A comedy in one act
by Peter D. Wilson
NICK Sardonic and amoral, though not wholly unsympathetic; didactic in manner.
GEORGE Genial, personable, well-meaning but very fallible.
MILLY Emotionally volatile and a little scatty; fairly young, preferably pretty.
MARY Sensible, down-to-earth; affectionate without being at all sugary; a strong character on the quiet; similar in age to George.
VICAR An earnest, forthright, organising type.
JOAN Fortyish; twittery but with predatory aspirations.
After the opening speech, Nick spends much of the time as a silent observer, on stage throughout. Although written as male, the part could if necessary be played as a rather masculine female, without significant alteration to the script.
Milly appears only in the first half, Joan and the Vicar only in the second. At a pinch, provided the appearance of very different ages could be maintained, the parts of Milly and Joan might be doubled.
Roughly the present.
Basically curtains, with entrances DR, UR and UL. A tall stool or (better) a high-backed swivel chair down right is occupied by Nick; other characters may use the rest of the stage, but light spill between the two areas must be as little as possible. In the general area are a settee and one or two tables according to available space. One of the two tables, or a part of the only one, serves as an office desk, with telephone and desk diary, and a suitable chair: the other doubles as breakfast/committee table, with three dining-type chairs.
Original version, January 1986. Revised January 1988.
Peter D. Wilson
Copyright © 2001, 2016
With some obvious exceptions, Nick's remarks are addressed exclusively to the audience, and the other characters are generally unaware of his presence. When not actually speaking, he watches the action, but unless otherwise specified, some light should remain on him.
The curtain opens to reveal Nick's perch lit, the rest dark. Nick enters slowly, absorbed in a newspaper. Still reading, he sits, facing front; reaches the end of a passage, turns a page, and looking up at the next, notices the audience.
NICK Oh, hello, didn't see you out there. Phew, what a day. (Indicating the paper) Usual load of misery here, of course. "Strike threat by 5,000" - "Tension mounts in Middle East" - "Violent crime up 20%" - "Double murder in Belfast" - what's new about that? - "Fire in north-west kills six" - "Thousands starving in Tibesti drought". Dear oh dear, what a mess. Mind you, things are never so bad that well-meaning busybodies can't make them worse. That business in the Middle East, for instance; if Balfour and Kissinger and Lawrence of Arabia had kept their ruddy noses out of it, the Turks and Jews and Arabs could have settled their own differences one way or another, and no one else need have been involved at all. As it is, everyone's got a finger in the pie, and it's all but impossible to sort out.
And then, just think of a place like Tibesti. It's been tottering on for centuries, hardly an economic miracle I grant you, but managing more or less to get by. Then the UN has to stick its oar in, cleans things up here and there, halves the infant mortality and surprise! surprise! the population takes off like a rocket and there's a famine. And as if the do-gooders hadn't done enough damage already, there's a great hoo-ha about how many are dying, everyone scrambles to get food into the country, so the next time the rains fail, it's not just 10,000 but 20,000 people starving. I ask you!
Turning another page.
"Divorces up again." At this rate they'll soon be issuing marriage certificates with tear-off slips to apply for cancellation. "Bishops deplore broken homes." Ha! That'd be a lot more impressive if they'd stuck to what they're supposed to believe about marriage - but no, they had to fiddle the rules to try and get round one problem, and as usual made another a damn sight worse. In any case, if people can't keep their promises they'd do better to forget about them altogether - it's the shilly-shallying around in between that causes the real trouble. (Folding the newspaper) For instance, take my old friend George Anderson - not his real name, of course - come to think of it, "friend" is probably pitching it a bit high, too - but anyway, take George. Ordinary sort of chap; got quite a good job in the local branch of his firm; married - oh, I forget how many years - nice woman, intelligent too - actually he's rather fond of her, but - and here's the point - he has an incurably roving eye, and a secretary who doesn't mind its lighting on her. Not a terribly good secretary, as it happens...
Light on Nick dims; fade up on office desk. George enters UR, carrying briefcase.
GEORGE Morning, Milly.
MILLY (Entering brightly UL) Good morning, Mr. Anderson.
GEORGE How's my little ray of sunshine this morning?
MILLY (Pertly) Very well, thank you.
GEORGE Good. You're looking particularly delectable - new hair-do? (Looks at watch) Mm, I'm rather late - got held up in Accounts. What's on the agenda today?
MILLY Er, Special Projects Committee eleven o'clock - the rep from Braithwaites at two - nothing else in particular.
