It is Ascension Day in a village of the West. In the low
panelled hall-sittingroom of the BURLACOMBE'S farmhouse on the
village green, MICHAEL STRANGWAY, a clerical collar round his
throat and a dark Norfolk jacket on his back, is playing the
flute before a very large framed photograph of a woman, which is
the only picture on the walls. His age is about thirty-five his
figure thin and very upright and his clean-shorn face thin,
upright, narrow, with long and rather pointed ears; his dark
hair is brushed in a coxcomb off his forehead. A faint smile
hovers about his lips that Nature has made rather full and he
has made thin, as though keeping a hard secret; but his bright
grey eyes, dark round the rim, look out and upwards almost as if
he were being crucified. There is something about the whole of
him that makes him seen not quite present. A gentle creature,
A low broad window above a window-seat forms the background to
his figure; and through its lattice panes are seen the outer
gate and yew-trees of a churchyard and the porch of a church,
bathed in May sunlight. The front door at right angles to the
window-seat, leads to the village green, and a door on the left
into the house.
It is the third movement of Veracini's violin sonata that
STRANGWAY plays. His back is turned to the door into the house,
and he does not hear when it is opened, and IVY BURLACOMBE, the
farmer's daughter, a girl of fourteen, small and quiet as a
mouse, comes in, a prayer-book in one hand, and in the other a
gloss of water, with wild orchis and a bit of deep pink
hawthorn. She sits down on the window-seat, and having opened
her book, sniffs at the flowers. Coming to the end of the
movement STRANGWAY stops, and looking up at the face on the
wall, heaves a long sigh.
IVY [From the seat] I picked these for yu, Mr. Strangway.
STRANGWAY [Turning with a start] Ah! Ivy. Thank you. [He puts
his flute down on a chair against the far wall] Where are the
As he speaks, GLADYS FREMAN, a dark gipsyish girl, and CONNIE
TRUSTAFORD, a fair, stolid, blue-eyed Saxon, both about sixteen,
come in through the front door, behind which they have evidently
been listening. They too have prayer-books in their hands.
They sidle past Ivy, and also sit down under the window.
Good morning, Gladys; good morning, Connie.
He turns to a book-case on a table against the far wall, and
taking out a book, finds his place in it. While he stands thus
with his back to the girls, MERCY JARLAND comes in from the
green. She also is about sixteen, with fair hair and china-blue
eyes. She glides in quickly, hiding something behind her, and
sits down on the seat next the door. And at once there is a
Now, yesterday I was telling you what our Lord's coming
meant to the world. I want you to understand that before He came
there wasn't really love, as we know it. I don't mean to say that
there weren't many good people; but there wasn't love for the sake of
loving. D'you think you understand what I mean?
It isn't enough to love people because they're good to
you, or because in some way or other you're going to get something by
it. We have to love because we love loving. That's the great thing-
-without that we're nothing but Pagans.
I saw her yesterday. An' if she's there she ought to be
here. I told mother, an' she said: "Yu mind yer business." An' when
she goes in to market to-morrow she'm goin' to see. An' if she's
really there, mother says, 'tis a fine tu-du an' a praaper scandal.
So I know a lot more'n yu du.
MRS Strangway told mother she was goin' to France for the
winter because her mother was ill.
'Tisn't, winter now--Ascension Day. I saw her cumin' out o'
Dr. Desert's house. I know 'twas her because she had on a blue dress
an' a proud luke. Mother says the doctor come over here tu often
before MRS Strangway went away, just afore Christmas. They was old
sweethearts before she married Mr. Strangway. [To Ivy] 'Twas yure
mother told mother that.
Father says if MRS Bradmere an' the old Rector knew about
the doctor, they wouldn't 'ave Mr. Strangway 'ere for curate any
longer; because mother says it takes more'n a year for a gude wife to
leave her 'usband, an' 'e so fond of her. But 'tisn't no business of
ours, father says.
