A play by Peter D. Wilson
SCENE: A nondescript river bank with a few logs that serve as rough seats. The river itself is out of sight, but there are references to a boat-landing jetty off-stage right, and to a forest as the "fourth wall."
William is sitting gloomy and unnoticed against a boulder, far up left and facing off-stage. Ron is lying asleep upstage, head on a small haversack. Alan and Louise are sitting on a log; Ken, Sally, Val, Pam and Gareth stand nearby, all utterly bored or frustrated. Enid, Owen, Helen, Tanya, Derek and Ian are in the wings; where not explicitly mentioned, they may drift aimlessly in and out, or loiter, sitting or standing, depending on the capacity of the stage to accommodate them conveniently; when visible but not involved in the action they may chat inaudibly among themselves. Belongings suited to a day’s excursion are scattered around.
ALAN: (rousing himself from torpor) For heaven’s sake - how much longer are we going to be stuck here?
LOUISE: Don’t be impatient. Getting in a frazzle won’t make it any less.
ALAN: All right, I was only asking.
LOUISE: But since none of us knows the answer, it wasn’t a real question - just a grouse.
ALAN: Trust you to be pedantic.
KEN: It really is a bit thick, though - just leaving us here and expecting us to wait.
SALLY: You should be used to it, with all the time you’ve spent in airports.
KEN: But there at least you know what you’re waiting for. And there’s usually something to relieve the boredom - even if it’s only reading the papers or going through the duty-free.
SALLY: And some sort of attempt at explanation.
ALAN: If you’re lucky.
SALLY: Well, this was supposed to be a mystery tour, after all.
KEN: Except that we don’t seem to be touring.
ALAN: It’s altogether too much of a mystery for my liking.
VAL: I do hope it won’t be too long. I’ve still to make Dad’s supper when we get back.
PAM: Is there much to do?
VAL: Not an awful lot. There should have been plenty of time - he doesn’t get home till about eight. But something seems to have gone wrong.
ALAN: Badly. This can’t be deliberate.
PAM: No, the company wouldn’t keep people hanging about like this intentionally.
KEN: It would soon go bust if it did.
ALAN: I shall certainly complain when we do get back.
GARETH: Assuming you can find someone to complain to. I never have.
PAM: They can probably see you coming.
GARETH: (bridling) What are you getting at?
PAM: Nothing. No need to get shirty.
GARETH: All very well for you. You seem to take anything in your stride.
PAM: Working yourself up about things doesn’t help.
GARETH: It’s a matter of principle. You shouldn’t let people walk all over you.
PAM: I don’t.
GARETH: Or treat you like dirt - that lout in the ticket office had no manners at all.
PAM: Oh, come on - be fair on the lad ...
GARETH: How was I unfair?
PAM: You know very well they aren’t taught to show respect these days - you’ve said so yourself often enough. And where no offence is intended, why take it?
GARETH: You mean I do?
PAM: It has been known.
GARETH: Such as when?
PAM: Well, if you want a list ...
SALLY: Does it really help the situation to go on like this?
PAM: What? Oh - probably not. You’re right. Sorry, Gareth.
GARETH: But you don’t seem to understand that if you let people get away with bad service, it’ll just ... Oh, what the hell! Sorry – I didn’t mean to take it out on you, old girl.
VAL: I do wish something would happen.
KEN: What, in particular?
VAL: Anything to get us out of here and on our way. I’m getting worried.
ALAN: How long have we been here, actually? My watch must have stopped.
VAL: Well, I didn’t notice when we got here, but I make it five past four now.
ALAN: So do I, near enough. But it seems a lot longer than that since the last stop.
SALLY: Time does drag when you’re waiting.
KEN: Especially when you don’t know what for.
SALLY: This is where we came in. Let’s not keep going round in circles!
SALLY: (glancing off right) Oh, look, someone’s coming this way.
GARETH: And about time, too. Let’s hope it’s to some purpose.
ALAN: I shouldn’t bank on it, if I were you.
LOUISE: Grousing again?
ALAN: Just being realistic. Raising false hopes only makes matters worse.
SALLY: Why not look on the bright side just for once?
ALAN: Expect nothing, and you won’t be disappointed.
LOUISE: Sometimes I think you’d be disappointed if things did go right.
SALLY: Now don’t start that again!
Charlie enters right, then stops, looking rather startled.
CHARLIE: Blimey, they didn’t tell me it was a bus load.
GARETH: Who didn’t?
CHARLIE: Whoever it was on the blower. Just said I had to pick up some passengers.
ALAN: You weren’t expecting us, then?
CHARLIE: Not you in particular.
KEN: What do you mean?
CHARLIE: I’m on standby. I never know when I may be needed - it can be any time. Sometimes I get a bit of warning, more often I don’t.
LOUISE: And we arrived out of the blue, did we?
CHARLIE: That’s right.
