A PLAY IN ONE ACT
Scene: The Master Butcher’s study—a plain but comfortable furnished room, with centre table covered with trade journals, &c. The only ornament is a pair of pole-axes, hung crosswise over the fire-place to left. There is a door to right; and through another, half-open door leading to dining-room, at the back, there is the glimpse of a tea-table spread as if for company. William Redburn, the Master Butcher, is sitting at the table, holding up a newspaper to the light. He is a man of about sixty, with grey hair, ruddy face, slow, dogged, obstinate manner, and somewhat dazed expression. He is dressed in a dark suit, and wears eye-glasses. Nellie Redburn, his niece, a fair, slight girl of about twenty-five, is hovering in and out of the rooms, arranging furniture, papers, &c.
REDBURN: What time is it, Nellie?
NELLIE R.: Three o’clock, uncle.
REDBURN: Then while we’re waiting for ’em, just read me these quotations from the Meat Trades’ Journal (tossing her the paper), and save my eyes a bit.
NELLIE R.: To-day, uncle?
REDBURN: Yes, yes. Why waste five minutes to-day more than any other day? Never waste time, girl. That’s the principle that I’ve always worked on—or I’d never have been a Master Butcher.
NELLIE R. (taking the paper with a slight shrug, and reading in a low, toneless voice): “London Central. Beef firm. Mutton rather quiet—”
REDBURN: Eh? What? Speak up, girl. What’s rather quiet?
NELLIE R.: Mutton, uncle. (Continues reading.) “Beef, Scotch, 4/8 to 5/-; English, 4/- to 4/2; American, Deptford-killed, 3/10 to 4/-; refrigerated hind-quarters, 4/- to 4/2; fore-quarters, 2/8 to 2/10.” (Pauses, with signs of disgust.)
REDBURN: Well, go on; go on, Nellie.
NELLIE R. (continuing): “Hides firm; offal,—” (Throwing down the paper, and coming round and kneeling by him.) Oh, I can’t, uncle! Now, do be nice, and talk of something pleasanter—to-day, at any rate!
REDBURN: Something pleasanter! What could be pleasanter, girl? Oh, ah! I remember—you’ve got those silly humanitarian ideas in your head, from the stuff you’ve been reading. Now, I’ll tell you what it is, Nellie, and you may as well know it before your Aunt Maria and the rest of ’em come in. I wrote yesterday to this young spark of yours, and told him what I’m going to tell our family party to-day–that I only give my consent to the match on one condition.
NELLIE R. (coaxingly): And what’s that, uncle? Now, do be kind, uncle—just for once!
REDBURN: Ah, yes, you think to get round me, girl, as you get round everybody. But I stick to this–you see if I don’t. I never go from my word, you know.
NELLIE R.: Well, what is it, uncle?
REDBURN (with emphasis, striking the table): You marry none but a Master Butcher.
NELLIE R. (springing up): A Master Butcher! A Master Butcher! Why—
REDBURN: Yes, I know what you’re going to say. Your friend Jack Softly isn’t a Master Butcher. But he can learn to be one. He and you must drop this stuff and nonsense about vegetarianism and the like. I have told him we must talk it over this afternoon, before anything’s considered settled, and that I’ve asked Dr. Pillson, as an old friend of the family, to come in and put him straight.
NELLIE R.: What, the rude Dr. Pillson! He’s a perfect bear. As if he could put anyone straight! He only puts one’s back up. Aunt Maria can’t endure him, you know.
REDBURN: Nonsense, girl. Pillson’s a man of the highest medical reputation. Why, his practice is the largest in the district, and he’s a most popular lecturer on diet. What Pillson don’t know on that subject ain’t worth knowing, they tell me. Then there’s old Matthew Softly; he’ll have to be considered too, I suppose, if his nephew’s going to get married. What d’ye think he’ll say to this new fad of yours?
NELLIE R.: Oh, he’s all right, uncle. He’s got a fad of his own, you know. He can’t think or talk of anything but that.
