Mrs. Hawking first came into existence on the page on July 20th, 2011, with the writing of a quick draft of the opening scene. Before I’d figured out where it was going or what the story was going to be about, I conceived of how it might begin, with the first meeting of Mary, Nathaniel, and the lady herself.
Below you’ll find the text of that original draft of the scene. See for yourself how it evolved into its current version! As compared to other parts of the story, this scene underwent shockingly little change. And the characters emerged very strongly for me right away, and from that grew the thrust of the whole story.
Mrs. Hawking – Act I, scene i
(NATHANIEL HAWKING, a well-dressed gentleman in his late twenties, is discovered onstage. He sits in a stylish Victorian parlor and appears to be waiting. A large portrait of a man hangs over the mantelpiece. Before long a bell rings, and he leaps up to answer the door. MARY STONE enters, a plainly dressed working-class young woman. She clasps a suitcase and is bundled against the rain.)
NATHANIEL: Ah, Miss Mary Stone, I presume?
MARY: Indeed I am, sir. And you are Mr. Hawking, then?
NATHANIEL: Call me Nathaniel, if you please. I am very pleased to meet you. I trust you have recovered from your voyage?
MARY: Well enough, though the London weather was quite the shock. I shall certainly miss the Indian climate.
NATHANIEL: I am sure. Oh, allow me.
(He places her suitcase aside, then takes her coat and hangs it for her.)
NATHANIEL: I am certainly glad to find you here. Your turning up in London may be the solution to our problem.
MARY: I understand you advertised on behalf of a relative?
NATHANIEL: My aunt Victoria. She was the wife of my dear uncle, the late Colonel Reginald Hawking of the Afghan campaign. Remarkable woman, I’m terribly fond of her, but… she has queer ideas at times. After my uncle’s passing she dismissed all the staff, but I’ve convinced her that she’s in need of someone around the house. It isn’t right for a lady to go on alone in the world. Almost more than the help, I think she could do with the company.
(Enter a lady in her late thirties to early forties, businesslike and stern, MRS. VICTORIA HAWKING. She regards them, then silently approaches until she is just behind NATHANIEL.)
NATHANIEL: But I must warn you, miss, she is not warm to the idea just yet. She’s stiff-necked, you see. Fiercely independent. You mustn’t take offense if she seems… brusque or standoffish to you, she only just hasn’t quite come round to the notion of needing help.
MARY: I quite understand. I know how difficult it can be to begin your life all over again.
MRS. HAWKING: Is that the girl?
(Startled at the sound of her voice, NATHANIEL spins around and, in an effort to keep from running into her, stumbles backwards onto the ground.)
NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria!
MRS. HAWKING: How you must suffer for me, Nathaniel.
MARY: Oh, let me help, sir.
(MARY helps him to his feet with practiced ease.)
NATHANIEL: Thank you, miss. Auntie, I am only too glad to be of service. Miss Mary Stone, may I introduce you to my dear lady aunt, Mrs. Victoria Hawking?
MARY: A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam.
MRS. HAWKING: I’m a fair ways off from my dotage yet, Nathaniel. Do you think me so frail that I require a nursemaid?
NATHANIEL: What are you talking about, Aunt Victoria?
MRS. HAWKING: I consented to hiring a house girl, and you’ve brought me a nurse.
NATHANIEL: Aunt, I’ve done nothing of the kind. Miss Stone isn’t a nurse. You always think you know my meaning before I say it, but truly sometimes you decide in haste!
MARY: I am, in fact, I suppose. In a manner of speaking. I nursed my parents through the last months of their illness.
NATHANIEL: Indeed? Ah, well, see, she is an even more capable lady I’d thought.
MARY: May I ask, ma’am, how did you know?
MRS. HAWKING: The practical way you just now lifted my nephew. You’ve done a great deal of helping bodies in and out of bed.
MARY: Oh, my. That’s it precisely.
NATHANIEL: My dear aunt has quite the keen sense of people, you see. Please, sit here and let us get to know one another, shall we?
MRS. HAWKING: At least this one can string two words together. Unlike that last girl. Wherever did you find her, the lobotomy ward at Colney Hatch?
NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria, please!
MRS. HAWKING: But now you’ve brought me this girl. Your given plain meek unmarried young woman, new and friendless in London, I see. I would not have left India for this dreary place, but I suppose there are circumstances that can’t be helped.
MARY: That’s the truth of it, ma’am. I see you’ve been told something of my history.
MRS. HAWKING: Only by your dress. A lady who wears Indian linen beneath her greatcoat is one who has not long had need for warm clothes. Very well then, if I must have you then I shall see that I get some use out of you. I would hope a woman who’s lived abroad a time would not be a useless fainting flower. Tell me your accomplishments.
MARY: Accomplishments may perhaps be too strong a word, madam. But I have many years’ time keeping house for my family, hold to a budget, cook well and sew capably. I have attended some school so that I can read and write in English and French—
MRS. HAWKING: Enough of that. You are educated, that is well. Can you keep an appointment-book?
MARY: Very well, Mrs. Hawking.
MRS. HAWKING: And have you the good sense God gave you?
MARY: I very much hope so!
MRS. HAWKING: So too I. I can’t abide a woman who forgets her own head on her shoulders. Well, it gives you a leg up on the other dull-witted chits he’s dragged in front of me. Provided you can hold your tongue and keep your own business, I supposed that you shall do for me.
NATHANIEL: So you’ll have her on?
MRS. HAWKING: I suppose I can stand to.
MARY: Thank you very much, madam! I will not disappoint you.
MRS. HAWKING: I may hope.
MARY: When shall I move in my things?
MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?
MARY: I shan’t need much space. And I can wait for your convenience.
MRS. HAWKING: Nathaniel, I said did not want anyone in the house.
MARY: Oh, dear. I was told that this would be a billeted situation.
NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria, I explained to you that this would be the way of it. Such is Mary’s situation. And may I point out that you have chased all your other options off?
MRS. HAWKING: Ah, very well. Your claims shall be tested straightaway, it seems. I warn you that I am not a sociable creature, Miss Stone. Heed me well and things shall get on. Well, I suppose that settles that. Can you arrive at ten-thirty sharp tomorrow?
MARY: I will not be late.
MRS: HAWKING: Good. It is another thing I cannot abide. Now you may go. Thank you for your assistance, Nathaniel. I have done.
NATHANIEL: Of course, dear aunt. The Colonel would have wanted me to take care of you.
MRS. HAWKING: Bless him for that.
(Stand and exit MRS. HAWKING.)
NATHANIEL: I am very glad she’ll have you, Mary.
MARY: She seems very displeased with the whole matter.
NATHANIEL: Don’t you worry. Compared to what she thought of the others, she seems quite taken with you.
MARY: Oh, my.
NATHANIEL: She’ll come round in time. My aunt has always been of odd habits, but she’s become… withdrawn of late. I worry for her should she continue on this way. I think you may be precisely what she needs.