At the most wretched hour between a black night and a wintry
morning in the year 1777, Mrs. Dudgeon, of New Hampshire, is
sitting up in the kitchen and general dwelling room of her farm
house on the outskirts of the town of Websterbridge. She is not a
prepossessing woman. No woman looks her best after sitting up all
night; and Mrs. Dudgeon's face, even at its best, is grimly
trenched by the channels into which the barren forms and
observances of a dead Puritanism can pen a bitter temper and a
fierce pride. She is an elderly matron who has worked hard
and got nothing by it except dominion and detestation in her
sordid home, and an unquestioned reputation for piety and
respectability among her neighbors, to whom drink and
debauchery are still so much more tempting than religion and
rectitude, that they conceive goodness simply as self-denial.
This conception is easily extended to others--denial, and finally
generalized as covering anything disagreeable. So Mrs. Dudgeon,
being exceedingly disagreeable, is held to be exceedingly good.
Short of flat felony, she enjoys complete license except for
amiable weaknesses of any sort, and is consequently, without
knowing it, the most licentious woman in the parish on the
strength of never having broken the seventh commandment or missed
a Sunday at the Presbyterian church.
The year 1777 is the one in which the passions roused of the
breaking off of the American colonies from England, more by their
own weight than their own will, boiled up to shooting point, the
shooting being idealized to the English mind as suppression of
rebellion and maintenance of British dominion, and to the
American as defence of liberty, resistance to tyranny, and
selfsacrifice on the altar of the Rights of Man. Into the merits
of these idealizations it is not here necessary to inquire:
suffice it to say, without prejudice, that they have convinced
both Americans and English that the most high minded course for
them to pursue is to kill as many of one another as possible, and
that military operations to that end are in full swing, morally
supported by confident requests from the clergy of both sides for
the blessing of God on their arms.
Under such circumstances many other women besides this
disagreeable Mrs. Dudgeon find themselves sitting up all night
waiting for news. Like her, too, they fall asleep towards
morning at the risk of nodding themselves into the kitchen fire.
Mrs. Dudgeon sleeps with a shawl over her head, and her feet on a
broad fender of iron laths, the step of the domestic altar of the
fireplace, with its huge hobs and boiler, and its hinged arm
above the smoky mantel-shelf for roasting. The plain kitchen
table is opposite the fire, at her elbow, with a candle on it in
a tin sconce. Her chair, like all the others in the room, is
uncushioned and unpainted; but as it has a round railed back and
a seat conventionally moulded to the sitter's curves, it is
comparatively a chair of state. The room has three doors, one on
the same side as the fireplace, near the corner, leading to the
best bedroom; one, at the opposite end of the opposite wall,
leading to the scullery and washhouse; and the house door, with
its latch, heavy lock, and clumsy wooden bar, in the front wall,
between the window in its middle and the corner next the bedroom
door. Between the door and the window a rack of pegs suggests to
the deductive observer that the men of the house are all away, as
there are no hats or coats on them. On the other side of the
window the clock hangs on a nail, with its white wooden dial,
black iron weights, and brass pendulum. Between the clock and the
corner, a big cupboard, locked, stands on a dwarf dresser full of
On the side opposite the fireplace, between the door and the
corner, a shamelessly ugly black horsehair sofa stands against
the wall. An inspection of its stridulous surface shows that
Mrs. Dudgeon is not alone. A girl of sixteen or seventeen has
fallen asleep on it. She is a wild, timid looking creature with
black hair and tanned skin. Her frock, a scanty garment, is rent,
weatherstained, berrystained, and by no means scrupulously clean.
It hangs on her with a freedom which, taken with her brown legs
and bare feet, suggests no great stock of underclothing.
Suddenly there comes a tapping at the door, not loud enough to
wake the sleepers. Then knocking, which disturbs Mrs. Dudgeon a
little. Finally the latch is tried, whereupon she springs up at
MRS DUDGEON [threateningly]
Well, why don't you open the door?
[She sees that the girl is asleep and immediately raises a clamor
of heartfelt vexation.] Well, dear, dear me! Now this is--
[shaking her] wake up, wake up: do you hear?
Wake up; and be ashamed of yourself, you unfeeling
sinful girl, falling asleep like that, and your father hardly
cold in his grave.
THE GIRL [half asleep still]
I didn't mean to. I dropped off--
MRS DUDGEON [cutting her short]
Oh yes, you've plenty of
excuses, I daresay. Dropped off! [Fiercely, as the knocking
recommences.] Why don't you get up and let your uncle in? after
me waiting up all night for him! [She pushes her rudely off the
sofa.] There: I'll open the door: much good you are to wait up.
Go and mend that fire a bit.
The girl, cowed and wretched, goes to the fire and puts a log on.
