The scene is the Editor’s room in the office of The Lark. Two walls of the room are completely hidden from floor to ceiling by magnificently-bound books: the third wall at the back is hidden by boxes of immensely expensive cigars. The windows, of course, are in the fourth wall, which, however, need not be described, as it is never quite practicable on the stage. The floor of this apartment is chastely covered with rugs shot by the Editor in his travels, or in the Tottenham Court Road; or, in some cases, presented by admiring readers from abroad. The furniture is both elegant and commodious.
William Smith, Editor, comes in. He is superbly dressed in a fur coat and an expensive cigar. There is a blue pencil behind his ear, and a sheaf of what we call in the profession “typewritten manuscripts” under his arm. He sits down at his desk and pulls the telephone towards him.
Smith (at the telephone). Hallo, is that you, Jones? … Yes, it’s me. Just come up a moment. (Puts down telephone and begins to open his letters.)
Enter Jones, his favourite sub-editor. He is dressed quite commonly, and is covered with ink. He salutes respectfully as he comes into the room.
Jones. Good-afternoon, chief.
Smith. Good-afternoon. Have a cigar?
Jones. Thank you, chief.
Smith. Have you anything to tell me?
Jones. The circulation is still going up, chief. It was three million and eight last week.
Smith (testily). How often have I told you not to call me “chief,” except when there are ladies present? Why can’t you do what you’re told?
Jones. Sorry, sir, but the fact is there ARE ladies present.
Smith (fingering his moustache). Show them up. Who are they?
Jones. There is only one. She says she’s the lady who has been writing our anonymous “Secrets of the Boudoir” series which has made such a sensation.
Smith (in amazement). I thought you told me YOU wrote these.
Jones (simply). I did.
Smith. Then why–
Jones. I mean I did tell you. The truth is, they came in anonymously, and I thought they were more likely to be accepted if I said I had written them. (With great emotion.) Forgive me, chief, but it was for the paper’s sake. (In matter-of-fact tones.) There were one or two peculiarities of style I had to alter. She had a way of–
Smith (sternly). How many cheques for them have you accepted for the paper’s sake?
Jones. Eight. For a thousand pounds each.
Smith (with tears in his eyes). If your mother were to hear of this–
Jones (sadly). Ah, chief, I have never had a mother.
Smith (slightly put out, but recovering himself quickly). What would your father say, if–
Jones. Alas, I have no relations. I was a foundling.
Smith (nettled). In that case, I shall certainly tell the master of your workhouse. To think that there should be a thief in this office!
Jones (with great pathos). Chief, chief, I am not so vile as that. I have carefully kept all the cheques in an old stocking, and–
Smith (in surprise). Do you wear stockings?
Jones. When I bicycle. And as soon as the contributor comes forward–
Smith (stretching out his hand and grasping that of Jones). My dear boy, forgive me. You have been hasty, perhaps, but zealous. In any case, your honesty is above suspicion. Leave me now. I have much to think of. (Rests his head on his hands. Then, dreamily.) YOU have never seen your father; for thirty years I have not seen my wife. … Ah, Arabella!
Jones. Yes, sir. (Rings bell.)
Smith. She WOULD split her infinitives. … We quarrelled. … She left me. … I have never seen her again.
Jones (excitedly). Did you say she split her infinitives?
Smith. Yes. That was what led to our separation. Why?
Jones. Nothing, only–it’s very odd. I wonder–
Boy. Did you ring, sir?
Smith. No. But you can show the lady up. (Exit Boy.) You’d better clear out, Jones. I’ll explain to her about the money.
Jones. Right you are, sir.
[Smith leans back in his chair and stares in front of him.
Smith (to himself). Arabella!
Enter Boy, followed by a stylishly-dressed lady of middle age.
Boy. Mrs Robinson.
[Mrs Robinson stops short in the middle of the room and stares at the Editor; then staggers and drops on to the sofa.
Smith (in wonder). Arabella!
Mrs Robinson. William!
[They fall into each other’s arms.
Arabella. I had begun to almost despair. (Smith winces.) “Almost to despair,” I mean, darling.
Smith (with a great effort). No, no, dear. You were right.
Arabella. How sweet of you to think so, William.
Smith. Yes, yes, it’s the least I can say. … I have been very lonely without you, dear. … And now, what shall we do? Shall we get married again quietly?
Arabella. Wouldn’t that be bigamy?
Smith. I think not, but I will ask the printer’s reader. He knows everything. You see, there will be such a lot to explain otherwise.
Arabella. Dear, can you afford to marry?
Smith. Well, my salary as editor is only twenty thousand a year, but I do a little reviewing for other papers.
Arabella. And I have–nothing. How can I come to you without even a trousseau?
Smith. Yes, that’s true. … (Suddenly.) By Jove, though, you have got something! You have eight thousand pounds! We owe you that for your articles. (With a return to his professional manner.) Did I tell you how greatly we all appreciated them? (Goes to telephone.) Is that you, Jones? Just come here a moment. (To Arabella.) Jones is my sub-editor; he is keeping your money for you.
Jones (producing an old stocking). I’ve just been round to my rooms to get that money–(sees Arabella)–oh, I beg your pardon.
Smith (waving an introduction). Mrs Smith–my wife. This is our sub-editor, dear–Mr Jones. (Arabella puts her hand to her heart and seems about to faint.) Why, what’s the matter?
Arabella (hoarsely). Where did you get that stocking?
Smith (pleasantly). It’s one he wears when he goes bicycling.
Jones. No; I misled you this afternoon, chief. This stocking was all the luggage I had when I first entered the Leamington workhouse.
Arabella (throwing herself into his arms). My son! This is your father! William–our boy!
Smith (shaking hands with Jones). How are you. I say, Arabella, then that was one of MY stockings?
Arabella (to her boy). When I saw you on the stairs you seemed to dimly remind me–
Jones. To remind you dimly, mother.
Smith. No, my boy. In future, nothing but split infinitives will appear in our paper. Please remember that.
Jones (with emotion). I will endeavour to always remember it, dad.