Mother says so tu. She's praaper set against gossip.
She'll know all about it to-morrow after market.
IVY [Stamping her foot] I don't want to 'ear nothin' at all; I
don't, an' I won't.
[A rather shame faced silence falls on the girls.]
GLADYS [In a quick whisper] 'Ere's MRS Burlacombe.
[There enters fawn the house a stout motherly woman with a round
grey eye and very red cheeks.]
Ivy, take Mr. Strangway his ink, or we'll never
'eve no sermon to-night. He'm in his thinkin' box, but 'tis not a
bit o' yuse 'im thinkin' without 'is ink. [She hands her daughter an
inkpot and blotting-pad. Ivy Takes them and goes out] What ever's
this? [She picks up the little bird-cage.]
'Tis Mercy Jarland's. Mr. Strangway let her skylark go.
Aw! Did 'e now? Serve 'er right, bringin' an
'eathen bird to confirmation class.
No. Yu leave it there, an' let Mr. Strangway du
what 'e likes with it. Bringin' a bird like that! Well 'I never!
[The girls, perceiving that they have lighted on stony soil,
look at each other and slide towards the door.]
Yes, yu just be off, an' think on what yu've been
told in class, an' be'ave like Christians, that's gude maids. An'
don't yu come no more in the 'avenin's dancin' them 'eathen dances in
my barn, naighther, till after yu'm confirmed--'tisn't right. I've
told Ivy I won't 'ave it.
Mr. Strangway don't mind--he likes us to; 'twas MRS
Strangway began teachin' us. He's goin' to give a prize.
Yu just du what I tell yu an' never mind Mr.
Strangway--he'm tu kind to everyone. D'yu think I don't know how
gells oughter be'ave before confirmation? Yu be'ave like I did!
Now, goo ahn! Shoo!
[She hustles them out, rather as she might hustle her chickens,
and begins tidying the room. There comes a wandering figure to
the open window. It is that of a man of about thirty-five, of
feeble gait, leaning the weight of all one side of him on a
stick. His dark face, with black hair, one lock of which has
gone white, was evidently once that of an ardent man. Now it is
slack, weakly smiling, and the brown eyes are lost, and seem
always to be asking something to which there is no answer.]
MRS BURLACOMBE [With that forced cheerfulness always assumed in
the face of too great misfortune] Well, Jim! better? [At the faint
brightening of the smile] That's right! Yu'm gettin' on bravely.
JIM [Nodding and smiling, and speaking slowly] I want to tell 'un
about my cat.
STRANGWAY [Entering from the house] MRS Burlacombe, I can't think
where I've put my book on St. Francis--the large, squarish pale-blue
Aw! there now! I knu there was somethin' on me
mind. Miss Willis she came in yesterday afternune when yu was out,
to borrow it. Oh! yes--I said--I'm zure Mr. Strangway'll lend it
'ee. Now think o' that!
Of course, MRS Burlacombe; very glad she's got it.
Aw! but that's not all. When I tuk it up there
come out a whole flutter o' little bits o' paper wi' little rhymes on
'em, same as I see yu writin'. Aw! my gudeness! I says to meself,
Mr. Strangway widn' want no one seein' them.
Ye-es, zurr. [A figure passes the window. Seeing it he says
with his slow smile] "'Ere's MRS Bradmere, comin' from the Rectory."
[With queer malice] She don't like cats. But she'm a cat 'erself, I
I don't think it is. 'Tis laziness, an' 'avin' 'er own way.
She'm very fond of 'er own way.
[A knock on the door cuts off his speech. Following closely on
the knock, as though no doors were licensed to be closed against
her, a grey-haired lady enters; a capable, broad-faced woman of
seventy, whose every tone and movement exhales authority. With
a nod and a "good morning" to STRANGWAY she turns at face to JIM
[JIM BERE shakes his head. MRS BRADMERE. Oh! yes, you are.