Mrs. Dudgeon unbars the door and opens it, letting into the
stuffy kitchen a little of the freshness and a great deal of the
chill of the dawn, also her second son Christy, a fattish,
stupid, fair-haired, round-faced man of about 22, muffled in a
plaid shawl and grey overcoat. He hurries, shivering, to the
fire, leaving Mrs. Dudgeon to shut the door.
CHRISTY[at the fire]
F--f--f! but it is cold. [Seeing the girl,
and staring lumpishly at her.] Why, who are you?
MRS DUDGEON [peremptorily]
Don't answer me, Miss; but show your
obedience by doing what I tell you. [Essie, almost in tears,
crosses the room to the door near the sofa.] And don't forget
your prayers. [Essie goes out.] She'd have gone to bed last night
just as if nothing had happened if I'd let her.
Well, she can't be expected to feel
Uncle Peter's death like one of the family.
What are you talking about, child? Isn't she his
daughter--the punishment of his wickedness and shame? [She
assaults her chair by sitting down.]
Why else should she be here? D'ye think I've not
had enough trouble and care put upon me bringing up my own girls,
let alone you and your good-for-nothing brother, without having
your uncle's bastards--
CHRISTY[interrupting her with an apprehensive glance at the door
by which Essie went out]
Sh! She may hear you.
MRS DUDGEON [raising her voice]
Let her hear me. People who
fear God don't fear to give the devil's work its right name.
[Christy, soullessly indifferent to the strife of Good and Evil,
stares at the fire, warming himself.] Well, how long are you
going to stare there like a stuck pig? What news have you for me?
CHRISTY[taking off his hat and shawl and going to the rack to
hang them up]
The minister is to break the news to you. He'll be
CHRISTY[standing on tiptoe, from boyish habit, to hang his hat
up, though he is quite tall enough to reach the peg, and speaking
with callous placidity, considering the nature of the
Father's dead too.
CHRISTY[sulkily, coming back to the fire and warming himself
again, attending much more to the fire than to his mother]
it's not my fault. When we got to Nevinstown we found him ill in
bed. He didn't know us at first. The minister sat up with him and
sent me away. He died in the night.
MRS DUDGEON [bursting into dry angry tears]
Well, I do think
this is hard on me--very hard on me. His brother, that was a
disgrace to us all his life, gets hanged on the public gallows as
a rebel; and your father, instead of staying at home where his
duty was, with his own family, goes after him and dies, leaving
everything on my shoulders. After sending this girl to me to take
care of, too! [She plucks her shawl vexedly over her ears.] It's
sinful, so it is; downright sinful.
CHRISTY[with a slow, bovine cheerfulness, after a pause]
think it's going to be a fine morning, after all.
MRS DUDGEON [railing at him]
A fine morning! And your father
newly dead! Where's your feelings, child?
Well, I didn't mean any harm. I suppose a
man may make a remark about the weather even if his father's
MRS DUDGEON [bitterly]
A nice comfort my children are to me!
One son a fool, and the other a lost sinner that's left his home
to live with smugglers and gypsies and villains, the scum of the
MRS DUDGEON [sharply]
Well, aren't you going to let Mr.
Christy goes sheepishly to the door. Mrs. Dudgeon buries her face
in her hands, as it is her duty as a widow to be overcome with
grief. Christy opens the door, and admits the minister,
Anthony Anderson, a shrewd, genial, ready Presbyterian divine
of about 50, with something of the authority of his profession in
his bearing. But it is an altogether secular authority, sweetened
by a conciliatory, sensible manner not at all suggestive of a
quite thorouqhgoing other-worldliness. He is a strong, healthy
man, too, with a thick, sanguine neck; and his keen, cheerful
mouth cuts into somewhat fleshy corners. No doubt an excellent
parson, but still a man capable of making the most of this world,
and perhaps a little apologetically conscious of getting on
better with it than a sound Presbyterian ought.
ANDERSON[to Christy, at the door, looking at Mrs. Dudgeon whilst
he takes off his cloak]
Have you told her?
She made me. [He shuts the door; yawns; and loafs across
to the sofa where he sits down and presently drops off to sleep.]
Anderson looks compassionately at Mrs. Dudgeon. Then he hangs his
cloak and hat on the rack. Mrs. Dudgeon dries her eyes and looks
up at him.
Sister: the Lord has laid his hand very heavily upon
MRS DUDGEON [with intensely recalcitrant resignation]
will, I suppose; and I must bow to it. But I do think it hard.
What call had Timothy to go to Springtown, and remind everybody
that he belonged to a man that was being hanged?--and
[spitefully] that deserved it, if ever a man did.
They were brothers, Mrs. Dudgeon.
Timothy never acknowledged him as his brother after
we were married: he had too much respect for me to insult me with
such a brother. Would such a selfish wretch as Peter have come
thirty miles to see Timothy hanged, do you think? Not thirty
yards, not he. However, I must bear my cross as best I may: least
said is soonest mended.
