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"The Play"

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Nellie McClung, Purple Springs (Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1992) 273-80.

Chapter XXII "The Play"

"Sorry, sir," said the man in the box-office of the Grand, "but the house had been sold out for two days now. The standing room has gone too."

"Can you tell me what this is all about, that every one is so crazy to see it?" the man at the wicket asked, with studied carelessness. He was a thick-set man, with dark glasses, and wore a battered hat, and a much bedraggled waterproof.

"The women here have got up a Parliament, and are showing tonight," said the ticket-seller. "They pretend that only women vote, and women only sit in Parliament. The men will come, asking for the vote, and they'll get turned down good and plenty, just like the old man turned them down."

"Did the Premier turn them down?" asked the stranger. "I didn't hear about it."

"Did he? I guess, yes—he ripped into them in his own sweet way. Did you ever hear the old man rage? Boy! Well, the women have a girl here who is going to do his speech. She's the woman Premier, you understand, and she can talk just like him. She does everything except chew the dead cigar. The fellows in behind say it's the richest thing they ever heard. The old boy will have her shot at sunrise, for sure.

"He won't hear her," said the man in the waterproof, with sudden energy. "He won't know anything about it."

"Sure he will. The old man is an old blunderbuss, but he's too good a sport to stay away. They're decorating a box for him, and have his name on it. He can't stay away."

"He can if he wants to," snapped the other man. "What does he care about this tommyrot—he'll take no notice of it."

"Well," said the man behind the wicket, "I believe he'll come. But say, he sure started something when he got these women after him. They're the sharpest-tongued things you ever listened to, and they have their speeches all ready. The big show opens tonight, and every seat is sold. You may get a ticket though at the last minute, from some one who cannot come. There are always some who fail to show up at the last. I can save you a ticket if this happens. What name?"

"Jones," said the gentleman in the waterproof. No doubt the irritation in his voice was caused by having to confess to such a common name. "Robertson Jones. Be sure you have it right," and he passed along the rail to make room for two women who also asked for tickets.

The directors of the Women's Parliament knew the advertising value of a mystery, being students of humanity, and its odd little ways. They knew that people are attracted by the unknown; so in their advance notices they gave the names of all the women taking part in the play, but one. The part of the Premier—the star part—would be taken by a woman whose identity they were "not at liberty to reveal." Well-known press women were taking the other parts, and their pictures appeared on the posters, but no clue was given out as to the identity of the woman Premier.

Long before sundown, the people gathered at the theatre door, for the top gallery would open for rush seats at seven. Even the ticket holders had been warned that no seat would be held after eight o'clock.

Through the crowd came the burly and aggressive form of Robertson Jones, still wearing his dark glasses and with a disfiguring strip of court plaster across his check. At the wicket he made inquiry for his ticket, and was told to stand back and wait. Tickets were held until eight o'clock.

In the lobby, flattening himself against the marble wall, he waited, with his hat well down over his face. Crowds of people, mostly women, surged past him, laughing, chattering, feeling in their ridiculous bags for their tickets, or the price of a box of chocolates at the counter, where two red-gold blondes presided.

Inside, as the doors swung open, he saw a young fellow in evening dress, giving out handbills, and an exclamation almost escaped him. He had forgotten all about Peter Neelands!

Robertson Jones, caught in the eddies of women, buffeted by them, his toes stepped upon, elbowed, crowded, grew more and more scornful of their intelligence, and would probably have worked his way out—if he could, but the impact of the crowd worked him forward.

"A silly, cackling hen-party," he muttered to himself. "I'll get out of this—it's no place for a man—Lord deliver me from a mob like this, with their crazy tittering. There ought to be a way to stop these things. It's demoralizing—it's unseemly."

It was impossible to turn back, however, and he found himself swept inside. He thought of the side door as a way of escape, but to his surprise, he saw the whole Cabinet arriving there and filing into the boxes over which the colors of the province were draped; every last one of them, in evening dress.

That was the first blow of the evening! Every one of them had said they would not go—quite scornfully—and spoke of it as "The Old Maids' Convention"—Yet they came!

He wedged his way back to the box office, only to find that there was no ticket for him. Every one had been lifted. But he determined to stay. Getting in again, he approached a man in a shabby suit, sitting in the last row.

"I'll give you five dollars for your seat," he whispered.

"Holy smoke!" broke from the astonished seat-holder, and then, recovering from his surprise, he said, "Make it ten."

