Late in the evening. Past ten. The curtains are drawn, and the
lamps lighted. The typewriter is in its case; the large table has
been cleared and tidied; everything indicates that the day's work
Candida and Marchbanks are seated at the fire. The reading lamp
is on the mantelshelf above Marchbanks, who is sitting on the
small chair reading aloud from a manuscript. A little pile of
manuscripts and a couple of volumes of poetry are on the carpet
beside him. Candida is in the easy chair with the poker, a light
brass one, upright in her hand. She is leaning back and looking
at the point of it curiously, with her feet stretched towards the
blaze and her heels resting on the fender, profoundly unconscious
of her appearance and surroundings.
MARCHBANKS[breaking off in his recitation]
Every poet that ever
lived has put that thought into a sonnet. He must: he can't help
it. [He looks to her for assent, and notices her absorption in
the poker.] Haven't you been listening? [No response.] Mrs.
Why didn't you tell me? I'd have put it down at once.
I was afraid of making you uneasy, too. It looked as
if it were a weapon. If I were a hero of old, I should have laid
my drawn sword between us. If Morell had come in he would have
thought you had taken up the poker because there was no sword
What? [With a puzzled glance at him.] I
can't quite follow that. Those sonnets of yours have perfectly
addled me. Why should there be a sword between us?
Oh, never mind. [He stoops to pick up the
Put that down again, Eugene. There are limits to my
appetite for poetry--even your poetry. You've been reading to me
for more than two hours--ever since James went out. I want to
No: I mustn't talk. [He looks round
him in his lost way, and adds, suddenly] I think I'll go out and
take a walk in the park. [Making for the door.]
Nonsense: it's shut long ago. Come and sit down on the
hearth-rug, and talk moonshine as you usually do. I want to be
amused. Don't you want to?
Then come along. [She moves her chair back a little to
make room. He hesitates; then timidly stretches himself on the
hearth-rug, face upwards, and throws back his head across her
knees, looking up at her.]
Oh, I've been so miserable all the evening,
because I was doing right. Now I'm doing wrong; and I'm happy.
CANDIDA[tenderly amused at him]
Yes: I'm sure you feel a great
grown up wicked deceiver--quite proud of yourself, aren't you?
MARCHBANKS[raising his head quickly and turning a little to look
round at her]
Take care. I'm ever so much older than you, if you
only knew. [He turns quite over on his knees, with his hands
clasped and his arms on her lap, and speaks with growing impulse,
his blood beginning to stir.] May I say some wicked things to
CANDIDA[without the least fear or coldness, quite nobly, and
with perfect respect for his passion, but with a touch of her
wise-hearted maternal humor]
No. But you may say anything you
really and truly feel. Anything at all, no matter what it is. I
am not afraid, so long as it is your real self that speaks, and
not a mere attitude--a gallant attitude, or a wicked attitude, or
even a poetic attitude. I put you on your honor and truth. Now
say whatever you want to.
MARCHBANKS[the eager expression vanishing utterly from his lips
and nostrils as his eyes light up with pathetic spirituality]
Oh, now I can't say anything: all the words I know belong to some
attitude or other--all except one.
Well, that happiness is the answer to your prayer. Do
you want anything more?
No: I have come into heaven, where
want is unknown.
[Morell comes in. He halts on the threshold, and takes in the
scene at a glance.]
MORELL[grave and self-contained]
I hope I don't disturb you.
[Candida starts up violently, but without the smallest
embarrassment, laughing at herself. Eugene, still kneeling, saves
himself from falling by putting his hands on the seat of the
chair, and remains there, staring open mouthed at Morell.]
CANDIDA[as she rises]
Oh, James, how you startled me! I was so
taken up with Eugene that I didn't hear your latch-key. How did
the meeting go off? Did you speak well?
MARCHBANKS [suddenly perching himself grotesquely on the easy
chair]. I was ass enough to keep it until about ten minutes ago.
