Scene: The Drawing Room of Atherton Manor
ENTER Sneakfork, with tray; he begins to set up for Cocktail Hour
The Thunderstorm is still going on outside
ENTER Geoffrey Atherton
Geoffrey: Hello Sneakfork! Am I the first to line up at the trough? What time is it?
Sneakfork turns with stately dignity, and waits, eyes heavenwards, eyebrows raised, in total silence. Geoffrey grows restless.
There is a single chime. Sneakfork smiles.
Sneakfork: 6:45, my Lord. Shall I make you a gin and tonic now, or would you prefer to wait?
Geoffrey: oh, now, thanks, Sneakfork!
SNEAKFORK mixes it and gives it to Geoffrey
ENTER Julia Trueheart; Geoffrey’s back is to her
Julia: Geoffrey, old bean!
GEOFFREY spills some of his drink down his shirt; he turns and smiles at Julia, rather weakly
Geoffrey: Hello Julia. Um… how are – I mean, you- how – how have you been?
Julia: by ‘how have you been,’ read, ‘how are you liking bein’ roommates with my fiance, Miss Mimsy Moppet’?
Geoffrey: Well, I was wondering, rather.
Julia: She is a wizard with make-up, I’ll say that for her. Told me exactly what shades to wear, all that. Apparently, I’ve been gettin’ it all wrong.
Geoffrey: Oh, I say! I – I don’t think I knew you wore any.
Julia: Well, I don’t, or not more than a dustin’ of powder for evening wear, to tone down the freckles. But I didn’t feel I could tell her that- she would’ve thought me unwomanly.
Julia: Oh yourself! Buck up- I do like her. She seems a good sort and all that. She’ll be down presently- left her tryin’ things on and pulling ‘em off again. Sneakfork!
Sneakfork: Yes, Miss?
Julia: I thirst! A drink! And, I think, another for my Lord Geoffrey- though I wouldn’t advise serving his shirt another- it looks like it’s at about capacity.
Sneakfork: Yes, Miss (he begins to mix)
ENTER Ophelia Hampstead
Ophelia: Good evening, Geoffrey. Why Julia! I haven’t seen you for ages!
THERE OCCURS A FEMININE EMBRACE, with cheek kissing and other fanciness
Ophelia: Mr. Bysshe tells me that you and he were up at Oxford together, Geoffrey- is that true?
Geoffrey (who has fallen into a brown study): What? Oh- Bysshe? Richard? Yes, yes- good chap. Great friends.
Ophelia: Did you catch up with Lucy?
Geoffrey: No. Or rather, yes. I mean, I cornered her and turned her over to Mrs. Bogsby.
Ophelia: Silly! Mrs. Bogsby is the cleaning woman from the village; Lucy’s nurse is Grindly!
Geoffrey: You are sadly out of touch, Ophie my dear. Nurse Grindly has disappeared.
Julia: What do you mean, if anything? Disappeared?
Ophelia: Yes, do explain–
ENTER MR. BYSSHE
Ophelia: Why, hello, Mr. Bysshe!
Mr. Bysshe: Hello, Miss Hampstead. Let me get you a drink!
MR. BYSSHE AND OPHELIA drift towards the drinks tray near the back of the stage. They engage in a pantomime while the scene progresses; Mr. Bysshe mixes a very elaborate drink, pausing for long moments during the process to deliver a lecture on the mixing of drinks to Ophelia, who finds him very amusing indeed. Sneakfork stands behind the drinks tray, gazing into the middle distance with an abstracted air, the portrait of Dignity.
Julia: Geoffrey, tell me about Nurse Grindly. When you say she’s disappeared, do you mean that she has quit?
Geoffrey: No, I mean- poof! Gone. Lucy drifted in to the Mater’s boudoir this morning and announced that Nurse had gone. We investigated and- well, we couldn’t find her, so… so I don’t know. (He looks worried)
Julia: Oh dear. I wonder if we’ll ever find the body.
