Dec 23, 2021
Nothing is ever normal at 19 Nocturne Boulevard. So when Olivia, our sultry announcer, decides to read the listeners a few of her favorite Xmas tales, things get a bit out of hand.
Adapted by Julie Hoverson from stories by Arnold Bennett, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad, appearing in A Christmas Garland edited by Max Beerbohm, published in 1912
Olivia - Julie Hoverson
Emily Wrackgarth - Beverly Poole
Jos Wrackgarth - Russell Gold
Albert Grapp - Gareth Bowley
Kipling/narrator - Rick Lewis
Judlip - Cole Hornaday
Mr. Williams - Michael Coleman [from Tales of the Extradordinary]
Mahamo - Pat McNally
"Puh-leeze! Do I sound like the type to
offend with yet another
rendition of A Christmas Carol?"
A TRILOGY FOR CHRISTMAS
ANNOUNCER The stories for tonight's show have been abridged and dramatized by Julie Hoverson
OLIVIA Did you have any trouble finding it? Well sit right down. I want to read you my favorite Christmas stories. No, don't go! [disgusted] Oh, puh-lease! Do I seem the type to offend with yet another rendition of A Christmas Carol, or The night Before Christmas? Even the Velveteen Rabbit, which is a truly disturbing tale to any small child, is far too common for this house.
MUSIC CREEPS IN
OLIVIA Indulge me, won't you? I promise I won't disappoint. I have selected three of my most favorite Christmas tales to share with you, and even if one is a bit romantic and sentimental, well, you have to let me be girly sometimes, right? So - I'll get sentiment out of the way and move right into the more... meaty stories. The first story, then, is Scruts by Arnold Bennett
OLIVIA Emily Wrackgarth stirred the Christmas pudding till her right arm began to ache. But she did not cease for that.
SOUND KITCHEN, STIRRING
OLIVIA She stirred on till her right arm grew so numb that it might have been the right arm of some girl at the other end of Bursley. And yet something deep down in her whispered
EMILY [muttered] It is your right arm! And you can do what you like with it!
OLIVIA She did what she liked with it. Relentlessly she kept it moving till it reasserted itself as the arm of Emily Wrackgarth, prickling and tingling as with red-hot needles in every tendon from wrist to elbow. And still Emily Wrackgarth hardened her heart.
EMILY Mine. You are mine.
OLIVIA Presently she saw the spoon no longer revolving, but wavering aimlessly in the midst of the basin.
EMILY Ridiculous! This must be seen to!
OLIVIA In the down of dark hairs that connected her eyebrows there was a marked deepening of that vertical cleft which, visible at all times, warned you that here was a young woman not to be trifled with. Her brain despatched to her hand a peremptory message—which miscarried. The spoon wabbled as though held by a baby.
EMILY [exasperated noise]
OLIVIA Emily knew that she herself as a baby had been carried into this very kitchen to stir the Christmas pudding. Year after year, as she grew up, she had been allowed to stir it "for luck." And those, she reflected, were the only cookery lessons she ever got.
EMILY How like Mother!
OLIVIA Mrs. Wrackgarth had died in the past year, of a complication of ailments. Emily still wore on her left shoulder that small tag of crape which is as far as the Five Towns go in the way of mourning. Her father had died in the year previous to that, of a still more curious and enthralling complication of ailments. Jos, his son, carried on the Wrackgarth Works,
EMILY [interrupting] and I kept house for Jos. I with my own hand made this pudding. But for me, this pudding would not have been. Fantastic! Utterly incredible!
OLIVIA [slightly miffed] And yet so it was. She was grown-up. She was mistress of the house. She could make or unmake puddings at will. And yet she was Emily Wrackgarth. Which was absurd.
EMILY It is doubtful whether the people of southern England have even yet realised how much introspection there is going on all the time in the Five Towns.
OLIVIA [ahem!] Emily was now stirring the pudding with her left hand. The ingredients had already been mingled indistinguishably in that rich, undulating mass of tawniness which proclaims perfection. But Emily was determined to give her left hand, not less than her right, what she called
EMILY "a doing."
OLIVIA Emily was like that. At mid-day, when her brother came home from the Works, she was still at it.
EMILY Brought those scruts with you?
JOS That's a fact.
