F. Anstey.

The Brass Bottle: A Farcical Fantastic Play in Four Acts



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Horace

As a matter of fact, he's been doing that for about three thousand years.

Fakrash

Sayest thou so? Then Ц [cunningly] Ц tell me. Doth there still remain any one of Suleym?n's seed that exerciseth his authority over them of the Jinn?

Horace

No. As soon as you've made things right for me, you can go off to your own country and settle down comfortably Ц there's no power on earth that can interfere with you.

Fakrash

Then Ц before I do thee any further service Ц bring hither the stopper wherewith my bottle was sealed.

Horace

[Uneasily.] The Ц the stopper? Oh, nonsense! You can't want that now! What for? As a souvenir?

Fakrash

Nay, but because in all likelihood it is engraven with the mighty seal of Suleym?n.

Horace

[Rising excitedly.] I say! Are you sure of that?

Fakrash

So it was customary with such vessels. And, bearing such a seal, I shall possess a mighty talisman. [Rising from his cushion.] Wherefore deliver it into my hands without delay, and I will reward thee by accomplishing all thy desires.

Horace

[In extreme embarrassment.] I Ц I'd be only too happy to oblige you Ц if I could. But Ц well, the fact is, I've just parted with it.

Fakrash

[Advancing on him in sudden fury.] Parted with it! With my seal! O thou of little sense! To whom? To whom, I say?

Horace

To the father of the lady I was engaged to. He's a learned man, you see, and I knew, if there was anything engraved on the seal, he'd be able to make it out.

Fakrash

[Striding up and down the hall, and brandishing his arms.] Perdition seize thee! For he will assuredly refuse to surrender such a talisman! Woe to me, for I am undone! Undone! Undone!

Horace

Don't talk rot! You aren't undone Ц and nobody wants to undo you! [Fakrash utters wild cries.] Don't go howling about like that Ц sit down again and be sensible.

Fakrash

[Halting opposite Horace, with a menacing gesture.] Take heed to thyself! For if thou dost not restore my seal immediately Ц !

Horace

[Facing him composedly.] It's no good trying to bully me, you know. I'm not afraid of you. You sit down and be civil, and promise to do exactly as I tell you Ц or I'm hanged if I help you to get your seal back.

Fakrash

[With sudden self-restraint.] My son, it was naught! Am I not thy servant? On the head and eye be all thy commands!

[He sits down on the cushion.
Horace

Ah, that's better! [He goes to the divan and gets himself a cushion, then sits facing Fakrash.] Now I'll tell you an idea that's just struck me Ц the Professor said himself that nothing would convince him but seeing you with his own eyes.

Well Ц why shouldn't you go to him?

Fakrash

[Eagerly.] Tell me where he hath his abode, and I will visit him this same instant.

[About to rise.
Horace

[Stopping him.] No, you don't! Just when he'll be turning in! You'll go about ten o'clock to-morrow morning, when he's had his breakfast Ц or you won't go at all!

Fakrash

Be it so! I will restrain my impatience until the morrow. But the place of his dwelling?

Horace

Wait a bit. I won't have him rattled. [Fakrash looks puzzled.] I mean, no popping up through the floor or down the chimney. You'll just walk quietly up to his front door, and ask to see him. Then you can explain who you are and what you want, and, if you're decently polite, I'm sure the Professor will give you back your property.

Fakrash

All these instructions will I observe.

Horace

But you can't go in that get-up, or you'll have a crowd of small boys at your heels. Couldn't you raise the sort of costume respectable elderly gentlemen go about in nowadays?

Fakrash

I hear and obey. To assume such garb as is worn by aged dwellers in this city will be the simplest affair possible!

Horace

All right, then. And you must go to No. 47 Cottesmore Gardens, Kensington, and ask whoever lets you in if you may see Professor Futvoye. Think you can remember all that?

Fakrash

[Rising.] Indelibly is it inscribed upon the tablet of memory. To-morrow, then, at the appointed hour, will I repair to the abode of this sage.

Horace

[Who has risen at the same time as Fakrash, and thrown the cushions back on the divan.] Good! And you'd better come on to me afterwards and let me know how you got on. Not hereֆat my office, Great College Street, Westminster. Got that down on your tablet?

