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Votes for Women. Robins, Elizabeth, 1862–1952.
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page: 49

ACT II

SCENE: The north side of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square. The Curtain rises on an uproar. The crowd, which momentarily increases, is composed chiefly of weedy youths and wastrel old men. There are a few decent artisans; three or four “beery” out‐o’‐works; three or four young women of the domestic servant or Strand restaurant cashier class; one aged woman in rusty black peering with faded, wondering eyes, consulting the faces of the men and laughing nervously and apologetically from time to time; one or two quiet‐looking, business‐like women, thirty to forty; two middle‐class men, who stare and whisper and smile. A quiet old man with a lot of unsold Sunday papers under one arm stands in an attitude of rapt attention, with the free hand round his deaf ear. A brisk‐looking woman of forty‐five or so, wearing pince‐nez, goes round with a pile of propagandist literature on her arm. Many of the men smoking cigarettes—the old ones pipes. On the outskirts of this crowd, of several hundred, a couple of smart men in tall shining hats hover a few moments, single eyeglasses up, and then saunter off. Against the middle of the Column, where it rises above the stone platform, is a great red banner, one supporting pole upheld by a grimy page: 50 sandwichman, the other by a small, dirty boy of eight. If practicable only the lower portion of the banner need be seen, bearing the final words of the legend—“VOTES FOR WOMEN!” in immense white letters. It will be well to get, to the full, the effect of the height above the crowd of the straggling group of speakers on the pedestal platform. These are, as the Curtain rises, a working‐class woman who is waving her arms and talking very earnestly, her voice for the moment blurred in the uproar. She is dressed in brown serge and looks pinched and sallow. At her side is the CHAIRMAN urging that she be given a fair hearing. ALLEN TRENT is a tall, slim, brown‐haired man of twenty‐eight, with a slight stoop, an agreeable aspect, well‐bred voice, and the gleaming brown eye of the visionary. Behind these two, looking on or talking among themselves, are several other carelessly dressed women; one, better turned out than the rest, is quite young, very slight and gracefully built, with round, very pink cheeks, full, scarlet lips, naturally waving brown hair, and an air of childish gravity. She looks at the unruly mob with imperturbable calm. The CHAIRMAN’s voice is drowned.)

WORKING WOMAN

(with lean, brown finger out and voice raised shriller now above the tumult).

I’ve got boys o’ me own and we laugh at all sorts o’ things, but I should be ashymed and so would they if ever they was to be’yve as you’re doin’ to‐d’y. (In laughter the noise dies.) page: 51 People ’ave been sayin’ this is a middle‐class woman’s movement. It’s a libel. I’m a workin’ woman myself, the wife of a working man. (Voice: “Pore devil!”) I’m a Poor Law Guardian and a—

NOISY YOUNG MAN.

Think of that, now—gracious me!

(Laughter and interruption.)

OLD NEWSVENDOR

(to the noisy young man near him).

Oh, shut up, cawn’t yer?

NOISY YOUNG MAN.

Not fur you!

VOICE.

Go ’ome and darn yer old man’s stockens!

VOICE.

Just clean yer own doorstep!

WORKING WOMAN.

It’s a pore sort of ’ousekeeper that leaves ’er doorstep till Sunday afternoon. Maybe that’s when you would do your doorstep. I do mine in the mornin’ before you men are awake.

OLD NEWSVENDOR.

It’s true, wot she says!—every word.

WORKING WOMAN.

You say we women ’ave got no business servin’ on boards and thinkin’ about politics. Wot’s politics? (A derisive roar.) It’s just ’ousekeepin’ on a big scyle. ’Oo among you workin’ men ’as the most comfortable ’omes? Those of you that gives yer wives yer wyges.

(Loud laughter and jeers.)

VOICES.

That’s it! Wantin’ our money. Lord ’Igh ’Ousekeeper of England.

WORKING WOMAN.

If it wus only to use fur our comfort, d’ye think many o’ you workin’ men would be found turnin’ over their wyges to their page: 52 wives. No! Wot’s the reason thousands do—and the best and the soberest? Because the workin’ man knows that wot’s a pound to ’im is twenty shillin’s to ’is wife. And she’ll myke every penny in every one o’ them shillin’s tell. She gets more fur ’im out of ’is wyges that wot ’e can! Some o’ you know wot the ’omes is like w’ere the men don’t let the women manage. Well, the Poor Laws and the ’ole Government is just in the syme muddle because the men ’ave tried to do the national ’ousekeepin’ without the women. (Roars.) But, like I told you before, it’s a libel to say it’s only the well‐off women wot’s wantin’ the vote. Wot about the 96,000 textile workers? Wot about the Yorkshire tailoresses? I can tell you wot plenty o’ the poor women think about it. I’m one of them, and I can tell you we see there’s reforms needed. We ought to ’ave the vote (jeers), and we know ’ow to appreciate the other women ’oo go to prison fur tryin’ to get it fur us!

(With a little final bob of emphasis and a glance over shoulder at the old woman and the young one behind her, she seems about to retire, but pauses as the murmur in the crowd grows into distinct phrases. “They get their ’air cut free.” “Naow they don’t, that’s only us!” “Silly Suffragettes!” “Stop at ’ome!” “’Inderin’ policemen—mykin’ rows in the streets!”)

VOICE

(louder than the others).

They sees yer ain’t fit t’ave—

page: 53

OTHER VOICES.

