This is morning coming to Peter Consequential’s bedroom. It’s a love of a morning, all soft and pink and exactly like its father. Peter ought to have been up a long time ago, but he’s not eccentric enough to let his misgivings about life drive him into nature worship. Peter’s crinkly hair waves about his forehead like treetops in an etching. We picked Peter bodily out of a directors’ conference and his hour of squash to put him there in the bed. He’s really very handsome, and he’d rather you didn’t know about his ineffectuality—three financiers in his family have stayed out of jail; it wouldn’t be fair to tradition. Peter’s got a lot of talent for ushering at weddings and bachelor dinners but he has had to neglect it to get on in the world. The telephone is ringing violently—and more violently. The maid will answer sooner or later.
MAID: Hello. Mr. Peter Consequential’s residence. No, Ma’am, he’s not up. Very well, Madam, I’ll wake him—Mr. Consequential!
Peter stirs at the maid’s lively tapping.
Mr. Consequential! Telephone.
PETER: You know how I hate to answer the phone in my sleep. Who is it?
MAID: A lady, sir. A Miss Urgent, I think she said.
PETER: (In phone) Good morning, Miss Urgent. Oh—well, good morning, Mrs. Messogony. But what could there be to explain—(Pause) Listen, lady—I can’t play jokes like that before breakfast. Call me up this afternoon, why don’t you?
Peter peremptorily bangs up the phone.
What are all those clothes on the floor?
MAID: (Inspecting something so very inconsequential that it hardly seems to belong in the same room with Peter) I’m sure I don’t know, sir. It must be something left over from the scene last night.
PETER: There’s a scene every night lately. I’ve got so I can hardly tell one from another.
MAID: Yes, sir. Isn’t it fascinating? (Boastfully) Mrs. Consequential loses her head more often than any lady I have ever served.
PETER: Otherwise you’d have left long ago, I suppose.
MAID: What I say is, the lower orders, sir, can hardly be expected to put up with ennui—what with all the other things they have to bear.
PETER: Really! Well, I’d like a wife like Queen Victoria—perhaps not the same shape, but a similar idea. Don’t you think that’d be nice?
MAID: I like excitement myself.
PETER: When you’ve been on this house party as long as I have you’ll change your mind. How long do you think it can last?
MAID: It’s been going on, sir, since I came as kitchen maid in 1914.
PETER: Where is everybody?
MAID: They haven’t come in yet. It’s only eight in the morning, sir.
PETER: I must have dozed off. And all those relations with my wife I had to think over!
MAID: Yes, sir. You ought to take bromides. With that stuff inside you you couldn’t fall asleep and you’d be able to keep up with the others.
PETER: (Hesitantly) I was going to ask you something—very personal——
MAID: (Quickly protesting) Oh, I couldn’t, sir. The mistress wouldn’t stand for it.
PETER: I was just wondering what you thought of my wife.
MAID: (Sizing up the underwear) Undernourished, sir.
PETER: I mean, she’s been treating me very badly—when she treats me any way at all.
MAID: Marriage is such a sedentary life. Maybe she needs to get about more.
PETER: That’s her idea. It’s been a great disappointment to her to find me a recluse after all she expected from my career at Yale.
MAID: When there’s nothing to worry about, sir, we women usually do take to worry.
PETER: But I have to get up in the morning. You know, there’s lots to do in an office, making mistakes for people.
MAID: Oh, sir.
PETER: Connie says that——
Peter begins shaving himself while the maid holds the mirror for him. He’s in pajamas, but it’s quite all right because they’re such fine pajamas that they’re quite impersonal.
I ought to go out more—ought to get my letter in society, so to speak. Now, I haven’t thought much of things like that since college.
MAID: Well, a man like you shouldn’t allow himself to get suburban.
PETER: She picks on me. Began just suddenly——
Offhand with a flourish of the razor.
immediately following the marriage ceremony.
MAID: Perhaps you’d get along better if you could invent something for your wife to make the worst of. Just to simulate her interest in you. How would it be if you led her to expect that you’d been—well—er—being——
PETER: I know. Biological terms are always embarrassing.
MAID: (Offended) I was going to suggest “connubian,” sir, with somebody else.
PETER: (Distastefully) It sounds so African. Anyway, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to go about it.
MAID: They usually begin with a poem—that gives the impression of uneasiness.
All this time the maid has been moving the mirror up and down till Peter can’t possibly see himself and the two of them are alternately kneeling and on tiptoe, bobbing about.
PETER: Would anything on the stock market do for the quotation?
MAID: No, sir. But it ought to be something gloomy.