LOUISE: Anyway, thank goodness you’ve come. We were wondering what had happened.
CHARLIE: Aye, I can believe it.
The group starts to gather belongings.
CHARLIE: Oh, I don’t want to worry you, but ...
GARETH: But what?
CHARLIE: You needn’t all be in too much of a hurry. I can only take four at a time.
CHARLIE: I said I can only take four at a time.
ALAN: Yes, I know. But this is ridiculous!
GARETH: I shall really complain about this – it’s altogether too bad.
CHARLIE: You can complain as much as you like. It won’t make any difference.
ALAN: But that means ... (looking around and counting, including those off-stage or temporarily absent) ... five journeys. How long does it take?
CHARLIE: Not long. About ten minutes the round trip.
GARETH: That still makes the best part of an hour. And we’ve been waiting goodness knows how long already.
CHARLIE: Sorry, mate, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
ALAN: Couldn’t you squeeze an extra one in? That would make one journey less.
CHARLIE: Sorry, can’t be done.
KEN: If it’s just a matter of regulations ... I know the authorities have gone mad on safety, but the water’s calm enough.
CHARLIE: ’Tisn’t that, mate. Can’t get any more in.
GARETH: Then they should have arranged for a bigger boat.
CHARLIE: Who should?
GARETH: Whoever’s running this ... fiasco.
Ian quietly joins the group.
CHARLIE: Maybe they should. Not for me to say. But mine’s the only boat we have.
SALLY: It looks as though Val was right - only things have gone wrong a lot worse than any of us thought.
GARETH: Yes, very badly indeed.
ALAN: What did I tell you?
LOUISE: I know it was supposed to be a mystery tour, but the plan couldn’t really have involved swapping a bus for a boat, could it?
KEN: I shouldn’t think so. Too complicated, for one thing.
ALAN: More to the point, too expensive.
GARETH: Well, however it was supposed to be set up, someone’s made a right pig’s ear of it.
VAL: It does look like that.
GARETH: It makes me furious, the sloppy way things are done these days. No efficiency anywhere. We ought to put in a really stiff complaint when we get back.
SALLY: I dare say you’re right, but going on about it just now doesn’t help.
GARETH: It helps me to let off a bit of steam.
PAM: Actually, I don’t think it does. It just seems to stoke up the pressure.
LOUISE: You want to watch it - if you keep at it, you’re liable to give yourself ulcers -
PAM: He already has.
LOUISE: - or a stroke. I’ve seen it happen.
CHARLIE: Look here, I don’t want to break up your argument just when you’re enjoying it, but if you’re going to get across before doomsday hadn’t you better decide who’s taking the first trip?
IAN: Thank goodness someone has a bit of sense here!
GARETH: What the blazes ... Who the devil asked your opinion?
PAM: Gareth! Remember … ulcers! Anyway, now we have the chance to do something constructive at last , hadn’t we better do it?
SALLY: Well said. Val seems to be the only one with a real reason for hurrying, so I think she should be one of the first.
VAL: Thank you - that’s very kind.
KEN: (aside, to Sally) Will it make any difference for her?
SALLY: (aside, to Ken) Probably not, in substance, but it may make her feel better.
IAN: And for the others?
LOUISE: It hardly matters, does it? Whoever goes will still have to wait for the others at the other side - for as long as it takes.
KEN: Assuming whoever’s in charge is keeping the party together, yes. (To Charlie) Do you know if that’s right?
CHARLIE: No idea. I just take you across the river. What happens after’s none of my business.
KEN: It seems reasonable to suppose so, anyway.
IAN: So if ... what’s your name, ferryman, if you don’t mind my asking?
CHARLIE: Folks mostly call me Charlie.
IAN: Then I suggest Charlie simply grabs the three nearest. Any objections?
KEN: Fair enough by me. (Everyone else nods.)
CHARLIE: Right-oh. So - you, you and you. (He indicates Alan, Louise, and Ken)
KEN: Oh Sally - er - do you mind?
SALLY: No, go ahead. I dare say I’ll survive an hour without you.
KEN: It shouldn’t be that long. See you, then …
Charlie and the four passengers exit right.
GARETH: Well, that’s something happening, at any rate.
PAM: Careful - that sounds dangerously like a touch of optimism.
GARETH: All right, all right ... No need for sarcasm.
Ron awakes with a start and a snort.
RON: Uh - what’s going on?
ENID: Oh, so you’ve woken up at last, have you?
RON: (yawning) More or less. Pity - I was having rather a nice dream.
IAN: Care to tell us what about?
RON: Better not - not with Enid listening!
IAN: It might provide a bit of welcome entertainment - if you can remember enough of it.
ENID: The time you spend asleep, anyone would think you’d been slaving all night.
RON: Don’t start that again, for goodness’ sake. This morning was quite enough.
ENID: It’s positively embarrassing, the way you drop off all over the place.
