F. Anstey.

The Brass Bottle: A Farcical Fantastic Play in Four Acts



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[Suddenly the room is in complete darkness; there is a loud report and a spurt of flame from the bottle. Horace has fallen back on the floor, with the cap of the bottle in his hand. There is just light enough to see a tall weird figure standing with out-stretched arms behind the bottle.
Horace

[Sitting up and rubbing the back of his head; faintly.] Hullo! Is any one there? Who's that come in?

The Stranger

[In an attitude of supplication.] Towbah! Yah nebbi Ullah! Anna lah amill Kathahlik ibadan! Wullah-hi!

Horace

I daresay you're perfectly right, sir Ц but I've no idea what you're talking about.

The Stranger

[Repeating the Arabic sentence.] Towbah! (&c. &c.) Wullah-hi!

Horace

[About to raise himself, sees the figure for the first time, and falls back astonished; then, recovering himself.] I suppose you've just taken the rooms on the ground-floor Ц so you must be able to make yourself understood in English?

The Stranger

[The room has grown lighter, and he is seen to be in dull-green robes and a high-peaked turban. His long grey beard is divided into three thin strands; his eyes are slightly slanted, and his expression is a curious mixture of fatuous benignity, simplicity, and cunning.] Assuredly I can speak so as to be understood of all men.

Horace

Then it's as well to do it. What was it you said just now?

The Stranger

I said: "Repentance, O Prophet of Allah! I will not return to the like conduct ever!"

Horace

Oh, I beg your pardon. [Sitting up again.] Thought you were speaking to me. But I say Ц [looking up at him] Ц how do you come to be here?

The Stranger

Surely by thine own action!

Horace

I see. You ran up to see what was the matter. Fact is, my head's still rather buzzy. I fancy I must have hit it somehow when I was trying to open that jar.

The Stranger

Then it was thy hand and none other that removed the stopper?

Horace

I Ц I suppose so. All I know is that something went off with a bang. I can't imagine what could have been inside the beastly thing!

The Stranger

Who else but I myself?

Horace

[Slowly rising to his feet.] You must have your little joke, eh? [He reels against the table.] Or did I misunderstand you? My head's in such a muddle!

The Stranger

I tell thee that I have been confined within that accursed vessel for centuries beyond all calculation.

Horace

You can't pull my leg like that, you know! Seriously, just tell me who you are.

The Stranger

Know then that he who now addresseth thee is none other than Fakrash-el-Aamash, a Jinnee of the Green Jinn.

Horace

[Half to himself.] Singular, "Jinnee" Ц plural, "Jinn." Where did I hear that? I Ц I shall remember presently.

Fakrash

I dwelt in the Palace of the Mountain of the Clouds in the Garden of Irem, above the City of Babel.

Horace

[To himself.] Why, of course! Sylvia! The Arabian Nights! [To Fakrash.] I can quite account for you nowֆbut go on.

Fakrash

For a certain offence that I committed, the wrath of Suleym?n, the son of D?ood Ц on whom be peace!†Ц [he salaams] Ц was heavy against me, and he commanded that I should be enclosed within a bottle of brass, and thrown into the Sea of El-Karkar, there to abide the Day of Doom.

Horace

Don't think I'm believing in you.

[Walking round the front of the bottle, as if to test Fakrash by touching him.] I've sense enough to know you're not real!

[He withdraws his hand without venturing upon the experiment.
Fakrash

Stroke thy head and recover thy faculties! I am real, even as thou art.

[He touches Horace's shoulder; Horace recoils.
Horace

I shall come round in time! [By the table, to Fakrash.] You tell me you've just come out of this bottle?

Fakrash

Dost thou doubt that it is even as I have said?

Horace

Well, I should have thought myself you'd take a bigger size in bottles. But of course, I couldn't doubt you if I saw you get into it again.

Fakrash

That would be the easiest of actions! [He makes a sudden swooping movement, as though to re-enter the bottle, and then thinks better of it.] But I should indeed be a silly-bearded one to do this thing, since thou mightst be tempted to seal me up once more!