PETER: (Counting the strokes of his razor) She loves me, she loves me not—but she’s very negligent of me even if it comes out both.
MAID: There’s nothing better than negligee women to make a man take an interest in personal appearances.
PETER: There is something better—only you must have bought the wrong postcards—they’re better in France. I’d bring you some only my wife won’t go away with me.
MAID: How can you expect her to be contented with just a husband after all she’s been used to, Mr. Consequential?
PETER: I can’t see what there is in strange men to make wives so frivolous.
MAID: (Contemptuously) Cemeteries, sir, are the only things that have the same heart-interest the world over.
PETER: I’ve never gone in for variety.
MAID: Why don’t you, sir? It might help with your wife.
PETER: Oh, I’m always too busy thinking how busy I am.
MAID: A man of the world should never know what’s going on; the upsets only turn his head.
PETER: Besides, I don’t know anybody.
To the accompaniment of a final stroke with the razor.
Ah! Anyway, she loves me!
MAID: (Critically) You’ve left a little patch up there.
PETER: Where? There! You see she loves me not! I knew it from the minute she said she did—she’s just the same as all devoted wives. (Slams down mirror)
MAID: The great thing that love affairs all have in common, sir, is that they come out wrong.
PETER: She hasn’t said a loving word to me since—since—(Mumbling) ’33, ’32, ’31—You know, Miss What’s-your-name, I don’t believe she has since she slapped my face for flirting with somebody else when we led the last prom together.
The door opens and in comes Connie Consequential. Connie is a very frivolous woman. When she makes sense it comes as much of a surprise to her as to everybody else. She’s restless, pretty, and can’t find any directions in the Social Register about what to do with these two important factors in her life. You know the type: meat for the traveling polo player. She’s in a very exotic creation as inappropriate as possible to what she’s doing—which is carrying Peter’s breakfast tray. Luckily, there’s an apron between the dress and the orange juice, so it won’t be ruined and Connie can wear it again tomorrow night.
What on earth are you doing?
CONNIE: I’ve brought you your breakfast, (sweetly) darling.
She takes up the maid’s job and hums contentedly as she begins that process so disturbing to men, known by women as “arranging things.”
PETER: (Suspiciously) What’s the matter with you?
CONNIE: There’s some shaving cream on your ear. Not everybody could look so nice in shaving cream.
PETER: What have you been doing all night?
CONNIE: Now, Peter, if I’d only known what a bad man you were, I’d have been here right by your side.
PETER: Anaconda Consequential, has anybody been killed? Have you gone crazy?
CONNIE: To think of my missing all the dreadful things you’ve been doing!
PETER: You have treated me pretty casually.
CONNIE: I’m sorry. I thought you were only working when you stayed at the office.
PETER: You said yesterday I ought to play an extra at the wax museum. What’s changed you so? (Resentfully) Have I been elected to something?
CONNIE: Don’t pretend you don’t know. What a debt I owe the morning paper! If it hadn’t been for the Crimes Plutocrat I’d have worn myself out, trying to make up for your good behavior.
PETER: What’s in the papers?
CONNIE: The last accounts do make me feel my bran muffins—to be married to such a “disreputable” and “unprincipled” man!
PETER: Now, Connie, you know that——
CONNIE: That’s what the papers say. All my friends will envy me so.
Connie solicitously places Peter’s shoes before him and settles herself to sew while he reaches excitedly for the news.
PETER: Will you give me that sheet?
CONNIE: (Unfolding the news) I do hope the pictures do her justice.
Connie snuggles up close to Peter—not as close as she’d like to, but close enough to make it awkward for him to read.
Look, Peter—I’m knitting myself a hair shirt from the rope you gave me.
PETER: Connie, are you actually in love with me again?
CONNIE: We were awfully happy when I thought you were blind to women—now that I know you weren’t.
PETER: (He hasn’t got a chance to read yet) The papers are all fiction, mostly——
CONNIE: This one blamed your escapade on the spirit of the world. It was very clever of you to merit that, Peter.
CONNIE: When you come to that part about Mrs. Messogony’s nightgown, tell me.
PETER: When I come to what?
CONNIE: Oh, it’s nothing. I just thought it was in awful taste, that’s all.
She reaches over Peter, begins to rummage and settles back in her place with a new piece of the paper at which she peers judiciously.
Is that a good likeness, Peter? If it is, her nose is too alkaline. I never did care for noses that do this.
Connie draws a preposterous figure in the air with her finger.
Of course nobody’s nose ever did—except bloodhounds.
PETER: (Reading) Good Lord!