RON: Don’t exaggerate. It isn’t all over the place.
ENID: All right, just where it’s most annoying.
RON: In any case, it’s perfectly normal to doze on a coach journey.
ENID: Not when you’re supposed to be enjoying the scenery.
RON: For some reason, that’s usually when I’m sleepiest. Or when a guide’s giving the usual spiel. (Looking around) Anyway, I shouldn’t have said this was much to write home about.
SALLY: It does seem we shouldn’t really be here at all.
ENID: (becoming progressively more agitated) And I don’t suppose you realised where we were back there.
RON: How could I, if I was asleep?
ENID: You were still more or less conscious then.
RON: So where was it?
ENID: It was ... (she has difficulty in continuing)
ENID: The very spot where ... where Jenny ...
She is overcome with remembered grief and collapses in tears. Ron tries half-heartedly to comfort her, and Helen crosses to them. Owen hovers anxiously.
HELEN: (solicitously) What’s the matter? Is she all right?
RON: Not ill, if that’s what you mean. Not physically, at any rate.
HELEN: I don’t mean to poke my nose in if ...
RON: Of course not. It didn’t occur to me. It’s just very unfortunate …
OWEN: What is ?
RON: It seems we came past the place where our daughter was killed last year.
HELEN: Oh dear ... What a dreadful coincidence. No wonder she’s upset.
OWEN: A road accident?
RON: Yes. She was out for a spin with her boy friend. A fairly regular week-end event, never any problem before ...
ENID: (recovering a little) That was only good luck. I warned you …
RON: Well, it’s true they were always a bit slap-dash over some things - using safety belts, for instance – especially after a canoodle, I imagine. Not that those would have helped much that last time, I imagine.
ENID: You should never have let her go out in that car of his.
RON: You don’t suppose for a moment that I could have stopped her, do you?
ENID: Speed mad, he was. And you knew it.
RON: Now be fair. He drove fast, yes, but I wouldn’t have said dangerously. Unless she egged him on, of course.
ENID: You’ve no reason to blame her!
RON: Well, knowing her, I don’t suppose it was all his fault.
ENID: (sarcastically) Oh, no?
RON: Ninety percent, perhaps, but not all. She hated dawdling - and that meant anything under sixty. And she could be very persuasive.
ENID: She could twist you round her little finger, anyway.
RON: I know. That’s the point I was trying to make.
ENID: But that day you said yourself that his tyres looked a bit dodgy. You should really have put your foot down.
RON: A fat lot of good that would have done.
OWEN: (sympathetically) Daughters can be difficult, can’t they?
HELEN: So can sons. Look at the trouble we had with Jack.
OWEN: He was at the difficult age.
HELEN: I dare say, but with most kids it doesn’t last for twenty-odd years!
OWEN: Well, he settled down eventually.
HELEN: It took the Stanley’s daughter to settle him.
OWEN: I’m not saying daughters don’t have their uses ...
TANYA: (joining the group) Excuse me for butting in - I couldn’t help hearing. Could that have been Margaret Stanley from Castleton way?
HELEN: Why, yes - do you know her?
TANYA: Slightly. Her mother married my widowed uncle.
HELEN: I hadn’t heard about that. Still, we don’t see them all that often.
TANYA: It wasn’t so long ago. Carrie said she needed some provision for old age, now Margaret was gone.
OWEN: Not exactly the romance of the century, then.
TANYA: Oh, I think they’re fond enough of each other. She was probably joking - it would be her style. For long enough she complained half-seriously of wondering how she was going to get Margaret off her hands.
HELEN: Some people are never satisfied, however things turn out.
RON: She should have given the girl a subscription to a dating agency.
TANYA: I’ve an idea Margaret might have tried something of the sort herself, from one or two odd things she said. It evidently came to nothing, though.
RON: Too choosy?
TANYA: Maybe. People said she was always rather particular.
OWEN: Well, if that’s a fault, it’s in the right direction. Saves a lot of trouble.
HELEN: You can take it too far, though. No one’s perfect.
RON: And you can get to the point where it doesn’t seem worth the bother any more. After all ...
ENID: (sharply) Yes?
RON: (realising he has nearly put his foot in it) Oh, nothing.
HELEN: (hastily interposing) Did you have any particular reason for asking about her?
TANYA: Yes – I was turning out a cupboard the other day and found a book belonging to her. I’d forgotten I’d borrowed it …
RON: Sounds a familiar story.
HELEN: Except that it’s usually the owner wondering who’s got it.
TANYA: … and wondered if you had her address.
HELEN: Not with me, but … Oh dear, here comes trouble.
Betty, a thoroughly disagreeable semi-invalid, enters supported by Mark. He retains a trace of his original affection for her but while mechanically dutiful has long since abandoned any pretence of patience with her moods. She is evidently indulging in an all-too-familiar kind of tirade. With some difficulty he seats her on one of the logs.