Horace
[Disappointed, and backing against table, half afraid.] Too knowing an old bird to be caught like that, aren't you? But I don't mind! You'll disappear presently.
Fakrash

True, O young man of perfect qualities and good works! But I will not leave thee before I have rewarded thy kindness. For in the sky it is written upon the pages of the air: "He who doeth kind actions shall experience the like!" Therefore Ц [with a lordly gesture] Ц demand of me what thou wilt, and thou shalt receive!

Horace

Oh, I shall be awake so soon it's not worth while troubling you.

Fakrash

Dismiss bashfulness from thee. [Advancing towards him.] For by thy hand hath my deliverance been accomplished, and if I were to serve thee for a thousand years, regarding nothing else, even thus could I not requite thee!

Horace

[Retreating in some alarm to window.] Look here. I don't want anything, and Ц and the best thing you can do is to vanish.

Fakrash

[At back of table.] Not till thou hast told me thy name and the trade that thou followest.

Horace

Oh, you'll go then? [Fakrash assents.] Well, I'll humour you. My name is Horace Ventimore, and I'm an architect. I get my living by building houses, you know. Or rather, I should, if I could only get hold of a client Ц which I can't.

Fakrash

[Coming down nearer bottle.] Grant thy servant a period of delay, and it may be that I can procure thee a client.

Horace

Good old Arabian Nights again! You'd better not make the delay long Ц my head will be clear very soon.

Fakrash

Greater rewards by far will I bestow upon thee, most meritorious of men! But now Ц [going up to right] Ц I must leave thee for a season.

Horace

I knew I was coming round Ц you'll be gone directly.

Fakrash

Aye, for I must seek out Suleym?n Ц [salaaming] Ц on whom be peace!†Ц and obtain pardon from him.

[He waves his arm, and the door at back flies open.
Horace

[Eagerly.] Yes Ц I would! You go and do that! Make haste! [The door closes, leaving Fakrash visible through it in an unearthly light.] Good-bye Ц and good luck!

Fakrash

[Through door.] To thee also! And be assured that I will not be unmindful of thy welfare!

[The door becomes solid as Fakrash vanishes.
Horace

[Rubbing his eyes.] What a queer dream! [He goes up to the door, opens it, then returns and sits by table.] So vivid! [He sees the brass bottle on the floor.] Open! [Looking inside it.] Empty! H'm, better get it out of the way.

[He takes the bottle in one hand and the cap in the other, and carries them into the bedroom on right. The moment he has gone there is a rush of wind, and then a heavy thud on the balcony outside, and Mr. Wackerbath, a stout, prosperous-looking, elderly gentleman, in tall hat, frock-coat, white waistcoat, &c., reels through the open window into the room, and sinks into the armchair on left of tablet where he sits puffing and blowing.
Mr. Wackerbath

[Feebly.] Where am I? How did I Ц ? [He takes off his hat.] Ah, of course! I remember now. [He rises as Horace enters from bedroom.] Mr.†Ц ah Ц Ventimore, I think? Mr. Horace Ventimore?

Horace

[Slightly surprised.] Yes, that's my name. [Offering chair on right of table.] Won't you sit down?

Mr. Wackerbath

Thank you Ц I will. [He sits down.] I Ц I ought to apologise for dropping in on you in this Ц ah Ц unceremonious way Ц but I acted, I may say Ц ah Ц on a sudden impulse.

Horace

I'm afraid I haven't much time to spare Ц but if it's anything of importance Ч

Mr. Wackerbath

[Panting.] You must give me a little time Ц till I Ц ah Ц get my wind again.

Horace

Certainly. I know the stairs here are rather steep.

Mr. Wackerbath

Are they? I don't remember noticing them. However! My name, Mr. Ventimore, is Wackerbath Ц Samuel Wackerbath, of Wackerbath and Greatrex, a firm of auctioneers and estate agents whose name may Ц ah Ц possibly be not unfamiliar to you.

Horace

[Who has obviously never heard it before.] Oh, of course Ц of course.

Mr. Wackerbath

I may tell you that for the last few years I have rented an old place Ц Moatham Abbey they call it Ц in Surrey, which is not quite as up-to-date as I could wish in the matter of modern conveniences.

Horace

That's not unusual with ancient abbeys, is it?