REDBURN: Ay, that’s true enough, girl; but it don’t follow that, because a man’s got a fad of his own, he’ll take kindly to other people’s. Now mark me; it’s not that I think much of old Matt’s hobby-horse–that precious “Softly Slaughter System” for which he’s taken out a patent and had a trial yesterday (laughs), but though a bit of a crank, he’s a man of substance, mind you, and in a position to give this nephew of his a fair start in the trade.
NELLIE R.: But, uncle, Jack’s got his own profession (proudly). He’s on the stage. And he means to be proprietor of a first-class theatre before he’s done with it.
REDBURN: Nonsense girl. He’ll have to come off the stage, I tell you, and try the shambles. That’ll have to be his stage–if he wants to marry my niece. (Rapping on the table.) There’s my offer, and now it rests for him to say Yes or No to it. I stick to my word—through thick and thin.
NELLIE R.: But, uncle, Jack has a little money of his own, you know, and so have I.
REDBURN: A little money of your own, have you? Precious little, to be sure! Do you mean to live on grass, then, like Nebuchadnezzar? Oh, these faddists, these faddists, spoiling trade and disturbing people’s minds with their damnable heresies! Read your Bible, girl, read your Bible, and eat your beef, like a Christian.
NELLIE R.: But you don’t understand, uncle—(A rap on the right-hand door is heard.) Oh, it’s Jack, I expect. (Runs towards door.)
REDBURN (strongly): Come in, come in.
[Prefessor Grillman enters smilingly, followed by a maidservant vainly trying to detain him. He is a spectacled, bearded man, of swarthy complexion and outlandish appearance. He carries a black bag.]
REDBURN: Who the deuce—
NELLIE R.: Hush, uncle! (They advance enquiringly towards the stranger.)
PROF. GRILLMAN (bowing, and speaking with barbaric accent, and he hands R. his card): Excuse me, Sar, I introduce meself to you and de lady. Professor Grillman, Sar. You are Mister Redburn—de well-known Master Butcher.
REDBURN: I am, Sir. But there’s some mistake I fear—
PROF. GRILLMAN: Not at all, Sar. I hab come to consult you on de business—to compar notes, as you English say, on de national killing customs—de butcher-house, you call it
REDBURN: Very pleased, Sir, at some other time; but his afternoon I am not at liberty—family matters, you know.
PROF. GRILLMAN (with much deliberation, taking off his overcoat and hanging it on the hinge of the door at back): Do not mention it, Sar. I will wait. I lub to listen, to observe, to creeticise. I am a vilsover, Sar; a man ob science and ob action, like yourself. (Puts his bag on the floor, takes a paper, adjusts his spectacles, and sits down at the table.)
REDBURN (hoarsely, to Nellie R.): What the deuce are we to do with the fellow? Is he an escaped lunatic, or what? Why on earth did Susan let him in?
NELLIE R. (who has been watching Prof. G. closely): Oh, I don’t know, uncle, I’m sure (giggling). He seems harmless, anyhow. Does it matter his being here? (Goes into an irrepressible fit of laughter.)
REDBURN: It’s no joke, girl. You must behave yourself—for your own sake—if you want this business of yours to be settled. (Looking toward the Professor) Now what the deuce—
[Enter Mrs Highfield, Redburn’s sister, announced by the servant. She is a tall, distinguished-looking woman of æthetic appearance, and supercilious manner.]
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Good afternoon, William. Good afternoon, Nellie (pauses, seeing their embarrassment). You expected me?
REDBURN: That’s right, Maria, that’s right. Take your aunt in there, Nellie (pointing to door at back), will you. (Aside) I’ll have got him out by the time.
[Exeunt Nellie R. and Mrs. Highfield by door at back.]
REDBURN (to Prof. G. attempting to lead the way to the right-hand door, while the Professor resolutely ignores the hint): Now, Sir, what can I do for you? Some other afternoon, perhaps—
[Enter Mr. Matthew Softly, announced by the servant. He is a small, shrunken man, of middle age, with eager, excited manner.]