Up to that moment I went on desperately reading to her--reading
my own poems--anybody's poems--to stave off a conversation. I was
standing outside the gate of Heaven, and refusing to go in. Oh,
you can't think how heroic it was, and how uncomfortable! Then--
MARCHBANKS[rising in wild scorn]
No, you fool: if she had done
that I should never have seen that I was in Heaven already.
Repulsed me! You think that would have saved me--virtuous
indignation! Oh, you are not worthy to live in the same world
with her. [He turns away contemptuously to the other side of the
MORELL[who has watched him quietly without changing his place]
Do you think you make yourself more worthy by reviling me,
Here endeth the thousand and first lesson. Morell: I
don't think much of your preaching after all: I believe I could
do it better myself. The man I want to meet is the man that
I don't mean the Reverend James Mavor Morell,
moralist and windbag. I mean the real man that the Reverend James
must have hidden somewhere inside his black coat--the man that
Candida loved. You can't make a woman like Candida love you by
merely buttoning your collar at the back instead of in front.
MORELL[boldly and steadily]
When Candida promised to marry me,
I was the same moralist and windbag that you now see. I wore my
black coat; and my collar was buttoned behind instead of in
front. Do you think she would have loved me any the better for
being insincere in my profession?
MARCHBANKS[on the sofa hugging his ankles]
Oh, she forgave you,
just as she forgives me for being a coward, and a weakling, and
what you call a snivelling little whelp and all the rest of it.
[Dreamily.] A woman like that has divine insight: she loves our
souls, and not our follies and vanities and illusions, or our
collars and coats, or any other of the rags and tatters we are
rolled up in. [He reflects on this for an instant; then turns
intently to question Morell.] What I want to know is how you got
past the flaming sword that stopped me.
Perhaps because I was not interrupted at the
end of ten minutes.
Man can climb to the highest summits; but he cannot dwell
It's false: there can he dwell for ever and there
only. It's in the other moments that he can find no rest, no
sense of the silent glory of life. Where would you have me spend
my moments, if not on the summits?
In the scullery, slicing onions and filling lamps.
Or in the pulpit, scrubbing cheap earthenware souls?
Yes, that, too. It was there that I earned my golden
moment, and the right, in that moment, to ask her to love me. I
did not take the moment on credit; nor did I use it to steal
another man's happiness.
MARCHBANKS[rather disgustedly, trotting back towards the
I have no doubt you conducted the transaction as
honestly as if you were buying a pound of cheese. [He stops on
the brink of the, hearth-rug and adds, thoughtfully, to
himself, with his back turned to Morell] I could only go to her
as a beggar.
A beggar dying of cold--asking for her shawl?
Thank you for touching up my
poetry. Yes, if you like, a beggar dying of cold asking for her
And she refused. Shall I tell you why she
refused? I can tell you, on her own authority. It was because
She offered me all I chose to ask for, her shawl, her
wings, the wreath of stars on her head, the lilies in her hand,
the crescent moon beneath her feet--
Out with the truth, man: my wife is my
wife: I want no more of your poetic fripperies. I know well that
if I have lost her love and you have gained it, no law will bind
MARCHBANKS[quaintly, without fear or resistance]
Catch me by
the shirt collar, Morell: she will arrange it for me afterwards
as she did this morning. [With quiet rapture.] I shall feel her
hands touch me.
You young imp, do you know how dangerous it is to say
that to me? Or [with a sudden misgiving] has something made you
I'm not afraid now. I disliked you before: that was
why I shrank from your touch. But I saw to-day--when she tortured
you--that you love her. Since then I have been your friend: you
may strangle me if you like.
Eugene: if that is not a heartless lie--
if you have a spark of human feeling left in you--will you tell
me what has happened during my absence?
What happened! Why, the flaming sword--[Morell stamps
with impatience.] Well, in plain prose, I loved her so
exquisitely that I wanted nothing more than the happiness of
being in such love. And before I had time to come down from the
highest summits, you came in.
So it is still unsettled--still the
misery of doubt.
