THE DEAR DEPARTED (PART - I)
THE DEAR DEPARTED (PART - II)
THE DEAR DEPARTED BY WILLIAM STANLEY HOUGHTON
SISTERS : Mrs. Amelia Slater / Mrs. Elizabeth Jordan
HUSBANDS OF AMELIA AND ELIZABETH : Henry Slater / Ben Jordan
Victoria Slater - a girl of ten (Amelia's daughter)
Abel Merry weather - (father of Amelia and Elizabeth)
(When the curtain rises Mrs. Slater is seen laying the table. She is a vigorous, plump, red-faced, vulgar woman prepared to do any amount of straight talking to get her own way. She is in black. She goes to the window, opens it and calls into the street)
Mrs. Slater: (sharply) Victoria, Victoria! D'ye hear? Come in, will you?
Mrs. Slater: I'm amazed at you, Victoria. I really am. Be off now, and change your dress before your Aunt Elizabeth and your Uncle Ben come. It would never do for them to find you in colours with grandfather lying dead, upstairs.
Victoria: What are they coming for? They haven't been here for ages.
Mrs. Slater: They're coming to talk over poor grandpa's affairs. Your father sent them a telegram as soon as we found he was dead. (A noise is heard)
(Henry Slater, a stooping, heavy man with a drooping moustache, enters. He is wearing a black tailcoat, grey trousers, a black tie and a bowler hat.)
Henry: I'm wondering if they'll come at all. When you and Elizabeth quarreled she said she'd never set foot in your house again.
Mrs. Slater: She'll come fast enough after her share of what our father's left. You know how hard she can be when she likes. Where she gets it from I can't tell.
Henry: I suppose it's in the family. (pause) Where are my slippers?
Mrs. Slater: In the kitchen; but you want a new pair, those old ones are nearly worn out. (Nearly breaking down) You don't seem to realize what it's costing me to bear up like I am doing. My heart's fit to break when I see the little trifles that belonged to father lying around, and think he'll never use them again. (Briskly) here! You'd better wear these slippers of my father's now. It's lucky he'd just got a new pair.
Henry: They'll be very small for me, my dear.
Mrs. Slater: They'll stretch, won't they? I'm not going to have them wasted. (She has finished laying the table.) Henry, I've been thinking about that bureau of my father's that's in his bedroom. You know I always wanted to have it after he died.
Henry: You must arrange with Elizabeth when you're dividing things up.
Mrs. Slater: Elizabeth's that sharp she'll see I'm after it, and we'll drive a hard bargain over it.
Henry: Perhaps she's got her eye on the bureau as well.
Mrs. Slater: She's got her eye on the bureau as well.
Mrs. Slater: She's never been here since father bought it. If it was only down here instead of in his room, she'd never guess it wasn't our own.
Henry: (startled): Amelia! (He rises) Mrs. Slater : Henry, why shouldn't we bring that bureau down here now? We can do it before they come.
Henry: (stupefied) I wouldn't care to.
Mrs. Slater: Don't look so daft. Why not?
Henry: It doesn't seem delicate, somehow.
Mrs. Slater: We could put that shabby old chest of drawers upstairs where the bureau is now. Elizabeth could have that and welcome. I've always wanted to get rid of it. (She points to the drawers.)
Henry: Suppose they come when we're doing it.
Mrs. Slater: I'll fasten the front door. Get your coat off, Henry. We'll change it.
(Mrs. Slater goes out to fasten the front door. Henry takes his coat off. Mrs. Slater reappears.)
Mrs. Slater: I'll run up and move the chairs out of the way.
(Victoria appears, dressed according to her mother's (instructions)
Victoria: What have you got your coat off for, father?
Henry: Mother and I are going to bring grandfather's bureau down here.
Victoria: Are you planning to pinch it?
Henry: (Shocked) No, my child. Grandpa gave it to your mother before he died.
Victoria: This morning?
Victoria: Ah! He was drunk this morning.
(Mrs. Slater appears carrying a handsome clock under her arm.)
Mrs. Slater: I thought I'd fetch this down as well. (She puts it on the mantelpiece) Ourclock's worth nothing and this always appealed to me.
Victoria: That's grandpa's clock.