"Shut up the, and get out—here's your money," said Mr. Jones harshly, and in the hurriedly vacated seat, he sat down heavily.

Behind the scenes, the leader of the Women's Party gave Pearl her parting words:

"Don't spare him, Pearl," she said, with her had around the girl's shoulder, "it is the only way. We have coaxed, argued, reasoned, we have shown him actual cases where the laws have worked great injustice to women. He is blind in his own conceit, and cannot be moved. This is the only way—we can break his power by ridicule—you can do it, Pearl. You can break down a wall of prejudice to-night that would take long years to wear away. Think of cases you know, Pearl, and strike hard. Better to hurt one, and save many! This is a play—but a deadly serious one! I must go now and make the curtain speech."

"This is not the sort of Parliament we think should exist," she said, before the curtain, "this is the sort of Parliament we have at the present time—one sex making all the laws. We have a Parliament of women tonight, instead of men, just to show you how it looks from the other side. People seem to see a joke better sometimes when it is turned around."

Robertson Jones shrugged his shoulders in disgust. What did they hope to gain, these freaks of women, with their little plays and set little speeches. Who listened or noticed? No one, positively no one.

Then the lights went out in the house, and the asbestos curtain came slowly down and slowly crept into the ceiling again, to re-assure the timorous, and the beautiful French garden, with its white statuary, and fountain, against the green trees, followed its plain asbestos sister, and the Women's Parliament was revealed in session.

The Speaker, in purple velvet, with a sweeping plume in her three-cornered hat, sat on the throne; pages in uniform answered the many calls of the members, who, on the Government side were showing every sign of being bored, for the Opposition had the floor, and the honorable member from Mountain was again introducing her bill to give the father equal guardianship rights with the mother. She pleaded eloquently that two parents were not any too many for children to have. She readily granted that if there were to be but one parent, it would of course be the mother, but why skimp the child on parents? Let him have both. It was nature's way. She cited instances of grave injustice done to fathers from having no claim on their offspring.

The Government members gave her little attention. They read their papers, one of the Cabinet Ministers tatted, some of the younger members powdered their noses, many ate chocolates. Those who listened, did so to sneer at the honorable member from mountain, insinuating she took this stand so she might stand well with the men. This brought a hearty laugh, and a great pounding of the desks.

When the vote was taken, the House divided along party lines. Yawningly the Government members cried "No!"

Robertson Jones sniffed contemptuously; evidently this was a sort of Friday afternoon dialogue, popular at Snookum's Corners, but not likely to cause much of a flutter in the city.

There was a bill read to give dower rights to men, and the leader of the Opposition made a heated defense of the working man who devotes his life to his wife and family, and yet has no voice in the disposition of his property. His wife can sell it over his head, or will it away, as had sometimes been done.

The Attorney General, in a deeply sarcastic vein, asked the honorable lady if she thought the wife and mother would not deal fairly—even generously with her husband. Would she have the iron hand of the law intrude itself into the sacred precincts of the home, where little cherub faces gather round the hearth, under the glow of the glass-fringed hanging lamp. Would she dare to insinuate that love had to be buttressed by the law? Did not a man at the altar, in the sight of God and witnesses, endow his wife with all his goods? Well then—were those sacred words to be blasphemed by an unholy law which compelled her to give back what he had so lovingly given? When a man marries, cried the honorable Attorney General, he gives his wife his name—and his heart—and he gives them unconditionally. Are not these infinitely more than his property? The greater includes the less—the tail goes with the hide! The honorable leader of the Opposition was guilty of a gross offense against good taste, in opening this question again. Last session, the session before, and now this session, she has harped on this disagreeable theme. It has become positively indecent.

The honorable leader of the Opposition begged leave to withdraw her motion, which was reluctantly granted, and the business of the House went on.

A page brought in the word that a delegation of men were waiting to be heard.

Even the Opposition laughed. A delegation of men, seemed to be an old and never-failing joke.

Some one moved that the delegation be heard, and the House was resolved into a committee of the whole, with the First Minister in the chair.

The First Minister rose to take the chair, and was greeted with a round of applause. Opera glasses came suddenly to many eyes, but the face they saw was not familiar. It was a young face, under iron gray hair, large dark eyes, and a genial and pleasant countenance.

For the first time in the evening, Mr. Robertson Jones experienced a thrill of pleasure.

"The Play" (continued)>>

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