F. Anstey.

The Brass Bottle: A Farcical Fantastic Play in Four Acts



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THE FIRST ACT

The scene represents Horace Ventimore's rooms in Vincent Square, Westminster.

The sitting-room is simply but artistically furnished and decorated. Walls with a lining-paper of a pleasant green, hung with coloured prints and etchings. Fireplace at back. Down left is a large open French window, opening on a balcony, with a view beyond of the open square and some large dull-red gasometers in the distance. Above the window is a small Sheraton bookcase. On the right of fireplace is a door leading to the landing and staircase. Down on the right, another door to Ventimore's bedroom. Above this door, a small Sheraton sideboard. Near the window on left is an armchair, and by it a table, with two smaller chairs. [N.B. ЧRight and Left mean the spectator's Right and Left throughout.]

The time is late afternoon in summer.

When the curtain rises there is no one in the room. A knock is heard at the door on right of fireplace. Then, after a pause, Mrs. Rapkin enters. She is a pleasant, neatly dressed, elderly woman, of the respectable landlady class. She wears a cooking-apron and her sleeves are turned up. She looks round the room, and turns to the door as Professor Futvoye appears.

Mrs. Rapkin

Mr. Ventimore don't seem to be in, after all, sir. Unless he's in his bedroom. [She comes down to the door on right, as Professor, Mrs., and Miss Futvoye enter from the other door. Professor Futvoye is elderly and crabbed; his wife, grey-haired and placid, bearing with him as with an elderly and rather troublesome child; Sylvia Futvoye, their daughter, is a pretty and attractive girl of about twenty. Mrs. Rapkin knocks at the bedroom door.] Mr. Ventimore! A gentleman and two ladies to see you. [She opens the door Ц then, to the Professor.] No, sir, he hasn't come in yet Ц but he won't be long now.

Professor Futvoye

[By the table.] Are you sure of that, ma'am?

Mrs. Rapkin

Well, sir, he said as how he'd be in early, to make sure as everythink was as it should be. [In a burst of confidence.] If you must know, he's expecting company to dinner this evening.

[Sylvia has moved to the window; Mrs. Futvoye stands by the table.
Professor Futvoye

[Placing his hat and stick on a small shelf on the left of fireplace, and standing by table.] I'm aware of that, ma'am. We happen to be the company Mr. Ventimore is expecting. Don't let us keep you from your cooking.

Mrs. Rapkin

[With another burst of confidence.] Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I 'ave a good deal on my 'ands just now.

[She goes out by door at back.
Sylvia

[After moving about and inspecting the pictures.] I rather like Horace's rooms.

Professor Futvoye

[Irritably.] I wish he'd manage to be in 'em! I fully expected he'd be back by this time.

Most annoying!

Mrs. Futvoye

[Resignedly.] I thought you were bringing us all this way for nothing! And when you must be quite exhausted enough as it is, after lecturing all the afternoon!

Professor Futvoye

I'm not in the least exhausted, Sophia; not in the least!

Mrs. Futvoye

Well, Anthony, if you're not, Sylvia and I are! [She sits in armchair by the window.] But why you couldn't wait till eight o'clock to know how Horace got on at that sale I can't think!

Professor Futvoye

He ought to have been back long ago! I can see no excuse for his dawdling like this. None whatever!

[He sits on right of table.
Sylvia

[Standing behind table.] Perhaps he went back to his office?

Professor Futvoye

[Tartly.] He's much more likely to have dropped into his club for a rubber of Bridge!

Sylvia

Don't you think you're rather ungrateful to grumble at poor Horace like this, after he's given up a whole day's work to oblige you?

Professor Futvoye

I was not aware, my dear, that he has, or ever had, a day's work to give up! Correct me if I am wrong Ц but I am under the impression that nobody has employed him as an architect yet.

Sylvia

That isn't Horace's fault!

Professor Futvoye

Possibly Ц but it doesn't make him more desirable as a future son-in-law.

Sylvia

Horace is sure to succeed as soon as he gets a chance. [Sitting on table and leaning over the Professor.] If you would only say a word for him to Godfather, he might be able to help him.

Professor Futvoye

Wackerbath? No, my dear, I couldn't bring myself to take such an advantage of our old friendship as that! I've no belief in Ventimore's succeeding in life. He may have ability Ц though I'm bound to say I see little evidence of it Ц but, depend upon it, he'll never make any money!

