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Dialogue following No. 23

Despard. We have been married a week.

Margaret. One happy, happy week!

Despard. Our new life –

Margaret. Is delightful indeed!

Despard. So calm!

Margaret. So unimpassioned! (wildly) Master, all this I owe to you! See, I am no longer wild and untidy. My hair is combed. My face is washed. My boots fit!

Despard. Margaret, don't. Pray restrain yourself. Remember, you are now a district visitor.

Margaret. A gentle district visitor!

Despard. You are orderly, methodical, neat; you have your emotions well under control.

Margaret. I have! (wildly) Master, when I think of all you have done for me, I fall at your feet. I embrace your ankles. I hug your knees! (Doing so.)

Despard. Hush. This is not well. This is calculated to provoke remark. Be composed, I beg!

Margaret. Ah! you are angry with poor little Mad Margaret!

Despard. No, not angry; but a district visitor should learn to eschew melodrama. Visit the poor, by all means, and give them tea and barley-water, but don't do it as if you were administering a bowl of deadly nightshade. It upsets them. Then when you nurse sick people, and find them not as well as could be expected, why go into hysterics?

Margaret. Why not?

Despard. Because it's too jumpy for a sick-room.

Margaret. How strange! Oh, Master! Master! – how shall I express the all-absorbing gratitude that – (about to throw herself at his feet)

Despard. Now! (warningly)

Margaret & Despard (Jessie Bond & Rutland Barrington) (1887)
Click on picture to enlarge

Margaret. Yes, I know, dear – it shan't occur again. (He is seated – she sits on the ground by him.) Shall I tell you one of poor Mad Margaret's odd thoughts? Well, then, when I am lying awake at night, and the pale moonlight streams through the latticed casement, strange fancies crowd upon my poor mad brain, and I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse – some word that teems with hidden meaning – like "Basingstoke" – it might recall me to my saner self. For, after all, I am only Mad Margaret! Daft Meg! Poor Meg! He! he! he!

Despard. Poor child, she wanders! But soft – some one comes – Margaret – pray recollect yourself – Basingstoke, I beg! Margaret, if you don't Basingstoke at once, I shall be seriously angry.

Margaret. (recovering herself) Basingstoke it is!

Despard. Then make it so.

Enter Robin. He starts on seeing them.

Robin. Despard! And his young wife! This visit is unexpected.

Margaret. Shall I fly at him? Shall I tear him limb from limb? Shall I rend him asunder? Say but the word and–

Despard. Basingstoke!

Margaret. (suddenly demure) Basingstoke it is!

Despard. (aside) Then make it so. (aloud) My brother – I call you brother still, despite your horrible profligacy – we have come to urge you to abandon the evil courses to which you have committed yourself, and at any cost to become a pure and blameless ratepayer.

Robin. But I've done no wrong yet.

Margaret. (wildly) No wrong! He has done no wrong! Did you hear that!

Despard. Basingstoke!

Margaret. (recovering herself) Basingstoke it is!

Despard. My brother – I still call you brother, you observe – you forget that you have been, in the eye of the law, a Bad Baronet of Ruddigore for ten years – and you are therefore responsible – in the eye of the law – for all the misdeeds committed by the unhappy gentleman who occupied your place.

Robin. I see! Bless my heart, I never thought of that! Was I very bad?

Despard. Awful. Wasn't he? (To Margaret)

Robin. And I've been going on like this for how long?

Despard. Ten years! Think of all the atrocities you have committed – by attorney as it were – during that period. Remember how you trifled with this poor child's affections – how you raised her hopes on high (don't cry, my love – Basingstoke, you know), only to trample them in the dust when they were at the very zenith of their fullness. Oh fie, sir, fie – she trusted you!

Robin. Did she? What a scoundrel I must have been! There, there – don't cry, my dear, (to Margaret, who is sobbing on Robin's breast) it's all right now. Birmingham, you know – Birmingham–

Margaret. (sobbing) It's Ba – Ba – Basingstoke!

Robin. Basingstoke! Of course it is – Basingstoke.

Margaret. Then make it so!

Robin. There, there – it's all right – he's married you now – that is, I've married you (turning to Despard) – I say, which of us has married her?

Despard. Oh, I've married her.

Robin. (aside) Oh, I'm glad of that. (To Margaret) Yes, he's married you now, (passing her over to Despard) and anything more disreputable than my conduct seems to have been I've never even heard of. But my mind is made up – I will defy my ancestors. I will refuse to obey their behests, thus, by courting death, atone in some degree for the infamy of my career!

Margaret. I knew it – I knew it – God bless you – (hysterically)

Despard. Basingstoke!

Margaret. Basingstoke it is! (Recovers herself.)

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