CONNIE: Well, I don’t blame you, Peter. You couldn’t help what she had on.
PETER: She’s in bed. (Enthusiastically) Say, she’s good-looking, isn’t she? She’s one of the best-looking girls I’ve ever seen, as a matter of fact.
CONNIE: She’s not so wonderful as all that!
PETER: But we’ll never be able to live that down. It’s scandalous!
CONNIE: (Disappointed) Peter, don’t you like their calling you witty and debonair? Don’t you want to be a Lothario, Peter?
PETER: Think of our position.
CONNIE: What better position do you want than in the rotogravures?
PETER: No. Yes. That is, I hadn’t thought of it, Connie. Do you suppose I’m really like that?
CONNIE: Of course, dear—it says so in the papers.
PETER: It doesn’t seem possible, it’s such a nice day.
CONNIE: (Querulously) But Peter, you needn’t pretend to me. I want you to be your own wicked self.
PETER: And if you found out I wasn’t?
CONNIE: Don’t be silly.
PETER: You’d rather I’d be myself in the paper or just myself, Connie?
CONNIE: I’d rather know the truth than to think you were truthful, any day.
PETER: I s’pose a person had better not begin counting their eggs till they’ve laid them.
CONNIE: How did you think of it, Peter?
PETER: (Emphatically) It was entirely impromptu. On the spur of the moment!
CONNIE: That’s funny! It’s such a lovely scandal!
PETER: Did you think it was funny when the bottom dropped out of the steel market?
CONNIE: No, frankly, I didn’t. Was it? It seemed sort of flat to me but maybe I just didn’t get much out of it.
Connie flops on the bed disconsolately.
PETER: What is it, Connie?
CONNIE: Oh nothing—only her nose—(Pointing) Don’t you think so, Peter?
Together with their arms folded about each other they inspect the intricacies of Flower Messogony’s nose in her likeness in the paper.
That it’s sort of aquatic?
PETER: I believe you’re jealous! You know I never notice noses, dear—unless they’re rising or falling or doing something brokerish.
CONNIE: But maybe you think it’s a nice one, Peter.
PETER: There’s not much in noses financially.
CONNIE: And her hair!
PETER: Well, hair always shows up better on a blonde.
CONNIE: Peter, please try not to notice hair, either.
PETER: I’m glad something’s brought us together again. It’s been ages since you’ve been like this. You wouldn’t kiss me, would you, Connie?
CONNIE: Oh Peter! Would you let me? I mean, with all the other women that would be glad to—in view of the publicity?
Peter takes Connie in his arms right before the footlights and us all. Somebody ought to tell them this is a theatre but nobody does.
I want you to promise me just one thing. I know it’s going to be hard for you.
PETER: I’d do anything to keep you so interested in me that I didn’t have to think of you, Connie.
CONNIE: (Purring) Oh, Peter, it’ll be dreadfully difficult.
PETER: I promise.
CONNIE: (Falteringly) I don’t want you to ever speak to that Messogony woman again as long as you live. Could you promise even that, Peter?
PETER: Even that, I promise.
CONNIE: Well then, I suppose it’s all right.
PETER: (Enigmatically over his paper) The work people do before others are up never seems to count for anything. Now that you know my true character, maybe you’ll be more considerate.
CONNIE: I told you, Peter, I honestly will. How could I guess you were so pornographic?
PETER: A man’s got to have something from his wife besides her parents and her hangover.
CONNIE: Wasn’t it silly the way I behaved? Nothing but parties, and one thing leading to another cocktail.
PETER: It was.
CONNIE: Such a waste of time when there was all the wickedness I could have wanted right at home!
PETER: Remember how I used to hold you in my arms like a sleepy kitten, Connie? You purred about me and stayed off back fences when I was busy.
PETER: I’d subscribe to anything to break you of fence-walking.
CONNIE: Peter, if you’ll give her up, I’ll take that trip you’ve wanted for so long.
PETER: We’ll escape, Connie! We’ll hide ourselves in a nice quiet place till the scandal blows over.
CONNIE: I hope there’ll be photographers and members of the press.
PETER: We’ll leave immediately so we can be ostracized in peace—We’ll sail for Biarritz! (Peter struts pompously) Three times round a beach before lunch makes you wish you had never been born! We’ll find a proper setting where we can let our bygones be the future.
CONNIE: (Petulantly) Isn’t a proper setting a place where everything passes unnoticed? I would like to make the Sunday edition!
PETER: (Threateningly) Connie, do you want to have me forced into the woman by accident? I wouldn’t take a chance of walking on the streets with things the way they are.
