Wild Geese : A Comedy in three Acts

by Bassett Kendall


Scene: The Hall at Churnford Hall, a country house within ten miles of Newhaven. There are staircases R & L leading up to a corridor. A fireplace down R with a sofa and armchairs round it. Down L against the wall is an upright piano, now closed. There is a curtained opening C leading down a few steps to the front door. Another entrance up R probably leads to a passage off which open the living rooms of the house. Another entrance up L leads to the garden through a French window. There is an air of comfort in the room – though it is not luxurious.

(As the curtain rises the front door bell rings. Nutter enters R. he is a smart looking manservant, whose age might be anything between 20 and 30. He goes through the curtain C and opens the front door. Re-enters almost immediately with the Colonel, a smart military man about 50 years of age.)

Col. This is Churnford Hall, I believe?

Nut. Yes, Sir.

Col. Is your master at home?

Nut. Not at present, Sir.

Col. When do you expect him back?

Nut. Some time this morning, I believe.

Col. (Consulting watch) I have an appointment with him at 12:30

Nut. Very good, Sir. What name, Sir?

Col. Colonel Joseph Collins. I shall probably be staying here for a few days.

Nut. Thank you, Sir. (Goes to door R.)

Col. By the way, what is your master’s name?

Nut. I’m afraid I don’t know, Sir.

Col. Don’t ...?

Nut. No, Sir. I am new here, Sir.

Col. But surely ...?

Nut. No, Sir. He said it was immaterial.

Col. Very unusual.

Nut. Very, Sir. But the wages are unusual too, Sir.

Col. I see. (Front door bell.)

Nurse. (Outside) Very well. Shall I leave my suitcase here?

Nut. (Outside) Certainly, Madam. (Nut. enters) Miss Josephine Collins.

(Enter Sister Collins, a hospital nurse. She is in mufti, well and quietly dressed. She is essentially a lady and has the assured manner common to nurses. Nutter carries two suitcases off R.)

Nurse. I suppose we may as well introduce ourselves. I am Sister Collins from Barts.

Col. My name is Collins too.

Nurse. I guessed as much.

Col. Colonel Collins of the 14th. Hussars.

Nurse. Another seeker after wealth.

Col. I came here in response to the paragraph in the Times.

Nurse. That’s what I mean.

Col. It was more for family reasons that I answered the advertisement

Nurse. Oh, I didn’t. I hope to get something out of it.

Col. But are women applicants allowed?

Nurse. I don’t see why not. (Takes cutting from bag.) There’s nothing in the notice to bar us. Listen: “Any persons answering to the name of Joe Collins are invited to call at Churnford Hall, near Newhaven, between the hours of 12 noon and 12.30. p.m. on Wednesday, September 18th., when they will hear something to their advantage. They are recommended to bring with them sufficient luggage for, a week’s visit in a comfortable country house.” It doesn’t say “any male persons.”

Col. But your name’s not Joe..

Nurse. Is yours?

Col. It’s Joseph.

Nurse. Well, mine’s Josephine. Just as good.

Col. In the regiment I’m always known as Joe Collins.

Nurse. And in the wards I’m always called Sister Joe.

Col. Then we seem to be all square. We must wait for the master of the house to settle the question.

Nurse. By the way, who is our unknown benefactor?

Col. I haven’t the slightest idea. The whole thing strikes me as being very odd. Even the butler doesn’t know his master’s name.

Nurse. It’s probably an elaborate hoax.

Col. Possibly. I hope it’s nothing worse.

Nurse. Why do you say that?

Col. I don’t know. I don’t altogether like the look of it.

(Front door bell.)

Nurse. Perhaps this is our host. (Enter Nutter R. Goes to door.)

(The others wait expectantly.) (Enter Nutter.)

Nut. Mr. Joseph Collins. (The Tramp enters.)

Col. Colonel.

Tramp. No, just plain Mr. I discarded my rank after the war.

Col. You’ve been in the army then?

Tramp. Yes. I joined up in 1916 when the Compulsory Service Bill was passed.

Col. And you got your commission?

Tramp. I believe the War Office were considering it at the time of the armistice. As a matter of fact, I was one of the unknown warriors. My merits were never properly recognised. When I was demobilised, I was still a private.

Col. There was many a hero in that position. Did you see service in France?

Tramp. No. Mostly in Portsmouth.

