Sep 9, 2021
Adapted by Julie Hoverson from several stories by Saki (H.H. Munro).
Four girls waiting for punishment tell tales of pranks they've pulled.
The Open Window
Alice's stunt doubles
Music: Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com)
Editing and Sound: Julie Hoverson
Cover Photo: Daniel O'Connell (courtesy of Stock Xchange.com)
"What kind of a place is it? Why it's an Edwardian girls' school, can't you tell?
This way to the Headmistress' office..."
The Saki Quartette
Adapted by Julie Hoverson from several stories.
I am a huge fan of H.H. Munro, who wrote under the pen name Saki in the early years of the 20th century. His career ended prematurely when he was killed in The Great War at the age of 46.
Saki is mainly remembered today for the amazing story "The Open Window," which I encourage everyone to read before listening to this episode, so I don't spoil it for you. It's available on Project Gutenberg, you can get a reading on librivox, it's around. It is considered to be one of the best short stories ever written in English, right up there with The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
While Saki wrote a number of supernatural, suspense, or speculative stories, his forte was relatively cruel humor - but always inflicted on those pompous enough that you didn’t feel too badly for them. And since nobody really got hurt - unless you take it from a modern "mental damage" perspective, you can laugh. Clovis Sangrail was an ever-recurrent character who sailed through many stories leaving havoc in his wake, but Vera from The Open Window reappeared from time to time as well (later described as a "flapper") - the two of them intersecting in The Almanac.
This episode is an homage to Saki, and incorporates elements from four of his short stories - Shock Tactics, The Boar-Pig, The Storyteller, and of course The Open Window - with a bit of wrap story that is entirely my own.
Three of the four principal girls were from my old high school's drama department, the fourth was me. Several of the other voices were drawn from ART (American Radio Theater). It's not a perfect recording - we can't seem to keep the pronunciation of "aunt" straight between us (including me) - and I hadn’t yet learned how to clean tracks perfectly yet, but overall it's fun and quite funny.
Episodes like this were one reason I determined form the start that I wasn't going to nail myself into a "horror story" format. The name "19 Nocturne Boulevard" is suggestive of the dark side, but open-ended enough to go anywhere I wanted to go.
And as an aside, it has nothing to do with nocturne alley, is it, from Harry Potter? Several people have commented on that, but when I created 19 Nocturne Boulevard, it was sometime around 2006, and I hadn’t - I may have heard of Harry Potter, but I never actually read the books. This was entirely on my own. It’s not a pun like Nocturne alley - nocturnally - was.
I remember the summer of sitting there and thinking I want a number, and an address that sounds cool - what's a cool street? While sitting around at meetings of American Radio Theater.
OLIVIA Did you have any trouble finding it? What do you mean, what kind of a place is it? Why, it's an Edwardian girls' school, can't you tell? This way to the headmistress's office.
MUSIC CHEEKY MUSIC FADES INTO
SOUND CHEERFUL RUNNING CHILDREN, THEN FADES
SOUND CLOCK TICKS LOUDLY, then under
[three girls sit on a bench outside the headmistress' office, waiting to be punished]
SOUND COUGHS, FIDGETS. SMALL FOOT KICKING CHAIR.
HELEN Why send us here if we're only to wait?
NORA [startled] Huh? What?
HELEN Oh, Nora. I wish I could sleep with my eyes open. I said, 'Why--'
ALICE [superior] To put us into the proper frame of mind. To contemplate our misdeeds.
HELEN That's silly - I've been thinking about anything and everything BUT my misdeeds.
ALICE That's adults for you.
SOUND FOOTSTEPS APPROACH. MATILDA SITS.
MATILDA Well, well. Fresh blood?
ALICE They don't look very promising.
HELEN [huff] I'll have you know I've been called on the carpet plenty of times--
MATILDA [sweetly, cutting her off] --don't care. Besides, I wasn't referring to that. [aside, to Alice] You're right, they're not much good. I think one of 'em is a waxwork.
ALICE Oh, well--
SOUND DOOR OPENS. SLOW FOOTSTEPS.
VERA [heaves a deep sigh] Your turn, Miss Tramplethorpe.
ALICE Once more into the breach.