Mrs. Slater: Be quiet! It's ours now. Come, Henry, lift your end.
(Henry and Mrs. Slater, very hot and flushed, stagger in with a pretty old fashioned bureau containing a locked desk. They put it where the chest of drawers was, and straighten the ornaments, etc. There is a knock at the door. The knocking is repeated.)
(Victoria ushers in Ben and Mrs. Jordan. The latter is a stout, complacent woman with an irritating air of being always right. She is wearing an outfit of new mourning. Ben is also in complete new mourning. He is rather a jolly little man, but at present trying to adapt himself to the regrettable occasion. Mrs. Jordan sails into the room and solemnly goes straight to Mrs. Slater and kisses her. The men shake hands.)
Mrs. Jordan: Well, Amelia, and so he's gone at last.
Mrs. Slater: Yes, he's gone. He was seventy-two a fortnight last Sunday. (She sniffs back a tear.)
Ben (chirpily): Now, Amelia, you mustn't give way. We've all got to die some time or other.
Mrs. Jordan: And now perhaps you'll tell us all about it.
Mrs. Slater: Father had been merry this morning. He went out soon after breakfast to pay his insurance.
Ben: My word, it's a good thing he did.
Mrs. Jordan: He always was thoughtful in that way. He was too honourable to have 'gone' without paying his premium.
Henry: And when I came in I found him undressed sure enough and snug in bed.
Mrs. Slater: And when we'd finished dinner I thought I'd take up a bit of something on a tray. He was lying there for all the world as if he was asleep, so I put the tray down on the bureau-(correcting herself) on the chest of drawers - and went to waken him. (A pause) He was quite cold.
(A pause. They wipe their eyes and sniff back tears.)
Mrs. Slater: (Rising briskly at length; in a business-like tone) Well, will you go up and look at him now, or shall we have tea?
Mrs. Jordan: What do you say, Ben?
Ben : I'm not particular.
Mrs. Jordan: (surveying the table) Well, then, if the kettle's ready, we may as well have tea first. (Mrs. Slater puts the kettle on the fire and gets tea ready.)
Henry: One thing we may as well decide now is the announcement in the papers.
Mrs. Jordan: I was thinking of that. What would you put? (A pause)
Mrs. Jordan: Well, we'll think about it after tea, and then we'll look through his bits of things and make a list of them. There's all the furniture in his room.
Henry: There's no jewellery or valuables of that sort.
Mrs. Jordan: Except his gold watch. He promised that to our Jimmy.
Mrs. Slater: Promised your Jimmy! I never heard of that.
Mrs. Jordan: Oh, but he did, Amelia, when he was living with us. He was very fond of Jimmy
Mrs. Slater: Well, (Amazed) I don't know!
Ben: Anyhow, there's his insurance money. Have you got the receipt for the premium he paid this morning?
Mrs. Slater: I've not seen it. (Victoria jumps up from the sofa and comes behind the table.)
Victoria: Mother, I don't think Grandpa went to pay his insurance this morning.
Mrs. Slater: He went out.
Victoria: Yes, but he didn't go into the town. He met old Mr. Tatters all down the street, and they went off past St. Philip's Church.
Ben: Do you think he hasn't paid it? Was it overdue?
Mrs. Slater: I should think it was overdue.
Mrs. Jordan: Something tells me he's not paid it.
Ben: The drunken old beggar.
Mrs. Jordan: He's done it on purpose, just to annoy us.
Mrs. Slater: After all I've done for him, having to put up with him in the house these three years. It's nothing short of swindling.
Mrs. Jordan: I had to put up with him for five years.
Mrs. Slater: And you were trying to turn him over to us all the time.
Henry: But we don't know for certain that he's not paid the premium.
Mrs. Slater: Victoria, run upstairs and fetch that bunch of keys that's on your Grandpa's dressing-table.
Victoria: (timidly) In Grandpa's room?
Mrs. Slater: Yes.
Victoria: I - I don't like to.
Mrs. Slater: Don't talk so silly. There's no one can hurt you. (Victoria goes out reluctantly) We'll see if he's locked the receipt up in the bureau.
Ben: In where? In this thing? (He rises and examines it.)
Mrs. Jordan: (also rising) Where did you pick that up, Amelia? It's new since last I was here. (They examine it closely.)