“Ha, ha!” “Shut up!” “Keep quiet, cawn’t yer?” (General uproar.)

CHAIRMAN.

You evidently don’t know what had to be done by men before the extension of the Suffrage in ’67. If it hadn’t been for demonstrations of violence—

(His voice is drowned.)

WORKING WOMAN

(coming forward again, her shrill note rising clear).

You s’y woman’s plyce is ’ome! Don’t you know there’s a third of the women o’ this country can’t afford the luxury of stayin’ in their ’omes? They got to go out and ’elp make money to p’y the rent and keep the ’ome from bein’ sold up. Then there’s all the women that ’aven’t got even miseerable ’omes. They ’aven’t got any ’omes at all.

NOISY YOUNG MAN.

You said you got one. W’y don’t you stop in it?

WORKING WOMAN.

Yes, that’s like a man. If one o’ you is all right, he thinks the rest don’t matter. We women—

NOISY YOUNG MAN.

The lydies! God bless ’em!

(Voices drown out her and the CHAIRMAN.)

OLD NEWSVENDOR

(To NOISY YOUNG MAN).

Oh, take that extra ’alf pint ’ome and sleep it off!

WORKING WOMAN.

P’r’aps your ’omes are all right. P’r’aps you aren’t livin’, old and young, married and single, in one room. I come from a plyce where many fam’lies ’ave to live like that if they’re to go on livin’ at all. If you don’t believe me, come and let me show you! (She spreads out her lean arms.) Come with me to Canning Town!—come with me to Bromley—come to Poplar and to Bow! No. You won’t even think about the overworked women and the underfed page: 54 children and the ’ovels they live in. And you want that we shouldn’t think neither—

A VAGRANT.

We’ll do the thinkin’. You go ’ome and nuss the byby.

WORKING WOMAN.

I do nurse my byby! I’ve nursed seven. What ’ave you done for yours? P’r’aps your children never goes ’ungry, and maybe you’re satisfied—thought I must say I wouldn’t a’ thought it from the look ’o you.

VOICE.

Oh, I s’y!

WORKING WOMAN.

But we women are not satisfied. We don’t only want better things for our own children. We want better things for all. Every child is our child. We know in our ’earts we oughtn’t to rest till we’ve mothered ’em every one.

VOICE.

“Women”—“children”—wot about the men? Are they all ’appy?

(Derisive laughter and “No! no!” “Not precisely.” “’Appy? Lord!”)

WORKING WOMAN.

No, there’s lots o’ you men I’m sorry for (Shrill Voice: “Thanks awfully!”), an’ we’ll ’elp you if you let us.

VOICE.

’Elp us? You tyke the bread out of our mouths. You women are black‐leggin’ the men!

WORKING WOMAN.

W’y does any woman tyke less wyges than a man for the same work? Only because we can’t get anything better. That’s part the reason w’y we’re yere to‐d’y. Do you reely think we tyke them there low wyges because we got a lykin’ for low wyges? No. We’re just like you. We want as much as ever we can get. (“’Ear! ’Ear!” and laughter.) We got a gryte deal to do with our wyges, we women has. We got the children to think about. And w’en we get page: 55 our rights, a woman’s flesh and blood won’t be so much cheaper than a man’s that employers can get rich on keepin’ you out o’ work, and sweatin’ us. If you men could see it, we got the syme cause, and if you ’elped us, you’d be ’elpin yerselves.

VOICES.

“Rot!” “Drivel.”

OLD NEWSVENDOR.

True as gospel!

(She retires against the banner with the others. There is some applause.)

A MAN

(patronizingly).

Well, now, that wasn’t so bad—fur a woman.

ANOTHER.

N‐naw. Not fur a woman.

CHAIRMAN

(speaking through this last).

Miss Ernestine Blunt will now address you.

(Applause, chiefly ironic, laughter, a general moving closer and knitting up of attention. ERNESTINE BLUNT is about twenty‐four, but looks younger. She is very downright, not to say pugnacious—the something amusing and attractive about her is there, as it were, against her will, and the more fetching for that. She has no conventional gestures, and none of any sort at first. As she warms to her work she uses her slim hands to enforce her emphasis, but as though unconsciously. Her manner of speech is less monotonous than that of the average woman‐speaker, but she, too, has a fashion of leaning all her weight on the end of the sentence. She brings out the final word or two with an effort of underscoring, and makes a forward motion of the slim body as if the better to drive the last nail in. page: 56 She evidently means to be immensely practical—the kind who is pleased to think she hasn’t a grain of sentimentality in her composition, and whose feeling, when it does all but master her, communicates itself magnetically to others.)

MISS ERNESTINE BLUNT.

Perhaps I’d better begin by explaining a little about our “tactics.” (Cries of “Tactics! We know!” “Mykin’ trouble!” “Public scandal!”) To make you understand what we’ve done, I must remind you of what others have done. Perhaps you don’t know that women first petitioned Parliament for the Franchise as long ago as 1866.

VOICE.

How do you know?

(She pauses a moment, taken off her guard by the suddenness of the attack.)

VOICE.

You wasn’t there!

VOICE.

That was the trouble. Haw! haw!

MISS E.B.

And the petition was presented—

VOICE.

Give ’er a ’earin’ now she ’as got out of ’er crydle.

MISS E.B.

