door is opened and a little procession. files in. First HARRIS; then RALPH BUILDER, ATHENE, HERRINGHAME, MAUD, MRS BUILDER, SERGEANT MARTIN, carrying a heavy Malacca cane with a silver knob; JOHN BUILDER and the CONSTABLE MOON, a young man with one black eye. No funeral was ever attended by mutes so solemn and dejected. They stand in a sort of row.

MAYOR
[Without looking up] Sit down, ladies; sit down.

HARRIS and HERRINGHAME succeed in placing the three women in chairs. RALPH BUILDER also sits. HERRINGHAME stands behind. JOHN BUILDER remains standing between the two POLICEMEN. His face is unshaved and menacing, but he stands erect staring straight at the MAYOR. HARRIS goes to the side of the bureau, Back, to take down the evidence.

MAYOR
Charges!

SERGEANT
John Builder, of The Cornerways, Breconridge, Contractor and Justice of the Peace, charged with assaulting his daughter Maud Builder by striking her with a stick in the presence of Constable Moon and two other persons; also with resisting Constable Moon in the execution of his duty, and injuring his eye. Constable Moon!

MOON
[Stepping forward-one, two--like an automaton, and saluting] In River Road yesterday afternoon, Your Worship, about three-thirty p.m., I was attracted by a young woman callin' "Constable" outside a courtyard. On hearing the words "Follow me, quick," I followed her to a painter's studio inside the courtyard, where I found three persons in the act of disagreement. No sooner 'ad I appeared than the defendant, who was engaged in draggin' a woman towards the door, turns to the young woman who accompanied me, with violence. "You dare, father," she says; whereupon he hit her twice with the stick the same which is produced, in the presence of myself and the two other persons, which I'm given to understand is his wife and other daughter.

MAYOR
Yes; never mind what you're given to understand.

MOON
No, sir. The party struck turns to me and says, "Come in. I give this man in charge for assault." I moves accordingly with the words: "I saw you. Come along with me." The defendant turns to me sharp and says: "You stupid lout--I'm a magistrate." "Come off it," I says to the best of my recollection. "You struck this woman in my presence," I says, "and you come along!" We were then at close quarters. The defendant gave me a push with the words: "Get out, you idiot!" "Not at all," I replies, and took 'old of his arm. A struggle ensues, in the course of which I receives the black eye which I herewith produce. [He touches his eye with awful solemnity.]

The MAYOR clears his throat; CHANTREY'S eyes goggle; HARRIS bends over and writes rapidly.

During the struggle, Your Worship, a young man has appeared on the scene, and at the instigation of the young woman, the same who was assaulted, assists me in securing the prisoner, whose language and resistance was violent in the extreme. We placed him in a cab which we found outside, and I conveyed him to the station.

CHANTREY
What was his--er--conduct in the--er--cab?

MOON
He sat quiet.

CHANTREY
That seems--

MOON
Seein' I had his further arm twisted behind him.

MAYOR [Looking at BUILDER]
Any questions to ask him?

BUILDER makes not the faintest sign, and the MAYOR drops his glance.

MAYOR
Sergeant?

MOON steps back two paces, and the SERGEANT steps two paces forward.

SERGEANT
At ten minutes to four, Your Worship, yesterday afternoon, Constable Moon brought the defendant to the station in a four-wheeled cab. On his recounting the circumstances of the assault, they were taken down and read over to the defendant with the usual warning. The defendant said nothing. In view of the double assault and the condition of the constable's eye, and in the absence of the Superintendent, I thought it my duty to retain the defendant for the night.

MAYOR
The defendant said nothing?

SERGEANT
He 'as not opened his lips to my knowledge, Your Worship, from that hour to this.

MAYOR
Any questions to ask the Sergeant?

BUILDER continues to stare at the MAYOR without a word.

MAYOR
Very well!

The MAYOR and CHANTREY now consult each other inaudibly, and the Mayor nods.

MAYOR
Miss Maud Builder, will you tell us what you know of this--er-- occurrence?

MAUD
[Rising; with eyes turning here and there] Must I?

MAYOR
I'm afraid you must.

MAUD
[After a look at her father, who never turns his eyes from the MAYOR's face] I--I wish to withdraw the charge of striking me, please. I--I never meant to make it. I was in a temper--I saw red.

MAYOR
I see. A--a domestic disagreement. Very well, that charge is withdrawn. You do not appear to have been hurt, and that seems to me quite proper. Now, tell me what you know of the assault on the constable. Is his account correct?

MAUD
[Timidly] Ye-yes. Only--

MAYOR
Yes? Tell us the truth.