Sylvia

How can you tell?

Professor Futvoye

Because he can't even take care of the little he has! Look at the money he's throwing away on this totally unnecessary dinner to-night!

Sylvia

Oh! When it's just a quiet little dinner in his own rooms! If it had been the Carlton, now!

Professor Futvoye

He proposed to entertain us at the Carlton at first Ц but I stopped that. It all bears out what I say Ц that he has absolutely no sense of the value of Ч

Mrs. Futvoye

[Interposing calmly.] There, Anthony, that's enough! Horace is engaged to Sylvia Ц and the most sensible thing we can do is to make the best of it.

Professor Futvoye

[Rising and moving to the right.] I am making the best of it, Sophia! If Ventimore was like Spencer Pringle, now! Ч

Sylvia

He would never have been engaged to me!

Professor Futvoye

[To Sylvia.] Pringle, my dear, is a steady, hard-working young fellow. I've a real respect and liking for Pringle. And if I must have an architect for a son-in-law, he is the man I should have preferred!

Sylvia

Why, he hasn't been near us for weeks and weeks Ц and I hope he means to stay away altogether! I always thought him a conceited prig.

[Moving towards door at back.
Professor Futvoye

You may come to think differently, my dear. [Pulling out his watch.] Nearly half-past six! Tut-tut! All this time wasted! It's useless to wait any longer for Ventimore. We may just as well go!

[He goes to get his hat and stick.
Mrs. Futvoye

[Rising.] I knew how it would be!

Sylvia

[At door.] Wait! [Opens door and listens.] There's Horace coming upstairs! I'm sure it's his step!

Professor Futvoye

[Stops by table with relief.] At last! Now I shall know!

[Spencer Pringle enters. He is a smug, self-satisfied looking man of about thirty-five, smooth-shaven, except for small side-whiskers. He is in a light tweed suit, having just come up from the country.
Sylvia

[Repressing her disappointment.] Mr. Pringle!

Pringle

[In doorway.] Miss Sylvia! Mrs. Futvoye! [Shaking hands with the Professor.] Professor! Well! this is unexpected.

[Sylvia comes down to right.
Professor Futvoye

[Graciously.] Glad to see you, Pringle! You are quite a stranger. Indeed, my daughter was remarking, only a little while ago, that you hadn't been near us for weeks!

Sylvia

[In an indignant undertone.] Father!

[Mrs. Futvoye sits down again.
Pringle

[To Sylvia, flattered.] Delighted to think I've been missed! But my apparent Ц er Ц neglect has been quite unavoidable.

Sylvia

[Laughing.] So kind of you to relieve our minds, Mr. Pringle!

Pringle

[Solemnly.] I assure you it's the fact. I've been away constantly for the last two months, superintending work I'm doing in various parts of the country. [With importance.] Hardly a moment to call my own!

[Sylvia turns with the intention of sitting down; he places a chair for her.
Professor Futvoye

[Taking chair behind table.] A busy man like you, my dear Pringle, has no need to make excuses.

Pringle

[Fetching a chair for himself.] I really have been fearfully overworked. Not that I complain of that! [As he sits down between the Professor and Sylvia.] I'd no idea we should meet here, though. Is Ventimore a friend of yours?

Professor Futvoye

Oh, we know him, yes. As you do, it seems.

Pringle

I sublet a room in my offices to him. Rather a good arrangement for him, because he gets experience by looking after any little matters that I've no time to attend to.

Sylvia

[With suppressed resentment.] And isn't that rather a good arrangement for you?

Pringle

It works fairly well Ц as a rule. But when I returned from the country this afternoon I found he hadn't been near the office all day!

[He rises, takes Sylvia's parasol officiously, and places it in a corner, then returns.
Professor Futvoye

[To his wife, but speaking at Sylvia.] Not been near the office all day! I thought as much!

Sylvia

The reason why he wasn't able to help you, Mr. Pringle, is because he's been at an auction, bidding for things on father's account.

Professor Futvoye

I should have attended the sale myself but for an engagement to lecture at the Hieroglyphical on a recently inscribed cylinder.