Getting on splendidly. And now, I just want to speak to Mr.
[JIM BERE touches his forelock, and slowly, leaning on his
stick, goes out.]
MRS BRADMERE [Waiting for the door to close] You know how that
came on him? Caught the girl he was engaged to, one night, with
another man, the rage broke something here. [She touches her
forehead] Four years ago.
[As she speaks MRS BURLACOMBE returns with a large pale-blue
book in her bared.]
Good day, M'm! [Taking the book across to
STRANGWAY] Miss Willie, she says she'm very sorry, zurr.
She was very welcome, MRS Burlacombe. [To MRS
BURLACOMBE] Forgive me--my sermon.
[He goes into the house. The two women graze after him. Then,
at once, as it were, draw into themselves, as if preparing for
an encounter, and yet seem to expand as if losing the need for
MRS BRADMERE [Abruptly] He misses his wife very much, I'm afraid.
Ah! Don't he? Poor dear man; he keeps a terrible
tight 'and over 'imself, but 'tis suthin' cruel the way he walks
about at night. He'm just like a cow when its calf's weaned. 'T'as
gone to me 'eart truly to see 'im these months past. T'other day
when I went up to du his rume, I yeard a noise like this [she
sniffs]; an' ther' 'e was at the wardrobe, snuffin' at 'er things. I
did never think a man cud care for a woman so much as that.
'Tis funny rest an' 'e comin' 'ere for quiet after
that tearin' great London parish! 'E'm terrible absent-minded tu-
-don't take no interest in 'is fude. Yesterday, goin' on for one
o'clock, 'e says to me, "I expect 'tis nearly breakfast-time, MRS
Burlacombe!" 'E'd 'ad it twice already!
Zurely! I give 'im a nummit afore 'e gets up; an'
'e 'as 'is brekjus reg'lar at nine. Must feed un up. He'm on 'is
feet all day, gain' to zee folk that widden want to zee an angel,
they're that busy; an' when 'e comes in 'e'll play 'is flute there.
Hem wastin' away for want of 'is wife. That's what 'tis. An' 'im so
sweet-spoken, tu, 'tes a pleasure to year 'im--Never says a word!
Yes, that's the kind of man who gets treated badly.
I'm afraid she's not worthy of him, MRS Burlacombe.
MRS BURLACOMBE [Plaiting her apron] 'Tesn't for me to zay that.
She'm a very pleasant lady.
Too pleasant. What's this story about her being seen
Aw! I du never year no gossip, m'm.
MRS BRADMERE [Drily] Of course not! But you see the Rector
wishes to know.
MRS BURLACOMBE [Flustered] Well--folk will talk! But, as I says
to Burlacombe--"'Tes paltry," I says; and they only married eighteen
months, and Mr. Strangway so devoted-like. 'Tes nothing but love,
'Tes wonderful how things du spread. 'Tesn't as if
us gossiped. Du seem to grow-like in the naight.
MRS BRADMERE [To herself] I never lied her. That Riviera excuse,
MRS Burlacombe--Very convenient things, sick mothers. Mr.
Strangway doesn't know?
The Lord forbid! 'Twid send un crazy, I think.
For all he'm so moony an' gentlelike, I think he'm a terrible
passionate man inside. He've a-got a saint in 'im, for zure; but
'tes only 'alf-baked, in a manner of spakin'.
I shall go and see MRS Freman. There's been too
much of this gossip all the winter.
'Tes unfortunate-like 'tes the Fremans. Freman
he'm a gipsy sort of a feller; and he've never forgiven Mr. Strangway
for spakin' to 'im about the way he trates 'is 'orses.
Ah! I'm afraid Mr. Strangway's not too discreet when
his feelings are touched.
'E've a-got an 'eart so big as the full mune. But
'tes no yuse espectin' tu much o' this world. 'Tes a funny place,
Yes, MRS Burlacombe; and I shall give some of these
good people a rare rap over the knuckles for their want of charity.
