The Fatal Message
by John Kendrick Bangs
MR. THADDEUS PERKINS, in charge of the curtain.
THADDEUS PERKINS, cast for Lady Ellen.
MISS ANDREWS, cast
for the maid.
MR. EDWARD BRADLEY, an under-study.
EDWARD BRADLEY, cast for Lady Amaranth.
MR. ROBERT YARDSLEY,
MR. JACK BARLOW, cast for Fenderson Featherhead.
CHESTER HENDERSON, an absentee.
JENNIE, a professional
The scene is laid in the library of the Perkins mansion,
on the afternoon of the day upon which an amateur dramatic performance
is to be held therein. The Perkins house has been
given over to the dramatic association having the matter in charge.
At right of library a scenic doorway is hung. At left
a drop-curtain is arranged, behind which is the middle hall of the
Perkins dwelling, where the expected audience are to sit.
The unoccupied wall spaces are hung with paper-muslin. The
apartment is fitted up generally to resemble an English drawing-room;
table and chair at centre. At rear stands a painted-canvas
conservatory entrance, on left of which is a long oaken chest.
The curtain rising discovers Mrs. Perkins giving a few finishing
touches to the scene, with Mr. Perkins gazing curiously about
Perkins. Well, they’ve transformed this library
into a scene of bewitching beauty—haven’t they? These
paper-muslin walls are a dream of loveliness. I suppose, as the
possessor of all this, I ought to be supremely happy—only I wish
that canvas conservatory door hadn’t been tacked over my reference-books.
I want to look up some points about—
Mrs. Perkins. Oh, never mind your books, Thaddeus; it’s
only for one night. Can’t you take a minute’s rest?
Perkins. One night? I like that. It’s
been there two already, and it’s in for to-night, and all day
to-morrow, I suppose. It’ll take all day to-morrow to clean
up, I’ll wager a hat. I’m beginning to rue the hour
I ever allowed the house of Perkins to be lured into the drama.
Mrs. Perkins. You’re better off than I am.
I’ve got to take part, and I don’t half know my lines.
Perkins. I? I better off? I’d like
to know if I haven’t got to sit out in front and watch you people
fulfil your diabolical mission in your doubly diabolical way, and grin
at the fearful jokes in the dialogue I’ve been listening to for
weeks, and make the audience feel that they are welcome when they’re
not. What’s been done with my desk?
Mrs. Perkins. It’s down in the laundry.
You’re about as—
Perkins. Oh, is it? Laundry is a nice place for
a desk. Plenty of starch handy to stiffen up a writer’s
nerve, and scrubbing-boards galore to polish up his wits. And
I suppose my papers are up in the attic?
Mrs. Perkins. No; they’re stowed away safely in
the nursery. Now please don’t complain!
Perkins. Me? Complain? I never complain.
I didn’t say a word when Yardsley had my Cruikshanks torn from
their shelves and chucked into a clothes-basket and carried into the
butler’s pantry, did I? Did I say as much as one little
word? I wanted to say one little word, I admit, but I didn’t.
Did I? If I did, I withdraw it. I’m fond of this sort
of thing. The greatest joy in life is to be found in arranging
and rearranging a library, and I seem to be in for joy enough to kill.
What time are the—these amateur Thespians coming?
Mrs. Perkins (looking at her watch). They’re
due now; it’s half-past four. (Sits down and opens play-book.
Rehearses.) No, not for all the world would I do this thing,
Lord Muddleton. There is no need to ask it of me. I am firm.
Perkins, Oh, let up, my dear! I’ve been getting
that for breakfast, dinner, and tea for two weeks now, and I’m
awfully tired of it. When I asked for a second cup of coffee at
breakfast Sunday, you retorted, “No, not for all the world would
I do this thing, Lord Muddleton!” When I asked you where
my dress ties were, you informed me that it was “what baseness,”
or words to that effect; and so on, until I hardly know where I am at.
(Catches sight of the chest.) Hello! How did that
happen to escape the general devastation? What are you going to
do with that oak chest?
Mrs. Perkins. It is for the real earl to hide in just
before he confronts Muddleton with the evidence of his crime.
Perkins. But—that holds all my loose prints, Bess.
By Jove! I can’t have that, you know. You amateur
counterfeiters have got to understand just one thing. I’ll
submit to the laundering of my manuscripts, the butler’s-pantrying
of my Cruikshanks, but I’ll be hanged if I’ll allow even
a real earl, much less a base imitation of one, to wallow in my engravings.
Mrs. Perkins. You needn’t worry about your old
engravings. They’re perfectly safe, I’ve put them
in the Saratoga trunk in the attic. (Rehearsing.)
And if you ask it of me once again, I shall have to summon my servants
to have you shown the door. Henry Cobb is the friend of my girlhood,
Perkins. Henry Cobb be—
Mrs. Perkins. Thaddeus!