ANDERSON[very grave, coming down to the fire to stand with his
back to it]
Your eldest son was present at the execution, Mrs.
MRS DUDGEON [vindictively]
Let it be a warning to him. He may
end that way himself, the wicked, dissolute, godless--[she
suddenly stops; her voice fails; and she asks, with evident
dread] Did Timothy see him?
He only saw him in the crowd: they did not speak. [Mrs.
Dudgeon, greatly relieved, exhales the pent up breath and sits at
her ease again.] Your husband was greatly touched and impressed
by his brother's awful death. [Mrs. Dudgeon sneers. Anderson
breaks off to demand with some indiqnation] Well, wasn't it only
natural, Mrs. Dudgeon? He softened towards his prodigal son in
that moment. He sent for him to come to see him.
Did I say it was, Mr. Anderson. We are told that
the wicked shall be punished. Why should we do our duty and keep
God's law if there is to be no difference made between us and
those who follow their own likings and dislikings, and make a
jest of us and of their Maker's word?
Well, Richard's earthly father has been merciful and
his heavenly judge is the father of us all.
MRS DUDGEON [forgetting herself]
Richard's earthly father was a
MRS DUDGEON [with a touch of shame]
Well, I am Richard's
mother. If I am against him who has any right to be for him?
[Trying to conciliate him.] Won't you sit down, Mr. Anderson? I
should have asked you before; but I'm so troubled.
Thank you-- [He takes a chair from beside the
fireplace, and turns it so that he can sit comfortably at the
fire. When he is seated he adds, in the tone of a man who knows
that he is opening a difficult subject.] Has Christy told you
about the new will?
MRS DUDGEON [all her fears returning]
The new will! Did
Timothy--? [She breaks off, gasping, unable to complete the
Yes. In his last hours he changed his mind.
MRS DUDGEON [white with intense rage]
And you let him rob me?
I had no power to prevent him giving what was his to
his own son.
He had nothing of his own. His money was the money
I brought him as my marriage portion. It was for me to deal with
my own money and my own son. He dare not have done it if I had
been with him; and well he knew it. That was why he stole away
like a thief to take advantage of the law to rob me by making a
new will behind my back. The more shame on you, Mr. Anderson,--
you, a minister of the gospel--to act as his accomplice in such a
I will take no offence at what you say in the
first bitterness of your grief.
MRS DUDGEON [vehemently]
Don't lie, Mr. Anderson. We are told
that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and
desperately wicked. My heart belonged, not to Timothy, but to
that poor wretched brother of his that has just ended his days
with a rope round his neck--aye, to Peter Dudgeon. You know it:
old Eli Hawkins, the man to whose pulpit you succeeded, though
you are not worthy to loose his shoe latchet, told it you when he
gave over our souls into your charge. He warned me and
strengthened me against my heart, and made me marry a Godfearing
man--as he thought. What else but that discipline has made me the
woman I am? And you, you who followed your heart in your
marriage, you talk to me of what I find in my heart. Go home to
your pretty wife, man; and leave me to my prayers. [She turns
from him and leans with her elbows on the table, brooding over
her wrongs and taking no further notice of him.]
ANDERSON[willing enough to escape]
The Lord forbid that I
should come between you and the source of all comfort! [He goes
to the rack for his coat and hat.]
MRS DUDGEON [without looking at him]
The Lord will know what to
forbid and what to allow without your help.
And whom to forgive, I hope--Eli Hawkins and myself, if
we have ever set up our preaching against His law. [He fastens
his cloak, and is now ready to go.] Just one word--on necessary
business, Mrs. Dudgeon. There is the reading of the will to be
gone through; and Richard has a right to be present. He is in the
town; but he has the grace to say that he does not want to force
himself in here.
He shall come here. Does he expect us to leave his
father's house for his convenience? Let them all come, and come
quickly, and go quickly. They shall not make the will an excuse
to shirk half their day's work. I shall be ready, never fear.
ANDERSON[coming back a step or two]
Mrs. Dudgeon: I used to
have some little influence with you. When did I lose it?
MRS DUDGEON [still without turning to him]
When you married for
love. Now you're answered.
Yes: I am answered. [He goes out, musing.]
MRS DUDGEON [to herself, thinking of her husband]
Thief!! [She shakes herself angrily out of the chair; throws
back the shawl from her head; and sets to work to prepare the
room for the reading of the will, beginning by replacing
Anderson's chair against the wall, and pushing back her own to
the window. Then she calls, in her hard, driving, wrathful way]
Christy. [No answer: he is fast asleep.] Christy. [She shakes him
roughly.] Get up out of that; and be ashamed of yourself--
sleeping, and your father dead! [She returns to the table; puts
the candle on the mantelshelf; and takes from the table drawer a
red table cloth which she spreads.]