For all they look as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, they're
an un-Christian lot. [Looking very directly at MRS BURLACOMBE]
It's lucky we've some hold over the village. I'm not going to have
scandal. I shall speak to Sir Herbert, and he and the Rector will
MRS BURLACOMBE [With covert malice] Aw! I du hope 'twon't upset
the Rector, an' 'is fute so poptious!
MRS BRADMERE [Grimly] His foot'll be sound enough to come down
sharp. By the way, will you send me a duck up to the Rectory?
MRS BURLACOMBE [Glad to get away] Zurely, m'm; at once. I've
some luv'ly fat birds.
[She turns to go, and in the doorway encounters a very little,
red-cheeked girl in a peacock-blue cap, and pink frock, who
Well, Tibby Jarland, what do you want here? Always
sucking something, aren't you?
[Getting no reply from Tibby JARLAND, she passes out. Tibby
comes in, looks round, takes a large sweet out of her mouth,
contemplates it, and puts it back again. Then, in a perfunctory
and very stolid fashion, she looks about the floor, as if she
had been told to find something. While she is finding nothing
and sucking her sweet, her sister MERCY comes in furtively,
still frowning and vindictive.]
What! Haven't you found it, Tibby? Get along with 'ee,
[She accelerates the stolid Tissy's departure with a smack,
searches under the seat, finds and picks up the deserted
sixpence. Then very quickly she goes to the door: But it is
opened before she reaches it, and, finding herself caught, she
slips behind the chintz window-curtain. A woman has entered,
who is clearly the original of the large photograph. She is not
strictly pretty, but there is charm in her pale, resolute face,
with its mocking lips, flexible brows, and greenish eyes, whose
lids, square above them, have short, dark lashes. She is
dressed in blue, and her fair hair is coiled up under a cap and
motor-veil. She comes in swiftly, and closes the door behind
her; becomes irresolute; then, suddenly deciding, moves towards
the door into the house. MERCY slips from behind her curtain to
make off, but at that moment the door into the house is opened,
and she has at once to slip back again into covert. It is Ivy
who has appeared.]
[Ivy looks at her as if she would speak again, then turns
suddenly, and goes out. BEATRICE'S face darkens; she shivers.
Taking out a little cigarette case, she lights a cigarette, and
watches the puff's of smoke wreathe shout her and die away. The
frightened MERCY peers out, spying for a chance, to escape.
Then from the house STRANGWAY comes in. All his dreaminess is
Thank God! [He stops at the look on her face] I don't
understand, though. I thought you were still out there.
BEATRICE [Letting her cigarette fall, and putting her foot on it]
You're staying? Oh! Beatrice; come! We'll get away from
here at once--as far, as far--anywhere you like. Oh! my darling-
-only come! If you knew----
It's no good, Michael; I've tried and tried.
Not! Then, why--? Beatrice! You said, when you were
right away--I've waited----
I know. It's cruel--it's horrible. But I told you not to
hope, Michael. I've done my best. All these months at Mentone, I've
been wondering why I ever let you marry me--when that feeling wasn't
You can't have come back just to leave me again?
When you let me go out there with mother I thought--I did
think I would be able; and I had begun--and then--spring came!
Spring came here too! Never so--aching! Beatrice, can't
To know what you're going to do. Are you going to divorce
me? We're in your power. Don't divorce me--Doctor and patient--you
must know--it ruins him. He'll lose everything. He'd be
disqualified, and he hasn't a penny without his work.
One does not easily know love, it seems.
[But her smile, faint, mysterious, pitying, is enough, and he
turns away from her.]
It was cruel to come, I know. For me, too. But I
couldn't write. I had to know.
Never loved me? Never loved me? That night at Tregaron?
[At the look on her face] You might have told me before you went
away! Why keep me all these----
I meant to forget him again. I did mean to. I thought I
could get back to what I was, when I married you; but, you see, what
a girl can do, a woman that's been married--can't.
