Mr. Bysshe’s Office at Atherton Manor
RICHARD BYSSHE is seated at his desk, scowling down at a piece of paper. He has a pen in his hand; the pen seems to be, at moment, more of a destructive, crossing-out tool than a tool for writing. There are many crumpled balls of paper in the vicinity of the waste-basket.
Richard (To Himself): Miss Ophelia Hampstead/ On honey have I fed/ And tremble in joy and dread/ to think of you in my…. (FRANTIC CROSSING-OUT) No, no, no! That isn’t proper at all. And I don’t want to insult the lady by focusing on my base desires. (CRUMPLES up sheet of paper, throws it at the waste-basket- it misses) (HE commences scribbling again) Oh burning joy of thought/ Oh ruthless toy oh love/ neither borrowed nor bought/ but coming down shrieking from above (HE STARES bleakly down at this latest effort for a moment) Coming down shrieking from above… no, no it won’t do… wafted down on wing of dove? A blow of iron fist in velvet glove? (SMILES with deep and secret amusement) Oh dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers (MORE soberly) problem is, I keep trying to rhyme, and of course that is terribly old-fashioned… but then so is love, I suppose… (SIGHS) (BALLS UP paper and throws it towards waste-basket)
ENTER Nigel Penders-Ghastly (if possible, he should have to dodge the Poetical Missile as he enters)
Nigel: Well, Bysshe, about done with your packing?
Richard (Startled out of his reverie): Eh? Oh, hello Penders-Ghastly; hope this doesn’t sound like a criticism or anything, but many people knock before they enter someone’s private office
Nigel (PICKS up one of the crumpled balls; smooths out and glances at; he speaks abstractedly as he scans the paper): Many people have no real manners. Knocking is low. It implies that the person in the room might be doing something that would not bear public scrutiny. (READS ALOUD) Oh my lady of the gray eyes/ the grave face/ the steady regard/ the smile that belies/ the soul’s solemn grace/ Pray, do not be hard. (CRITICALLY) That last line…
Richard (WITH A GROAN): I know! But- (AS NIGEL starts to put the poem away in his pocket) Hey! What are you doing? That is mine!
Nigel (WITH A nasty gleam in his eye): But I’m taking it. It so perfectly describes my fiancee, Miss Ophelia Hampstead.
Richard: Your… what?
Nigel: Well, she’s practically my fiancee. It has been an understood thing between us ever since we were children. Grew up together. Terribly romantic, don’t you think?
Richard (rising from his desk and approaching): Give it back, damn you! And I doubt that Miss Hampstead has ever understood anything of the kind, whatever your own thoughts may be on the subject.
Nigel SHRUGS and backs away from Mr. Bysshe, smiling wickedly
Nigel: But, as fascinating as this topic is, it isn’t what I came to ask you about. I wanted to know if you needed any help packing.
Richard: Packing what? What are you on about? (HE ADVANCES on Nigel, who takes a step back)
Nigel (speaking as to a slow child): Lady Atherton is dead. You were her secretary. I am sure Geoffrey will give you a month’s wages in lieu of notice or whatever is the usual thing with servants.
THEY ARE CIRCLING each other now, Richard aggressively, Nigel evasively, with a kind of contemptuous cowardice.
Richard: I doubt that it is Lord- I doubt that it is Geoffrey’s wish that I leave
Nigel: Oh, I see. Hoping to scrounge a new job with His Lordship. Well, I wouldn’t recommend it, old man, really I wouldn’t. People might say you were taking advantage of Geoffrey in this time of grief.
Nigel: He lost his mother last night, remember? (He darts forward and grabs another ball of paper; as he smooths it out, Richard’s aggressive behavior becomes more aggressive, but Nigel dodges as he reads aloud) Miss Ophelia Hampstead/ On honey have I fed/ And tremble in joy and dread- my, my! Hot stuff, this one! (SHAKES his head in mock-regret) I really feel it is my duty to take this directly to Miss Hampstead. She may feel it is an insult. I don’t know.
Richard (IN A RAGE): Why, you cad! (CHARGES UPON HIS FOE)
EXIT NIGEL PENDERS-GHASTLY, at a dead run
EXIT RICHARD BYSSHE, at similar speed
END OF CHAPTER TWELVE