Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



In a bed-sitting room in a fashionable quarter of London a lady sits at her dressing-table, with her maid combing her hair. It is late. and the electric lamps are glowing. Apparently the room is bedless, but there stands against the opposite wall to that at which the dressing-table is placed a piece of furniture that suggests a bookcase without carrying conviction. On the same side is a chest of drawers of that disastrous kind which, recalcitrant to the opener until she is provoked to violence, then suddenly come wholly out and defy all her efforts to fit them in again. Opposite this chest of drawers, on the lady's side of the room, is a cupboard. The presence of a row of gentleman's boots beside the chest of drawers proclaims that the lady is married. Her own boots are beside the cupboard. The third wall is pierced midway by the door, above which is a cuckoo clock. Near the door a pedestal bears a portrait bust of the lady in plaster. There is a fan on the dressing-table, a hatbox and rug strap on the chest of drawers, an umbrella and a bootjack against the wall near the bed. The general impression is one of brightness, beauty, and social ambition, damped by somewhat inadequate means. A certain air of theatricality is produced by the fact that though the room is rectangular it has only three walls. Not a sound is heard except the overture and the crackling of the lady’s hair as the maid's brush draws electric sparks from it in the dry air of the London midsummer. The cuckoo clock strikes sixteen.

THE LADY. How much did the clock strike, Phyllis?

PHYLLIS. Sixteen, my lady.

THE LADY. That means eleven o'clock, does it not?

PHYLLIS. Eleven at night, my lady. In the morning it means half-past two; so if you hear it strike sixteen during your slumbers, do not rise.

THE LADY. I will not, Phyllis. Phyllis: I am weary. I will go to bed. Prepare my couch.

Phyllis crosses the room to the bookcase and touches a button. The front of the bookcase falls out with a crash and becomes a bed. A roll of distant thunder echoes the crash.

PHYLLIS [shuddering] It is a terrible night Heaven help all poor mariners at sea! My master is late. I trust nothing has happened to him. Your bed is ready, my lady.

THE LADY. Thank you, Phyllis. [She rises and approaches the bed.] Goodnight.

PHYLLIS. Will your ladyship not undress?

THE LADY. Not tonight, Phyllis. [Glancing through where the fourth wall is missing] Not under the circumstances.

PHYLLIS [impulsively throwing herself on her knees by her mistress's side, and clasping her round the waist] Oh, my beloved mistress, I know not why or how; but I feel that I shall never see you alive again. There is murder in the air. [Thunder.] Hark!

THE LADY. Strange! As I sat there methought I heard angels singing. “Oh, wont you come home. Bill Bailey?” Why should angels call me Bill Bailey? My name is Magnesia Fitztollemache.

PHYLLIS [emphasizing the title] Lady Magnesia Fitztollemache.

LADY MAGNESIA. In case we should never again meet in this world, let us take a last farewell.

PHYLLIS [embracing her with tears] My poor murdered angel mistress!

LADY MAGNESIA. In case we should meet again, call me at half-past eleven.

PHYLLIS. I will, I will.

Phyllis withdraws, overcome by emotion. Lady Magnesia switches off the electric light, and immediately hears the angels quite distinctly. They sing Bill Bailey so sweetly that she can attend to nothing else and forgets to remove even her boots as she draws the coverlet over herself and sinks to sleep, lulled by celestial harmony. A white radiance plays on her pillow, and lights up her beautiful face. But the thunder growls again, and a lurid red glow concentrates itself on the door, which is presently flung open, revealing a saturnine figure in evening dress, partially concealed by a crimson cloak. As he steals towards the bed the unnatural glare in his eyes and the broad-bladed dagger nervously gripped in his right hand bode ill for the sleeping lady. Providentially she sneezes on the very brink of eternity, and the tension of the murderer's nerves is such that he bolts precipitately under the bed at the sudden and startling Atscha! A dull, heavy, rhythmic thumping—the beating of his heart—betrays his whereabouts. Soon he emerges cautiously and raises his head above the bed coverlet level.