Well, do you suppose we are never
going to sleep until we are out of mourning?
I want none of your sulks. Here: help me to set
this table. [They place the table in the middle of the room, with
Christy's end towards the fireplace and Mrs. Dudgeon's towards
the sofa. Christy drops the table as soon as possible, and goes
to the fire, leaving his mother to make the final adjustments of
its position.] We shall have the minister back here with the
lawyer and all the family to read the will before you have done
toasting yourself. Go and wake that girl; and then light the
stove in the shed: you can't have your breakfast here. And mind
you wash yourself, and make yourself fit to receive the company.
[She punctuates these orders by going to the cupboard; unlocking
it; and producing a decanter of wine, which has no doubt stood
there untouched since the last state occasion in the family, and
some glasses, which she sets on the table. Also two green ware
plates, on one of which she puts a barmbrack with a knife beside
it. On the other she shakes some biscuits out of a tin, putting
back one or two, and counting the rest.] Now mind: there are ten
biscuits there: let there be ten there when I come back after
dressing myself. And keep your fingers off the raisins in that
cake. And tell Essie the same. I suppose I can trust you to bring
in the case of stuffed birds without breaking the glass? [She
replaces the tin in the cupboard, which she locks, pocketing the
CHRISTY[lingering at the fire]
You'd better put the inkstand
instead, for the lawyer.
Mss. DUDGEON. That's no answer to make to me, sir. Go and do as
you're told. [Christy turns sullenly to obey.] Stop: take down
that shutter before you go, and let the daylight in: you can't
expect me to do all the heavy work of the house with a great
heavy lout like you idling about.
Christy takes the window bar out of its damps, and puts it aside;
then opens the shutter, showing the grey morning. Mrs. Dudgeon
takes the sconce from the mantelshelf; blows out the candle;
extinguishes the snuff by pinching it with her fingers, first
licking them for the purpose; and replaces the sconce on the
CHRISTY[looking through the window]
Here's the minister's wife.
MRS DUDGEON [displeased]
What! Is she coming here?
MRS DUDGEON [threateningly]
You'd better keep a civil tongue in
your head. [He goes sulkily towards the door. She comes after
him, plying him with instructions.] Tell that girl to come to me
as soon as she's had her breakfast. And tell her to make herself
fit to be seen before the people. [Christy goes out and slams the
door in her face.] Nice manners, that! [Someone knocks at the
house door: she turns and cries inhospitably.] Come in. [Judith
Anderson, the minister's wife, comes in. Judith is more than
twenty years younger than her husband, though she will never be
as young as he in vitality. She is pretty and proper and
ladylike, and has been admired and petted into an opinion of
herself sufficiently favorable to give her a self-assurance which
serves her instead of strength. She has a pretty taste in dress,
and in her face the pretty lines of a sentimental character
formed by dreams. Even her little self-complacency is pretty,
like a child's vanity. Rather a pathetic creature to any
sympathetic observer who knows how rough a place the world is.
One feels, on the whole, that Anderson might have chosen worse,
and that she, needing protection, could not have chosen better.]
Oh, it's you, is it, Mrs. Anderson?
JUDITH[very politely--almost patronizingly]
Yes. Can I do
anything for you, Mrs. Dudgeon? Can I help to get the place ready
before they come to read the will?
MRS DUDGEON [stiffly]
Thank you, Mrs. Anderson, my house is
always ready for anyone to come into.
MRS ANDERSON [with complacent amiability]
Yes, indeed it is.
Perhaps you had rather I did not intrude on you just now.
Oh, one more or less will make no difference this
morning, Mrs. Anderson. Now that you're here, you'd better stay.
If you wouldn't mind shutting the door! [Judith smiles, implying
"How stupid of me" and shuts it with an exasperating air of doing
something pretty and becoming.] That's better. I must go and tidy
myself a bit. I suppose you don't mind stopping here to receive
anyone that comes until I'm ready.
JUDITH[graciously giving her leave]
Oh yes, certainly. Leave
them to me, Mrs. Dudgeon; and take your time. [She hangs her
cloak and bonnet on the rack.]
MRS DUDGEON [half sneering]
I thought that would be more in
your way than getting the house ready. [Essie comes back.] Oh,
here you are! [Severely] Come here: let me see you. [Essie
timidly goes to her. Mrs. Dudgeon takes her roughly by the arm
and pulls her round to inspect the results of her attempt to
clean and tidy herself--results which show little practice and
less conviction.] Mm! That's what you call doing your hair
properly, I suppose. It's easy to see what you are, and how you
were brought up. [She throws her arms away, and goes on,
peremptorily.] Now you listen to me and do as you're told. You
sit down there in the corner by the fire; and when the company
comes don't dare to speak until you're spoken to. [Essie creeps
away to the fireplace.] Your father's people had better see you
and know you're there: they're as much bound to keep you from
starvation as I am. At any rate they might help. But let me have
no chattering and making free with them, as if you were their
equal. Do you hear?
