Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE UNKNOWN HAND, by CLIFFORD BAX



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THE UNKNOWN HAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Hans andersen, when he was old and frail
Last Line: Squire turner pounds on shanks's de la mare!
Subject(s): Writing & Writers


Characters

JULIET
HELEN

SCENE. A Room in JULIET'S Flat. Back centre, a fire. To its right, a
chair; to its left, an easy chair and a small table. Two envelopes and a
new novel lie on the table. JULIET is seated in the easy chair,
looking into the fire

JULIET (dreamily). Hans Andersen, when he was old and frail,
Said that his life had been a fairy-tale. ... (Looking up.)
That's what mine is! Think of it—by a freak
Of Fortune to be famous in one week,
And with my first book! Would it have made quite
Such a commotion had I dared to write
Under my name? Who knows? But if you've penned
A merciless portrait of your dearest friend,
You simply can't avow it. And a book
That bears a man's name has a weightier look
Somehow. My novel! Why, it seems an age
Since last I gloated on the title-page. (She takes up the novel from the ta
ble.)
'The Strong Man's Library. Number Seventeen.
"Calypso and Her Loves," by Galahad Green.
Second Impression.' Then down there, quite small.
The modest publishers—Chapman and Hall.
(Turning to the envelopes on the table.)
Oh, and they've sent me—Is it from Chapman? Yes—
Another batch of cuttings from the Press.
Quite a lot, too! I'll give them just a glance
Before I go to supper.
(Taking the envelope which is on top, she extracts a number of Press
cuttings, looks through them hastily and tosses them back on to the
table one by one.)
'True romance.'
W. J. Turner—'Shows a man's desire
To write for men. ... Much promise.' J. C. Squire.—
'At times like Gosse. ... ' Who wrote that? Squire again,
But in a different paper—'Stuff for men. ...
Gosse-like at moments.' Edward Shanks—'No learner,
A finished craftsman.' W. J. Turner—
'Impressive.' J. C. Squire.—'His novel ranks
Among the best books of the season. ... ' Shanks.—
'Impressive.' Shanks.—'Almost the true Gosse fire. ...'
Turner again. 'A man's book.' J. C. Squire.—
My poor head swims! How very queer to find
Ten papers, three reviewers and one mind.
They're like the Isle of Man. Suppose I beg
Prettily? Would they make me their fourth leg?
Here's praise enough. Indeed, you'd think I knew them—
Or that they hoped I might in turn review them.
(Looking again at the table, she picks up the second envelope.)
And here? Oh, horror! Helen's writing—hers,
I'm sure, and what wild spluttering characters!
Their wildness might be due to haste, but not
The Maenad fury of that final blot.
She's read the book, and recognized with rage
The portrait of herself on every page,
In every line. She couldn't miss it. Why
Didn't I make Calypso small and shy,
Dark and not fair? Whatever made me draw
Helen complete, even to her slightest flaw?
Everything's there—green eyes, the Chelsea flat,
The craze for Morny bath-salts, even that! ...
I let Calypso live at such a pace
Too, that I daren't look Helen in the face,
I simply daren't. But stay! She might have seen
The book: she can't think I am Galahad Green.
There's hope. I'll soon see what she has to say.. (She opens
the letter.)
'My dearest Juliet'—'dearest,' anyway!—
'I'm furious, but I shan't say what about
Until we meet. Promise you won't be out
This evening. I shall call at eight o'clock.
Helen.' At least her letter saves the shock
Of meeting unprepared, and I'll be able
To sweep these wretched cuttings from the table
What is the time? Exactly eight. Oh dear,
At any minute now she may be here
Storming my ears off. What a risk I took!
And then—she's just the girl to read a book,
Find her own portrait there, done all too well,
And taxi-ing to the publishers pell-mell
Demand to have the author's home-address.
Chapman and Hall, however great their stress,
Would never give it, would they? When we met
Their manager seemed such a perfect pet ...
(A bell rings. Noise outside.)
There she is.
(HELEN rushes in—still wearing her furs.)
HELEN (dramatically). Juliet!
JULIET. Well, what's wrong, my dear?
HELEN. Nothing—at least—I am so glad you're here
(She takes both of JULIET'S hands.)