GEORGE That wretched committee! "Nothing in particular" is just about what it's good for - dither, dither, dither over everything. It's only an excuse to save Hutchins from having to make up his mind. I doubt if we'd have had anything new in the past ten years if Turner and perhaps one or two others hadn't simply gone ahead under their own steam - not that they get any thanks for it, of course - just an occasional rocket for "unauthorised use of resources." Sorry, Milly - I shouldn't bother you with all that - even when it makes me boil. Are those papers ready for the quarterly report?
MILLY Nearly; I'll have them done in about five minutes.
GEORGE Good. Bring them in as soon as you can, will you?
MILLY Yes. Oh, I nearly forgot - Mr. Atkins was trying to get you first thing - will you please ring him back when it's convenient?
GEORGE Knowing him, that means immediately or sooner. I wonder what he wants this time. Will you see if he's available?
Exit Milly. George unloads his briefcase, arranges the desk, and flicks through a few pages of his desk diary. The phone rings.
GEORGE Hello, Jim - I gather you wanted to speak to me... Yes, I know - it's always important... Extra well presented this time, eh? Any particular reason?... Oh, I see. Mind you, with his eye for intrigue, he'd read hidden meanings into the weather forecast... All right, we'll take special care... What's that? First I've heard of it. (Checking the diary.) No, there's nothing in the diary about it: are you sure?... All right, keep your hair on, only asking: when's it to be?... TONIGHT!!! Hell, that's torn it - what time?... Seven thirty for eight - I see... I suppose so - but it won't go down too well at home... Oh no; she's very understanding, really... (with mock indignation) Jim, what a thoroughly disgraceful suggestion!... Milly? No, of course I don't know: if you'll hang on a minute I'll ask her. Milly!
MILLY(entering and putting papers on the desk) Yes, Mr. Anderson?
GEORGE Mr. Atkins tells me he left a message with you about one of Mr. Penrose's staff get-togethers this evening.
MILLY Oh yes, that was last Wednesday when you were in Wakefield. Didn't I put it in the diary?
GEORGE No, you did not, and you didn't say a dicky-bird about it on Thursday, either. (Milly looks crestfallen) Oh, never mind about that now: the point is, are you going to it?
MILLY Do I have to?
GEORGE It's "purely voluntary," which means that if you're suddenly whipped into hospital with a broken leg, ruptured appendix and Lassa fever, an apology will be accepted. I take it you're going?
MILLY I suppose so.
GEORGE All right, Jim. It's yes for both of us. Good job you checked. You'll be there yourself?... Right, see you tonight; cheerio. (Replacing the phone) Well, Milly, that was a bit embarrassing - never mind, we'll get over it. Better tell Mary, though: will you ring home for me?
Exit Milly: George mutters to himself.
Only hope she's in - now was that coffee morning today or tomorrow? And didn't she have a hair appointment? (The phone rings.) Oh, hello, dear; glad I caught you. Didn't interrupt anything, I hope?... I'm sorry, but something's just come up... Well, in a way. Look, dear, I know it's awkward and I'm dreadfully sorry about it, but I've just been landed with one of Penrose's do's tonight, and there's no way of getting out of it... Yes, he did, last week, but Milly forgot to tell me... Yes, I know, and I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about it... Oh, you know, one of those ghastly affairs he holds every year or so - says it's to "boost staff morale and encourage the corporate spirit," but if you ask me it boosts nothing but his own ego... Yes, he insists we all show up... No, there'll be no time to get home beforehand... Oh, about eleven, I should think... Yes, dear. 'Bye.
He replaces the phone and starts to read Milly's papers, at first abstractedly but then with closer attention and mounting agitation, marking corrections as he goes.
MILLY (entering) Yes, Mr. Anderson?
GEORGE Milly, I realise you didn't know about it, but these papers have to be especially well presented this time - and here are five spelling mistakes on the first page, here three spellings and half a sentence missing, here the second paragraph repeated - and so on. It won't do, Milly.
MILLY I'm sorry, Mr. Anderson.
GEORGEAnd now I come to think of it, there've been rather a lot of slip-ups lately. Is anything on your mind?
MILLY (in a voice beginning to break) N-no, Mr. Anderson.
GEORGE Well, I'm afraid you'll have to pull your socks up. We must keep up a certain standard - present a good image for the firm, and all that. I'd thought you could manage it, but if you can't... well, we don't want to think about that, do we? Just a minute, (rummaging in the desk) Training sent round a list of courses - I'm sure there was one on "Secretarial Skills." If you like, I could have a word with them...
MILLY (on the verge of tears) Oh... (grabbing the papers, she rushes out.)
GEORGE (subsiding in despair) Oh, Lord!
Fade out light on desk; fade up on Nick; exit George.
