LADY BRITOMART. Do n o t repeat my words, Stephen. Where else can I ask him?
STEPHEN. I never expected you to ask him at all.
LADY BRITOMART. Now dont tease, Stephen. Come! you see that it is necessary that he should pay us a visit, dont you?
STEPHEN (reluctantly). I suppose so, if the girls cannot do without his money.
LADY BRITOMART. Thank you, Stephen: I knew you would give me the right advice when it was properly explained to you. I have asked your father to come this evening. (Stephen bounds from his seat.) Dont jump, Stephen: it fidgets me.
STEPHEN (in utter consternation). Do you mean to say that my father is coming here to-night -- that he may be here at any moment?
LADY BRITOMART (looking at her watch). I said nine. (He gasps. She rises.) Ring the bell, please. (Stephen goes to the smaller writing table; presses a button on it; and sits at it with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, outwitted and overwhelmed.) It is ten minutes to nine yet; and I have to prepare the girls. I asked Charles Lomax and Adolphus to dinner on purpose that they might be here. Andrew had better see them in case he should cherish any delusions as to their being capable of supporting their wives. (The butler enters: Lady Britomart goes behind the settee to speak to him.) Morrison: go up to the drawingroom and tell everybody to come down here at once. (Morrison withdraws. Lady Britomart turns to Stephen.) Now remember, Stephen: I shall need all your countenance and authority. (He rises and tries to recover some vestige of these attributes.) Give me a chair, dear. (He pushes a chair forward from the wall to where she stands, near the smaller writing table. She sits down; and he goes to the arm-chair, into which he throws himself.) I dont know how Barbara will take it. Ever since they made her a major in the Salvation Army she has developed a propensity to have her own way and order people about which quite cows me sometimes. It's not ladylike: I'm sure I dont know where she picked it up. Anyhow, Barbara shant bully m e; but still it's just as well that your father should be here before she has time to refuse to meet him or make a fuss. Dont look nervous, Stephen; it will only encourage Barbara to make difficulties. I am nervous enough, goodness knows; but I dont shew it.
Sarah and Barbara come in with their respective young men, Charles Lomax and Adolphus Cusins. Sarah is slender, bored, and mundane. Barbara is robuster, jollier, much more energetic. Sarah is fashionably dressed: Barbara is in Salvation Army uniform. Lomax, a young man about town, is like many other young men about town. He is afflicted with a frivolous sense of humor which plunges him at the most inopportune moments into paroxysms of imperfectly suppressed laughter. Cusins is a spectacled student, slight, thin haired, and sweet voiced, with a more complex form of Lomax's complaint. His sense of humor is intellectual and subtle, and is complicated by an appalling temper. The lifelong struggle of a benevolent temperament and a high conscience against impulses of inhuman ridicule and fierce impatience has set up a chronic strain which has visibly wrecked his constitution. He is a most implacable, determined, tenacious, intolerant person who by mere force of character presents himself as -- and indeed actually is -- considerate, gentle, explanatory, even mild and apologetic, capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty or coarseness. By the operation of some instinct which is not merciful enough to blind him with the illusions of love, he is obstinately bent on marrying Barbara. Lomax likes Sarah and thinks it will be rather a lark to marry her. Consequently he has not attempted to resist Lady Britomart's arrangements to that end.
All four look as if they had been having a good deal of fun in the drawingroom. The girls enter first, leaving the swains outside. Sarah comes to the settee. Barbara comes in after her and stops at the door.
BARBARA. Are Cholly and Dolly to come in?
LADY BRITOMART (forcibly). Barbara: I will not have Charles called Cholly: the vulgarity of it positively makes me ill.
BARBARA. It's all right, mother. Cholly is quite correct nowadays. Are they to come in?
LADY BRITOMART. Yes, if they will behave themselves.
BARBARA (through the door). Come in, Dolly, and behave yourself.
Barbara comes to her mother's writing table. Cusins enters smiling, and wanders towards Lady Britomart.
SARAH (calling). Come in, Cholly. (Lomax enters, controlling his features very imperfectly, and places himself vaguely between Sarah and Barbara.)
LADY BRITOMART (peremptorily). Sit down, all of you. (They sit. Cusins crosses to the window and seats himself there. Lomax takes a chair. Barbara sits at the writing table and Sarah on the settee.) I dont in the least know what you are laughing at, Adolphus. I am surprised at you, though I expected nothing better from Charles Lomax.
CUSINS (in a remarkably gentle voice). Barbara has been trying to teach me the West Ham Salvation March.
LADY BRITOMART. I see nothing to laugh at in that; nor should you if you are really converted.
CUSINS (sweetly). You were not present. It was really funny, I believe.
LADY BRITOMART. Be quiet, Charles. Now listen to me, children. Your father is coming here this evening. (General stupefaction.)
LOMAX (remonstrating). Oh I say!
LADY BRITOMART. You are not called on to say anything, Charles.