CONNIE: But you will make a parting statement, won’t you? About how you will always prefer my profile?
PETER: Leave what I will do to me. One has to conceal one’s temperament for climaxes.
Before we have time to give Peter’s remark the attention we hope it deserves, the scene is invaded, in fact, it is nearly demolished by a flock of very energetic gentlemen of the press.
1ST REPORTER: Climaxes! I knew we had the right party.
“Consequential insults reporters!”
CONNIE: (Dashing to the mirror to primp) Why, he hasn’t said a word!
2ND REPORTER: (Writing) “Refuses to talk, claims vice is hereditary.”
PETER: You’ll have to go away. We’ve got to pack. We’re leaving.
1ST REPORTER: “Consequential in hiding. Wife suspects suicide.”
PETER: That’s terrible. You don’t, do you, Connie?
CONNIE: Peter, please don’t get between me and the camera.
2ND REPORTER: Mrs. Consequential, would you move over a little? You’re spoiling the profile——
CONNIE: Won’t you make it a family group?
1ST REPORTER: If the lady insists.
The reporters busy themselves posing and adjusting Connie and Peter in a very domestic attitude. The phone begins to ring. There’s general pandemonium as the maid tries to answer.
CONNIE: Do you think this looks much like a going-away gown?
1ST REPORTER: The very thing, Madam, if you’ll slip it off the shoulder a bit.
MAID: (Yelling) He can’t answer the phone, he’s leaving. I can’t help it if it is Mrs. Messogony. If you want to speak to Mr. Consequential you’ll have to go to Biarritz. Yes, Ma’am, Biarritz, France, he said.
The maid slams up the phone and edges herself into the family group as best she can, coyly posing.
1ST REPORTER: He’s hardly my idea of a rake.
CONNIE: Well, can’t you touch it up a bit?
PETER: Wouldn’t it be better if you used one of the President? Or somebody better known than I am?
CONNIE: Peter! I’ve been longing for this for years. Don’t cheat me of my happiness.
2ND REPORTER: We’ll entitle it “In a Love Nest.”
1ST REPORTER: Of course—but then we can use the wrong name.
The cameras click. Blop! goes the flashlight, the reporters dash valiantly about. On the whole it’s a good thing the CURTAIN came down when it did or we might have had to witness a general smashup on the stage.
One of those plages that go on making people feel that life is kinder and safer than it is. You can see what a nice hot afternoon it is by the way the artist has put so much white in the scenery—nothing but lethal blue and white. A promontory juts out like a theory of nebular physics trimming the blue stage with a bias fold such as blue sailor collars chew and left the rest an azure wash. The big umbrella is so inviting it seems a shame to have to leave it to the actors. Pretty soon you see something. It’s two people on the obliterated horizon. That bright patch you thought was a vagrant planet is a head—a yellow tousled head. The two people are laden with bundles of newspapers, beach cushions, another folding umbrella and two very late-rising expressions. The girl is dressed in what appears to be something and what, on closer inspection, proves to be nearly nothing at all—a mere accessory to her superb nakedness. There’s no front and no back to her costume and there are as many straps and trappings flying about as an arrangement for keeping the flies off a racehorse. The man looks as if he had meant to put on more if something hadn’t distracted him at the last minute. Yes, it’s Andrew. He and Flower parade down the beach trailing Arab bathrobes, Persian beach jackets and Japanese kimonos behind them in the sand. Flower’s equipped like a person who seems to be traveling from one place to another for the sake of transplanting her belongings. They are followed by Baffles in the grotesquerie of a striped bathing suit, a picnic basket and, at a distance, two gendarmes. They are about to settle down to the picnic when the gendarmes bristle up.
1ST GENDARME: C’est defendu de pique-niquer dans cet endroit.
ANDREW: (Patiently) Are you another reporter?
1ST GENDARME: Defendu! Vous comprenez?
FLOWER: What did he say, Baffles?
BAFFLES: I couldn’t say, Miss Flower.
2ND GENDARME: My friend, he say, no—pic-nic—here.
ANDREW: Why not? Isn’t there someplace where people can do what they want?
BAFFLES: To have your own way, Mr. Andrew, you must first be able to take life by the horns and guide it through the gin bottles.
1ST GENDARME: C’est defendu. C’est la vie. C’est tout.
2ND GENDARME: My friend, he say it is life. No pic-nic. That is all.
FLOWER: But tell your friend we must stay here—we’re all moved in.
ANDREW: Maybe Baffles can get the authorities for us.
BAFFLES: (Indicating the Frenchmen) They seem to be down in the boiler rooms, sir, working their ways through life.
