The other day I came home to the lovely surprise of Frances and Charlotte performing a scene from Mrs. Hawking in my kitchen. It was the sweetest thing of them to do, and a real joy because they are my fantasy casts for Mrs. Hawking and Mary. It also gave me a real boost in attacking my next homework assignment, which was writing the first half of the play.
I have now just finished writing, and sending in to my teacher, that first half or so. I had a really hard time figuring out how to tell the story I wanted to tell. It’s tough to construct a sensical mystery plot, where both protagonist and antagonist act to the best of their abilities, where neither of them ever “act stupid” for the sake of the story. I really hate that. But it’s tough to build it well enough to avoid that, especially since I tend to be the sort of writer who decides what needs to be accomplished by the story and then designs it to achieve that.
Here are scene three, which I have substantially rewritten from even the second version I posted here, and scene four, which incorporates and significantly expands the small bit I wrote for 31 Plays in 31 Days. I’ve posted them together because they are closely connected, they flow more or less continuously one into the next. I will post scenes five and six separately, as the location and focus strongly shift.
(A well-dressed upper middle class woman, MRS. CELESTE FAIRMONT, sits in her fancy parlor, fretting. The bell rings and MRS. FAIRMONT leaps up to answer it. It is MARY in a walking hat. MRS. FAIRMONT starts exaggeratedly.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness!
(MARY removes her hat.)
MARY: Forgive me for this intrusion at this hour, but I must speak to Mrs. Celeste Fairmont.
MRS. FAIRMONT: I am she. Who are you?
MARY: I am Mary Stone, I’ve recently come into the employ of Mrs. Victoria Hawking.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Mrs. Hawking sent you?
MARY: Ah— not as such. But madam didn’t come home last night, and according to her appointment book she was engaged to see you that evening. Begging your pardon, but I didn’t know what else to do but come and ask if you knew her whereabouts.
MRS. FAIRMONT: She was indeed here last night… but she hasn’t returned. Not yet.
MARY: Did you expect her? Do you know where she went?
MRS. FAIRMONT: I, ah, I cannot precisely say—
(There is a crashing sound outside. The ladies’ heads whip around.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: What was that?
(A commotion of running feet and raised voices from a gang of people outside. MARY runs to the window beside the door and looks out.)
MARY: There’s a whole gang of ruffians!
MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, God!
(The second window starts to scrape and grind open. A figure dressed in black begins to climb in. Again MRS. FAIRMONT panics and makes small sounds of terror, cowering behind a chair. MARY seizes the poker from the fireplace and places herself between the figure and MRS. FAIRMONT. The figure drops catlike to the floor, then stands, cradling one arm in pain. The masked face turns to look at the women.)
MARY: Stop! Stop right there!
(Suddenly MARY stops short, gaping in shock. She drops the poker.)
MARY: Mrs. Hawking!?
(The figure pulls off the mask to reveal MRS. HAWKING.)
MRS. HAWKING: Mary?
(Briefly MRS. HAWKING examines her injured arm. MARY lets the poker clatter to the ground.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: Is that blood?
MARY: Are you hurt?
(MRS. HAWKING runs to the door and peers through the peephole.)
MARY: What— what’s happened to you?
MRS. HAWKING: No matter now. Celeste, where are they?
MRS. FAIRMONT: I don’t know, I don’t know!
MARY: They’re nearby but they haven’t come here yet.
MRS. HAWKING: Thank God.
(She goes about securing the windows.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: Why are they here?
MRS. HAWKING: Because I was sloppy. Very sloppy.
MRS. FAIRMONT: What are we to—?
(There is a hard thumping at the door. MRS. FAIRMONT freezes. She and MARY both look to MRS. HAWKING.)
MRS. HAWKING: They cannot find me here.
(She ducks into a closet. There is another THUMP THUMP THUMP. MARY and MRS. FAIRMONT look at each other. MARY slowly goes to answer the door. MRS. FAIRMONT collapses stiffly into a chair. MARY opens the door to JOHN COLCHESTER, a large man dressed in rough clothes.)