BETTY: ... to leave me out there for so long. You might have had some consideration.
MARK: You didn’t expect me to stand there watching, did you?
BETTY: You could have stayed within calling distance instead of wandering off to goodness knows where. Anything might have happened to me.
MARK: What sort of thing?
BETTY: Oh ... anything.
MARK: Some hope. I should have left you in a patch of nettles - then you’d really have had something to moan about.
BETTY: If you’d found one you probably would.
NELL: (entering) Oh, there you are ...
BETTY: Yes, no thanks to you. You disappeared fast enough!
NELL: You didn’t seem to need me.
BETTY: I might have done.
MARK: Do you have to keep nagging her?
BETTY: She’s supposed to be helping, not dashing off on any notion that takes her fancy.
NELL: I thought I saw the wallet that Derek had dropped. You know very well how worried he was about it.
BETTY: I might have guessed - anything in trousers. But go on, follow your own concerns - don’t let my depending on you make any difference.
MARK: What time can she have for any other concerns? You know darned well that she spends practically her whole life dealing with your whims and complaints.
BETTY: But that’s exactly ...
MARK: One of these days she’ll probably tell you what to do with the whole stupid lot of them - and I shan’t blame her. Nor would anyone else who knows you.
NELL: Mark, please ...
BETTY: (tearfully) You don’t seem to realise ...
MARK: (resignedly) Oh, now here come the waterworks again ...
NELL: Mark, for goodness’ sake! Do you have to keep tearing each other to bits?
MARK: My word! The worm has turned. And about time too. Sorry, Nell; I’m not making things any easier for you, am I?
NELL: I’m afraid not. I know you don’t mean it ...
IAN: (peering into the distance) I think the ferry’s coming back.
GARETH: And about time, too.
IAN: He’ll be a little while yet, but shouldn’t we be deciding who takes the next trip?
BETTY: We should insist - this is no place for an invalid.
MARK: We don’t know that it’s any better over there.
BETTY: Trust you to look on the black side.
MARK: Well, I suppose we can at least stop you annoying everyone else here.
IAN: (calling) Anyone object if Betty, Mark and Nell go across next?
There is a subdued chorus of assent.
GARETH: And as it was your suggestion, you may as well make up the four.
IAN: If everyone’s happy with that ...? Okay.
Mark moves to help Betty up, and impulsively plants a kiss on the back of her neck. She looks up, startled, and almost smiles; of the others, only Helen notices. Ian helps on the other side and the four exit slowly right.
RON: (gazing after them) Thank goodness. Dreadful woman!
HELEN: You think so?
RON: It seems obvious.
HELEN: You don’t know the story, do you?
RON: No. Should I? And would it make any difference?
HELEN: No reason you should have heard it. But it might help you to understand.
RON: Hmm. You do know, I gather.
HELEN: Some of it, at least. We were neighbours for a while.
RON: Fire away, then. It’ll pass a bit of time. We aren’t exactly short of it.
HELEN: Well, there isn’t all that much to tell. She used to be a very promising athlete. Track events, mainly, but she was apparently quite impressive on javelin, too. I don’t know that she had any Olympic ambitions, though you can never be sure, but I gathered from Mark that it might not have been out of the question. She was certainly up to a good county standard.
RON: Who’d have thought it? So what happened?
HELEN: First a knee injury, when a hit-and-run driver knocked her off her bicycle, then arthritis. It’s got worse over the years. But she still remembers the glory days. Memory’s about all she has left, now.
RON: Ah. I see your point. No wonder she’s bitter.
HELEN: She has a passable excuse, anyway.
RON: You’d think Mark would be a bit more sympathetic - make allowances, in the circumstances.
HELEN: He did, at first. Rather too many.
RON: How could that be?
HELEN: He tried to do everything for her - and she let him, naturally enough.
RON: But seems to have gone to the other extreme now.
HELEN: Don’t jump to conclusions. Appearances can be deceptive. He makes sure she has everything she needs. And a good deal more.
RON: Except love. The nastiness seems genuine enough.
HELEN: You didn’t notice that final touch of affection, did you?
RON: I didn’t see anything of the sort.
HELEN: It was very discreet.
RON: It must have been. Are you sure you didn’t imagine it?
HELEN: No chance. (Musing) I think on the whole he may have judged it just about right - looking after the physical needs, but needling her enough to rouse her spirit - make sure she doesn’t simply sink into apathy or self-pity.
RON: So you think it’s a deliberate strategy, then?
HELEN: I’m not sure - I‘m no mind-reader. But it looks like it. He’s no fool. And he’s a thoroughly decent character. I’ve a great admiration for him.
OWEN: (joining them) Oh, yes? I can see I’ll have to look to my laurels.
HELEN: (snapping out of her reverie) It wouldn’t do any harm!
