'And so ad infinitum' (The Life of the Insects)/Act 1

ACT I

THE BUTTERFLIES

A hill. Many flowers and bright-coloured cushions. In the C. a small table or bar, with high seats and coloured glasses containing cold drinks and straws.
Tramp. I say—I say! It ’s a bit of all right. What price the ’Eath now? Paradise—that ’s what it is, Paradise! And don’t it smell nice! Odi Colone, not ’alf.

Clytie runs in laughing, followed by Otto.

Otto. I love you, Clytie.[Exeunt.

Tramp. Butterflies! That ’s what they are. Butterflies, playin’. I’d like to stay ’ere and watch ’em if I wasn’t so—Never mind; they can kick me out if they like. I’ll lie down ’ere, comfortable.—’Pon my soul, I will. (He takes and arranges the cushions) (Sleepily) All right—that ’s what it is; all right.

Enter Felixa poet butterfly.

Felix. (Ecstatically) Iris! Iris! Where are you, Iris? If only I could find a rhyme for you!

All I desire is
Beautiful Iris . . .

No, that ’s wretched, commonplace.

The star to whom my thoughts aspire is
Iris, radiant Iris.

That ’s no better. I know! She will reject my passion and I shall then produce an exquisite lament. For instance,—

If only thou wert ill, hard-hearted Iris!
Then I could melt thee with my kind inquiries . . .[Laughter behind.

Listen! Iris! (He stands at the side, burying his face in his hands.)

Iris enters, followed by Victor.

Iris. All alone, Felix? And so picturesquely mournful?

Felix. You, Iris? I didn’t think—

Iris. Why aren’t you over there? So many pretty little flappers—

Felix. You know very well, Iris—they don’t interest me.

Iris. Poor little fellow—why not?

Victor (a lady-killer). You mean, they don’t interest you yet!

Felix. They interest me no longer.

Iris. Do you hear that, Victor? That ’s a nice thing to say to my face. Come here, you rude little man. Sit down close to me . . . No, close. You don’t call that close, do you? Tell me, my precious, don’t women really interest you any longer?

Felix. No–I’m weary of them.

Iris. (With a sigh) Oh, you men—you’re such cynics. You have your fun—as much fun as you can get—and then you say (imitating) ‘I’m weary of them’. It ’s a terrible thing to be a woman.

Victor. Why?

Iris. We never grow tired of love. Have you had a terrible past, Felix? When did you first fall in love?

Felix. I don’t know. I forget. It was so long ago. I was a schoolboy.

Victor. Ah, you were still a caterpillar. Gobbling up all the leaves.

Iris. A little kitty kitty kitty caterpillar. Was she dark and beautiful?

Felix. As beautiful—

Iris. As what?

Felix. As beautiful as you.

Iris. And did she love you?

Felix. I don’t know. I never spoke to her.

Iris. Good heavens! What did you do to her then?

Felix. I looked at her from afar.

Victor. Sitting on a green leaf?

Felix. And wrote poems, letters—my first novel.

Victor. It ’s appalling the number of leaves a caterpillar uses up.

Iris. Don’t be nasty, Victor. Look, his eyes are full of tears.

Victor. Tears? Poor little cry-baby.

Felix. They’re not, they’re not Iris. Let me see—look into my eyes quickly.

Victor. One, two, three, four—Ah! I knew he couldn’t hold out any longer.

Iris. What ’s the colour of my eyes, Felix dear?

Felix. Blue—like heaven.

Iris. Yours are brown—golden-brown. I don’t care for blue eyes, they’re so cold. Poor Clytie has green eyes, hasn’t she? Do you like Clytie’s eyes, Felix?

Felix. Clytie’s? I don’t know. Yes—she has beautiful eyes.

Iris. Oh, but her legs are dreadfully thick! You’re such bad judges of women, you poets.

Victor. Have you read the last poem that Felix published? It came out in the Spring Anthology.

Iris. Read it me, quickly.

Felix. No, no, I won’t let you read it to her. It ’s bad—it ’s old—I’ve passed that stage long ago.

Victor. It ’s called ‘The Eternal Life’.

Felix. You’re not to read it, really!