MARY: Fairmont residence. May I help you?
COLCHESTER: There’s been some commotion in the neighborhood.
MARY: Yes, we heard.
(He pushes past MARY into the room and takes a few steps around, looking.)
COLCHESTER: There’s a dangerous person about. We was after them just now but it seems they’ve disappeared. You haven’t seen nothing?
MARY: I’m sure we’ve no idea what you’re speaking of.
COLCHESTER: What are you all doing up and about at this hour?
MARY: We were disturbed by the noise! And by banging at the door in the wee hours of the morning!
(He moves very close to the closet where MRS. HAWKING is hiding.)
COLCHESTER: And you don’t have any notion of where this fellow went off to?
MARY: Of course we don’t! Now I must insist that you leave! You have frightened Mrs. Fairmont quite enough.
(MARY goes back to the door and holds it open for him. COLCHESTER looks around once more, then nods once and moves toward it.)
COLCHESTER: Right, then. Good evening to you ladies.
MARY: Good evening, sir.
(COLCHESTER goes out the door. She closes it behind him and exhales heavily. MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands and gives a sob of relief. MRS. HAWKING emerges from the closet.)
MRS. HAWKING: That was quite splendid of you, Mary.
MARY: Mrs. Hawking, this is— this is highly irregular!
(MRS. HAWKING goes to peer out the window.)
MRS. HAWKING: Good, they’re clearing out now.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Thank God! Oh, how awful that was!
MRS. HAWKING: Entirely my fault, Mrs. Fairmont. I was spotted due to an error in my calculations. I very much apologize for drawing them on to you.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Have they discovered us, then?
MRS. HAWKING: They never saw my face… but if they know your name, it may not bode well that they came knocking on your door. But for the moment I believe the enterprise is still secure.
MARY: Mrs. Hawking!
MRS. HAWKING: Well, perhaps not entirely. Mary, whatever are you doing here?
MARY: Looking for you! When you didn’t return last night— Mrs. Hawking— I beg your pardon, but I must insist—
MRS. HAWKING: Mary, please—
MRS. FAIRMONT: Never mind that! Did you find the culprits? Who are they?
MRS. HAWKING: I tracked them all up and down the row. They were shockingly circumspect for an alley gang. It led me to suspect they answered to a higher authority. And when at last the crows returned to roost, they confirmed my suspicion. There was such a man.
MRS. FAIRMONT: And who was that?
MRS. HAWKING: Brockton.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Heaven help me.
MARY: Brockton— Lord Cedric Brockton? The— the undersecretary’s clerk?
MRS. FAIRMONT: But he’s a well-born, prominent man! My God, he’s hosting the queen’s ball in celebration of the new Afghan victory! What is the meaning of this?
MRS. HAWKING: I believe you should soon expect a pageboy with a rather serious letter for you, madam.
MRS. FAIRMONT: What? Why?
MRS. HAWKING: Because he would not have taken an interest in anything of yours unless he could make use of it to blackmail you.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, no. No! Oh, God, no…
(MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands.)
MRS. HAWKING: We must discuss, Mrs. Fairmont, just what it is that you’ve done.
MRS. FAIRMONT: You promised me you would not pry!
MRS. HAWKING: Circumstances have changed.
MRS. FAIRMONT: It is a private matter!
MRS. HAWKING: I know this man, Celeste, I know how he operates. If I am to help you against him, I must understand what it is at stake.
(MRS. FAIRMONT protests, growing more and more hysterical. MRS. HAWKING speaks sternly over her, increasingly irate. Finally MARY springs forward.)
MARY: Please, stop!
(They turn in shock to look at her.)
MARY: Please. This is all… very unsettling… I must… I must ask that you tell me what all this is about. Right away.
MRS. HAWKING: My word, Mary.
MARY: Mrs. Hawking! I must insist.
(MRS. HAWKING considers. Finally she nods.)
MRS. HAWKING: Very well. You’ve done a great deal this evening without being asked… you’ve the right to ask something of me.
(She looks to MRS. FAIRMONT.)
MRS. HAWKING: Celeste… perhaps we should begin at the beginning.