She wanders away to find a seat. Tanya, looking into the forest, suddenly screams.
DEREK: What on earth ...?
TANYA: (pointing) Over there - in the trees. (He looks baffled) Don’t you see it?
DEREK: See what?
TANYA: A horrible black shape.
DEREK: I can’t see anything - only ordinary shadows.
TANYA: It’s gone now ...
DEREK: Are you sure it wasn’t imagination? Shadows moving in a gust of wind?
SALLY: I didn’t feel any breeze.
DEREK: There could have been some in the tree-tops.
OWEN: (wandering across to them) What’s up?
DEREK: Tanya thought she saw something nasty in the wood.
OWEN: What sort of something?
TANYA: Almost human, but distorted - rather like a gargoyle.
She feels a sudden chill, and sits down clutching her arms about her.
OWEN: Don’t say my mother-in-law’s turned up!
DEREK: Be serious. Tanya’s really scared.
OWEN: Sorry. Did anyone else see it?
SALLY: I got a vague glimpse ...
OWEN: There haven’t been any escapes from a zoo or anything, have there?
DEREK: Not that I’ve heard of. And anyway, there aren’t any zoos around here.
OWEN: That’s a point. Does anyone know where we are exactly? I lost track a while back.
DEREK: So did I. But I think Ron said something about passing a spot he knew. (Calling) Ron!
RON: (crossing to him) Yes?
DEREK: Can you tell us where we are? Roughly.
RON: Sorry, I haven’t a clue.
DEREK: But I thought ...
RON: Enid thought she recognised something, but goodness knows how far back that was. Even if she was right. This is nothing like it - or anywhere around there.
TANYA: Derek ...
DEREK: Yes? Oh, are you cold? Take my jacket ...
TANYA: No, it’s not that. There’s something I’ve got to talk to you about.
DEREK: What have I done?
TANYA: It’s nothing like that. But can we go somewhere a bit more private?
DEREK: (mystified) All right.
They exit left together. Ron returns to Enid.
OWEN: I wonder what all that’s about.
SALLY: Best not ask. Nothing to do with us.
OWEN: I shouldn’t dream of asking. But I can’t help wondering. Do you think she’s all right?
SALLY: I’m not sure. She seemed to have a touch of shock.
OWEN: From the fright?
SALLY: Maybe. But I think there was probably something more behind it.
OWEN: Hmm ... But as you say, it’s none of our business, anyway.
SALLY: I think, though, we should keep an eye on her, just in case. "My brother’s keeper" and all that.
OWEN: Are you a medic?
SALLY: I did a spell of nursing, once. It seems a long time ago now.
OWEN: I suppose it comes back to you when the need arises.
SALLY: Enough to help. Maybe not to help as much as someone more up-to-date could.
OWEN: What made you give it up?
SALLY: Well, I met Ken, and he was working shifts for a time. We never seemed to see each other except for passing on the doorstep. Then the first of the kids came along ...
OWEN: Not conceived on the doorstep, I hope?
SALLY: (laughing) Now that would really have given the neighbours something to talk about! Might have done some of them good, actually.
OWEN: A stuffy lot?
SALLY: Some were. Very self-consciously respectable. You know the kind.
OWEN: That usually means they’ve something to hide.
SALLY: We had some fun speculating. They were so painfully proper.
OWEN: Plenty of people think we’ve gone too far the other way.
SALLY: They could be right, too.
OWEN: Anyway - your neighbours ...
SALLY: Oh, they were good-hearted enough, for the most part. We were lucky on the whole, that way.
OWEN: On the whole?
SALLY: Well, there was one couple. Particularly strait-laced. Strict chapel – at least twice on Sundays, and goodness knows what else ... but if anyone -
HELEN: (approaching them) I’m sorry to interrupt, but ...
SALLY: It’s quite all right. I’m afraid I was just about to be rather catty.
Enid quietly exits left.
HELEN: The boat should be back soon. Could we be sorting out who goes next?
SALLY: Good idea. Who have we got now?
HELEN: Apart from ourselves - Pam and Gareth, Enid and Ron, Tanya and Derek - Oh, where have they gone?
OWEN: Tanya wanted to discuss something in private. It seemed rather ominous.
HELEN: Best leave them for now, then. Shall I suggest the other four?
OWEN: Seems as good as anything.
She goes to consult them; Gareth explains quietly that there is some difficulty. Helen returns.
HELEN: Enid’s had to go off into the wood - she may be a little while ...
OWEN: Drat! So ...
Tanya and Derek enter left in earnest conversation.
DEREK: ... but it doesn’t matter. Whatever you did or didn’t do, it’s over and done with. It’s best to bury it. You’ve amply made up for it since.
TANYA: Are you sure?
DEREK: Of course I’m sure. You’ve been a real treasure.
TANYA: It’s such a relief! I’ve been worried sick at times ... in case ...