Mr. Wackerbath

[Solemnly.] Precisely. Well, to come to the point, I've lately acquired some land in the neighbourhood of Surrey and Hampshire, with a view to building a country residence. [Horace becomes more interested, and seats himself at table on Mr. Wackerbath's right.] You see, there's an excellent site Ц on a hill with a south aspect, just above the village of Lipsfield, and overlooking the valley and river Ч

Horace

[Making a note.] Well, Mr. Wackerbath Ц ?

Mr. Wackerbath

Well, as I was saying only a minute or two ago to a friend as we were crossing Westminster Bridge on our way to Waterloo Ц [He pauses, with an endeavour to recollect.] Where was I?

Horace

Waterloo.

Mr. Wackerbath

Ah, yes. I remarked to him: "All I require is a thoroughly capable architect." [Horace grows alert and excited.] And instantly your name flashed across my mind. So I Ц ah Ц hurried off at once, and Ц here I am!

Horace

[With a sudden misgiving.] May I ask Ц you Ц you weren't recommended to me by Ц by Ц [he looks round at the door through which Fakrash has vanished] Ц any one?

Mr. Wackerbath

[With dignity.] Certainly not! It was Ц ah Ц entirely my own idea. But why do you ask? [Huffily.] Is an introduction necessary?

Horace

[Relieved.] No, no Ц not in the least! I Ц I merely asked. I shall be very pleased to undertake the commission. Could you give me some idea of the amount you thought of spending on the house?

Mr. Wackerbath

Well, I don't think I could go to more than Ц say, sixty thousand pounds.

Horace

[Half rising in his surprise.] Sixty thousand! [He recollects himself and sits down in assumed calm.] Oh, not more than that? I see.

Mr. Wackerbath

For the house itself. But there'll be the out-buildings Ц and the decorations. Altogether, I sha'n't complain so long as the total doesn't exceed a hundred thousand. I take it that, for that sum, Mr. Ventimore, you could give me a country-house that I shall have no cause Ц ah Ц to feel ashamed of.

Horace

I can safely promise that. And now Ц when could I run down and have a look at the site, and go into the matter thoroughly?

Mr. Wackerbath

We must fix a day later. I'm rather in a hurry now; and besides, I must consult the wife. Perhaps you could give me an appointment here?

Horace

These are only my private rooms. I shall be at my office in Great College Street to-morrow, if you could look in then. [Giving him card.] Here's the address.

Mr. Wackerbath

Good! [He rises and moves towards window, while Horace rings bell by fireplace.] I'll look in on my way from Waterloo to the City. [He perceives that he is walking out on to a balcony, and turns.] How the devil did I come in? I'll be with you at eleven sharp.

[He goes towards the bedroom door on the right.
Horace

[At door to landing.] This way, Mr. Wackerbath.

Mr. Wackerbath

[Vaguely.] I thought I came that way. [As he goes up.] I can see already that you're the very man for me. [At door to landing.] Now I must be off, or I shall miss my train to Lipsfield. [As Horace offers to see him downstairs.] Don't trouble Ц I can find my way down. Eleven sharp to-morrow. Good evening.

[As he passes out Horace touches his back, as though half suspecting him to be another illusion. Mr. Wackerbath turns and shakes hands effusively, then goes out, and Horace closes door.
Horace

[To himself.] He's no dream, anyhow! [With exultation.] A client! A real client of my own! At last!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Enters from landing.] Did you ring for me, sir?†Ц or was it only to let the gentleman out?

[She comes down.

Horace

Oh, there is something I had to tell you. We shall be five at dinner, not four. You can manage all right, eh?

Mrs. Rapkin

[Comfortably.] Lor, yes, sir. That won't make no difference!

Horace

[In front of table.] By the way, Mrs. Rapkin, you haven't let your ground-floor yet, have you? To Ц to an Asiatic gentleman?

Mrs. Rapkin

Me, sir? Let to a Asiatic! No,†Ц nor wouldn't! Why, there was Rapkin's own sister-in-law let her droring-room floor to one. And Ц [darkly] Ц reason she 'ad to repent of it Ц for all his gold spectacles.

Horace

[Relieved.] Ah, I thought you hadn't. [Sits on table.] Well, about the waiting to-night? I suppose I can depend on Rapkin for that, eh? Where is he?

Mrs. Rapkin

Well, sir, not to deceive you, he ain't back yet from his Public Ц Libery as he calls it.