SOUND BENCH SQUEAKS AS SHE STANDS. SLOW FOOTSTEPS. DOOR SHUTS.
VERA If you don't mind, I'll join you for a bit.
NORA But you should be getting back--
SOUND FOOTSTEPS, BENCH
MATILDA Not a mannequin, then. No one will notice, at least for a bit. Was it truly awful, Vera?
SOUND MUFFLED BY DOOR, SOUND OF SIX SMACKS [RULER ACROSS HAND] UNDERLIE THE TALKING.
NORA What did you do? What did ...she do?
VERA I? I did nothing. I will swear it to my grave.
MATILDA It's vulgar to ask for details.
HELEN I talked back to a teacher. I've been told. She didn't make any mention of it at the time, but I got a note sending me here.
NORA It's all quiet now, is it ...over?
MATILDA Of course not. There's always castigation.
HELEN Isn't that immodest?
MATILDA [sighs impatiently]
VERA It means Miss Twicket will be talking at her for some time. Then there may be more strokes, depending on whether she is contrite.
NORA Are you contrite?
HELEN [superior] It's vulgar to ask.
VERA [chuckles] But I'm not. It was entirely worth it. [to Matilda, over the smaller girls] I'll have to get back soon, Matilda, should we have a quick go-round?
MATILDA Without Alice?
SOUND ALICE WAILS, MUFFLED BY THE DOOR.
VERA [wincing] She'll likely be a while.
MATILDA What about the small fry?
NORA That's not very nice.
HELEN I'll have you know--
VERA Oh, let's. They'll never split on us - will you?
NORA But - but - but what is it you--?
HELEN [eager] I'll never tell. I'm not a sneak.
NORA But we don't even know what--
MATILDA Promise or you'll never know.
HELEN I promise. I'll never reveal anything, even under torture with wild horses.
HELEN If you don't promise, you're doing me out, too.
NORA [reluctant] I don't know. Ow! [she's been pinched] I won't tell!!
VERA and MATILDA laugh.
VERA It's not so very awful, ducklings. We have a bit of a club - we call it the Ducks and Geese. We each take any chance we get to play little tricks on people, and then share the stories. We're the ducks...
HELEN And they are the Geese?
MATILDA Yes. And whomever has the best story, wins.
NORA Wins? What?
MATILDA Vera here is quite a champion liar.
VERA [correcting] I prefer the term "romancer."
MATILDA We always meet here, so we all have to get ourselves into scrapes from time to time, just so we can link up.
HELEN [excited, but controlling herself] How does one join?
MATILDA You have to have a story. Something good. I've got a lovely one from last summer holiday.
VERA Oh, I expect I can top it.
SOUND SLAPPING AGAIN, SIX OF THE BEST.
ALICE [off] [HOWLS in pain]
HELEN [chagrined] Oh. Goodness. [beat] well, I haven't really...
NORA I would never--
MATILDA [dry] I'm shocked. [to Vera] Oh, well, we'll have to talk later. Perhaps Alice will be out soon.
HELEN Since I didn't know to prepare, what if I have a truly lovely story, even though it wasn't me that did the joke?
MATILDA I don't think so. Sorry.
VERA Well... We might listen. It will pass some time, and then we can deliberate.
MATILDA It had better be good.
HELEN I think so - My older brother has a friend--
VERA Oh, not a friend of a friend tale - those are old enough to have beards.
HELEN --this friend is quite the card.
MATILDA An ace or a joker?
HELEN His name is Clovis Sangrail.
[SILENCE FOR A MOMENT]
MATILDA Truly? You know Clovis? Perhaps we should make you a member just on the basis of that.
NORA Who is Clovis Singrill?
VERA [very superior] Sangrail. He is our own Jove - the very top of the tree when it comes to our sort of japes.
MATILDA Absolutely the lobster's dress shirt. Though if I do say so myself, a distant cousin of mine, Reginald, is starting to make a good showing.
VERA Go on, then. You must tell us your Clovis story. We might decide to be kind, even if it would be nepotism of a sort.
MATILDA Clever by association. What was your name, again, duckling?
HELEN Helen. Well, my oldest brother Bertie was chafing terribly, since being nearly 20, he felt mother should stop reading his private correspondence.