NICK And that's George all over; tries to do things kindly, even delivering a rocket, but makes it worse than simply putting the boot in. You know which road is paved with good intentions. Now he's worried about upsetting her, and that leads to more trouble.
Fade out completely on Nick; fade up on settee, unoccupied. Muffled noises off from a party a few rooms away. Every so often the sound rises momentarily and fades back, as an intervening door is opened and closed, indicated in the following scene by "sound up."
Sound up. Milly enters hastily, holding an empty glass, glancing over her shoulder. She throws herself miserably on to the settee, sniffing occasionally into a tissue. After a few moments, sound up, George enters by the same route.
GEORGE Ah, there you are, Milly. I wondered where you'd got to.
MILLY Oh, hello. (Sniffs.)
George sits beside her, trying ineptly to comfort her, and unconsciously getting into a more and more compromising position.
GEORGE Now, Milly, what's the matter?
MILLY Nothing. (Sniffs.)
GEORGE Come off it. You wouldn't dash out of the party like a scalded cat and sit moping by yourself for nothing. Did something happen back there?
MILLY No. (Sniffs.)
GEORGE Are you feeling ill?
GEORGE Well, have you been having trouble with... (Light dawns.) Oh, is it that business this morning? (Milly nods dejectedly, sniffs.) Well, that was unfortunate, but something had to be done about it. And for goodness' sake, don't make such a tragedy of it - everyone makes mistakes from time to time - everyone has runs of mistakes from time to time - I'm sure you'll do better when you've got over this patch...
MILLY I'm doing my best!
During the following dialogue, Nick quietly approaches the other two by a route that allows him to collect, unseen by the audience, a large glass of gin-and-not-much-tonic handed to him from the wing.
GEORGE Yes, yes, I'm sure you are - I didn't mean to suggest you weren't. Maybe the job's simply too much of a strain for you. I know how hard it is to concentrate with the phone ringing all the time and what not - and maybe I'm not the easiest of people to please - I'm sure we could arrange something else for you - I mean, they're always crying out for extra help in the typing pool - (Milly bursts into tears) - Now what's the matter?
MILLY (wailing) I can't go back there! That bunch of cats! They said when you took me out of it that I'd be no good as a secretary - that you'd only chosen me because - because -
George, desperately trying to comfort her, by now has one hand holding hers and the other round her shoulder.
NICK Ah, George, there you are - been looking all over for you - (suddenly registering the situation) - aye, aye!
GEORGE (flustered) Now don't start jumping to conclusions - I...
NICK (interrupting) George, never explain - it only makes you look guilty. What you get up to is your own business. Anyway, I'm not playing gooseberry; Penrose is asking for you.
GEORGE Damn - what does he want?
NICK No idea - better go and find out.
GEORGE Drat the man. Sorry, Milly; I'll have to go and see what's up. Excuse me.
Exit George - sound up - Nick looks at Milly, with rough sympathy fills her glass from his own, and toasts her silently. Milly looks doubtfully at her glass.
NICK Oh, it's all right; it's a fresh glass (indicating his own) - I haven't touched it yet. (Toasts her again. They drink.)
MILLY Thanks. I needed that. (Awkward pause.) How's the party going?
NICK More or less as you'd expect. Bill and Stan have had too much: Ted hasn't had enough - he's off on one of his endless stories - ten quid to a brass farthing he'll forget the punch-line as usual. Norman's getting off with one of the juniors - there'll be trouble there one of these days. Everyone else is desperately trying to look cheerful, and wondering how soon they can decently slip away. What good Penrose expects to get out of these binges is beyond me.
MILLY Does he enjoy them?
NICK I shouldn't think so - not his style at all. He tries to play the convivial host, of course, but you can tell it's an act - he looks like a fish out of water, only rather less animated than you usually see on the slab. A quiet evening with his cronies would be much more in his line.
MILLY (rather surprised) Do you know him well?
NICK Not really, but I make a point of noticing people's fancies - you never know when it'll come in useful.
MILLY That doesn't sound very nice.
NICK Oh, nothing discreditable - that's far too dangerous a game. If you want to get up the ladder, you have to bolster the boss's confidence, not undermine it. It's just a matter of special interests - little harmless foibles - the sort of thing you can bring up in conversation, to save him that awful groping around for something to say that's a bit less hackneyed than the weather. If you can do that, he's left with a vague feeling of owing you a favour. And it's often useful as a diversion.
MILLY What do you mean?