MATTHEW SOFTLY: Good afternoon, Redburn. Oh! You ought to have been present yesterday at the exhibition of my killing apparatus. It was the sweetest, loveliest sight you ever dreamt of. Three bullocks, half-a-dozen sheep, and a pig or two—all worked off without a hitch. It made one’s mouth water to see it. You’ll have to adopt it, Redburn, and give up those old, blundering, knock-’em-down and stick-’em methods. (Redburn shakes his head.) Why, man, my system’s not slaughtering at all: it’s a picture, a work of art. I mean to exhibit it at the Arts and Crafts next season. It’s the most—(trips over Prof. Grillman’s bag, and sees the Professor, who rises.) But who’s this gentleman? One of ourselves, no doubt. (In spite of Redburn’s signs and head-shaking) Glad to see you, Sir. You’ve heard of the Softly Slaughter System, perhaps?
PROF. GRILLMAN (rising): I have, Sar, often and often. It is the vish of my life to see it, and to compar it with my own. I am Professor Grillman, Sar, an expert, a fellow expert, I may say. (They greet each other cordially.)
MATTHEW SOFTLY (entirely captivated by Prof. Grillman’s manner): You shall see it, Sir; you shall see it in action. Now, the principle of the system (producing a pamphlet) is clearly stated in this little work—
REDBURN: Excuse me, Softly, but we have important business, you know. (To Professor G.) Another afternoon, perhaps, Sir—
[Enter Dr. Pillson, announced. He is a middle-aged man, with flowing beard. He has harsh, grated voice and breezy dictatorial manner.]
DR. PILLSON: Good afternoon, Redburn. What! Not all here yet? Time’s precious, you know, to me at any rate. I’ve a patient expecting me close by.
[Re-enter Mrs. Highfield and Nellie R. from door at back. There are introductions and greetings.]
MRS. HIGHFIELD (to Redburn indicating the Professor): Who is that gentleman, William? I have not the honour of his acquaintance.
REDBURN (testily): No more than I, Maria, no more than I. He’s a perfect stranger to me, but I can’t get him out.
MATT. SOFTLY: Let him stay, Redburn; that’s my advice. He seems a sensible fellow, whoever he is, and we can do the introductions afterwards.
REDBURN (resignedly): Shall we sit down, then, ladies and gentlemen? Dr. Pillson’s time is valuable, and we’re all here, I think—(pauses dazed) except your nephew, Mr. Softly.
DR. PILLSON: H’m. Rather an important exception, under the circumstances. (To Matt. Softly) What’s become of the young man?
MATT. SOFTLY: Oh Jack will be here in a minute or two, no doubt. Meantime, I might just explain to the company that the Softly System, as is shewn in this little pamphlet–
REDBURN (Interrupting): Let us sit down, please. (They sit round the table, Redburn at right-hand end, with the others on either side. The left-hand end of the table being left vacant is gracefully taken by the Professor.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, our business this afternoon, as you all know, is the proposed engagement between Mr. John Softly and Miss Nellie Redburn, my niece. The young people appear to have fixed it up very much to their liking, but we older ones are minded to have a voice in the matter—Eh, Softly?
MATT. SOFTLY (deep in a perusal of his pamphlet): What’s that, Redburn? Oh, yes, of course—certainly—most important.
REDBURN: Mr. Softly will speak for himself; but as far as I am concerned, there is one condition on which I must insist—(evading the efforts of Nellie R. to silence him) yes, I hold to my word, girl—and that is that no niece of mine shall marry anyone but a Master Butcher (tapping on the table and looking round the company)—a Master Butcher, I say.
MATT. SOFTLY: With the proviso, I would suggest, that none but the Softly System be employed in the establishment.
REDBURN: Oh, hang your system, Softly! I’d undertake to fell a dozen beasts before you’d fixed up your gear.
MRS. HIGHFIELD: My dear William! I must say I wish you could keep the profession question a little more in the background. To be practical, to be business-like, is all very well; but is it necessary to be vulgar?
DR. PILLSON: Vulgar! Stuff and nonsense, madam. Mr. Redburn’s stipulation is a most sensible one.
MRS. HIGHFIELD (loftily): Thank you, Sir. It was you whom I was addressing, William.
