The Moth and the Flame

By Clyde Fitch, 1898


"The Moth and the Flame" is a play written by Clyde Fitch that explores the themes of love, sacrifice, and betrayal. The story revolves around two women, Vivie and Flora, who are both in love with the same man, a wealthy artist named Claude. Claude is torn between the two women and his own desires, leading to a tragic and heartbreaking conclusion. The play is known for its complex characters and emotionally charged dialogue, and it has been adapted for both stage and screen numerous times since its original publication in 1898.

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Edward Fletcher
Mr Dawson
Mr Wolton
Douglas Rhodes
Marion Wolton
Mrs. Lorrimer
Mrs. Wolton
Jeanette Gross
Mrs. Fletcher

Guests, Bridesmaids, Choristers, Servants and others.


SceneThe First Act takes place in the Wolton's house during a large fancy ball. All the guests are in children's costumes—that being insisted upon in the invitations. The stage represents a reception-room; the end of a conservatory, or ball-room, being seen through a large archway. In the upper right hand corner of the stage is a small stage built with curtains and foot-lights, for an amateur vaudeville performance, which is taking place.

At rise of curtain the room is filled with guests in costume, on chairs before improvised stage, and the curtain of stage is just falling, as one of the Lady Guests—who, dressed (and blacked) as a small Darky Girl, has been singing a popular negro ballad ("Warmest Baby.") The mimic curtain rises again, owing to the applause of the mimic audience. The chorus of song is repeated and the curtain again falls to applause. There is a general movement among guests—with laughter and conversation.

DiscoveredMarion Woltondressed in Empire Child's gown, is sitting in one of the third row of chairs next the foot-lights. Up to now her back is partly turned toward the audience. Kitty Randdressed in short skirts, is just behind her.

Fanshaw. [Leaning over to Marion.] I think, Marion, this was really a most amusing idea of yours, having us all come as children.

Enter Douglas Rhodesin white sailor costume. He meets Mrs. Wolton who enters. They talk.

Marion. [To Kitty.] Your costume, Kitty, is charming.

Kitty. [With a ball on rubber cord.] My dear, I'm sure I look a sight. I feel as if it were bathing hour at Narragansett.

Marion. Here's Bessie. How splendid she was. [Rises.] [Enter BessieShe laughs as she is greeted by shouts of laughter and applause by guests. She joins Marionwho shakes her hand.] You were too funny, Bessie. [A guest rises and offers seat to BessieShe accepts it and sits.

Johnstone. [Monkey; white kilt suit.] [To Bessie as she sits.] Yes. Isn't this an awfully lovely party? [To Fanshaw.] Here, Fanshaw, it's your turn.

Guests and All. Yes, come on Fanshaw, etc. [Fanshaw exits.

Rhodes comes from Mrs. Woltonnodding pleasantly to guests as he passes round behind them, to MarionHe shakes her hand.

Marion. Why so late, Douglas?

Douglas. I was dining with Mrs. Lorrimer; but I hope you've saved me a seat by you. [Blanche exits, ready for stage.

Marion. I'm sorry, but I haven't. There's the curtain.

She sits and Douglas takes a place back of guests, shaking hands with Trimmins as he does so. Mimic curtain rises, music begins, all interrupt with "Sh-h." Fanshaw enters on mimic stage, dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and sings. Mimic curtain falls to applause. Curtain is raised. Black rag-baby thrown to him during song. Fanshaw enters, bows, and, as he does so, Blanche throws a small bouquet of flowers to him. This he catches and makes entrance upon stage by jumping over mimic foot-lights. He is congratulated and thanked by Marion and resumes his seat.