VERA Oh, I cured mine of that long ago.
HELEN Yes, but Bertie's simply not assertive - not on his own.
SOUND MUSIC FOR FLASHBACK SCENE
HELEN [fading] So one day, a letter arrives...
MRS. HEASANT [off, a wail, then coming on] Ohhh! Helen! Oh, heavens, Helen! Bertie is in the toils of an adventuress! [ominously] Her name is Clotilde!
HELEN Truly, mother? Where? In the rose garden?
MRS. HEASANT No! In the post!
HELEN How did they fit in the post?
MRS. HEASANT Hssh! Listen to this: "Bertie, carissimo, I wonder if you will have the nerve to do it. Don't forget the jewels. They are a detail, but details interest me. Yours as ever, Clotilde. Postscript - Your mother must not know of my existence. If questioned swear you never heard of me."
HELEN Clotilde? I don't know of any--
MRS. HEASANT Well, your brother certainly does!
HELEN Perhaps he only just--
MRS. HEASANT Oh, no! "As Ever" she says! As ever! They've been carrying on under my very nose for ...who knows how long.
HELEN [narrating] When my brother returned home, mother braced him with the incriminating Clotilde, and of course he denied it.
MRS. HEASANT How well you have learned your lesson!
HELEN He really didn't make much of it, and when she insisted he would have no dinner unless he confessed, I saw him take rather a quantity of sandwich materials up to his room with him. Then, with the next post:
NORA [completely enthralled] Another letter?
HELEN Oh, yes.
SOUND INSISTENT KNOCKING ON DOOR
BERTIE [muffled, speaking through door] What is it this time?
MRS. HEASANT Miserable boy! What have you done to Dagmar?
BERTIE [muffled] It's Dagmar now, is it? It will be Geraldine next.
MRS. HEASANT [in absolute hysterics] That it should come to this, after all my efforts. It's no use; Clotilde's letter betrays everything. [reading] "Poor Dagmar. Now she is done for I almost pity her. The servants all think it was suicide. Better not touch the jewels till after the inquest. Clotilde." [leaves off with a wail]
SOUND DOOR OPENS
BERTIE I don't suppose this letter betrays who this Clotilde is? Seriously, mother, if you go on like this I shall have to go fetch a doctor; I've often enough been preached at about nothing, but I've never had an imaginary harem dragged into the discussion.
SOUND DOOR SLAMS
HELEN Mother could have used a doctor, for she was utterly purple about the face from screaming, and had to go and have a lie down - at least until the next post.
SOUND KNOCKING ON DOOR, MUCH SUBDUED
MRS. HEASANT [also much subdued] Bertie? Bertie, darling?
BERTIE What is it this time? Have I stolen the Mona Lisa?
MRS. HEASANT No. You... have another letter. From ... Mr. Sangrail.
SOUND DOOR IS FLUNG OPEN
BERTIE [not giving an inch] Why not go on and tell me what he has to say?
MRS. HEASENT [clears throat, then reads, much abashed] "Dear Bertie. I hope I haven't distracted your brain with the spoof letters. You told me the other day that ...somebody... at your home [ahem] tampered with your letters, so I thought I would give them something exciting to read. [slowing with embarrassment] The... shock might do them good..."
HELEN [finishing up] And then, Bertie threatened to get a nerve specialist in to look at mother, since she was obviously far too highly strung - and she couldn't possibly stand the scandal, she said - and they agreed he wouldn't - but only if she would stop. Reading his mail, you see.
NORA [concerned] But, did she?
HELEN [ominous] So far.
MATILDA We'll review your application. Next?
NORA I? Oh, I truly don't have anything...
VERA [warning] You'd best think of something. We can't have outsiders hearing all our secrets.
MATILDA I'll go ahead and tell mine - it's not so exotic as to cause a panic, and it will give this little gosling time to think.
VERA I suppose so. What do you think, Helen?
HELEN [surprised and thrilled] Me? Oh! [trying to sound grown up and important] Oh. I think we should give her one more chance. She had no time to prepare, after all.