THE MURDERER. I can no longer cower here listening to the agonized thumpings of my own heart She but snoze in her sleep. I'll do't. [He again raises the dagger. The angels sing again. He cowers] What is this? Has that tune reached Heaven?

LADY MAGNESIA. [waking and sitting up] My husband! [All the colors of the rainbow chase one another up his face with ghastly brilliancy.] Why do you change color? And what on earth are you doing with that dagger?

FITZ [affecting unconcern, hut unhinged] It is a present for you: a present from mother. Pretty. Isnt it? [he displays it fatuously].

LADY MAGNESIA. But she promised me a fish slice.

FITZ. This is a combination fish slice and dagger. One day you have salmon for dinner. The next you have a murder to commit. See?

LADY MAGNESIA. My sweet mother-in-law! [Someone knocks at the door.] That is Adolphus's knock. [Fitz’s face turns a dazzling green.] What has happened to your complexion? You have turned green. Now I think of it, you always do when Adolphus is mentioned. Arnt you going to let him in?

FITZ. Certainly not. [He goes to the door.] Adolphus: you cannot enter. My wife is undressed and in bed.

LADY MAGNESIA. [rising] I am not Come in, Adolphus. [she switches on the electric light.]

ADOLPHUS. [without] Something most important has happened. I must come in for a moment.

FITZ. [calling to Adolphus] Something important happened? What is it?

ADOLPHUS [without] My new clothes have come home.

FITZ. He says his new clothes have come home.

LADY MAGNESIA [running to the door and opening it] Oh, come in, come in. Let me see.

Adolphus Bastable enters. He is in evening dress, made in the latest fashion, with the right half of the coat and the left half of the trousers yellow and the other halves black. His silver-spangled waistcoat has a crimson handkerchief stuck between it and his shirt front.

ADOLPHUS. What do you think of it?

LADY MAGNESIA. It is a dream! a creation! [she turns him about to admire him.]

ADOLPHUS [proudly] I shall never be mistaken for a waiter again.

FITZ. A drink, Adolphus?


Fitztollemache goes to the cupboard and takes out a tray with tumblers and a bottle of

whisky. He puts them an the dressing-table.

FITZ. Is the gazogene full?

LADY MAGNESIA. Yes: you put in the powders yourself today.

FITZ. [sardonically] So I did. The special powders! Hal ha! ha! ha! ha! [His face Is again strangely variegated.]

LADY MAGNESIA. Your complexion is really going to pieces. Why do you laugh in that silly way at nothing?

FITZ. Nothing! Ha, ha! Nothing! Ha, ha, ha!

ADOLPHUS. I hope, Mr Fitztollemache, you are not laughing at my dothes. I warn you that I am an Englishman. You may laugh at my manners, at my brains, at my national institutions; but if you laugh at my clothes, one of us must die.


FITZ. I laughed but at the irony of Fate. [He takes a gazogene from the cupboard.]

ADOLPHUS. [satisfied] Oh, that! Oh, yes, of course!

FITZ. Let us drown all unkindness in a loving cup. [He puts the gazogene on the floor in the middle of the room.] Pardon the absence of a table: we found it in the way and pawned it. [He takes the whisky bottle from the dressing-table.]

LADY MAGNESIA. We picnic at home now. It is delightful. [She takes three tumblers from the dressing-table and sits on the floor, presiding over the gazogene, with Fitz and Adolphus squatting on her left and right respectively. Fitz pours whisky into the tumblers.]

FITZ. [as Magnesia is about to squirt soda into his tumbler] Stay! No soda for me. Let Adolphus have it all—all. I will take mine neat.

LADY MAGNESIA [proffering tumbler to Adolphus] Pledge me, Adolphus.

FITZ. Kiss the cup, Magnesia. Pledge her, man. Drink deep.

ADOLPHUS. To Magnesia!

FITZ. To Magnesia! [The two men drink.] It is done. [Scrambling to his feet] Adolphus: you have but ten minutes to live—if so long.

ADOLPHUS. What mean you?

MAGNESIA. [rising] My mind misgives me. I have a strange feeling here. [touching her heart]

ADOLPHUS. So have I, but lower down. [touching his stomach] That gazogene is disagreeing with me.