Mrs. Futvoye

And Ц you'll hardly believe it, Mr. Pringle,†Ц but, the moment the lecture was over, he hurried us off here to find out what Mr. Ventimore had got for him! It's really too ridiculous! As if his study wasn't littered up quite enough already!

Professor Futvoye

Women, my dear Pringle, can't understand the feelings of a collector. It's not every day, I can tell you, that a collection of such importance comes into the market.

Pringle

I didn't know Ventimore was an expert in such things. I thought you could get brokers to bid for you.

Professor Futvoye

Of course Ц of course. But I don't trust brokers Ц they know too much! And, as I gave Ventimore my own catalogue, with a tick against the lots I want and the limit I'm prepared to go, noted on the margin, he can't make any mistake.

Pringle

I suppose not. That is, if he's accustomed to auctions.

Professor Futvoye

What do you mean?

Pringle

Only that if you aren't, there's always a liability to lose your head in the excitement, and go beyond the margin. But I daresay Ventimore wouldn't do that.

Professor Futvoye

If he has! [He rises excitedly.] And he might Ц he might! With his recklessness about money, it's the very thing he would do! Letting me in for prices I can't afford! [Passionately.] No wonder he is in no hurry to show himself Ц no wonder!

Mrs. Futvoye

[Rising and attempting to pacify him.] Now, Anthony, there's nothing to work yourself up into a state for, at present. Do for goodness' sake wait till you hear all about it!

Professor Futvoye

[Resentfully.] It seems I shall have to wait, Sophia Ц but I'm tired of waiting here. [He goes to get his hat and stick.] And evidently he doesn't intend to Ч

[Turns, as the door opens and Horace Ventimore comes in briskly. Horace is a pleasant-looking young man, with a cheery and rather boyish manner; he comes down and greets the Futvoyes without seeing Pringle for the moment; Sylvia has risen, delighted at his arrival.
Horace

I say! This is jolly! [Shaking hands.] Wish I'd known you were coming on here after the lecture. [Pringle rises, and waits stiffly for recognition.] Warm work, wasn't it, Professor, lecturing on an afternoon like this? Do sit down. [Looks at table.] Haven't they given you any tea?

Professor Futvoye

[Irritably.] No, no, no. We want no tea. It's too late for tea. We merely looked in on our way home to Ч

Horace

[Sees Pringle.] And Pringle, too! [Pats him on shoulder.] How are you, old fellow? You been at the lecture, too?

Pringle

[With implied rebuke.] No, I've only just come round Ц as you weren't at the office,†Ц to Ч

Horace

I've been engaged all day. Oh, by the bye, do you know Professor and Mrs. Ч

[Is about to introduce him.
Pringle

[Stiffly.] I am happy to say, my dear fellow, that I require no introduction. We are old friends.

Professor Futvoye

[Impatiently.] To come to the point, Ventimore, as we are rather pressed for time Ц about the sale? How did you get on, eh?

Horace

Oh, ah Ц the sale. [Producing catalogue from pocket.] Well, I did exactly as you told me.

Professor Futvoye

[Snatching catalogue from him.] Yes, yes. Let's go through it lot by lot. Lot 23, now. Did you get that?

Horace

No. Another fellow got that.

Professor Futvoye

[Annoyed.] Tssch! Well,†Ц so long as you secured Lot 35. [Reading from catalogue.] "Copper bowl, engraved round rim with verse from Hafiz," you know. Come, you didn't miss that?

[Sylvia is listening anxiously.
Horace

I did, though. It was snapped up by a sportsman in the very worst hat I ever saw in my life. He got it for sixteen guineas.

Professor Futvoye

[Disgusted.] What? A rare example of early Persian work like that going for only sixteen guineas! I'd willingly have paid double the money!

Horace

But your limit was seven pound ten, sir! And you warned me not to exceed it.

Professor Futvoye

You should have used your own judgment, sir! Well, well,†Ц which of the lots I marked did you get?

Horace

[Going to Sylvia, who is sympathetically distressed.] Couldn't get one of 'em. They all fetched record prices.

Professor Futvoye

[Violently.] Upon my soul!.. Pringle, you were right! I ought to have employed a broker! [To Horace.] So you've come back with absolutely nothing?

Horace

Well, no. I did manage to get one thing.

Sylvia

I knew you would!

