Soldiers Three, by Rudyard Kipling

The Garden of Eden

And ye shall be as — Gods!

SCENE. — Thymy grass-plot at back of the Mahasu dak-bungalow, overlooking little wooded valley. On the left, glimpse of the Dead Forest of Fagoo; on the right, Simla Hills. In background, line of the Snows. CAPTAIN GADSBY, now three weeks a husband, is smoking the pipe of peace on a rug in the sunshine. Banjo and tobacco-pouch on rug. Overhead the Fagoo eagles. MRS. G. comes out of bungalow.

MRS. G. My husband!

CAPT. G. (Lazily, with intense enjoyment.) Eh, wha-at? Say that again.

MRS. G. I’ve written to Mamma and told her that we shall be back on the 17th.

CAPT. G. Did you give her my love?

MRS. G. No, I kept all that for myself. (Sitting down by his side.) I thought you wouldn’t mind.

CAPT. G. (With mock sternness.) I object awf’ly. How did you know that it was yours to keep?

MRS. G. I guessed, Phil.

CAPT. G. (Rapturously.) Lit-tle Featherweight!

MRS. G. I won’t be called those sporting pet names, bad boy.

CAPT. G. You’ll be called anything I choose. Has it ever occurred to you, Madam, that you are my Wife?

MRS. G. It has. I haven’t ceased wondering at it yet.

CAPT. G. Nor I. It seems so strange; and yet, somehow, it doesn’t. (Confidently.) You see, it could have been no one else.

MRS. G. (Softly.) No. No one else — for me or for you. It must have been all arranged from the beginning. Phil, tell me again what made you care for me.

CAPT. G. How could I help it? You were you, you know.

MRS. G. Did you ever want to help it? Speak the truth!

CAPT. G. (A twinkle in his eye.) I did, darling, just at the first. But only at the very first. (Chuckles.) I called you — stoop low and I’ll whisper —‘a little beast.’ Ho! Ho! Ho!

MRS. G. (Taking him by the moustache and making him sit up.) ‘A— little — beast!’ Stop laughing over your crime! And yet you had the — the — awful cheek to propose to me!

CAPT. G. I’d changed my mind then. And you weren’t a little beast any more.

MRS. G. Thank you, Sir! And when was I ever?

CAPT. G. Never! But that first day, when you gave me tea in that peach-coloured muslin gown thing, you looked — you did indeed, dear — such an absurd little mite. And I didn’t know what to say to you.

MRS. G. (Twisting moustache.) So you said ‘little beast.’ Upon my word, Sir! I called you a ‘Crrrreature,’ but I wish now I had called you something worse.

CAPT. G. (Very meekly.) I apologise, but you’re hurting me awf’ly. (Interlude.) You’re welcome to torture me again on those terms.

MRS. G. Oh, why did you let me do it?

CAPT. G. (Looking across valley.) No reason in particular, but — if it amused you or did you any good — you might — wipe those dear little boots of yours on me.

MRS. G. (Stretching out her hands.) Don’t! Oh, don’t! Philip, my King, please don’t talk like that. It’s how I feel. You’re so much too good for me. So much too good!

CAPT. G. Me! I’m not fit to put my arm round you. (Puts it round.)

MRS. G. Yes, you are. But I— what have I ever done?

CAPT. G. Given me a wee bit of your heart, haven’t you, my Queen?

MRS. G. That’s nothing. Any one would do that. They cou — couldn’t help it.

CAPT. G. Pussy, you’ll make me horribly conceited. Just when I was beginning to feel so humble, too.

MRS. G. Humble! I don’t believe it’s in your character.

CAPT. G. What do you know of my character, Impertinence?

MRS. G. Ah, but I shall, shan’t I, Phil? I shall have time in all the years and years to come, to know everything about you; and there will be no secrets between us.

CAPT. G. Little witch! I believe you know me thoroughly already.

MRS. G. I think I can guess. You’re selfish?

CAPT. G. Yes.

MRS. G. Foolish?

