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ACT I

Dialogue

Enter RUPERT VERNON.

RUPERT. My faithful friends, you have just been singing, with that accuracy of time and purity of tone which characterize all your vocal efforts, these admirable sentiments, amongst others, "Down with love, and down with marriage; down with landlords, down with land!" And truly these things are vanities -- in the abstract; but in the concrete they possess a certain substance. In the abstract, I, Rupert Vernon, am a vanity.

PURITANS. Yea, verily.

RUPERT. But in the concrete, even I possess a certain substance.

PURITANS. Yea, verily.

RUPERT. These brief preliminary observations will have prepared you for the announcement that I am about to marry and become a landlord.

KILL-JOY. This be flat blasphemy!

RUPERT. I was once of that opinion myself. But ever since it hath become a question whether my title to this highly attractive residential property is not superior to that of my cousin, its present occupant, I have given much attention to the subject. As I may shortly be in a position to keep a carriage myself, I am not quite so persuaded as I was of the necessity of "downing" with everybody who indulges in that very harmless luxury.

NICODEMUS. (lifting his hands) Odd's fish! odd's fish!

RUPERT. I fail to see anything odd's fish about it. Then again, our attitude with regard to the land question -- is it quite sound? or is it all sound and no sense?

BARNABAS. There be one land and there be one people, and to the one people the one land belongeth.

RUPERT. Quite so, quite so, my good Barnabas. That is our way of putting it - in public. But this is not the hustings, and as private individuals we know perfectly well that there is more than one people - in fact, there are a great many people; and how is the one land to belong to all of them?

SIMEON. The state is the people. Let the land belong to the state.

RUPERT. Thou art minded that the occupier should pay his rent to the state.

PURITANS. No rent! no rent!

RUPERT. But if the occupier is to pay no rent, then each occupier becomes his own landlord.

PURITANS. Even so!

RUPERT. But in that case, you have more landlords than ever.

PURITANS. So we have! (All scratch their heads.)

RUPERT. Nor is the subject of celibacy as simple as it appeared. Ever since it was arranged that the disputed title to the Haddon estates should be settled by my marriage with fair Mistress Dorothy, my views upon this matter also have undergone a change. I feel the need of female sympathy. Nobody sympathizes with us, and when one comes to think of it, why should they?

PURITANS. Why should they?

RUPERT. It must be admitted that we have made ourselves fairly obnoxious of late. We have been particularly busy, and our business has chiefly consisted in interfering with everybody else's. First and foremost, we have abolished the playhouse.

PURITANS. Grace be praised!

RUPERT. Secondly, we have forbidden dance music in all place of public resort.

KILL-JOY. We have robbed the devil of his best tunes.

RUPERT. But to give that ingenious gentleman his due, he has to some extent circumvented us; for, by the simple expedient of playing the Old Hundredth in double time, he has succeeded in evolving from that venerable air something suspiciously resembling the carnal and pernicious polka. (PURITANS groan.) Thirdly, to the end that none shall profane the Sabbath by enjoying it, or shall imperil his soul by improving his mind, we have shut all museums, parks, and picture galleries, and turned the day of rest into a night of rust.

PURITANS. Grace be praised!

RUPERT. Fourthly, having deprived the populace of all means of innocent recreation, we have compelled them to seek solace in the consumption of strong drink.

NICODEMUS. Nay, verily; have we not closed all inns and taverns?

RUPERT. It is true that wholesome and necessary refreshment, either for man or beast, can no longer be procured in an open and honourable fashion; but I can give you my personal assurance that there exist scores of places where any quantity of deleterious concoctions can be obtained in a stealthy and disreputable manner.

PURITANS. (with unction) Grace be praised!

BARNABAS. Verily, these be notable good works.

RUPERT. But who's the better for them, Barnabas? Who is the better for us? I will go a step further. Are we the better for ourselves?

PURITANS. (look at one another). Ask us another!

RUPERT. I will ask you another. Are we comely to look upon?

PURITANS. Nay, verily!

RUPERT. Do we not consistently do everything we can to make everybody about us uncomfortable?

PURITANS. Yea, verily.

RUPERT. Do we enjoy ourselves?

KILL-JOY. All life is sack-cloth and ashes.

SIMEON. But our reward is to come.

RUPERT. Are ye sure of that? I have no wish to pose as an alarmist, but suppose we are making a bad debt? After a life spent in the mortification of the flesh, it would be a crowning mortification if it turned out that the flesh was not meant to be mortified; and it would be peculiarly irritating to discover that the flesh was intended to enjoy itself at the precise moment when he had no longer any flesh to enjoy.

SIMEON. But our reward is to come.

BARNABAS. Marry come up!

RUPERT. Well, Barnabas, continue. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that "marry" did "come up" — what then?

BARNABAS. I have nought more to say.

RUPERT. Then hold thy peace, and hearken to a wiser tongue than thine.


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