The Hurtlebottom Suite
Julia Trueheart and Miss Mimsy Moppet, in nighties, are preparing for bed. Julia is doing some gentle exercises; Mimsy is brushing her hair.
A KNOCK sounds
ENTER Lady E
Lady E: Julia, I’ve come to take you back to my room for a good long gossip.
Julia: Right! Just let me find my robe.
Mimsy (in a sudden panic): ‘Ey! Don’t go! (RUNS to Julia and clings)
Julia: Hello, what’s bitten you?
Mimsy: I don’t want to be left alone. ‘Ave your gab ‘ere, I’ll plug me ears or sing or something.
Lady E: Not afraid of ghosts or anything, are you?
MIMSY snorts contemptuously
Lady E: Are you afraid of being murdered, then?
Mimsy: It isn’t that.
Julia: Then what on earth-
Mimsy (LOOKING STUBBORN): I ‘ave me reasons.
Julia (To Lady E): What do you think, E?
Lady E: I am all for openness in an investigation- openness, and collaboration. I don’t see any reason, therefore, why Miss Moppet shouldn’t sit in on our council, do you, Julia?
Julia: Not unless she’s the murderer.
Lady E: Even in that case, I don’t see why she shouldn’t sit in. To my mind, in fact, she’d be especially welcome in that case. Nothing like getting the murderer in on the investigative act, he always gives himself away.
Lady E: Don’t worry overmuch, Miss Moppet, you are at the bottom of my list of suspects, below my good friend Julia, in fact.
Mimsy: It’s catching. Right, me Lady, I’ll play.
Lady E: Then let us review the timetable as we have it so far. We know that Lady Atherton was alive at six, when Sneakfork tells me he showed Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop up to Lady Atherton’s boudoir, under rather suspicious circumstances, too. Now, they may have murdered her then, but it seems unlikely, because Lady Atherton had arranged to meet with Lady Grinling, Hector Dane, and Major Gadfly before seven, and one supposes that at least one of those persons would have mentioned it if they’d found their hostess dead.
Mimsy: Oh, Major bleedin’ Gadfly, ‘e’s probably the party you’re after. Capable of anything, ‘e is.
Lady E (looking extremely interested): Ho ho! So you know Major Gadfly, do you?
Mimsy: I – (CLOSES her mouth, looks stubborn)
Julia: You’ll have to spill it, I fear, Mimsy; Lady E won’t stop pestering you until you do, now she knows there’s something to pester you about.
Lady E: Julia is quite right, Miss Moppet. I am really most annoying.
Mimsy (GLANCES between them; She looks hunted; finally, she explodes into speech): Fine. ‘Ave it, then. And if you think I’m low trash after I spill, well, you ain’t never been where I’ve been, and maybe you should take that into account, like. During the war, it was. We met at a place what I was working at, a little dance ‘all place, and not a nice place neither. ‘E came most every night, and then we started seeing each other regular. ‘E’d take me dancing an’ that. And then the war ended and -poof!- Major Gadfly was gone, and I was- (Mimsy stops abruptly and glares) Mind your own business!
Lady E: Ah, I see. You were left in an embarrassing position, eh?
Lady E: Did you – get it taken care of, or…?
Mimsy: It took care of itself, in the end, after giving me the scare of me life. What would I have done with a nipper? But you see, ‘e’d set me up in a little place, and ‘e’d made me quit the job at the ‘all. (Imitates Major Gadfly’s voice) Won’t have my girl working in a squalid hole like that, what? But don’t you worry, me old lollipop, your dear old Gad’ll look after you. (SNORT of contempt) So when ‘e up and disappeared, I were unemployed and without a penny, once I’d used up the bit of money I’d saved from me dancing. And no-one wanted to hire a girl what was starting to swell, like; ruins the figure, it does. And I found out that ‘e’d been owing the rent on my place for months, so the landlord slung me right out on the street. I wasn’t eating for one, those days, much less for two, and I guess the nipper couldn’t stick it. (PAUSE) I didn’t like the Major, mind. ‘E struck me as a bad type in good clothes right away, and I never did change me mind, neither. But I was a stupid kid, and ‘e looked like safety. Makes me mad, it does, thinking of ‘ow bloomin’ innocent I was. And looks like I don’t learn.
Julia: What do you mean?
Lady E: I believe, Julia, that she means that she now finds herself in a similar situation with regard to Lord Geoffrey.
Julia: Oh. (PAUSE) But I say! You don’t mean that Geoffrey – that he-
Mimsy: Not that; Geoffrey is a gentleman, in that way. But I’ve quit me job and that for a man what turns out not to want me. Again. (LOOKS disgusted with herself) And Major Gadfly thinks ‘e can whistle for me, too. To be right honest with you ladies, ‘e scares me.
Julia: Ah-ha! That’s why you didn’t want us to leave you. You think he might come calling.
LADY E looks suddenly very alert; she adopts a listening attitude.
Julia: Why, you poor thing! You have had a time. (GOES to Mimsy and attempts to give her shoulder a squeeze; Mimsy brushes her off)
LADY E starts creeping towards the door
Mimsy (Bitterly): I don’t see why you should mind so much. Your Lord Geoffrey is free as a bleedin’ bird, and you can ‘ave ‘im, too. (Bursts into tears) I couldn’t care less. Only ‘e’s been good to me, and that. But I suppose as I’ll get over it.
Julia: But my dear girl, I don’t want him.
