The Athertons Introduced – Lady Atherton Machinates – Nurse Is Missing – Geoffrey Is Made Aware Of The Disadvantages Of His Betrothal – A Little Refined Blackmail
Lady Atherton’s Boudoir. Lord Atherton is sitting in an armchair, Trying To Read. He, at any rate, has a book almost directly in front of his face, and peers up resentfully from its pages at Lady Atherton. Lady Atherton is standing (one might almost say towering) over Lord Atherton; she ignores the fact that Lord Atherton is doing a pathetic pantomime of A Man With A Book Who Would Like To Read It.
It won’t do! Do you hear me, Reginald? I won’t have it!!
Lord Atherton: What won’t you have, my dear?
Lady Atherton: This preposterous engagement, of course! You know perfectly well it is impossible. Our only son and that- that-
Lord Atherton: Ah, Geoffrey’s young woman?
Lady Atherton: Geoffrey’s young beast, you mean!
ENTER GEOFFREY ATHERTON
Geoffrey Atherton: Ah, Mater! Pater! Jolly good. Heard my name, thought I’d pop in, what?
LORD ATHERTON is clearly uncomfortable.
Lord Atherton: Ah, my boy! We were- um- we were-
Lady Atherton: We were talking about that woman to whom you seem to think you are engaged. Ridiculous, of course; she is completely unsuitable.
GEOFFREY ATHERTON squares his shoulders and tries to looks resolute. The result is a bit pathetic.
Geoffrey: Oh, I say! Dash it, Mater, you haven’t even met the bird in question. She’s a smashing girl. You’ll like her.
GEOFFREY PAUSES and takes a deep breath.
Geoffrey: She’s coming to this binge you’re throwing. I invited her.
LORD ATHERTON exits as if pursued by a bear.
LADY ATHERTON opens her mouth, obviously about to blast Geoffrey and cross Miss Moppet off the guest list. Then she closes her mouth. She smiles unpleasantly.
Lady Atherton: Ah. Well, since you’ve already invited her, Geoffrey, I suppose we shall have to admit her.
GEOFFREY LOOKS relieved. He isn’t all that bright.
Geoffrey: You’re a sportsman, Mater.
Lady Atherton: I wonder how she’ll get along with our other guests. For example, I will be curious to see how she and Miss Trueheart get on.
GEOFFREY LOOKS disconcerted.
Geoffrey: Oh, I say, I didn’t know Julia was coming.
LADY ATHERTON raises her eyebrows.
Lady Atherton: But of course. I’ve always considered her a friend of the family. So of course she’ll want to meet your prospective addition to our little family circle. Miss Trueheart is such a lady and comports herself so well, don’t you think? Of course, the Truehearts are not quite of our class.
Lady Atherton: Perhaps that is why she has such perfect manners.
SHE EXAMINES Geoffrey thoughtfully.
Lady Atherton: So many young people belonging to the titled classes seem to have no manners whatsoever.
GEOFFREY LOOKS increasingly uncomfortable.
Geoffrey: Julia is a good egg. Always has been a good egg. We more or less grew up together, and she’s never been anything but a sportsman in her dealings with me. That stuff about class is all rot.
GEOFFREY’S DISCOMFORT shades towards anger.
Geoffrey: You know it’s rot. Kind hearts and coronets, what? I mean- good eggs, the Truehearts. Whole family of eggs, all good.
Lady Atherton: Why, Geoffrey, how chivalrous! You leap to the lady’s defense so readily. And yet you know what meeting Miss Moppet will do to Miss Trueheart. It will be like a slap across her face, to see what sort of woman you’ve chosen to marry. You know how Miss Trueheart feels about you; I give you credit for that much intelligence.
LADY ATHERTON sighs.
Lady Atherton: Poor girl. She’ll be devastated.
GEOFFREY IS now on the verge of panic. He squirms and wriggles as if trying to free himself from restraints.
Geoffrey: Ah. Oh. Um. I- oh. Do you think so? Oh. I could tell Miss Moppet not to – no, dash it, I couldn’t. She’d never forgive me. Um.
ENTER “GEORGIE” HAMPSTEAD, full of vigor.
Georgie: What ho, sis-in-law! What ho, Geoffrey!
SHE SLAPS Geoffrey on the back. He staggers.
Geoffrey: What ho, Aunt Georgie.
HE SMILES weakly.
Lady Atherton (slightly frostily): Hello Georgianna. Do come in.
Georgie: Looking for m’daughter. Heard voices, wondered if she was in here chin-waggin’ or whatnot. Thought I’d pop in. And so in I popped.