Nut. Have you any luggage, sir? (No one answers) Have you any, luggage, sir?

Tramp. Who? Me? No, I carry all my requirements in this. (’This’ is a bundle done up in a red handkerchief. The Tramp, in spite of his somewhat grandiloquent speech is a dreadfully seedy looking individual. Grey hair and ragged moustache, a battered bowler and boots with holes in them. He hasn’t shaved for several days.)

Nut. Thank you, sir. (Exit Nutter R.)

Col. So you were never in the trenches?

Tramp. No, I had to go to hospital the day before my draft went out.

Col. A curious coincidence. What was wrong with you?

Tramp. Shell shock. (Notices Nurse) Why bless me, if that isn’t Sister Joe. Now isn’t the world a small place? Don’t you remember me, Miss? I was in your ward Jumping Joseph, they used to call me.

Col. I shouldn’t have taken you for an athlete.

Tramp. No, it wasn’t me that jumped.

Nurse. The first thing the doctor ordered him was a bath.

Tramp. Yes, It’s curious what a fancy all small creatures seem to take to me.

Col. The fellow’s- quite impossible. (Col. draws away.)

Tramp. You never know what’s possible till you try. (Tramp spreads himself on sofa and lights clay pipe. There is a silence..) Well, here I am – Joe Collins: now perhaps you’ll explain what you want me for?

Col. I don’t want you at all.

Tramp. Oh, then it wasn’t you that put this (fumbles in pocket and finally finds cutting) notice in the paper?

Col. No.

Tramp. You’re not very affable, are you?

Col. I don’t wish to have any further conversation with you.

Tramp. Well, I dare say I shall get over that. Then it was you, Sister, was it? What do you want me for? Couldn’t bear the parting longer than twelve years, I suppose.

Nurse. We’ve both come on the same errand as you, Mr. Collins.

Tramp. In answer to the advertisement?

Nurse. That’s it.

Tramp. You don’t mean to say you’re a Collins too?

Nurse. Yes, my name’s Collins.

Tramp. I knew you were Joe, but I never suspected you of being a Collins. Looks like Fate, doesn’t it? And is old Starch-bags another Joe Collins?

Col. My name is Colonel Joseph Collins.

Tramp. Well, I don’t think you’re a credit to the family. (Front door bell.) I suppose this is yet another long lost cousin. (Enter Nutter: goes to door.)

Nut. Mr. Crisp. (Enter Crisp: he is a young solicitor, correctly but rather shabbily dressed. He wears horn spectacles and carries a dispatch case. His manner is a mixture of self assurance and awkwardness. Col. rises.)

Col. Cur host I presume.

Crisp. No, sir. I am only his legal representative. Nutter, are these the only visitors?

Nut. That’s right, sir. Miss Josephine Collins, Colonel Joseph Collins, Mr. Joseph Collins. (Crisp bows to each.)

Col. I am Colonel Collins.

Crisp. Yes, I had conjectured that, sir.

Col. Of the 14th. Hussars.

Crisp. Not the Colonel Collins?

Col. Well, I –

Crisp. I mean the one who got five years for forgery just after the war?

Col. Certainly not.

Crisp. No? Then it must have been another Colonel Collins.

Col. I have not come here to be insulted.

Crisp. Oh, but he was a remarkably clever fellow.

Tramp. I say, young man...

Crisp. Well, sir?

Tramp. Take my advice and don’t say too much to old poker-back. He has already taken an unwarrantable prejudice against me.

Crisp. Most extraordinary. (To Nurse) Miss Collins, I presume?

Nurse. Your deductive powers are wonderful.

Crisp. We weren’t expecting any ladies; you know.

Col. Ah! What did I tell you, Miss Collins?

Nurse. There’s nothing in the wording of the notice to preclude ladies.

Crisp. (Takes Times from dispatch case) No, no, I suppose not.

Nurse. But of course, if I’m de trop.

Crisp. Not at all, not at all. Please stay. I’m only surprised that there hasn’t been a greater response to our little paragraph. Only three Joe Collinses, and it’s already a quarter past 12.

(Front door bell.)

Nurse. If too many Joe Collinses turn up, there’ll be less chance for us.

(Enter Nutter R. to open door.)

Crisp. I only meant that the opportunity is rather an unusual one, and there must be more than three Joe Collinses in England.

