DAN. What shall I talk to you about?
MARION. Oh, tell me all the news. What is the world doing? Who has run away with whose wife? Who has been swindling whom? Which philanthropist has been robbing the poor? What saint has been discovered sinning? What is the latest scandal? Who has been found out? and what is it they have been doing? and what is everybody saying about it?
DAN. Would it amuse you?
MARION [she sits by the piano, softly touching the keys, idly recalling many memories]. What should it do? Make me weep? Should not one be glad to know one's friends better?
DAN. I wish you wouldn't be clever. Everyone one meets is clever nowadays. It came in when the sun-flower went out. I preferred the sun- flower; it was more amusing.
MARION. And stupid people, I suppose, will come in when the clever people go out. I prefer the clever. They have better manners. You're exceedingly disagreeable. [She leaves the piano, and, throwing herself upon the couch, takes up a book.]
DAN. I know I am. The night has been with me also. It follows one and asks questions.
MARION. What questions has it been asking you?
DAN. Many--and so many of them have no answer. Why am I a useless, drifting log upon the world's tide? Why have all the young men pa.s.sed me? Why am I, at thirty-nine, let us say, with brain, with power, with strength--n.o.body thinks I am worth anything, but I am--I know it. I might have been an able editor, devoting every morning from ten till three to arranging the affairs of the Universe, or a popular politician, trying to understand what I was talking about, and to believe it. And what am I? A newspaper reporter, at three-ha'pence a line--I beg their pardon, its occasionally twopence.
MARION. Does it matter?
DAN. Does it matter! Does it matter whether a Union Jack or a Tricolor floats over the turrets of Badajoz? yet we pour our blood into its ditches to decide the argument. Does it matter whether one star more or less is marked upon our charts? yet we grow blind peering into their depths. Does it matter that one keel should slip through the grip of the Polar ice? yet nearer, nearer to it, we pile our whitening bones. And it's worth playing, the game of life. And there's a meaning in it. It's worth playing, if only that it strengthens the muscles of our souls. I'd like to have taken a hand in it.
MARION. Why didn't you?
DAN. No partner. Dull playing by oneself. No object.
MARION [after a silence]. What was she like?
DAN. So like you that there are times when I almost wish I had never met you. You set me thinking about myself, and that is a subject I find it pleasanter to forget.
MARION. And this woman that was like me--she could have made a man's life?
MARION. Won't you tell me about her? Had she many faults?
DAN. Enough to love her by.
MARION. But she must have been good.
DAN. Good enough to be a woman.
MARION. That might mean so much or so little.
DAN. It should mean much to my thinking. There are few women.
MARION. Few! I thought the economists held that there were too many of us.
DAN. Not enough--not enough to go round. That is why a true woman has many lovers.
[There is a silence between them. Then MARION rises, but their eyes do not meet.]
MARION. How serious we have grown!
DAN. They say a dialogue between a man and woman always does.
MARION [she moves away, then, hesitating, half returns]. May I ask you a question?
DAN. That is an easy favour to grant.
MARION. If--if at any time you felt regard again for a woman, would you, for her sake, if she wished it, seek to gain, even now, that position in the world which is your right--which would make her proud of your friendship--would make her feel that even her life had not been altogether without purpose?
DAN. Too late! The old hack can only look over the hedge, and watch the field race by. The old ambition stirs within me at times--especially after a gla.s.s of good wine--and Harry's wine--G.o.d bless him--is excellent--but to-morrow morning--[with a shrug of his shoulders he finishes his meaning].
MARION. Then she could do nothing?
DAN. Nothing for his fortunes--much for himself. My dear young lady, never waste pity on a man in love--nor upon a child crying for the moon.
The moon is a good thing to cry for.
MARION. I am glad I am like her. I am glad that I have met you.
[She gives him her hand, and for a moment he holds it. Then she goes out.]
[A flower has fallen from her breast, whether by chance or meaning, he knows not. He picks it up and kisses it; stands twirling it, undecided for a second, then lets it fall again upon the floor.]
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