SOUND SMACKING AGAIN FROM WITHIN, ALICE WAILS
MATILDA Speaking of preparing - I'd best be quick, as I believe I'm next for the chop. Very well, I was staying with my aunt in the country, and it was the day of a very important garden party - some princess was attending and everyone wanted to come. My aunt gloated over the guest list for days.
VERA What is it with aunts? It's as if we all have at least one who is utterly impossible.
NORA [something is coming to her] Ah! Aunts...
MATILDA Mine told me to be on my best behavior, and to imitate my insipid cousin, Claude, which would have been quite horrible.
HELEN [bold, trying to sound knowing] I think everyone must have a cousin Claude or Eggbert, or ... something [falters] as... as well as an aunt...
MATILDA [sigh, eye roll] So... so, when they got on me for eating too much raspberry trifle at luncheon, they said over and over that Claude would never do a thing like that. So when Claude went down for his nap - imagine, he's all of 11 and still goes meekly to afternoon naps like an infant.
VERA He's the type who will end up married to someone quite overbearing.
HELEN Like an aunt?
GIRLS [SNICKER TERRIBLY]
MATILDA While he was napping, I took the opportunity to take a huge dish of raspberry trifle and force feed it to him - well, much of it got on his sailor suit and the bed, but enough went down him that they will never again be able to say he's never eaten too much raspberry trifle.
VERA Oh, that's a good one!
NORA I do have a story!
MATILDA I'm not finished - that is merely the prologue to my tale, explaining why I was sitting in the back paddock, rather than prancing about the garden party with Claude and Auntie.
NORA Oh! I'm so--
VERA Shh. Pray continue, scherezade.
HELEN I thought her name was Matilda?
VERA Oh, hush.
MATILDA [taking a deep breath] So I was sitting in a medlar tree, being stupefied with boredom, when I saw two ladies, dressed as if for the garden party, sail through the paddock in an attempt at infiltration.
HELEN Weren't they rather obvious?
MATILDA There was really no one there to see, excepting myself. And they never once looked up as they passed by. Well, with no ulterior motive in mind, I decided to let aunt's prize boar-pig, Tarquin Superbus, into the paddock behind them. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I knew the gate they were aiming for was locked and they would be forced to come back the same way.
SOUND MUSIC FOR FLASHBACK
MATILDA So, when they did...
SOUND OUTDOORS AMBIANCE. BIRDS. SLIGHT PIG SNUFFLING IN THE BACKGROUND
MRS. STOSSEN [fading in] I stopped Mrs. Cuvering in the road yesterday and talked very pointedly about the Princess. If she didn't choose to take the hint and send me an invitation it's not my fault, is it?
SOUND DEEP PIG NOISES
MISS STOSSEN Oh!
MRS. STOSSEN Oomph! [pulling up short, irritated] What? Oh! What a villainous-looking animal, it wasn't there when we came in.
MISS STOSSEN It's there now, anyhow. I mean,
what on earth are we to do?
I wish we had never come.
BOTH STOSSENS Shoo! Hish!
SOUND CLOSER, DEEP PIG NOISES
MATILDA [slightly off] If you think you'll drive him away by reciting lists of the kings of Israel and Judah, you're laying yourselves out for disappointment.
MRS. STOSSEN Oh! Little girl!
MISS STOSSEN Can you find someone to drive away--
MATILDA [French] Comment? Comprends-pas. [cohm-oh? cohm-prawn pah - what? I don't understand]
NOTE MATILDA'S FRENCH IS REASONABLY SMOOTH. MRS. STOSSEN'S IS VERY BAD.
MRS. STOSSEN Oh, are you French? Etes vous Francaise? [et voo fran-sehz? - are you French?]
MATILDA Pas du tout. Suis Anglaise. [pah doo toot. sweez ahn-glehz - not at all. I'm English]
MRS. STOSSEN Then why not talk English? I want to know if--
MATILDA Permettez-moi expliquer. [pair-meh-tay mwa eks-plee-kay - let me explain] [narrating again] And I went into a rather long description of Claude and aunt and the raspberry trifle, ending with -- [slightly off again] ...and as an additional punishment I must speak French all the afternoon. I've had to tell you all this in English, as there were words like 'forcible feeding' that I didn't know the French for. Mais maintenant, nous parlons francais. [may mant-noh, new par-lon frahn-say - and now, we will speak French]
MRS. STOSSEN Oh, very well, tres bien [tray
bee-ehn]. [with much difficulty] La, a l'autre cote de la
porte, est...um... [la, a low-truh coat de la port, ehst... -
there, on the other side of the door, is...]
