The same scene, two hours later. The clothes are folded in little piles on the table and the sofa. Mrs. Holroyd is folding a thick flannel undervest or singlet which her husband wears in the pit and which has just dried on the fender.
MRS. HOLROYD (to herself)
Now thank goodness they're all dried. It's only nine o'clock, so he won't be in for another two hours, the nuisance. (She sits on the sofa, letting her arms hang down in dejection. After a minute or two she jumps up, to begin rudely dropping the piles of washed clothes in the basket) I don't care, I'm not going to let him have it all his way—no! (She weeps a little, fiercely, drying her eyes on the edge of her white apron) Why should I put up with it all?—He can do what he likes. But I don't care, no, I don't—
[She flings down the full clothes-basket, sits suddenly in the rocking-chair, and weeps. There is the sound of coarse, bursting laughter, in vain subdued, and a man's deep guffaws. Footsteps draw near. Suddenly the door opens, and a little, plump, pretty woman of thirty, in a close-fitting dress and a giddy, frilled bonnet of pink paper, stands perkily in the doorway. Mrs. Holroyd springs up: her small, sensitive nose is inflamed with weeping, her eyes are wet and flashing. She fronts the other woman.
CLARA (with a pert smile and a jerk of the head)
What do you want?
CLARA (she has a Yorkshire accent)
Oh, we've not come beggin'—this is a visit.
[She stuffs her handkerchief in front of her mouth in a little snorting burst of laughter. There is the sound of another woman behind going off into uncontrollable laughter, while a man guffaws.
MRS. HOLROYD (after a moment of impotence—tragically)
CLARA (faltering slightly, affecting a polite tone)
We thought we'd just call—
[She stuffs her handkerchief in front of her explosive laughter—the other woman shrieks again, beginning high, and running down the scale.
What do you mean?—What do you want here?
CLARA (she bites her lip)
We don't want anything, thanks. We've just called. (She begins to laugh again—so does the other) Well, I don't think much of the manners in this part of the country. (She takes a few hesitating steps into the kitchen)
MRS. HOLROYD (trying to shut the door upon her)
No, you are not coming in.
CLARA (preventing her closing the door)
Dear me, what a to-do! (She struggles with the door. The other woman comes up to help; a man is seen in the background)
My word, aren't we good enough to come in?
[Mrs. Holroyd, finding herself confronted by what seems to her excitement a crowd, releases the door and draws back a little—almost in tears of anger.
You have no business here. What do you want?
CLARA (putting her bonnet straight and entering in brisk defiance) I tell you we've only come to see you. (She looks round the kitchen, then makes a gesture toward the armchair) Can I sit here? (She plumps herself down) Rest for the weary.
[A woman and a man have followed her into the room. Laura is highly colored, stout, some forty years old, wears a blue paper bonnet, and looks like the landlady of a public-house. Both she and Clara wear much jewellery. Laura is well dressed in a blue cloth dress. Holroyd is a big blond man. His cap is pushed back, and he looks rather tipsy and lawless. He has a heavy blond moustache. His jacket and trousers are black, his vest gray, and he wears a turn down collar with dark bow.
LAURA (sitting down in a chair on right, her hand on her bosom, panting) I've laughed till I feel fair bad.
'Aven't you got a drop of nothink to offer us, mester? Come, you are slow. I should 'ave thought a gentleman like you would have been out with the glasses afore we could have got breaths to ask you.
I dunna believe there's owt in th' 'ouse but a bottle of stout.
CLARA (putting her hand on her stomach)
It feels as if th' kettle's going to boil over.
[She stuffs her handkerchief in front of her mouth, throws back her head, and snorts with laughter, having now regained her confidence. Laura laughs in the last state of exhaustion, her hand on her breast.
Shall ta ha'e it then?
What do you say, Laura—are you having a drop?
LAURA (submissively, and naturally tongue-tied)
Well—I don't mind—I will if you do.