GENDARMES: Defense de pique-niquer.
FLOWER: (Brightly exhibiting the paper) Here, look! That’s me in the headlines. We’re an asset to your beach. See?
The gendarmes pore interestedly over the photographs.
ANDREW: Flower, I wish you wouldn’t advertise how awful you’ve been to me.
FLOWER: I wish you’d try to give up the irresponsibility of being the victim.
1ST GENDARME: Je le constaterai. Apres!—Ah, je verrai si c’est possible de 1’arranger.
He begins a detailed examination of Flower’s physical assets.
FLOWER: What’s he looking for?
2ND GENDARME: My friend, he say he will see the government about getting you permission to stay.
2ND GENDARME: (Lasciviously) He say he think it will be very well—when he considers the—er—notoriety.
1ST GENDARME: Je n’ai rien dit. Je verrai les authorites. C’est tout ce que j’ai dit.
2ND GENDARME: He say we see you later. Not to go ’way.
FLOWER: Thanks. There, you see, Andrew. Even a scandal can turn out to be very useful.
BAFFLES: We must hope that Mr. Andrew will soon begin to see the light of unreason, Miss Flower.
1ST GENDARME: (As they leave) Qu’elle est jolie, le petit chou-chou!
2ND GENDARME: A bientot.
GENDARMES: Au revoir. A tout a l’heure.
BAFFLES: (Politely) Good day. I’ll tell the mistress you called.
FLOWER: What a wonderful place to get off your feet!
ANDREW: It’s all right.
FLOWER: I’m sorry you don’t like it, Andrew!
ANDREW: I said I think it’s all right.
BAFFLES: (Sighing) Perhaps Mr. Andrew’s lonely. People do seem to be so far away that they’re scarcely more than humanity from here.
FLOWER: Wasn’t it nice of me to have earned us a vacation?
Flower and Andrew begin rubbing each other vigorously with cocoa butter.
Uncle would have liked it.
BAFFLES: I’m sure everything’s as demoralizing as could be expected, sir. The last paper mentioned “notorious—philandering.”
FLOWER: And the Morning Expectorator called me “vicious.”
ANDREW: I can’t bear to think of it.
FLOWER: (I hope that’s not us she’s pointing at) All right, Andrew. You can think of the nice fish. Look! You can see them from here!
ANDREW: It makes me nervous. Tearing off like this so suddenly.
BAFFLES: Don’t mind, sir. The European crabs never bite anybody but poets since Shelley, Mr. Andrew.
FLOWER: Why don’t you open the picnic, Baffles?
Baffles busies himself with elaborately laying the cloth.
ANDREW: Let’s not spread the cloth, Flower. It’s so like a winding sheet.
BAFFLES: Maybe Mr. Andrew likes a little sand in his sandwiches, Miss Flower.
ANDREW: Gives ’em body.
FLOWER: I should think you wouldn’t be so grouchy, Andrew, now that everything’s just as you suspected all along.
She polishes his back with a vindictive gouge.
ANDREW: That Consequential’s a nice-looking fellow.
FLOWER: I hoped you’d approve of him.
ANDREW: I thought you said you couldn’t stand a man with curly hair.
BAFFLES: Nobody’s accountable for what happens in a flashlight, sir.
ANDREW: (As they begin picnic) You know, Flower, these revelations don’t seem to have changed you much.
BAFFLES: (Hastily) Won’t you try one of these, sir? I made them myself out of papier-mache.
ANDREW: Would you have liked me better if I’d got you into trouble as good as he did, Flower?
FLOWER: Andrew, it’s quite all right about the dilemma.
ANDREW: But I couldn’t jump out of windows. I’m too out of condition.
BAFFLES: If you would only read the papers, sir. Mr. Consequential is described as “licentious.” Now I’m sure you could manage that with a few weeks’ training.
ANDREW: He doesn’t look very licentious.
BAFFLES: Mr. Andrew, horse feathers have been known to make a bird of paradise out of many a Strasbourg goose.
ANDREW: Maybe so.
FLOWER: There! This is a good likeness, Andrew. Just the way I like to think of him.
ANDREW: Don’t, Flower—you shouldn’t have done it.
BAFFLES: Don’t you think it’s much better that what’s in a person should be known, sir—by everyone except the person themselves, that is?
ANDREW: I don’t know. Say, Flower, what do you think of my stomach?
Andrew approaches Flower in what we may describe as his best collegiate manner. That is, he rotates his body to a closer proximity, with some suggestion of an unexpected intimacy for which he is taking no responsibility. What he does is an inverted attempt at exposition of the anatomy. To do it properly, you shrink in first one part and then another till you have reduced yourself to a twisting, writhing suction. I believe it’s very good for a gall bladder when done in the morning with six encyclopedias over the muscles of the abdomen.