—presented to the House of Commons by that great Liberal, John Stuart Mill. (Voices: “Mill? Who is he when he’s at home?”) Bills or Resolutions have been before the House on and off for the last thirty‐six years. That, roughly, is our history. We found ourselves, towards the close of the year 1905, with no assurance that if we went on in the same way any girl born into the world in this generation would live to exercise the rights of citizenship, though she lived to be a hundred. So we said all this has been in page: 57 vain. We must try some other way. How did the working man get the Suffrage, we asked ourselves? Well, we turned up the records, and we saw

VOICES.

“Not by scratching people’s faces!” . . . “Disraeli give it ’em” “Dizzy? Get out!” “Cahnty Cahncil scholarships!” “Oh, Lord, this education!” “Chartist riots, she’s thinkin’ of!” (Noise in the crowd.)

MISS E.B.

But we don’t want to follow such a violent example. We would much rather not—but if that’s the only way we can make the country see we’re in earnest, we are prepared to show them.

VOICE.

An’ they’ll show you!—Give you another month ’ard.

MISS E.B.

Don’t think that going to prison has any fears for us. We’d go for life if by doing that we could get freedom for the rest of the women.

VOICES.

“Hear, hear!” “Rot!” “W’y don’t the men ’elp ye to get your rights?”

MISS E.B.

Here’s some one asking why the men don’t help. It’s partly they don’t understand yet—they will before we’ve done! (Laughter.) Partly they don’t understand yet what’s at stake—

RESPECTABLE OLD MAN

(chuckling).

Lord, they’re a ’educatin’ of us!

VOICE.

Wot next?

MISS E.B.

—and partly that the bravest man is afraid of ridicule. Oh, yes; we’ve heard a great deal all our lives about the timidity and the sensitiveness of women. And it’s true. We are sensitive. But I tell you, ridicule crumples a man up. It steels a woman. We’ve come to know the value of ridicule. We’ve educated ourselves so that we welcome ridicule. We owe our sincerest thanks to the comic writers. page: 58 The cartoonist is our unconscious friend. Who cartoons people who are of no importance? What advertisement is so sure of being remembered?

POETIC YOUNG MAN.

I admit that.

MISS E.B.

If we didn’t know it by any other sign, the comic papers would tell us we’ve arrived! But our greatest debt of gratitude we owe, to the man who called us female hooligans. (The crowd bursts into laughter.) We aren’t hooligans, but we hope the fact will be overlooked. If everybody said we were nice, well‐behaved women, who’d come to hear us? Not the men. (Roars.) Men tell us it isn’t womanly for us to care about politics. How do they know what’s womanly? It’s for women to decide that. Let the men attend to being manly. It will take them all their time.

VOICE.

Are we down‐’earted? Oh no!

MISS E.B.

And they say it would be dreadful if we got the vote, because then we’d be pitted against men in the economic struggle. But that’s come about already. Do you know that out of every hundred women in this country eighty‐two are wage‐earning women? It used to be thought unfeminine for women to be students and to aspire to the arts—that bring fame and fortune. But nobody has ever said it was unfeminine for women to do the heavy drudgery that’s badly paid. That kind of work had to be done by somebody—and the men didn’t hanker after it. Oh, no.

(Laughter and interruption.)

A MAN ON THE OUTER FRINGE.

She can talk—the little one can.

page: 59

ANOTHER.

Oh, they can all “talk.”

A BEERY, DIRTY FELLOW OF FIFTY.

I wouldn’t like to be ’er ’usban’. Think o’ comin’ ’ome to that!

HIS PAL.

I’d soon learn ’er!

MISS E.B.

(speaking through the noise).

Oh, no! Let the women scrub and cook and wash. That’s all right! But if they want to try their hand at the better paid work of the liberal professions—oh, very unfeminine indeed! Then there’s another thing. Now I want you to listen to this, because it’s very> important. Men say if we persist in competing with them for the bigger prizes, they’re dreadfully afraid we’d lose the beautiful protesting chivalry that—Yes, I don’t wonder you laugh. We laugh. (Bending forward with lit eyes.) But the women I found at the Ferry Tin Works working for five shillings a week—I didn’t see them laughing. The beautiful chivalry of the employers of women doesn’t prevent them from paying women tenpence a day for sorting coal and loading and unloading carts—doesn’t prevent them from forcing women to earn bread in ways worse still. So we won’t talk about chivalry. It’s being over‐;sarcastic. We’ll just let this poor ghost of chivalry go—in exchange for a little plain justice.

VOICE.

If the House of Commons won’t give you justice, why don’t you go to the House of Lords?

MISS E.B.

What?

VOICE.

Better ’urry up. Case of early closin’.

(Laughter. A man at the back asks the speaker something.)

MISS E.B.

(unable to hear).

You’ll be allowed to ask any question you like at the end of the meeting.

page: 60

NEW‐COMER

(boy of eighteen).

Oh, is it question time? I s’y, Miss, ’oo killed cock robin?

(She is about to resume, but above the general noise the voice of a man at the back reaches her indistinct but insistent. She leans forwards trying to catch what he says. While the indistinguishable murmur has been going on GEOFFREY STONOR has appeared on the edge of the crowd, followed by JEAN and LADY JOHN in motor veils.)

JEAN

(pressing forward eagerly raising her veil).

Is she one of them? That little thing!

STONOR

(doubtfully).

I—I suppose so.

JEAN.

Oh, ask some one, Geoffrey. I’m so disappointed. I did so hope we’d hear one of the—the worst.