JULIET. I read your letter just in time. The fact
Is that it caught me in the very act
Of going out to supper.
HELEN. But you'll stay
Now? It's important—what I've come to say—
And yet so horrible that I've scarce the heart
To speak of it. I don't know how to start.
JULIET. I guess. You've jilted John! I always said
You would. Or has he jilted you instead?
HELEN (breaking). Oh, don't be flippant, Juliet. Can't you see
It's not a laughing matter? Should I be
In such a state about a love-affair?
I'm not pre-Shaw.
JULIET. Then why———
HELEN. As if I'd care
Because John tried to leave me. He'll as soon
Do that as find an oil-field in the moon.
No—this is something serious.
JULIET. Won't you take
Your furs off, and sit down?
HELEN. For goodness' sake
Don't vex me with that calm superior tone!
Once you were sympathetic, but you've grown
More and more selfish every month. Of late
I've hardly seen you. Now I come here straight
From being insulted, being driven half-mad,
By some sly undiscoverable cad,
And there you sit, impassive and content,
Like Middle-Age upon a monument
Smiling at grief.
JULIET. I don't flare up like you,
Helen. But wait! I've been insulted, too.
HELEN. Really? But listen! If I keep it back
A minute more, it means a nerve-attack.
Juliet—I've read a book———
JULIET. A novel?
HELEN. Yes—
A new one. But however did you guess?
It's only just out.
JULIET. Surely you can't mean———
HELEN (holding up a copy). 'Calypso and Her Loves'!
JULIET (doing likewise). By Galahad Green!
Now, that's extraordinary—the very same!
HELEN. You've read it? Oh, it makes me blush for shame.
JULIET. Stick by me—even now. I know you will.
HELEN. What? I? Dear Juliet, you can love me still!
JULIET. To see them set down—all one's little tricks ...
HELEN. To have one's soul supplied at eight-and-six ...
JULIET. Or hired from Mudie's, read by every clerk—
HELEN. And every sniggering waitress after dark.
JULIET. I could have stood a mere divorce. But this!
HELEN. Every one must know who Calypso is.
JULIET. Of course. I simply daren't be seen about.
HELEN. Who is this Galahad Green? I can't find out.
JULIET. A blood-sucker, a literary flea!
HELEN. I'll sue the cad for libel. Just you see!
JULIET. You dear! It ought to be my action, though.
HELEN. Yours? You can't mind as much as I, you know.
JULIET. Can't I! You think I'd stay in England now?
HELEN. What? Leave your home? No, that I can't allow.
JULIET. Won't you come, too? To-morrow I shall start.
HELEN. Of course you're sweet to take it so to heart—
JULIET. Who wouldn't—with her reputation gone?
HELEN. It must be such a bitter pill for John!
JULIET. What would John care because I'm painted black?
HELEN. You?
JULIET. In this book, this dastardly attack—
Yet, you dear noble girl, at least it's shown
That to you my misfortunes are your own.
HELEN. Juliet—what do you mean? Sometimes your gibes
Are most ill-timed. You know the book describes
Me.
JULIET. You're not serious?
HELEN. I? Of course I am ...
And now that I've discovered what a sham
You were with all your sympathy, I could hurl
The foul book at your head. You heartless girl!
Is this a time to mock me, to pretend
You care so much about your slandered friend
That you won't stay in England? If that's your
Notion of fun, it isn't mine, be sure.
JULIET. I wasn't being funny—not a bit,
Really. It's simply that the cap does fit—
I am Calypso!
HELEN. Well, I never heard
Such nonsense in my life. It's too absurd.
Oh, if I could but think that one or two
Readers might fancy it was meant for you,
I'd take some pleasure in my life again,
Dance, have a feast of oysters and champagne,
Buy a new winter frock and hat, instead
Of wishing, as I do, that I were dead.
For you deserve it—you that make a joke
Out of my misery.
JULIET. Helen—when I spoke
Of being Calypso, didn't I, to my shame,
Own the wild sins that cluster round her name?
Alas, I meant it.
HELEN. Nobody could be
So blind as not to know it's me—I—me:
And since you're now my enemy, I shall go
At once. But after this, I'd have you know,
Our friendship's dead—for always! Please forget
You ever knew me.
JULIET. Helen, don't go yet ..
HELEN. I must. And let me say that if you call
To-morrow you'll have wasted time, that's all.
I shan't go home to-night.
JULIET. Where will you sleep?
HELEN. Battersea Bridge is high, and the Thames deep.
JULIET. You wicked child! You mustn't talk like that.
HELEN. A plunge and then———
JULIET. With such a pretty hat?
HELEN (returning). You never said you liked it.
JULIET. No. I've been
So worried all day by this Galahad Green.
For really, Helen, once and for all be certain
It's not from your life that he's wrenched the curtain.
You can still face the world. You've not the least
Cause to abominate the loathsome beast—
Except as I'm your friend: and since I know,