OLIVIA And he dipped his hand into the sagging pocket of his coat. It is perhaps necessary to explain what scruts are. In the daily output of every potbank there are a certain proportion of flawed vessels. These are cast aside by the foreman,
EMILY with a lordly gesture,
OLIVIA and in due course are hammered into fragments. These fragments, which are put to various uses, are called scruts; and one of the uses they are put to is a sentimental one.
EMILY The dainty and luxurious Southerner looks to find in his Christmas pudding a wedding-ring, a gold thimble, a threepenny-bit, or the like. To such fal-lals the Five Towns would say fie.
OLIVIA A Christmas pudding in the Five Towns contains nothing but suet, flour, lemon-peel, cinnamon, brandy, almonds, raisins—and two or three scruts. There is a world of poetry, beauty, romance, in scruts—though you have to have been brought up on them to appreciate it. Scruts have passed into the proverbial philosophy of the district.
EMILY "Him's a pudden with more scruts than raisins to 'm"
OLIVIA is a criticism not infrequently heard. It implies respect, even admiration. Of Emily Wrackgarth herself people often said, in reference to her likeness to her father,
JOS "Her's a scrut o' th' owd basin." [realizing he cut in] Oh, Hmm. Pardon.
OLIVIA Jos had emptied out from his pocket on to the table a good three dozen of scruts.
EMILY I laid aside my spoon, rubbed the palms of my hands on the bib of my apron, and proceeded to finger these scruts with the air of a connoisseur, rejecting one after another.
OLIVIA The pudding was a small one, designed merely for herself and Jos, with remainder to "the girl"; so that it could hardly accommodate more than two or three scruts.
EMILY I knew well that one scrut is as good as another. Yet I did not want my brother to feel that anything selected by him would necessarily pass muster.
OLIVIA For his benefit she ostentatiously wrinkled her nose.
JOS By the by, you remember Albert Grapp? I've asked him to step over from Hanbridge and help eat our snack on Christmas Day.
EMILY [incensed] You've asked that Mr. Grapp?
JOS No objection, I hope? He's not a bad sort. And he's considered a bit of a ladies' man, you know.
EMILY [incensed noise]
SOUND CLATTER OF SCRUTS INTO BOWL
OLIVIA Emily gathered up all the scruts and let them fall in a rattling shower on the exiguous pudding. Two or three fell wide of the basin.
EMILY [vengefully] I made sure they all fit, too.
JOS [alarmed] Steady on! What's that for?
EMILY That's for your guest. And if you think you're going to palm me off on to him, or on to any other young fellow, you're a fool, Jos Wrackgarth!
JOS I - I would never--
EMILY Don't think I don't know what you've been after, just of late. Cracking up one young sawny and then another on the chance of me marrying him! I never heard of such goings on. But here I am, and here I'll stay, as sure as my name's Emily Wrackgarth, Jos Wrackgarth!
OLIVIA It is difficult to write calmly about Emily at this point. For her, in another age, ships would have been launched and cities besieged. But brothers are a race apart, and blind. It is a fact that Jos would have been glad to see his sister "settled"
JOS [muttered] —preferably in one of the other four Towns.
OLIVIA [chuckle] She took up the spoon and stirred vigorously. The scruts grated and squeaked together around the basin, while the pudding feebly wormed its way up among them.
ALBERT [whispered] Is it me? Oh! [up] Albert Grapp, ladies' man though he was, was humble of heart. Nobody knew this but himself.
OLIVIA Not one of his fellow clerks in Clither's Bank knew it. The general theory in Hanbridge was "Him's got a stiff opinion o' hisself."
ALBERT But this arose from what was really a sign of humility in him. He made the most of himself.
OLIVIA He had, for instance, a way of his own in the matter of dressing. He always wore a voluminous frock-coat, with a pair of neatly-striped vicuna trousers--
ALBERT --which he placed every night under his mattress, thus preserving in perfection the crease down the centre of each.
OLIVIA He had two caps, one of blue serge, the other of shepherd's plaid. These he wore on alternate days. He wore them in a way of his own—well back from his forehead, so as not to hide his hair.
OLIVIA On wet days he wore a mackintosh. This, as he did not yet possess a great-coat, he wore also, but with less glory, on cold days.
ALBERT He had hoped there might be rain on Christmas morning. But there was no rain. [sigh, resigned] Like my luck.
