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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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)>>