I think we'll 'ave a drop, Charlie, an' risk it. It'll 'appen hold the rest down.
[There is a moment of silence, while Holroyd goes into the scullery. Clara surveys the room and the dramatic pose of Mrs. Holroyd curiously.
Heh! What, come 'ere—!
[There is a smash of pots, and a rat careers out of the scullery. Laura, the first to see it, utters a scream, but is fastened to her chair, unable to move.
CLARA (jumps up to the table, crying)
It's a rat—Oh, save us! (She scrambles up, banging her head on the lamp, which swings violently)
MRS. HOLROYD (who, with a little shriek, jerks her legs up on to the sofa, where she was stiffly reclining, now cries in despairing falsetto, stretching forth her arms) The lamp—mind, the lamp!
[Clara steadies the lamp, and holds her hand to her head.
HOLROYD (coming from the scullery, a bottle of stout in his hand) Where is he?
I believe he's gone under the sofa. My, an' he's a thumper, if you like, as big as a rabbit.
[Holroyd advances cautiously toward the sofa.
LAURA (springing suddenly into life)
Hi, hi, let me go—let me go—Don't touch him—Where is he? (She flees and scrambles onto Clara's armchair, catching hold of the latter's skirts)
Hang off—do you want to have a body down—Mind, I tell you.
MRS. HOLROYD (bunched up on the sofa, with crossed hands holding her arms, fascinated, watches her husband as he approaches to stoop and attack the rat; she suddenly screams) Don't, he'll fly at you!
He'll not get a chance.
He will, he will—and they're poisonous! (She ends on a very high note. Leaning forward on the sofa as far as she dares, she stretches out her arms to keep back her husband, who is about to kneel and search under the sofa for the rat)
Come off, I canna see him.
I won't let you; he'll fly at you.
I'll settle him—
Open the door and let him go.
I shonna. I'll settle him. Shut thy claver. He'll non come anigh thee.
[He kneels down and begins to creep to the sofa. With a great bound, Mrs. Holroyd flies to the door and flings it open. Then she rushes back to the couch.
There he goes!
Hi!—Ussza! (He flings the bottle of stout out of the door)
Shut the door, do.
[Holroyd rises, dusting his trousers' knees, and closes the door. Laura heavily descends and drops in the chair.
Here, come an' help us down, Charlie. Look at her; she's going off. (Though Laura is still purple red, she sinks back in the chair. Holroyd goes to the table. Clara places her hands on his shoulders and jumps lightly down. Then she pushes Holroyd with her elbow) Look sharp, get a glass of water.
[She unfastens Laura's collar and pulls off the paper bonnet. Mrs. Holroyd sits up, straightens her clothing, and tries to look cold and contemptuous. Holroyd brings a cup of water. Clara sprinkles her friend's face. Laura sighs and sighs again very deeply, then draws herself up painfully.
Do you feel any better—shall you have a drink of water? (Laura mournfully shakes her head; Clara turns sharply to Holroyd) She'll 'ave a drop o' something. (Holroyd goes out. Clara meanwhile fans her friend with a handkerchief. Holroyd brings stout. She pours out the stout, smells the glass, smells the bottle—then finally the cork) Eh, mester, it's all of a work—it's had a foisty cork.
[At that instant the stair foot door opens slowly, revealing the children—the girl peering over the boy's shoulder—both in white nightgowns. Everybody starts. Laura gives a little cry, presses her hand on her bosom, and sinks back, gasping.
CLARA (appealing and anxious, to Mrs. Holroyd)
You don't 'appen to 'ave a drop of brandy for her, do you, missis?
[Mrs. Holroyd rises coldly without replying, and goes to the stair foot door where the children stand.
MRS. HOLROYD (sternly, to the children)
Go to bed!
What's a matter, mother?
Never you mind, go to bed!
Be quick, missis.
[Mrs. Holroyd, glancing round, sees Laura going purple, and runs past the children upstairs. The boy and girl sit on the lowest stair. Their father goes out of the house, shamefaced. Mrs. Holroyd runs downstairs with a little brandy in a large bottle.