[to Miss S] um, a pig?
MISS STOSSEN Oh, goodness, un grenouille? [uhn grahn-wee?]
MRS. STOSSEN No, no. I'm reasonably certain that's a frog. Oh, yes - un cochon. [uhn koh-shawn - a pig]
MATILDA Un cochon? Ah, le petit charmant! [uhn koh-shawn? Ah, le pet-eet shar-mont! - a pig,oh the little sweet!]
MRS. STOSSEN Mais non, pas du tout petit, et pas du tout charmant; un bete feroce! [may noh, pah doo too peh-teet, ay pah doo too shar-mont; un bet feh-rohs! - but no, not at all little, and not at all sweet; a beast ferocious!]
MATILDA Une bete. [Oon bet] A pig is masculine as long as you call it a pig, but if you lose your temper with it and call it a ferocious beast it becomes one of us at once. French is a dreadfully unsexing language.
MRS. STOSSEN For goodness' sake let us talk English then.
MISS STOSSEN Is there any way out of this garden except through the paddock where the pig is?
SOUND OUTSIDE AMBIENCE ENDS ABRUPTLY
SOUND FOOTSTEPS IN HALLWAY
GIRLS [SHUSH THEMSELVES, PRACTICALLY STOPPING BREATHING, AS THE FOOTSTEPS GET CLOSER.]
NORA [Hiccups. She tries to smother it, but cannot.]
HELEN [whispered] Shh. Hold your breath!
SOUND THE FOOTSTEPS ARE RIGHT ON THEM, AND STOP.
NORA [Hiccups continue. She is almost crying with the effort of trying to stop.]
SOUND FOOTSTEPS GO OFF. AS SOON AS THEY ARE OUT OF EARSHOT--
VERA Whew. She's a tartar.
MATILDA Not a sympathetic bone in her body.
HELEN Why didn't she say anything?
VERA She knows we're already in for it.
NORA Well, [hiccup] you've already been in for it - was it really that [hiccup] bad?
SOUND AS IF ON CUE, SMACKING AND ALICE'S WHIMPERS FROM BEHIND THE DOOR.
NORA [gasps - her hiccups are now gone]
HELEN So what happened with your boar-pig? Did he devour the invaders?
MATILDA Devour them? Oh no - Tarquin Superbus prefers rotten fruit to interlopers any day. They bribed me to lead him away. I don't think they were best pleased about it, once they realized what a sweet disposition he has.
NORA But of course, they were in the wrong, trying to crash a party like that. So you were merely punishing them.
VERA Right and wrong have less than nothing to do with it. We're not the courts, or even public opinion. A joke is a joke, even if it's on a perfectly nice person who doesn't deserve it in the least.
MATILDA Though it is much more fun, and less likely to get one into severe hot water, when the person joked on can't complain without revealing their own shortcomings.
NORA I --
VERA Speak up gosling. A sentence is comprised of at least two words.
NORA [whispered] I might ... have a story.
MATILDA Five! And with a full stop. Alright, then, pray continue.
NORA We were on a train. It was some years back, and my aunt was exceedingly boring. There was a gentleman in the carriage with us, and when he stooped so low as to criticize my aunt's storytelling abilities, she dared him to tell one.
MUSIC FOR FLASHBACK
NORA [sounding very young throughout flashbacks] Yes, please - tell us a story! [narrating] Anything would have been better than my aunt's stories - you would have thought she was never a child herself.
MATILDA I say, there's an idea - perhaps aunts arrive like motorcars, fully assembled from the factory?
VERA Shh. Give ear to the duckling.
NORA [pause] Oh, me? Yes. Well, the story--
SOUND MUSIC FOR FLASHBACK. TRAIN LOOP BEHIND BACHELOR
BACHELOR Very well. Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Bertha, who was extraordinarily good. She did all that she was told, she was always truthful, she kept her clothes clean, learned her lessons perfectly, and was polite in her manners. She was ...horribly good.
