I started this scene for inclusion in Base Instruments, but the more I wrote it the less sure I was about it. While it’s roughly in character– Nathaniel wants Mrs. Hawking to show up to a family dinner while his brother Justin is in town, Mrs. Hawking doesn’t want to go –I don’t feel like the motivations are necessarily strong enough.
Yeah, Nathaniel wants his aunt to act like she’s part of the family, but he knows that she and Justin don’t like each other and it’s not likely to be a pleasant evening for anyone involved. I feel like he would be wiser than to force everybody into a situation that’s likely to make the whole family miserable; he would instead pick his battles to work on developing relationships with her that both mattered to him more and had more of a chance of success, such as his and hers, or even hers and Clara’s. Also, I think if Mrs. Hawking didn’t want to go to an event, she just wouldn’t; she’s starting to value Nathaniel and his feelings more, but the concept of “but we’re your faaaaaamily” just doesn’t matter to her. She wouldn’t make herself miserable to do any service to that. I don’t like making characters do thing for the sake of drama or the plot that I don’t feel are really in character.
I tried to make it work. I tried to give Nathaniel an outside reason for why he would insist on this– tying it into his issues with Justin rather than just letting it rely on his desire to make his aunt connect with family. And I tried to make it so she was only trying to minimize her own misery by agreeing to the dinner on his terms, because the alternative would be worse. But I’m not sure I buy it. Also I don’t know if I actually want to include that dinner happening in the story; I’m not sure what dramatic purpose it would serve. Although it might be funny just to see all these people fighting with each other under the guise of polite conversation, with Nathaniel frantically trying to make everybody just be nice to each other for one evening for God’s sake.
Ah, well. Even if I don’t use it, it’s practice. And I won’t have to try to recreate it if I decide that I want to.
by Phoebe Roberts
VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant
London, England, 1883
NATHANIEL: Here’s the research you asked for! Interviews with the company members, and diagrams of the crime scene. And not a soul will know you’ve had them.
(He hands over a folder and she inspects it.)
MRS. HAWKING: Hmm. That was neatly done. Thank you, Nathaniel.
NATHANIEL: Glad to do it, Auntie. And I’ll have the floor plans for the theater on Monday.
NATHANIEL: Are you pleased?
MRS. HAWKING: I am. I must concede, you’ve been a great help and very little trouble in the recent past.
NATHANIEL: I’m glad to hear it! And I promise not to trouble you by dropping by while you’re ruminating for the rest of the week.
(She freezes suddenly and stares at NATHANIEL in suspicion.)
MRS. HAWKING: What do you want?
NATHANIEL: Now, don’t get cross, Auntie…
MRS. HAWKING: Out with it.
(NATHANIEL takes a deep breath.)
NATHANIEL: Justin is coming to London for a visit, and I’d like you to come to family dinner.
(She turns to walk away.)
NATHANIEL Oh, come on, Aunt Victoria!
MRS. HAWKING: Go chase yourself.
NATHANIEL: It’s only just an evening!
MRS. HAWKING: Which you seem intent to ruin for everyone.
NATHANIEL: Justin’s in town so rarely. Can’t we spend one night at least pretending we can get on like a normal family?
MRS. HAWKING: To what end?
NATHANIEL: My occasional peace of mind.
MRS. HAWKING: Best not to rely on delusions for comfort, nephew.
NATHANIEL: He won’t be here long. He’ll be on to the country in a few days to see Father.
MRS. HAWKING: Then let your father bear him. Your brother is an entitled rake who never stops talking.
NATHANIEL: I thought that was what you thought of me.
MRS. HAWKING: You’re not a rake, I grant you.
NATHANIEL: Indeed? Oh, goodness, Auntie, I never knew you cared.
MRS. HAWKING: Justin, however, I can’t stand across even a dinner table.
NATHANIEL: Oh, come now. It’s rare to have so much of the family together.
MRS. HAWKING: Perhaps think on why that is for a moment.
NATHANIEL: Clara wants you to be there.
MRS. HAWKING: No, she doesn’t.
NATHANIEL: The children never see you!
MRS. HAWKING: By design, Nathaniel.
NATHANIEL: Careful there, Auntie, that’s my flesh and blood you’re talking about.
MRS. HAWKING: I don’t care for children, why should you subject yours to me?
NATHANIEL: Because I want them to know you.
MRS. HAWKING: Whatever for?
NATHANIEL: Because you’re important to me! My God, woman, is that so hard for you to grasp? Would I keep coming back for more of your trouble if you weren’t?
(She raises an eyebrow at him. He sighs.)
NATHANIEL: If you must know, Justin has opined to me, loudly and often, that he doesn’t understand why I’ve gone to so much trouble to keep you in my life. If you can manage to bear up through one family dinner without being particularly horrible, it might give the appearance that my efforts haven’t come to nothing, and perhaps it will shut him up. For a moment. Could you possibly see your way to helping me with that? I don’t ask much of you, Auntie.
MRS. HAWKING: Ha!
NATHANIEL: All right, then. In that case, I promise you, if you don’t come, Clara will commandeer this house and have a party laid in ambush for you in your own dining room. And there won’t be any getting rid of us then.
NATHANIEL: And don’t think Mary won’t help me. Because you know she will! So, what shall it be, then?
MRS. HAWKING: You are becoming quite the ruthless strategist, aren’t you, boy?
NATHANIEL: I’ve been learning from the best.
(He goes to retrieve his coat from the rack.)
NATHANIEL: Do cheer up, Auntie. Perhaps little Beatrice might do with your influence.
(MRS. HAWKING looks at him, considering. He smiles.)
NATHANIEL: Imagine what might come of that.