[Essie sits down miserably on the corner of the fender furthest
from the door.] Never mind her, Mrs. Anderson: you know who she
is and what she is. If she gives you any trouble, just tell me;
and I'll settle accounts with her. [Mrs. Dudgeon goes into the
bedroom, shutting the door sharply behind her as if even it had
to be made to do its duty with a ruthless hand.]
JUDITH[patronizing Essie, and arranging the cake and wine on the
table more becomingly]
You must not mind if your aunt is strict
with you. She is a very good woman, and desires your good too.
That's a good girl! [She places a couple of chairs at the
table with their backs to the window, with a pleasant sense of
being a more thoughtful housekeeper than Mrs. Dudgeon.] Do you
know any of your father's relatives?
No. They wouldn't have anything to do with him: they were
too religious. Father used to talk about Dick Dudgeon; but I
never saw him.
Dick Dudgeon! Essie: do you wish
to be a really respectable and grateful girl, and to make a place
for yourself here by steady good conduct?
You must not ask questions about him, Essie. You are too
young to know what it is to be a bad man. But he is a smuggler;
and he lives with gypsies; and he has no love for his mother and
his family; and he wrestles and plays games on Sunday instead of
going to church. Never let him into your presence, if you can
help it, Essie; and try to keep yourself and all womanhood
unspotted by contact with such men.
Only--my father was a smuggler; and--
They are beginning to come. Now remember your aunt's
directions, Essie; and be a good girl. [Christy comes back with
the stand of stuffed birds under a glass case, and an inkstand,
which he places on the table.] Good morning, Mr. Dudgeon. Will
you open the door, please: the people have come.
The morning is now fairly bright and warm; and Anderson, who is
the first to enter, has left his cloak at home. He is accompanied
by Lawyer Hawkins, a brisk, middleaged man in brown riding
gaiters and yellow breeches, looking as much squire as solicitor.
He and Anderson are allowed precedence as representing the
learned professions. After them comes the family, headed by the
senior uncle, William Dudgeon, a large, shapeless man,
bottle-nosed and evidently no ascetic at table. His clothes
are not the clothes, nor his anxious wife the wife, of a
prosperous man. The junior uncle, Titus Dudgeon, is a wiry little
terrier of a man, with an immense and visibly purse-proud wife,
both free from the cares of the William household.
Hawkins at once goes briskly to the table and takes the chair
nearest the sofa, Christy having left the inkstand there. He
puts his hat on the floor beside him, and produces the will.
Uncle William comes to the fire and stands on the hearth warming
his coat tails, leaving Mrs. William derelict near the door.
Uncle Titus, who is the lady's man of the family, rescues her
by giving her his disengaged arm and bringing her to the sofa,
where he sits down warmly between his own lady and his
brother's. Anderson hangs up his hat and waits for a word
She will be here in a moment. Ask them to wait. [She taps
at the bedroom door. Receiving an answer from within, she opens
it and passes through.]
ANDERSON[taking his place at the table at the opposite end to
Our poor afflicted sister will be with us in a moment.
Are we all here?
CHRISTY[at the house door, which he has just shut]
The callousness with which Christy names the reprobate jars on
the moral sense of the family. Uncle William shakes his head
slowly and repeatedly. Mrs. Titus catches her breath convulsively
through her nose. Her husband speaks.
Well, I hope he will have the grace not to come. I
The Dudgeons all murmur assent, except Christy, who goes to the
window and posts himself there, looking out. Hawkins smiles
secretively as if he knew something that would change their tune
if they knew it. Anderson is uneasy: the love of solemn family
councils, especially funereal ones, is not in his nature. Judith
appears at the bedroom door.
JUDITH[with gentle impressiveness]
Friends, Mrs. Dudgeon. [She
takes the chair from beside the fireplace; and places it for Mrs.
Dudgeon, who comes from the bedroom in black, with a clean
handkerchief to her eyes. All rise, except Essie. Mrs. Titus and
Mrs. William produce equally clean handkerchiefs and weep. It is
an affecting moment.]
Would it comfort you, sister, if we were to offer
up a prayer?
Anderson and Hawkins look round sociably. Essie, with a gleam of
interest breaking through her misery, looks up. Christy grins and
gapes expectantly at the door. The rest are petrified with the
intensity of their sense of Virtue menaced with outrage by the
approach of flaunting Vice. The reprobate appears in the doorway,
graced beyond his alleged merits by the morning sunlight. He is
certainly the best looking member of the family; but his
expression is reckless and sardonic, his manner defiant and
satirical, his dress picturesquely careless. Only his forehead
and mouth betray an extraordinary steadfastness, and his eyes are
the eyes of a fanatic.