OLIVIA [whispered, urgent] Stop referring to yourself in the third person, no one else does. [back up] Since Jos Wrackgarth had introduced Albert to his sister at the Hanbridge Oddfellows' Biennial Hop,
ALBERT when he -I- danced two quadrilles with her,
OLIVIA --he had seen her but once. He had nodded to her, Five Towns fashion, and she had nodded back at him, but with a look that seemed to say--
EMILY You needn't nod next time you see me. I can get along well enough without your nods.
ALBERT A frightening girl! And yet her brother had since told ...me... she seemed "a bit gone, like" on me! Impossible! He, Albert Grapp, make an impression on the brilliant Miss Wrackgarth! Yet she had sent him a verbal invite to spend Christmas in her own home.
OLIVIA You're doing it again.
ALBERT [oblivious, enchanted] And the time had come. He was on his way. Incredible that he should arrive! The tram must surely overturn, or be struck by lightning. And yet no! He arrived safely.
OLIVIA [sigh] The small servant who opened the door gave him another verbal message from Miss Wrackgarth. [disapproving] Wipe your feet well on the mat. [narrating again] In obeying this order he experienced a thrill of satisfaction he could not account for. He must have stood shuffling his boots vigorously for a full minute.
ALBERT This, he told himself, was life. He, Albert Grapp, was alive. And the world was full of other men, all alive; and yet, because they were not doing Miss Wrackgarth's bidding, none of them really lived.
OLIVIA In the parlour he found Jos awaiting him. The table was laid for three.
JOS So you're here, are you?
OLIVIA Said the host, using the Five Towns formula.
JOS Emily's in the kitchen. Happen she'll be here directly.
ALBERT I hope she's tol-lol-ish?
JOS She is. But don't you go saying that to her. She doesn't care about society airs and graces. You'll make no headway if you aren't blunt.
ALBERT Oh, right you are.
OLIVIA A moment later Emily joined them, still wearing her kitchen apron.
EMILY So you're here, are you?
OLIVIA She said, but did not shake hands. The servant had followed her in with the tray, and the next few seconds were occupied in the disposal of the beef and trimmings. The meal began, Emily carving.
JOS [sigh] The main thought of a man less infatuated than Albert Grapp would have been "This girl can't cook. And she'll never learn to." The beef, instead of being red and brown, was pink and white. Uneatable beef!
ALBERT [rapturizing] And yet he relished it more than anything he had ever tasted. This beef was her own handiwork. Thus it was because she had made it so.... [up] Happen I could do with a bit more, like.
OLIVIA Emily hacked off the bit more and jerked it on to the plate he had held out to her.
OLIVIA Only when the second course came on did he suspect that the meal was a calculated protest. This a Christmas pudding? The litter of fractured earthenware was hardly held together by the suet and raisins.
ALBERT All his pride of manhood—and there was plenty of pride mixed up with Albert Grapp's humility—dictated a refusal to touch that pudding. Yet he soon found himself touching it, though gingerly, with spoon and fork.
OLIVIA In the matter of dealing with scruts there are two schools—the old and the new. The old school pushes its head well over its plate and drops the scrut straight from its mouth. The new school emits the scrut into the fingers of its left hand and therewith deposits it on the rim of the plate.
ALBERT Albert noticed that Emily was of the new school.
OLIVIA Oh, I give up.
ALBERT But might she not despise as affectation in him what came natural to herself? On the other hand, if he showed himself as a prop of the old school, might she not set her face the more stringently against him?
OLIVIA The chances were that whichever course he took would be the wrong one.
ALBERT It was then that he had an inspiration—an idea of the sort that comes to a man once in his life and finds him, likely as not, unable to put it into practice.
OLIVIA Albert was not sure he could consummate this idea of his. He had indisputably fine teeth—
JOS "a proper mouthful of grinders"
OLIVIA in local phrase. But would they stand the strain he was going to impose on them? He could but try them.
OLIVIA [con't] Without a sign of nervousness he raised his spoon, with one scrut in it, to his mouth. This scrut he put between two of his left-side molars, bit hard on it, and—eternity of that moment!—felt it and heard it snap in two.
SOUND GRINDING, CRUNCHING
ALBERT He was conscious that at sound of the percussion Emily started forward and stared at him. But he did not look at her.
EMILY [amazed] That was none so dusty. [similar to "not too shabby"]
OLIVIA Calmly, systematically, with gradually diminishing crackles, he reduced that scrut to powder, and washed the powder down with a sip of beer.