Geoffrey: Julia! Really! That’s a jolly rotten joke to make!
Julia (Gravely): It would be a rotten joke to make. It would also not be funny. When I make a joke, I am funny. So you see, old dear, I wasn’t joking. Q.E.D.
SEVEN CHIMES SOUND
Julia: I hear the stampede approachin’. Shall we try to get a drink before the rush? (LOOKS AT Bysshe and Ophelia) I hardly like to spoil their fun.
Geoffrey: Too late!
ENTER MAJOR GADFLY and HECTOR DANE, arguing
Gadfly: -without the clearest proofs!
Dane: I’ve given you five clear proofs already, and you seem not to have attended to any of them!
Gadfly: Proof fiddlesticks! Bunch of foreign doctors, would say anything- so long as it encourages the rot that has set in in this country-
Dane: Dr. Bell is as English as you are, with a practice in Harley Street
Gadfly (darkly): Bell? Bell? Sounds like an alias to me. And those Harley Street chaps – well, they want you to believe that everyone is on the verge of a complete nervous collapse, so they can make more money. Why, one of that sort tried that on me! I mean, really!
ENTER Georgianna Hampstead and G. Gordon Sloop, subdued and whispering. They go directly to the drinks table, and rather ruthlessly shove Mr. Bysshe out of the way. They down their drinks and have another at once.
Dane (voice dripping with sarcasm): I can’t imagine why. You are, of course, the very picture of good mental health. Sir.
Gadfly: I find your tone offensive!
Dane: Oh, good.
MAJOR GADFLY AND HECTOR DANE MOVE to the back of the stage, where they continue to quarrel
Julia (To Geoffrey): They seem hot under the collar. Who are they?
Geoffrey: Oh, Major Gadfly and Colonel Dane- I mean, Mr. Hector Dane. I was up at Oxford with Dane.
Julia: You seem to have been up at Oxford with everyone.
ENTER LORD ATHERTON, smiling vaguely. He makes a beeline for the drinks table.
ENTER LORD AND LADY GRINLING, silent and pale. She clings to his arm; his fists clench and unclench.
Lord Atherton (approaches Lord and Lady Grinling): Ah, Grinling! And – and – your wife! Charming, charming! Urm- my dear, have we met? You look familiar…
Lady Grinling: I don’t believe so, sir- I mean, your Lordship – I mean, Lord Atherton. A pleasure to meet you, I’m sure!
LADY GRINLING sits down on a handy Chesterfield and bursts into tears.
ENTER Nigel Penders-Ghastly, smirking horribly. He oozes towards Ophelia and Mr. Bysshe, who are murmuring confidentially off in a corner.
The scene will now become, for a moment, very noisy and hard to follow. People are all having conversations at once; when no line is given a character, he or she should be providing background clamor.
Lord Grinling: Dorinda, my dear, don’t!
Lady Grinling: Oh, Horace! Don’t stand over me glowering like that, or I am quite sure that I will never stop crying!
Major Gadfly: You’d hand the country over to bally foreigners!
Julia: Geoffrey, where is that sister of yours? And, more importantly, where is Nurse Grindly?
Lord Atherton (Not noticing, apparently, that Lady Grinling is sobbing hysterically): Dorinda, eh? Now that does seem familiar. I am sure we have met before.
Dane: Did Lady Atherton find you at the British Museum?
Nigel: Ophelia, my dear, who is your friend? That couldn’t be Mr. Bysshe, the secretary, could it? I didn’t think we invited servants to these family occasions.
Lightning flashes; the lights flicker and nearly go out, then come on again; the room goes silent
ENTER MISS MIMSY MOPPET, in a really scandalously minimal frock of blazing red.
Miss Moppet: ‘ello, all! Oh, Geoffrey, I-
A SCREAM RENDS THE AIR, followed by many more.
EXIT ALL, at a dead run
END OF CHAPTER SEVEN