Horace

Oh, that's what he calls it, eh?

Mrs. Rapkin

Whatever he's took, sir, you may rely on him to 'and the dishes without 'aving no accidents.

[A noise is heard from the street below, which gradually resolves itself into an Oriental chant.
Horace

What's going on outside? [He goes to window, looks out, and then starts back uneasily.] I say. It's Ц it's devilish odd Ц but there seems to me to be a whole caravan of camels down there!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Crossing to window.] Camuels, sir?

Horace

Well, you look and see what you make of them!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Looking down over balcony.] Lor! They do look like camuels, sir Ц or somethink o' that. I expect they belong to the 'Ippodrome, or else a circus.

Horace

[Relieved.] I say, what a sensible woman you are! Of course! I never thought of that!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Still looking out, while the chant finishes with a few shouts, as though a halt were called.] They seem to be stopping outside the 'ouse. Them camuels have folded up, and all the niggers as is with them is a kneelin' down with their noses on the kerbstone!

Horace

[Uncomfortably.] They're only resting. Come away and don't take any notice. They'll move on presently.

Mrs. Rapkin

[Still at window.] But they're unpackin' the camuels now! And Ц well, if they ain't bringing everythink in 'ere!

[She retreats to behind the table.
Horace

Great Scott!

[He comes down to left of stage.
Mrs. Rapkin

They wouldn't be more things as you've been buying at that auction, sir, would they?

[The chant is heard now inside the house.
Horace

No, no. It's a mistake! It must be a mistake!

Mrs. Rapkin

Then I'd better go and tell them Ч

[She moves towards door to landing, but before she reaches it, it flies open mysteriously. A moment afterwards a tall, fierce Oriental in turban and robes appears in doorway and salaams. Mrs. Rapkin recoils with a cry. Then a train of black slaves enter, carrying large sacks, bales, and chests, which they deposit on the table and floor, till the room is completely blocked; their chief stands down on right, with his back to the audience, and directs them by gestures.
Horace

Look here! I say,†Ц you fellows! You've come to the wrong house!

[The slaves pay no attention to him.
Mrs. Rapkin

'Ere! my good men, what are you comin' in 'ere for, bringing all your dust into my apartments?

Horace

[Standing paralysed; to himself.] We can't both be dreaming!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Trying to remonstrate with slaves.] This rubbish don't belong 'ere! I can't 'ave the 'ole place littered up with it! You needn't act so ridic'lous if you are niggers! [To Horace.] It ain't no use my talking to 'em, sir. They're not like Christiansֆthey're deaf and dumb, seemingly! You try!

Horace

[Going to the Head Slave, who salaams as he approaches.] Can you understand if I ask a question? [The Head Slave salaams again.] Well, I Ц I know it seems a silly thing to ask Ц but Ц but you don't happen to be sent here by Ц by anybody with a name something like Fakrash? [The Head Slave implies by a gesture that this is so.] You have!.. Well, look here. I don't want 'em. I decline to take 'em in. You have all these things put on the camels again, and clear out! Do you see what I mean? [By this time the other slaves have gone; the Head Slave signifies in pantomime that the things are Horace's, salaams, and goes out, the door closing behind him mysteriously.] I don't believe that idiot understands now! They've gone off to fetch more!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Who has returned to window.] They've gone off altogether, sir. I can't see nothink now but a cloud of dust.

Horace

[Sinks into chair on right of table with his head buried in his hands.] The fools! The confounded fools!

Mrs. Rapkin

[Comes to table and looks for Horace in vain.] Sir! Sir! [Sees him over the bales, &c.] Sir! Where are you going to 'ave your dinner-party now?

Horace

[Forlornly.] Oh, I don't know Ц I don't know! Don't worry me now, Mrs. Rapkin! Go away! Can't you see I want to think Ц I want to think!

Mrs. Rapkin

[As she goes towards door at back.] Well, I must say and I do say that if this 'ad to 'appen, it couldn't have come more ill-convenient! [She goes out.

[As soon as she has gone Horace rises and comes to an antique-looking trunk on left; he opens it, and brings out an enormous emerald and ruby, each the size of a cocoa-nut; he looks at them for a moment in dismay, and drops them back with a groan. Then he crosses to a sack on the right, opens it, and brings out an immense diamond. While he is doing all this, Fakrash has risen from among the bales behind the table, and watches him with benign complacency.
Horace

[As he returns the diamond to the sack.] Oh! damn it all!