RICHARD[on the threshold, taking off his hat]
gentlemen: your servant, your very humble servant. [With
this comprehensive insult, he throws his hat to Christy with a
suddenness that makes him jump like a negligent wicket keeper,
and comes into the middle of the room, where he turns and
deliberately surveys the company.] How happy you all look!
how glad to see me! [He turns towards Mrs. Dudgeon's chair;
and his lip rolls up horribly from his dog tooth as he meets her
look of undisguised hatred.] Well, mother: keeping up appearances
as usual? that's right, that's right. [Judith pointedly moves
away from his neighborhood to the other side of the kitchen,
holding her skirt instinctively as if to save it from
contamination. Uncle Titus promptly marks his approval of her
action by rising from the sofa, and placing a chair for her to
sit down upon.] What! Uncle William! I haven't seen you
since you gave up drinking. [Poor Uncle William, shamed,
would protest; but Richard claps him heartily on his shoulder,
adding] you have given it up, haven't you? [releasing him with a
playful push] of course you have: quite right too; you overdid
it. [He turns away from Uncle William and makes for the sofa.]
And now, where is that upright horsedealer Uncle Titus? Uncle
Titus: come forth. [He comes upon him holding the chair as Judith
sits down.] As usual, looking after the ladies.
UNCLE TITUS [indignantly]
Be ashamed of yourself, sir--
RICHARD[interrupting him and shaking his hand in spite of him]
I am: I am; but I am proud of my uncle--proud of all my relatives
[again surveying them] who could look at them and not be proud
and joyful? [Uncle Titus, overborne, resumes his seat on the
sofa. Richard turns to the table.] Ah, Mr. Anderson, still at the
good work, still shepherding them. Keep them up to the mark,
minister, keep them up to the mark. Come! [with a spring he seats
himself on the table and takes up the decanter] clink a glass
with me, Pastor, for the sake of old times.
You know, I think, Mr. Dudgeon, that I do not drink
You will, some day, Pastor: Uncle William used to drink
before breakfast. Come: it will give your sermons unction. [He
smells the wine and makes a wry face.] But do not begin on my
mother's company sherry. I stole some when I was six years old;
and I have been a temperate man ever since. [He puts the decanter
down and changes the subject.] So I hear you are married, Pastor,
and that your wife has a most ungodly allowance of good looks.
ANDERSON[quietly indicating Judith]
Sir: you are in the
presence of my wife. [Judith rises and stands with stony
RICHARD[quickly slipping down from the table with instinctive
Your servant, madam: no offence. [He looks at her
earnestly.] You deserve your reputation; but I'm sorry to see by
your expression that you're a good woman.
[She looks shocked, and sits down amid a murmur of indignant
sympathy from his relatives. Anderson, sensible enough to know
that these demonstrations can only gratify and encourage a man
who is deliberately trying to provoke them, remains perfectly
goodhumored.] All the same, Pastor, I respect you more than I did
before. By the way, did I hear, or did I not, that our late
lamented Uncle Peter, though unmarried, was a father?
Only one! He thinks one a mere trifle! I blush for you,
Mr. Dudgeon you are in the presence of your mother and
It touches me profoundly, Pastor. By the way, what has
become of the irregular child?
ANDERSON[pointing to Essie]
There, sir, listening to you.
RICHARD[shocked into sincerity]
What! Why the devil didn't you
tell me that before? Children suffer enough in this house
without-- [He hurries remorsefully to Essie.] Come, little
cousin! never mind me: it was not meant to hurt you. [She looks
up gratefully at him. Her tearstained face affects him violently,
and he bursts out, in a transport of wrath] Who has been making
her cry? Who has been ill-treating her? By God--
MRS DUDGEON [rising and confronting him]
blasphemous tongue. I will hear no more of this. Leave my house.
How do you know it's your house until the will is read?
[They look at one another for a moment with intense hatred; and
then she sinks, checkmated, into her chair. Richard goes boldly
up past Anderson to the window, where he takes the railed chair
in his hand.] Ladies and gentlemen: as the eldest son of my late
father, and the unworthy head of this household, I bid you
welcome. By your leave, Minister Anderson: by your leave, Lawyer
Hawkins. The head of the table for the head of the family. [He
places the chair at the table between the minister and the
attorney; sits down between them; and addresses the assembly with
a presidential air.] We meet on a melancholy occasion: a father
dead! an uncle actually hanged, and probably damned. [He shakes
his head deploringly. The relatives freeze with horror.] That's
right: pull your longest faces [his voice suddenly sweetens
gravely as his glance lights on Essie] provided only there is
hope in the eyes of the child. [Briskly.] Now then, Lawyer
Hawkins: business, business. Get on with the will, man.
Do not let yourself be ordered or hurried, Mr. Hawkins.
HAWKINS[very politely and willingly]
Mr. Dudgeon means no
offence, I feel sure. I will not keep you one second, Mr.
