I have a pretty good idea of the shape of the Hawking stories to come, most of which will be about exploring how our heroes grow and develop into the future of their team. Every now and then, though, I find myself imaging how things went in their back stories, moments that probably won’t feature in the plays but helped shaped the characters that we know them as today.
This scene written during my completion of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2016 deals with an idea I’m surprised I’ve never noodled with before. One little character bit in the Hawking stories that I enjoy is the fact that Clara and Nathaniel met through Nathaniel’s older brother Justin, because Clara dated Justin before she and Nathaniel got together. Their mild romantic history is alluded to in Base Instruments; it was Bernie’s idea and he pushed to include it. Basically, as they are the same age (three years older than Nathaniel) they came out in the same year, and so met while attending the same parties. They courted for a little while, until Clara got fed up with his interest in other girls and broke it off. She and Nathaniel got together gradually after that.
This little scene is from five or so years before the first Mrs. Hawking play, and depicts how their relationship began to change into something that would lead to falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of babies.
By Phoebe Roberts
NATHANIEL HAWKING, a young gentleman, early twenties
CLARA PARTRIDGE, a lady his brother courted, mid twenties
London, England, 1875
(A twenty-three-year-old CLARA PARTRIDGE dashes in and paces, fuming with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. After her comes a twenty-year-old NATHANIEL HAWKING. Both are in evening wear.)
NATHANIEL: I say, Clara! Are you— are you all right?
CLARA: Why, Nathaniel! What are you doing here?
NATHANIEL: Pardon me, but I saw you dash out of the ballroom, and worried something might wrong. When Justin didn’t go after you, I thought someone ought to.
CLARA: Well! That’s very kind of you. Justin shan’t be following after me, not if he knows what’s good for him.
NATHANIEL: Whatever do you mean?
CLARA: I mean I don’t think I shall be seeing so very much of Justin anymore.
NATHANIEL: You mean— oh!
CLARA: Yes, well.
NATHANIEL: I— I’m quite sorry. He hasn’t— done anything ungentlemanly, has he?
CLARA: He’s Justin, isn’t he?
NATHANIEL: That prat. What’s he done?
CLARA: Oh, never you mind.
NATHANIEL: If he’s hurt you, miss—
CLARA: Oh, you know him! It’s only that he has a wandering eye. One grows weary of feeling like the plainest girl in the room.
NATHANIEL: Goodness, Clara, you could never be that!
CLARA: Oh, my.
NATHANIEL: I mean— forgive me, but— as you said, that’s his way. It’s no fault of yours that he’s an absolute rake.
CLARA: Perhaps not. But I’ve no patience for it any more.
NATHANIEL: Nor should you.
CLARA: I only hope I haven’t made a perfect fool of myself. Losing my calm with him and dashing out of the ballroom for everyone to see. Certainly I’ve ruined the last dance.
NATHANIEL: Not at all. I’m sure no one paid it any mind.
CLARA: You did. You had to run out here after to me.
NATHANIEL: Well— I hated the thought that you might be alone in your distress.
CLARA: Thank you for that. It’s quite kind.
NATHANIEL: Think nothing of it, miss. And, please… never think that my blasted brother’s conduct means you’re not beautiful. If I may say so… I don’t know how any man courting you could look away from you.
CLARA: Why, Nathaniel…
NATHANIEL: Oh, that was dreadfully impertinent. Now you think I’m just as much a rake as he is.
CLARA: Not at all. Quite the contrary… you are a true gentleman, Nathaniel Hawking.
NATHANIEL: It means a great deal that you’d think so. Is there anything else I can do?
CLARA: You’ve been a great comfort to me tonight. Indeed, I think I shall be presentable to return. You ought to go out and enjoy the rest of the ball. You’re shipping out soon for your tour of service, aren’t you?
NATHANIEL: If you can call it that. They’re sending me to Newcastle, of all places.
CLARA: Sounds as though you’re in for an adventure.
NATHANIEL: Indeed, fighting off boredom as I keep the logbooks.
CLARA: They’ll make a soldier of you yet. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I had best find a place to freshen up. I’d like to make my return more dignified than my exit.
NATHANIEL: Certainly, miss.
(He bows and turns to go. Just before he exits, he turns back around.)
NATHANIEL: Miss, since it will be so dreadfully dull away in the armory, it would be very cheering to hear a word from home now and again. When I have a moment, might I write you? Some letters might be just the way to pass the time.
CLARA: I would like that, Nathaniel.
(He smiles, then bows again and exits. She watches him go with a new interest.)
Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.