MISS E.B.

(to the interrupter—on the other side.).

What? What do you say? (She screws up her eyes with the effort to hear, and puts a hand up to her ear. A few indistinguishable words between her and the man.)

LADY JOHN

(who has been studying the figures on the platform through her lorgnon, turns to a working man beside her).

Can you tell me, my man, which are the ones that—a—that make the disturbances?

WORKING MAN.

The one that’s doing the talking—she’s the disturbingest o’ the lot.

JEAN

(craning to listen).

Not that nice little—

MISS E.B.

Oh, yes—I see. There’s a man over here asking—

A YOUNG MAN.

I’ve got a question too. Are—you—married?

page: 61

ANOTHER

(sniggering).

Quick! There’s yer chawnce. ’E’s a bachelor.

(Laughter).

MISS E.B.

(goes straight on as if she had not heard)

—man asking: if the women get full citizenship, and a war is declared, will the women fight?

POETIC YOUNG MAN.

No, really—no, really, now!

(The Crowd: “Haw! Haw!” “Yes!” “Yes, how about that?”)

MISS E.B.

(smiling).

Well, you know, some people say the whole trouble about us is that we do fight. But it is only hard necessity makes us do that. We don’t want to fight—as men seem to—just for fighting’s sake. Women are for peace.

VOICE.

Hear, hear.

MISS E.B.

And when we have a share in public affairs there’ll be less likelihood of war. But that’s not to say women can’t fight. The Boer women did. The Russian women face conflicts worse than any battlefield can show. (Her voice shakes a little, and the eyes fill, but she controls her emotion gallantly, and dashes on.) But we women know all that is evil, and we’re for peace. Our part—we’re proud to remember it—our part has been to go about after you men in war‐time, and pick up the pieces! (A great shout.) Yes—seems a bit funny, doesn’t it? You men blow them to bits, and then we come along and put them together again. If you know anything about military nursing, you know a good deal of our work has been done in the face of danger—but it’s always been done.

page: 62

OLD NEWSVENDOR

That’os so. That’s so.

MISS E.B.

You complain that more and more we’re taking away from you men the work that’s always been yours. You can’t any longer keep women out of the industries. The only question is upon what terms shall she continue to be in? As long as she’s in on bad terms, she’s not only hurting herself—she’s hurting you. But if you’re feeling discouraged about our competing with you, we’re willing to leave you your trade in war. Let the men take life! We give life! (Her voice is once more moved and proud.) No one will pretend ours isn’t one of the dangerous trades either. I won’t say any more to you now, because we’e got others to speak to you, and a new woman‐helper that I want you to hear.

(She retires to the sound of clapping. There’s a hurried consultation between her and the CHAIRMAN. Voices in the Crowd: “The little ’un’s all right” “Ernestine’s a corker,” &c.)

JEAN

(looking at STONOR to see how he’s taken it).

Well?

STONOR

(smiling down at her).

Well—

JEAN.

Nothing reprehensible in what she said, was there?

STONOR

(shrugs).

Oh, reprehensible!

JEAN.

It makes me rather miserable all the same.

STONOR

(draws her hand protectingly through his arm).

You mustn’t take it as much to heart as all that.

JEAN.

I can’t help it—I can’t indeed, Geoffrey. I shall never be able to make a speech like that!

STONOR

(taken aback).

I hope not, indeed.

page: 63

JEAN.

Why, I thought you said you wanted me—?

STONOR

(smiling).

To make nice little speeches with composure—so I did! So I— (Seems to lose his thread as he looks at her.)

JEAN

(with a little frown).

You said

STONOR.

That you have very pink cheeks? Well, I stick to that.

JEAN

(smiling).

Sh! Don’t tell everybody.

STONOR.

And you’re the only female creature I ever saw who didn’t look a fright in motor things.

JEAN

(melted and smiling).

I’m glad you don’t think me a fright.

CHAIRMAN.

I will now ask (name indistinguishable) to address the meeting.

JEAN

(as she sees LADY JOHN moving to one side).

Oh, don’t go yet, Aunt Ellen!

LADY JOHN.

Go? Certainly not. I want to hear another. (Craning her neck.) I can’t believe, you know, she was really one of the worst.

(A big, sallow Cockney has come forward. His scanty hair grows in wisps on a great bony skull.)

VOICE.

That’s Pilcher.

ANOTHER.

’Oo’s Pilcher?

ANOTHER.

If you can’t afford a bottle of Tatcho, w’y don’t you get yer ’air cut.

MR. P.

(not in the least discomposed).

I’ve been addressin’ a big meetin’ at ’Ammersmith this morning, and w’en I told ’em I wus comin’ ’ere this awfternoon to speak fur the women—well—then the usual thing began! (An appreciative roar from the crowd.) page: 64 In these times if you want peace and quiet at a public meetin’ (The crowd fills in the hiatus with laughter.) There was a man at ’Ammersmith, too, talkin’ about women’s sphere bein’ ’ome. ’Ome do you call it? You’ve got a kennel w’ere you can munch your tommy. You’ve got a corner w’ere you can curl up fur a few hours till you go out to work again. No, my man, there’s too many of you ain’t able to give the women ’omes—fit to live in, too many of you in that fix fur you to go on jawin’ at those o’ the women ’oo want to myke the ’omes a little decenter.

VOICE.

If the vote ain’t done us any good, ’ow’ll it do the women any good?

MR. P.