Dudgeon. Just while I get my glasses--[he fumbles for them. The
Dudgeons look at one another with misgiving].
Aha! They notice your civility, Mr. Hawkins. They are
prepared for the worst. A glass of wine to clear your voice
before you begin. [He pours out one for him and hands it; then
pours one for himself.]
Thank you, Mr. Dudgeon. Your good health, sir.
Yours, sir. [With the glass half way to his lips, he
checks himself, giving a dubious glance at the wine, and adds,
with quaint intensity.] Will anyone oblige me with a glass of
Essie, who has been hanging on his every word and movement, rises
stealthily and slips out behind Mrs. Dudgeon through the bedroom
door, returning presently with a jug and going out of the house
as quietly as possible.
The will is not exactly in proper legal phraseology.
No: my father died without the consolations of the law.
Good again, Mr. Dudgeon, good again. [Preparing to read]
Are you ready, sir?
Ready, aye ready. For what we are about to receive, may
the Lord make us truly thankful. Go ahead.
"This is the last will and testament of me
Timothy Dudgeon on my deathbed at Nevinstown on the road from
Springtown to Websterbridge on this twenty-fourth day of
September, one thousand seven hundred and seventy seven. I hereby
revoke all former wills made by me and declare that I am of sound
mind and know well what I am doing and that this is my real will
according to my own wish and affections."
HAWKINS[shaking his head]
Bad phraseology, sir, wrong
phraseology. "I give and bequeath a hundred pounds to my younger
son Christopher Dudgeon, fifty pounds to be paid to him on the
day of his marriage to Sarah Wilkins if she will have him, and
ten pounds on the birth of each of his children up to the number
"I give and bequeath to my wife Annie Dudgeon, born
Annie Primrose"--you see he did not know the law, Mr. Dudgeon:
your mother was not born Annie: she was christened so--"an
annuity of fifty-two pounds a year for life [Mrs. Dudgeon, with
all eyes on her, holds herself convulsively rigid] to be paid out
of the interest on her own money"--there's a way to put it, Mr.
Dudgeon! Her own money!
A very good way to put God's truth. It was every
penny my own. Fifty-two pounds a year!
"And I recommend her for her goodness and piety to the
forgiving care of her children, having stood between them and her
as far as I could to the best of my ability."
And this is my reward! [raging inwardly] You know
what I think, Mr. Anderson you know the word I gave to it.
It cannot be helped, Mrs. Dudgeon. We must take what
comes to us. [To Hawkins.] Go on, sir.
"I give and bequeath my house at Websterbridge with the
land belonging to it and all the rest of my property soever to my
eldest son and heir, Richard Dudgeon."
Oho! The fatted calf, Minister, the fatted calf.
"To wit: first, that he shall not let my brother Peter's
natural child starve or be driven by want to an evil life."
RICHARD[emphatically, striking his fist on the table]
Mrs. Dudgeon, turning to look malignantly at Essie, misses her
and looks quickly round to see where she has moved to; then,,
seeing that she has left the room without leave, closes her lips
"Second, that he shall be a good friend to my old horse
Jim"--[again slacking his head] he should have written James,
--and keep my deaf farm laborer Prodger Feston in his
Prodger Feston shall get drunk every Saturday.
"Third, that he make Christy a present on his marriage
out of the ornaments in the best room."
RICHARD[holding up the stuffed birds]
Here you are, Christy.
I'd rather have the China peacocks.
You shall have both. [Christy is greatly pleased.] Go
"Fourthly and lastly, that he try to live at peace with
his mother as far as she will consent to it."
Hm! Anything more, Mr. Hawkins?
"Finally I gave and bequeath my soul into my
Maker's hands, humbly asking forgiveness for all my sins and
mistakes, and hoping that he will so guide my son that it may not
be said that I have done wrong in trusting to him rather than to
others in the perplexity of my last hour in this strange place."
MRS DUDGEON [rising, unable to give up her property without a
Mr. Hawkins: is that a proper will? Remember, I have
his rightful, legal will, drawn up by yourself, leaving all to
This is a very wrongly and irregularly worded will, Mrs.
Dudgeon; though [turning politely to Richard] it contains in my
judgment an excellent disposal of his property.
ANDERSON[interposing before Mrs. Dudgeon can retort]
not what you are asked, Mr. Hawkins. Is it a legal will?
The courts will sustain it against the other.
But why, if the other is more lawfully worded?
Because, sir, the courts will sustain the claim of a
man--and that man the eldest son--against any woman, if they can.
I warned you, Mrs. Dudgeon, when you got me to draw that other
will, that it was not a wise will, and that though you might make
him sign it, he would never be easy until he revoked it. But you
wouldn't take advice; and now Mr. Richard is cock of the walk.
[He takes his hat from the floor; rises; and begins pocketing his
papers and spectacles.]