Thanks, awfully. (To Laura) Come on, try an' drink a drop, there's a dear.
[They administer brandy to Laura. The children sit watching, open-eyed. The girl stands up to look.
I believe it's blue bonnet.
It isn't—she's in a fit.
Well, look under th' table—(Jack peers under)—there's 'er bonnet. (Jack creeps forward) Come back, our Jack.
JACK (returns with the bonnet)
It's all made of paper.
Let's have a look—it's stuck together, not sewed.
[She tries it on. Holroyd enters—he looks at the child.
MRS. HOLROYD (sharply, glancing round)
Take that off!
[Minnie hurriedly takes the bonnet from her head. Her father snatches it from her and puts it on the fire.
There, you're coming round now, love.
[Mrs. Holroyd turns away. She sees Holroyd's eyes on the brandy-bottle, and immediately removes it, corking it up.
MRS. HOLROYD (to Clara)
You will not need this any more?
No, thanks. I'm very much obliged.
MRS. HOLROYD (does not unbend, but speaks coldly to the children) Come, this is no place for you—come back to bed.
No, mam, I don't want to.
MRS. HOLROYD (contralto)
I'm frightened, mam.
Frightened, what of?
Oo, there was a row.
MRS. HOLROYD (taking Minnie in her arms)
Did they frighten you, my pet? (She kisses her)
JACK (in a high whisper)
Mother, it's pink bonnet and blue bonnet, what was dancing.
I don't want to go to bed, mam, I'm frightened.
CLARA (who has pulled off her pink bonnet and revealed a jug-handle coiffure) We're going now, duckie—you're not frightened of us, are you?
[Mrs. Holroyd takes the girl away before she can answer. Jack lingers behind.
Now then, get off after your mother.
JACK (taking no notice of his father)
I say, what's a dog's-nose?
[Clara ups with her handkerchief and Laura responds with a faint giggle.
Go thy ways upstairs.
It's only a small whiskey with a spoonful of beer in it, my duck.
Come here, my duck, come on.
[Jack, curious, advances.
You'll tell your mother we didn't mean no harm, won't you?
JACK (touching her earrings)
What are they made of?
They're only earrings. Don't you like them?
Um! (He stands surveying her curiously. Then he touches a bracelet made of many little mosaic brooches) This is pretty, isn't it?
Do you like it?
[She takes it off. Suddenly Mrs. Holroyd is heard calling, "Jack, Jack!" Clara starts.
Now then, get off!
CLARA (as Jack is reluctantly going)
Kiss me good-night, duckie, an' give this to your sister, shall you?
[She hands Jack the mosaic bracelet. He takes it doubtfully. She kisses him. Holroyd watches in silence.
LAURA (suddenly, pathetically)
Aren't you going to give me a kiss, an' all?
[Jack yields her his cheek, then goes.
CLARA (to Holroyd)
Aren't they nice children?
Oh, dear, you're very short, all of a sudden. Don't answer if it hurts you.
My, isn't he different?
HOLROYD (laughing forcedly)
I'm no different.
Yes, you are. You shouldn't 'ave brought us if you was going to turn funny over it.
I'm not funny.
No, you're not. (She begins to laugh. Laura joins in in spite of herself) You're about as solemn as a roast potato. (She flings up her hands, claps them down on her knees, and sways up and down as she laughs, Laura joining in, hand on breast) Are you ready to be mashed? (She goes off again—then suddenly wipes the laughter off her mouth and is solemn) But look 'ere, this'll never do. Now I'm going to be quiet. (She prims herself)
Tha'd 'appen better.
Oh, indeed! You think I've got to pull a mug to look decent? You'd have to pull a big un, at that rate.
[She bubbles off, uncontrollably—shaking herself in exasperation meanwhile. Laura joins in. Holroyd leans over close to her.