FITZ. It was poisoned!


ADOLPHUS [rising] Help! Police!

FITZ. Dastard! you would appeal to the law! Can you not die like a gentleman?

ADOLPHUS. But so young! when I have only worn my new clothes once.

MAGNESIA. It is too horrible. [To Fitz] Fiend! what drove you to this wicked deed?

FITZ. Jealousy. You admired his clothes: you did not admire mine.

ADOLPHUS. My clothes [his face lights up with heavenly radiance] Have I indeed been found worthy to be the first clothes-martyr? Welcome, death! Hark! angels call me. [The celestial choir again raises its favorite chant. He listens with a rapt expression. Suddenly the angels sing out of tune, and the radiance on the poisoned man's face turns a sickly green] Yah—ah! Oh—ahoo! The gazogene is disagreeing extremely. Oh! [he throws himself on the bed,writhing.]

MAGNESIA. [to Fitz] Monster: what have you done? [She points to the distorted figure on the bed.] That was once a Man, beautiful and glorious. What have you made of it? A writhing, agonized,miserable, moribund worm.

ADOLPHUS. [in a tone of the strongest remonstrance] Oh, I say! Oh, come! No: look here. Magnesia! Really!

MAGNESIA. Oh, is this a time for petty vanity? Think of your misspent life—

ADOLPHUS [much injured] Whose misspent life?

MAGNESIA [continuing relentlessly] Look into your conscience: look into your stomach. [Adolphus collapses in hideous spasms. She turns to Fitz.] And this is your handiwork!

FITZ. Mine is a passionate nature. Magnesia. I must have your undivided love. I must have your love: do you hear? LOVE! LOVE!! LOVE!!! LOVE!!!! LOVE!!!!! [He raves, accompanied by a fresh paroxysm from the victim on the bed.]

MAGNESIA. [with sudden resolution] You shall have it.

FITZ [enraptured] Magnesia! I have recovered your love! Oh, how slight appears the sacrifice of this man compared to so glorious a reward! I would poison ten men without a thought of self to gain one smile from you.

ADOLPHUS. [in a broken voice] Farewell, Magnesia: my last hour is at hand. Farewell, farewell, farewell!

MAGNESIA. At this supreme moment, George Fitztollemache, I solemnly dedicate to you all that I formerly dedicated to poor Adolphus.

ADOLPHUS. Oh, please not poor Adolphus yet. I still live, you know.

MAGNESIA. The vital spark but flashes before it vanishes. [Adolphus groans.] And now, Adolphus, take this last comfort from the unhappy Magnesia Fitztollemache. As I have dedicated to George all that I gave to you, so I will bury in your grave—or in your urn if you are cremated—all that I gave to him.

FITZ. I hardly follow this.

MAGNESIA. I will explain. George: hitherto I have given Adolphus all the romance of my nature—all my love—all my dreams—all my caresses. Henceforth they are yours!

FITZ. Angel!

MAGNESIA. Adolphus: forgive me if this pains you.

ADOLPHUS. Dont mention it I hardly feel it The gazogene is so much worse. [Taken bad again] Oh!

MAGNESIA. Peace, poor sufferer: there is still some balm. You are about to hear what I am going to dedicate to you.

ADOLPHUS. All I ask is a peppermint lozenge, for mercy's sake.

MAGNESIA. I have something far better than any lozenge: the devotion of a lifetime. Formerly it was George's. I kept his house, or rather, his lodgings. I mended his clothes. I darned his socks. I bought his food. I interviewed his creditors. I stood between him and the servants. I administered his domestic finances. When his hair needed cutting or his countenance was imperfectly washed, I pointed it out to him. The trouble that all this gave me made him prosaic in my eyes. Familiarity bred contempt Now all that shall end. My husband shall be my hero, my lover, my perfect knight He shall shield me from all care and trouble. He shall ask nothing in return but love—boundless, priceless, rapturous, soul-enthralling love. Love! LOVE! LOVE! [she raves and flings her arms about Fitz.] And the duties I formerly discharged shall be replaced by the one supreme duty of duties: the duty of weeping at Adolphus's tomb.