NICK Well, suppose you can see the conversation heading in a direction you particularly want to avoid - like the football match that just happened to be on the last time you took sick leave - then if you can bring up something else that the other chap's bound to find more interesting, you may be able to get off the hook. Doesn't work if he's really determined to nail you, of course, but it's surprising how often you can head him off from thinking about it. For instance, take the time I was up for interview. (Perching on an arm of the settee) I had to impress Smithers, and just then he had a bee in his bonnet about quality control - one of my blind spots. But I'd found out he was mad about musical history, so I worked in a bit from the Sunday paper about how Beethoven produced his best work when he couldn't hear a note of it. By the time we emerged from that little digression, Smithers had to dash off to another meeting, and everyone else was only too glad to wrap up the proceedings. (Wryly) The only trouble was, to keep in his good books, I had to mug up about all sorts of obscure composers who'd bore the pants off me if ever I had to listen to any of their stuff. Cost me nine quid for the Oxford Companion, but it paid off.
MILLY And would that work with Mr. Penrose?
NICK Not music: he's tone deaf - he'd probably think the last trump was in a pack of cards. His passion is bridge, and that's one subject I refuse to get involved in - it takes people over too completely.
MILLY What about Mr. Anderson?
NICK George? Difficult - a lot of general interests, but nothing very deep - nothing you can get your teeth into. Though I must say you seemed to be getting on pretty well just now without any help from me.
MILLY Not really. It was a bit grim this morning... He was trying to help in his own way, I suppose, but... Oh, I don't want to talk about it.
Sound up; George returns.
NICK Suit yourself. (Noticing George) Ah...
GEORGE That's that settled, mercifully. Sorry I had to shoot off before. And thanks for looking after Milly - I was a bit worried about her.
NICK You're welcome. She's a better audience than I'd find out there. But I'd better get back before Ted notices I've missed half his story and insists on going through the whole blasted rigmarole again. Good luck!
Nick returns to his place, pausing on the way to look back and discreetly hand his glass into the wing.
GEORGE (looking after Nick; under his breath) Luck? What the devil...? (Aloud) Feeling better? You're certainly looking a bit perkier.
MILLY Yes, thank you. He's quite a character, isn't he?
GEORGE Nick? Yes, I suppose he is; though I've never been quite sure what sort of character. (Decisively) Look, Milly, I don't think this party's doing you any good, and I've had more than enough of it. Let me take you home.
MILLY But what if Mr. Penrose wants you again?
GEORGE He won't. Come on - did you have a coat?
MILLY Oh, I only live in Pemberton Street - honestly, I'll be quite all right by myself.
GEORGE No, Milly, after an upset like this, I'd never forgive myself if I didn't see you safely home. Come on.
They leave, with George's arm round Milly's waist, and a smile struggling across her face.
Fade out on acting area; fade up on Nick.
NICK And you can imagine what happens at Pemberton Street. All right, don't get excited - I said you could imagine it! So, next morning, George is feeling rather guilty, and needs to work it off somehow.
The light on Nick dims; fade up on the breakfast table. Mary enters with coffee etc. on a tray, and sets them out on the table: calls.
MARY Ready, darling!
GEORGE (Entering while putting on his jacket.) Spot-on timing as usual, dear.
Both sit and start breakfast.
GEORGE One of these days I'll break a shoe-lace, and then where will you be?
MARY Finding you a new one, I expect. I don't suppose for a moment that you know where they are.
GEORGE Top drawer, left hand side at the back.
MARY Well, well, well! How's that for efficiency!
GEORGE Actually, I came across them just now while I was looking for something else.
MARY What was that?
GEORGE A piece of paper I put down somewhere last night.
MARY What sort of paper?
GEORGE Oh, just an odd scrap with an address on it.
MARY On the back of something marked "Strictly Confidential"?
GEORGE Could be - I don't remember. Why, have you seen it?
MARY On the landing this morning - I wondered where it had come from. It's on the hall table now.
GEORGE Thanks, dear. I promised to take something from the office to one of the girls who's sick. Oh, that reminds me - I may be a bit late again tonight.
MARY Again? Really, George - that's the third time this week. What's going on?
GEORGE Quarterly report. Old Penrose wants a particularly impressive one this time. Apparently he's afraid of cuts in the budget and wants to show that things are really buzzing around here. And it has to be done by the weekend.
MARY Is this going to happen every quarter?
GEORGE Probably not, but it all depends on a new accountant they've got up at Head Office. Very keen - he thinks we can save ten percent of turnover just like that. Ten percent off everything, of course, regardless of whether there's really any slack or it's already been cut to the bone.
MARY Well, don't burst a blood vessel over it - you may be only ten percent of the management here, but you're all the husband I've got.
GEORGE Sorry, dear - I shouldn't bother you with these things. Hm, I was saying the same thing to Milly only the other day.
MARY Were you, indeed? By the way, don't forget the Vicar's meeting, will you?
GEORGE What meeting?
