Of course I'm always afraid of making the thing too talky. You be the judge, I guess.

Scene 5

(Back in MRS. HAWKING’s parlor. MRS. HAWKING stands at a table regarding a spread of papers. MARY enters with a tea tray. She stops short for a moment when she sees MRS. HAWKING, then approaches cautiously. MRS. HAWKING doesn’t look up.)

MARY: Afternoon tea, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: Thank you.

(MARY looks for a place to lay the tea tray down and finds no room among the papers. She dithers for a moment before MRS. HAWKING notices her dilemma. She moves some of the papers to make a place for MARY to set it down. The two women look at each other warily. Finally MRS. HAWKING sighs.)

MRS. HAWKING: Let’s have no more of this dancing around one another. I’d have your intentions, if you please.

MARY: Forgive me, my intentions?

MRS. HAWKING: You know my business now. And you know it’s something I could land in a great deal of trouble should that knowledge come into the wrong hands. You’ve nearly as much to hold over my head as Brockton does over Mrs. Fairmont. And you must be aware this is not something I’ll allow to come out.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking…

MRS. HAWKING: So enough of this dithering. What do you want from me, Mary?

MARY: Madam… I want to help.

MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?

MARY: I want to help you in your work. If I understand, what you do… what you’re doing for Mrs. Fairmont… it’s heroic. It’s the best thing I ever heard anyone do.

MRS. HAWKING: You’ve a great deal of empathy for the tribulations of a woman privileged beyond anything you’re ever like to know.

MARY: But it’s not only the society women you’ve helped, is it? I heard what Mrs. Fairmont said. The washerwomen and the scullery maids and the house girls too. Women precisely like me, who have nowhere else to turn. No one needs a hero more.

MRS. HAWKING: You’ve no idea how dangerous it can be.

MARY: I don’t care. I can be brave if the circumstance calls for it.

MRS. HAWKING: So I’ve seen. But it isn’t only risk to life and limb, Miss Stone. What I do… is unacceptable in the eyes of the public. If such effort should fail, or so much as be discovered… I assure you, we shall come to envy the painted birds in parlor cages. And any hope of decent reputation shall be dashed forever.

MARY: I understand that! Madam… I have lived a respectable life where I have done what was expected of me. For my first twenty years, I did nothing with myself except keep house for an absent father and an unwell mother. All because they were too preoccupied to find some suitable man to whom they could marry me off before they passed away. And when they passed, and I had nothing more left… I realized how little that was. How little that was to make a life. Can you… can you imagine what that’s like?

MRS. HAWKING: I can. As a matter of fact.

MARY: What you are doing for Mrs. Fairmont, and have done for so many others… that means something to so many lives. And… there’s no amount of money or status in the world that can change how it must feel to have your child taken away from you. That is something that no mother should bear. If there is any way I can act in the service of preventing it… more than anything, that means something. And that is what I would like to do.

MRS. HAWKING: I am accustomed to working alone.

MARY: I know. You’ve had no other choice. But… as I said before. Everyone has need of help sometime. I can be your help. I told you once, I can be brave, and I have a strong back and the good sense God gave me. Please… let me help you.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her for a long time.)

MRS. HAWKING: Good heavens. I must be losing my mind.

MARY: So… we shall give it a go, then?

MRS. HAWKING: God help us. All right, brave girl. All right.

MARY: Oh, thank you. Thank you, madam! I swear, I will not disappoint you.

MRS. HAWKING: Very well. I grant you have not yet. Come here, see what I have been pondering.

(MARY goes to look at the papers on the table.)

MARY: Are you at work on the case at present?

MRS. HAWKING: Indeed. Contemplating how best to overcome the myriad challenges presented by Mrs. Fairmont’s predicament.

(She throws open a small box. MARY is slightly surprised to see several slim silver knives. MRS. HAWKING takes one of the box and shows it to her.)

MRS. HAWKING: Challenge the first—

MARY: The safety of the child.

MRS. HAWKING: True. To rescue the boy from the villain’s clutches.