OLIVIA While he dealt with the second scrut, he talked to Jos about the Borough Council's proposal to erect an electric power-station on the site of the old gas-works down Hillport way.
ALBERT He was aware of a slight abrasion inside his left cheek. No matter. He must be more careful.
OLIVIA There were six scruts still to be negotiated.
ALBERT He knew that what he was doing was a thing grandiose, unique, epical; a history-making thing; a thing that would outlive marble and the gilded monuments of princes. Yet he kept his head.
OLIVIA He did not hurry, nor did he dawdle. Scrut by scrut, he ground slowly but he ground exceeding small.
ALBERT And while he did so he talked wisely and well.
OLIVIA He passed from the power-station to a first edition he had picked up for sixpence in Liverpool, and thence to the Midland's proposal to drive a tunnel under the Knype Canal so as to link up the main-line with the Critchworth and Suddleford loop-line.
JOS I was too amazed to put in a word, but sat merely gaping—a gape that merged by imperceptible degrees into a grin. Presently I ceased to watch our guest. I sat watching my sister.
OLIVIA Not once did Albert himself glance in her direction. She was just a dim silhouette on the outskirts of his vision.
ALBERT But there she was, unmoving, and he could feel the fixture of her unseen eyes. The time was at hand when he would have to meet those eyes. Would he flinch? Was he master of himself?
OLIVIA The last scrut was powder. No temporising! He jerked his glass to his mouth.
ALBERT A moment later, holding out his plate to her, he looked Emily full in the eyes. They were Emily's eyes, but not hers alone. They were collective eyes—that was it! They were the eyes of stark, staring womanhood.
OLIVIA Her face had been dead white, but now suddenly up from her throat, over her cheeks, through the down between her eyebrows, went a rush of colour, up over her temples, through the very parting of her hair.
ALBERT [casual] Happen, I'll have a bit more, like.
OLIVIA Emily flung her arms forward on the table and buried her face in them.
EMILY [breaking into sobs]
OLIVIA It was a gesture wild and meek. It was the gesture foreseen and yet incredible. It was recondite, inexplicable, and yet obvious.
EMILY [aside, not teary] It was the only thing to be done—and yet, by gum, I had done it. [back to sobbing]
OLIVIA Her brother had risen from his seat and was now at the door.
JOS [pleased with himself] Think I'll step round to the Works, and see if they banked up that furnace aright.
OLIVIA NOTE.—The author has in preparation a series of volumes dealing with the life of Albert and Emily Grapp.
MUSIC BACK TO NEUTRAL
OLIVIA Sweet romance, eh? Well, I've indulged my sentimental side, now how about some gritty policework?
EMILY Hold up. You really think I'll get hitched over some fellow who sups pottery?
OLIVIA That's how the story ends. And he's a good looking chap.
EMILY And your accent is wretched.
OLIVIA Go back to your story.
OLIVIA Your story is over. Shut up.
EMILY Can't make me - you're no better'n me - have ten toes and ten fingers just the same.
OLIVIA I'll close the book, and then you'll be gone until someone else reads you - and you're far enough out of print, THAT won't happen any time soon.
EMILY [annoyed, seething] Right. I'll sit here, then shall I?
OLIVIA Don't care. Just keep quiet. [deep breath] My next tale is PC X-36, by Rudyard Kipling.
JUDLIP Then it's collar 'im
In the name o' the Lawd!
'Ustle 'im, shake 'im till 'e's sick!
Wot, 'e would, would 'e? Well,
Then yer've got ter give 'im 'Ell,
An' it's trunch, trunch, truncheon does the trick
OLIVIA From police station ditties.
EMILY Sounds like a donkey.
KIPLING I had spent Christmas Eve at the Club, listening to a grand pow-wow between certain of the choicer sons of Adam.
OLIVIA Hold on! I'm the one reading this story!
KIPLING But I'm the narrator.
EMILY Hear Hear.
OLIVIA I'm the reader. You need to keep quiet.
KIPLING You might have thought first before taking on a first person narrative, mightn't you?
OLIVIA Well, I'll endeavor to sound like you. Now! Wait for your cue. [clears throat] Then Slushby had cut in. Slushby is one who writes to newspapers and is theirs obediently "HUMANITARIAN." When Slushby cuts in, men remember they have to be up early next morning.
