WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS
WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS
JAMES M. BARRIE
(James Wylie is about to make a move on the dambrod and in the
little Scotch room there is an awful silence befitting the occasion.
James with his hand poised--for if he touches a piece he has to play
it Alick will see to that--raises his red head suddenly to read
Alick's face. His father who is Alick is pretending to be in a
panic lest James should make this move. James grins heartlessly and
his fingers are about to close on the 'man' when some instinct of
self-preservation makes him peep once more. This time Alick is
caught: the unholy ecstasy on his face tells as plain as porridge
that he has been luring James to destruction. James glares; and too
late his opponent is a simple old father again. James mops his head
sprawls in the manner most conducive to thought in the Wylie family
and protruding his underlip settles down to a reconsideration of
the board. Alick blows out his cheeks and a drop of water settles on
the point of his nose.
You will find them thus any Saturday night (after family worship
which sends the servant to bed); and sometimes the pauses are so long
that in the end they forget whose move it is.
It is not the room you would be shown into if you were calling
socially on Miss Wylie. The drawing-room for you and Miss Wylie in a
coloured merino to receive you; very likely she would exclaim "This
is a pleasant surprise!" though she has seen you coming up the avenue
and has just had time to whip the dustcloths off the chairs and to
warn Alick David and James that they had better not dare come in to
see you before they have put on a dickey. Nor is this the room in
which you would dine in solemn grandeur if invited to drop in and
take pot-luck which is how the Wylies invite it being a family
weakness to pretend that they sit down in the dining-room daily. It
is the real living-room of the house where Alick who will never get
used to fashionable ways can take off his collar and sit happily in
his stocking soles and James at times would do so also; but catch
Maggie letting him.
There is one very fine chair but heavens not for sitting on; just
to give the room a social standing in an emergency. It sneers at the
other chairs with an air of insolent superiority like a haughty
bride who has married into the house for money. Otherwise the
furniture is homely; most of it has come from that smaller house
where the Wylies began. There is the large and shiny chair which can
be turned into a bed if you look the other way for a moment. James
cannot sit on this chair without gradually sliding down it till he is
lying luxuriously on the small of his back his legs indicating like
the hands of a clock that it is ten past twelve; a position in which
Maggie shudders to see him receiving company.
The other chairs are horse-hair than which nothing is more
comfortable if there be a good slit down the seat. The seats are
heavily dented because all the Wylie family sit down with a dump.
The draught-board is on the edge of a large centre table which also
displays four books placed at equal distances from each other one of
them a Bible and another the family album. If these were the only
books they would not justify Maggie in calling this chamber the
library her dogged name for it; while David and James call it the
west-room and Alick calls it 'the room' which is to him the natural
name for any apartment without a bed in it. There is a bookcase of
pitch pine which contains six hundred books with glass doors to
prevent your getting at them.
No one does try to get at the books for the Wylies are not a reading
family. They like you to gasp when you see so much literature
gathered together in one prison-house but they gasp themselves at
the thought that there are persons chiefly clergymen who having
finished one book coolly begin another. Nevertheless it was not all
vainglory that made David buy this library: it was rather a mighty
respect for education as something that he has missed. This same
feeling makes him take in the Contemporary Review and stand up to it
like a man. Alick who also has a respect for education tries to
read the Contemporary but becomes dispirited and may be heard
muttering over its pages 'No no use no use no' and sometimes
even 'Oh hell.' James has no respect for education; and Maggie is at
present of an open mind.
They are Wylie and Sons of the local granite quarry in which Alick
was throughout his working days a mason. It is David who has raised
them to this position; he climbed up himself step by step (and hewed
the steps) and drew the others up after him. 'Wylie Brothers' Alick
would have had the firm called but David said No and James said No
and Maggie said No; first honour must be to their father; and Alick
now likes it on the whole though he often sighs at having to shave
every day; and on some snell mornings he still creeps from his couch
at four and even at two (thinking that his mallet and chisel are
calling him) and begins to pull on his trousers until the grandeur
of them reminds him that he can go to bed again. Sometimes he cries a
little because there is no more work for him to do for ever and
ever; and then Maggie gives him a spade (without telling David) or
David gives him the logs to saw (without telling Maggie).
We have given James a longer time to make his move than our kind
friends in front will give him but in the meantime something has
been happening. David has come in wearing a black coat and his
Sabbath boots for he has been to a public meeting. David is nigh
forty years of age whiskered like his father and brother (Alick's
whiskers being worn as a sort of cravat round the neck) and he has
the too brisk manner of one who must arrive anywhere a little before
any one else. The painter who did the three of them for fifteen
pounds (you may observe the canvases on the walls) has caught this
characteristic perhaps accidentally for David is almost stepping
out of his frame as if to hurry off somewhere; while Alick and James
look as if they were pinned to the wall for life. All the six of
them men and pictures however have a family resemblance like
granite blocks from their own quarry. They are as Scotch as peat for
instance and they might exchange eyes without any neighbour noticing
the difference inquisitive little blue eyes that seem to be always
totting up the price of things.