MAUD
[Resolutely] Only, I don't think my father hit the constable. I think the stick did that.

MAYOR
Oh, the stick? But--er--the stick was in 'is 'and, wasn't it?

MAUD
Yes; but I mean, my father saw red, and the constable saw red, and the stick flew up between them and hit him in the eye.

CHANTREY
And then he saw black?

MAYOR
[With corrective severity] But did 'e 'it 'im with the stick?

MAUD
No--no. I don't think he did.

MAYOR
Then who supplied the--er--momentum?

MAUD
I think there was a struggle for the cane, and it flew up.

MAYOR
Hand up the cane.

The SERGEANT hands up the cane. The MAYOR and CHANTREY examine it.

MAYOR
Which end--do you suggest--inflicted this injury?

MAUD
Oh! the knob end, sir.

MAYOR
What do you say to that, constable?

MOON
[Stepping the mechanical two paces] I don't deny there was a struggle, Your Worship, but it's my impression I was 'it.

CHANTREY
Of course you were bit; we can see that. But with the cane or with the fist?

MOON
[A little flurried] I--I--with the fist, sir.

MAYOR
Be careful. Will you swear to that?

MOON
[With that sudden uncertainty which comes over the most honest in such circumstances] Not--not so to speak in black and white, Your Worship; but that was my idea at the time.

MAYOR
You won't swear to it?

MOON
I'll swear he called me an idiot and a lout; the words made a deep impression on me.

CHANTREY
[To himself] Mort aux vaches!

MAYOR
Eh? That'll do, constable; stand back. Now, who else saw the struggle? Mrs Builder. You're not obliged to say anything unless you like. That's your privilege as his wife.

While he is speaking the door has been opened, and HARRIS has gone swiftly to it, spoken to someone and returned. He leans forward to the MAYOR.

Eh? Wait a minute. Mrs Builder, do you wish to give evidence?

MRS BUILDER
[Rising] No, Mr Mayor.

MRS BUILDER Sits.

MAYOR
Very good. [To HARRIS] Now then, what is it?

HARRIS says something in a low and concerned voice. The MAYOR'S face lengthens. He leans to his right and consults CHANTREY, who gives a faint and deprecating shrug. A moment's silence.

MAYOR
This is an open Court. The Press have the right to attend if they wish.

HARRIS goes to the door and admits a young man in glasses, of a pleasant appearance, and indicates to him a chair at the back. At this untimely happening BUILDER's eyes have moved from side to side, but now he regains his intent and bull-like stare at his fellow- justices.

MAYOR
[To Maud] You can sit down, Miss Builder.

MAUD resumes her seat.

Miss Athene Builder, you were present, I think?

ATHENE
[Rising] Yes, Sir.

MAYOR
What do you say to this matter?

ATHENE
I didn't see anything very clearly, but I think my sister's account is correct, sir.

MAYOR
Is it your impression that the cane inflicted the injury?

ATHENE
[In a low voice] Yes.

MAYOR
With or without deliberate intent?

ATHENE
Oh! without.

BUILDER looks at her.

MAYOR
But you were not in a position to see very well?

ATHENE
No, Sir.

MAYOR
Your sister having withdrawn her charge, we needn't go into that. Very good!

He motions her to sit down. ATHENE, turning her eyes on her Father's impassive figure, sits.

MAYOR
Now, there was a young man. [Pointing to HERRINGHAME] Is this the young man?

MOON
Yes, Your Worship.

MAYOR
What's your name?

GUY
Guy Herringhame.

MAYOR
Address?

GUY
Er--the Aerodrome, Sir.

MAYOR
Private, I mean?

The moment is one of considerable tension.

GUY
[With an effort] At the moment, sir, I haven't one. I've just left my diggings, and haven't yet got any others.

MAYOR
H'm! The Aerodrome. How did you come to be present?

GUY
I--er

BUILDER's eyes go round and rest on him for a moment.

It's in my sister's studio that Miss Athene Builder is at present working, sir. I just happened to--to turn up.

MAYOR
Did you appear on the scene, as the constable says, during the struggle?

GUY
Yes, sir.

MAYOR
Did he summon you to his aid?

GUY
Yes--No, sir. Miss Maud Builder did that.

MAYOR
What do you say to this blow?

GUY
[Jerking his chin up a little] Oh! I saw that clearly.

MAYOR
Well, let us hear.

GUY
The constable's arm struck the cane violently and it flew up and landed him in the eye.

MAYOR
[With a little grunt] You are sure of that?

GUY
Quite sure, sir.

MAYOR
Did you hear any language?

GUY
Nothing out of the ordinary, sir. One or two damns and blasts.