Perkins. I don’t care, Bess, if Henry Cobb was
the only friend you ever had. I object to having my prints dumped
into a Saratoga trunk in order that he may confront Muddleton and regain
the lost estates of Puddingford by hiding in my chest. A gay earl
Yardsley makes, anyhow; and as for Barlow, he looks like an ass in that
yellow-chrysanthemum wig. No man with yellow hair like that could
track such a villain as Henderson makes Muddleton out to be. Fact
is, Henderson is the only decent part of the show.
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). What if he is weak?
Then shall I still more strongly show myself his friend. Poor?
Perkins. Oh, I suppose it does—(Bell rings.)
There comes this apology for a real earl, I fancy. I’ll
let him in myself. I suppose Jennie has got as much as she can
do sweeping my manuscripts out of the laundry, and keeping my verses
from scorching the wash. [Exit.
Mrs. Perkins. It’s too bad of Thaddeus to go on
like this. As if I hadn’t enough to worry me without a cross
husband to manage. Heigho!
Enter Perkins with Yardsley. Yardsley holds
bicycle cap in hand.
Yardsley. By Jove! I’m tired. Everything’s
been going wrong to-day. Overslept myself, to begin with, and
somebody stole my hat at the club, and left me this bicycle cap in its
place. How are you getting along, Mrs. Perkins? You weren’t
letter perfect yesterday, you know.
Mrs. Perkins. I’m getting it all right, I think.
I’ve been rehearsing all day.
Perkins. You bet your life on that, Henry Cobb, real
Earl of Puddingford. If you aren’t restored to your estates
and title this night, it won’t be for any lack of suffering on
my part. Give me your biking cap, unless you want to use it in
the play. I’ll hang it up. [Exit.
Yardsley. Thanks. (Looks about the room.)
Everything here seems to be right.
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). And henceforth, my lord,
let us understand one another.
Perkins. Certainly, my dear. I’ll go and
have myself translated. Would you prefer me in French, German,
Yardsley. I hope it goes all right to-night. But,
I must say, I don’t like the prospect. This beastly behavior
of Henderson’s has knocked me out.
Perkins. What’s the matter with Henderson?
Mrs. Perkins. He hasn’t withdrawn, has he?
Yardsley. That’s just what he has done.
He sent me word this morning.
Mrs. Perkins. But what excuse does he offer? At
the last moment, too!
Yardsley. None at all—absolutely. There
was some airy persiflage in his note about having to go to Boston at
six o’clock. Grandmother’s sick or something.
He writes so badly I couldn’t make out whether she was rich or
sick. I fancy it’s a little of both. Possibly if she
wasn’t rich he wouldn’t care so much when she fell ill.
That’s the trouble with these New-Englanders, anyhow—they’ve
always got grandmothers to fall down at crucial moments. Next
time I go into this sort of thing it’ll be with a crowd without
Perkins. ’Tisn’t Chet’s fault, though.
You don’t suspect him of having poisoned his grandmother just
to get out of playing, do you?
Mrs. Perkins. Oh, Thaddeus, do be serious!
Perkins. I was never more so, my dear. Poisoning
one’s grandmother is no light crime.
Yardsley. Well, I’ve a notion that the whole thing
is faked up. Henderson has an idea that he’s a little tin
Booth, and just because I called him down the other night at our first
rehearsal he’s mad. That’s the milk in the cocoanut,
I think. He’s one of those fellows you can’t tell
anything to, and when I kicked because he wore a white tie with a dinner
coat, he got mad and said he was going to dress the part his own way
or not at all.
Perkins. I think he was right.
Yardsley. Oh yes, of course I’m never right.
What am I stage-manager for?
Perkins. Oh, as for that, of course, you are the one
in authority, but you were wrong about the white tie and the dinner
coat. He was a bogus earl, an adventurer, wasn’t he?
Yardsley. Yes, he was, but—
Perkins. Well, no real earl would wear a white tie with
a dinner coat unless he were visiting in America. I grant you
that if he were going to a reception in New York he might wear a pair
of golf trousers with a dinner coat, but in this instance his dress
simply showed his bogusity, as it were. He merely dressed the
Yardsley. He doesn’t want to make it too plain,
however, so I was right after all. His villany is to come as a
Mrs. Perkins. But what are we to do? Have you
got anybody else to take his part?
Yardsley. Yes. I telegraphed right off to Bradley,
explained as far as I could in a telegram without using all the balance
in the treasury, and he answered all right. Said he’d bone
at the part all day, and would be here at five letter perfect.
Mrs. Perkins (with a sigh of relief). Good.
He’s very quick at learning a thing. I imagine it will be
all right. I’ve known him to learn a harder part than that
in five hours. It’ll be pleasanter for Emma, too.