Fakrash

It is done. And now, O young man of abundant talents and obliging disposition, I will take my leave of thee. [Going to centre of hall.] For I must seek my Palace in the Garden of Irem and repose myself until it be day. But Ц [turning] Ц ere I depart, tell me by what service I can reward thy kindness?

Horace

Well,†Ц if you really want to do me a good turn,†Ц you might change these halls again.

Fakrash

What? Are they insufficient for thy dignity?

Horace

No, no Ц they're much too grand! I Ц I want my old rooms back!

Fakrash

[Pained.] Of what avail is it to confer favours upon thee, since thou rejectest them every one!

Horace

[Approaching him, and speaking soothingly.] No, not every one. There was old Wackerbath Ц the client you sent me Ц I haven't rejected him. I'm going to build him a country-house.

Fakrash

Ha! And on what spot is this mansion to be erected?

Horace

Oh, he seems to have got an excellent site Ц on a hill near Lipsfield, between Hampshire and Surrey.

Fakrash

[Touching his own brow.] It is on the tablet! And have no anxiety,†Ц for the palace that will arise shall assuredly be the wonder of the universe!

Horace

Very kind of you to say so Ц when I haven't even begun to work at it yet. And now Ц about these halls? [Persuasively.] You will turn 'em back into my old rooms, won't you? You're such a deuced clever old Johnny Ц I mean, Jinnee!

Fakrash

Into the mean habitation in which I found thee? Far be this action from me!

Horace

[Impatiently.] Oh, I'm sick of arguing with you Ц I command you. On the head and on the eye!

Rapkin's Voice

[From the outer hall.] Mr. Ventimore! I want a word with you!

Horace

[To Fakrash, quickly.] You hear? That's my landlord,†Ц it's his house, not mine. Just you change it Ц quick Ц before he comes in!

Fakrash

[Standing in centre.] Since thou insisteth. And be of light heart, for by to-morrow all thine affairs will prosper exceedingly!

[He waves his hand; there is a sudden and complete darkness for a few seconds, with the sounds of rumbling and rushing wind as before. Above this the Rapkins' voices are heard.
Rapkin's Voice

Turned off the lights, 'as he? But I'll talk to 'im when I see 'im!

Mrs. Rapkin's Voice

Don't let go of my 'and, Rapkin! I know there's some o' them nasty niggers about!

Rapkin's Voice

'Im and his bloomin' niggers and Arabian 'alls! [Bawling.] Mr. Ventimore! You 'ear me!

[The stage has been growing gradually lighter, and Mr. and Mrs. Rapkin are seen standing together in the room in which the play opened.
Horace

[Appearing at bedroom door on right, in smoking suit, holding candle.] Perfectly. [Blandly.] Anything the matter, Rapkin?

Rapkin

[Looking round open-mouthed, and blinking in bewilderment.] Matter, sir? No, sir. Nothink, sir. Not now, sir!

Horace

[Sweetly.] Glad to hear it. You'll be all right in the morning. Hot water at the usual time, please. Good night!

[He goes into his bedroom, leaving the stage in darkness again as the curtain falls.
END OF THE SECOND ACT

THE THIRD ACT

SCENE I

The scene represents Horace's office in Great College Street.

It is a small room, panelled in dark oak. On the left is an old mantelpiece in white and yellow marble. Beyond the fireplace is a door communicating with Pringle's office. On the right is a recessed window, through which the top of an old grey wall with chevaux-de-frise and foliage above can be seen. At the back, on the right, is a door leading to the staircase. On the left of this door, an architect's cabinet, with narrow drawers for plans, &c. On the walls are plans and architectural drawings, a T-square or two, an office calendar, and sections of mouldings, sundry cards of tiling, ornamental fittings, &c., sent out by firms as advertisements to architects. On the right, by the window, is an architect's drawing-table, with a sheet of drawing-paper, tracing-paper, saucers of colour, and other usual requisites of an architect.

The time is 11.30 on the morning after the preceding acts.

As the curtain rises, the Westminster Clock-tower chimes the half-hour.

Horace is drawing at the table on right
Horace

[To himself, looking at watch.] Half-past eleven already!†Ц and I haven't heard from either of them yet! [With some anxiety.] Very odd! Can anything have Ц ? [There is a knock at the door on the left. Horace turns with a slight start as Pringle enters.] Oh, it's you, Pringle! [After a pause.] None the worse after last night, I hope?