CAPT. G. Very.

MRS. G. And a dear?

CAPT. G. That is as my lady pleases.

MRS. G. Then your lady is pleased. (A pause.) D’you know that we’re two solemn, serious, grown-up people —

CAPT. G. (Tilting her straw hat over her eyes.) You grown-up! Pooh! You’re a baby.

MRS. G. And we’re talking nonsense.

CAPT. G. Then let’s go on talking nonsense. I rather like it. Pussy, I’ll tell you a secret. Promise not to repeat?

MRS. G. Ye — es. Only to you.

CAPT. G. I love you.

MRS. G. Re-ally! For how long?

CAPT. G. For ever and ever.

MRS. G. That’s a long time.

CAPT. G. ‘Think so? It’s the shortest I can do with.

MRS. G. You’re getting quite clever.

CAPT. G. I’m talking to you.

MRS. G. Prettily turned. Hold up your stupid old head and I’ll pay you for it!

CAPT. G. (Affecting supreme contempt.) Take it yourself if you want it.

MRS. G. I’ve a great mind to — and I will! (Takes it and is repaid with interest.)

CAPT. G. Little Featherweight, it’s my opinion that we are a couple of idiots.

MRS. G. We’re the only two sensible people in the world! Ask the eagle. He’s coming by.

CAPT. G. Ah! I dare say he’s seen a good many sensible people at Mahasu. They say that those birds live for ever so long.

MRS. G. How long?

CAPT. G. A hundred and twenty years.

MRS. G. A hundred and twenty years! O-oh! And in a hundred and twenty years where will these two sensible people be?

CAPT. G. What does it matter so long as we are together now?

MRS. G. (Looking round the horizon.) Yes. Only you and I— I and you — in the whole wide, wide world until the end. (Sees the line of the Snows.) How big and quiet the hills look! D’you think they care for us?

CAPT. G. ‘Can’t say I’ve consulted ’em particularly. I care, and that’s enough for me.

MRS. G. (Drawing nearer to him.) Yes, now — but afterwards. What’s that little black blur on the Snows?

CAPT. G. A snowstorm, forty miles away. You’ll see it move, as the wind carries it across the face of that spur, and then it will be all gone.

MRS. G. And then it will be all gone. (Shivers.)

CAPT. G. (Anxiously.) ‘Not chilled, pet, are you? ‘Better let me get your cloak.

MRS. G. No. Don’t leave me, Phil. Stay here. I believe I am afraid. Oh, why are the hills so horrid! Phil, promise me, promise me that you’ll always love me.

CAPT. G. What’s the trouble, darling? I can’t promise any more than I have; but I’ll promise that again and again if you like.

MRS. G. (Her head on his shoulder.) Say it, then — say it! N-no — don’t! The — the — eagles would laugh. (Recovering.) My husband, you’ve married a little goose.

CAPT. G. (Very tenderly.) Have I? I am content whatever she is, so long as she is mine.

MRS. G. (Quickly.) Because she is yours or because she is me mineself?

CAPT. G. Because she is both. (Piteously.) I’m not clever, dear, and I don’t think I can make myself understood properly.

MRS. G. I understand. Pip, will you tell me something?

CAPT. G. Anything you like. (Aside.) I wonder what’s coming now.

MRS. G. (Haltingly, her eyes lowered.) You told me once in the old days — centuries and centuries ago — that you had been engaged before. I didn’t say anything — then.

CAPT. G. (Innocently.) Why not?

MRS. G. (Raising her eyes to his.) Because — because I was afraid of losing you, my heart. But now — tell about it — please.

CAPT. G. There’s nothing to tell. I was awf’ly old then — nearly two and twenty — and she was quite that.

MRS. G. That means she was older than you. I shouldn’t like her to have been younger. Well?

CAPT. G. Well, I fancied myself in love and raved about a bit, and — oh, yes, by Jove! I made up poetry. Ha! Ha!

MRS. G. You never wrote any for me! What happened?