MARY Surely I told you? Oh no, I was just going to when Mother rang, and it went clean out of my head. Anyway, the Vicar asked if you could come to a special meeting tonight, and I promised you would.
GEORGE (groaning) Oh, hell! It's been the same ever since the marriage feast of Cana - women volunteering their menfolk for jobs they don't want to do.
MARY (humouring him) And this time, just to give you an extra challenge, there isn't even the water provided to turn into wine.
MARY I gather it's about the drought in Tibesti. The Vicar wants to see what we can do about it.
GEORGE He isn't planning to repeat the feeding of the five thousand, is he?
MARY Not by himself. He's asking everyone he thinks may help.
GEORGE Such as?
MARY Herbert Foster, for one.
GEORGE Well, we'll be off to a good start if he's providing the fish - to judge by his stories, at any rate! Who else?
MARY I forget. Oh, Joan Barnsworth.
GEORGE That featherbrain? Why, I doubt if she knows what continent Tibesti's in!
MARY Now don't be catty, George: it doesn't suit you. Joan's geography is just as good as mine. And for heaven's sake, everyone knows where Tibesti is - between India and China, more or less.
GEORGE (patiently) No, dear - that's Tibet. And as you say, Joan's geography is just as good as yours. Still, we don't need a navigator, and she does mean well, I suppose. (Sighing) What time is this world-shaking conference starting? And where?
MARY Eight o'clock at the vicarage. The Vicar really wanted it at seven, but I had an idea you might be late, so I persuaded him to put it back a bit.
GEORGE Oh well, better show willing. Can you make it a quick dinner? Hey, look at the time - I'll have to dash! (With a quick peck that turns into a longer squeeze) See you tonight - 'bye, darling. (Exit.)
She clears away breakfast things to the kitchen. Lights dim briefly to indicate a change of scene.
The Vicar ushers in George and Joan.
VICAR I've called this meeting to see what we as a parish can do about the situation in Tibesti. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to be tied up with one thing or another - I never realised how many things were going on of an evening here - but you know how it is: if we wait until everyone can come, we'll never do anything. (By now, all are seated.) Now, to business. I suppose you've both seen the news? Yes, of course you have, but I'll just read out this piece that particularly caught my attention - when I can find it - ah, here it is. "Thousands are starving in the northern province, although substantial stocks of relief supplies have reached the capital. The ruggedness of the terrain, the state of the roads and the shortage of suitable vehicles are hampering distribution, and the government has appealed urgently for transport aircraft." There, you see - people dying like flies in one place, the food they need somewhere else, and no way of getting one to the other.
GEORGE You're not suggesting we buy a Hercules, are you?
VICAR No, of course not, but you see what it says about shortage of vehicles - surely we could do something about that?
GEORGE Have you any idea how much a forty-ton truck costs even here?
VICAR Well, I realise that that might be beyond us, but perhaps we could manage something smaller - a Land-Rover, say?
GEORGE Small loads are useless: they clutter up the roads and waste drivers. Anyway, as our funds stand, we'd be lucky to get a wheelbarrow.
VICAR Don't rub it in. I wasn't suggesting a raid on the contingency fund - obviously we'll have to raise money specially for the purpose. (Wistfully) I did think we might be able to point to one particular vehicle and say "We gave that" - pride, of course, and you're quite right to object - let's do our best, and if the worst comes to the worst, we can always make a parish donation to one of the bigger organisations. Anything's better than doing nothing. Now, has either of you any ideas for, er, raising the wind?
JOAN (after a pause) Well, I think we ought to see what we can do with what we have actually in the parish - I don't mean just cash, of course - but people here do have talent. Perhaps a concert by the church choir...?
GEORGE Somehow I don't quite see that filling Wembley Stadium.
VICAR George!! Do you have to be so negative? Joan has at least made a constructive suggestion, which is more...(He checks himself.)
GEORGE All right, all right, I take your point - sorry. Right, church choir concert. What sort of programme were you thinking of?
JOAN Well, I hadn't really thought - hymns and psalms are what they know best, but they'd be out of place - Victorian ballads, perhaps?
GEORGE (very carefully) Mm, a few might do for a start, but they aren't everybody's cup of tea, and I think we ought to vary the programme a bit - something rather livelier - remembering though that the choir isn't exactly up to Mormon Tabernacle standard...
VICAR They do very well, considering.
GEORGE Yes, Vicar, considering. But you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and we don't want to make the audience suffer in both - though I suppose we could charge ten bob admission and a pound to get out!
JOAN George, that really isn't fair!
GEORGE Sorry, only joking. Maybe we should get the choirmaster in on this to discuss what they could do that'd be reasonably popular.