REDBURN: Ah, you were always the grand lady, Maria; but, you see, I’m not ashamed of the profession as you are. It was our father’s business before us, and it’s to the butchering trade that you owe all your fineries and accomplishments, disguise it as you will. Where would “high art” be, I’d like to know, if it were not for the slaughter-house? No, no; I’m a plain Master Butcher myself, and there (pointing to the pole-axes over the mantel) are the arms of our family. I’ll receive no suitor who isn’t worthy to wield ’em. That’s my last word on the subject, and I’m not to be moved from it.
DR. PILLSON: Hear, hear, Redburn. A most proper feeling.
MRS. HIGHFIELD: To some people’s taste, perhaps.
DR. PILLSON: Yes, madam, to mine. I am here to-day, by Mr. Redburn’s request, at much personal inconvenience, and I must say I consider the absence of Mr. John Softly most disrespectful to the company, and to myself. I have come specially to explain to him the folly of the so-called humanitarian craze, which I regret to hear he has taken up, to—
[Enter the servant, who hands a note to Redburn with the remark, “From Mr. John Softly, Sir.”]
REDBURN: Ah! (Opening the note and glancing over it) H’m. Very extraordinary indeed. He writes: “I must apologise most sincerely for not being able to be with you until about four o’clock. I am very sorry for it, but it is unavoidable.” And so, and so on. “I may, however, say at once, that I hardly see how I can fulfil that condition you insist on—of becoming a Master Butcher—nor, I am sure, would Miss Redburn accept me if I did so. I am a humanitarian by principle, and by profession an actor, and it is as such that I have ventured to make my proposal to your niece. It was thoughtful of you to ask Dr. Pillson to come to talk to me on the food question, but I fear even his arguments would fail to convince me.” That’s about all.
DR. PILLSON (to Matt. Softly): Is it possible, Sir, that your nephew has fallen a victim to this absurd delusion? To what extent does he carry it?
MATT. SOFTLY: Well, really, Doctor, I hardly know. My nephew is a young man of somewhat erratic temperament, as absorbed in his new ideas as I am absorbed in my inventions, so we see little of each other. I have certainly been surprised at his lack of interest in the Softly System. (To Nellie R.) Perhaps the young lady can enlighten us?
NELLIE R.: It’s quite true, Mr. Softly. Jack and I are both Vegetarians—we’re members of the Humanitarian League. I’m sure you and Uncle William will be kind about it, as you see we feel so strongly on the subject.
MATT. SOFTLY: But, my dear Miss Nellie, under my system there is no pain whatever. It is a euthanasia for the animals concerned. I can vouch for the fact that they positively enjoy it—they won’t be happy till they get it, as the advertisement says. It would be cruelty to deprive them of such a death by ceasing to eat meat. Think how miserably they would starve and die if left to themselves!
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Yes, Nellie, what would become of the animals if we didn’t eat them? They’d be running wild in tens of thousands everywhere!
NELLIE R. (smiling): But would they aunt? We don’t eat donkeys at present, yet we’re not overrun by them.
DR. PILLSON (glancing at Mrs. Highfield): H’m. I don’t know about that.
MRS. HIGHFIELD (to Dr. Pillson): I beg your pardon, Sir?
DR. PILLSON: Oh, nothing, Madam, nothing. Now my dear young lady—(to Nellie R.)—let me explain to you, as your young man has not had the courage to be present–let me explain why this so-called humane diet will not do.
REDBURN: Ay, that’s right! Tell us the scientific reasons, doctor.
NELLIE R.: And the moral reasons also, Dr. Pillson. They have to be considered too.
REDBURN: The moral reasons! Eh? What are they girl?
DR. PILLSON: Pooh! Where do moral reasons come in, Miss Redburn? It is simply a matter of chemistry and science.
PROF. GRILLMAN (who has been a silent but intent listener throughout, occasionally stealing a glance at Nellie R. who has avoided meeting his eye): Ah, de Science, Dr. Pillson—dat is goot! (They start, having half forgotten his presence.) I, too, am a man ob Science, Sar.