Tha's got plenty o' fizz in thee, seemly.
CLARA (putting her hand on his face and pushing it aside, but leaving her hand over his cheek and mouth like a caress) Don't, you've been drinking. (She begins to laugh)
Should we be goin' then?
Where do you want to take us?
Oh—you please yourself o' that! Come on wi' me.
CLARA (sitting up prim)
HOLROYD (catching hold of her)
Come on, let's be movin'—(he glances apprehensively at the stairs)
What's your hurry?
Yi, come on wi' thee.
I don't think. (She goes off, uncontrollably)
HOLROYD (sitting on the table, just above her)
What's use o' sittin' 'ere?
I'm very comfy: I thank thee.
Tha 'rt a baffling little 'ussy.
CLARA (running her hand along his thigh)
Aren't you havin' nothing, my dear? (Offers him her glass)
HOLROYD (getting down from the table and putting his hand forcibly on her shoulder) No. Come on, let's shift.
[She fetches him a sharp slap across the face. Mrs. Holroyd is heard coming downstairs. Clara, released, sits down, smoothing herself. Holroyd looks evil. He goes out to the door.
CLARA (to Mrs. Holroyd, penitently)
I don't know what you think of us, I'm sure.
I think nothing at all.
So you fix your thoughts elsewhere, do you? (Suddenly changing to seriousness) No, but I have been awful to-night.
MRS. HOLROYD (contralto, emphatic)
I don't want to know anything about you. I shall be glad when you'll go.
Turning-out time, Laura.
I'm sorry, I'm sure.
Never mind. But as true as I'm here, missis, I should never ha' come if I'd thought. But I had a drop—it all started with your husband sayin' he wasn't a married man.
LAURA (laughing and wiping her eyes)
I've never knowed her to go off like it—it's after the time she's had.
You know, my husband was a brute to me—an' I was in bed three month after he died. He was a brute, he was. This is the first time I've been out; it's a'most the first laugh I've had for a year.
It's true, what she says. We thought she'd go out of 'er mind. She never spoke a word for a fortnight.
Though he's only been dead for two months, he was a brute to me. I was as nice a young girl as you could wish when I married him and went to the Fleece Inn—I was.
Killed hisself drinking. An' she's that excitable, she is. We s'll 'ave an awful time with 'er to-morrow, I know.
MRS. HOLROYD (coldly)
I don't know why I should hear all this.
I know I must 'ave seemed awful. An' them children—aren't they nice little things, Laura?
They are that.
HOLROYD (entering from the door)
Hanna you about done theer?
My word, if this is the way you treat a lady when she comes to see you. (She rises)
I'll see you down th' line.
You're not coming a stride with us.
We've got no hat, neither of us.
We've got our own hair on our heads, at any rate. (Drawing herself up suddenly in front of Mrs. Holroyd) An' I've been educated at a boarding school as good as anybody. I can behave myself either in the drawing-room or in the kitchen as is fitting and proper. But if you'd buried a husband like mine, you wouldn't feel you'd much left to be proud of—an' you might go off occasionally.
I don't want to hear you.
CLARA (bobbing a curtsy)
Sorry I spoke.
[She goes out stiffly, followed by Laura.
HOLROYD (going forward)
You mun mind th' points down th' line.
I thank thee, Charlie—mind thy own points.
[He hesitates at the door—returns and sits down. There is silence in the room. Holroyd sits with his chin in his hand. Mrs. Holroyd listens. The footsteps and voices of the two women die out. Then she closes the door. Holroyd begins to unlace his boots.
HOLROYD (ashamed yet defiant, withal anxious to apologize) Wheer's my slippers?
[Mrs. Holroyd sits on the sofa with face averted and does not answer.