Nut. Mr. Joseph Collins. (Enter the Civil Servant. He is a burly man of middle height with a small grizzled moustache. He carries a bowler. He is very uncommunicative.)

Crisp. Ah, I thought so. Come in, my dear sir, sit, and make yourself at home. Let me introduce you. Miss Josephine Collins, Colonel Joseph Collins, Mr Joseph Collins, Mr. Joseph Collins. (Civ. looks keenly at each.)

Nut. Shall I take your bag upstairs, sir?

Civ. Please.

Crisp. Come right in and make yourself at home, Mr. Collins.

Civ. Thanks.

Crisp. Sit down.

Civ. Thanks. (He sits stiffly on chair: bowler on his knees.)

Crisp. Smoke?

Civ. No, thanks.

Tramp. (Crosses to him.) I hope you won’t mind me giving you a word of friendly advice.

Civ. I haven’t asked for your advice.

Tramp. No, but you’ll be wise to take it. Be careful what you say to Old Stiffy – he’s very stuffy.

Civ. I see.

Tramp. Now I come to look at you, I feel sure I’ve seen you somewhere before.

Civ. I don’t think so.

Tramp. Well, I do think so. You weren’t in Princetown in ‘24, were you?

Civ. I was not.

Tramp. No, I thought you might have been. (Front door bell.) I was. Well, it must have been somewhere else: I ‘m sure I know your face. (Enter Nutter R. to door.)

Civ. Oh.

Tramp. Well, thank you for a very pleasant conversation.

Nut. Mr. Joe Collins. (There enters the singer, a full blooded Negro, very correctly dressed in morning coat, wash leather gloves etc. He speaks with a strong American accent.)

Negro. Well, I’ve come to answer the ad. which I saw in the London Times a week back: “Any persons answering to the name of Collins –”

Crisp. Quite so, sir. Yes. Well, we’re very glad to see you. Let me introduce you: Miss Josephine Collins, Colonel Joseph Collins, Mr. Joseph Collins, Mr. Joseph Collins, Mr. Joseph Collins.

Tramp. It’s getting quite like the House that Jack built.

Negro. Well, I’m very pleased to know you all. But you’ve made one small error, sir: I’m not Mr. Joseph Collins – I’m called plain Joe Collins.

Tramp. That’s hardly surprising.

Negro. I guess you’ve all heard of Joe Collins.

Tramp. Heard of nothing else today.

Negro. Waal, I’m Joe Collins.

Tramp. That’s not a very original remark in this company.

Negro. The Joe Collins.

Col. I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage, sir.

Negro. You’ve not heard of Joe Collins? You’re a scrap behind the times, I must say. Say, waiter –

Nut. Did you mean me, Sir.

Negro. That’s so. Have you got my grip there? (Nutter offers suitcase and exit.) Now, let me show you my programme for the Albert Hall on Oct. 21st. (Opens case.)

Nurse. Oh, the singer?

Negro. That’s right, ma’am – Joe Collins, the big noise in Negro spirituals and other darky songs. Here you are; you each have a copy. Don’t miss my show, mind. I beat Paul Robson to a frazzle. My volume is twice his.

Tramp. Well, he must be a big man.

Negro. I was not alluding to areas and volumes, sir. Shall I give you a selection from my repertoire? I see there’s a pianoforte over there.

Crisp. It’s very good of you, Mr. Collins. But just at the moment we have other business to do.

Negro. It’s not 25 past. I’ll sing you a couple to pass the time. (Opens piano and runs over keys.)

Col. Some other time; perhaps, sir.

Nurse. When we have time really to enjoy it.

(Front door bell.)

Negro. Just as you like. I’ll sing to you after dinner.

Tramp. (Rising and speaking confidentially to Civ.) Nobody’s going to take your photograph, Sphinx-face.

Civ. Why should they?

Tramp. Very unlikely they would. But you looked as if you were expecting it. (Resumes his seat.)

(Enter Nutter R to door.)

Negro. Say, I’ll just give you one now to whet your appetites. (Negro begins playing and has sung a few words when Nutter re-enters.)

Nut. Mrs. Collins. (Enter Mrs. Collins.)

Negro. (Slamming down piano.) I can’t sing if I’m interrupted.

Tramp. Now we know how to stop him.