Misery! I am the happiest of men. I desire nothing
now but her happiness. [With dreamy enthusiasm.] Oh, Morell, let
us both give her up. Why should she have to choose between a
wretched little nervous disease like me, and a pig-headed parson
like you? Let us go on a pilgrimage, you to the east and I to the
west, in search of a worthy lover for her--some beautiful
archangel with purple wings--
Some fiddlestick. Oh, if she is mad enough to leave me
for you, who will protect her? Who will help her? who will work
for her? who will be a father to her children? [He sits down
distractedly on the sofa, with his elbows on his knees and his
head propped on his clenched fists.]
MARCHBANKS[snapping his fingers wildly]
She does not ask those
silly questions. It is she who wants somebody to protect, to
help, to work for--somebody to give her children to protect, to
help and to work for. Some grown up man who has become as a
little child again. Oh, you fool, you fool, you triple fool! I am
the man, Morell: I am the man. [He dances about excitedly,
crying.] You don't understand what a woman is. Send for her,
Morell: send for her and let her choose between--[The door opens
and Candida enters. He stops as if petrified.]
CANDIDA[amazed, on the threshold]
What on earth are you at,
James and I are having a preaching match; and
he is getting the worst of it. [Candida looks quickly round at
Morell. Seeing that he is distressed, she hurries down to him,
greatly vexed, speaking with vigorous reproach to Marchbanks.]
You have been annoying him. Now I won't have it, Eugene:
do you hear? [Putting her hand on Morell's shoulder, and quite
forgetting her wifely tact in her annoyance.] My boy shall not be
worried: I will protect him.
MORELL[to Eugene] You began it--this morning. [Candida,
instantly connecting this with his mysterious allusion in the
afternoon to something told him by Eugene in the morning, looks
quickly at him, wrestling with the enigma. Morell proceeds with
the emphasis of offended superiority.] But your other point is
true. I am certainly the bigger of the two, and, I hope, the
stronger, Candida. So you had better leave the matter in my
CANDIDA[again soothing him]
Yes, dear; but--[Troubled.] I don't
understand about this morning.
MORELL[gently snubbing her]
You need not understand, my dear.
But, James, I--[The street bell rings.] Oh, bother! Here
they all come. [She goes out to let them in.]
MARCHBANKS[running to Morell ]
Oh, Morell, isn't it dreadful?
She's angry with us: she hates me. What shall I do?
MORELL[with quaint desperation, clutching himself by the hair]
Eugene: my head is spinning round. I shall begin to laugh
presently. [He walks up and down the middle of the room.]
MARCHBANKS[following him anxiously]
No, no: she'll think I've
thrown you into hysterics. Don't laugh. [Boisterous voices and
laughter are heard approaching. Lexy Mill, his eyes sparkling,
and his bearing denoting unwonted elevation of spirit, enters
with Burgess, who is greasy and self-complacent, but has all his
wits about him. Miss Garnett, with her smartest hat and jacket
on, follows them; but though her eyes are brighter than before,
she is evidently a prey to misgiving. She places herself with her
back to her typewriting table, with one hand on it to rest
herself, passes the other across her forehead as if she were a
little tired and giddy. Marchbanks relapses into shyness and
edges away into the corner near the window, where Morell's books
Morell: I must congratulate you. [Grasping
his hand.] What a noble, splendid, inspired address you gave us!
You surpassed yourself.
So you did, James. It fair kep' me awake to the last
word. Didn't it, Miss Garnett?
Oh, I wasn't minding you: I was trying to
make notes. [She takes out her note-book, and looks at her
stenography, which nearly makes her cry.]
[Burgess, covering a lively satisfaction in his diplomatic
cunning with a deprecatory cough, retires to the hearth. Lexy
folds his arms and leans against the cellaret in a high-spirited
attitude. Candida comes in with glasses, lemons, and a jug of hot
water on a tray.]
Who will have some lemonade? You know our rules: total
abstinence. [She puts the tray on the table, and takes up the
lemon squeezers, looking enquiringly round at them.]