CAPT. G. I came out here, and the whole thing went phut. She wrote to say that there had been a mistake, and then she married.

MRS. G. Did she care for you much?

CAPT. G. No. At least she didn’t show it as far as I remember.

MRS. G. As far as you remember! Do you remember her name? (Hears it and bows her head.) Thank you, my husband.

CAPT. G. Who but you had the right? Now, Little Featherweight, have you ever been mixed up in any dark and dismal tragedy?

MRS. G. If you call me Mrs. Gadsby, p’raps I’ll tell.

CAPT. G. (Throwing Parade rasp into his voice.) Mrs. Gadsby, confess!

MRS. G. Good Heavens, Phil! I never knew that you could speak in that terrible voice.

CAPT. G. You don’t know half my accomplishments yet. Wait till we are settled in the Plains, and I’ll show you how I bark at my troop. You were going to say, darling?

MRS. G. I— I don’t like to, after that voice. (Tremulously.) Phil, never you dare to speak to me in that tone, whatever I may do!

CAPT. G. My poor little love! Why, you’re shaking all over. I am so sorry. Of course I never meant to upset you. Don’t tell me anything. I’m a brute.

MRS. G. No, you aren’t, and I will tell — There was a man.

CAPT. G. (Lightly.) Was there? Lucky man!

MRS. G. (In a whisper.) And I thought I cared for him.

CAPT. G. Still luckier man! Well?

MRS. G. And I thought I cared for him — and I didn’t — and then you came — and I cared for you very, very much indeed. That’s all. (Face hidden.) You aren’t angry, are you?

CAPT. G. Angry? Not in the least. (Aside.) Good Lord, what have I done to deserve this angel?

MRS. G. (Aside.) And he never asked for the name! How funny men are! But perhaps it’s as well.

CAPT. G. That man will go to heaven because you once thought you cared for him. ‘Wonder if you’ll ever drag me up there?

MRS. G. (Firmly.) ‘Shan’t go if you don’t.

CAPT. G. Thanks. I say, Pussy, I don’t know much about your religious beliefs. You were brought up to believe in a heaven and all that, weren’t you?

MRS. G. Yes. But it was a pincushion heaven, with hymn-books in all the pews.

CAPT. G. (Wagging his head with intense conviction.) Never mind. There is a pukka heaven.

MRS. G. Where do you bring that message from, my prophet?

CAPT. G. Here! Because we care for each other. So it’s all right.

MRS. G. (As a troop of langurs crash through the branches.) So it’s all right. But Darwin says that we came from those!

CAPT. G. (Placidly.) Ah! Darwin was never in love with an angel. That settles it. Sstt, you brutes! Monkeys, indeed! You shouldn’t read those books.

MRS. G. (Folding her hands.) If it pleases my Lord the King to issue proclamation.

CAPT. G. Don’t, dear one. There are no orders between us. Only I’d rather you didn’t. They lead to nothing, and bother people’s heads.

MRS. G. Like your first engagement.

CAPT.G. (With an immense calm.) That was a necessary evil and led to you. Are you nothing?

MRS. G. Not so very much, am I?

CAPT. G. All this world and the next to me.

MRS. G. (Very softly.) My boy of boys! Shall I tell you something?

CAPT. G. Yes, if it’s not dreadful — about other men.

MRS. G. It’s about my own bad little self.

CAPT. G. Then it must be good. Go on, dear.

MRS. G. (Slowly.) I don’t know why I’m telling you, Pip; but if ever you marry again —(Interlude.) Take your hand from my mouth or I’ll bite! In the future, then remember — I don’t know quite how to put it!

CAPT. G. (Snorting indignantly.) Don’t try. ‘Marry again,’ indeed!

MRS. G. I must. Listen, my husband. Never, never, never tell your wife anything that you do not wish her to remember and think over all her life. Because a woman — yes, I am a woman — can’t forget.

CAPT. G. By Jove, how do you know that?