(She sticks the knife into the mantle piece. Then she takes out another knife.)

MRS. HAWKING: Challenge the second—

MARY: The security of her reputation.

MRS. HAWKING: —To prevent the knowledge of the child’s existence from reaching the public.

(She sticks the second knife in beside the first. Out comes a third.)

MRS. HAWKING: And finally, challenge the third…

(MARY furrows her brow in thought, then shakes her head.)

MARY: I’m sorry, I don’t know the third.

MRS. HAWKING: That would be the opponent himself. Lord Cedric Brockton is no petty threat.

(She stabs the third knife into the mantle.)

MARY: You seem to know a great deal about this man. How did you come to encounter him?

MRS. HAWKING: Mrs. Fairmont is not the first client of mine to run afoul of him, and I may claim the rare standing of having thwarted him a time or two. But he’s seen no justice for it yet; the man conceals the traces of his enterprise as well as any man I’ve tangled with, such that the police shall never touch him.

MARY: So there is the third challenge. To put paid to his machinations once and for all.

MRS. HAWKING: Precisely, Miss Stone.

(She toys with the third stuck knife.)

MARY: So what is your plan of action? How can I assist?

MRS. HAWKING: There is the trouble, then. I am… uncertain how to proceed here.

MARY: Have you never encountered this sort of case in the past?

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, I’ve returned a missing child or two in my time, but in this instance my usual methods have not served. My thought had been to trace his lackeys back to where they were keeping the boy, but I have been trailing them for days and seen no sign.

MARY: What does that mean?

MRS. HAWKING: I can only conclude that the child has not been placed into the keeping of his hired toughs. Beyond that, I have no data.

MARY: Therefore… we find must find a way to gather some. Do we not?

MRS. HAWKING: We can make no forward progress otherwise.

(They sit in silence for a moment, thinking. Finally MARY is struck with an idea.)

MARY: Madam… if I may suggest…


MARY: What was it that Mrs. Fairmont said, about… about Lord Brockton hosting a ball?

MRS. HAWKING: Yes, some society nonsense in celebration of yet another victory for the Empire. My husband devoted his whole damn life to winning it, and yet they keep on.

MARY: Will his lordship be hosting it at his home?

MRS. HAWKING: I believe so.

MARY: Perhaps that’s the way to gather intelligence.

MRS. HAWKING: By attending that ball?

MARY: It’s a way into his house. There— there might be something useful to discover there!

MRS. HAWKING: Surely he is not keeping the boy in his own house.

MARY: No, not if he’s as circumspect as you say. But there may be something, some bit sliver of a secret that the lion is hiding in his den.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her critically.)

MARY: If we’ve no other lead, then at least it’s a place to begin.

(MRS. HAWKING thinks for a moment, then nods.)

MRS. HAWKING: Yes. There is logic to it. Surely there must be something he would desire to keep close, and under his own oversight. Very well, miss, it is indeed a place to begin.

MARY: So you shall go to Lord Brockton’s ball?

MRS. HAWKING: I shall. Now, we must prepare, we haven’t much time and there are things to be done. My instruments must be packed, and I must secure the proper invitation. I have been out of the roar of things for some time now, but I daresay the Hawking name still holds sufficient sway. And of course we shall have to see about acquiring you a suitable gown on scant notice.

MARY: A gown? For me?

MRS. HAWKING: We shall be quite conspicuous if we do not don the costume of the venue.

MARY: I… I may come along with you?

MRS. HAWKING: It was your notion, Miss Stone. And you insist you wish to help.

MARY: But shan’t it be an affair for high society?

MRS. HAWKING: You shall quickly learn, child, if you are to ply this trade for long you must master the art of disguising yourself as something you are not. For you, it shall be as high society. For me, it shall be as a creature that can bear to spend the evening in whalebone stays. Besides, when it comes to facades one must put on, society is a common one. I imagine you shall manage it no worse than most.

(MRS. HAWKING pulls the final knife from the wall and twists it in her hands as she exits. MARY touches the remaining knives, an expression of mixed apprehension and excitement on her face.)