HELEN: (crossing to them) Excuse my interrupting - this is getting to be a habit! - but would you two like to go with Pam and Gareth on the next crossing?
DEREK: Oh ... (glancing at Tanya, who nods) Well, if that suits everyone else, why not?
Helen signals thumbs-up to the others; the four gather their belongings and exit right.
HELEN: That leaves five - pity we can’t fit one extra in.
OWEN: Charlie was adamant about it. Though I don’t like the idea of leaving one behind for the last trip.
SALLY: No need. I’m sure Charlie will be quite as happy to take three and two as four and one.
OWEN: Of course. Silly of me.
Ron ambles across to join them. Gareth and Pam are quietly arguing.
RON: What was that old ditty about green bottles accidentally falling off a wall?
SALLY: You’re not suggesting a sing-song, are you?
RON: It doesn’t seem quite appropriate for this company, does it? Somehow I can’t see you in a coach-load of football supporters.
SALLY: I imagine they’d be singing something a lot less innocent. Is Enid all right?
RON: More or less. She had a touch of road sickness - maybe something else as well. I thought she’d got over it, but it’s come back again.
SALLY: Something else, you say?
RON: I warned her about the seafood cocktail at lunch. She’s a bit sensitive to that sort of thing.
OWEN: She didn’t take the warning?
RON: She probably ignored it on principle. I should have known better - encouraged her to eat it. That would have stopped her.
OWEN: It gives you a bit of peace, anyway. So at the moment we’re down to four green bottles.
RON: I expect she’ll be back on the wall in a few minutes. She won’t want to miss the boat.
OWEN: Assuming she’s fit.
HELEN: We were just talking about that. The obvious thing seems to be for Sally to join one of the couples and the other to cross separately - if that suits everyone?
RON: Seems sensible. And just in case Enid’s problem takes longer than we expect to sort out, you and Owen should be the first couple.
OWEN: If that’s okay by you.
RON: Certainly. Helen’s organised us - she’s earned a bit of privilege.
HELEN: It wasn’t a particularly onerous task!
RON: Not much of a privilege, either, come to think of it. After all this waiting, ten minutes or so either way doesn’t make much odds.
HELEN: No, but I appreciate the thought.
RON: Well, someone had to do it, and you took it on. Left to ourselves we could have been arguing for hours.
OWEN: Oh, she’s a great organiser. Aren’t you, love?
HELEN: If you say so. But it was such a simple matter - there couldn’t have been any problem, surely.
OWEN: Don’t you believe it! It’s the simple matters that cause all the argument. Parkinson’s Third Law, isn’t it?
RON: That’s right. Something like "Time taken in committee is inversely proportional to the importance of the subject."
OWEN: That’s the gist of it, anyway.
HELEN: How can that be? It seems absurd.
RON: It’s quite simple. Suppose there are three items on the agenda. First is a bicycle shed for the school caretaker. Everyone knows about sheds and bicycles and has his own preferences, so they spend two hours arguing over whether it should be brick or timber, painted, rendered or left natural, roofed with tile, slate, tin, plastic or thatch - that sort of thing. What was the second example?
OWEN: I don’t remember, but say a municipal swimming pool.
RON: Right. There’s a choice between three tenders at about the same price. They don’t understand the engineering but they all have ideas on design, so they spend half an hour on that. That leaves a proposal for a nuclear reactor. None of them knows the first thing about the subject, they’re all itching to get home - or more likely to the pub - so it’s thrown out by common consent.
OWEN: I think in Parkinson’s original text it was passed on the nod, but it makes the point just as well.
HELEN: Hmm. Very illuminating.
RON: You’ve experienced it, have you?
HELEN: I have indeed!
RON: So you see why we appreciate your sorting out our little problem. By the way, I think Sally had better go with you. See that Ken hasn’t been getting up to any mischief - or put a stop to it if he has.
SALLY: If you don’t mind being left alone with Enid ...
RON: Much as I may prefer your company, I think I can put up with her for ten minutes or so. I’ve had plenty of practice.
SALLY: Right. Thank you.
OWEN: Has she always ...
OWEN: I’m sorry, I was about to be fearfully impertinent.
RON: If you mean "Has she always been so difficult," of course not. I’m not a masochist.
SALLY: Was it the accident?
RON: To Jenny? No, that didn’t help, but she’d been getting this way for years. I’m afraid it’s my fault - at least, in part.
HELEN: Better not ask how.
OWEN: Which is a polite way of asking!
RON: I think she took me on rather in the spirit of the old joke about the three things in a bride’s mind as she approaches the church - "aisle, altar, hymn." She always had some big project to work on, and I was one of them. Unfortunately I wasn’t so easy to alter as she’d thought. In fact I probably went the other way out of sheer cussedness.
SALLY: There must surely have been more to it than that for you to marry.