Victor. (Reads)

There ’s nothing true. The earth and sky
Were false when first created;
And you and I will surely lie
When love is consummated.

Iris. That ’s witty, isn’t it, Victor? How did you think of it? What ’s consummated, Felix?

Victor. From the Latin ‘consummare’. It means that Love has—ahem—achieved its aim.

Iris. What aim?

Victor. Well—the usual one.

Iris. Oh, how shocking, Felix. I’m afraid of you. Is Latin always so immoral?

Felix. Don’t, Iris. It ’s such a bad poem.

Iris. Why, bad?

Felix. There ’s no real passion in it.

Iris. Victor, you will find my fan in the garden.

Victor. Oh, don’t let me disturb you.[Exit.

Iris. Quick, Felix—tell me the truth. You can tell me everything.

Felix. Iris, Iris—how can you bear him? That fop, that silk-hatted satyr!

Iris. Victor?

Felix. How foully he thinks of love, of you, of everything.

Iris. Poor Victor—he ’s so soothing. No, Felix, talk about poetry. I’m fond of poetry . . .

‘Were false when first created’

Felix, you’re frightfully clever . . .

‘When love is consummated’

Tell me, Felix, poets are dreadfully, hideously, passionate, aren’t they?

Felix. Oh, Iris, I’ve grown out of what’s in that poem a long time.

Iris. If only that Latin word wasn’t so coarse. I can stand anything, anything, but it mustn’t have a horrid name. Felix, you must be tender and delicate with women. If I were to let you kiss me, you wouldn’t give me a horrid name, would you?

Felix. Iris, I wouldn’t dare to kiss you.

Iris. Be brave, little boy. Faint heart never won—Tell me, whom did you write that poem to? To Clytie?

Felix. No, no, no.

Iris. To whom, then?

Felix. To nobody, upon my honour, to nobody; or rather, to all the women in the world.

Iris. Good gracious ! All the women in the——Felix, you’re a terrible rake. But you must let me know one thing—who ’s your (whispering) ladybird now?

Felix. You won’t tell any one—you really won’t?

Iris. No.

Felix. I haven’t got one.

Iris. What?

Felix. Not yet—I swear it. (Very simply.)

Iris. Oh what a naughty fib! How many women have you told the tale to? I see through you, Felix. You’re a dangerous man.

Felix. Iris, dear, don’t laugh at me. I’ve had awful experiences—in my imagination. Terrible disappointments. Love-affairs without number—but only in my dreams. Dreams are the poet’s life. I know all women, and I’ve not known one—I swear it, Iris.

Iris. Then why do you say you are tired of women?

Felix. Oh, Iris, every one disparages the thing that he loves best.

Iris. Do you mean dark women? You love Clytie—the cat.

Felix. No—dreams, eternal dreams.

Iris. You have such passionate eyes, Felix. You’re awfully clever. What are you thinking about now?

Felix. About you. Woman is a riddle.

Iris. Guess it then. But not too roughly, please.

Felix. I cannot see into the depths of your eyes.

Iris. (Crossly) Oh, then look somewhere else.

Felix. Iris, I—

Iris. I’m in a queer mood to-day. How stupid it is to be a woman. I should like to be a man,—to kiss, to tempt, to overcome. Oh, Felix, I should make such a fearfully passionate man. I should—I should seize everything I wanted, brutally, savagely. What a pity you aren’t a girl. Let ’s pretend, shall we? You be Iris, and I’ll be your Felix.

Felix. No, Iris—it ’s too dangerous to be Felix. I couldn’t let you. It means desiring something, desiring something—

Iris. (In a whisper) Oh, Felix, not something—everything!

Felix. There is something greater than desiring everything.

Iris. Is there? What is it?

Felix. Desiring the impossible.

Iris. (Coldly and crossly) Oh, of course, you’re perfectly right. You’re always right—so right. What can be keeping Victor so long? Would you mind calling him?

Felix. Iris, I haven’t offended you? I haven’t said too much?

Iris. No—I shouldn’t call it too much!

Felix. To desire the unattainable. Iris, I was mad to talk to you like that.

Iris. Or at least impolite. Really, you know, you’re rather crude, my little man. When you’re in the company of ladies, you shouldn’t behave as if you were longing for something that isn’t there.