She didn’t like those scenes she had as Lady Amaranth the adventuress
with Henderson. He kept her off the middle of the stage all the
time; but with her husband it will be different.
Perkins. I’ll bet on that! No good-natured
husband of a new women ever gets within a mile of the centre of the
stage while she’s on it. She’ll have stage room to
burn in her scenes with Brad.
Mrs. Perkins. I think it was awfully mean of Mr. Henderson,
Perkins. It was inconsiderate. So hard on his
grandmother, too, to be compelled to knock under just to get him out
of a disagreeble situation. She ought to disinherit him.
Yardsley. Oh, it’s easy enough to be sarcastic.
Perkins. That’s so, Bob; that’s why I never
am. It’s commonplace. (Bell rings.) Ah,
there’s the rest of the troupe, I guess. [Exit.
Yardsley (looking at his watch). It’s about
time. They’re twenty minutes late.
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). So once for all, Lord Muddleton—(derisively)—ha,
ha! Lord Muddleton! that is amusing. You—Lord
Muddleton! Ha, ha! Once for all, Lord Muddleton. I
acquaint you with my determination. I shall not tell Henry Cobb
what I have discovered, since I have promised, but none the less he
shall know. Walls have ears—even that oaken chest by yinder
Yardsley (irritated). Excuse me, Mrs. Perkins;
but really you must get that phrase right. You’ve called
it yinder wonder at every rehearsal we’ve had so far. I
know it’s difficult to get right. Yonder window is one of
those beastly combinations that playwrights employ to make the Thespian’s
pathway to fame a rocky one; but you must get over it, and say it right.
Practise it for an hour, if need be—yonder window, yonder winder—I
mean, yonder window—until it comes easy.
Mrs. Perkins (meekly). I have, and it doesn’t
seem to do any good. I’ve tried and tried to get it right,
but yonder window is all I can say.
Yardsley. But yinder window is—I should say, yonder
window is correct.
Mrs. Perkins. Well, I’m just going to change it,
that’s all. It shall be yonder casement.
Yardsley. Good idea. Only don’t say yonder
basement by mistake.
Enter Perkins, followed by Barlow.
Perkins. Here’s Mr. Featherhead. He’s
rehearsing too. As I opened the door he said, “Give me good-morrow.”
Barlow (smiling). Yes; and Thaddeus replied,
“Good-yesterday, me friend,” in tones which reminded me
of Irving with bronchitis. What’s this I hear about Henderson’s
Yardsley. Thrown up the part.
Barlow. His grandmother?
Yardsley. No—idiot—Henderson. He’s
thrown up his grandmother—oh, hang it!—you know what I mean.
Mrs. Perkins. I hope you’re not going to net gervous,
Mr. Yardsley. If you break down, what on earth will become of
the rest of us?
Yardsley. I hope not—but I am. I’m
as nervous as a cat living its ninth life. Here we are three or
four hours before the performance, and no one knows whether we’ll
be able to go through it or not. My reputation as a manager is
at stake. Barlow, how are you getting along on those lines in
the revelation scene?
Barlow. Had ’em down fine on the cable-car as
I came up. Ha-ha! People thought I was crazy, I guess.
I was so full of it I kept repeating it softly to myself all the way
up; but when we got to that Fourteenth Street curve the car gave a fearful
lurch and fairly shook the words “villanous viper” out of
me; and as I was standing when we began the turn, and was left confronting
a testy old gentleman upon whose feet I had trodden twice, at the finish,
I nearly got into trouble.
Perkins (wish a laugh). Made a scene, eh?
Barlow (joining in the laugh). Who wouldn’t?
Each time I stepped on his foot he glared—regular Macbeth stare—like
this: “Is this a jagger which I see before me?” (Suits
action to word.) But I never let on I saw, but continued to
rehearse. When the lurch came, however, and I toppled over on
top of him, grabbed his shoulders in my hands to keep from sprawling
in his lap, and hissed “villanous viper” in his face, he
was inclined to resent it forcibly.
Yardsley. I don’t blame him. Seems to me
a man of your intelligence ought to know better than to rehearse on
a cable-car, anyhow, to say nothing of stepping on a man’s corns.
Barlow. Of course I apologized; but he was a persistent
old codger, and demanded an explanation of my epithet.
Perkins. It’s a wonder he didn’t have you
put off. A man doesn’t like to be insulted even if he does
ride on the cable.
Barlow. Oh, I appeased him. I told him I was rehearsing.
That I was an amateur actor.
Mrs. Perkins. And of course he was satisfied.
Barlow. Yes; at least I judge so. He said that
my confession was humiliation enough, without his announcing to the
public what he thought I was; and he added, to the man next him, that
he thought the public was exposed to enough danger on the cable cars
without having lunatics thrust upon them at every turning.
Perkins. He must have been a bright old man.
Mrs. Perkins. Or a very crabbed old person.