No use, dear. They've all had champagne. Pross has broken
You don't mean to say you've been
Yes, I do. I'm only a beer teetotaller,
not a champagne teetotaller. I don't like beer. Are there any
letters for me to answer, Mr. Morell?
Had I not better see you home, Miss Garnett?
No, thank you. I shan't trust myself with anybody
to-night. I wish I hadn't taken any of that stuff. [She walks
Stuff, indeed! That gurl dunno wot
champagne is! Pommery and Greeno at twelve and six a bottle. She
took two glasses a'most straight hoff.
MORELL[a little anxious about her]
Go and look after her, Lexy.
But if she should really be--Suppose she began
to sing in the street, or anything of that sort.
Just so: she may. That's why you'd better see her safely
Do, Lexy: there's a good fellow. [She shakes his hand
and pushes him gently to the door.]
It's evidently my duty to go. I hope it may not be
necessary. Good-night, Mrs. Morell. [To the rest.] Good-night.
[He goes. Candida shuts the door.]
He was gushin' with hextra piety hisself arter two sips.
People carn't drink like they huseter. [Dismissing the subject
and bustling away from the hearth.] Well, James: it's time to
lock up. Mr. Morchbanks: shall I 'ave the pleasure of your
company for a bit of the way home?
Yes: I'd better go. .[He hurries
across to the door; but Candida places herself before it, barring
CANDIDA[with quiet authority]
You sit down. You're not going
No: I--I didn't mean to. [He comes back
into the room and sits down abjectly on the sofa.]
Mr. Marchbanks will stay the night with us, papa.
Oh, well, I'll say good-night. So long, James. [He
shakes hands with Morell and goes on to Eugene.] Make 'em give
you a night light by your bed, Mr. Morchbanks: it'll comfort you
if you wake up in the night with a touch of that complaint of
Thank you: I will. Good-night, Mr. Burgess. [They
shake hands and Burgess goes to the door.]
CANDIDA[intercepting Morell, who is following Burgess]
here, dear: I'll put on papa's coat for him. [She goes out with
Morell: there's going to be a terrible scene. Aren't
I never envied you your courage before. [He rises
timidly and puts his hand appealingly on Morell's forearm.] Stand
by me, won't you?
MORELL[casting him off gently, but resolutely]
himself, Eugene. She must choose between us now. [He goes to the
other side of the room as Candida returns. Eugene sits down again
on the sofa like a guilty schoolboy on his best behaviour.]
CANDIDA[between them, addressing Eugene]
Are you sorry?
Well, then, you are forgiven. Now go off to bed like a
good little boy: I want to talk to James about you.
MARCHBANKS[rising in great consternation]
Oh, I can't do that,
Morell. I must be here. I'll not go away. Tell her.
CANDIDA[with quick suspicion]
Tell me what? [His eyes avoid
hers furtively. She turns and mutely transfers the question to
MORELL[bracing himself for the catastrophe]
I have nothing to
tell her, except [here his voice deepens to a measured and
mournful tenderness] that she is my greatest treasure on earth--
if she is really mine.
CANDIDA[coldly, offended by his yielding to his orator's
instinct and treating her as if she were the audience at the
Guild of St. Matthew]
I am sure Eugene can say no less, if that
Morell: she's laughing at us.
MORELL[with a quick touch of temper]
There is nothing to laugh
at. Are you laughing at us, Candida?
CANDIDA[with quiet anger]
Eugene is very quick-witted, James. I
hope I am going to laugh; but I am not sure that I am not going
to be very angry. [She goes to the fireplace, and stands there
leaning with her arm on the mantelpiece and her foot on the
fender, whilst Eugene steals to Morell and plucks him by the
Stop Morell. Don't let us say anything.
MORELL[pushing Eugene away without deigning to look at him]
hope you don't mean that as a threat, Candida.
CANDIDA[with emphatic warning]
Take care, James. Eugene: I
asked you to go. Are you going?
MORELL[putting his foot down]
He shall not go. I wish him to
I'll go. I'll do whatever you want. [He turns to the
Stop! [He obeys.] Didn't you hear James say he wished
you to stay? James is master here. Don't you know that?