MAYOR
You call that ordinary?

GUY
Well, he's a--magistrate, sir.

The MAYOR utters a profound grunt. CHANTREY smiles. There is a silence. Then the MAYOR leans over to CHANTREY for a short colloquy.

CHANTREY
Did you witness any particular violence other than a resistance to arrest?

GUY
No, sir.

MAYOR
[With a gesture of dismissal] Very well, That seems to be the evidence. Defendant John Builder--what do you say to all this?

BUILDER
[In a voice different from any we have heard from him] Say! What business had he to touch me, a magistrate? I gave my daughter two taps with a cane in a private house, for interfering with me for taking my wife home--

MAYOR
That charge is not pressed, and we can't go into the circumstances. What do you wish to say about your conduct towards the constable?

BUILDER
[In his throat] Not a damned thing!

MAYOR
[Embarrassed] I--I didn't catch.

CHANTREY
Nothing--nothing, he said, Mr Mayor.

MAYOR
[Clearing his throat] I understand, then, that you do not wish to offer any explanation?

BUILDER
I consider myself abominably treated, and I refuse to say another word.

MAYOR
[Drily] Very good. Miss Maud Builder.

MAUD stands up.

MAYOR
When you spoke of the defendant seeing red, what exactly did you mean?

MAUD
I mean that my father was so angry that he didn't know what he was doing.

CHANTREY
Would you say as angry as he--er--is now?

MAUD
[With a faint smile] Oh! much more angry.

RALPH BUILDER stands up.

RALPH
Would you allow me to say a word, Mr Mayor?

MAYOR
Speaking of your own knowledge, Mr Builder?

RALPH
In regard to the state of my brother's mind--yes, Mr Mayor. He was undoubtedly under great strain yesterday; certain circumstances, domestic and otherwise--

MAYOR
You mean that he might have been, as one might say, beside himself?

RALPH
Exactly, Sir.

MAYOR
Had you seen your brother?

RALPH
I had seen him shortly before this unhappy business.

The MAYOR nods and makes a gesture, so that MAUD and RALPH sit down; then, leaning over, he confers in a low voice with CHANTREY. The rest all sit or stand exactly as if each was the only person in the room, except the JOURNALIST, who is writing busily and rather obviously making a sketch of BUILDER.

MAYOR
Miss Athene Builder.

ATHENE stands up.

This young man, Mr Herringhame, I take it, is a friend of the family's?

A moment of some tension.

ATHENE
N--no, Mr Mayor, not of my father or mother.

CHANTREY
An acquaintance of yours?

ATHENE
Yes.

MAYOR
Very good. [He clears his throat] As the defendant, wrongly, we think, refuses to offer his explanation of this matter, the Bench has to decide on the evidence as given. There seems to be some discrepancy as to the blow which the constable undoubtedly received. In view of this, we incline to take the testimony of Mr--

HARRIS prompts him.

Mr 'Erringhame--as the party least implicated personally in the affair, and most likely to 'ave a cool and impartial view. That evidence is to the effect that the blow was accidental. There is no doubt, however, that the defendant used reprehensible language, and offered some resistance to the constable in the execution of his duty. Evidence 'as been offered that he was in an excited state of mind; and it is possible --I don't say that this is any palliation--but it is possible that he may have thought his position as magistrate made him--er--

CHANTREY
[Prompting] Caesar's wife.

MAYOR
Eh? We think, considering all the circumstances, and the fact that he has spent a night in a cell, that justice will be met by--er-- discharging him with a caution.

BUILDER
[With a deeply muttered] The devil you do!

Walks out of the room. The JOURNALIST, grabbing his pad, starts up and follows. The BUILDERS rise and huddle, and, with HERRINGHAME, are ushered out by HARRIS.

MAYOR
[Pulling out a large handkerchief and wiping his forehead] My Aunt!

CHANTREY
These new constables, Mayor! I say, Builder'll have to go! Damn the Press, how they nose everything out! The Great Unpaid!-- We shall get it again! [He suddenly goes off into a fit of laughter] "Come off it," I says, "to the best of my recollection." Oh! Oh! I shan't hit a bird all day! That poor devil Builder! It's no joke for him. You did it well, Mayor; you did it well. British justice is safe in your hands. He blacked the fellow's eye all right. "Which I herewith produce." Oh! my golly! It beats the band!

His uncontrollable laughter and the MAYOR'S rueful appreciation are exchanged with lightning rapidity for a preternatural solemnity, as the door opens, admitting SERGEANT MARTIN and the lugubrious object of their next attentions.

MAYOR
Charges.

SERGEANT steps forward to read the charge as

The CURTAIN falls.