RON: Of course. And it wasn’t just sex, either. Even now - I may joke at times about wishing I were a bachelor again, but the idea of not having her around, somewhere - well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
OWEN: It’s something you may have face, eventually.
RON: I’m a few years older. And women tend to live longer than men, anyway.
SALLY: But they don’t always.
RON: No. But there’s no point in worrying about every possibility before it happens.
OWEN: I suppose the ideal for a fond couple would be to go together.
SALLY: Worse for the family than one at a time.
OWEN: I don’t know about that. It’s got to happen sooner or later - they may as well get it all over at once.
RON: It probably depends on the particular people concerned - how devoted they are.
HELEN: Have you any children? Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry ... It came out automatically .... Trust me to put my foot in it!
RON: It’s all right. Besides Jenny, you mean. A couple - one of each. But we haven’t seen them for years.
RON: They got well out of it long ago - emigrated to Australia.
OWEN: Not just to get away from you, surely.
RON: I’d like to think there were more positive reasons.
SALLY: They must have said ...
RON: Oh, yes. Better prospects - better climate. More room for their own kids when they come. All reasonable enough.
OWEN: But you don’t sound convinced.
RON: Well, there’s always the nagging thought that those weren’t the real reasons.
HELEN: Have they got their own families now?
RON: Yes, so of course Enid’s always on about wanting to see the grandchildren.
SALLY: Natural enough. Every grandmother wants that.
RON: Yes, but I can’t help thinking that if they’ve gone twelve thousand miles to get away from us, it would rather spoil things to go chasing after them.
HELEN: It need only be for a month or so.
OWEN: But they’d probably have at least to put on a show of wanting you to stay.
RON: Yes. And Enid would almost certainly want to.
Enid enters left.
ENID: Almost certainly want what?
RON: To stay on after visiting Bill and Sue.
ENID: Does that mean you’re coming round to the idea?
RON: I just mentioned it as a hypothetical possibility.
ENID: Well, why not? There’s nothing to keep us here now.
RON: Well ...
ENID: And why not, just for once, turn a hypothetical possibility into a reality? It would make a pleasant change.
OWEN: Talking of hypothetical possibilities ... Any sign of the boat yet?
RON: (craning) I can’t see it ... Oh, just a minute ... Yes, it’s on the way.
RON: Oh, Enid - we’ve agreed that Sally, Helen and Owen will go this time. We’ll wait for the last trip.
ENID: Trust you to give way to everyone else.
OWEN: We could change it if you really want to go next.
ENID: No, have it your own way.
SALLY: It doesn’t really make any difference, you know. Ten minutes here or there, what does it matter?
ENID: Not to you, perhaps ...
SALLY: Well, if you’re so anxious to get across, I don’t mind waiting.
ENID: No, let it stand. Don’t let me spoil your arrangements.
OWEN: (losing patience) Right, let’s get down to the jetty.
He moves decisively off right; Helen and Sally follow after a moment’s hesitation.
RON: (after a pause) And then there were two.
RON: How do you feel now?
ENID: Still a bit queasy.
RON: Perhaps it was as well to wait a little longer, then. There’s bound to be a bit of motion on the water.
ENID: Ten minutes won’t make much difference.
RON: Then why make so much fuss over who took the last crossing?
ENID: It’s the principle of the thing.
RON: What principle?
ENID: Making sure we aren’t taken for granted.
RON: It sounds more like Stan Finlay’s "Why be difficult? Try a little, and be impossible." You don’t want to end up like Gareth, do you?
ENID: He has a point. You have to stand up for your rights.
RON: That old cliché! If people were a bit less concerned about their rights, and a bit more about their responsibilities, we’d be a good deal better off all round.
ENID: Huh. Politicians have been banging on about that for yonks. It doesn’t seem to make much difference.
RON: Because it’s all talk and no action. That’s the problem. Rights are a matter of talk, not doing anything.
ENID: What do you mean?
RON: Look at it this way. Suppose you have a right to go about your business unmolested ...
ENID: But I do. We all do.
RON: Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to suppose. But you can still get mugged in the street. And as like as not, if it’s a bad night with people anxious to get home, no one else will take a blind bit of notice.
ENID: They might call the police.
RON: They might. And a fat lot of good that would do - apart perhaps from supporting an insurance claim afterwards. But if they had a responsibility to defend anyone being attacked, you could expect some help.
ENID: Some hope!
RON: As it is, yes. That’s because for years we’ve concentrated on rights rather than responsibilities. It wasn’t always like that.
ENID: But rights are still important ...
RON: Of course they are. But they depend on someone being responsible for meeting them, and knowing it - a particular individual, not just a nebulous "they."
William yawns prodigiously; Enid screams.
ENID: Aah! What on earth was that?
RON: It sounded like some kind of animal ...
ENID: That shadow that Tanya saw ...?
William slowly rises to his feet and stretches.