VICAR Yes, that does seem a good idea - only proper, really. Oh dear, perhaps we ought to have been taking minutes - Joan, would you mind making some notes? No need to be too formal at this stage. Thank you so much. First action - invite choirmaster to discuss programme of choir concert. Right, we're beginning to get somewhere. Any more ideas?
JOAN (hesitantly) I was thinking - sponsored walks used to raise a lot of money for one thing or another - though they seem to have gone a bit out of fashion...
GEORGE Knowing some of our parishioners, I'd have thought a sponsored pub-crawl more in their line.
VICAR Actually, George, you may have a point there. The Sally Army used to go collecting round the pubs - maybe still do - after all, it's one place where people have obviously got money to throw away.
GEORGE And you could ask people who didn't fancy collecting to sponsor those who did - so much per pub visited - better not make it per pint drunk - or perhaps giving so much per pound collected - up to a limit, of course...
JOAN We'll have to take care not to leave people out - they can get so offended if you do - I mean, for instance, Miss Singleton's always saying she wants things for the Guides to do; should we ask her to organise it?
VICAR Not going into licensed premises - though you're right, we certainly ought to bring them in somehow.
GEORGE (dreamily) Some of the older ones... (remembering where he is) No, that wouldn't do at all.
VICAR What wouldn't?
GEORGE Oh, never mind.
JOAN Come on, George, don't be shy. Do tell us.
VICAR Yes, even a silly idea can sometimes start a useful train of thought.
GEORGE I doubt if this one would.
VICAR Well, we'll never know if you don't tell us what it is.
GEORGE (embarrassed) All right, you asked for it. I was thinking of a sponsored dance of the seven veils - with a special premium on the seventh.
JOAN Well, why not? They'd have a swimsuit or something underneath, wouldn't they?
VICAR I think, Joan, that's hardly what would be in people's minds. And even then it would be an incitement to lust that I couldn't condone, however good the cause. I'm worried enough by the way some of the girls dress normally.
GEORGE Worried on our account or your own?
JOAN (genuinely surprised) Really, Vicar? I thought you were immune.
VICAR Ordination may strengthen resistance: it doesn't abolish the instincts. Sorry, George, I shouldn't have pressed you. Any other suggestions?
GEORGE My mind's gone blank - it always does when ideas are wanted at a meeting. Perhaps we should go away and think about it. Oh, one thing does occur to me: we'll want a snappy slogan to link whatever activities we dream up and attract attention to them.
VICAR Something like "Food for Tibesti"?
GEORGE Well, possibly on those lines, but you have to be terribly careful in choosing the words. They always seem to get cut down to initials and - without wishing to seem negative - FFT does sound rather like a damp squib. Hah! If you wanted something a bit more explosive, you could try "Tibesti Needs Trucks" - TNT!
NICK (derisorily) How about "Transport wanted in Tibesti"?
JOAN (eagerly) How about "Transport wanted in Tibesti"? T - W - ..I... (trailing off in confusion).
GEORGE Yes, well, you see how careful you have to be. Perhaps that's something else we ought to be thinking about before...(A telephone rings off.)
VICAR Excuse me, I'll have to answer that - there's no one else here tonight. (Exit.)
GEORGE (after a short pause) Joan, I'm sorry if I seemed to be rather down on your suggestions - I'm a bit edgy today - things on my mind, you know...
JOAN Oh, that's all right - after all, you've had far more experience of organising things than I have - I mean, I haven't had any at all - so of course... Actually, one other thing...
VICAR (returning hastily) Sorry about that - a sick call - old Mrs. Williams, sinking fast it seems - been expecting it long enough, of course - that'll be at least an hour and a half, I'm afraid. Look, there's no need to break up if you've any more to discuss tonight - it's important to keep things moving - just drop the catch on the door as you go, will you?
GEORGE Right-oh. Sorry about Mrs. Williams.
VICAR Well, it comes to us all sooner or later - must dash - thanks for coming. (Exit.)
GEORGE Now, where were we? Oh yes, "One other thing," you were saying.
JOAN It just occurred to me - there's a handbell team over in Allersby - they usually get good audiences...
GEORGE It's worth trying. Do you know who their secretary is?
JOAN It's a Mrs. Roberts - I think I've got her address somewhere - in my diary, perhaps - oh bother, I seem to have left it at home. Would you like to come and get it - and maybe a cup of coffee...? You know, I do so admire the way you always come straight to the point - no dithering - I wish I could manage to do that - instead of generally beating about the bush - as often as not someone chips in before I get there - or else I put my foot right in it and have to try and smooth that out - perhaps you could give me some tips on putting things better? - oh, that does seem dreadfully cheeky of me - I hope you don't mind...?