Barlow. Oh, well, it was an experience, but it rather
upset me, and for the life of me I haven’t been able to remember
the opening lines of the scene since.
Perkins. Well, if the audience drive you off the stage,
you can sue the cable company. They ought to be careful how they
lurch a man’s brains out.
Yardsley. That’s right—joke ahead.
It’s fun for you. All you’ve got to do is to sit out
in front and pull the curtain up and down when we ring a bell.
You’re a great one to talk about brains, you are. It’s
a wonder to me you don’t swoon under your responsibility.
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). So once for all, as
he says, so say I—
Perkins. Ah! Indeed! You take his part,
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). You must leave this
house at once and forever. I once thought I loved you, but now
all is changed, and I take this opportunity to thank my deliverer, Fenderson
Perkins. Oh—ah—rehearsing. I see.
I thought you’d gone over to the enemy, my dear. Featherhead,
step up and accept the lady’s thanks. Cobb, join me in the
dining room, and we’ll drown our differences in tasting the punch,
which, between you and me, is likely to be the best part of to-night’s
function, for I made it myself though, if Tom Harkaway is in the audience,
and Bess follows out her plan of having the flowing bowl within reach
all the evening, I’m afraid it’ll need an under-study along
about nine o’clock. He’s a dry fellow, that Harkaway.
[Exit Perkins, dragging Yardsley by the arm.
Barlow (calling after them). Don’t you
touch it, Bob. It’s potent stuff. One glass may postpone
Yardsley (from behind the scenes). Never fear
for me, my boy. I’ve got a head, I have.
Barlow. Well, don’t get another. (Turning
to Mrs. Perkins.) Suppose we rehearse that scene where I acquaint
you with Cobb’s real position in life?
Mrs. Perkins. Very well. I’m ready.
I’m to sit here, am I not? [Seats herself by table.
Barlow. And I come in here. (Begins.)
Ah, Lady Ellen, I am glad to find you alone, for I have that to say—
Mrs. Perkins. Won’t you be seated, Mr. Featherhead?
It was such a delightful surprise to see you at the Duchess of Barncastle’s
last evening. I had supposed you still in Ireland.
Barlow (aside). Good. She little thinks
that I have just returned from Australia, where I have at last discovered
the identity of the real Earl of Puddingford, as well as that of this
bogus Muddleton, who, by his nefarious crime, has deprived Henry Cobb
of his patrimony, of his title, aye, even of his name. She little
wots that this—this adventurer who has so strongly interested
her by his nepotic—
Mrs. Perkins (interrupting). Hypnotic, Mr. Barlow.
Barlow. What did I say?
Mrs. Perkins. Nepotic.
Barlow. How stupid of me! I’ll begin again.
Mrs. Perkins (desperately). Oh, pray don’t.
Go on from where you left off. That’s a fearfully long aside,
anyhow, and I go nearly crazy every time you say it. I don’t
know what to do with myself. It’s easy enough for Mr. Yardsley
to say occupy yourself somehow, but what I want to know is, how?
I can’t look inquiringly at you all that time, waiting for you
to say “Ireland! Oh, yes—yes—just over from
Dublin.” I can’t lean against the mantel-piece and
gaze into the fire, because the mantel-piece is only canvas, and would
fall down if I did.
Barlow. It’s a long aside, Mrs. Perkins, but it’s
awfully important, and I don’t see how we can cut it down.
It’s really the turning-point of the play, in which I reveal the
true state of affairs to the audience.
Mrs. Perkins (with a sigh). I suppose that’s
true. I’ll have to stand it. But can’t I be
doing some sewing?
Barlow. Certainly not. You are the daughter of
a peer. They never sew. You might be playing a piano, but
there’s hardly room on the stage for that, and, besides, it would
interfere with my aside, which needs a hush to be made impressive.
Where did I leave off?
Mrs. Perkins. Hypnotic power.
Barlow. Oh yes. (Resumes rehearsing.)
She little wots that this—this adventurer who has so strangely
interested her with his hypnotic power is the man who twenty years ago
forged her father’s name to the title-deeds of Burnington, drove
him to his ruin, and subsequently, through a likeness so like as to
bewilder and confuse even a mother’s eyes, has forced the rightful
Earl of Puddingford out into a cruel world, to live and starve as Henry
Mrs. Perkins. Ah, I fancy the Bradleys are here at last.
I do hope Edward knows his part.
Yardsley. They’ve come, and we can begin at last.
Enter Perkins, Miss Andrews, and Mr. and Mrs.
Mrs. Perkins. Take off your things, Emma. Let
me take your cloak, Dorothy. Does Edward feel equal—
Mrs. Bradley. He says so. Knows it word for word,
he says, though I’ve been so busy with my own—[They go
Yardsley. Well, Brad, how goes it? Know your part?
Bradley. Like a book. Bully part, too.