BAFFLES: Now Mr. Andrew, you are very well preserved for such a young man.
ANDREW: Has Peter Consequential got a stomach, Flower?
FLOWER: It doesn’t mention it in the accounts.
ANDREW: I thought if you’d help me we could fix mine up a bit. Did you say he did have a stomach, Flower?
FLOWER: I didn’t say.
BAFFLES: Here’s a full-length account, Mr. Andrew.
ANDREW: (Shudders) I don’t want to see it.
FLOWER: Andrew, a person’s got to read something besides the Zonite wrappers.
ANDREW: You don’t know how awful it is to feel jealous—You know how you feel when you’ve just got off a merry-go-round? Well, that’s the way I feel.
FLOWER: Oh, I think jealousy sometimes keeps a marriage from going bad.
BAFFLES: Acts as a sort of spiritual cellophane.
ANDREW: I want you to promise me never to see Consequential again.
FLOWER: Well, maybe just once more—just to say good-bye.
BAFFLES: Promises, Mr. Andrew, are ordinarily to conceal one’s temptation for doing something else.
ANDREW: Please, Flower.
FLOWER: Now, Andrew.
BAFFLES: There, sir, it must be nearly time for your wine.
FLOWER: (Nervously) Oh, all right. Isn’t it peaceful here!
Flower sighs, expulsing some of the tranquility of the glorious beach from her lungs. It’s just as well she got her breath out when she did because the beach umbrella has just collapsed on the stage. It’s shockingly bad management, especially since a pair of legs are still inside it.
PETER: Connie, do you know anything about how to get out of a beach umbrella?
CONNIE: You might punch a hole in the top.
PETER: There must be some other way. Think back, Connie. If one man got shut up inside an umbrella in half an hour, how many beach umbrellas would it take what was left of him to get out in two hours and forty minutes?
CONNIE: Don’t be highbrow, Peter, just because you’re a celebrity. Why don’t you come out of the bottom?
PETER: Well, show me where it is then. Give me your hand, Connie.
Connie rises, starts and advances a few steps, drawn by her curiosity toward Flower as if toward a magnet. She glowers impolitely. Flower is absorbed by the legs and the air of general catastrophe. The two women are far too pretty to appear in a scene together. We shouldn’t have done it; something is sure to happen.
FLOWER: How do you do?
PETER: Oh, I’m all right now. I just couldn’t remember what Houdini said.
ANDREW: I know I’ve seen that fellow before.
CONNIE: Peter, it ought to be somebody else!
PETER: As a matter of fact, maybe it is.
BAFFLES: Was Madam expecting us?
ANDREW: Of course not. Look at him, Baffles! I’d know that face anywhere.
FLOWER: (Elaborately) How curious to run into you this way! Don’t you think it’s curious, Mr. Consequential?
PETER: Just like the scandalous things you read in the papers.
ANDREW: I don’t see much to it. I believe you followed my wife here.
CONNIE: Why, we left on a moment’s notice. She must have followed my husband.
ANDREW: Anyway, my wife’s not to speak to him.
CONNIE: Well, neither is he. He promised.
BAFFLES: Will there be guests for the picnic, Miss Flower?
FLOWER: Two extra, Baffles. And maybe you’d better lay the cloth, after all. It’s rather special company.
BAFFLES: Very good, Miss Flower.
ANDREW: You don’t mean they’re going to stay?
FLOWER: You’ve got to have supper someplace, haven’t you, Mr. Consequential?
PETER: That is—yes. I’ve often wondered how much dinner my birthright would bring in.
ANDREW: Hardly enough to carry you through the hot weather.
PETER: I’d like you to meet my wife.
CONNIE: How do you do?
FLOWER: How d’you do?
CONNIE: France is nearly as close as New Jersey, isn’t it?
FLOWER: If you take out the tunnel, that is.
CONNIE: We might as well stay, I suppose.
FLOWER: Won’t you just sit over here? I don’t believe you’ve got a very comfortable dune.
CONNIE: The sea nettle is very nice where I am, thank you.
PETER: Well, old man, I see you read a great deal.
ANDREW: They try to get me to read which is the vermouth and which is the rye, but I don’t seem to care for it.
PETER: I see your point.
ANDREW: (Superiorly) There’s nothing in the papers except stuff nobody cares anything about.
PETER: Politics, international debt——
ANDREW: Things like that.