The dambrod players pay no attention to David nor does he regard
them. Dumping down on the sofa he removes his 'lastic sides as his
Sabbath boots are called by pushing one foot against the other gets
into a pair of hand-sewn slippers deposits the boots as according to
rule in the ottoman and crosses to the fire. There must be something
on David's mind to-night for he pays no attention to the game
neither gives advice (than which nothing is more maddening) nor
exchanges a wink with Alick over the parlous condition of James's
crown. You can hear the wag-at-the-wall clock in the lobby ticking.
Then David lets himself go; it runs out of him like a hymn:)
DAVID. Oh let the solid ground Not fail beneath my feet Before my
life has found What some have found so sweet.
[This is not a soliloquy but is offered as a definite statement. The
players emerge from their game with difficulty.]
ALICK [with JAMES's crown in his hand]. What's that you're saying
DAVID [like a public speaker explaining the situation in a few well-chosen
words]. The thing I'm speaking about is Love.
JAMES [keeping control of himself]. Do you stand there and say you're
in love David Wylie?
DAVID. Me; what would I do with the thing?
JAMES [who is by no means without pluck]. I see no necessity for
calling it a thing.
[They are two bachelors who all their lives have been afraid of
nothing but Woman. DAVID in his sportive days--which continue--has
done roguish things with his arm when conducting a lady home under an
umbrella from a soiree and has both chuckled and been scared on
thinking of it afterwards. JAMES a commoner fellow altogether has
discussed the sex over a glass but is too canny to be in the company
of less than two young women at a time.]
DAVID [derisively]. Oho has she got you James?
JAMES [feeling the sting of it]. Nobody has got me.
DAVID. They'll catch you yet lad.
JAMES. They'll never catch me. You've been nearer catched yourself.
ALICK. Yes Kitty Menzies David.
DAVID [feeling himself under the umbrella]. It was a kind of a shave
ALICK [who knows all that is to be known about women and can speak of
them without a tremor]. It's a curious thing but a man cannot help
winking when he hears that one of his friends has been catched.
DAVID. That's so.
JAMES [clinging to his manhood]. And fear of that wink is what has
kept the two of us single men. And yet what's the glory of being
DAVID. There's no particular glory in it but it's safe.
JAMES [putting away his aspirations]. Yes it's lonely but it's
safe. But who did you mean the poetry for then?
DAVID. For Maggie of course.
[You don't know DAVID and JAMES till you know how they love their
ALICK. I thought that.
DAVID [coming to the second point of his statement about Love]. I saw
her reading poetry and saying those words over to herself.
JAMES. She has such a poetical mind.
DAVID. Love. There's no doubt as that's what Maggie has set her heart
on. And not merely love but one of those grand noble loves; for
though Maggie is undersized she has a passion for romance.
JAMES [wandering miserably about the room]. It's terrible not to be
able to give Maggie what her heart is set on.
[The others never pay much attention to JAMES though he is quite a
smart figure in less important houses.]
ALICK [violently]. Those idiots of men.
DAVID. Father did you tell her who had got the minister of
ALICK [wagging his head sadly]. I had to tell her. And then I--I--
bought her a sealskin muff and I just slipped it into her hands and
JAMES [illustrating the sense of justice in the Wylie family]. Of
course to be fair to the man he never pretended he wanted her.
DAVID. None of them wants her; that's what depresses her. I was
thinking father I would buy her that gold watch and chain in
Snibby's window. She hankers after it.
JAMES [slapping his pocket]. You're too late David; I've got them
DAVID. It's ill done of the minister. Many a pound of steak has that
man had in this house.
ALICK. You mind the slippers she worked for him?
JAMES. I mind them fine; she began them for William Cathro. She's
getting on in years too though she looks so young.
ALICK. I never can make up my mind David whether her curls make her
look younger or older.
DAVID [determinedly]. Younger. Whist! I hear her winding the clock.
Mind not a word about the minister to her James. Don't even mention
religion this day.
JAMES. Would it be like me to do such a thing?
DAVID. It would be very like you. And there's that other matter: say
not a syllable about our having a reason for sitting up late to-
night. When she says it's bed-time just all pretend we're not
ALICK. Exactly and when--
[Here MAGGIE enters and all three are suddenly engrossed in the
dambrod. We could describe MAGGIE at great length. But what is the
use? What you really want to know is whether she was good-looking.
No she was not. Enter MAGGIE who is not good-looking. When this is
said all is said. Enter MAGGIE as it were with her throat cut from
ear to ear. She has a soft Scotch voice and a more resolute manner
than is perhaps fitting to her plainness; and she stops short at
sight of JAMES sprawling unconsciously in the company chair.]
MAGGIE. James I wouldn't sit on the fine chair.
JAMES. I forgot again.
[But he wishes she had spoken more sharply. Even profanation of the
fine chair has not roused her. She takes up her knitting and they
all suspect that she knows what they have been talking about.]
MAGGIE. You're late David it's nearly bed-time.