(Mrs. Collins advances. She is a comfortable old body, about 55, full of gossip. She is dressed all in black.)

Crisp. Good morning, Mrs. Collins.

Mrs. C. Good morning, sir. Good morning, sirs. Good morning, ma’am. It’s a nice day, ma’am, isn’t?

Nurse. Beautiful.

Mrs. C. Yes ma’am. Thank you. I ‘ope I’m not late, sirs. You’ll excuse me taking of some of my things, sirs; my train was late in at the station, you see, and I ’ad to run for the bus. I’m all of a sweat: ’ot ain’t the word.

Col. No, Mrs. Collins, “’ot” is not the word.

Mrs. C. That’s what I said, sir – as I was saying to Collins yesterday, sir – or was it the day before?..

Crisp. I take it your Christian name is Joe or Josephine?

Mrs. C. Well, sir, my friends call me Joe, but my godfathers and godmothers christened me Josephine. It was Master Charley, poor dear, you know, sir, the poor Duke of Romsey, what was drownded the other day – ’e it was as first called me Joe when he got too old for Nanna, that was. I was ’is nurse, you know, ma’am.

Crisp. Then your name is Josephine Collins?

Mrs. C. That’s right, sir; Josephine Rosamund Collins.

Crisp. Née?

Mrs. C. Oh, get along, I’m not a horse.

Crisp. I beg your pardon?

Mrs. C. Why did you tell me to neigh?

Crisp. I mean, what was your name before you married?

Mrs. C. Then why didn’t you say so? My name was Josephine Rosamund Bloggs.

Crisp. Thank you.

Tramp. Morning, Joe.

Mrs. C. (recognising Tramp.) Why bless my soul if that isn’t Joe! (She sits on sofa.) Well, Joe, I am glad to see you. I ’aven’t seen you since before...

Tramp. My last holiday on Dartmoor? Don’t allude to it, Joe. It wasn’t an enjoyable visit.

Mrs. C. And what brings you ’ere, Joe?

Tramp. Same as brings you, I dare say, Joe.

Mrs. C. The thing in the papers?

Tramp. Your conjecture is correct, Joe. I happened to call at a house in Surrey last Tuesday and there received an unexpected gift of several slices of beef, foreign meat, by the way. These victuals was wrapped up in the outside sheet of the Times, and while I consumed my luncheon under the shade of a tree, with the little birds twittering above my head, Joe, I read the good news that somebody had recognise my merits at last and that I had been left a fortune.

Negro. Say, old guy, you seem very sure the money’s for you.

Tramp. My remarks were not addressed to you, Tar-barrel. You can go and talk to old Standfast.

Negro. (Joins Col. and Nurse.) My own idea is this. I guess one of my admirers just wants to make me independent for life and has put up this rather eccentric stunt to secure the money on me. I’m only sorry for all you other guys: I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

Col. Your self-confidence is wonderful, sir.

Negro. Waal, it’s only reasonable. I happen to be the only Joe Collins whose name is known to the public.

(Col. turns away to talk to Nurse. Negro talks to Crisp.)

Tramp. Well, now we’ve got rid of Little Black Sambo, we can continue our conversation, Joe. As I was saying, I read of my good fortune at my alfresco luncheon. Having nothing particular to do for some days, I turned my steps southwards towards Churnford Hall in the hope of meeting my unknown benefactor.

Mrs. C. And ’ere you are, Joe.

Tramp. Here I am, Joe, and here are you, and here is a host of ungodly Collinses gathered together to snatch away the inheritance of the innocent. “Where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” (Notices her black clothes.) But why this garb of woe, Joe? I hope my brother George has not passed away – or, in the words of the poet, kicked the bucket.

Mrs. C. Your brother George is alive and kicking, but not the bucket, Joe. I’m wearing my black for poor master Charlie – ’is Grace, I suppose I should say – though whether there’s any Graces up above, I’m sure I can’t say. The minister to our Chapel, ’e says there’s no Dukes and Duchesses up there, Joe, not but what the Dukes and Duchesses goes there, same as you and me might, but they just stops being Dukes and Duchesses and is ordinary folk like we. But howsomever it’s for poor master Charlie as I’m wearing my black: Joe, I can’t bear to think of the poor dear drownded and it costs such a lot in the washing of ’andkerchers, Joe, me not ’aving stopped crying since I read about ’im being drownded oh, I’ve been very low, Joe and ’im lying at the bottom of the river staring up with ’is glassy eyes through the water.