PETER: A wife like yours does brighten things up.
CONNIE: (Haughtily) You must give me the recipe for these sandwiches! Boric acid, aren’t they?
PETER: Connie, please don’t be disagreeable. Remember how nice our little trouble has made you. (To Flower) You see, Connie has been much more pleasant since the scandal. It brought us together again.
FLOWER: That makes me feel quite creative.
ANDREW: Creative! I s’pose you mean, Flower, you’d like us to believe what looks so like lies.
BAFFLES: Whether you believe it or not, Mr. Andrew, makes the only difference between fiction and reality.
FLOWER: (To Peter) Tell me, did appearances come between you?
PETER: That’s all there was. You see, Connie thinks monogamy is what the parlor chairs were made of in the Nineties.
BAFFLES: About the sandwiches, Miss Flower, you take some old securities and a lot of champagne——
FLOWER: And mix them all up——
ANDREW: Till they make an awful mess.
FLOWER: Andrew, please don’t be rude.
ANDREW: Why not? In this predicament.
FLOWER: The predicament has helped Mr. Consequential. Aren’t you glad to bring a man and his wife together again, Andrew?
Andrew, who has been sizing up Peter, walks over and whispers something in Flower’s ear while Connie and Peter are talking sub rosa.
CONNIE: Go on and ask her.
PETER: I don’t want to ask her.
As the other two are speaking:
CONNIE: You’ve spoken anyway, you might as well find out who does her hair.
PETER: Maybe she bites it off with a set of false teeth.
FLOWER: Andrew, it’s too personal to ask him, really.
ANDREW: Oh, go on and ask, Flower.
FLOWER: But it must be exercise. There’s no other way about stomachs.
CONNIE: I don’t see why it’s so intimate after all you’ve been through together.
ANDREW: I should think it’d be all right coming from a—a——
FLOWER: (To Peter) I have a plan. They must go on believing. Make love to me quick.
PETER: I love your nose, Mrs.—Mrs. Messogony.
FLOWER: Call me Flower—just publicly.
ANDREW: Why, he doesn’t even know your name!
FLOWER: Andrew, you know how a person is apt to forget things like names.
PETER: Yes, indeed.
CONNIE: I don’t see how.
FLOWER: You see, it’s been a good while since we met, hasn’t it—Peter?
PETER: Oh my, yes. My latest papers are at least a week old.
FLOWER: What a difference ten days can make in a lifetime!
BAFFLES: If Miss Flower will excuse me, rather less than a lifetime can make in ten days.
ANDREW: What does this mean?
CONNIE: From the way they behave they might be perfect strangers.
ANDREW: Just what is your position on this beach, Mr. Consequential?
BAFFLES: Miss Flower, has Mr. Consequential seen the archipelago?
CONNIE: I could wear my new Patou to court—if I decided to sue.
PETER: Connie! You wouldn’t want to lose faith in your husband forever, would you?
BAFFLES: There’s always the view, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: The view, Mr. Consequential—I must explain the view.
PETER: What made you pick on me? What if they find out? Or what if they never do?
FLOWER: For the address. Ten sixty-six is the only date in history I could ever remember.
Flower envelops Peter in the brightness of the scene and maneuvers him off, chattering.
You’ve a very appealing press personality, Peter.
BAFFLES: (Sighing) On a wet-enough pavement a person’s sure to find himself footloose, sooner or later.
Andrew and Connie stare seriously at each other for a minute or two.
ANDREW: What a powerful nerve your husband had.
CONNIE: Oh, but it’s meant so much to your wife.
ANDREW: Say, when did it occur to you that Mr. Consequential wasn’t a real person?
CONNIE: Just now. I don’t believe they ever knew each other—out of print.
ANDREW: Then I was right. You know, Miss—er—Connie, there’s something very nice about women who’ll always admit I’m right.
CONNIE: I don’t care how they deceive us. There’re just as good fish in the aquarium as ever came out of the sea.
ANDREW: Baffles, do you think I could have a little wine, after all?
BAFFLES: I think it would be very encouraging, Mr. Andrew.
ANDREW: You know, Baffles—just a little bit too much.
CONNIE: Then what’ll we do? When we’ve had it?
ANDREW: Look in the papers, Baffles, and see what it says people do next, under the circumstances.
Baffles peruses several paragraphs.
BAFFLES: “Morally lax,” it says, sir—in the papers.
ANDREW: How do you s’pose that would go?
CONNIE: It has an element of interest.
ANDREW: Something like itching, I suppose.
CONNIE: I haven’t been so lost in the prim confines of sex since my days at Bryn Mawr.