Mrs. Slater: Oh - Henry picked it up one day. (Victoria returns, very scared. She closes the door after her.)
Victoria: Mother! Mother!
Mrs. Slater: What is it, child?
Victoria: Grandpa's getting up.
Mrs. Slater: What do you say?
Victoria: Grandpa's getting up.
Mrs. Jordan: The child's crazy.
Mrs. Slater: Don't talk so silly. Don't you know your grandpa's dead?
Victoria: No, no; he's getting up. I saw him. (They are transfixed with amazement; Victoria clings to Mrs. Slater.)
Ben: (Suddenly) Hist! Listen.
(They look at the door. A slight chuckling is heard from upstairs. The door opens, revealing an old man clad in a faded but gay dressing-gown. He is in his stocking feet. Although over seventy, he is vigorous and well coloured. His bright, malicious eyes twinkle under his heavy, reddish-gray eye brows. He is obviously either the old man ABEL MERRYWEATHER or else his ghost.)
Abel: What’s the matter with little Vicky?
(He sees Ben and Mrs. Jordan) Hello! What brings you here? How’s yourself, Ben?
(Abel thrusts his hand at Ben who skips back smartly and retreats with Mrs. Jordan to a safe distance below the sofa.)
Mrs. Slater: (approaching Abel gingerly)Father, is that you? (She pokes him with her hand to see if he is solid.)
Abel: Of course it’s me. Don’t do that, Melia. What the devil do you mean by this tomfoolery?
Mrs. Jordan: You took us by surprise, father. Are you keeping quite well?
Abel: (trying to catch the words) Eh? What?
Mrs. Jordan: Are you quite well?
Abel: Aye, I’m right enough but for a bit of a headache. (Looking at Melia) Melia, what the dickens did I do with my new slippers?
Mrs. Slater: (confused) Aren’t they by the hearth, father?
Abel: I don’t see them. (Observing Henry trying to remove the slippers) Why, you’ve got ‘em on, Henry
Mrs. Slater: (promptly) I told him to put them on to stretch them; they were that new and hard. Now, Henry.
(Mrs. Slater snatches the slippers from Henry and gives them to Abel, who puts them on and sits in armchair.)
Mrs. Jordan: (to Ben) Well, I don’t call that delicate, stepping into a dead man’s shoes in such haste.
(Victoria runs across to Abel and sits on the floor at his feet.)
Victoria: Oh, Grandpa, I’m so glad you’re not dead.
Mrs. Slater: (in a vindictive whisper) Hold your tongue, Victoria.
Abel: Eh? What’s that? Who’s gone dead?
Mrs. Slater: (loudly) Victoria says she’s sorry about your head.
Abel: Ah, thank you, Vicky, but I’m feeling better.
Abel: Why, Ben, you are in mourning! And Lizzie too. And Melia, and Henry and little Vicky! Who‘s gone dead? It’s someone in the family.
Mrs. Slater: No one you know, father. A relation of Ben’s.
Abel: And what relation of Ben’s?
Mrs. Slater: His brother.
Ben: (to Mrs. Slater) Damn it, I never had one.
Abel: Dear, dear. And what was his name, Ben?
Ben: (at a loss) Er-er. (He crosses to front of table.)
Mrs. Slater: (Right side of table, prompting) Frederick.
Mrs. Jordan: (Left side of table, prompting) Albert.
Ben: Er-Fred –Alb-Isaac
Abel: Isaac? And where did your brother Isaac die?
Ben: In-er-in Australia.
Abel (rising): Well, I suppose you’ve only been waiting for me to begin tea. I’m feeling hungry.
Mrs. Slater: (taking up the kettle) I’ll make tea.
Abel: Come along, now, sit you down and let’s be jolly.
(Abel sits at the head of the table, facing spectators.)
Abel: (suddenly recollecting) Ay, ‘Melia and Henry, what the devil did you mean by shifting my bureau out of my bedroom? (Henry and Mrs. Slater are speechless.) D’you hear me? Henry! Melia!’
Mrs. Jordan: What bureau was that, father?
Abel: Why, my bureau, the one I bought –
Mrs. Jordan: (pointing to the bureau) was it the one, father?