Pringle

[Very solemnly.] I am feeling no ill-effects at present. [Coming to centre of room.] Can I have a few words with you?

Horace

[Going on designing.] Well, only a very few. We may be interrupted at any moment. I've appointments with two people this morning. Looks as if they'd both overslept themselves.

Pringle

[Gravely, as he plants himself with his back to the fireplace.] I shall not detain you long. I merely wish to explain my position. When I accepted your invitation last night, I did so with the loyal intention of resigning myself, as cheerfully as possible, to your engagement to Miss Futvoye Ч

Horace

[Wheeling his chair round so as to face him.] Instead of which you put a spoke in my wheel whenever you got the chance! Not behaving quite decently, was it?

Pringle

[Stiffly.] After last night, I cannot consider you as an authority on decency.

Horace

Don't rub it in, Pringle!

Pringle

As I was saying, I came prepared to leave the field to you Ц for I am not the sort of man to unsettle any girl's affections Ч

Horace

That's your modesty, Pringle! You don't realise how dangerous you are!

Pringle

[Ignoring this.] I was going to say Ц so long as she continues engaged to another. But if Miss Sylvia doesn't recognise yet that you are utterly unworthy of her, she very soon will. Then my chance will come Ц and I've every intention of taking it.

Horace

Sorry to discourage you, my dear Pringle Ц but your chance hasn't come yet, and it's not over likely to come at all.

[He turns to his work again.
Pringle

She'll never marry you without her father's consent Ц and if you'd heard him last night in the cab Ц !

Horace

[Easily.] I daresay. But he'll be very different this morning.

Pringle

[Who has come nearer to him.] Why, you're not trusting to that trumpery seal of yours to convince him?

Horace

No. I'm trusting to something Ц or rather somebody Ц [turning to him] Ц who will be more convincing than any seal.

Pringle

It will take a good deal to reconcile him, or any of them, to such an extremely Ц er Ц Oriental interior as you rejoice in.

Horace

The Oriental interior has gone, Pringle,†Ц vanished into space!

Pringle

Nonsense! How could solidly constructed halls like those vanish in a night?

Horace

I don't pretend to know howֆbut they have, and that's enough for me!

[He returns to his drawing.
Pringle

[Going back to fireplace.] And this client of yours Ц has he vanished, too?

Horace

Old Wackerbath? Oh, no; he's much too solid to vanish Ц he's only a trifle late!

Pringle

I shouldn't make too sure of him.

Horace

[Listening.] I fancy he's coming upstairs now. [Rises and goes to door at back, then stops with a sudden recollection.] Unless it's the other one!

Pringle

The other one? So you've two clients!

Horace

No, only one. The other Ц isn't a client. [Half to himself, as he comes down.] Awkward if they happened to meet! I never thought of that! [There is a loud knock at the door to staircase.] Well, here's one of 'em, anyhow! Come in! [Mr. Wackerbath opens the door, and stands on the threshold, breathing hard, and purple and speechless with rage. Horace goes towards him.] It is Mr. Wackerbath! How do you do? [Pleasantly.] I was beginning to be afraid Ц [He notices Mr. Wackerbath's expression.] Eh? Has anything happened?

Mr. Wackerbath

Happened, sir? Yes, something has happened! Which you'll be good enough to explain Ц if you can!

Horace

Oh? [Turning to Pringle.] Perhaps, Pringle, if you wouldn't mind Ц ?

Pringle

[Moving to the door on the left.] Oh, by all means!

Mr. Wackerbath

[To Pringle.] Stop, sir! Don't you run away! For all I know, you may have had a hand in this disgraceful business!

Pringle

[With dignity.] I occupy the adjoining office, sir, and I am in practice as an architect. But I have no business connection with Mr. Ventimore Ц none whatever.

[Offering to go.

Mr. Wackerbath

You will oblige me by staying. I should like your opinion Ц as an architect Ц on the way I've been treated.

[He puts down his hat on the cabinet by the door.
Pringle

Oh, if Mr. Ventimore has no objection Ч

Horace

Well Ц oh, stay if you think proper. [To Mr. Wackerbath, offering armchair on left of table.] Now, sir; if you'll sit down and compose yourself Ч

Mr. Wackerbath

I will not sit down, sir, and I find it difficult to compose myself. You know very well why!