Barlow. Glad you like it.
Bradley. Can’t help liking it; it’s immense!
Particularly where I acquaint the heroine with the villany that—
Barlow. You? Why—
Enter Mrs. Bradley, Miss Andrews, and Mrs. Perkins.
Mrs. Perkins (to Bradley). So glad you’re
going to play with us.
Bradley. So am I. It’s a great pleasure.
Felt rather out in the cold until—
Barlow. But, I say, Brad, you don’t—
Yardsley. Howdy do, Mrs. Bradley? Good-afternoon,
Miss Andrews. We all seem to be here now, so let’s begin.
We’re a half-hour late already.
Barlow. I’m ready, but I want to—
Yardsley. Never mind what you want, Jack. We haven’t
time for any more talking. It’ll take us an hour and a half,
and we’ve got to hustle. All off stage now except Mrs. Perkins.
(All go out; Yardsley rings bell.) Hi, Perkins,
that’s your cue!
Perkins. What for?
Yardsley. Oh, hang it!—raise the curtain, will
Perkins. With pleasure. As I understand this thing,
one bell signifies raise curtain when curtain’s down; drop curtain
when curtain is up.
Yardsley. Exactly. You know your part, anyhow.
If you remember not to monkey with the curtain except when the bell
rings, and then change its condition, no matter what it may be, you
can’t go wrong. Now begin. (Bell. Perkins
raises curtain.) Now, of course, I’m not supposed
to be on the stage, but I’ll stay here and prompt you. Enter
Lady Ellen. Come along, Mrs. Perkins. Please begin.
Mrs. Perkins. I thought we’d decided that I was
to be sitting here when the curtain went up?
Yardsley. So we did. I’d forgotten that.—We’ll
begin all over again. Perkins, drop that curtain. Perkins!
Yardsley. Drop the curtain.
Perkins. Where’s the bell? I didn’t
hear any bell ring.
Yardsley. Oh, never mind the bell! Let her down.
Perkins. I beg your pardon, but I positively refuse.
I believe in doing things right. I’m not going to monkey.
Ring that bell, and down she comes; otherwise—
Yardsley. Tut! You are very tiresome this afternoon,
Thaddeus. Mrs. Perkins, we’ll go ahead without dropping
the curtain. Now take your place.
[Mrs. Perkins seats herself by table, picks up a book, and begins
Mrs. Perkins (after an interval, throwing book down with
a sigh). Heigho! I cannot seem to concentrate my mind
upon anything to-night. I wonder why it is that once a woman gives
her heart into another’s keeping—[Bell rings. Perkins
lets curtain drop.
Yardsley. What the deuce did you drop that curtain for,
Perkins. The bell rang, didn’t it?
Yardsley. Yes, you idiot, but that’s supposed
to be the front-door bell. Lady Amaranth is about to arrive—
Perkins. Well, how was I to know? Your instructions
to me were positive. Don’t monkey with curtain till bell
rings. When bell rings, if down, pull her up; if up, pull her
down. I’m not a connoisseur on bells—
Yardsley. You might pay some attention to the play.
Perkins. Now look here, Bob. I don’t want
to quarrel with you, but it seems to me that I’ve got enough to
do without paying attention to your part of the show. What am
I? First place, host; second place, head usher; third place, curtain-manager;
fourth place, fire department; fifth place, Bess says if children holler,
go up and see what’s the matter other words, nurse—and on
top of this you say keep an eye on the play. You must think I’ve
as many eyes as a President’s message.
Mrs. Perkins. Oh dear, Teddy! do behave. It’s
Perkins. Simple enough? Well, I like that.
How am I to tell one bell from another if—
Yardsley (dryly). I suppose if the clock strikes
ten you’ll seesaw the curtain up and down ten times, once for
Bradley (poking his head in at the door). What’s
the matter in here? Emma’s been waiting for her cue like
a hundred-yards runner before the pistol.
Perkins. Oh, it’s the usual trouble with Yardsley.
He wants me to chaperon the universe.
Yardsley. It’s the usual row with you. You
never want to do anything straight. You seem to think that curtain’s
an elevator, and you’re the boy—yanking it up and down at
your pleasure, and—
Mrs. Perkins. Oh, please don’t quarrel!
Can’t you see, Ted, it’s growing late? We’ll
never have the play rehearsed, and it’s barely three hours now
before the audience will arrive.
Perkins. Very well—I’ll give in—only
I think you ought to have different bells—
Yardsley. I’ll have a trolley-car gong for you,
if it’ll only make you do the work properly. Have you got
a bicycle bell?
Mrs. Perkins. Yes; that will do nicely for the curtain,
and the desk push-button bell will do for the front-door bell.
Have you got that in your mind, Teddy dear?