Felix. The unattainable is there.

Iris. (Looking round from her mirror) Where?

Felix. Your image, Iris.

Iris. My image? Have you fallen in love with my image? Look, my image has heard you. Kiss it quickly.

Felix. It is as unapproachable as you.

Iris. Am I unapproachable? How do you know?

Felix. If I didn’t know that, I shouldn’t love you.

Iris. But must one always be unapproachable?

Felix. There is no true love except in the unapproachable.

Iris. Do you think so? What about
‘shall surely lie
When love is’—
you know!

Felix. Don’t, Iris—not again.

Iris. Make a poem for me, quickly. Something passionate.

Felix. Now that at last we have met,
Think you I care what may follow?
Let me be snared in a net,
Let me be snapped by a swallow—

I shall have tasted of bliss,
I shall have flown where the fire is.
Ah, could we die in a kiss,
Beautiful exquisite Iris!

Iris. How perfect!

Clytie. (Outside) Iris! Iris!

Iris. That tiresome Clytie—with that awful hanger-on of hers—just as we—

Enter Clytie.

Clytie. Fancy, Iris—Otto says—Oh, you’ve got Felix here. How are you, Felix? Iris, you’ve been teasing him—he ’s blushing.

Enter Otto.

Otto. Got you now, Clytie—Oh, I beg your pardon. How do you do, Iris? How are you, my boy?

[Felix sits down, sighing.

Iris. You’re out of breath, Clytie.

Clytie. Otto has been chasing me.

Otto. She flew away, so I had to follow her.

Enter Victor.

Victor. Quite a little party.

Clytie. (Drinking) Oh, I’m so thirsty.

Iris. Take care of yourself, dearest. Victor, see how thin she ’s become again. You’re looking terrible—you really are.

Clytie. Thank you, darling. You will be a mother to me, won’t you?

Victor. Were you at the Garden Party yesterday?

Clytie. Yesterday? Pooh-that ’s ancient history.

Victor. Marvellous weather.

Iris. (To Clytie) Just a moment, dearest. What have you been doing? Your bodice is torn.

Clytie. Thank you, darling.—Felix You look so sad. What ’s the matter with you, my precious?

Felix. I’m thinking.

Clytie. Thinking? What do you keep thinking about?

Felix. Men’s minds were given them to use.

Clytie. And women’s?

Felix. To misuse.

Iris. Oh, isn’t that good, Felix!

Clytie. The nasty little fellow hates me.

Victor. Be careful, Clytie—that ’s the first step towards love.

Otto. Eh, what ’s that?

Iris. Felix and love? The idea! Why, he wrote something about women—wait . . .

Felix. Iris, how can you! Don’t!

Iris. There ’s nothing true. The earth and sky
Were false when first created;
And you and I will surely lie
When love is consummated.

Clytie. Will surely what?

Iris. ‘Surely lie ’, dearest.

Victor. Felix, you scoundrel—how many women have you lied to?

Otto. ‘And you and I will surely lie’—I see. Of course! ha, ha—very good.

Iris. ‘When love is consummated.’

Clytie. Wait—Otto ’s going to laugh again.

[He does so.

Iris. Felix is awfully clever. None of you could find a rhyme for ‘Iris’.

Clytie. Oh, couldn’t we!

Sometimes Iris,
A wicked liar is.

Felix. Oh, stop it, stop it!

Otto. Ha, ha! That ’s splendid. Iris, liar is.

Iris. Darling, you have such strange ideas about poetry. But you’ll never guess what a beautiful rhyme Felix made to my name. Guess.

Victor. Give it up.

Clytie. You must tell us.

Iris. (Triumphantly) ‘Fire is’!

Victor. What?

Iris. ‘I shall have flown where the fire is!’

Otto. Ha, ha, ha! ‘Fire is’,—that ’s jolly clever.

Iris. Oh, you’re horrid. You’ve no sense of art or poetry, or anything. I’ve no patience with you.

Victor. The rhymes of our little friend Felix
Are sweet as the honey a bee licks.

Iris. Splendid, Victor. You’re frightfully witty.

Clytie. Heavens, Victor ’s managed to produce a rhyme.

Otto. ‘Felix—bee licks’—that ’s good, damn good.