Now, that your strange mistake has hurt you so,
Believe me, I rejoice—yes, even rejoice—
That I, not you, suffer by Galahad's choice.
I bear it willingly. Must I prove my case?
Give me one moment, while I find the place ..
(She opens the book and searches through it feverishly.)
HELEN (opening copy). Oh, if it comes to evidence ...! But indeed
I simply can't go through it!
JULIET. Let me read
Page twenty-four: 'Between him and his wife
A deep gulf lay. She wanted to see life
Through her own eyes, but he preferred, she knew,
The monocle of The Saturday Review'—
There! Don't you see? That paper's just the one
I always said would patronize the sun.
HELEN. That? Why, look here—page forty-two—' Her eyes
Were green, her honey-coloured———'
JULIET. Mere disguise!
He had to change a little here and there.
Listen: 'She glowered———'
HELEN. ' Her honey-coloured hair
Lay in profusion on her shoulders———'
JULIET. 'Then
She thought "It's time———"
HELEN. 'To win the love of men—
'What's that?' she cried. 'I ever hated sin———'
JULIET. "But now I'll change. To-morrow I'll begin ...
My sins are many. Can they be washed away?"'
HELEN. 'So she used Morny bath-salts every day.
Often she'd sponge herself for hours, and dream
Of love, veiled only by the bashful steam.
Sometimes, perhaps, an over-amorous drop
Would trickle down———'
JULIET (shocked). Helen, my dear—do stop!
Really!
HELEN. But that's conclusive!
JULIET. I admit
That she had beauty, savoir-faire, and wit,
But she was wicked, too, reckless and haughty———
HELEN. I can't pretend that I was never naughty.
JULIET. Naughty, perhaps; but you could never trip so
Continually as Mr. Green's Calypso.
HELEN. I do believe you think I wouldn't dare
Calypso's deeds. I've done them all—so there!
JULIET. Well, you shall have the truth. I'll make a clean
Breast of it. Who, you ask, is Galahad Green?
I know him!
HELEN. Juliet! And he dares affirm
That I was not. ... The lily-livered worm!
JULIET. But if he writes a letter to the Press
Declaring that he never saw you———
HELEN. Yes,
And makes me look a fool. What can I do
When every one I meet says 'Is it you ...
That wicked gorgeous creature, that wild thing
Ecstatic and unmoral as the Spring ...?'
Of course I owned it.
JULIET. Helen—I can still
Save you. I'll make him write———
HELEN No, no!
JULIET. I will—
And now, at once. The telephone!
HELEN (stopping JULIET). But I say
You're not to!
JULIET (struggling). Let me go! We can't delay.
HELEN. Juliet, for goodness' sake don't be so dense!
JULIET. What do you mean?
HELEN. Where's your intelligence,
Your tact, your feminine intuition? Where
Your sympathy? Must I lay my soul quite bare?
JULIET (returning and collapsing into her chair.) So far as I'm concerned
you're talking Greek.
HELEN. They've sold nine thousand copies in one week.
JULIET. Why, one would think, in spite of all that's passed,
You liked the book.
HELEN. So you've got there at last!
You are an also-ran.
JULIET. Good heavens!
HELEN. I had
To say that I was furious, and not glad;
But what girl wouldn't feel some little stir
Of pride when all the town's in love with her?
You don't know half that's happened. This new novel
Has simply made all other writers grovel.
Bennett's gone mad with envy. J. C. Snaith
Is in decline. Galsworthy's a mere wraith.
Chesterton, having burnt his cap and bells,
Drowned himself in a butt of Malmesey. Wells
Vowed to the Press he'd never write again.
May Sinclair, Violet Hunt, and Clemence Dane
Have gone—forevermore to breathe the air
Of Iceland. Poor Hugh Walpole's in despair.
Now do you see my point? Didn't you lie
When you said that Calypso wasn't I?
JULIET. Yes.
HELEN. And the author learnt it all from you.
I think you owe me something.
JULIET. Very true. .
What do you want?
HELEN. Oh, Juliet—since I've been
His model, do you think that Mr. Green
Would possibly—just some day—take me out
To supper?
JULIET. When? To-night?
HELEN. Could he?
JULIET. No doubt.
HELEN. Let's ring him up.
JULIET (stopping her). Who said that I was dense?
HELEN. But if he's free———?
JULIET. Use your intelligence,
Your feminine intuition.
HELEN. Yes, but how?
JULIET. Galahad does invite you here and now.
All is not masculine that's Green.
HELEN (collapsing). Your book!
JULIET. Here are my notices, if you care to look.
HELEN. My dear! ...And all those famous novelists, too—
Just shrivelling up with jealousy of you!
JULIET. Ah, but the poets! They are delighted—they
Whose rustic hearts envy could never sway.
Read what they've said.
HELEN. I'm sure it's very sweet.
But somehow I can never keep my seat
On Pegasus.
JULIET. Pegasus! No one rides him now:
But ah, how steadily up Parnassus' brow,
With farmyard straw, not vine-leaves, in his hair,
Squire Turner Pounds on Shanks's de la Mare!






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