Horace

I don't, indeed. Unless Ц unless you've discovered the Ц the means by which you were induced to come to me yesterday. But, after all, there's no great harm done.

Mr. Wackerbath

[Bursting with rage.] No great harm! You can stand there and tell me that!

Horace

[Calmly.] Certainly. If you prefer to go to some other architect, you're perfectly free to do so.

Mr. Wackerbath

[Frantically.] Free! Free!! When the damned house is built!

Horace and Pringle

[Together, each starting back.] Built?

Mr. Wackerbath

Built, sir, built! When my wife and I saw it on our way to the station this morning, we could hardly believe our eyes. But my coachman Ц who's not given to imagination Ц saw it as plain as we did. [Horace hears all this with stupefaction at first, and then with growing comprehension.] And, considering I only gave you the commission yesterday afternoon, I should like to know how the devil you managed to put up such a place in the time?

Pringle

My dear sir, as a professional man, let me assure you it would be impossible Ц quite impossible. It must have been due to some effect of mirage.

Mr. Wackerbath

Mirage, indeed! We got out of the carriage and climbed the slope and went all over the building! Are you going to tell me we've been all over a mirage?

Horace

[Half to himself.] Oh, the blithering old idiot!

Mr. Wackerbath

[Turning on him suddenly.] Are you addressing me, sir?

Horace

No, no; not you! Of course not. [With a groan.] I told him, like a fool, where the site was Ц and he's done the rest during the night!

[The door at the back flies open, and Fakrash appears. He is wearing a very tall hat with a wide flat brim, a frock-coat, baggy shepherd's plaid trousers fitting tightly over his ankles, and Oriental shoes.
Fakrash

Greeting to ye, O company!

[Mr. Wackerbath and Pringle turn in surprise.
Horace

[Sinking helplessly into his chair; half to himself.] It's with you, partner! [In an undertone to Fakrash.] Take off your hat!

[Fakrash removes his tall hat with both hands, and places it on the top of Mr. Wackerbath's hat. Mr. Wackerbath, annoyed, goes to cabinet and removes his own hat.
Fakrash

[To Mr. Wackerbath.] If I mistake not, thou art the wealthy merchant for whom this my son hath undertaken to erect a mansion?

Mr. Wackerbath

I am, sir. And you, I presume, are Mr. Ventimore, senior?

Horace

No, he isn't Ц he's no relation of mine!

Fakrash

[To Mr. Wackerbath, proudly.] Is he not an architect of divine skill, and hath he not built thee a palace that might cause even the gall of a Sultan to burst with envy?

Mr. Wackerbath

It very nearly made me burst, sir, I can tell you that!

Fakrash

I marvel not, for verily it is a lordly dwelling for such as thou.

Mr. Wackerbath

"Lordly!" You can call it what you like. I call it a tom-fool cross between the Brighton Pavilion and the Palm-house at Kew! No billiard-room Ц and not a sign of any drainage system! And you have the brass Ц the Ц the unblushing effrontery to expect me to accept it as a first-class country-house with every modern convenience!

Pringle

I must say that, in all my professional experience, I neverЧ

Horace

[Rising and approaching Mr. Wackerbath.] I'd better explain, Mr. Wackerbath. It seems that my old Ц er Ц friend here has, with the mistaken notion that he was helping me, built this palace for you himself. I haven't seen it Ц but, from what I know of his talents in that line, it can't be half a bad sort of place Ц in its way. And, anyhow, I shouldn't dream of making any charge under the circumstances. We make you a present of it Ц perhaps you didn't understand that? So, surely you will accept it in the Ц the spirit in which it was intended, what?

Mr. Wackerbath

Accept it! See the finest position in the neighbourhood occupied by a jerry-built Moorish nightmare? Be the laughing-stock of the whole county? They'd call it "Wackerbath's Folly"! I won't have it on my land a day longer than I can help! I'll go to law, sir, and compel you and your officious partner here to pull the thing down! I Ц I'll fight the case as long as I can stand!