Victor. Poetry—what is it but lying and fooling?

Iris. Oh no, it stirs the feelings. I’m fearfully fond of it.

Otto. Ha! Blotto!

Clytie. Who ’s blotto?

Otto. Rhymes with Otto. Good—eh, what?

Iris. You’re terribly clever, Otto.

Otto. Lovely star!

Iris. Where? What do you mean?

Otto. That ’s the beginning of a poem.

Clytie. (Yawning) Oh, do stop talking this literary stuff. I’m fed up with it.

Victor. (Aside to Iris) Not so much as I’m fed up with her!

Iris. Are you? Are you really, Victor? I feel like kissing you. Catch me—catch me if you can.

[She runs off, and Victor after her.

Clytie. What a fright! What a figure!—Felix!

Felix. Yes?

Clytie. How ever could you fall in love with her?

Felix. With whom?

Clytie. With that dowdy thing!

Felix. Whom do you mean?

Clytie. Iris, of course.

Felix. I? What can you be thinking of? That was over—long ago.

Clytie. I understand. Iris is so awfully ignorant—and such thick ankles. Oh, Felix, at your age we have so many illusions about women.

Felix. I haven’t, Clytie. I passed that stage when I was a boy.

Clytie. No, Felix, you don’t know women. Sit here beside me—no, closer. You’ve no idea what they’re like—their minds, their souls, their bodies. You’re so young.

Felix. Oh, if I were! I’ve had so much experience.

Clytie. You must be young—it 's the fashion. To be young, a butterfly, and a poet—Is there anything more beautiful in the world?

Felix. It is not beautiful; it is an agony. The fate of the young is to suffer, and of a poet to suffer a hundredfold.

Clytie. It ’s the fate of a poet to be terribly happy. Ah, Felix, you remind me of my first love.

Felix. Who was he?

Clytie. Nobody—I forget. None of my lovers was the first. Ah, that Victor! I hate men. Let ’s be friends, Felix—like two girls together.

Felix. Like two girls?

Clytie. Love ’s nothing to you. Love ’s so common. I want something special, something pure, something new.

Felix. A poem.

Clytie. (Doubtfully) Yes, that’ll do—You see how much I like you.

Felix. Listen!

She came in the blue Spring weather,
Gay as a foxglove is;
And our two hearts rhymed together,
And our lips were one in a kiss.

Clytie. What ’s that?

Felix. A poem—the beginning.

Clytie. And how does it go on?

Felix. I’ll bring you the end in a minute. But I outgrow my work so quickly than when I reach the end I may have to alter the beginning.

Clytie. (In disgust) Bah! (To Otto) Now then, can’t you leave your moustache alone?

Otto. Love me, Clytie.

Clytie. Visitors are requested not to touch.

Otto. Love me, Clytie.

Clytie. Otto, you’re so irresistibly handsome.

Otto. I love you madly.

Clytie. I know—I know. Say ‘ninety-nine’.

Otto. Ninety-nine.

Clytie. Say it again.

Otto. Ninety-nine.

Clytie. How it rumbles in your chest—like thunder. Otto, you’re fearfully strong, aren’t you?

Otto. Cly-Cly-Cly——

Clytie. What ’s the matter now?

Otto. Love me, Clytie.

Clytie. Oh, don’t be tiresome.

Otto. Love me, love me now!

Clytie. (Flying off) Wait, wait, wait—don’t be impatient.

Otto. (After her) Love me, Clytie![Exeunt.

Tramp. There now—that poor male insec’!
Well, I’m blest—
Goin’ ’alf balmy for them flighty things! . . .
As fer that kind of female—why, she ’s jest
A man-trap ’idden be’ind two silky wings.

[Clytie flying in from the other side, and powdering herself at the mirror.

Clytie. Whew! Just managed to get away from him, only just!

Tramp. Ho! ’Igh Society, what? Powder yer nose,
Strip to yer waist—and let the rest show through!
Put it blunt-like—Lord Alf and Lady Rose
Be’ave exactly like them insec’s do.

Clytie. Are you a butterfly?

[Tramp throws his cap at her as if to catch her.

Aren’t you a butterfly?

Tramp. I’m a man.