(MRS. FAIRMONT looks distressed for a moment, then relents with a nod.)
(Still in the Fairmont parlor, MRS. FAIRMONT sits in a chair having collected herself somewhat. MRS. HAWKING stands at the window, gazing sternly ahead at nothing. MARY pours a cup of tea for MRS. FAIRMONT, then politely takes her own seat.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: You must see… we are very respectable people. My husband’s family, the Fairmonts, and of course my own. I would never do anything to compromise our good names, you must understand that.
MRS. HAWKING: And yet, things do not always go as we plan them to.
MRS. FAIRMONT: No. No, indeed they do not. You see… it seemed to me of late that there’s been someone… following me.
MARY: Following you? When you’re out and about?
MRS. FAIRMONT: Not all the time. Only when… you see, we keep… that is to say, I keep… some rooms in Cheapside. I visit this place upon occasion. And it seemed that there was someone on my heels whenever I made my way over there. I thought I might be imagining it, until… until I arrived one day to find that someone had broken into the rooms. The place had been… raided, torn apart.
MARY: Were the police of no assistance?
MRS. FAIRMONT: I could not go to the police! My husband… does not know I keep these rooms. No one does. But I had heard… something that women whispered of, society ladies, their washerwomen, women of all standings… that when a lady finds herself in a predicament that she cannot resolve alone… there is someone… someone outside the usual workings of society, who can take extraordinary action to help. I took steps to learn who this person was, to seek this service for myself.
MRS. HAWKING: And that is where I came in.
MRS. HAWKING: There is so much that presses on a woman in this world of ours. It offers them so little recourse when those presses become too great. Someone must step outside all of that to do what’s necessary. That someone is me.
MARY: My God.
MRS. HAWKING: Mrs. Fairmont engaged me to discover who had broken into her rooms. And now that I am certain that your assailants acted on the orders of Lord Cedric Brockton, I must tell you immediately that your situation is quite serious.
MRS. FAIRMONT: You’ve had dealings with this man before?
MRS. HAWKING: Not directly, but I am familiar with his operations. He appears publically to be a man of minor nobility holding a post as a minor public official. But he is one of the most dangerous blackmailers in Europe. His network of spies and operatives gather for him the secrets of the most powerful personages in the country, those secrets that would destroy them were they ever made known, and exacting a heavy price to keep them concealed. He is slowly building an empire of these skeletons, concealed from connection to him, of victims powerless to strike back lest their secrets be revealed. He would not have set his sights on you unless there was something he could use against you.
(MRS. FAIRMONT covers her face with her hands.)
MRS. HAWKING: Brockton’s men that broke in, it was clear that they must have been looking for something. Something you’ve been hiding.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Good heavens.
MRS. HAWKING: I had occasion to investigate this place in my tracing of those men. You had done your best to purge it of all your connection to it, but there was no mistaking the cherub trim along the baseboard, nor the profession of the nursemaid you employed. Even hiding the cradle could not hide it for a nursery. Tell me who it was, Mrs. Fairmont, that they were looking for.
(MRS. FAIRMONT wrestles with it, then relents.)
MRS. FAIRMONT: Not looking for. They found him. They found my son.
MARY: Your son?
MRS. FAIRMONT: My boy, my Gabriel. They’ve taken him. They’ve stolen away my boy.
MARY: Why in God’s name would they take your child?
MRS. HAWKING: For the same reason, I would imagine, that you should keep him in rented rooms and may visit him only on occasion. I take it he is not the son of Mr. Fairmont as well?
MRS. FAIRMONT: I was young. I made a mistake.
MRS. HAWKING: Before or after your marriage?
MRS. FAIRMONT: Before. I was but a girl. We lived in the country, there was a young man, only a groom that worked in the stables, but he had red hair, and he was very charming. But I was to marry Jacob. My father was beside himself. He sent my young man away, but… the damage was done. And when Gabriel was born, he sent my child away as well.