Fakrash

[Who has been regarding him through this speech with glowering eyes.] "As long as thou canst stand"? That will be for no long period, O thou litigious one! [He points at him with his forefinger.] On all fours Ц [Mr. Wackerbath starts in speechless indignation, and bends slightly forward] Ц thankless dog that thou art, and crawl henceforth for the remainder of thy days!

Mr. Wackerbath

How dare you address me in that way, sir! How Ц [He suddenly drops forward on his hands.] I will not go down on all fours! Do you hear, sir? I will not!

Pringle

[Horrified.] But Ц Great Heavens, sir, you are on all fours!

Horace

[Seizing Fakrash's arm.] Now, Fakrash Ц just you stop this!

Fakrash

[Shaking Horace off.] Let me be! [To Mr. Wackerbath.] Begone, O contemptible of aspect! To thy kennel!

Mr. Wackerbath

[Almost whining, as he crawls distractedly about on all fours.] I can't! I won't! I can't cross Westminster Bridge like this! What will the officials think at Waterloo, where I've been known and respected for years? How am I to face my wife and family in Ц in my present position? I insist on getting up!

Pringle

Then, my dear sir, why don't you? Why humour him?

Mr. Wackerbath

Why, why? Because I can't help myself! Damn it, sir, do you suppose I'm doing this for my own amusement? [To Fakrash.] Here, turn off your will-power, or whatever it is, and let me up! Do let me up!

Horace

[In disgust.] I'll not have it, Fakrash! Let him up at once!

Fakrash

Far be this action from me! This son of a burnt dog hath dared to disdain a palace Ц therefore let his abode be in the dust for evermore!

Mr. Wackerbath

[Crawling to Horace.] You Ц you quite misunderstood me Ц I haven't a word to say against the palace. It's the very place I wanted! [Crawling up to Fakrash.] If Ц if you'll only let me up, I Ц I'll live in it Ц 'pon my honour I will!

Horace

[With authority, to Fakrash.] Let this unfortunate gentleman up, will you! I command you. Both on the head and eye!

Fakrash

[Sullenly, to Horace.] But for the magnitude of thy services Ц ! Be it as thou wilt. [He extends his arm over Mr. Wackerbath.] Rise! [Mr. Wackerbath rises and drops into chair by table, exhausted.] Depart, and show us the breadth of thy shoulders.

[Mr. Wackerbath gets up, puffing, and backs to the door.
Horace

[Going towards him with concern.] My dear sir, you must believe I've had no share in this! I Ц I really don't know how to apologise Ч

Mr. Wackerbath

[With his eyes on Fakrash.] Don't mention it, sir, pray don't mention it. I am perfectly satisfied Чperfectly!

Horace

You shall be, very soon. Fakrash, clear that palace away at once. Sharp, now!

Mr. Wackerbath

[Nervously, to Fakrash.] No, no, I couldn't think of troubling you. I Ц I couldn't wish for a more delightful residential mansion, I assure you!

Horace

[Coming to Fakrash.] I've told you to obliterate that palace, Fakrash. Am I to tell you twice?

Fakrash

Hath not this overfed father of dogs Ц [Mr. Wackerbath starts, but controls his resentment immediately] Ц expressed his satisfaction with it?

Horace

It won't do, Fakrash! Do as you're told Ц and be quick about it.

Fakrash

Verily such a palace would but be defiled by his presence Ц therefore let it be annihilated. [He stalks to the window, which flies open at a wave of his hand, after which he faces it and mutters an incantation.] Pfpht! [All start.] It is accomplished. Of the palace and all the splendours therein there remaineth not a trace!

Horace

[Going up to Mr. Wackerbath.] Mr. Wackerbath, you will find on your return that that is so. I've only to apologise once more for all the Ц er Ц inconvenience you've been put to.

Mr. Wackerbath

[Near the door.] Not at all Ц not at all, I assure you. [Turning to Fakrash.] I haven't quite caught your name, my dear sir, but you must allow me to thank you for the Ц ah Ц very handsome manner in which you have met me.

Fakrash

[With a menacing movement.] Begone, I say! [Mr. Wackerbath snatches his hat from cabinet.] Or thou mayst find thyself in some yet more unfortunate predicament.

Mr. Wackerbath

[At the door.] Quite so Ц quite so! Er Ц delightful weather, isn't it? [Opening door.] Good morning, gentlemen. [Fakrash makes another movement.] Good morning.



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