ACT III
Scene III
 

Evening the same day.

BUILDER's study is dim and neglected-looking; the window is still open, though it has become night. A street lamp outside shines in, and the end of its rays fall on BUILDER asleep. He is sitting in a high chair at the fireside end of the writing-table, with his elbows on it, and his cheek resting on his hand. He is still unshaven, and his clothes unchanged. A Boy's head appears above the level of the window-sill, as if beheaded and fastened there.

BOY'S VOICE
[In a forceful whisper] Johnny Builder!

BUILDER stirs uneasily. The Boy's head vanishes. BUILDER, raising his other hand, makes a sweep before his face, as if to brush away a mosquito. He wakes. Takes in remembrance, and sits a moment staring gloomily before him. The door from the hall is opened and TOPPING comes in with a long envelope in his hand.

TOPPING
[Approaching] From the "Comet," sir. Proof of your interview, sir; will you please revise, the messenger says; he wants to take it back at once.

BUILDER
[Taking it] All right. I'll ring.

TOPPING
Shall I close in, sir?

BUILDER
Not now.

TOPPING withdraws. BUILDER turns up a standard lamp on the table, opens the envelope, and begins reading the galley slip. The signs of uneasiness and discomfort grow on him.

BUILDER
Did I say that? Muck! Muck! [He drops the proof, sits a moment moving his head and rubbing one hand uneasily on the surface of the table, then reaches out for the telephone receiver] Town, 245. [Pause] The "Comet"? John Builder. Give me the Editor. [Pause] That you, Mr Editor? John Builder speaking. That interview. I've got the proof. It won't do. Scrap the whole thing, please. I don't want to say anything. [Pause] Yes. I know I said it all; I can't help that. [Pause] No; I've changed my mind. Scrap it, please. [Pause] No, I will not say anything. [Pause] You can say what you dam' well please. [Pause] I mean it; if you put a word into my mouth, I'll sue you for defamation of character. It's undignified muck. I'm tearing it up. Good-night. [He replaces the receiver, and touches a bell; then, taking up the galley slip, he tears it viciously across into many pieces, and rams them into the envelope.]

TOPPING enters.

Here, give this to the messenger-sharp, and tell him to run with it.

TOPPING
[Whose hand can feel the condition of the contents, with a certain surprise] Yes, sir.

He goes, with a look back from the door.

The Mayor is here, sir. I don't know whether you would wish

BUILDER, rising, takes a turn up and down the room.

BUILDER
Nor do I. Yes! I'll see him.

TOPPING goes out, and BUILDER stands over by the fender, with his head a little down.

TOPPING
[Re-entering] The Mayor, sir.

He retires up Left. The MAYOR is overcoated, and carries, of all things, a top hat. He reaches the centre of the room before he speaks.

MAYOR
[Embarrassed] Well, Builder?

BUILDER
Well?

MAYOR
Come! That caution of mine was quite parliamentary. I 'ad to save face, you know.

BUILDER
And what about my face?

MAYOR
Well, you--you made it difficult for me. 'Ang it all! Put yourself into my place!

BUILDER
[Grimly] I'd rather put you into mine, as it was last night.

MAYOR
Yes, yes! I know; but the Bench has got a name to keep up--must stand well in the people's eyes. As it is, I sailed very near the wind. Suppose we had an ordinary person up before us for striking a woman?

BUILDER
I didn't strike a woman--I struck my daughter.

MAYOR
Well, but she's not a child, you know. And you did resist the police, if no worse. Come! You'd have been the first to maintain British justice. Shake 'ands!

BUILDER
Is that what you came for?

MAYOR
[Taken aback] Why--yes; nobody can be more sorry than I--

BUILDER
Eye-wash! You came to beg me to resign.

MAYOR
Well, it's precious awkward, Builder. We all feel--

BUILDER
Save your powder, Mayor. I've slept on it since I wrote you that note. Take my resignations.

MAYOR
[In relieved embarrassment] That's right. We must face your position.

BUILDER
[With a touch of grim humour] I never yet met a man who couldn't face another man's position.

MAYOR
After all, what is it?