Scene 6

(Several elegantly dressed ball guests enter and walk around the stage, mingling and talking. After a moment, enter MRS. HAWKING and MARY from opposite sides of the stage. They wear fancy gowns and both are quite transformed. They scan the room for a moment, and then when they see each other they hurry over to one another. As they speak, a crowd of party guests gather around them.)

MRS. HAWKING: There you are. I’ve observed the lay of the house and I believe I’ve found the place to look. There is a locked study on the second floor from which the valet keeps chasing away the guests. If Brockton keeps sensitive material in this house, that will be the place, though I’ve not yet had a chance to search it. Not until I know where Brockton is lurking.

(MARY tosses uncomfortable looks over her shoulder behind her.)

MRS. HAWKING: Are you quite all right?

MARY: That gentleman over there is staring at me.

MRS. HAWKING: Yes, I’m sure he is.

MARY: Why does he do that? Can he tell I don’t belong?

MRS. HAWKING: I imagine, Miss Stone, it is because we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown.

MARY: Oh! Well, I have never worn anything so grand.

MRS. HAWKING: It suits you, I’m afraid, which has naturally rendered you public property. Fortunately, I have been able to turn this distasteful consequence to our advantage.

MARY: How so?

MRS. HAWKING: When I observed how many were murmuring about the mysterious and lovely young woman no one seemed to recognize, I spread a few choice whispers about her circumstances and station.

MARY: About me? What sort of whispers?

MRS. HAWKING: I may have given them the impression you were a niece of the viceroy of India, sent home to escape a scandal with a prominent soldier.

MARY: Me? But I am no— why?

MRS. HAWKING: To catch a beast, we must set out some bait.

MARY: I am your bait? To what end?

MRS. HAWKING: He is a blackmailer, Mary. He is always interested in persons with secrets. My aim is for him to seek out the young woman everyone is murmuring about and attempt to discern whether he can make a target of her. And while you are occupying him, I shall take advantage of his absence.

MARY: I don’t know how to behave like the niece of the viceroy! He’ll see right through me!

MRS. HAWKING: See that he doesn’t. You were raised in India, make use of your experience. Now, listen to me closely. Before long Brockton will approach you and sound you out for his wicked purpose. Meanwhile I shall infiltrate the upstairs study. I must entreat you to keep him engaged for as long as you possibly can to prevent him from discovering me. I can elude the servants with ease but the master will be more wary than any.

MARY: But madam—

MRS. HAWKING: You expressed a desire to be of service, Miss Stone.

MARY: Ah— yes. Yes, very well. I shall do my best.

MRS. HAWKING: Good girl. One last detail— did you manage to secret away the valise?

MARY: Yes, in the cloakroom beneath the grand staircase.

MRS. HAWKING: Excellent. I shall need my tools before confronting the study. Now I must make myself scarce. It is imperative that Brockton not observe us to be speaking together.

MARY: Good— good luck, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: To you as well.

(Looking around unobtrusively to see if the coast is clear, MRS. HAWKING walks off and exits. MARY, now left alone, shifts nervously at first. She then awkwardly attempts to affect the carriage of what she imagines is the mysterious, high-class niece of a viceroy. She starts to commit to it, smiling and even voguing a little for those who look her over.)

(As she does this, enter LORD CEDRIC BROCKTON, middle-aged, handsome, impeccably dressed. He spots MARY almost immediately. He makes his way over to her through his crowd of guests, shaking hands and touching shoulders in a charming manner. Before long he comes up directly behind her with an ingratiating smile.)

LORD BROCKTON: I don’t believe we’ve met.

(MARY jumps a little, startled, but collects herself quickly back into her new persona.)

MARY: Oh? Ought we to?

LORD BROCKTON: Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Cedric Brockton, and I would like to personally welcome you to my party.

MARY: Why, this is your house? Oh, it’s a— dear little place.

LORD BROCKTON: I am glad you like it. You must know, miss, that everyone is buzzing about you and no one seems to know your name.

MARY: Ah… my uncle calls me Tigerlily.