Look ’ere! Any men here belongin’ to the Labour Party? (Shouts and applause.) Well, I don’t need to tell these men the vote ’as done us some good. They know it. And it’ll do us a lot more food w’en you know ’ow to use the power you got in you ’and.

VOICE.

Power! It’s those fellers at the bottom o’ the street that’s got the power.

MR. P.

It’s you, and men like you, that gave it to ’em. You carried the Liberals into Parliament Street on your own shoulders. (complacent applause.) You believed all their fine words. You never asked yourselves, “Wot’s a Liberal, anyw’y?

A VOICE.

He’s a jolly good fellow.

(Cheers and booing.)

page: 65

MR. P.

No, ’e ain’t, or of ’e is jolly, it’s only because ’e thinks you’re such a silly codfish you’ll go swellin’ his majority again. (Laughter, in which STONOR joins.) It’s enough to make any Liberal jolly to see sheep like you lookin’ on, proud and ’appy, while you see Liberal leaders desertin’ Liberal principles. (Voices in agreement and protest.) You show me a Liberal, and I’ll show you a Mr. Fycing‐both‐W’ys. Yuss. (STONOR moves closer with an amused look.) ’E sheds the light of ’is warm and ’andsome smile on the working man, and round on the other side ’e’s tippin’ a wink to the great land‐owners. That’s to let ’em know ’e’s standin’ between them and the Socialists. Yuss, Socialists! (General laughter, in which STONOR joins.) The Liberal, e’s the judicial sort o’ chap that sits in the middle—

VOICE.

On the fence!

MR. P.

Tories one side—Socialists the other. Well it ain’t always so comfortable in the middle. You’re like to get squeezed. Now, I s’y to the women, the Conservatives don’t promise you much but what they promise they do!

STONOR

(to JEAN).

This fellow isn’t half bad.

MR. P.

The Liberals—they’ll promise you the earth, and give yer . . . the whole o’ nothing.

(Roars of approval.)

JEAN.

Isn’t it fun? Now, aren’t you glad I brought you?

STONOR

(laughing).

This chap’s rather amusing!

page: 66

MR. P.

We men ’ave seen it ’appen over and over. But the women can tyke a ’int quicker’n what we can. They won’t stand the nonsense men do. Only they ’aven’t got a fair chawnce even to agitate fur their rights. As I wus comin’ up ’ere I ’eard a man sayin’, “Look at this big crowd. W’y, we’re all men! If the women want the vote w’y ain’t they ’ere to s’y so?” Well, I’ll tell you w’y. It’s because they’ve ’ad to get the dinner fur you and me, and now they’re washin’ up the dishes.

A VOICE.

D’you think we ought to st’y ’ome and wash the dishes?

MR. P.

(laughs good‐naturedly).

If they’d leave it to us once or twice per’aps we’d understand a little more about the Woman Question. I know w’y my wife isn’t here. It’s because she knows I ain’t much use round the ’ouse, and she’s ’opin’ I can talk to some purpose. Maybe she’s mistaken. Any’ow, here I am to vote for her and all the other women. (“Hear! hear!” “Oh‐h!”) And to tell you men what improvements you can expect to see when women ’as the share in public affairs they ought to ’ave!

VOICE.

What do you know about it? You can’t even talk grammar.

MR. P.

(is dashed a fraction of a moment, for the first and only time).

I’m not ’ere to talk grammar but to talk Reform. I ain’t defendin’ my grammar—but I’ll say in pawssing that if my mother ’ad ’ad ’er rights, maybe my grammar would have been better.

(STONOR and JEAN exchange smiles. He takes her arm again and bends his head to whisper something in her ear. She listens page: 67 with lowered eyes and happy faces. The discreet love‐making goes on during the next few sentences. Interruption. One voice insistent but not clear. The speaker waits only a second and then resumes. “Yes, if the women,” but he cannot instantly make himself heard. The boyish CHAIRMAN looks harassed and anxious. MISS ERNESTINE BLUNT alert, watchful.)

MR. P.

Wait a bit—’arf a minute, my man!

VOICE.

’Oo yer talkin’ to? I ain’t your man.

MR. P.

Lucky for me! There seems to be a gentleman ’ere who doesn’t think women ought to ’ave the vote.

VOICE.

One? Oh‐'h!

(Laughter.)

MR. P.

Per’aps ’e doesn’t know much about women? (Indistinguishable repartee.) Oh, the gentleman says ’e’s married. Well, then, fur the syke of ’is wife we musn’t be too sorry ’e’s ’ere. No doubt she’s s’ying: “’Eaven by prysed those women are mykin’ a Demonstrytion in Trafalgar Square, and I’ll ’ave a little peace and quiet at ’ome for one Sunday in my life.” (The crowd laughs and there are jeers for the interrupter—and at the speaker.)(Pointing.) Why, you’re like the man at ’Ammersmith this morning. ’E was awskin’ me: “’Ow would you like men to st’y at ’ome and do the fam’ly washin’?” (Laughter.) page: 68 I told ’im I wouldn’t advise it. I ’ave too much respect fur—me clo’es.

VAGRANT.

It’s their place—the women ought to do the washin’.

MR. P.

I’m not sure you ain’t right. For a good many o’ you fellas, from the look o’ you—you cawn’t even wash yerselves.

(Laughter.)

VOICE

(threatening).

’Oo are you talkin’ to?

(Chairman more anxious than before—movement in the crowd.)