KIPLING Sharp round a corner on the way home, I collided with something firmer than the regulation pillar-box.
OLIVIA [gritted teeth] I righted myself after the recoil and saw some stars that were very pretty indeed. Then I perceived the nature of the obstruction.
KIPLING "Evening, Judlip," [quickly spitting out his descriptives] I said sweetly, when I had collected my hat from the gutter. "Have I broken the law, Judlip? If so, I'll go quiet."
JUDLIP [Gruff] Time yer was in bed. Yer Ma'll be lookin' out for yer.
KIPLING This from the friend --
OLIVIA Ahem! --of my bosom! It hurt. Many were the night-beats I had been privileged to walk with Judlip, imbibing curious lore that made glad the civilian heart of me. Seven whole 8x5 inch note-books had I pitmanised to the brim with Judlip.
EMILY And now to be repulsed as one of the uninitiated! It hurt horrid.
OLIVIA Don't you start in again!
OLIVIA Don't! [back to the story] There is a thing called Dignity. Small boys sometimes stand on it. Then they have to be kicked. Then they get down, weeping. I don't stand on Dignity.
KIPLING "What's wrong, Judlip?" I asked, more sweetly than ever. "Drawn a blank to-night?"
JUDLIP Yuss. Drawn a blank blank blank. 'Avent 'ad so much as a kick at a lorst dorg. Christmas Eve ain't wot it was.
KIPLING I felt for my note-book.
JUDLIP Lawd! I remembers the time when the drunks and disorderlies down this street was as thick as flies on a fly-paper. One just picked 'em orf with one's finger and thumb. A bloomin' buffet, that's wot it wos.
KIPLING "The night's yet young, Judlip," [quickly] I insinuated, with a jerk of my thumb at the flaring windows of the "Rat and Blood Hound." At that moment--
OLIVIA [Catching up] --the saloon-door swung open, emitting a man and woman who walked with linked arms and exceeding great care.
EMILY [sarcastic] How sweet.
OLIVIA Judlip eyed them longingly as they tacked up the street. Then he sighed. Now, when Judlip sighs the sound is like unto that which issues from the vent of a Crosby boiler when the cog-gauges are at 260 degrees.
KIPLING "Come, Judlip!" I said. "Possess your soul in patience. You'll soon find someone to make an example of. Meanwhile"—I threw back my head and smacked my lips [he does] —"the usual, Judlip?"
OLIVIA In another minute I emerged through the swing-door, bearing a furtive glass of that same "usual," and nipped down the mews where my friend was wont to await these little tokens of esteem.
KIPLING "To the Majesty of the Law, Judlip!"
OLIVIA When he had honoured the toast, I scooted back with the glass, leaving him wiping the beads off his beard-bristles. He was in his philosophic mood when I rejoined him at the corner.
JUDLIP "Wot am I? [pronouncing] A bloomin' cypher. Wot's the sarjint? 'E's got the Inspector over 'im. Over above the Inspector there's the Sooprintendent. Over above 'im's the old red-tape-masticatin' Yard. Over above that there's the 'Ome Sec. Wot's 'e? A cypher, like me. Why?
KIPLING Judlip looked up at the stars.
JUDLIP Over above 'im's We Dunno Wot. Somethin' wot issues its horders an' regulations an' divisional injunctions, inscrootable like, but p'remptory; an' we 'as ter see as 'ow they're carried out, not arskin' no questions, but each man goin' about 'is dooty.'
KIPLING "''Is dooty,'" said I, looking up from my note-book. "Yes, I've got that."
JUDLIP Life ain't a bean-feast. It's a 'arsh reality. An' them as makes it a bean-feast 'as got to be 'arshly dealt with accordin'. That's wot the Force is put 'ere for from Above. Not as 'ow we ain't fallible. We makes our mistakes. An' when we makes 'em we sticks to 'em. For the honour o' the Force. Which same is the jool Britannia wears on 'er bosom as a charm against hanarchy. That's wot the brarsted old Beaks don't understand. Yer remember Smithers of our Div?
KIPLING [takes breath, but is interupted]
OLIVIA I remembered Smithers - well. As fine, upstanding, square-toed-- [hand over mouth]
EMILY [Picking up quickly, but struggling slightly] bullet-headed, clean-living - go on! - son of a gun--
KIPLING Ta! --as ever perjured himself in the box. There was nothing of the softy about Smithers. I took off my billicock to Smithers' memory.