Music begins. All interrupt again with "Sh-h." Curtain is raised, and enter Etheldressed as a child of 1840, in white and green. She comes forward and sings ("Henrietta"), with orchestral accompaniment, a flute obligato being a feature of the latter, which, every little while, indulges in loud variations, entirely drowning the singer's voice, much to her annoyance, and the only half-suppressed amusement of the guests. As she reaches the chorus all (at Marion's suggestionjoin in with her and finish the songMarion rises, giving the signal that the entertainment is over. Servants come in and take away most of the chairs, leaving one in centre of stage and three up toward the left centre. All rise and form groups; those of guests near the door move into ball-room and off. Ethel enters, and Marion at once greets her, Kitty and Johnstone joining them.

Marion. Thank you ever so much.

Johnstone. Yes, indeed. Isn't this an awfully lovely party.

Ethel. [With large hoople and stick; quickly, much put out.] My dear Marion, I could choke that flute player.

Marion. Don't be selfish, Ethel; the man wanted to be heard. [Goes up to Douglas.

Ethel. If I were a witch, I'd curse him with asthma. Mr. Johnstone, go and curse him for me.

Johnstone. With pleasure.

Ethel. Just give him a piece of my mind. [Enter Girl.

Johnstone. [Flatteringly.] He doesn't deserve such a gift. But isn't this a lovely party? Will you excuse me? [He goes up stage to Blancheoffers his arm, which she takes, and they exit. Kitty and Ethel watch Blanche and Johnstoneamused.

Kitty. [To Ethel.] Just look at Blanche. Do you suppose she's going to—

Ethel. She's going to with all her might and main, if he will only ask her.

Kitty. A large if— [Laughing. Fanshaw and Gertrude join Ethel and Kitty down stage.

Fanshaw. Looks as if Johnny were getting pretty stuck on Blanche, doesn't it? [Goes to KittyTrimmins moves up centre.

Ethel. Yes, or just the other way round. [All laugh.

Gertrude. Who are you dancing the cotillon with, Ethel?

Ethel. Don't know. I've promised two men, but I haven't made up my mind who I'll dance with yet.

Fanshaw. A nice person to engage for a partner. [Calling.] Trimmins!

Ethel. Sh-h! He's one of the men I've promised.

Fanshaw. [Laughing.] Never mind. I'm the other. [All laugh. Gertrude says, "Oh, Ethel!" Gertrude goes toward Marion, Ethel and Kitty at same time. Marion exits.

Fanshaw. [To Trimmins.] Who are you dancing the cotillon with, Trimmins?

Trimmins. Ethel Stevens!

Fanshaw. Who?

Trimmins. Ethel Stevens!

Fanshaw. I'll bet a fiver you're not. She's dancing with me.

Trimmins. [Very pleased.] Delighted! I owe you the five with joy. [Rushes Fanshaw out of the way. Crossing to Gertrude.] Will you give me the pleasure? [Douglas out at back, exits.] Thank you. [Offers his arm, which Gertrude takes, and they go out at back.

Fanshaw. Well!

Marion. Are you going to stand perfectly still and be robbed in that manner? [Laughing.]

Fanshaw. Well, but what am I— [Interrupted by one of the girl guests, who says, "I'm here!"] Oh, so you are. [Puts his arm in hers, and they run off together.

Ethel. Marion, isn't Mr. Ned Fletcher coming to-night?

Marion. Yes. [Exit.

Kitty. I'm so glad; he's quite the most amusing man in town this winter. [Sitting on chair which servant left.

Ethel. And so many people won't ask him to their houses, you know. Mamma won't.

Kitty. Well, you know, your mother's a ridiculous person; she asks lots of awfully fast men!

Ethel. Yes, but they are all relatives.

Kitty. [Putting arm around Ethelpricks her finger.] I don't believe Net Fletcher is as bad as people hint. He's too good looking. [Fixing dress.

Ethel. And I don't care whether he's bad or not, he's charming enough to make up for it. Besides, I suppose all men are bad.

Kitty. Oh—I don't know.

Ethel. I mean all nice men.

Kitty. Where has Mr. Fletcher been before this winter?

Ethel. My dear, he's one of those men who live all over the place—most of the time in Europe—but he's been here always off and on—and in Newport and in Lenox he has yachts and things, don't you know! [Exits down right.