Perkins. I feel as if I had the whole bicycle in my
mind. I can feel the wheels. Bike for curtain, push for
front door. That’s all right. I wouldn’t mind
pushing for the front door myself. All ready? All right.
In the absence of the bicycle bell, I’ll be its under-study for
once. B-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! [Raises curtain.
Yardsley. Now, Mrs. Perkins, begin with “I wonder
Mrs. Perkins (rehearsing). I wonder why it is
that once a woman gives her heart into another’s keeping—(Bell.)
Ah, the bell. It must be he at last. He is late this evening.
Enter Miss Andrews as maid, with card on tray.
Miss Andrews. Lady Amaranth, me luddy.
Yardsley. Lydy, Miss Andrews, lydy—not luddy.
Miss Andrews. Lydy Amaranth, me lady.
Yardsley. And please be consistent with your dialect.
If it’s Lydy Amaranth, it’s Lydy Ellen.
Miss Andrews. Lydy Amaranth, me lydy.
Mrs. Perkins. What? Lydy Amaranth? She?
Yardsley. Oh dear! Excuse me, Mrs. Perkins, but
you are not the maid, and cockney isn’t required of you.
You must not say lydy. Lady is—
Mrs. Perkins (resignedly). What? Lady Amaranth?
She? What can she want? Show her up. [Exit
Perkins. That’s a first-class expression for an
adventuress. Show her up! Gad! She ought to
be shown up.
Mrs. Perkins. What can she want?
Enter Mrs. Bradley.
Mrs. Bradley. Ah, my dear Lady Ellen! What delight
to find you at home! (Aside.) He is not here, and
yet I could have sworn—
Mrs. Perkins. To what am I to attribute this pleasure,
Lady Amaranth? I do not presume to think that you have come here
without some other motive than that of a mere desire to see me.
I do not suppose that even you pretend that since the contretemps of
Tuesday night at the Duchess of Barncastle’s our former feeling—
Mrs. Bradley. Ellen, I have come to tell you something.
To save you from a vile conspiracy.
Mrs. Perkins. I am quite well able, Lady Amaranth, to
manage my own affairs—
Mrs. Bradley. But you do not know. You love Lord
Mrs. Perkins (toying with her fan). Oh!
Indeed! And who, pray, has taken you into my confidence?
I was not aware—
Mrs. Bradley. Hear me, Ellen—
Mrs. Perkins. Excuse me, Lady Amaranth! but you have
forgotten that it is only to my friends that I am known as—
Mrs. Bradley. Then Lady Ellen, if it must be so.
I know what you do not—that Henry Cobb is an escaped convent—
Yardsley. Convict, not convent.
Mrs. Bradley. Is an escaped convict, and—
Mrs. Perkins. I am not interested in Henry Cobb.
Mrs. Bradley. But he is in you, Ellen Abercrombie.
He is in you, and with the aid of Fenderson Featherhead—
[Bell. Perkins lets curtain drop half-way, but remembers
in time, and pulls it up again.
Perkins. Beg pardon. String slipped.
Mrs. Bradley. Too late. Oh, if he had only waited!
Enter Miss Andrews.
Miss Andrews. Mr. Featherhead, Leddy Eilen.
Yardsley. Ellen, Ellen; and lydy, not leddy.
Mrs. Bradley. Hear me first, I beg.
Mrs. Perkins. Show him in, Mary. Lady Amaranth,
as you see, I am engaged. I really must be excused. Good-night.
Mrs. Bradley (aside). Foiled! Muddleton
will be exposed. Ah, if I could only have broken the force of
the blow! (Aloud.) Lady Ellen, I will speak.
Enter Bradley and Barlow together. Both.
Is here, Lady Amaranth.
[Each tries to motion the other off the stage.
Yardsley. What the deuce does this mean? What
do you think this play is—an Uncle Tom combination with
Barlow. I told him to keep out, but he said that Fenderson
Featherhead was his cue.
Bradley (indignantly). Well, so it is; there’s
Yardsley. Oh, nonsense, Brad! Don’t be idiotic.
The book doesn’t say anything of the sort.
Bradley. But I say it does. If you—
Barlow. It’s all rot for you to behave like this,
Perkins. Isn’t it time something happened to the
curtain? The audience will get panicky if they witness any such
lack of harmony as this. I will draw a veil over the painful scene.
B-r-r-r-r. (Drops curtain.) B-r-r-r-r.
[Raises it again.
Yardsley. We won’t dispute the matter, Bradley.
You are wrong, and that’s all there is about it. Now do
get off the stage and let us go ahead. Perkins, for Heaven’s
sake, give that curtain a rest, will you?
Perkins. I was only having a dress-rehearsal on my own
account, Bob. Bike bell, curtain. Push bell, front door.
Trolley gong, nothing—
Bradley. Well, if you fellows won’t—
Yardsley (taking him by the arm and walking him to side
of stage). Never mind, Brad; you’ve made a mistake,
that’s all. We all make mistakes at times. Get off,
like a good fellow. You don’t come on for ten minutes yet.