Tramp. Or staring with ’is eyes through the glassy water.

Mrs. C. Well, it comes to the same thing, don’t it, Joe? It did say in the papers as the poor lamb ’ad been murdered, Joe.

Col. Can’t anything be done to stop those people from talking?

Crisp. Well it’s two minutes to the half-hour. We ought to be getting to business. (Clears throat.) Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, we must proceed to the matter in hand. I’ll sit at this table: if you’ll draw up some chairs, you’ll be able to hear better. (They place chairs in rows before table.)

Tramp. I’m very comfortable where I am.

Crisp. Please yourself, Mr. Collins.

Tramp. And, between ourselves, I don’t want to get too near old Stick-in-the-mud and Uncle Remus.

Crisp. (Takes his place at the table.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s 29½ minutes past 12. In half a minute the entry will be closed.

(Front door bell.)

Tramp. More eagles. (Enter Nutter R. to door.)

Col. I lodge an objection, Mr. Crisp, on the ground that the newcomers are late.

Crisp. Still 10 seconds, Col. Collins. I set my watch my Big Ben this morning.

Nut. Mr. Josiah Collins, Mr. Josiah Collins, Mr. Josiah Collins

(Enter the Undertaker, with his son and father. In the directions they will be called Und., Son, and Grand. Und. is a small man, who speaks in a loud whisper, as if he were always engaged in his professional duties. His son is a tall morose man, who never smiles: he speaks in a loud gruff voice. The Grand. is a very old man about 85, very deaf and approaching second childhood. Und. and Son are dressed on black frock coats and top hats. Grand. wears a light check suit, loud tie and straw hat, which he forgets to take off. Und. tiptoes in ostentatiously as if he were late for Church; Son stumps in as if walking on hot bricks. Both take chairs in back row. Und. wipes forehead. Grand. is left near door, looking about foolishly.)

Und. (Rises.) On be’alf of myself, my son and my father, Mr. Chairman, I beg to tender our sincere apologies for disturbing this meeting, which I understand it must ’ave begun already. (Sits down. To Mrs. C.) Phew! Ain’t it ’ot. We missed the first bus up.

Crisp. You arrived exactly 4 seconds before time, sir.

Und. (Always rises as if addressing public meeting.) Well, isn’t that lucky, Joe?

Son. Grandfather’s got lost. ’Ere! Grandfather! Grandfather! (Und. Makes clucking noises and clacks his fingers.)

Crisp. Your name is Collins, I think?

Und. That’s right, sir, Josiah Collins.

Crisp. And this gentleman is your son?

Son. That’s right, sir, Josiah Collins,

Crisp. And the old gentleman’s your father?

Son. (Addresses Grand. very loudly.) Grandfather!

Crisp. (To Und.) Your Grandfather?

Und. No, sir, my father, sir, this young man’s grandfather. We generally call Father Grandfather. You see, though he’s my father, he’s Joey’s grandfather, so I’m father and he’s Grandfather.

Son. (Crossing to Grand.) Do come and sit down, Grandfather.

Grand. Eh?

Son. Sit down.

Grand. Oh. Very well, Joey. (Son returns to his place.)

Crisp. And the old man is also Josiah?

Son. That’s right, sir, Josiah Collins.

Crisp. (Rises from his chair and pushes it back a little. After a moment Grand. sits down in it and drops off to sleep.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, after a few preliminary enquiries, we can proceed to the business which has brought us all together. We’ll take the ladies first. (To Nurse) Miss Collins, what is your occupation?

Nurse. I’m a nurse at St. Bartholomew’s hospital.

Crisp. Mrs. Collins?

Mrs. C. Yes, sir?

Crisp. Your occupation, please?

Mrs. C. Well, sir, I can’t rightly say as ’ow I’ve got any occupation just at this exactly moment. You see, sir, when I married Collins – that’s George Collins, sir, brother to Joe Collins ’ere – ’e says to me “Joe,” says he, that being the name ’e calls me by, which it’s more a man’s name than a woman’s, in a manner of speaking –

Crisp. What was your occupation before marriage?

Mrs. C. I was just coming to that, sir. As I was saying, Collins says to me –

Crisp. I must ask you to answer my question, Mrs. Collins.