JUDLIP Sacrificed to public opinion? Yuss,
KIPLING Judlip paused at a front door, flashing his light down the slot of a two-grade Yale.
JUDLIP Sacrificed to a parcel of screamin' old women wot ort ter 'ave gorn down on their knees an' thanked Gawd for such a protector. 'E'll be out in another 'alf year.
JUDLIP Wot'll 'e do then, pore devil? Go a bust on 'is conduc' money an' throw in 'is lot with them same hexperts wot 'ad a 'oly terror of 'im.
EMILY Then Judlip swore gently.
KIPLING What should you do, O Great One, if ever it were your duty to apprehend him?
JUDLIP Do? Why, yer blessed innocent, yer don't think I'd shirk a fair clean cop? Same time, I don't say as 'ow I wouldn't 'andle 'im tender like, for sake o' wot 'e wos. Likewise cos 'e'd be a stiff customer to tackle. Likewise 'cos—
OLIVIA [muffled struggle]
KIPLING He had broken off, and was peering fixedly upwards across the moonlit street.
JUDLIP [drawn-out, hoarse whisper] Ullo!
OLIVIA [muffled, then deep breath] Back off!
EMILY Hmph. [shrug] I made a good go.
OLIVIA Striking an average between the direction of his eyes—for Judlip, when on the job, has a soul-stirring squint—I perceived someone in the act of emerging from a chimney-pot. Judlip's voice clove the silence.
JUDLIP Wot are yer doin' hup there?
OLIVIA The person addressed came to the edge of the parapet.
KIPLING I saw then that he had a hoary white beard, a red ulster with the hood up, and what looked like a sack over his shoulder.
OLIVIA He said something or other in a voice like a concertina that has been left out in the rain.
EMILY [muttered] Not so very hard to pass it round, is it?
JUDLIP I dessay. Just you come down, an' we'll see about that.
OLIVIA The old man nodded and smiled. Then—as I hope to be saved—he came floating gently down through the moonlight, with the sack over his shoulder and a young fir-tree clasped to his chest. He alighted in a friendly manner on the curb beside us.
EMILY Come along - let us have a go!
KIPLING Judlip was the first to recover himself. Out went his right arm--
EMILY --and the airman was slung round by the scruff of the neck, spilling his sack in the road.
KIPLING I made a bee-line for his shoulder-blades. Burglar or no burglar, he was the best airman out, and I was muchly desirous to know the precise nature of the apparatus under his ulster.
OLIVIA Fine. Let's just keep it moving - A back-hander from Judlip's left caused me to hop quickly aside. The prisoner was squealing and whimpering. He didn't like the feel of Judlip's knuckles at his cervical vertebræ.
JUDLIP Wot wos yer doin' hup there?
EMILY asked Judlip, tightening the grip.
SANTA CLAUS I'm S-Santa Claus, Sir. P-please, Sir, let me g-go..
KIPLING "Hold him," I shouted. "He's a German."
JUDLIP It's my dooty ter caution yer that wotever yer say now may be used in hevidence against yer, yer old sinner. Pick up that there sack, an' come along o' me.
EMILY The captive snivelled something about peace on earth, good will toward men.
JUDLIP Yuss. That's in the Noo Testament, ain't it? The Noo Testament contains some uncommon nice readin' for old gents an' young ladies. But it ain't included in the librery o' the Force. We confine ourselves to the Old Testament — O-T, 'ot. An' 'ot you'll get it. Hup with that sack, an' quick march!
OLIVIA I have seen worse attempts at a neck-wrench, but it was just not slippery enough for Judlip.
EMILY And the kick that Judlip then let fly was a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.
KIPLING "Frog's-march him!" I shrieked, dancing. "For the love of heaven, frog's-march him!"
OLIVIA Trotting by Judlip's side to the Station, I reckoned it out that if Slushby had not been at the Club I should not have been here to see.
ALL Which shows that even Slushbys are put into this world for a purpose.
OLIVIA Oh, this is just getting silly.
EMILY Only just? I should have said it's been a laugh for several miles.
KIPLING D'you have some problem with a bit of a laugh?
OLIVIA The third story I want to read is very serious. If this goes on, I won't be able to do it justice.
EMILY What is it then?
OLIVIA The Feast. By Joseph Conrad.