(Exit Bradley, scratching his head in puzzled meditation.)
Go ahead now, Barlow.
Mrs. Bradley. But, Mr. Yardsley, Edward has—
Yardsley. We’ll begin with your cue.
Mrs. Bradley. Fenderson Featherhead—
Barlow. Is here, Lady Amaranth.
Mrs. Bradley. But—
Yardsley. No, no! Your word isn’t “but,”
Mrs. Bradley. It’s (consulting book)—it’s:
“Insolent! You will cross my path once too often, and then—
Mrs. Bradley. I know that, but I don’t say that
Bradley. Of course not. She says it to me.
Barlow. Well, of all the stupidity—
Perkins. Another unseemly fracas. Another veil.
B-r-r-r-r. (Drops curtain.) There may be a hitch
in the play, but there won’t be in this curtain. I tell
you that right now. B-r-r-r-r.
Mrs. Perkins. Well, I don’t pretend to understand
the difficulty. She certainly does say that to Featherhead.
Barlow. Of course!—it’s right there in the
Bradley. That’s exactly what I say. It’s
in the book; but you would come on.
Barlow. Well, why shouldn’t I?
Enter Miss Andrews.
Miss Andrews. What seems to be the trouble?
Perkins. I give it up. Collision somewhere up
Yardsley (turning over the leaves of the play-book).
Oh, I see the trouble—it’s all right. Bradley is mixed
up a little, that’s all. “Fenderson Featherhead”
is his cue—but it comes later, Brad.
Bradley. Later? Well (glances in book)—no—it
Barlow. Are you blind? Can you read? See
there! [Points into book.
Yardsley. No—you keep still, Jack. I’ll
fix it. See here, Bradley. This is the place you are thinking
of. When Cobb says to Lady Ellen “Fenderson Featherhead,”
you enter the room, and in a nervous aside you mutter: “What,
he! Does he again dare to cross my path?” That’s
the way of it.
Barlow. Certainly—that’s it, Brad.
Now get off, and let me go on, will you?
Mrs. Perkins. I’m sure it’s a perfectly
natural error, Mr. Bradley.
Mrs. Bradley. But he’s right, my dear Bess.
The others are wrong. Edward doesn’t—
Bradley. I don’t care anything about it, but I’m
sure I don’t know what else to do. If I am to play Fenderson—
Barlow (in amazement). You?
Yardsley (aghast). Fenderson? By all that
is lovely, what part have you learned?
Bradley. The one you told me to learn in your message—Featherhead,
Barlow. But that’s my part!
Mrs. Perkins. Of course it is, Mr. Bradley. Mr.
Barlow is to be—
Mrs. Bradley. But that’s what Edward was told.
I saw the message myself.
Yardsley (sinking into a chair dejectedly). Why,
Ed Bradley! I never mentioned Featherhead. You were to be
Mrs. Bradley. What?
Yardsley. Certainly. There’s nothing the
matter with Barlow, and he’s cast for Featherhead. You’ve
learned the wrong part!
Bradley (searching his pockets). Here’s
the telegram. There (takes message from pocket), read that.
There are my instructions.
Yardsley (grasps telegram and reads it. Drops
it to floor). Well, I’ll be jiggered!
[Buries his face in his hands.
Mrs. Perkins (picking up message and reading aloud).
“Can you take Fenderson’s part in to-night’s show?
Answer at once. Yardsley.”
Barlow. Well, that’s a nice mess. You must
have paresis, Bob.
Perkins. I was afraid he’d get it sooner or later.
You need exercise, Yardsley. Go pull that curtain up and down
a half-dozen times and it’ll do you good.
Bradley. That telegram lets me out.
Mrs. Bradley. I should say so.
Perkins. Lets us all out, seems to me.
Yardsley. But—I wrote Henderson, not Fenderson.
That jackass of a telegraph operator is responsible for it all.
“Will you take Henderson’s part?” is what I wrote,
and he’s gone and got it Fenderson. Confound his—
Mrs. Perkins. But what are we going to do? It’s
quarter-past six now, and the curtain is to rise at 8.30.
Perkins. I’ll give ’em my unequalled imitation
of Sandow lifting the curtain with one hand. Thus. [Raises
curtain wish right hand.
Yardsley. For goodness’ sake, man, be serious.
There are seventy-five people coming here to see this performance, and
they’ve paid for their tickets.
Mrs. Perkins. It’s perfectly awful. We can’t
do it at all unless Mr. Bradley will go right up stairs now and learn—
Mrs. Bradley. Oh, that’s impossible. He’s
learned nearly three hundred lines to-day already. Mr. Barlow
Barlow. I couldn’t think of it, Mrs. Bradley.