MARY: Oh, madam. How terrible.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob and I were wed, and we came here to London. But… I could not leave my boy. It took me years but I found him again. My father had given him to a workhouse, to be raised as an unwanted orphan. My poor boy… so I stole him away from that wretched place to those secret rooms in Cheapside, and engaged a nurse to care for him by days.
MRS. HAWKING: You have been running quite a risk these last few years to keep the boy.
MRS. FAIRMONT: He is my son! I could not bear leaving him in that dreadful place!
MRS. HAWKING: And now he has fallen into the clutches of Cedric Brockton.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob does not know, you see. It would… it would destroy him to know I had dishonored us this way. Not to mention the ruin of his career if anyone knew…
MRS. HAWKING: Naturally. Quite the bargaining chip he’s found himself, then. And quite the challenge for us, to save a good name and the boy as well.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Surely— surely there’s something you can do. They say you have saved dozens of women. For my blameless husband’s sake, and for my poor child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.
MRS. HAWKING: I shall be frank, madam. This will not be a simple operation. But I will do everything that is in my power to see you through.
(MRS. FAIRMONT clings to her in desperate gratitude. MRS. HAWKING winces and tenses her left side.)
MARY: Mrs. Hawking, your arm.
MRS HAWKING: I’d quite forgotten.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness, you’re still hurt! We should— we should send for someone.
MRS. HAWKING: No doctors, Celeste.
MRS. FAIRMONT: But, Victoria—
MRS. HAWKING: Certainly not!
MARY: Please— allow me.
(She moves close to MRS. HAWKING, who instinctively withdraws.)
MARY: I have some knowledge of this, madam.
(MRS. HAWKING regards her a moment, and then undresses to her shift. MARY pushes it down off her shoulders and she pulls out her bare arm to reveal a bleeding bruise.)
MARY: Oh, my. This requires some attention. Madam, if you’ll bring me the dipper.
(MRS. FAIRMONT brings over the basin of water. MARY draws a white cloth from her apron pocket.)
MARY: Mrs. Fairmont, have you any clean linen about? This will want wrapping.
MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, yes, of course.
MARY: And some alcohol to bathe it.
MRS. FAIRMONT: I’ll go and fetch it.
(MRS. FAIRMONT exits. MARY wets her cloth and begins dabbing at MRS. HAWKING’s wound.)
MARY: This is serious.
MRS. HAWKING: I have seen worse.
(MARY examines up her arm.)
MARY: You have… so many scars.
MRS. HAWKING: As I said.
MARY: Does this happen… often? In this work that you do?
MRS. HAWKING: On occasion. You may count how often.
(MARY works in silence a moment.)
MARY: And… what do you do?
MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?
MARY: When this happens. If you will not see a doctor.
MRS. HAWKING: I manage well enough on my own.
MARY: I see. If I may ask… what if it were more serious than this? Something that you could not manage on your own?
MRS. HAWKING: Seeking medical attention is out of the question, Miss Stone. Any outside attention risks exposure of my… enterprise.
MARY: I understand. But… you’ve no other assistance? Is there no one trustworthy?
MRS. HAWKING: I cannot chance it. Discovery by the wrong person could mean the end of everything.
MARY: I think you make a great mistake in that.
MRS. HAWKING: I did not ask your opinion, Miss Stone.
MARY: Everyone has need of help sometime.
MRS. HAWKING: You are out of turn, Miss Stone.
MARY: Forgive me, madam… but if there is never anyone to help when you need it, it could mean the end of everything.
MRS. HAWKING: It is an easy thing to say when you need not live in fear of your well-meaning fool of a husband putting a stop to you for what he thinks is your own good.
MARY: He never knew?
MRS. HAWKING: I could not permit it.
MARY: In twenty years of marriage?
MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.
MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.
(MRS. HAWKING’s eyes widen in surprise, and she turns her head to regard MARY very seriously. MRS. FAIRMONT returns with the linen and alcohol. She hands it over to MARY.)
MARY: Thank you.
(She soaks the linen in the alcohol.)
MARY: There will be pain, madam.
MRS. HAWKING: I have no fear of that.
(Her face is stern as MARY wraps her wounds in it.)