Professor Futvoye

[To Horace.] You did? But I understood you to say just now Ц !

Horace

This was a little flutter on my own account. I thought I'd stick the sale out, do you see; and near the end there was an extra lot put up Ц it wasn't in the catalogue. [The Professor makes an exclamation of angry disgust.] Well, it was being passed round for us to look at Ц and nobody seemed to think much of it. But it struck me, somehow, it might be a dark horse, so I made a bid Ц and got it for only a sovereign!

Professor Futvoye

Pah!

Sylvia

But you haven't told us yet what it is.

Horace

Haven't I? Oh, well, it's a sort of metal jar. Brass, the auctioneer said it was.

Professor Futvoye

Tchah! Some modern bazaar trash!

Horace

It doesn't look modern. I left it downstairs to be cleaned. [Going to door right of fireplace.] I'll go and bring it up.

[He goes out.
Professor Futvoye

[Furious.] I've no patience with the fellow! Squandering his sovereigns like this on worthless rubbish!

Mrs. Futvoye

Don't be so fractious, Anthony! For all you can tell, he may have picked up a treasure.

Professor Futvoye

[Grimly.] He may, Sophia. On the other hand, he may not. Which, on the whole, is rather more probable.

[He retires up to the fireplace as Horace returns, carrying a large metal bottle with a long neck and bulbous body, encrusted with a thick greenish-white deposit. Pringle closes the door for him after he has entered.
Horace

[Bringing the bottle down to right of table.] Here it is! [The others Ц except the Professor, who remains aloof Ц gather round and examine it in dubious silence.] It's not much to look at.

Pringle

Very dusty! [Wipes his hand after touching the bottle.] And you gave a sovereign for this, Ventimore, eh? H'm! Dear me!

Sylvia

It may look better when it's had a good scrubbing.

Mrs. Futvoye

Scrubbing, my dear! It will have to be scraped first!

Horace

Yes Ц looks as if it had been dragged up from the bottom of the sea, doesn't it? I've an idea it may be worth something. I should like to have your opinion, Professor.

[He smiles uneasily.
Professor Futvoye

[After a glance at it.] My opinion is that you might just as well have flung your sovereign into the gutter!

Horace

I admit it was speculative Ц but it may turn out a winner. It's rather odd it should be so tightly sealed up.

Professor Futvoye

[With more interest.] Sealed up, is it? [Coming down and looking at it more carefully.] H'm Ц the form is certainly antique. It's wonderful what they can do in Birmingham!

Horace

I really think it may have something inside it. It's not so very heavy, and yet Ц [tapping it] Ц it doesn't sound quite as if it were empty.

Professor Futvoye

It might contain something. I think it most unlikely Ц but still, it might.

Sylvia

[Laughing.] You don't mean it might be like that jar the Fisherman found in "The Arabian Nights," with a Genius inside it?

Professor Futvoye

I did not mean anything so frivolous, my dear. And, if you must quote "The Arabian Nights," it's as well to remember in future that the more correct term is not "Genius," but "Jinnee." Singular, Jinnee Ц plural, Jinn.

Sylvia

I'll remember, dear. Singular, Jinn Ц plural, Jinnies.

Professor Futvoye

[Instructively.] A name applied by Arab mythology to a race of aerial beings, created of the flame of fire, but capable of assuming human form and exercising supernatural powers.

Sylvia

Oh, do let's open it now and see what is inside!

Professor Futvoye

Don't be childish, Sylvia, don't be childish! We've no time now for idle curiosity. If we're to dress and be back here by eight o'clock, we ought to start at once. [Mrs. Futvoye prepares to go and moves towards door.] Good-bye, then, Ventimore, for the present. [He gets his hat and stick.] It is not to be an elaborate entertainment, I trust? A simple ordinary little dinner is all I require.

Horace

[As he opens the door for Mrs. Futvoye.] I've tried to remember your tastes, Professor.

Professor Futvoye

I hope you have succeeded. Good-bye, Pringle. Very glad to have run across you again. Let us see more of you in future.

Pringle

[Going to the door with him.] You shall, Professor, you shall. [Following Professor and Mrs. Futvoye out to landing.] By the way, are you likely to be in next Ц ?