MARCHBANKS[flushing with a young poet's rage against tyranny]
My dear: I don't know of any right that
makes me master. I assert no such right.
CANDIDA[with infinite reproach]
You don't know! Oh, James,
James! [To Eugene, musingly.] I wonder do you understand, Eugene!
No: you're too young. Well, I give you leave to stay--to stay and
learn. [She comes away from the hearth and places herself between
them.] Now, James: what's the matter? Come: tell me.
MARCHBANKS[whispering tremulously across to him]
Eugene declares that you are in love with him.
No, no, no, no, never. I did not, Mrs.
Morell: it's not true. I said I loved you, and that he didn't. I
said that I understood you, and that he couldn't. And it was not
after what passed there before the fire that I spoke: it was not,
on my word. It was this morning.
Then James has just told me a falsehood.
Is that what you mean?
No, no: I--I-- [blurting out the explanation
desperately] --it was David's wife. And it wasn't at home: it was
when she saw him dancing before all the people.
MORELL[taking the cue with a debater's adroitness]
before all the people, Candida; and thinking he was moving their
hearts by his mission when they were only suffering from--
Prossy's complaint. [She is about to protest: he raises his hand
to silence her, exclaiming] Don't try to look indignant,
Eugene was right. As you told me a few hours
after, he is always right. He said nothing that you did not say
far better yourself. He is the poet, who sees everything; and I
am the poor parson, who understands nothing.
Do you mind what is said by a foolish
boy, because I said something like it again in jest?
That foolish boy can speak with the inspiration of a
child and the cunning of a serpent. He has claimed that you
belong to him and not to me; and, rightly or wrongly, I have come
to fear that it may be true. I will not go about tortured with
doubts and suspicions. I will not live with you and keep a secret
from you. I will not suffer the intolerable degradation of
jealousy. We have agreed--he and I--that you shall choose between
us now. I await your decision.
CANDIDA[slowly recoiling a step, her heart hardened by his
rhetoric in spite of the sincere feeling behind it]
Oh! I am to
choose, am I? I suppose it is quite settled that I must belong to
one or the other.
Morell: you don't understand. She means
that she belongs to herself.
CANDIDA[turning on him]
I mean that and a good deal more,
Master Eugene, as you will both find out presently. And pray, my
lords and masters, what have you to offer for my choice? I am up
for auction, it seems. What do you bid, James?
Cand-- [He breaks down: his eyes and
throat fill with tears: the orator becomes the wounded animal.] I
MARCHBANKS[in wild alarm]
Stop: it's not fair. You mustn't show
her that you suffer, Morell. I am on the rack, too; but I am not
MORELL[rallying all his forces]
Yes: you are right. It is not
for pity that I am bidding. [He disengages himself from Candida.]
I beg your pardon, James; I did
not mean to touch you. I am waiting to hear your bid.
MORELL[with proud humility]
I have nothing to offer you but my
strength for your defence, my honesty of purpose for your surety,
my ability and industry for your livelihood, and my authority and
position for your dignity. That is all it becomes a man to offer
to a woman.
And you, Eugene? What do you offer?
My weakness! my desolation! my heart's need!
That's a good bid, Eugene. Now I know how to
make my choice.
She pauses and looks curiously from one to the other, as if
weighing them. Morell, whose lofty confidence has changed into
heartbreaking dread at Eugene's bid, loses all power of
concealing his anxiety. Eugene, strung to the highest tension,
does not move a muscle.
MORELL[in a suffocated voice--the appeal bursting from the
depths of his anguish]
CANDIDA[smiling a little]
Let us sit and talk comfortably over
it like three friends. [To Morell.] Sit down, dear. [Morell takes
the chair from the fireside--the children's chair.] Bring me that
chair, Eugene. [She indicates the easy chair. He fetches it
silently, even with something like cold strength, and places it
next Morell, a little behind him. She sits down. He goes to the
sofa and sits there, still silent and inscrutable. When they are
all settled she begins, throwing a spell of quietness on them by
her calm, sane, tender tone.] You remember what you told me about
yourself, Eugene: how nobody has cared for you since your old
nurse died: how those clever, fashionable sisters and successful
brothers of yours were your mother's and father's pets: how
miserable you were at Eton: how your father is trying to starve
you into returning to Oxford: how you have had to live without
comfort or welcome or refuge, always lonely, and nearly always
disliked and misunderstood, poor boy!