Fade out light on acting area. Joan's voice also fades, while she continues gushing, as though a volume control were gradually turned down to zero. Fade up on Nick. George escorts Joan off.
NICK Poor old George - that one really wasn't fair on him, was it? Now he's blotted his copy-book again - more complications. Even so, things wouldn't be completely disastrous if only he'd keep them to himself: but of course, the trouble with George is that he has a conscience - it's caused more misery to him and everyone around him than all his misdeeds put together. I remember a time he had to go and apologise to his mother-in-law for some trivial slight that she hadn't even noticed; but once he'd pointed it out, the old dragon played it for all it was worth until eventually George exploded and really insulted her. After that, she wouldn't speak to him at all for a couple of years. Mary somehow managed to patch things up between them in the end - she'd had to bear the brunt of it, of course.
Now George is worrying about "deceiving his wife" - and there's a cliché for you if ever there was one. It strikes me that any wife in that position - if she takes any notice at all of her husband, that is - must have a pretty good idea of what's going on, but puts up with it for one reason or another. I can think of three without trying. It's only when she's undeceived that the trouble starts: she can't ignore it any more, her friends and relations insist that she must "protect her own interests," the lawyers have a field-day and it's heigh-ho for the divorce court.
Fade down on Nick: fade up on settee, unoccupied. George and Mary, amid a clatter of crockery, are heard off.
MARY No, I can do it quicker by myself, thank you. You go and finish your crossword.
GEORGE Are you sure?
MARY Yes. (Teasing) You always put things away in the wrong place, or dry something greasy before I've washed it so that I have to get another towel. I'd far rather have you out of the way.
GEORGE All right. Where's the paper?
MARY It was on the fruit bowl an hour ago.
GEORGE Well, it isn't now. What did you...? - oh, it's all right, I've got it. (Entering with a newspaper and pen, and sitting on the settee.) Nothing on the box, is there?
MARY Nothing I fancy.
GEORGE(checking the paper) Nor I. (He turns to the crossword, frowning.)
MARY How much have you done?
GEORGE About half. But I'm stuck.
MARY Give me a clue.
GEORGE Er... "Cooper going hairless, I say, for revolutionary biscuit."
MARY How many letters?
GEORGE Nine. Blank A blank I blank blank blank D blank.
MARY (Entering, drying a plate.) Let me see - I can't do it in my head. Which one is it?
GEORGE Fourteen across. There.
MARY Mmmm... Garibaldi?
GEORGE( checking) It fits, but why? Oh, I see, yes - brilliant. (He fills in "Garibaldi". Exit Mary. George continues, occasionally filling gaps.)
MARY (off) I bumped into Joan Barnsworth this morning.
GEORGE (warily) Oh?
MARY She'd just been talking to a niece of hers who works for you - your secretary, in fact.
GEORGE Good lord! I'd no idea Joan was Milly's aunt. They are alike in some ways, I suppose.
MARY (entering with coffee tray) I fancied another coffee, and you never refuse. How are they alike?
GEORGE Well, a general scattiness, for instance.
MARY (pouring coffee) Do you think so? Joan usually seems sensible enough to me - but perhaps you'd call me scatty too. She said that Milly had been bubbling over with excitement - apparently there'd been trouble with her boy-friend for the past few weeks, but they made it up last night - practically an engagement. Anyway, Joan congratulated her, but was baffled when Milly suddenly came out with a cryptic remark about "hoping Mr. Anderson would understand," and then shut up like a clam. (Passing coffee to George.) Do you?
GEORGE Do I what?
MARY Understand what Milly meant.
GEORGE (understanding very well, but not quite ready to discuss it) Probably about something that happened the other day. I had to tick her off for absent-mindedness. The boy-friend problem would account for that, I suppose, though she wouldn't admit to anything on her mind when I asked. A bit private, of course.
MARY That sounds like it. I must tell Joan it was nothing for her to worry about: I got the impression she was afraid there might be some dire secret. Though I suppose you may see her first, with being on the Vicar's committee together.
MARY She seemed to think the meeting went fairly well.
GEORGE Probably because he had to leave half-way through - called out to Mrs. Williams, you know. (Filling the last gap in the crossword.) There - finished!
MARY Well done.
GEORGE It was your Garibaldi that did it. Everything else followed on.
MARY Well done both of us, then. (Pause.) Oh, I knew there was something I wanted to do. (As she goes out) Did you say you were reading the lesson tomorrow?
MARY Better practise your piece, then. What is it?
GEORGE The slip's in the Bible.
MARY So it is. (Entering with the Bible and a knitting bag.) Two passages - Psalm 95, verses 1 to 11. (Finding the place.) That's the whole psalm. Very rhetorical. (Declaiming) "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness."