RON: Good lord! Where did he spring from?
WILLIAM: (limping across to them) Sorry to startle you.
ENID: Are you all right?
WILLIAM: Yes, thanks. Just a bit stiff. I must have dozed off. What time is it?
RON: (consulting his watch) Five past four. (With a double take) Eh?
ENID: What’s the matter?
RON: It must have stopped the best part of an hour ago. What do you make it?
ENID: I left mine at home. Does it matter?
RON: I don’t suppose so. As long as we’re down at the jetty when the ferry comes.
ENID: He knows where to find us if we aren’t.
WILLIAM: So there’s a ferry, is there?
RON: Yes, a small one. We’ve been crossing four at a time.
WILLIAM: And we’re the left-overs, I suppose.
ENID: Yes. Have you any idea where we are? No one else seemed to know.
WILLIAM: Not a clue.
RON: Lucky you woke up when you did. We hadn’t noticed you over there. Neither did anyone else. You could easily have been left behind.
WILLIAM: Maybe it was as well not to be seen. I might have had a bit of a hard time.
WILLIAM: Well, it wasn’t my fault, but -
ENID: What wasn’t?
WILLIAM: That flaming lorry charging round a blind corner in the middle of the road. What could I do about it?
RON: Oh, you were our driver, were you?
WILLIAM: That’s right.
RON: I’m sorry, we didn’t recognise you.
WILLIAM: (not really meaning it) I suppose there’s no reason you should.
ENID: Well, you weren’t there when we boarded, and we ended up near the back. All we could see was the back of your head - and that not very often.
RON: Then where’s the bus?
WILLIAM: Where do you suppose? Still at the bottom of the lake, of course. It’ll probably take days to shift it.
ENID: What’s it doing there?
WILLIAM: Not a lot.
RON: You mean there was an accident?
WILLIAM: Ah, the penny’s dropped at last!
ENID: But we don’t remember anything about it. And no one else mentioned it.
WILLIAM: Asleep, perhaps. Or in a state of shock. Hardly surprising.
RON: By the sound of it we were lucky to get out.
WILLIAM: You must be joking!
ENID: What do you mean?
WILLIAM: After we’d done a double somersault down the bank into thirty feet of water - you don’t seriously suppose everyone would get out in one piece, do you? It’d be darned lucky if anyone could get out at all.
RON: (belatedly realising the implications) Oh.
WILLIAM: I take a dim view of it, I must say.
ENID: The accident?
WILLIAM: No, it’s too late for that.
RON: What, then?
WILLIAM: All my life I refused to believe there was anything after death. Now I find myself shoved into it with no chance to say whether I want it or not.
RON: (slyly) Are you going to complain to your trade union?
WILLIAM: It’s a bit late for that, too.
ENID: You’ll just have to make the best of it. We all shall.
WILLIAM: Can’t say I’m very impressed so far.
RON: Maybe it’s better across the river.
ENID: What’s this side, then? Where is it?
RON: Limbo, I suppose, or Hades, Sheol - one of those dreary states that’s neither life nor really death. Oh, here’s ...
Charlie enters right with Jenny, who rushes across like a gale of joy to embrace Enid.
ENID: Jenny! What on earth are you doing here?
JENNY: Not really on earth - it’s a sort of half-way house.
RON: You still didn’t say what you’re doing here.
JENNY: (hugging him) Dad! I’m so glad you and Mum came together.
RON: (disentangling himself) Yes, but delighted though I am to be with you again, you still haven’t answered the question of ...
JENNY: Well, I heard you were coming, and Charlie very kindly said there was a spare place and I could come to meet you.
CHARLIE: (false grumble) You mean you talked me into it. Against all the rules, it is.
JENNY: Rules be blowed! (and for good measure kisses him, too.) There, isn’t that better?
RON: I see you have the same difficulty with her that I had, Charlie.
JENNY: Oh, don’t be so stuffy, Dad. You know you like to please me, really.
CHARLIE: And where the intention’s good, we don’t mind stretching a point.
JENNY: (to William) And Mr. Jenkins, too - I didn’t realise it was you. Though Don thought you were coming soon.
WILLIAM: (sternly) Oh, did he?
JENNY: Now you’re not to be cross with him. Our crash was partly my fault.
RON: I thought as much.
ENID: Now don’t start - Aah!
RON: What’s the matter now?
ENID: The shadow that scared Tanya -
RON: You’ve seen it?
ENID: Something of the sort - (pointing into the forest) over there.
JENNY: Don’t worry, Mum ...
RON: Do you know what it is?
JENNY: The way it was explained to me, some people glimpse a form of everything they dislike about themselves - everything that shames them.
RON: Very nasty.
JENNY: But it’s all right so long as you don’t go after it. Come on, Mum; it can’t hurt you now. Oh, it’s marvellous having you all together at last!
She leads the rest off right.