Fakrash

My son!

Horace

[Recoiling on sacks.] I'm not dreaming now! I'm awake! And yet Ц all that story of yours about your being shut up in a brass bottle? I did dream thatЦ†eh?

Fakrash

Nay, it is even as I told thee.

Horace

And it was you who sent me all these things?

Fakrash

A few trifling gifts by no means suited to thy dignity! Thou owest me no thanks.

Horace

I Ц I'd rather not owe you anything. I mean Ц I can't possibly accept any presents from you.

Fakrash

Nay, they are freely thine.

Horace

I don't want to be ungracious, but I must decline to be under any obligation whatever to a Ц well, to a perfect stranger like yourself.

Fakrash

Hast thou not placed me under the heaviest of obligations by delivering me from a bottle of brass? To escape out of a bottle is pleasant!

Horace

So I should imagine. But, you see, I'd no notion what I was doing or Ц well, it's done now, and if you really wish to show your gratitude for a very trifling service, I'll tell you how you can do it. [In a tone of earnest entreaty.] Take back all these gifts of yours, and let me alone!

Fakrash

[Beaming.] Truly I am amazed by thy modesty and magnanimity!

Horace

I'm not magnanimous Ц I'm devilish annoyed! [Exasperated.] Hang it all! Can't you understand that all these things are no earthly use to me? You might just as well have sent me so many white elephants!

Fakrash

As thou pleasest! To send thee elephants Ц yea, even in abundance Ц will be no difficult undertaking.

[He makes a movement as though about to summon them.
Horace

[Aghast.] Good Lord! Don't you go wasting white elephants on me! You take everything so literally! All I meant was that if these things were white elephants, instead of what they are, I couldn't be more embarrassed! Now do you see?

Fakrash

[Coming down to right.] Thou seemest to me to be despising riches beyond all price.

Horace

Exactly! Because they are beyond all price! Look at those sacks Ц bulging, simply bulging with diamonds and rubies and emeralds as big as ostrich eggs! Well, I can't wear 'em. They'd be too dressy! I can't sell 'em Ц no one could afford to buy a single one of 'em! And how am I to account for having them at all?

Fakrash

Thou canst surely say that they are presents to thee from Fakrash-el-Aamash, a Jinnee of the Green Jinn, in return for thy kindness in releasing him from a bottle of brass.

Horace

Oh, can I? I fancy I see myself giving that explanation! [More mildly.] No, Fakrash,†Ц you meant well Ц but the kindest thing you can do is to remove all this at once Ч

Fakrash

This is a thing that cannot be. For to bestow gifts and receive them back disgraceth the giver.

Horace

Not when the gifts are only in the way. [He nearly trips over a sack.] Just look at this room!

Fakrash

Verily it is but a miserable apartment for a person of thy distinction!

Horace

It's quite good enough for me when it isn't lumbered up like this. I'm expecting friends to dinner this evening, and how the deuce am I to entertain them comfortably unless you make it possible for me?

Fakrash

[Benevolently.] Have no uneasiness. I will see that thou art enabled to entertain thy guests as is fitting.

Horace

Good! [At window.] Then you'll send for that caravan of yours?

Fakrash

I hear and obey.

[He goes towards door at back and waves his hand. The door flies open. The chant is heard as before. A pause, after which the Head Slave enters and salaams. Then the train of black slaves pour in noiselessly, and proceed to carry out the chests, &c., and throw the bales out over the balcony.
Horace

[Encouraging them.] That's right! All those are to go. Put your back into it! [To some slaves who are throwing down bales from the balcony.] Do be careful! You nearly bowled a camel over that time! [The last slave has gone out with a sack from which an immense blue jewel has rolled; Horace picks it up and calls after him.] Hi! You've dropped a little sapphire thing! [The Head Slave takes the sapphire from him and salaams.] Sure you've got the lot? All right! Good day! [The Head Slave makes a final salaam and goes out, the door closing after him mysteriously; Horace approaches Fakrash.] It's awfully nice of you not to be offended, old fellow, and I'm just as much obliged as if I'd kept the things, you know.



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