Julia: Oh, I did want him once. I wanted him like anything. But something about the cowardly way that he broke off our engagement because his mother told him to- well, it showed me what kind of man he was. I wouldn’t have him now if you paid me. And if you think the Truehearts couldn’t do with money, well, you’ve got another think coming.
Mimsy (growing more upset): But that’s ‘orrible! I mean, I thought ‘e’d ‘ave a place to go, if that makes any sense. I don’t think Geoffrey is the kind of man what should be left on ‘is own. ‘E needs a woman to look after ‘im.
LADY E has reached the door; she puts her ear to it.
Julia: I agree with you there; unfortunately, though, I am not willing to accept the position.
Mimsy (stares in horror): Oh!
LADY E: Would you two kindly be quiet? Someone is sneaking about in the hall, and I’d rather like to know who it is.
Mimsy (whispering): Is it Major Gadfly?
Lady E (whispering irritably): My dear girl, how should I know? Dim that lamp, Julia; I’m going to open the door a crack and have a peek.
LADY E opens the door a crack and peeks out
ALL IS silence onstage; Mimsy and Julia could do some comic bits here, if they so choose; for example, one of them could have to sneeze, and they could both panic about this. Anyway, eventually Lady E closes the door quietly and turns to the others.
Lady E: The first figure was a man of about 50 years of age, somewhat tanned, black hair, with clothes of an American cut. Mr. Sloop, I presume?
Julia: Gosh! Sounds like him, anyway.
Mimsy: First figure?
Lady E: The second figure, who followed just as the first was disappearing from view, was the unpleasant Mr. Penders-Ghastly. Both were heading towards the rooms of Miss Hampstead, Mrs. Hampstead, Lord Atherton, and Mr. Bysshe, if I’ve got the plan of the house right. At any rate, both figures went down this corridor and turned to the left. Mr. Sloop might just conceivably have been going down this corridor to get to the Grand Staircase; I suspect that Mr. Penders-Ghastly was following Mr. Sloop, since his room is positioned such that, no matter where he was heading, he was taking the long way round. (SHRUGS) Odd. Now, we were discussing the time-table. Lady Atherton was alive at 6, when Sneakfork showed Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop in to her boudoir. Is this the latest point at which we know Lady Atherton was alive?
Julia: Golly! I forgot to tell you.
Lady E: Tell me now.
Julia: Right. Earlier today, just before you got here, I found Mug in Lady Atherton’s boudoir, carefully packing away a teacup that had shattered on the floor when the body was discovered. He told me the results of the postmortem, and there were several shockers.
Lady E: I am tolerably hard to shock. Go on.
Julia: Lady Atherton was dying, for one thing. Cancer, and completely inoperable. She had a month or so, at longest.
Lady E: Ah. I wonder if she knew she was dying. If I were the betting sort, I’d put money on it that she did. It would explain her queer behavior. From what I understand, this house-party was completely out of character, and the people summoned to attend were not people Lady Atherton especially liked. And everyone seems to have assumed that Lady Atherton was up to something, and that the house-party was part of some wicked plot on her part. Well, if she knew she was dying, then I think this house-party begins to make sense.
Julia: I don’t see that.
Mimsy: I thinks as I do, though. (THEY LOOK AT HER) Well, it’s bleedin’ obvious, ain’t it? She were doing all the narsty what she could fit in afore she went. I had an aunt what went the same way, when she knew she was for it. All ‘er life, she’d been known as a girl as could keep ‘er gob shut, so she got told things. But when she got back from the doctor’s, she sat down and started writing notes, telling of everyone’s secrets to the people as they particularly didn’t want told. Me ma said she were trying to get ‘erself murdered, so as to not ‘ave the bother of committing suicide. So I guess as that is ‘uman nature, like, or leastways a thing some people get up to, when they know as they don’t ‘ave long.
Lady E: A parallel! A parallel! Miss Moppet has pointed the way! Lady Atherton wanted to be murdered, and, by golly, someone has obliged her. It almost seems a shame to catch and hang such an accommodating sort of murderer. But we must at least make certain that the innocent do not suffer, so- press on! Julia, I think you had further news to impart. What else did the excellent Mug tell you?
Julia: Something that, if you are right, makes more sense than it did before. Not only had Lady Atherton about a month to live, at maximum, but, when she was fatally stabbed, she had already started to succumb to the poison that someone had slipped her. She must have frightened more than one person rather badly.
Lady E: And Mug thought that it must have been in her tea, hence his interest in the broken teacup.
Julia: Yes, exactly! Mrs. Bogsby admits bringing her the tea, but says she didn’t poison it.
Lady E: At what time did Mrs. Bogsby bring in the tea?
Lady E: And was anyone with Lady Atherton when Mrs. Bogsby came in?
Julia: No, she was alone, and looking pleased with herself.
Lady E: Ah-HA! So Lady Atherton had concluded her business with Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop by 6:15. And unless they, or one of them, came back later, we can remove them from our list of suspects. Splendid!
(NOISE OF CAR ENGINE)
Lady E: What on earth?
(HEADLIGHTS RAKE ACROSS THE ROOM; a thud)
LADY E runs to window
Lady E: Someone has just landed in the rosebushes by the drive. Now she’s scrambling up- a get-away, begad!
Julia: Shouldn’t we do something?
Lady E: Yes. Julia, you go and call the gate-house; tell them not to let the car through. Mimsy, you run to the garage; see if you can get in, and, if you can, check the cars to see if anyone has left their keys; if they have, borrow the car and bring it round to the drive. We will meet at Philippi – in this case, the kitchen! Hurry!
END OF CHAPTER SIXTEEN