DR. PILLSON (ignoring him: in his best lecturing manner): Well, then, the scientific reason for flesh-eating, like all great truths, is a simple one. The object of all eating is to digest one’s food: the test of the value of all food is its digestibility. Now, we know from Hoffman’s experiments that the liker any substance is to our own composition, the more easily do we assimilate it. Think what that means, ladies and gentlemen. What substance is likest to our own composition? Not vegetable fibre, surely?
REDBURN (triumphantly): What’s likest? Why, beef and mutton, of course. You’ve hit it, doctor. I knew you would. I wish Jack could hear you.
PROF. GRILLMAN: But stay! It is nonsense! De flesh of animals—dat is not de likest to our own gomposition. No, no! De doctor, he not mean that.
DR. PILLSON: Yes, I do, Sir. How dare you contradict me? What else should I mean, pray?
PROF. GRILLMAN: What else? And he call himself man ob science! Why, de likest to our own gomposition is de human flesh, ob course. Or is de ox, de sheep, de pig, yes, and de donkey dat you spoke of, liker to yourself, Sar?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Hear, hear? (Aside to Redburn) So our scientist has met his match, it seems.
REDBURN (dazed): Eh! What’s that? The doctor ’ll have the last word, I bet.
DR. PILLSON (to Prof. G.): And pray, Sir, where do you hail from, that you speak with such assurance?
PROF. GRILLMAN: I hail from de Cannibal Islands, Sar. Plenty ob flesh-eating there I can tell you! De long-pig, ladies and gentlemen, de joint ob roast man—ah, very goot, very digestible indeed!
[They all start back in horror, except Nellie R. who is again seized with laughter.]
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Ugh! How horrible! How disgusting! Nellie, how can you laugh?
REDBURN (shocked): Come, come, Professor; we can’t stand that here. We live in a Christian country, we do.
MATT. SOFTLY: If you would but adopt the Softly System, Professor Grillman, it would work wonders in your part of the world.
DR. PILLSON (to Prof. G.): Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, Sir, to talk openly of eating human flesh?
PROF. GRILLMAN: But, my goot friends, what would become ob de slaves and prisoners if we did not eat them? Why, dey would oberrun de land and eat us! Besides, dey were “sent” us for food, were dey not? And de Scripture tell us, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Dat is a text we obey in de Cannibal Islands, I assure you.
DR. PILLSON: Nonsense, Sir. What you say is immoral sophistry. There is not an atom of excuse for your horrible diet.
PROF. GRILLMAN: Aha, doctor, but what you say just now, when de young lady spoke ob moral reasons? “Pooh,” you say, “It is simply a matter ob chemistry and de science.” I gib you more science than you care for, it seems.
DR. PILLSON (rising): You are impertinent, Sir. I do not argue with cannibals.
PROF. GRILLMAN: Bah! you are sentimentalist, doctor. You take de emotional view ob de food question. (Opening his bag, and taking out what resembles a black ham.) Well, den, if you will not argue, look at dis. Here is what is truly likest to our gomposition—a piece ob de long pig. (Sensation.)
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Ugh! It is sickening. Some water, Nellie. I am faint.
REDBURN (whose professional interest is aroused): What! D’ye mean to say that this is—? Did you kill it yourself, Professor? Well, I’d have sworn it was a smoked ham.
DR. PILLSON: I must be off, Redburn, to see that patient of mine.
REDBURN: Eh? What’s this, Pillson? Running away, man? Have I put my money on the wrong horse after all?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Or donkey, William? We are overrun with them, he said.
DR. PILLSON: Pooh, pooh, Redburn. I’ll make it all clear to your friends by and bye. But this patient of mine—it’s a serious case, you see.
[Exit Dr. Pillson.]
REDBURN: Well, I’d never have believed it of the doctor that he’d leave me in the lurch like this. I thought he’d more fight in him. Here’s this grand old profession of mine, the butchering business, in need of a champion; and just when I want the doctor to give the scientific reasons for it, he turns tail and makes off.