VERA [slightly off] Can one be horribly good? Truly?
MATILDA [slightly off] Claude. Definitely.
VERA [agreeing] Mm.
BACHELOR She was so good, that she won several medals for goodness, which she always wore, pinned on to her dress. They were large metal medals and they clinked against one another as she walked. No other child in the town where she lived had as many as three medals, so everybody knew that she must be an extra good child.
NORA [young, gleeful] Horribly good.
BACHELOR The Prince got to hear about Bertha, and said that as she was so very good she might walk in his park.
NORA [young] Were there any sheep in his park?
BACHELOR No. There were no sheep.
NORA [young] Why weren't there any sheep?
BACHELOR Because the Prince's mother had once had a dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or else by a clock falling on him. The Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his palace.
VERA Oh, very good.
MATILDA Was this fellow passenger by any chance a long, lithe, languid type with a somewhat nasal voice?
NORA No, why?
VERA She was wondering whether you've encountered Clovis as well. Roll along.
NORA Oh, so, um, he said the park was full of little black, gray, and white pigs, and --
BACHELOR --Bertha was rather sorry to find that there were no flowers in the park. She had promised her aunts, with tears in her eyes, that she would not pick any of the kind Prince's flowers, and she had meant to keep her promise, so of course it made her feel silly to find that there were no flowers to pick.
NORA [young] Why weren't there any flowers?
BACHELOR Because the pigs had eaten them all.
VERA [to Matilda] You know, I'm becoming quite convinced you're right, though the story hardly sounds vicious enough for Clovis.
NORA Oh, I just haven't gotten to the-- um...
VERA To the "um..."? Very well.
NORA Bertha was just thinking--
BACHELOR [falsetto] --'If I were not so extraordinarily good I should not have been allowed to come into this beautiful park,' and her medals clinked against one another to remind her how very good she was. Just then an enormous wolf came prowling into the park to see if it could catch a fat little pig for its supper. The first thing that it saw in the park was Bertha; her pinafore was so spotlessly white and clean that it could be seen from a great distance.
MATILDA I have never heard a better argument against cleanliness. I shall go out and get myself despicably filthy forthwith.
HELEN After your visit inside.
MATILDA [annoyed] THANK you. I had actually managed to forget that for a bit.
NORA [quickly jumps in] Bertha saw the wolf and she began to wish that she had never been allowed to come into the park...
BACHELOR ...She ran as hard as she could, and the wolf came after her with huge leaps and bounds. She managed to reach a shrubbery of myrtle bushes and hid herself. The wolf came sniffing among the branches, its pale grey eyes glaring with rage. Bertha was terribly frightened, and thought to herself: [falsetto] 'If I had not been so extraordinarily good I should have been safe in the town at this moment.' However, the scent of the myrtle was so strong that the wolf could not sniff out where Bertha was, so he thought he might as well go off and catch a little pig instead.
VERA Definitely not Clovis.
NORA [cross, almost yelling] LET ME FINISH!
MATILDA Hmph! Well, proceed.
NORA Bertha trembled and the medal for obedience clinked against the medals for good conduct and punctuality.
BACHELOR The wolf heard the sound of the medals clinking and dashed into the bush, dragged Bertha out, and devoured her to the last morsel. All that was left were her shoes, bits of clothing, and three medals for goodness.
HELEN Were any of the little pigs killed?
MATILDA and VERA laugh somewhat scornfully
NORA Funny, that's just what my brother asked. No. They all got away. We all agreed it was the most beautiful story we'd ever heard - well, except for aunt, who seemed to find it highly improper.
MATILDA We shall have to write to Clovis and find out if he's been engaged in the railway storytelling circuit.
NORA This was some years ago, when I was quite young.
VERA and MATILDA chuckle again. HELEN joins in, but a bit too loudly.
VERA I fear, my darlings, that I shall still take the palm today, for I had occasion recently for the most stupendous jape of all...
VERA I am composing myself.
MATILDA Oh, not again.
NORA [hastily reassuring] No, no.
VERA I am ready. I must be careful and include all the vitally important details, for this was more than a mere trick on an aunt...