FITZ.[reflectively] My ownest, this sacrifice makes me feel that I have perhaps been a little selfish. I cannot help feeling that there is much to be said for the old arrangement Why should Adolphus die for my sake?

ADOLPHUS. I am not dying for your sake, Fitz. I am dying because you poisoned me.

MAGNESIA. You do not fear to die, Adolphus, do you?

ADOLPHUS. N-n-no, I dont exactly fear to die. Still—

FITZ. Still, if an antidote—

ADOLPHUS. [bounding from the bed] Antidote!

MAGNESIA. [with wild hope] Antidote!

FITZ. If an antidote would not be too much of an anti-climax.

ADOLPHUS. Anti-climax be blowed! Do you think I am going to die to please the critics? Out with your antidote. Quick!

FITZ. The best antidote to the poison I have given you is lime, plenty of lime.

ADOLPHUS. Lime! You mock me! Do you think I carry lime about in my pockets?

FITZ. There is the plaster ceiling.

MAGNESIA. Yes, the ceiling. Saved, saved, saved!

All three frantically shy boots at the ceiling. Flakes of plaster rain down which Adolphus devours, at first ravenously, then with a marked falling off in relish.

MAGNESIA. [picking up a huge slice] Take this, Adolphus: it is the largest. [she crams it into his mouth.]

FITZ. Ha! a lump off the cornice! Try this.

ADOLPHUS. [desperately] Stop! stop!

MAGNESIA. Do not stop. You will die. [She tries to stuff him again.]

ADOLPHUS [resolutely] I prefer death.

MAGNESIA and FITZ. [throwing themselves on their knees on either side of him] For our sakes, Adolphus, persevere.

ADOLPHUS. No: unless you can supply lime in liquid form, I must perish. Finish that ceiling I cannot and will not.

MAGNESIA. I have a thought—an inspiration. My bust [She snatches it from its pedestal and brings it to him.]

ADOLPHUS [gazing fondly at it] Can I resist it?

FITZ. Try the bun.

ADOLPHUS. [gnawing the knot of hair at the back of the bust's head: it makes him ill.] Yah, I cannot. I cannot. Not even your bust, Magnesia. Do not ask me. Let me die.

FITZ. [pressing the bust on him] Force yourself to take a mouthful. Down with it, Adolphus!

ADOLPHUS. Useless. It would not stay down. Water! Some fluid! Ring for something to drink [He chokes.] MAGNESIA. I will save you [She rushes to the bell and rings.]

Phyllis, in her night-gown, with her hair prettify made up into a chevaux defrise of crocuses with pink and yellow curlpapers, rushes in straight to Magnesia.

PHYLLIS. [hysterically] My beloved mistress, once more we meet [She sees Fitztollemache and screams.] Ah! ah! ah! A man! [She sees Adolphus] Men!! [She flies, but Fitztollemache seizes her by the night-gown just as she is escaping.] Unhand me, villain!

FITZ. This is no time for prudery, girl. Mr Bastable is dying.

PHYLLIS. [with concern] Indeed, sir? I hope he will not think it unfeeling of me to appear at his deathbed in curl papers.

MAGNESIA. We know you have a good heart, Phyllis. Take this [giving her the bust]; dissolve it in a jug of hot water; and bring it back instantly. Mr Bastable's life depends on your haste.

PHYLLIS. [hesitating] It do seem a pity, dont it, my lady, to spoil your lovely bust?

ADOLPHUS. Tush! This craze for fine art is beyond alt bounds. Off with you [he pushes her out]. Drink, drink, drink! My entrails are parched. Drink! [he rushes deliriously to the gazogene.]

FITZ. [rushing after him] Madman, you forget! It is poisoned!

ADOLPHUS. I dont care. Drink, drink! [They wrestle madly for the gazogene. In the struggle they squirt all its contents away, mostly into one another's face. Adolphus at last flings Fitztollemache to the floor, and puts the spout into his mouth.] Empty! empty! [with a shriek of despair he collapses on the bed, clasping the gazogene like a baby, and weeping over it.]