KIPLING Conrad? He wrote a Christmas story?
EMILY Who is this Conrad fellow?
KIPLING Wrote something called heart of Darkness.
OLIVIA Yes, yes, yes! Look, it's ruined now. I'm just going to give up and read The Night before Christmas.
EMILY [disgusted noise]
KIPLING That sentimental pap?
OLIVIA [huffy] The mood is gone.
EMILY AND KIPLING [whisper in the background]
EMILY We might--
KIPLING Let me!
EMILY I don't think so! [annoyed grunt] Look you! - um - I think we've not been introduced?
OLIVIA [sulky] Olivia.
EMILY Right. Olivia. Why not let us help read the story. We can do that well enough, can't we?
OLIVIA And keep the comments to a minimum?
EMILY I'll box his ears for you if he steps across the line.
OLIVIA It's worth a try.
MUSIC TURNS TROPICAL
OLIVIA The hut in which slept the white man was on a clearing between the forest and the river.
EMILY Silence, the silence murmurous and unquiet of a tropical night, brooded over the hut that, baked through by the sun, sweated a vapour beneath the cynical light of the stars.
KIPLING Mahamo lay rigid and watchful at the hut's mouth. In his upturned eyes, and along the polished surface of his lean body black and immobile, the stars were reflected, creating an illusion of themselves who are illusions.
OLIVIA The roofs of the congested trees, writhing in some kind of agony private and eternal, made tenebrous and shifty silhouettes against the sky, like shapes cut out of black paper by a maniac who pushes them with his thumb this way and that, irritably, on a concave surface of blue steel.
EMILY Resin oozed unseen from the upper branches to the trunks swathed in creepers that clutched and interlocked with tendrils venomous, frantic and faint.
KIPLING Down below, by force of habit, the lush herbage went through the farce of growth—that farce old and screaming, whose trite end is decomposition. [aside] Optimist, eh? Ouch!
OLIVIA Ssh. Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything else, only more so. Flying squadrons of mosquitoes inside its meshes flickered and darted over him, working hard, but keeping silence so as not to excite him from sleep.
EMILY [with distaste] Cohorts of yellow ants disputed him against cohorts of purple ants, the two kinds slaying one another in thousands.
KIPLING [avid] The battle was undecided when suddenly, with no such warning as it gives in some parts of the world, the sun blazed up over the horizon, turning night into day, and the insects vanished back into their camps.
OLIVIA The white man ground his knuckles into the corners of his eyes, emitting that snore final and querulous of a middle-aged man awakened rudely. With a gesture brusque but flaccid he plucked aside the net and peered around.
EMILY The bales of cotton cloth, the beads, the brass wire, the bottles of rum, had not been spirited away in the night. So far so good.
KIPLING The faithful servant of his employers was now at liberty to care for his own interests. He regarded himself, passing his hands over his skin.
WILLIAMS [shouted] Hi! Mahamo! I've been eaten up.
OLIVIA The islander, with one sinuous motion, sprang from the ground, through the mouth of the hut. Then, after a glance, he threw high his hands in thanks to such good and evil spirits as had charge of his concerns. In a tone half of reproach, half of apology, he murmured—
MAHAMO You white men sometimes say strange things that deceive the heart.
WILLIAMS Reach me that ammonia bottle, d'you hear? This is a pretty place you've brought me to! Christmas Day, too! Of all the —— But I suppose it seems all right to you, you heathen, to be here on Christmas Day?
MAHAMO We are here on the day appointed, Mr. Williams. It is a feast-day of your people?
OLIVIA Mr. Williams had lain back, with closed eyes, on his mat. Nostalgia was doing duty to him for imagination.
EMILY He was wafted to a bedroom in Marylebone, where in honour of the Day he lay late dozing, with great contentment; outside, a slush of snow in the street, the sound of church-bells; from below a savour of especial cookery. [chuckles a bit]
WILLIAMS Yes, it's a feast-day of my people.
MAHAMO Of mine also.
WILLIAMS [disinterested] Is it though? But they'll do business first?
MAHAMO They must first do that.
WILLIAMS And they'll bring their ivory with them?
MAHAMO Every man will bring ivory.
OLIVIA The islander answered with a smile gleaming and wide.
WILLIAMS How soon'll they be here?
MAHAMO Has not the sun risen? They are on their way.