Dost hear? (He pulls off his boots, noisily, and begins to hunt under the sofa) I canna find the things. (No answer) Humph!—then I'll do be 'out 'em. (He stumps about in his stocking feet; going into the scullery, he brings out the loaf of bread; he returns into the scullery) Wheer's th' cheese? (No answer—suddenly) God blast it! (He hobbles into the kitchen) I've trod on that brokken basin, an' cut my foot open. (Mrs. Holroyd refuses to take any notice. He sits down and looks at his sole—pulls off his stocking and looks again) It's lamed me for life. (Mrs. Holroyd glances at the wound) Are 'na ter goin' ter get me öwt for it?
Oh, a' right then. (He hops to the dresser, opens a drawer, and pulls out a white rag; he is about to tear it)
MRS. HOLROYD (snatching it from him)
Don't tear that!
Then what the deuce am I to do? (Mrs. Holroyd sits stonily) Oh, a' right then! (He hops back to his chair, sits down, and begins to pull on his stocking) A' right then—a' right then. (In a fever of rage he begins pulling on his boots) I'll go where I can find a bit o' rag.
Yes, that's what you want! All you want is an excuse to be off again—"a bit of rag"!
An' what man'd want to stop in wi' a woman sittin' as fow as a jackass, an' canna get a word from 'er edgeways.
Don't expect me to speak to you after to-night's show. How dare you bring them to my house, how dare you?
They've non hurt your house, have they?
I wonder you dare to cross the doorstep.
I s'll do what the deuce I like. They're as good as you are.
MRS. HOLROYD (stands speechless, staring at him; then low) Don't you come near me again—
HOLROYD (suddenly shouting, to get his courage up)
She's as good as you are, every bit of it.
MRS. HOLROYD (blazing)
Whatever I was and whatever I may be, don't you ever come near me again.
What! I'll show thee. What's the hurt to you if a woman comes to the house? They're women as good as yourself, every whit of it.
Say no more. Go with them then, and don't come back.
What! Yi, I will go, an' you s'll see. What! You think you're something, since your uncle left you that money, an' Blackymore puttin' you up to it. I can see your little game. I'm not as daft as you imagine. I'm no fool, I tell you.
No, you're not. You're a drunken beast, that's all you are.
What, what—I'm what? I'll show you who's gaffer, though. (He threatens her)
MRS. HOLROYD (between her teeth)
No, it's not going on. If you won't go, I will.
Go then, for you've always been too big for your shoes, in my house—
Yes—I ought never to have looked at you. Only you showed a fair face then.
What! What! We'll see who's master i' this house. I tell you, I'm goin' to put a stop to it. (He brings his fist dawn on the table with a bang) It's going to stop. (He bangs the table again) I've put up with it long enough. Do you think I'm a dog in the house, an' not a man, do you—
A dog would be better.
Oh! Oh! Then we'll see. We'll see who's the dog and who isna. We're goin' to see. (He bangs the table)
Stop thumping that table! You've wakened those children once, you and your trollops.
I shall do what the deuce I like!
No more, you won't, no more. I've stood this long enough. Now I'm going. As for you—you've got a red face where she slapped you. Now go to her.
For I'm sick of the sights and sounds of you.
By God, an' I've known it a long time.
You have, and it's true.
An' I know who it is th'rt hankerin' after.
I only want to be rid of you.
I know it mighty well. But I know him!
[Mrs. Holroyd, sinking down on the sofa, suddenly begins to sob half-hysterically. Holroyd watches her. As suddenly, she dries her eyes.
Do you think I care about what you say? (Suddenly) Oh, I've had enough. I've tried, I've tried for years, for the children's sakes. Now I've had enough of your shame and disgrace.
MRS. HOLROYD (her voice is dull and inflexible)
I've had enough. Go out again after those trollops—leave me alone. I've had enough. (Holroyd stands looking at her) Go, I mean it, go out again. And if you never come back again, I'm glad. I've had enough. (She keeps her face averted, will not look at him, her attitude expressing thorough weariness)
All right then!
[He hobbles, in unlaced boots, to the door. Then he turns to look at her. She turns herself still farther away, so that her back is toward him. He goes.