Abel: Ah, that’s it. What’s it doing there? Eh?
(A pause… The clock on the mantelpiece strikes six. Everyone looks at it.)
Drat me if that isn’t my clock, too. What the devil’s been going on in this house?
(A slight pause)
Ben: well, I’ll be hanged.
Mrs. Jordan: (rising) I’ll tell you what’s been going on in this house, father. Nothing short of robbery.
Mrs. Slater: Be quiet, Elizabeth. Mrs. Jordan : I’ll not be quiet. Oh, I call it double-faced.
Henry: Now, now, Elizabeth
Mrs. Jordan: And you, too. Are you such a poor creature that you must do every dirty thing she tells you?
Abel: (rising; thumping the table) Damn it all, will someone tell me what’s been going on?
Mrs. Jordan: Yes, I will. I’ll not see you robbed.
Abel: Who’s been robbing me?
Mrs. Jordan: Amelia and Henry. They’ve stolen your clock and bureau.
(Working herself up)
They sneaked into your room like thieves in the night and stole them after you were dead.
Henry and Mrs. Slater: Hush! Quiet, Elizabeth!
Mrs. Jordan: I’ll not be stopped. After you were dead, I say.
Abel: After who was dead?
Mrs. Jordan: You.
Abel: But I’m not dead.
Mrs. Jordan: No, but they thought you were.
(A pause... Abel gazes round at them.)
Abel: Oho! So that’s why you’re all in black to-day. You thought I was dead. (He chuckles.) That was a big mistake. (He sits and resumes his tea.)
Mrs. Slater: (sobbing) Father
Abel: It didn’t take you long to start dividing my things between you. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Since your mother died, I’ve lived part of the time with you, Amelia, and part with you, Lizzie. Well, I shall make a new will, leaving all my bits of things to whoever I’m living with when I die. How does that strike you?
Mrs. Jordan: You know, father, it’s quite time you came to live with us again. We’d make you very comfortable.
Mrs. Slater: No, he’s not been with us as long as he was with you.
Mrs. Jordan: I may be wrong, but I don’t think father will fancy living on with you after what’s happened today.
Abel: It seems to me that neither of you has any cause to feel proud about the way you’ve treated me.
Mrs. Slater: If I’ve done anything wrong, I’m sure I’m sorry for it.
Mrs. Jordan: And I can’t say more than that, too.
Abel: It’s a bit late to say it, now. Neither of you cared to put up with me.
Mrs. Slater and Mrs. Jordan: No, no, father.
Abel: Aye, you both say that because of what I’ve told you about leaving my money. Well, since you don’t want me I’ll go to someone that does.
Ben: Come, Mr. Merry weather, you’ve got to live with one of your daughters.
Abel: I’ll tell you what I’ve got to do. On Monday next I’ve got to do three things. I’ve got to go to the lawyer and alter my will; and I’ve got to go to the insurance office and pay my premium and I’ve got to go to St Philip’s Church and get married.
Ben and Henry: What!
Mrs. Jordan: Get married!
Mrs. Slater: He’s out of his senses. (General consternation)
Abel: I say I’m going to get married.
Mrs. Slater: Who to?
Abel: To Mrs. John Shorrocks who keeps the ‘Ring-o-Bells’. We’ve had it fixed up a good while now, but I was keeping it for a pleasant surprise. (He rises.) I felt I was a bit of a burden to you, so I found someone who’d think it a pleasure to look after me. We shall be very glad to see you at the ceremony. (He gets to the door.) Till Monday, then. Twelve o’ clock at St. Philip’s Church. (Opening the door) It’s a good thing you brought that bureau downstairs, Amelia. It’ll be handier to carry it across to the ‘Ring-o-Bells’ on Monday. (He goes out.)
THE CURTAIN FALLS……………….
BY WILLIAM STANLEY HOUGHTON
William Stanley Houghton (1881 - 1913) was a famous English dramatist. He was one of the best of a group of realistic playwrights often called the Manchester School. In every play he sought to present an idea. He had a remarkable gift for dialogue that is evident in 'The Dear Departed'. The Dear Departed was first produced in Manchester in 1908. Here Houghton satirizes the degradation of moral values in the British middle-class.