LORD BROCKTON: How very charming. Have you been long in London?

MARY: Oh, no. No time at all. Only long enough to learn that London is so dreadfully dreary and dull. I haven’t the faintest idea how you tolerate all this fog.

(She takes a quick look around the room for MRS. HAWKING but she is not there.)

LORD BROCKTON: It is dreary, indeed. Certainly not as… temperate and exciting as life on the subcontinent.

MARY: Good heavens, you’ve no idea! Why, back home, if I so chose, I could ride to finishing school on the back of an elephant!

LORD BROCKTON: Well, we’ve certainly nothing like that here. So, tell me, miss, whatever could you draw you away from all that?

(MARY waves her hands dramatically, trying to think.)

MARY: Oh, well, you know how things are… uncle dear thought it was best for me to go away for a while… he feared I was becoming too popular with some of his, well…

LORD BROCKTON: Soldiers, miss?

(She affects a carriage of indignation.)

MARY: My lord! What kind of lady do you take me for? Fraternizing with enlisted men?

(She pauses dramatically, then grins.)

MARY: They were all officers!

(They burst out laughing together, BROCKTON with the opportunity and MARY with a manic shock that she is pulling it off. Over his shoulder, she spies MRS. HAWKING reenter.)

MARY: Oh, but I’ve said too much! Uncle John would be furious with me. You must excuse me, Lord Cedric, we shall talk again soon. Lovely party you’ve thrown!

LORD BROCKTON: I shall look forward to it!

(She turns and leaves, trying not to dash off. BROCKTON watches her go for a moment. Then he turns around, a smug smile on his face, and spots MRS. HAWKING. He laughs.)

LORD BROCKTON: Why, fancy that. You’re in attendance this evening.

(He approaches her. She tenses almost imperceptibly a moment, then turns to face him with an expression of polite friendliness.)

MRS. HAWKING: You know me, sir?

LORD BROCKTON: Oh, my yes. We’ve never had occasion to meet, but I am certainly aware of Mrs. Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking. Oh, but forgive me my manners— allow me to formally introduce myself.

(He bows elegantly, the extends a hand to her. With only the barest hint of her distaste, MRS. HAWKING smiles thinly and places her hand in his. He kisses it gallantly.)

MRS. HAWKING: Of course, Lord Cedric, clerk to the undersecretary and our gracious host.

LORD BROCKTON: It’s been some time since you’ve made an appearance in society.

MRS. HAWKING: Haven’t you heard? My husband died, I’ve been in mourning.

LORD BROCKTON: Of course. His passing was a great loss to the empire. And you’ve chosen this time to reemerge. Remarkable.

MRS. HAWKING: Some would say it was time.

LORD BROCKTON: To be sure. You’ve grown something of a reputation for reclusion. It is then also remarkable that the notoriously withdrawn wife of the late colonel should develop associations with no fewer than three ladies with whom I have had business in the last several years.

(MRS. HAWKING stares at him hard.)

LORD BROCKTON: I make a point of observing such things, Mrs. Hawking. Particularly when there is a discernible pattern of the enterprises in question going awry. When such a thing occurs, I take pains to learn why.

MRS. HAWKING: Perhaps you have made a wrong move.

LORD BROCKTON: Perhaps you have, madam. For your own wellbeing, I advise you to make no more.

(He bows to her politely.)

LORD BROCKTON: I am glad to have finally made your acquaintance, Mrs. Hawking. Do enjoy the rest of the party.

(He strolls off through the crowd again, engaging magnanimously with his guests. MRS. HAWKING stands very still, her face stern. After a moment MARY reenters and, seeing MRS. HAWKING is alone, approaches her with caution.)

MARY: Madam? Did you find anything?

MRS. HAWKING: Not now. We must not be seen speaking.

(MRS. HAWKING presses a sovereign into her hand.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hire a handsome and meet me at home, we shall talk then. Things have become more complicated.

(She hurries away. MARY looks at the coin in her hand, then glances after MRS. HAWKING. Then she exits herself.)