FITZ. [aside to Magnesia] Magnesia: I have always pretended not to notice it; but you keep a siphon for your private use in my hatbox.

MAGNESIA. I use it for washing old lace; but no matter: he shall have it [she produces a siphon from the hat-box, and offers a tumbler of soda-water to Adolphus.]

ADOLPHUS. Thanks, thanks, oh, thanks! [He drinks. A terrific fizzing is heard. He starts up screaming] Help! help! The ceiling is effervescing! I am BURSTING! [He wallows convulsively on the bed.]

FITZ. Quick! the rug strap! [They pack him with blankets and strap him.] Is that tight enough?

MAGNESIA. [anxiously] Will you hold, do you think?

ADOLPHUS. The peril is past The soda-water has gone flat.

MAGNESIA and FITZ Thank heaven!

Phyllis returns with a washstand ewer, in which she has dissolved the bust.

MAGNESIA [snatching it] At last!

FITZ. You are saved. Drain it to the dregs.

Fitztollemache holds the lip of the ewer to Adolphus’s mouth and gradually raises it until it stands upside down. Adolphus's efforts to swallow it are fearful, Phyllis thumping his back when he chokes and Magnesia loosening the straps when he moans. At last, with a sigh of relief, he sinks tack in the women's arms. Fitz shakes the empty ewer upside down like a potman shaking the froth out of a flagon.

ADOLPHUS. How inexpressibly soothing to the chest! A delicious numbness steals through all my members. I would sleep.

FITZ ——> [whispering together] Let him sleep.

He sleeps. Celestial harps are heard, but their chords cease on the abrupt entrance of the landlord, a vulgar person in pyjamas.

THE LANDLORD. Eah! Eah! Wots this? Wots all this noise? Ah kin ennybody sleep through it? [Looking at the floor and ceiling] Ellow! wot you bin doin te maw ceilin?

FITZ. Silence, or leave the room. If you wake that man he dies.

THE LANDLORD. If e kin sleep through the noise you three mikes e kin sleep through ennythink.

MAGNESIA. Detestable vulgarian: your pronunciation jars on the finest chords of my nature. Begone!

THE LANDLORD. [looking at Adolphus] Aw downt blieve eze esleep. Aw blieve eze dead. [Calling] Pleece! Pleecel Merder! [A blue halo plays mysteriously on the door,which opens and reveals a policeman. Thunder] Eah, pleecmin: these three's bin an murdered this gent between em, an naw tore moy ahse dahn.

THE POLICEMAN. [offended] Policeman, indeed! Wheres your manners?

FITZ. Officer—

THE POLICEMAN. [with distinguished consideration] Sir?

FITZ. As between gentlemen—

THE POLICEMAN. [bowing] Sir. to you.

FITZ. [bowing] I may inform you that my friend had an acute attack of indigestion. No carbonate of soda being available, he swallowed a portion of this man's ceiling. [Pointing to Adolphus] Behold the result!

THE POLICEMAN. The ceiling was poisoned! Well, of all the artful— [he collars the landlord.] I arrest you for wilful murder.

THE LANDLORD. [appealing to the heavens] Ow, is this jesticel Ah could aw tell e wiz gowin te eat moy ceilin?

THE POLICEMAN. [releasing him] True. The case is more complicated than I thought [He tries to lift Adolphus's arm but cannot.] Stiff already.

THE LANDLORD [trying to lift Adolphus's leg] An' precious evvy.[Feeling the calf] Woy, eze gorn ez awd ez niles.

FITZ [rushing to the bed] What is this?

MAGNESIA. Oh, say not he is dead. Phyllis: fetch a doctor. [Phyllis runs out. They all try to lift Adolphus, but he is perfectly stiff, and as heavy as lead.] Rouse him. Shake him.

THE POLICEMAN. [exhausted] Whew! Is he a man or a statue? [Magnesia utters a piercing scream.] Whats wrong, Miss?

MAGNESIA. [to Fitz] Do you not see what has happened?

FITZ. [striking his forehead] Horror on horror's head!