[Horace closes door, leaving Sylvia still looking at the bottle.
Sylvia

[Turning as he comes down to her.] I'm certain there must be something inside that jar. And if it's anything really interesting, father will be so frightfully pleased that he won't be disagreeable all the evening!

Horace

[Ruefully.] Ah, I'm afraid that's too much to look forward to.

Sylvia

[Touching his arm with a little gesture of sympathy.] You poor dear! You're not beginning to be nervous about your dinner, are you?

Horace

N Ц no. Not nervous exactly. Something might go wrong. Still, I hope there won't be much your father can find fault with.

Sylvia

I'm sure there won't! And if he does, why, we won't mind, will we? We shall be together, you know!

Horace

[Putting his arm round her.] That's what I've been thinking of all day!

[He kisses her as Pringle returns, unseen by them. His jaw drops as he sees them together.
Pringle

Coming forward.] Er Ц [Horace and Sylvia separate.] Miss Sylvia Ц the Professor asked me to tell you Ч

Sylvia

I was just coming. [Taking her parasol and moving to door, which Pringle has left open.] Good-bye, Mr. Pringle. [Stopping Horace and Pringle as they are about to see her down the stairs.] No, you mustn't come down, either of you. [To Horace, with an affectation of distance.] Good-bye Ц Mr. Ventimore.

[She goes out.
Pringle

[By the table.] I should like to ask you, Ventimore, have you known Miss Futvoye long?

Horace

[Still at door, looking after Sylvia.] A little over six weeks.

Pringle

And I have known her for as many years!

Horace

[Closing door, and coming towards him.] Have you, though? I noticed the Professor was uncommonly cordial to you. Look here, are you doing anything this evening?

Pringle

Er Ц no. That is, nothing particular. Why?

Horace

Because it would be friendly of you if you'd come and dine here. They're coming, you know.

Pringle

I know. [After a moment's hesitation.] Thanks, I don't mind if I do.

Horace

Capital! I'm sure if any one can keep the old man in a good humour, you can.

Pringle

[Sourly.] I see. You want me to engage him in conversation and leave you free to carry on your flirtation with Miss Futvoye unobserved?

Horace

Not quite that. There's nothing underhand about it. We're engaged, you know.

Pringle

Engaged! [After a pause.] And how long have you been that?

Horace

Only since the day before yesterday.

Pringle

[Blankly.] Oh! [He walks down to window.] I congratulate you; er Ц heartily, of course. [Looking out of window.] And Ц and when do you think of being married?

Horace

It's no use thinking of that, at present. Not till the Professor takes a rosier view of my prospects, at all events. But if, like a good fellow, you could put in a word for me, it would give me no end of a leg up!

Pringle

[Dully, with his face still averted.] You don't seem to realise what you're asking!

Horace

[Suddenly understanding, with compunction.] My dear chap! [He puts both his hands on Pringle's shoulders.] What a selfish brute I've been not to see! I am sorry!

Pringle

[Stiffly.] As a matter of fact, I'd quite made up my mind to propose to her Ц as soon as I'd got those country jobs off my mind. And now I find you've cut in before me!

Horace

Well, it's straight of you to tell me. I suppose you'd rather come and dine some other evening? If so Ч

Pringle

No. A promise is a promise. I'll come. Mind you, I don't pretend it won't be an effort Ц but I'll see what I can do for you.

Horace

[Gratefully.] You are a good chap, Pringle!†Ц one of the best! Though, really, after what you've told me, I hardly like Ч

Pringle

Not another word. Anything I can say on your behalf Ц without too wide a departure from strict accuracy Ц I'll say with pleasure. [Going up to door.] Eight o'clock's the hour, isn't it? All right. [He goes out.]

[Horace makes a movement towards the fireplace, as if to ring the bell. Then his eye is caught by the brass bottle, which is standing in the centre of the room. He stops, looks at his watch, and decides that he has time to open the bottle. He examines the cap on its neck, then goes to sideboard and takes from it a heavy paper-weight and a champagne-opener, returns to chair on right of table and sits, holding the bottle between his knees. Using the champagne-opener as a chisel, and the paper-weight as hammer, he proceeds to chip away the deposit round the cap, whistling an air from a musical comedy as he works.
Horace

[To himself.] I've loosened it. [He seizes the cap and tries to screw it off.] It's giving!



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