THREATENING VOICE.

Which of us d’you mean?

MR. P.

(coolly looking down.)

Well, it takes about ten of your sort to myke a man, so you may take it I mean the lot of you.

(Angry indistinguishable retorts and the crowd sways. MISS ERNESTINE BLUNT, who has been watching the fray with serious face, turns suddenly, catching sight of some one just arrived at the end of the platform. MISS BLUNT goes R. with alacrity, saying audibly to PILCHER as she passes, “Here she is,” and proceeds to offer her hand helping some one to get up the improvised steps. Laughter and interruption in the crowd.)

LADY JOHN.

Now, there’s another woman going to speak.

JEAN.

Oh, is she? Who? Which? I do hope she’ll be one of the wild ones.

MR. P.

(speaking through this last. Glancing at the new arrival whose hat appears above the platform page: 69 R.).

That’s all right, then. (Turns to the left.) When I’ve attended to this microbe that’s vitiating the air on my right—

(Laughter and interruptions from the crowd.)

STONOR

(staring R., one dazed instant, at the face of the new arrival, his own changes).

(JEAN withdraws her arm from his and quite suddenly presses a shade nearer the platform. STONOR moves forward and takes her by the arm.)

We’re going now.

JEAN.

Not yet—oh, please not yet. (Breathless, looking back.) Why I—I do believe—

STONOR

(to LADY JOHN, with decision).

I’m going to take JEAN out of this mob. Will you come?

LADY JOHN.

What? Oh yes, if you think— (Another look through her glasses.) But isn’t that—surely its—! ! !

(VIDA LEVERING comes forward R. She wears a long, plain, dark green dust‐cloak. Stands talking to ERNESTINE BLUNT and glancing a little apprehensively at the crowd.)

JEAN.

Geoffrey!

STONOR

(trying to draw JEAN away).

Lady John’s tired—

JEAN.

But you don’t see who it is, Geoffrey—! (Looks into his face, and is arrested by the look she finds there.)

LADY JOHN has pushed in front of them amazed, transfixed, with glass up. GEOFFREY STONOR restrains a gesture of annoy‐ page: 70 ance, and withdraws behind two big policemen. JEAN from time to time turns to look at him with a face of perplexity.)

MR. P.

(resuming through a fire of indistinct interruption).

I’ll come down and attend to that microbe while a lady will say a few words to you (raises his voice)—if she can myke ’herself ’eard.

(PILCHER retires in the midst of booing and cheers.)

CHAIRMAN

(harassed and trying to create a diversion).

Some one suggests—and it’s such a good idea I’d like you to listen to it— (Noise dies down.) that a clause shall be inserted in the next Suffrage Bill that shall expressly reserve to each Cabinet Minister, and to any respectable man, the power to prevent the Franchise being given to the female members of his family on his public declaration of their lack of sufficient intelligence to entitle them to vote.

VOICES.

Oh! oh!

CHAIRMAN.

Now, I ask you to listen, as quietly as you can, to a lady who is not accustomed to speaking—a—in Trafalgar Square—or a . . . as a matter of fact, at all.

VOICES.

“A dumb lady.” “Hooray!” “Three cheers for the dumb lady!”

CHAIRMAN.

A lady who, as I’ve said, will tell you, if you’ll behave yourselves, her impressions of the administration of police‐court justice in this country.

(JEAN looks wondering at STONOR’S sphinx‐like face as VIDA LEVERING comes to the edge of the platform.)

page: 71

MISS L.

Mr. Chairman, men and women—

VOICES

(off).

Speak up.

(She flushes, comes quite to the edge of the platform and raises her voice a little.)

MISS L.

I just wanted to tell you that I was—I was—present in the police‐court when the women were charged for creating a disturbance.

VOICE.

Y’oughtn’t t’ get mixed up in wot didn’t concern you.

MISS L.

I—I— (Stumbles and stops.)

(Talking and laughing increases. “Wot’s ’er name?” “Mrs. or Miss?” “Ain’t seen this one before.”)

CHAIRMAN

(anxiously).

Now, see here, men; don’t interrupt—

A GIRL

(shrilly).

I like this on’s ’at. Ye can see she ain’t one of ’em.

MISS L.

(trying to recommence).

I—

VOICE.

They’re a disgrace—them women be’ind yer.

A MAN WITH A FATHERLY AIR.

It’s the w’y goes on as mykes the Government keep ye from gettin’ yer rights.

CHAIRMAN

(losing his temper).

It’s the way you go on that—

(Noise increases. CHAIRMAN drowned, waves his arms and moves his lips. MISS LEVERING discouraged, turns and looks at ERNESTINE BLUNT and pantomimes “It’s no good. I can’t go on.” ERNESTINE BLUNT comes forward, says a word to the CHAIRMAN, who ceases gyrating, and nods.)

page: 72

MISS E.B.

(facing the crowd).

Look here. If the Government withhold the vote because they don’t like the way some of us ask for it—let them give it to the Quiet Ones. Does the Government want to punish all women because they don’t like the manners of a handful? Perhaps that’s you men’s notion of justice. It isn’t women’s.

VOICES.

Haw! haw!

MISS L.

Yes, Th‐this is the first time I’ve ever “gone on,” as you call it, but they never gave me a vote.

MISS E.B.

(with energy).

No! And there are one—two—three—four women on this platform. Now, we all want the vote, as you know. Well, we’d agree to be disfranchised all our lives, if they’d give the vote to all the other women.