MATT. SOFTLY: Perhaps the Professor will do what you want, Redburn. (To Prof. G.) Will you kindly tell us, Sir, what your methods are—out there? Now, the method of the Softly System is this—
REDBURN: Yes, how do you work it, Professor? Knife, poleaxe, or what?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: I beg your pardon, Mr. Softly! If you please, Professor Grillman! Not before ladies, at any rate!
NELLIE R.: Well, aunt, if ladies eat meat, oughtn’t they to know how it’s got from for them?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: It is a question of taste, my dear. There are things which it is not agreeable to talk of, but which have to be done.
NELLIE R.: But have they, aunt? That’s just the question. Until we talk of them, how do we know?
MATT. SOFTLY: It all depends, ladies, on how they are done. I quite agree with Miss Nellie and my nephew, that to butcher animals by the ordinary methods is horrible. But there are better ways. Now, the advantage of my system is this–
REDBURN (interrupting testily): Oh, confound your system, Softly. You can talk of nothing but that darned old apparatus of yours.
NELLIE R.: Hush uncle! Mr. Softly is vexed.
MATT. SOFTLY (incensed): Come, come, Redburn; fair words if you please! I know what your system is, and the less said about it the better. If the public knew what goes on in your slaughter-houses, you couldn’t be quite the respected gentleman you are. (To Mrs. Highfield) You may take it from me, madam, that in your brother’s establishment calves often bled to death, and sheep skinned alive—
REDBURN (angrily): It’s a lie; it’s a lie!
NELLIE R.: Uncle, uncle!
MRS. HIGHFIELD (rising): This is too disgusting—
PROF. GRILLMAN (calming the storm): Ladies and gentlemen, be zeated, be zeated, I implore you! Let me gib you, Sar (to Redburn), de scientific reasons, and you, Miss (to Nellie R.), de moral reasons, for de justification ob de butchering. Ah, how grand de business ob de butcher!—
REDBURN (pacified): Hear, hear! That’s better.
PROF. GRILLMAN: Bah! how it anger me to hear the half-hearted defence oh dis noble profession, dis “fine art,” as it should be called rather!
MATT. SOFTLY: As it might be, you mean, Professor, if you adopted—
PROF. GRILLMAN: De scientific reasons–it is what de learned fool Pillson first said, and then ran away from—dat de most digestible food is de likest to ourselves, and dat is de roast man, yes, de roast man, I tell you. De moral reason, it is dat it is more kind to eat de poor captives and criminals than to keep them in de prison—and who will deny dat?
REDBURN: That’s true, that’s true, Professor. Odd I never thought of it before!
MATT. SOFTLY: It all depends on the system, Professor, it all depends of the system. Now, it’s the beauty of my method—
PROF. GRILLMAN: I tell you de butchery is at its best when you hab it pure and simple in de state of nature—when de man eats de man–and de woman also (with a pleasant smile to Mrs. Highfield). Ah, de many blessings ob de butcher-house! How it brings healthy life to de many, and painless death to de few! Ah, how goot it is to be a Master Butcher!
REDBURN (carried away by enthusiasm, and going round to Prof. G.): Bravo, bravo, Professor! And are you a Master Butcher, Sir? I thought you were! Give me your hand! (They Shake hands effusively.)
MRS. HIGHFIELD (aside to Redburn): But, William, please remember that we know nothing of this man, except that he is a cannibal. Think what an odd appearance it will have—
REDBURN: I don’t care, Maria, I don’t care. Cannibal or not he’s a real good ’un at heart, and a Master Butcher into the bargain.
NELLIE REDBURN: Don’t you think, aunt, as Jack has not come, we’d better go in to tea? It’ll serve him right if he gets none. Uncle, bring Mr. Softly and the Professor in to tea, will you?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Yes, let us go, my dear. This conversation has been in execrable taste from the beginning.
[Exeunt Mrs. H., Nellie R., and Redburn by door at back.]
MATT. SOFTLY: Now will you fix a date, my dear Professor, for seeing my system at work? It would be quite invaluable in your part of the world. It’s a thing neither Christians nor cannibals should be without. And they have a good deal in common, you know.