DAVID [finding the subject a safe one]. I was kept late at the public
ALICK [glad to get so far away from Galashiels]. Was it a good
DAVID. Fairish. [with some heat] That young John Shand WOULD make a
MAGGIE. John Shand? Is that the student Shand?
DAVID. The same. It's true he's a student at Glasgow University in
the winter months but in summer he's just the railway porter here;
and I think it's very presumptuous of a young lad like that to make a
speech when he hasn't a penny to bless himself with.
ALICK. The Shands were always an impudent family and jealous. I
suppose that's the reason they haven't been on speaking terms with us
this six years. Was it a good speech?
DAVID [illustrating the family's generosity]. It was very fine; but
he needn't have made fun of ME.
MAGGIE [losing a stitch]. He dared?
DAVID [depressed]. You see I can not get started on a speech without
saying things like 'In rising FOR to make a few remarks.'
JAMES. What's wrong with it?
DAVID. He mimicked me and said 'Will our worthy chairman come for
to go for to answer my questions?' and so on; and they roared.
JAMES [slapping his money pocket]. The sacket.
DAVID. I did feel bitterly father the want of education. [Without
knowing it he has a beautiful way of pronouncing this noble word.]
MAGGIE [holding out a kind hand to him]. David.
ALICK. I've missed it sore David. Even now I feel the want of it in
the very marrow of me. I'm ashamed to think I never gave you your
chance. But when you were young I was so desperate poor how could I
do it Maggie?
MAGGIE. It wasn't possible father.
ALICK [gazing at the book-shelves]. To be able to understand these
books! To up with them one at a time and scrape them as clean as
though they were a bowl of brose. Lads it's not to riches it's to
scholarship that I make my humble bow.
JAMES [who is good at bathos]. There's ten yards of them. And they
were selected by the minister of Galashiels. He said--
DAVID [quickly]. James.
JAMES. I mean--I mean--
MAGGIE [calmly]. I suppose you mean what you say James. I hear
David that the minister of Galashiels is to be married on that Miss
DAVID [on guard]. So they were saying.
ALICK. All I can say is she has made a poor bargain.
MAGGIE [the damned]. I wonder at you father. He's a very nice
gentleman. I'm sure I hope he has chosen wisely.
JAMES. Not him.
MAGGIE [getting near her tragedy]. How can you say that when you
don't know her? I expect she is full of charm.
ALICK. Charm? It's the very word he used.
DAVID. Havering idiot.
ALICK. What IS charm exactly Maggie?
MAGGIE. Oh it's--it's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it
you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it it
doesn't much matter what else you have. Some women the few have
charm for all; and most have charm for one. But some have charm for
[Somehow she has stopped knitting. Her men-folk are very depressed.
JAMES brings his fist down on the table with a crash.]
JAMES [shouting]. I have a sister that has charm.
MAGGIE. No James you haven't.
JAMES [rushing at her with the watch and chain]. Ha'e Maggie.
[She lets them lie in her lap.]
DAVID. Maggie would you like a silk?
MAGGIE. What could I do with a silk? [With a gust of passion] You
might as well dress up a little brown hen.
[They wriggle miserably.]
JAMES [stamping]. Bring him here to me.
MAGGIE. Bring whom James?
JAMES. David I would be obliged if you wouldn't kick me beneath the
MAGGIE [rising]. Let's be practical; let's go to our beds.
[This reminds them that they have a job on hand in which she is not
DAVID [slily]. I don't feel very sleepy yet.
ALICK. Nor me either.
JAMES. You've just taken the very words out of my mouth.
DAVID [with unusual politeness]. Good-night to you Maggie.
MAGGIE [fixing the three of them]. ALL of you unsleepy when as is
well known ten o'clock is your regular bed-time?
JAMES. Yes it's common knowledge that we go to our beds at ten.
[Chuckling] That's what we're counting on.
MAGGIE. Counting on?
DAVID. You stupid whelp.
JAMES. What have I done?
MAGGIE [folding her arms]. There's something up. You've got to tell
DAVID [who knows when he is beaten]. Go out and watch James.
[JAMES takes himself off armed as MAGGIE notices with a stick.]
DAVID [in his alert business way]. Maggie there are burglars about.
MAGGIE. Burglars? [She sits rigid but she is not the kind to
DAVID. We hadn't meant for to tell you till we nabbed them; but
they've been in this room twice of late. We sat up last night waiting
for them and we're to sit up again to-night.
MAGGIE. The silver plate.
DAVID. It's all safe as yet. That makes us think that they were
either frightened away these other times or that they are coming
back for to make a clean sweep.
MAGGIE. How did you get to know about this?
DAVID. It was on Tuesday that the polissman called at the quarry with
a very queer story. He had seen a man climbing out at this window at
ten past two.
MAGGIE. Did he chase him?
DAVID. It was so dark he lost sight of him at once.
ALICK. Tell her about the window.
DAVID. We've found out that the catch of the window has been pushed
back by slipping the blade of a knife between the woodwork.
ALICK. The polissman said he was carrying a little carpet bag.
MAGGIE. The silver plate IS gone.
DAVID. No no. We were thinking that very likely he has bunches of