MRS. G. (Confusedly.) I don’t. I’m only guessing. I am — I was — a silly little girl; but I feel that I know so much, oh, so very much more than you, dearest. To begin with, I’m your wife.

CAPT. G. So I have been led to believe.

MRS. G. And I shall want to know every one of your secrets — to share everything you know with you. (Stares round desperately.)

CAPT. G. So you shall, dear, so you shall — but don’t look like that.

MRS. G. For your own sake don’t stop me, Phil. I shall never talk to you in this way again. You must not tell me! At least, not now. Later on, when I’m an old matron it won’t matter, but if you love me, be very good to me now; for this part of my life I shall never forget! Have I made you understand?

CAPT. G. I think so, child. Have I said anything yet that you disapprove of?

MRS. G. Will you be very angry? That — that voice, and what you said about the engagement —

CAPT. G. But you asked to be told that, darling.

MRS. G. And that’s why you shouldn’t have told me! You must be the judge, and, oh, Pip, dearly as I love you, I shan’t be able to help you! I shall hinder you, and you must judge in spite of me!

CAPT. G. (Meditatively.) We have a great many things to find out together, God help us both — say so, Pussy — but we shall understand each other better every day; and I think I’m beginning to see now. How in the world did you come to know just the importance of giving me just that lead?

MRS. G. I’ve told you that I don’t know. Only somehow it seemed that, in all this new life, I was being guided for your sake as well as my own.

CAPT. G. (Aside.) Then Mafflin was right! They know, and we — we’re blind — all of us. (Lightly.) ‘Getting a little beyond our depth, dear, aren’t we? I’ll remember, and, if I fail, let me be punished as I deserve.

MRS. G. There shall be no punishment. We’ll start into life together from here — you and I— and no one else.

CAPT. G. And no one else. (A pause.) Your eyelashes are all wet, Sweet? Was there ever such a quaint little Absurdity?

MRS. G. Was there ever such nonsense talked before?

CAPT. G. (Knocking the ashes out of his pipe.) ‘Tisn’t what we say, it’s what we don’t say, that helps. And it’s all the profoundest philosophy. But no one would understand — even if it were put into a book.

MRS. G. The idea! No — only we ourselves, or people like ourselves — if there are any people like us.

CAPT. G. (Magisterially.) All people, not like ourselves, are blind idiots.

MRS. G. (Wiping her eyes.) Do you think, then, that there are any people as happy as we are?

CAPT. G. ‘Must be — unless we’ve appropriated all the happiness in the world.

MRS. G. (Looking towards Simla.) Poor dears! Just fancy if we have!

CAPT. G. Then we’ll hang on to the whole show, for it’s a great deal too jolly to lose — eh, wife o’ mine?

MRS. G. O Pip! Pip! How much of you is a solemn, married man and how much a horrid, slangy schoolboy?

CAPT. G. When you tell me how much of you was eighteen last birthday and how much is as old as the Sphinx and twice as mysterious, perhaps I’ll attend to you. Lend me that banjo. The spirit moveth me to yowl at the sunset.

MRS. G. Mind! It’s not tuned. Ah! How that jars.

CAPT. G. (Turning pegs.) It’s amazingly difficult to keep a banjo to proper pitch.

MRS. G. It’s the same with all musical instruments. What shall it be?

CAPT. G. ‘Vanity,’ and let the hills hear. (Sings through the first and half of the second verse. Turning to MRS. G.) Now, chorus! Sing, Pussy!

BOTH TOGETHER. (Con brio, to the horror of the monkeys who are settling for the night.)—

‘Vanity, all is Vanity,’ said Wisdom, scorning me —
I clasped my true Love’s tender hand and answered frank and free — ee:—

‘If this be Vanity who’d be wise?
If this be Vanity who’d be wise?
If this be Vanity who’d be wi — ise?
(Crescendo.) Vanity let it be!’

MRS. G. (Defiantly to the gray of the evening sky.) ‘Vanity let it be!’

ECHO. (From the Fagoo spur.) Let it be!

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38