PROF. GRILLMAN: With pleasure, Sir. But what ob dis nephew ob yours? I am eenterested in what I hab heard ob de young man, and hope you will favour his suit for de young lady—
NELLIE R. (re-entering): Mr. Softly, uncle wants you to come and have some tea.
MATT. SOFTLY: Oh, thank you. Yes, certainly, my dear, with pleasure. Then we’ll fix to-morrow, Professor? That’s agreed.
[Exit, by door at back]
NELLIE R. (turning, and leaning through the doorway, with a quizzical expression): And you, Professor Grillman, will you not hab de refreshment?
PROF. GRILLMAN: Come here, come here, young lady, ib you please. I wish to speak with you. (She advances to where he stands, after shutting the door.) Didn’t I do it well, Nellie?
NELLIE R.: Do it well? And you call yourself an actor, Jack! Why, I’ve been simply trembling for you every moment! It’s been the most transparent absurdity—they must all be half-asleep to be taken in by it!
PROF. GRILLMAN: Oh, nonsense, Nellie. I’ve been practising it all the morning, and got it almost perfect. When did you being to suspect me?
NELLIE R.: When? Why, the very first moment, of course. What on earth did you do it for?
PROF. GRILLMAN: Because of your uncle’s letter. I wanted to turn the laugh against Pillson, and show what I could do in the part of Master Butcher. (Taking her hand) And now, you see, I’ve made good my claim and satisfied your uncle. He can’t refuse me now. He never goes back from his word, you know.
NELLIE R.: Ah, poor old uncle! He thinks he has a will of iron, but in reality he’s so kind-hearted that he can’t refuse anything to anybody—for long.
PROF. GRILLMAN: Always excepting the sheep and oxen in his slaughter-house, I suppose.
NELLIE R.: I’m perfectly certain, Jack, that if the sheep and oxen were able to speak—or rather, if uncle could understand what they were saying—he wouldn’t be able to kill a single one of them.
PROF. GRILLMAN: And he prides himself on being a Master Butcher! So much for human consistency! Well, what am I to do next? They’ll all be back in a moment. Am I to be the Professor or myself? Tell me Nellie—
[While they have been talking, William Redburn has re-entered from door at back. Seeing Prof. Grillman holding his niece’s hand, he gazes stupefied for a moment, until he is joined by Mrs. Highfield and Matthew Softly, who watch in amazement.]
REDBURN (loudly): What’s this? How dare you, Sir? in my own house!
MRS. HIGHFIELD: And a cannibal, too! How could you, Nellie! I am disgusted with you!
MATT. SOFTLY: Have you forgotten, Professor, that his young lady is engaged to my nephew, Mr. John Softly, who may arrive any moment?
PROF. GRILLMAN: Oh, neber mind, Sar. I will make it right wid de young man, if he come.
REDBURN (with uncontrollable indignation): “Make it right,” he says! Does he think I’ll allow a cannibal to “make it right” with my niece’s suitor? I’ll “make it right” for the scoundrel, I will, as sure as I’m a Master Butcher. (Takes down one of the pole-axes from over the mantel.)
NELLIE R.: Uncle! Uncle!
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Oh, horrible! There’ll be murder done. (To Matt. Softly.) Stop him! stop him, I implore you!
MATT. SOFTLY: Control yourself, Redburn, control yourself. You should at least use my apparatus in such a case. The pole-axe is far too barbarous an implement.
REDBURN: Barbarous be blowed! I’ll teach the fellow to insult the niece of a Master Butcher.
PROF. GRILLMAN (flourishing the joint of “long pig”): Come on, come on, all of you! Who wish to be made into long pig first? I’m a Master Butcher myself, and de young lady hab accepted me.
ALL (in amazement): What? Accepted you?
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Nellie, is it possible you have so far forgotten yourself?
MATT. SOFTLY: And my nephew?
REDBURN: If you’ve treated Jack Softly like this, girl, all I can say is—out you go. There’s my word on it. What? You laugh, do you?
NELLIE R. (who has been laughing too much to speak): No, no, I refused him. Oh, Uncle—Aunt Maria—can’t you see who it is? Why, it’s—
PROF. GRILLMAN: De young lady hab accepted me, I tell you, and I am a Master Butcher too, Sar.