This is the signal for the breaking-up of the party. Anderson
takes his hat from the rack and joins Uncle William at the fire.
Uncle Titus fetches Judith her things from the rack. The three
on the sofa rise and chat with Hawkins. Mrs. Dudgeon, now
an intruder in her own house, stands erect, crushed by the weight
of the law on women, accepting it, as she has been trained to
accept all monstrous calamities, as proofs of the greatness of
the power that inflicts them, and of her own wormlike
insignificance. For at this time, remember, Mary Wollstonecraft
is as yet only a girl of eighteen, and her Vindication of the
Rights of Women is still fourteen years off. Mrs. Dudgeon is
rescued from her apathy by Essie, who comes back with the jug
full of water. She is taking it to Richard when Mrs. Dudgeon
MRS DUDGEON [threatening her]
Where have you been? [Essie,
appalled, tries to answer, but cannot.] How dare you go out by
yourself after the orders I gave you?
He asked for a drink--[she stops, her tongue cleaving to
her palate with terror].
JUDITH[with gentler severity]
Who asked for a drink? [Essie,
speechless, points to Richard.]
Ah, you've been up the street to the market
gate spring to get that. [He takes a draught.] Delicious! Thank
you. [Unfortunately, at this moment he chances to catch sight of
Judith's face, which expresses the most prudish disapproval of
his evident attraction for Essie, who is devouring him with her
grateful eyes. His mocking expression returns instantly. He puts
down the glass; deliberately winds his arm round Essie's
shoulders; and brings her into the middle of the company. Mrs.
Dudgeon being in Essie's way as they come past the table, he
says] By your leave, mother [and compels her to make way for
them]. What do they call you? Bessie ?
Because it's true. I was brought up in the
other service; but I knew from the first that the Devil was my
natural master and captain and friend. I saw that he was in the
right, and that the world cringed to his conqueror only through
fear. I prayed secretly to him; and he comforted me, and saved me
from having my spirit broken in this house of children's tears. I
promised him my soul, and swore an oath that I would stand up for
him in this world and stand by him in the next. [Solemnly] That
promise and that oath made a man of me. From this day this house
is his home; and no child shall cry in it: this hearth is his
altar; and no soul shall ever cower over it in the dark evenings
and be afraid. Now [turning forcibly on the rest] which of you
good men will take this child and rescue her from the house of
JUDITH[coming to Essie and throwing a protecting arm about her]
But I don't want to. [She shrinks back, leaving Richard
and Judith face to face.]
Actually doesn't want to, most virtuous
Have a care, Richard Dudgeon. The law--
RICHARD[turning threateningly on him]
Have a care, you. In an
hour from this there will be no law here but martial law. I
passed the soldiers within six miles on my way here: before noon
Major Swindon's gallows for rebels will be up in the market
What have we to fear from that, sir?
More than you think. He hanged the wrong man at
Springtown: he thought Uncle Peter was respectable, because the
Dudgeons had a good name. But his next example will be the best
man in the town to whom he can bring home a rebellious word.
Well, we're all rebels; and you know it.
Yes, you are. You haven't damned King George up hill and
down dale as I have; but you've prayed for his defeat; and you,
Anthony Anderson, have conducted the service, and sold your
family bible to buy a pair of pistols. They mayn't hang me,
perhaps; because the moral effect of the Devil's Disciple dancing
on nothing wouldn't help them. But a Minister! [Judith, dismayed,
clings to Anderson] or a lawyer! [Hawkins smiles like a man able
to take care of himself] or an upright horsedealer! [Uncle Titus
snarls at him in rags and terror] or a reformed drunkard [Uncle
William, utterly unnerved, moans and wobbles with fear] eh? Would
that show that King George meant business--ha?
Come, my dear: he is only
trying to frighten you. There is no danger. [He takes her out of
the house. The rest crowd to the door to follow him, except
Essie, who remains near Richard.]
Now then: how many of you will
stay with me; run up the American flag on the devil's house; and
make a fight for freedom? [They scramble out, Christy among them,
hustling one another in their haste.] Ha ha! Long live the devil!
[To Mrs. Dudgeon, who is following them] What mother! are you off
MRS DUDGEON [deadly pale, with her hand on her heart as if she
had received a deathblow]
My curse on you! My dying curse! [She
RICHARD[calling after her]
It will bring me luck. Ha ha ha!
RICHARD[turning to her]
What! Have they forgotten to save your
soul in their anxiety about their own bodies? Oh yes: you may
stay. [He turns excitedly away again and shakes his fist after
them. His left fist, also clenched, hangs down. Essie seizes it
and kisses it, her tears falling on it. He starts and looks at
it.] Tears! The devil's baptism! [She falls on her knees,
sobbing. He stoops goodnaturedly to raise her, saying] Oh yes,
you may cry that way, Essie, if you like.