MARCHBANKS[faithful to the nobility of his lot]
I had my books.
I had Nature. And at last I met you.
Never mind that just at present. Now I want you to look
at this other boy here--my boy--spoiled from his cradle. We go
once a fortnight to see his parents. You should come with us,
Eugene, and see the pictures of the hero of that household. James
as a baby! the most wonderful of all babies. James holding his
first school prize, won at the ripe age of eight! James as the
captain of his eleven! James in his first frock coat! James
under all sorts of glorious circumstances! You know how strong he
is [I hope he didn't hurt you]--how clever he is--how happy!
[With deepening gravity.] Ask James's mother and his three
sisters what it cost to save James the trouble of doing anything
but be strong and clever and happy. Ask me what it costs to be
James's mother and three sisters and wife and mother to his
children all in one. Ask Prossy and Maria how troublesome the
house is even when we have no visitors to help us to slice the
onions. Ask the tradesmen who want to worry James and spoil his
beautiful sermons who it is that puts them off. When there is
money to give, he gives it: when there is money to refuse, I
refuse it. I build a castle of comfort and indulgence and love
for him, and stand sentinel always to keep little vulgar cares
out. I make him master here, though he does not know it, and
could not tell you a moment ago how it came to be so. [With sweet
irony.] And when he thought I might go away with you, his only
anxiety was what should become of me! And to tempt me to stay he
offered me [leaning forward to stroke his hair caressingly at
each phrase] his strength for my defence, his industry for my
livelihood, his position for my dignity, his-- [Relenting.] Ah, I
am mixing up your beautiful sentences and spoiling them, am I
not, darling? [She lays her cheek fondly against his.]
MORELL[quite overcome, kneeling beside her chair and embracing
her with boyish ingenuousness]
It's all true, every word. What
I am you have made me with the labor of your hands and the love
of your heart! You are my wife, my mother, my sisters: you are
the sum of all loving care to me.
CANDIDA[in his arms, smiling, to Eugene]
Am I your mother and
sisters to you, Eugene?
MARCHBANKS[rising with a fierce gesture of disgust]
Out, then, into the night with me!
CANDIDA[rising quickly and intercepting him]
You are not going
like that, Eugene?
MARCHBANKS[with the ring of a man's voice--no longer a boy's--in
I know the hour when it strikes. I am impatient to do
what must be done.
MORELL[rising from his knee, alarmed]
Candida: don't let him do
CANDIDA[confident, smiling at Eugene]
Oh, there is no fear. He
has learnt to live without happiness.
I no longer desire happiness: life is nobler than
that. Parson James: I give you my happiness with both hands: I
love you because you have filled the heart of the woman I loved.
Good-bye. [He goes towards the door.]
One last word. [He stops, but without turning to her.]
How old are you, Eugene?
As old as the world now. This morning I was eighteen.
CANDIDA[going to him, and standing behind him with one hand
caressingly on his shoulder]
Eighteen! Will you, for my sake,
make a little poem out of the two sentences I am going to say to
you? And will you promise to repeat it to yourself whenever you
think of me?
When I am thirty, she will be forty-five. When I am
sixty, she will be seventy-five.
MARCHBANKS[turning to her]
In a hundred years, we shall be the
same age. But I have a better secret than that in my heart. Let
me go now. The night outside grows impatient.
Good-bye. [She takes his face in her hands; and as he
divines her intention and bends his knee, she kisses his
forehead. Then he flies out into the night. She turns to
Morell, holding out her arms to him.] Ah, James! [They
embrace. But they do not know the secret in the poet's heart.]