Clytie. What ’s that ? Is it alive?

Tramp. Well, in a manner o’ speakin’, lady.

Clytie. (Flying up to him) Can it love?

Tramp. Oh yus. Reg’lar butterfly.

Clytie. How thrilling you are: Why do you have black down on your face? And—oh, it pricks!

Tramp. Down! That ’s scrub. ’Aven’t shaved for a fortnight, I ’aven’t.

Clytie. There ’s a fragrance in the air about you.

Tramp. Stale baccy—that ’s what it is.

Clytie. So delicious—so new!

Tramp. (Throwing cap again) Shoo, yer ’ussy!

Clytie. (Flying away) Chase me, chase me!

Tramp. Oh, you baggage, you.

Clytie. (Approaching) Let me come near you. You are so unusual.

Tramp. I’ve met the likes of you afore, I ’ave. (Catches her hands) I’ve ’eld ’er ’ands like this, and told ’er if she’d smile at me I’d let ’er go—and then I let ’er go. Better for me and better for ’er, if I’d killed ’er straight off. (Lets her go) ’Ere, sling yer ’ook. I don’t want yer.

Clytie. (Flying away to mirror) How strange you are!

Tramp. Oh, yer strumpet, you, yer painted ’arlot!

Clytie. (To him again) Say it again, say it again, so strange, so coarse—I——

Tramp. Garn—yer white-faced ’arridan! Isn’t that enough for yer?

Clytie. I love you, I love you!

Tramp. Go—get a move on. I ’ate the sight of yer.

Clytie. Oh, you wretch! (She returns to the mirror.)

Iris. (Running, out of breath) Something to drink—quick!

Clytie. Where have you been?

Iris. On the hill-tops—it was so hot.

Clytie. Where did you leave Victor?

Iris. Victor? Who ’s Victor?

Clytie. Why, you went off with him.

Iris. Oh yes, of course—but that was only fun. I remember now. Something awfully funny happened. It’ll make you scream. He kept running after me—ha, ha, ha.

Clytie. Why did you leave him?

Iris. I’m telling you. He kept running after me, and suddenly—ha, ha, ha. A bird flew along and ate him up!

Clytie. You don’t say!

Iris. As true as I’m standing here. I thought I should have died. (She bursts into laughter and buries her head in the cushions.)

Clytie. What is the matter with you?

Iris. Oh, those men!

Clytie. Do you mean Victor?

Iris. No—Otto. Victor was eaten by a bird. Just fancy—immediately after, up came your Otto. Oh, the look in his eyes—all on fire—and then—ha, ha, ha!

Clytie. What then?

Iris. He came after me. ‘Love me, Iris,’ he said, ‘love me, love me.’

Clytie. Well, did you?

Iris. Ha, hal Guess again. ‘Love me, Iris, love me!’

Felix. (Flying in with a pen in his hand) Here it is, Clytie, listen!

She came in the light Spring weather,
Gay as a jonquil is——

[Iris laughs hysterically.

What ’s the matter?

Iris. What a vulgar fellow! I could have strangled him.

Clytie. Otto?

Felix. Listen, Clytie—

And our two hearts rhymed together
And our lips were one in a kiss.
She said, ‘How strange to discover.
The lessons a kiss can teach!
You have turned a child to a lover
As a peach-flower turns to a peach.’

Iris. Is my hair horribly untidy?

Clytie. Horribly. Let me, darling—Beast!

Iris. You’re angry, aren’t you? (Imitating) Otto loves wonderfully.

Enter Otto.

Otto.I love you, Iris.

Iris. Catch me if you can.[Exit.

Otto. I love you, Clytie.

Clytie. Follow me, follow me.[Exeunt.

Felix. Wait, wait!

Tramp. Fool!

Felix. Who ’s that? Somebody, anyway. I’ll read you the end.

I answered ‘But each new-comer
Is only Supreme for an hour . . .

Tramp. (Striking at him with his cap) Shoo!

FeIix. (Flying about)

I answered ‘But each new-comer.
Is only supreme for an hour.
The fruit may fall with the summer
But Spring will renew the flower.’

All the Butterflies enter fluttering.

Tramp. Butterflies! Nice birds them butterflies!

CURTAIN.