GEORGE I wonder where they were?
MARY Don't ask me. You're the geography expert, remember?
GEORGE Hm. I suppose Meribah must be somewhere around Sinai.
MARY And Massah?
GEORGE (teasing) Ah, Massah...
GEORGE Are you sure you want to know?
MARY (knowing she will regret it) Go on.
GEORGE Well... Massah's ... in de cold, cold ground. (Mary throws a ball of wool at him.) You did ask. What's the other piece?
MARY One Corinthians six, 12 to 20. (Searching) Romans - Corinthians - chapter six - "The body is not meant for fornication." (Handing over the Bible and retrieving the wool.) Try to keep a straight face, won't you?
GEORGE (startled) Eh? Oh, yes. (He reads silently while Mary knits. After a couple of false starts, he plucks up courage to speak.) Er, Mary...
MARY (concentrating on knitting) Mm?
GEORGE There's something I ought to tell you.
MARY Go on.
GEORGE It isn't very easy.
MARY Not like you to be tongue-tied.
GEORGE This isn't the usual run of chit-chat.
MARY (with full attention) George, you've been behaving a bit oddly ever since Mr. Penrose's party the other day. Did something go wrong then?
GEORGE In a way.
MARY Penrose... Penrose... I get the strangest fantasies about that name. "Henry Penrose sat at his office desk, staring blankly at the wall opposite. His pen rose spontaneously from its rest, performed an impromptu can-can in mid air, and fell back in a puddle of leaking ink. Henry's eyes stayed fixed on the wall, but his hand crept unbidden to the puddle, inked itself, and impressed a column of fingerprints down the right-hand edge of the blotter."
GEORGE (amused despite himself) M. R. James with a dash of Raymond Chandler? It doesn't sound much like our Penrose. His name isn't Henry, either.
MARY What is it?
GEORGE Harvey Oswald, I think, but he keeps pretty quiet about it.
MARY So I should hope. "The Harvey O-pen rose trophy - for three single blooms against suitable foliage." This is getting ridiculous - I don't know where these ideas keep coming from. Perhaps it's that Cosmic Consciousness the Rosicrucians go on about. But it seems a bit trivial for that. Do you think I ought to see a psychiatrist?
GEORGE Not unless you want to keep him in caviare for the next ten years. Now do stop chattering for a minute, there's something I've got to tell you.
MARY Sounds portentous.
GEORGE Well, it is important. And I don't quite know how to start.
MARY I gather it isn't altogether calculated to fill me with the joys of spring?
MARY Something unpleasant then. Would it cause me any trouble not to know it?
GEORGE (surprised) Er - none that I can think of, I suppose.
MARY Then why bother telling me?
GEORGE Well - it's just that I don't think there should be any secrets between husband and wife.
MARY Do you tell me about your firm's contracts?
GEORGE No, of course not.
MARY There you are, then.
GEORGE But that's different: it's the firm's confidential business - it doesn't concern you.
MARY Neither does this, by the sound of it.
GEORGE I'd have thought it did - pretty closely.
MARY George, are you trying to work round to saying you want to leave me, or something?
GEORGE (terrified) Good grief, that's the last thing I'd want!
MARY Good. I thought so, but I'm glad to hear you say it. And for all your annoying little ways, I'd be very sorry if you did.
MARY Now George, if this is just a case of confession being good for the soul, then go and see the Vicar about it - let him do his proper job for a change. I don't want to know. Look, I'm not blind, and I know you pretty well by now. I know you have an eye for the ladies, and that they often like your attentions; after all, I did myself - I shouldn't have married you otherwise. Yes, and I know that they don't always stop at a casual flirtation: but I know too that you wouldn't really want to hurt me - or anyone else, for that matter. It does hurt, I won't deny it - the first one I found out about made me feel quite ill - but I've come to terms with that: as long as you go on trying your best, I dare say I can put up with the occasional lapse. Only don't try to unload your guilt on to me. Now, can we forget about it and get on to something more agreeable?
Fade up light on Nick, who is disconcerted by the turn of events.
NICK (hastily) Well, that's enough of my little illusion. Oh yes, pure illusion - "We are such stuff as dreams are made on," and all that. A flick of my fingers, and it'll be gone like a dud TV programme. You don't believe me? All right, then...
(He snaps his fingers and is instantly blacked out. George and Mary are by now well into a clinch.)
NICK Hey! what the hell's going on?
If it can be done gracefully, George picks up Mary and carries her towards the exit; otherwise he gets into a particularly affectionate posture.
MARY (dreamily) Hey! What the hell's going on?
GEORGE As if you didn't know!