ACT I It is noon. In the Underwoods' dining-room a bright fire isburning. On one side of the fireplace are double-doors leadingto the drawing-room, on the other side a door leading to thehall. In the centre of the room a long dining-table without acloth is set out as a Board table. At the head of it, in theChairman's seat, sits JOHN ANTHONY, an old man, big,clean-shaven, and high-coloured, with thick white hair, and thickdark eyebrows. His movements are rather slow and feeble, but hiseyes are very much alive. There is a glass of water by his side.On his right sits his son EDGAR, an earnest-looking man of thirty,reading a newspaper. Next him WANKLIN, a man with juttingeyebrows, and silver-streaked light hair, is bending over transferpapers. TENCH, the Secretary, a short and rather humble, nervousman, with side whiskers, stands helping him. On WANKLIN'S rightsits UNDERWOOD, the Manager, a quiet man, with along, stiff jaw,and steady eyes. Back to the fire is SCANTLEBURY, a very large,pale, sleepy man, with grey hair, rather bald. Between him andthe Chairman are two empty chairs.
WILDER. [Who is lean, cadaverous, and complaining, with drooping grey moustaches, stands before the fire.] I say, this fire's the devil! Can I have a screen, Tench?
SCANTLEBURY. A screen, ah!
TENCH. Certainly, Mr. Wilder. [He looks at UNDERWOOD.] That is— perhaps the Manager—perhaps Mr. Underwood——
SCANTLEBURY. These fireplaces of yours, Underwood——
UNDERWOOD. [Roused from studying some papers.] A screen? Rather! I'm sorry. [He goes to the door with a little smile.] We're not accustomed to complaints of too much fire down here just now.[He speaks as though he holds a pipe between his teeth, slowly,ironically.]
WILDER. [In an injured voice.] You mean the men. H'm![UNDERWOOD goes out.]
SCANTLEBURY. Poor devils!
WILDER. It's their own fault, Scantlebury.
EDGAR. [Holding out his paper.] There's great distress among them, according to the Trenartha News.
WILDER. Oh, that rag! Give it to Wanklin. Suit his Radical views. They call us monsters, I suppose. The editor of that rubbish ought to be shot.
EDGAR. [Reading.] "If the Board of worthy gentlemen who control the Trenartha Tin Plate Works from their arm-chairs in London would condescend to come and see for themselves the conditions prevailing amongst their work-people during this strike——"
WILDER. Well, we have come.
EDGAR. [Continuing.] "We cannot believe that even their leg-of-mutton hearts would remain untouched."[WANKLIN takes the paper from him.]
WILDER. Ruffian! I remember that fellow when he had n't a penny to his name; little snivel of a chap that's made his way by black-guarding everybody who takes a different view to himself.[ANTHONY says something that is not heard.]
WILDER. What does your father say?
EDGAR. He says "The kettle and the pot."
WILDER. H'm![He sits down next to SCANTLEBURY.]
SCANTLEBURY. [Blowing out his cheeks.] I shall boil if I don't get that screen.[UNDERWOOD and ENID enter with a screen, which they place beforethe fire....