BAFFLES: Sex, Madam, and climate. Our only real basis of communication!
ANDREW: Doesn’t it say something else?
BAFFLES: At the end of the page it mentions “orgies.”
CONNIE: Even the word makes me feel like a butterfly. Flap! Flap!
ANDREW: Butterflies don’t make a noise.
CONNIE: You’ve probably never seen a tight butterfly in all your life before.
Connie hops tentatively on one foot in a general indication of what a butterfly is like when tight.
Try it, Mr. Messogony, it’s wonderful.
ANDREW: My legs are too giggly but champagne certainly works up an interest in botany.
BAFFLES: There’s nothing quite like it for broadening the horizons, Mr. Andrew.
ANDREW: There ought to be some way to drink faster, if we could only discover it.
CONNIE: Faster and faster till we’re back at the beginning.
ANDREW: We’ll learn our lesson.
CONNIE: If we aren’t a little more careful we’ll be teaching one instead.
ANDREW: I wonder why they did what they did?
BAFFLES: If you’re the kind of person the world expects a story from, Mr. Andrew, you’ll be eventually cornered into giving it one.
CONNIE: For years Peter has been so settled down that nobody but a mining engineer could have dug this up.
ANDREW: That’s what I thought about Flower.
BAFFLES: (Pouring himself a glass) To our misunderstandings!
Just as they are about to drink the toast, those two French policemen reappear amidst a positive explosion of very rapid French.
1ST GENDARME: (Preventing Baffles from swallowing his drink) Je ne sais pas! Au moins on peut attendre la permission de la loi!
CONNIE: What brought them back to life?
2ND GENDARME: My friend, he say—but where is the other lady?
ANDREW: You see, that’s just what we aren’t sure about ourselves.
1ST GENDARME: Il faudrait voir la femme, (lasciviously) la femme qui etait un peu plus jolie——
BAFFLES: Perhaps they’ve stepped out for a little air—I’ll just see.
CONNIE: You can’t interrupt us like this. Go on away.
She goes on pouring the wine.
ANDREW: What right have they got to order us about? What right has anybody got? We’ll put our feet down——
1ST GENDARME: Non non non non non! Non non non! C’est defendu de pique-niquer.
ANDREW: And defy the defendu!
CONNIE: Don’t pay any attention, Andrew. It’s probably all a bluff.
Connie and Andrew settle themselves before the basket with their backs to the gendarmes.
ANDREW: We’ll pretend they aren’t there.
CONNIE: If we just keep on drinking maybe they’ll go away.
2ND GENDARME: (Coming out of a huddle) My friend say he m-u-s-t see the other lady—the lady in the papers.
CONNIE: But he saw her, an hour ago. Tell him we have no further interest in the lady.
2ND GENDARME: He say he have permission for the be-au-ti-ful lady, not for you. Pardon!
CONNIE: You horrible person. Just because she had her picture in the papers. (Sniveling) Andrew, I wish we could have got into trouble——
1ST GENDARME: Eh, bien! C’est comme ca. Rien a faire! Faut pas discuter! Je lui apprendrai a se moquer de la loi—Polissons!
2ND GENDARME: He say you are arrest.
ANDREW: What for?
2ND GENDARME: For mocking the law!
1ST GENDARME: Pique-niquer sur la plage!
2ND GENDARME: The plage belong to the French Marine. You are outlaw. Under arrest.
CONNIE: You’re not going to take us to jail?
ANDREW: I can’t go to jail. The lawyers wouldn’t like it.
CONNIE: What’ll my husband say? He never allows me to get arrested.
2ND GENDARME: You must go.
They seize Connie and Andrew and begin marching off.
1ST GENDARME: Ou peut voir les authorites!
2ND GENDARME: You may see the commissariat. Quelle chance!
ANDREW: Oh well, it won’t take long. We’ll be out by the time Flower gets back.
2ND GENDARME: Certainly, Monsieur. The commissariat is away at this hour. But he will be back before morning maybe.
2ND GENDARME: Surely, Madame, sometime before morning.
ANDREW: (Helplessly) Baffles, oh Baffles——
The gendarmes drag them off the stage. Baffles appears.
BAFFLES: They seem to have disappeared.
He laughs in a Machiavellian way as he looks about, peeking under the corner of the cloth and peering down a bottle neck.
Brilliant futures that don’t go off usually do get dug up by the reconstruction committee.
Baffles settles himself quietly to the picnic and the papers as the CURTAIN falls, obscuring the beautiful beach just as the last of the sunset is drowning itself in the glasses and bottles.
Published in 1980.