THE LANDLORD. Wotjemean?

MAGNESIA The plaster has set inside him. The officer was right: he is indeed a living statue.

Magnesia flings herself on the stony breast of Adolphus. Fitztollemache buries his head in

his hands, and his chest heaves convulsively. The policeman takes a small volume from his pocket and consults it.

THE POLICEMAN. This case is not provided for in my book of instructions. It dont seem no use trying artificial respiration, do it? [To the landlord] Here! lend a hand, you. We'd best take him and set him up in Trafalgar Square.

THE LANDLORD. Aushd pat im in the cestern an worsh it aht of im.

Phyllis comes back with a Doctor.

PHYLLIS. The medical man, my lady.

THE POLICEMAN. A poison case, sir.

THE DOCTOR. Do you mean to say that an unqualified person! a layman! has dared to administer poison in my district?

THE POLICEMAN. [raising Magnesia tenderly] It looks like it. Hold up, my lady.

THE DOCTOR Not a moment must be lost The patient must be kept awake at all costs. Constant and violent motion is necessary. [He snatches Magnesia from the policeman, and rushes her about the room.]

FITZ. Stop! That is not the poisoned person!

THE DOCTOR. It is you, then. Why did you not say so before?[He seizes Fitztollemache and rushes him about.]

THE LANDLORD. Naow, naow, thet ynt im.

THE DOCTOR. What, you! [He pounces on the landlord and rushes him round.]

THE LANDLORD. Eah! chack it [He trips the doctor up. Both fall.] Jest owld this leoonatic, will you. Mister Horficer?

THE POLICEMAN. [dragging both of them to their feet] Come out of it, will you. You must all come with me to me station.


MAGNESIA What! In this frightful storm!

The hail patters noisily on the window.

PHYLLIS. I think it's raining.

The wind howls.

THE LANDLORD. It's thanderin and lawtnin.

FITZ. It's dangerous.

THE POLICEMAN [drawing his baton and whistle] If you wont come quietly, then—

He whistles. A fearful flash is followed by an appalling explosion of heaven's artillery. A thunderbolt enters the room, and strikes the helmet of the devoted constable, whence it is attracted to the waistcoat of the doctor by the lancet in his pocket. Finally it leaps with fearful force on the landlord, who, being of a gross and spongy nature, absorbs the electric fluid at the cost of his life. The others look on horrorstricken as the three victims, after reeling, jostling, cannoning through a ghastly quadrille, at last sink inanimate on the carpet.

MAGNESIA [listening at the doctor's chest] Dead!

FITZ. [kneeling by the landlord, and raising his hand, which drops with a thud] Dead!

PHYLLIS [seizing the looking-glass and holding it to the Policeman's lips] Dead!

FITZ [solemnly rising] The copper attracted the lightning.

MAGNESIA [rising] After life's fitful fever they sleep well. Phyllis: sweep them up.

Phyllis replaces the looking-glass on the dressing-table, takes up the fan, and fans the policeman, who rolls away like a leaf before the wind, to the wall. She disposes similarly of the landlord and doctor.

PHYLLIS Will they be in your way if I leave them there until morning, my lady? Or shall I bring up the ashpan and take them away?

MAGNESIA. They will not disturb us. Goodnight, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. Goodnight, my lady. Goodnight, sir. [She retires.]

MAGNESIA. And now, husband, let us perform our last sad duty to our friend. He has become his own monument. Let us erect him. He is heavy; but love can do much.

FITZ. A litte leverage will get him on his feet Give me my umbrella.


She hands him the umbrella, and takes up the bootjack.They get them under Adolphus's back, and prize him up on his feet.

FITZ. Thats done it! Whew!

MAGNESIA. [kneeling at the left hand of the statue] For ever and for ever, Adolphus.

FITZ.[kneeling at the right hand of the statue] The rest is silence.

The Angels sing Bill Bailey. The statue raises its hands in an attitude of blessing, and turns its limelit face to heaven as the curtain falls. National Anthem.

ATTENDANTS [in front] All out for the next performance. Pass along, please, ladies and gentlemen: pass along.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1950, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.