VOICE.

Look here, you made one speech, give the lady a chawnce.

MISS E.B.

(retires smiling).

That’s just what I wanted you to do!

MISS L.

Perhaps you—you don’t know—you don’t know—

VOICE

(sarcastic).

’Ow ’re we goin’ to know if you can’t tell us?

MISS L.

(flushing and smiling).

Thank you for that. We couldn’t have a better motto. How are you to know if we can’t somehow manage to tell you? (With a visible effort she goes on.) Well, I certainly didn’t know before that the sergeants and policemen are instructed to deceive the people as to the time such cases are heard. You ask, and you’re sent to Marlborough Police Court instead of to Marylebone.

VOICE.

They ought ter sent yer to ’Olloway—do y’ good.

page: 73

OLD NEWSVENDOR.

You go on, Miss, don’t mind ’im.

VOICE.

Wot d’you expect from a pig but a grunt?

MISS L.

You’re told the case will be at two o’clock, and it’s really called for eleven. Well, I took a great deal of trouble, and I didn’t believe what I was told— (Warming a little to her task.) Yes, that’s almost the first thing we have to learn—to get over our touching faith that, because a man tells us something, it’s true. I got to the right court, and I was so anxious not to be late, I was too early. The case before the Women’s was just coming on. I heard a noise. At the door I saw the helmets of two policemen, and I said to myself: “What sort of crime shall I have to sit and hear about? Is this a burglar coming along between the two big policemen, or will it be a murderer? What sort of felon is to stand in the dock before the women whose crime is they ask for the vote?” But, try as I would, I couldn’t see the prisoner. My heart misgave me. Is it a woman, I wondered? Then the policemen got nearer, and I saw—(she waits an instant)—a little, thin, half‐starved boy. What do you think he was charged with? Stealing. What had he been stealing—that small criminal? Milk. It seemed to me as I sat there looking on, that the men who had the affairs of the world in their hands from the beginning, and who’ve made so poor a business of it—

VOICES.

Oh! oh! Pore benighted man! Are we down‐’earted? Oh, no!

MISS L.

—so poor a business of it as to have the poor and the unemployed in the condition they’re in to‐day—when your only remedy for a starving child page: 74 is to hale him off to the police‐court—because he had managed to get a little milk—well, I did wonder that the men refuse to be helped with a problem they’ve so notoriously failed at. I began to say to myself: “Isn’t it time the women lent a hand?”

A VOICE.

Would you have women magistrates?

(She is stumped by the suddenness of the demand.)

VOICES.

Haw! Haw! Magistrates!

ANOTHER.

Women! Let ’em prove first they deserve—

A SHABBY ART STUDENT

(his hair longish, soft hat, and flowing tie).

They study music by thousands; where’s their Beethoven? Where’s their Plato? Where’s the woman Shakespeare?

ANOTHER.

Yes—what’a’ they ever done?

(The speaker clenches her hands, and is recovering her presence of mind, so that by the time the CHAIRMAN can make himself heard with, “Now, men, give this lady a fair hearing—don’t interrupt”—she, with the slightest of gestures, waves him aside with a low “It’s all right.”)

MISS L.

(steadying and raising her voice).

These questions are quite proper! They are often asked elsewhere; and I would like to ask in return: Since when was human society held to exist for its handful of geniuses? How many Platos are there here in this crowd?

A VOICE

(very loud and shrill).

Divil a wan!

(Laughter.)

MISS L.

Not one. Yet that doesn’t keep you men off the register. How many Shakespeares are page: 75 there in all England to‐day? Not one. Yet the State doesn’t tumble to pieces. Railroads and ships are built—homes are kept going, and babies are born. The world goes on! (bending over the crowd) It goes on by virtue of its common people.

VOICES

(subdued).

Hear! hear!

MISS L.

I am not concerned that you should think we women can paint great pictures, or compose immortal music, or write good books. I am content that we should be classed with the common people—who keep the world going. But (staightening up and taking a fresh start), I’d like the world to go a great deal better. We were talking about justice. I have been inquiring into the kind of lodging the poorest class of homeless women can get in this town of London. I find that only the men of that class are provided for. Some measure to establish Rowton Houses for women has been before the London County Council. They looked into the question “very carefully,” so their apologists say. And what did they decide? They decided that they could do nothing.

LADY JOHN

(having forced her way to STONOR’S side).

Is that true?

STONOR

(speaking through MISS LEVERING’S next words).

I don’t know.

MISS L.

Why could that great, all‐powerful body do nothing? Because, if these cheap and decent houses were opened, they said, the homeless women in the streets would make use of them! You’ll think I’m not in earnest. But that was actually the decision and the reason given for it. Women that the bitter struggle for existence has forced into a life of horror—

page: 76

STONOR

(sternly to LADY JOHN).

You think this is the kind of thing— (A motion of the head towards JEAN.)

MISS L.

—the outcast women might take advantage of the shelter these decent, cheap places offered. But the men, I said! Are all who avail themselves of the Lord Rowton’s hostels, are they all angels? Or does wrong‐doing in a man not matter? Yet women are recommended to depend on the chivalry of men.

(The two policemen, who at first had been strolling about, have stood during this scene in front of GEOFFREY STONOR. They turn now and walk away, leaving STONOR exposed. He, embarrassed, moves uneasily, and VIDA LEVERING’S eye falls upon his big figure. He still has the collar of his motor coat turned up to his ears. A change passes over her face, and her nerve fails her an instant.)