Lady Atherton: I believe Ophelia is in the library. I saw her in there not long ago.
Geoffrey: Usually a safe bet. With Ophie, I mean. The library, that is. I mean, she’s in there a lot. Writin’ or readin’ or starin’ out the window.
Georgie: She is a dashed serious young thing. Don’t know where she gets it from. Probably one of those rummy psychological things, what? Can imagine the essay. Learned journal. Science of Counter-Reaction, something like that.
GEORGIE LOOKS away.
Georgie: What ho, young Lucy!
LUCY ATHERTON drifts in. She jumps at Georgie’s bellowed greeting.
Lucy: Hello, Auntie. Hello Geoffrey. Hello Mother. I don’t see Daddy. I thought Daddy would be here. But he isn’t. I think I will go for a walk. A long, lone, lovely walk. So many Ls, but they sound nice together. A Long, Lone, Lovely walk. Don’t you think that sounds nice, Auntie?
LUCY STARES at Georgie, smiling strangely.
Georgie: Sounds fine. Think it’s a bit wet for a walk, though.
Lady Atherton: Lucy, it is pouring out! Where is Nurse?
Lucy: Oh, she left.
LUCY’S SMILE becomes positively terrifying as she turns to her mother.
Lucy: I believe she found me rather a trial. So sad. I liked her. So much.
Geoffrey (anxiously): I say, old thing, how was Nurse when she left? In good health and spirits and all that?
LUCY LOOKS puzzled.
Lucy: She left. She is gone. Like flowers in winter. Blown away on cold winds.
Lady Atherton (tensely): Geoffrey, go and check Nurse’s room.
Georgie: Think I’ll continue on the trail of young Ophie. Library, eh? Jolly good. Pip pip.
Lucy (in a sing-song voice): Good-bye Geoffrey. Good-bye Auntie Georgie.
(TO LADY Atherton): You sent him away. You sent them away? What ought I to do now, Mother?
LADY ATHERTON pulls at a cord. There is the sound of a distant bell.
Lady Atherton: Go and lie down.
Lucy: I won’t!! I want to do something. And if I sleep now, I know I shall have a terrible dream. Give me something to do.
Sneakfork: You rang, your Ladyship?
Lady Atherton: Ah, Sneakfork. Yes. Please ask Mr. Bysshe to join me here.
Sneakfork: Certainly your Ladyship.
Lady Atherton: Very well, Lucy, if you insist. Why don’t you see if Mrs. Bogsby needs any help with the rooms. Our guests will arrive tonight, you know.
LUCY STARTS to drift towards the door.
Lady Atherton: Oh, and Lucy? Please inform Mrs. Bogsby that there will be two additional guests. Ask her to ready the Hurtlebottom Suite for them.
LUCY EXITS, passing Richard Bysshe as he enters. She looks at him and leaves giggling. He looks after her, disturbed.
Mr. Bysshe: Sneakfork informed me that you wished you see me, Lady Atherton.
BYSSHE’S INTONATION is hollow and mechanical. Perfectly polite and perfectly uninterested.
Lady Atherton: Yes, Mr. Bysshe. You must invite Miss Trueheart to our weekend house-party. You may telephone for this purpose, since it is rather last-minute. See to it that she comes. [AS AN afterthought] Oh, and a Miss Mimsy Moppet is apparently to be here this weekend as well. I have instructed Lucy to inform Mrs. Bogsby, but perhaps you should just make sure the staff is told.
Mr. Bysshe: Yes, Lady Atherton.
HE STARTS to leave.
Lady Atherton: Oh, and Mr. Bysshe?
HE STOPS, but does not turn to face her.
Lady Atherton: I know about Hermione.
MR. BYSSHE stiffens.
Mr. Bysshe: Indeed?
Lady Atherton: So I hope you weren’t intending to resign your post as my secretary. I would be compelled to make the details public were you to leave the family circle.
MR. BYSSHE turns a suddenly stricken face to her.
Mr. Bysshe: I see.
Lady Atherton: Oh, I do hope so. Of course… (she pauses)… there is more than one way in which you may remain within the family circle. Lucy is, I believe, rather fond of you, and she needs someone to look after her. Were you to marry her, your secret would, of course, be safe. You could take Thorn Cottage. Of course, there would be no question of children. Lucy’s madness makes that quite impossible. Think it over, Mr. Bysshe.
EXIT MR. BYSSHE. The lights fade out, lingering on Lady Atherton, who is perfectly still, smiling an unpleasant and secret smile.
END OF CHAPTER ONE