Marion. [Enters.] Girls, will you go into the ball-room, till the men get the tables ready here? [She speaks aside to one of the servants, and exits. Servants bring on small table and place it with bottles, lunch, etc., a broken glass covered with napkins to fall on stage. Place seven chairs about table. Exit.

Ethel. Of course. [To Kittycrossing to her.] Do you notice how she won't talk about Fletcher and won't listen to any one else either?

Kitty. My dear, she's heels over head.

Ethel. Poor Douglas Rhodes! [Half smiling, in part satire.

Kitty. Serves him right for hanging around her all his life! Why didn't he flirt with one of us girls for a time, if only to make her jealous! [Ethel sees Douglas enter, and tries to warn KittyEthel gives Kitty a violent pull of the arm to warn her to stop speaking of Douglas.

Ethel. [To Douglas.] You can't stay here; we're driven out.

Kitty. Come, help us make fun of the other people.

Douglas. In a few minutes. I must give you a chance to make fun of me!

Kitty. Oh, we've been doing that for years! [Ethel blows Douglas' whistle which he has suspended from neck, pulling it out of his pocket. Ethel and Kitty smile coquettishly at Douglas and exit into ball-room, arm in arm. Distant music off stage. Douglas follows up centre. A pause. Enter Marion. Douglasup stage, looks admiringly at her, and smiles. Then, smiling and putting himself into a boyish attitude, he says boyishly.

Douglas. Hello, Molly!

Marion. [Smiling back, catching his mood, speaks girlishly.] Hello, Dug! It does take one back to old days, doesn't it!

Douglas. That was what I was thinking of, Marion, the days of dancing-school. How good you were to always be my partner, even though I couldn't reverse without treading on your toes!

Marion. [Smiling.] You were a bad dancer—and death to slippers.

Douglas. And the children's parties, with the old games, "Post Office," "Copenhagen," "Kiss in the Ring."

Marion. [Smiling mischievously.] You were good enough at "Kiss in the Ring" to make up for your not reversing.

Douglas. [With real sentiment, crosses to her.] Do you remember it all as well as I do?

Marion. [Realizing his sentiment, and trying to change their mood, but pleasantly.] Of course I do! We were great friends then, as we are now, and as I hope we always will be, Douglas.

Douglas. But if we played the old games again, would it be the same?

Marion. No, no, things are never the same.

Douglas. But would you let me choose you always? Would you pretend not to see me coming, so I could slap your hands on the Copenhagen rope and take my reward? If we played "Post Office," would I have all my letters from your lips! Would you mind if, in "bow to the wittiest, kneel to the prettiest, and kiss the one you loved best," I choose you again, openly, for all three? Would you give me all your dances?

Marion. [More serious, though still smiling kindly, sweetly.] That's just it, Douglas! You can reverse now, and there are so many other girls wanting partners!

Douglas. But— [Interrupted.]

Marion. Besides, after all, we're only children outside to-night; our hearts have come of age!

Douglas. Yes, Marion, but, boy's and man's, my heart's the same. I want the same partner I did then, only I want her for the game of life!

Marion. I am so sorry!

Douglas. Sorry? Then you won't let your hands lie on the rope for me any more?

Marion. I am very fond of you, Douglas, and I always was, but— [She hesitates.]

Douglas. [A little bitterly, disappointed.] I know what you mean. I was all right for dancing-school, but life is a more serious matter— [Marion goes to chair and sits down.] I know I'm not like you, Marion—I know what an intellectual woman you are, and what an ordinary sort of fellow I am. But I love you! and I hoped— [He breaks off and continues with his first idea.] You went to a woman's college, and I only to a man's—You made a study of sociology—I, [Smiling.] principally of athletics. I know I never read books, and you seem to read everything. But I love you. You have your clubs for working girls, your charities; I know the busy, helpful life you lead. You have so much in it, I was in hopes that what room was left for a husband was so little, even I could fill it. And somehow or other I've always taken it for granted you more or less understood, and were—willing.