Mrs. C. Which I were just going to answer it, sir.

Crisp. Shortly, please.

Mrs. C. I were nurse to ’is late Grace, the Duke of Romsey, sir.

Crisp. Surely he was a bachelor.

Mrs. C. I nursed ’im, sir, since he were a week old – and a beautiful baby he were too, sir, weighing 8½ lbs. at ’is birth.

Crisp. Thank you, Mrs. Collins. The Duke’s weight has very little bearing on the subject. (Mrs C. continues in whispers to Und.) Colonel Collins?

Col. Lt-Colonel. Commanded the 14th. Hussars till 1926.

Crisp. Still on the active list?

Col. No, retired.

Tramp. Yes, you had practice for that in the war, didn’t you?

Crisp. (To Civ.) And you sir?

Civ. Civil servant.

Tramp. Darn’d uncivil, seems to me.

Crisp. (To Negro.) Mr. Joe Collins?

Negro. As I’ve told you, Sir, and as I’ll prove to you after dinner I’m a celebrated singer, I was the big thing out West last fall and when I came to New York in the winter with my programme of spirituals and coon songs, there were queues all down Broadway a couple of days before my recital –

Tramp. Put a cork in the ink pot.

Crisp. I’ll describe you as a Singer, then?

Negro. Waal – put the Singer.

Crisp. Mr. Joseph Collins – the one on the sofa?

Tramp. Gentleman. (Col. snorts.)

Crisp. Is that quite sufficient?

Tramp. I thought in official documents a gentleman was a person of no fixed occupation. I have no fixed occupation. I am a wanderer on the face of the earth.

Crisp. Shall I say “Tramp"?

Tramp. I prefer Gentleman.

Crisp. I’ll put “no occupation.” Mr. Josiah Collins? (To Und.)

Und. (Rises) Upholsterer and undertaker, sir. (Sits.)

Crisp. Mr. Josiah Collins junior?

Son. Upholsterer and undertaker, sir.

Und. (Rises) Collins, Collins and Collins, upholsterers and undertakers High St., Lymington. (Sits.)

Son. We are thinking of giving up the upholstery and sticking to funerals. We find them more profitable.

Und. (Rises.) Yes, Joey here is a go-ahead sort of chap. ’E sees where the business thrives.

Son. I’ve just ’ad this new card printed “Collins, Collins & Collins, undertakers, Lymington. Funerals for ’igh and low.” Very, ’appy to supply any of you ladies and gentlemen if you’re wanting anything in our line.

Nurse. I hope not at present, thanks.

Son. Still you might care to take one of our cards. You never know when it might come in useful. There you are “Collins, Collins & Collins.”

Und. (Rises) That’s Grandfather, me and Joey, you understand, ma’am. (Sits.) (Rises) Leastways it’s really Joey and me, (sits, rises) grandfather being a sort of sleeping partner in a manner of speaking. (Sits)

Son. Do stop jumping up and down, father. Makes you look like a confounded Jack-in-the-box. Where’s Grandfather got to?

Crisp. Very well. Now for the paragraph in the ’Times’ of Monday Sept. 9th. –May I read it to refresh your memories. (He sits down on Grand. who has occupied his chair. Grand. wakes up.)

Grand. Has there been a collision?

Und. There’s Grandfather trying to take the chair. (Son goes round to Grand.) Which I ’ope you’ll excuse Grandfather sir. ’E’s 85 and getting a little bit absent-minded.

Son. Come on, Grandfather, come and sit with me and Father. (He lugs Grand. round to back and gives him a chair just behind Negro.)

Crisp. (Sitting) To resume: “Any persons answering to the name of Joe Collins are invited to call at Churnford Hall near Newhaven between the hours of 12 noon and 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday Sept. 18th. when they will hear something to their advantage. They are recommended to bring with them sufficient luggage ...” and so on. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this pleasant business has been placed by my client in my hands – and all of you have come to hear something to your advantage.

Nurse. We’re hoping so.

Grand. (Who has been getting up continually to peer at Negro) Is it nigger minstrels or a missionary meeting, Joe?

Und. ’T, ’t, ’t, ’t.

Son. Sit down, Grandfather – and don’t talk so much.

Crisp. Now, my client’s instructions are rather unusual.

Col. Excuse me, sir, may we know the name of your client?