WILLIAMS Well, I hope they'll hurry. The sooner we're off this cursed island of yours the better. Take all those things out--
OLIVIA Mr. Williams added, pointing to the merchandise.
WILLIAMS --and arrange them. Neatly, mind you!
KIPLING In certain circumstances it is right that a man be humoured in trifles. Mahamo, having borne out the merchandise, arranged it very neatly.
OLIVIA While Mr. Williams made his toilette, the sun and the forest, careless of the doings of white and black men alike, waged their warfare implacable and daily. The forest from its inmost depths sent forth perpetually its legions of shadows that fell dead in the instant of exposure to the enemy whose rays heroic and absurd its outposts annihilated.
EMILY What's all this to do with Christmas?
KIPLING Want me to cuff her one?
OLIVIA It takes place on Christmas day - they already said that.
EMILY But this is all jungle creepers and spooky shadows - and vermins. If there's one thing that doesn't come to my mind when I think of Christmas, it's ants and mosquitoes and such.
KIPLING You should see some of the places I've been.
OLIVIA Why don't we just finish the story?
KIPLING There came from those inilluminable depths the equable rumour of myriads of winged things and crawling things newly roused to the task of killing and being killed. Thence detached itself, little by little, an insidious sound of a drum beaten. This sound drew more near. [aside] A-ha, I see where this is going. Drums in the distance are never a good sign.
EMILY [huffy] Maybe I haven't traveled all over the great wide world, fellow, but even I can probably guess at that.
DRUMS SNEAK IN
OLIVIA Mr. Williams, issuing from the hut, heard it, and stood gaping towards it.
WILLIAMS Is that them?
MAHAMO That is they.
OLIVIA The islander murmured, moving away towards the edge of the forest.
EMILY Does he not notice? What sort of a dullard is he? [calling to williams] Do you have a gun?
OLIVIA [exasperated sigh]
KIPLING Calm down, it's just a story.
EMILY Don't go telling me when to calm down! I just hate stories where stupid people do very stupid things - what possessed this fool to sail half round the world anyway?
OLIVIA [resigned, trying to get it back on track] Sounds of chanting were a now audible accompaniment to the drum.
WILLIAMS What's that they're singing?
MAHAMO [off a bit] They sing of their business.
WILLIAMS [shocked] Oh! I'd have thought they'd be singing of their feast.
MAHAMO It is of their feast they sing.
OLIVIA It has been stated that Mr. Williams was not imaginative.
WILLIAMS Oh, I say--!
OLIVIA Oh, no! You stay put!
KIPLING [very knowingly] But a few years of life in climates alien and intemperate had disordered his nerves. There was that in the rhythms of the hymn which made bristle his flesh.
EMILY Suddenly, when they were very near, the voices ceased, leaving a legacy of silence more sinister than themselves. And now the black spaces between the trees were relieved by bits of white that were the eyeballs and teeth of Mahamo's brethren.
MAHAMO It was of their feast, it was of you, they sang.
EMILY I knew it!
KIPLING It was obvious.
WILLIAMS Look here--!
OLIVIA Cried Mr. Williams in his voice of a man not to be trifled with.
WILLIAMS --Look here, if you've—
SOUND JAVELIN HIT
OLIVIA He was silenced by sight of what seemed to be a young sapling sprung up from the ground within a yard of him—a young sapling tremulous, with a root of steel.
KIPLING Then a thread-like shadow skimmed the air, and another spear came impinging the ground within an inch of his feet.
EMILY As he turned in his flight he saw the goods so neatly arranged at his orders, and there flashed through him, even in the thick of the spears, the thought that he would be a grave loss to his employers.
OLIVIA This—for Mr. Williams was, not less than the goods, of a kind easily replaced—was an illusion. It was the last of Mr. Williams illusions.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
EMILY So what shall we do now?
SOUND LARGE BOOK SHUTS DECISIVELY, CUTTING HER OFF
OLIVIA Happy Holidays, all - wherever and whatever they may be.
OLIVIA Now that you know how to find us, you'll have to come back. Maybe next week? Don't be a stranger - we have enough of those already...
The stories dramatized in tonight's episode appeared in a collection titled "A Christmas Garland", first published in October of 1912, collected by Max Beerbohm. Scruts was written by Arnold Bennett, PC X-36 was written by Rudyard Kipling, and The Feast was written by Joseph Conrad. These stories have been edited slightly to fit the program.