MISS L.

Justice and chivalry! ! (she steadies her voice and hurries on)—they both remind me of what those of you who read the police‐court news—(I have begun only lately to do that)—but you’ve seen the accounts of the girl who’s been tried in Manchester lately for the murder of her child. Not pleasant reading. Even if we’d noticed it, we wouldn’t speak of it in my world. A few months ago I should have turned away my eyes and forgotten even the headline as quickly as I could. But since that morning in the police‐court, I read these things. This, as you’ll remember, was about a little working girl—an orphan of eighteen—who crawled with the dead page: 77 body of her new‐born child to her master’s back‐door, and left the baby there. She dragged herself a little way off and fainted. A few days later she found herself in court, being tried for the murder of her child. Her master—a married man—had of course reported the “find” at his back‐door to the police, and he had been summoned to give evidence. The girl cried out to him in the open court, “You are the father!” He couldn’t deny it. The Coroner at the jury’s request censured the man, and regretted that the law didn’t make him responsible. But he went scot‐free. And that girl is now serving her sentence in Strangeways Gaol.

(Murmuring and scraps of indistinguishable comment in the crowd, through which only JEAN’S voice is clear.)

JEAN

(who has wormed her way to STONOR’S side).

Why do you dislike her so?

STONOR.

I? Why should you think—

JEAN

(with a vaguely frightened air).

I never saw you look as you did—as you do.

CHAIRMAN.

Order, please—give the lady a fair—

MISS L.

(signing to him “It’s all right”).

Men make boast that an English citizen is tried by his peers. What woman is tried by hers? (A sombre passion strengthens her voice and hurries her on.) A woman is arrested by a man, brought before a man judge, tried by a jury of men, condemned by men, taken to prison by a man, and by a man she’s hanged! Where in all this were her “peers”? Why did men so long ago insist on trial by “a jury of their peers”? So that justice shouldn’t miscarry—wasn’t it? A page: 78 man’s peers would best understand his circumstances, his temptation, the degree of his guilt. Yet there’s no such unlikeness between different classes of men as exists between man and woman. What man has the knowledge that makes him a fit judge of a woman’s deeds at that time of anguish—that hour— (lowers her voice and bends over the crowd) —that hour that some woman struggled through to put each man here into the world. I noticed when a previous speaker quoted the Labour Party you applauded. Some of you here—I gather—call yourselves Labour men. Every woman who has borne a child is a Labour woman. No man among you can judge what she goes through in her hour of darkness—

JEAN

(with frightened eyes on her lover’s set, white face, whispers).

Geoffrey—

MISS L

(catching her fluttering breath, goes on very low)

—in that great agony when, even under the best conditions that money and devotion can buy, many a woman falls into temporary mania, and not a few go down to death. In the case of this poor little abandoned working girl, what man can be the fit judge of her deeds in that awful moment of half‐crazed temptation? Women know of these things as those know burning who have walked through fire. (STONOR makes a motion towards JEAN and she turns away fronting the audience. Her hands go to her throat as though she suffered a choking sensation. It is in her face that she “knows.” MISS LEVERING leans over the platform and speaks with a low and thrilling earnestness.) I would say in conclusion to the women here, it’s not page: 79 enough to be sorry for these our unfortunate sisters. We must get the conditions of life made fairer. We women must organise. We must learn to work together. We have all (rich and poor, happy and unhappy) worked so long and so exclusively for men, we hardly know how to work for one another. But we must learn. Those who can, may give money—

VOICES

(grumbling).

Oh, yes—Money! Money!

MISS L.

Those who haven’t pennies to give—even those people aren’t so poor they can’t give some part of their labour—some share of their sympathy and support.

(Turns to hear something the CHAIRMAN is whispering to her.)

JEAN

(low to LADY JOHN).

Oh, I’m glad I’ve got power!

LADY JOHN

(bewildered).

Power!—you?

JEAN.

Yes, all that money—

(LADY JOHN tries to make her way to STONOR.)

MISS L.

(suddenly turning from the CHAIRMAN to the crowd).

Oh, yes, I hope you’ll all join the Union. Come up after the meeting and give your names.

LOUD VOICE.

You won’t get many men.

MISS L.

(with fire).

Then it’s to the women I appeal! (She is about to retire when, with a sudden gleam in her lit eyes, she turns for the last time to the crowd, silencing the general murmur and holding the people by the sudden concentration of passion in her face.) I don’t mean to say it wouldn’t be better if men and women did this work together—shoulder to shoulder. page: 80 But the mass of men won’t have it so. I only hope they’ll realise in time the good they’ve renounced and the spirit they’ve aroused. For I know as well as any man could tell me, it would be a bad day for England if all women felt about all men as I do.

(She retires in a tumult. The others on the platform close about her. The CHAIRMAN tries in vain to get a hearing from the excited crowd.)

(JEAN tries to make her way through the knot of people surging around her.)

STONOR

(calls).

Here!—Follow me!

JEAN.

No—no—I—

STONOR.

You’re going the wrong way.

JEAN.

This is the way I must go.

STONOR.

You can get out quicker on this side.

JEAN.

I don’t want to get out.

STONOR.

What! Where are you going?

JEAN.

To ask that woman to let me have the honour of working with her.

(She disappears in the crowd.)

CURTAIN.

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