REDBURN (huskily): I’ll Master-Butcher you, you gory cannibal!
NELLIE R.: Uncle, uncle! Why, it’s Jack himself! Don’t you recognise him? (Sensation.)
JACK SOFTLY (throwing off his disguises): Yes, here I am, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’ll excuse this outlandish way of presenting myself. All’s fair in love, you know.
REDBURN (dazed): Eh? What’s that? Jack Softly—Cannibal—Professor—Master Butcher? I’m fair beaten by it.
JACK SOFTLY: Yes, Master Butcher—that’s my title, Sir. I lay particular stress on it.
MRS. HIGHFIELD (admiringly): Bravo! Capital! I congratulate you, Jack. You’re a born actor. Aren’t you proud of him, Mr. Softly?
MATT. SOFTLY (dejectedly): Oh, yes, of course I am, madam; very proud. But I’m a little disappointed, you see, about the loss of Professor Grillman. It isn’t everyone who is so interested in the Softly System as he was. He’d just made an appointment to see it at work to-morrow.
JACK SOFTLY: Cheer up, uncle! The Professor shall always be at your service when you want to chat to him. (To Wm. Redburn) And now, Sir, having fulfilled my part of the bargain, I ask you to fulfil yours.
REDBURN: Eh? What? I don’t understand you, lad. What is it?
JACK SOFTLY: Your niece must marry a Master Butcher, you said. Very well, then. I’m one. I ask you to keep your word.
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Yes, your word, William, your word! You never go back from your word, you know!
NELLIE R. (coaxingly): Now do be kind, uncle! You won’t refuse us, will you?
REDBURN (resignedly): Ah, yes, girl; you’ve got round me—as usual. Well, Softly, what do you say to it? I’m cornered, it seems, since that humbugging doctor left me in the lurch.
[Enter Dr. Pillson, announced by the servant.]
DR. PILLSON (breezily): Well, Redburn, so your young man has arrived I see. And what have you done with the cannibal?
REDBURN: Done with him? The same as you do with your patients, Doctor, we’ve buried him—that’s what we’ve done. [Dr. P. frowns.] Oh, well, you’re too late here, Doctor. While you were talking all that darned scientific clap-trap, these two young cabbage-eaters have settled the whole business out of hand. It’s a case of Nebuchadnezzar first and Pillson nowhere. So clear out, will you? [threatening him] or you’ll get a touch of pole-axe, as sure as I am a Master Butcher.
[Exit Dr. P. hastily, amid general laughter.]
MRS. HIGHFIELD: Well done, William! How like you! Professional to the last!
REDBURN: Ay, that I am Maria; and a grand old profession it is. (To Matt. Softly) But come now, Softly, what do you say to this match?
MATT. SOFTLY: I make no objection, Redburn; none whatever. On the contrary, I heartily approve of it, and propose to give the young people, as a wedding present, a silver model of the Softly apparatus in complete working order.
NELLIE R. and JACK SOFTLY: Oh, thank you, thank you! How interesting! We shall value it immensely.
REDBURN (not to be outdone): Oh, that’s it, is it? Well then, I propose to give the youngster this rare old pole-axe of mine (handing the pole-axe to Jack S.). He can fell his cabbages with it, if he won’t fell anything else.
JACK SOFTLY (holding the pole-axe in front of him, while the others stand round in a group): I thank you, Sir, from my heart. I will beat this spear into a pruning hook, and it shall be an honoured heirloom in the family.
REDBURN: Nay, lad, it’s not me you have to thank, but that cannibal Professor of yours. Grillman, d’ye call him? Well, he’s had me on toast, and no mistake.
JACK SOFTLY: That is true Sir, and I hope to show my gratitude to him, and to you, and to the rest of this company, when I have risen to the top of my profession, and have become proprietor of the Grand Humanitarian Theatre which it is my ambition to found. For then, I promise you, the very first play which I shall put on the stage, and the first character in which I shall appear, will be that which has been so fortunate as to win your approval to-day—The Master Butcher.
Henry S. Salt
The Vegetarian, November 29, 1902