BUILDER
Splendid isolation. No wife, no daughters, no Councillorship, no Magistracy, no future--[With a laugh] not even a French maid. And why? Because I tried to exercise a little wholesome family authority. That's the position you're facing, Mayor.

MAYOR
Dear, dear! You're devilish bitter, Builder. It's unfortunate, this publicity. But it'll all blow over; and you'll be back where you were. You've a good sound practical sense underneath your temper. [A pause] Come, now! [A pause] Well, I'll say good-night, then.

BUILDER
You shall have them in writing tomorrow.

MAYOR
[With sincerity] Come! Shake 'ands.

BUILDER, after a long look, holds out his hand. The two men exchange a grip.

The MAYOR, turning abruptly, goes out.

BUILDER remains motionless for a minute, then resumes his seat at the side of the writing table, leaning his head on his hands.

The Boy's head is again seen rising above the level of the window- sill, and another and another follows, till the three, as if decapitated, heads are seen in a row.

BOYS' VOICES
[One after another in a whispered crescendo] Johnny Builder! Johnny Builder! Johnny Builder!

BUILDER rises, turns and stares at them. The THREE HEADS disappear, and a Boy's voice cries shrilly: "Johnny Builder!" BUILDER moves towards the window; voices are now crying in various pitches and keys: "Johnny Builder!" "Beatey Builder!" "Beat 'is wife-er!" "Beatey Builder!"

BUILDER stands quite motionless, staring, with the street lamp lighting up a queer, rather pitiful defiance on his face. The voices swell. There comes a sudden swish and splash of water, and broken yells of dismay.

TOPPING'S VOICE
Scat! you young devils!

The sound of scuffling feet and a long-drawnout and distant "Miaou!"

BUILDER stirs, shuts the window, draws the curtains, goes to the armchair before the fireplace and sits down in it.

TOPPING enters with a little tray on which is a steaming jug of fluid, some biscuits and a glass. He comes stealthily up level with the chair. BUILDER stirs and looks up at him.

TOPPING
Excuse me, sir, you must 'ave digested yesterday morning's breakfast by now--must live to eat, sir.

BUILDER
All right. Put it down.

TOPPING
[Putting the tray down on the table and taking up BUILDER'S pipe] I fair copped those young devils.

BUILDER
You're a good fellow.

TOPPING
[Filling the pipe] You'll excuse me, sir; the Missis--has come back, sir--

BUILDER stares at him and TOPPING stops. He hands BUILDER the filled pipe and a box of matches.

BUILDER
[With a shiver] Light the fire, Topping. I'm chilly.

While TOPPING lights the fire BUILDER puts the pipe in his mouth and applies a match to it. TOPPING, having lighted the fire, turns to go, gets as far as half way, then comes back level with the table and regards the silent brooding figure in the chair.

BUILDER
[Suddenly] Give me that paper on the table. No; the other one--the Will.

TOPPING takes up the Will and gives it to him.

TOPPING
[With much hesitation] Excuse me, sir. It's pluck that get's 'em 'ome, sir--begging your pardon.

BUILDER has resumed his attitude and does not answer.

[In a voice just touched with feeling] Good-night, sir.

BUILDER
[Without turning his head] Good-night.

TOPPING has gone. BUILDER sits drawing at his pipe between the firelight and the light from the standard lamp. He takes the pipe out of his mouth and a quiver passes over his face. With a half angry gesture he rubs the back of his hand across his eyes.

BUILDER
[To himself] Pluck! Pluck! [His lips quiver again. He presses them hard together, puts his pipe back into his mouth, and, taking the Will, thrusts it into the newly-lighted fire and holds it there with a poker.]

While he is doing this the door from the hall is opened quietly, and MRS BUILDER enters without his hearing her. She has a work bag in her hand. She moves slowly to the table, and stands looking at him. Then going up to the curtains she mechanically adjusts them, and still keeping her eyes on BUILDER, comes down to the table and pours out his usual glass of whisky toddy. BUILDER, who has become conscious of her presence, turns in his chair as she hands it to him. He sits a moment motionless, then takes it from her, and squeezes her hand. MRS BUILDER goes silently to her usual chair below the fire, and taking out some knitting begins to knit. BUILDER makes an effort to speak, does not succeed, and sits drawing at his pipe.

The CURTAIN falls.