SOUND MUSIC FOR FLASHBACK
VERA [narrating] There was a tedious little man visiting our neighborhood for some sort of rest cure. [to Nuttel] Do you know many of the people round here?
NUTTEL Hardly a soul. My sister stayed nearby some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here.
VERA [calculating] Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?
HELEN More aunts?
MATILDA Aunts are universal. Now Shh.
NUTTEL Only your aunt and uncle's names and the address.
VERA Uncle. Oh I see. [confidential] Aunt's great tragedy happened just three years ago. That would be since your sister's time.
VERA You may wonder why we keep that French window wide open on an October afternoon.
NUTTEL It is quite warm for the time of the year, but ... tragedy?
VERA [ominous] Out through that window, three years ago to a day, Aunt's husband and brothers went off shooting... and never came back. In crossing the moor, they were engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. Their bodies were never recovered. [voice breaks] That was the dreadful part of it. Poor aunt thinks that they will come back some day, with uncle's little brown spaniel, and walk in that window just as they used to do. [almost a whisper] Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window-- [shudder]
NUTTEL Uh, yes...
SOUND DOOR, SWIFT FOOTSTEPS
AUNT I hope Vera has been amusing you?
NUTTEL [spooked] She has been very... interesting.
AUNT I hope you don't mind the open window. My husband and brothers will be home directly, and they always come in this way.
NUTTEL Um, yes. [changing the subject] Um, yes - [awkward pause] the doctors agree in ordering me complete rest and an absence of mental excitement. On the subject of diet, they are less in agreement.
AUNT [bored] Ah?
NUTTEL Some opine that toast with marmalade is better for digestion, while other lean more towards toast without.
NUTTEL Still other physicians insist on no toast at all. On the subject of eggs...
AUNT [brightening] Aha! Here they are at last! Just in time for tea!
VERA [narrating] I put on my best look of wide-eyed fear and stared - I always think of cats when I do that.
NUTTEL [confused] What? [panicked] Ahhh!
SOUND RUNNING FEET, DOOR OPENS, SLAMS CLOSED.
NOTE MILK THIS MOMENT FOR SUSPENSE
SOUND OMINOUSLY SLOW, SQUISHY FOOTSTEPS APPROACH. DOG YIPS MOURNFULLY, then
UNCLE Here we are, my dear. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?
AUNT A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel. Could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.
VERA I expect it was the spaniel. [the awful truth] He told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve.
MATILDA Oh, bravo - two for the price of one!
NORA How could he be afraid of a Spaniel? They're so--
HELEN Silly! She was romancing!
NORA Oh. [thinks] Oh!
MATILDA And her uncle wasn't dead either.
NORA Well, I - I think I realized that.
SOUND ALICE SCREAMING FROM BEHIND THE DOOR - HORRIBLE AGONY
VERA [slightly shaken] That sounds dreadful!
MATILDA [very shaken] And I'm next!
SOUND ALICE SCREAMING TAPERS OFF TO A GURGLE
MATILDA Poor Alice!
HELEN Maybe the headmistress will wear herself out before she gets to us --
VERA [calculating, then dry] Perhaps, but then, she'll just summon a few prefects to help.
HELEN Really? But - but what could she be doing?
VERA [knowing] Let's see, shall we?
SOUND SLIGHT CREAKS AS SHE TIPTOES TO DOOR
ALICE [Screams, muffled]
SOUND DOOR SWINGS OPEN
ALICE AAH! [notices door] Ahh?
SOUND SCRAMBLING FEET, THEY ALL COME TO LOOK
NORA Where's the headmistress?
MATILDA Oh, jolly good one, Alice. You gave me such a turn.
SOUND SLOW SERIES OF HAND CLAPS
ALICE Yes, yes. No autographs, please. Screaming does dry out my throat.
HELEN It was just you...?
MATILDA I believe, this time, that Alice takes the laurel.
VERA Oh, I don't think so.
MATILDA Whyever not?
VERA [grinning like a fiend] Who do you think sent round the sham detention notices to bring us all here?
SOUND A MOMENT, THEN GENERAL APPLAUSE
NORA [confused] Oh? [getting it] Oh!
OLIVIA Now that you know how to find us, don't be a stranger - we have enough of those already...