Then it was I--my kisses that----! [He laughs] How did
you stand them? [His eyes dart at her face] Imagination helped you,
Michael, don't, don't! And--oh! don't make a public thing
of it! You needn't be afraid I shall have too good a time!
[He stays quite still and silent, and that which is writhing in
him makes his face so strange that BEATRICE stands aghast. At
last she goes stumbling on in speech]
If ever you want to marry some one else--then, of course--that's only
fair, ruin or not. But till then--till then----He's leaving
Durford, going to Brighton. No one need know. And you--this isn't
the only parish in the world.
STRANGWAY [Quietly] You ask me to help you live in secret with
STRANGWAY [Turning away] God!--if there be one help me! [He
stands leaning his forehead against the window. Suddenly his glance
falls on the little bird cage, still lying on the window-seat] Never
cage any wild thing! [He gives a laugh that is half a sob; then,
turning to the door, says in a low voice] Go! Go please, quickly!
Do what you will. I won't hurt you--can't----But--go! [He opens
[She passes him with her head down, and goes out quickly.
STRANGWAY stands unconsciously tearing at the little bird-cage.
And while he tears at it he utters a moaning sound. The
terrified MERCY, peering from behind the curtain, and watching
her chance, slips to the still open door; but in her haste and
fright she knocks against it, and STRANGWAY sees her. Before he
can stop her she has fled out on to the green and away.]
[While he stands there, paralysed, the door from the house is
opened, and MRS BURLACOMBE approaches him in a queer, hushed
MRS BURLACOMBE [Her eyes mechanically fixed on the twisted
bird-cage in his hands] 'Tis poor Sue Cremer, zurr, I didn't 'ardly
think she'd last thru the mornin'. An' zure enough she'm passed
away! [Seeing that he has not taken in her words] Mr. Strangway--
yu'm feelin' giddy?
MRS BURLACOMBE [Doubtfully] I'll send 'im in, then. [She goes.
When she is gone, Strangway passes his handkerchief across his
forehead, and his lips move fast. He is standing motionless when
CREMER, a big man in labourer's clothes, with a thick, broad face,
and tragic, faithful eyes, comes in, and stands a little in from the
elosed door, quite dumb.]
STRANGWAY [After a moment's silence--going up to him and laying a
hand on his shoulder] Jack! Don't give way. If we give way--we're
Yes, zurr. [A quiver passes over his face.]
She didn't. Your wife was a brave woman. A dear woman.
I never thought to luse 'er. She never told me 'ow bad she
was, afore she tuk to 'er bed. 'Tis a dreadful thing to luse a wife,
STRANGWAY [Tightening his lips, that tremble] Yes. But don't give
way! Bear up, Jack!
Seems funny 'er goin' blue-bell time, an' the sun shinin' so
warm. I picked up an 'orse-shu yesterday. I can't never 'ave 'er
Some day you'll join her. Think! Some lose their wives
I don't believe as there's a future life, zurr. I think we
goo to sleep like the beasts.
We're told otherwise. But come here! [Drawing him to
the window] Look! Listen! To sleep in that! Even if we do, it
won't be so bad, Jack, will it?
She wer' a gude wife to me--no man didn't 'ave no better
STRANGWAY [Putting his hand out] Take hold--hard--harder! I want
yours as much as you want mine. Pray for me, Jack, and I'll pray for
you. And we won't give way, will we?
CREMER [To whom the strangeness of these words has given some
relief] No, zurr; thank 'ee, zurr. 'Tes no gude, I expect. Only,
I'll miss 'er. Thank 'ee, zurr; kindly.
[He lifts his hand to his head, turns, and uncertainly goes out
to the kitchen. And STRANGWAY stays where he is, not knowing
what to do. They blindly he takes up his flute, and hatless,
hurries out into the air.]