I’ve got as much as I can do remembering what lines I have learned.
Perkins. It would take you a week to forget your old
part completely enough to do the other well. You’d be playing
both parts, the way Irving does when he’s irritated, before you
Yardsley. I’m sure I don’t know what to
Perkins. Give it up, eh? What are you stage-manager
for? If I didn’t own the house, I’d suggest setting
it on fire; but I do, and it isn’t fully insured.
Mrs. Perkins. Perhaps Miss Andrews and Mr. Yardsley
could do their little scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Mrs. Bradley. Just the thing.
Yardsley. But I haven’t a suitable costume.
Perkins. I’ll lend you my golf trousers, and Bess
has an old shirt-waist you could wear with ’em. Piece it
out a little so that you could get into it, and hang the baby’s
toy sword at your side, and carry his fireman’s hat under your
arm, and you’d make a dandy-looking Romeo. Some people might
think you were a new woman, but if somebody were to announce to the
audience that you were not that, but the Hon. R. Montague, Esq., it
would be all right and exceedingly amusing. I’ll do the
announcing with the greatest of pleasure. Really think I’d
Miss Andrews. I think it would be much better to get
up Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks.
Perkins. Oh dear, Miss Andrews, never. Mrs. Jarley
awakens too many bitter memories in me. I was Mrs. Jarley once,
Yardsley. It must have been awful. If there is
anything in life that could be more horrible than you, with your peculiar
style of humor, trying to do Jarley, I—
Perkins. Oh, well, what’s the odds what we do?
We’re only amateurs, anyhow. Yardsley can put on a pair
of tight boots, and give us an impression of Irving, or perhaps an imitation
of the Roman army at the battle of Philippi, and the audience wouldn’t
care, as long as they had a good supper afterwards. It all rests
with Martenelli whether it’s a go to-night. If he doesn’t
spoil the supper, it’ll be all right. I have observed that
the principal factors of success at amateur dramatics are an expert
manipulation of the curtain, and a first-class feed to put the audience
in a good-humor afterwards. Even if Martenelli does go back on
us, you’ll have me with the curtain—
Mrs. Perkins. Thaddeus!
Yardsley. By Jove! that’s a good idea—we
have got you. You can read Henderson’s part!
Bradley. Just the very thing.
Miss Andrews. Splendid idea.
Perkins. Oh—but I say—I can’t, you
know. Nonsense! I can’t read.
Yardsley. I’ve often suspected that you couldn’t,
my dear Thaddeus; but this time you must.
Perkins. But the curtain—the babies—the
audience—the ushing—the fire department—it is too
much. I’m not an octopus.
Barlow (taking him by the arm and pushing him into chair).
You can’t get out of it, Ted. Here—read up.
There—take my book.
[Thrusts play-book into his hand.
Bradley. Here’s mine, too, Thaddeus. Read
’em both at once, and then you’ll have gone over it twice.
[Throws his book into Perkins’s lap.
Perkins. I tell you—
Mrs. Perkins. Just this once, Teddy—please—for
Yardsley. You owe it to your position, Perkins.
You are the only man here that knows anything about anything.
You’ve frequently said so. You were doing it all, anyhow,
you know—and you’re host—the audience are your guests—and
you’re so clever and—
Jennie. Dinner is served, ma’am. [Exit.
Yardsley. Good! Perk, I’ll be your under-study
at dinner, while you are studying up. Ladies and gentlemen, kindly
imagine that I am host, that Perkins does not exist. Come along,
Mrs. Bradley. Miss Andrews, will you take my other arm?
I’ll escort Lady Amaranth and the maid out. We’ll
leave the two Featherheads to fight it out for the Lady Ellen.
By-by, Thaddeus; don’t shirk. I’ll come in after the
salade course and hear you, and if you don’t know your lesson
I’ll send you to bed without your supper.
[All go out, leaving Perkins alone.
Perkins (forcing a laugh). Ha! ha! ha!
Good joke, confound your eyes! Humph! very well. I’ll
do it. Whole thing, eh? Curtain, babies, audience, host.
All right, my noble Thespians, wait! (Shakes fist at the door.)
I will do the whole thing. Wait till they ring you up,
O curtain! Up you will go, but then—then will I come forth
and read that book from start to finish, and if any one of ’em
ventures to interfere I’ll drop thee on their most treasured lines.
They little dream how much they are in the power of you and me!
Jennie. Mrs. Perkins says aren’t you coming to
dinner, sir; and Mr. Yardsley says the soup is getting cold, sir.
Perkins. In a minute, Jennie. Tell Mrs. Perkins
that I am just learning the last ten lines of the third act; and as
for Mr. Yardsley, kindly insinuate to him that he’ll find the
soup quite hot enough at 8.30.
[Exit Jennie. Perkins sits down, and, taking up two
books of the play, one in each hand, begins to read.