Crisp. One moment, please. I am instructed to request every person answering to the name of Joe Collins, who is in his house at 12.30 today, to remain here as my client’s guest for the period of an exact week; at the end of this time the sum of £100 will be paid in notes to every visitor and £1000 to the person who during these seven days renders my client the greatest service.

Tramp. A hundred pounds – let me see: a pint of beer costs 8d.

Mrs. C. Well I never. An ’undred pounds.

Crisp. There is only one minor condition. No one may leave the house during this period of seven days.

Tramp. Here I am and here I stay.

Grand. ’As that young chap begun talking yet?

Son. Do shut your mouth, grandfather.

Und. (Rising.) I beg pardon for interrupting,. Mr. Chairman, but Grandfather is a bit ’ard of ’earing, Could ’e sit up in the front row, do you think?

Nurse. (Loudly, rising and speaking to Grand.) Come and sit in my chair, Mr. Collins.

Grand. I’m pretty middling, thank you, mum, considering my age – that is when the rheumatiz don’t trouble me – it do get me so bad in the jints – and I’ll be 86 come Michaelmas.

Son. (Very loud) The lady’s giving you her chair.

Grand. Oh ay! I’ve still got a good bit of hair. (Son pushes Grand. into front row and plops him on to chair.)

Und. I ’ope you’ll excuse him, ma’am. ’E’s getting a bit feeble.

Grand. Is it musical chairs, Joey?

Son. You shan’t come to the next funeral, if you don’t keep quiet. (Son returns to back row.)

Crisp. Well, that’s all, ladies and gentlemen. I congratulate you all on your good fortune. (Begins packing papers into case.)

Son. May I ask one question, sir?

Crisp. As many as you like.

Son. What I don’t follow is what we are being paid for. –

Crisp. My client is anxious to have your company for a week. In return for this pleasure he is prepared to pay you, £100 to compensate you for any loss of business time – a mere quid pro quo.

Grand. Did he say he’d got a quid for Joe? (To Civ. who takes no notice.)

Tramp. There’s a snag somewhere.

Son. That’s what I think, sir. It isn’t sense and it isn’t business.

Grand. (Who has crept round to Und.) Did he say a quid for Joe?

Und. No, no, Grandfather.

Crisp. Of course, you can take it or leave it.

Tramp. I take it, snags or no snags.

Son. That’s all very well, but –

Grand. ’As the music started again?

Negro. What music’s that, sir? –

Grand. For the musical chairs.

Negro. I’ll give you all some music in half a tick.

(Grand. sits down.)

Und. You must forgive ’im, sir. ’E’s getting a bit childish.

Col. When are we going to meet our host, Mr. Crisp?

Crisp. My client has given me no instructions on that point.

Nurse. But who is he?

Crisp. I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.

Son. You mean you won’t answer, eh?

Crisp. I mean what I say, Mr. Collins. I can’t answer because I don’t know (sensation.)

Col. You have never seen your client?

Crisp. No, I received my instructions in writing.

Col. But his name? He must have signed the letter.

Crisp. He signed himself as Joe Collins. (Sensation.)

Son. But surely –

Crisp. That’s all I can tell you. (Crisp leaves the table. The rest rise and begin moving about.)

Grand. ’As the music started again? (He begins circling round the chairs in the manner of musical chairs, occasionally half sitting down. No one notices him.)

Negro. Waal, that 5000 dollars is as good as in my pocket.

Col. What service do you propose to render our host?

Tramp. Sit by the fireplace and pretend to be a coal-scuttle.

Negro. When I know who the guy is, I shall organise a sooper recital of my spirituals for his benefit.

Tramp. Then there’ll be a chance for anyone who cuts your throat.

Nurse. But how are we to find out when he’s coming?

Crisp. My own theory is that he is here already.

Und. Upstairs – or where, sir?

Crisp. I mean in this room.

Col. You think one of the present company is our benefactor?

Crisp. Why not? There are nine Joe Collinses here.

Tramp. Well, my chance has gone if it’s old Stickleback or the Tar-baby, so I shall be content with the Hundred.

Son. I say it’s all a confounded hoax! A week’s business wasted for nothing.

Und. And several Lymington people getting very near their end, Joe.

Grand. ’As the music stopped, Joey?

Und. Grandfather’s getting overexcited, too, Joe. There’ll-be ’is funeral if we’re not careful.

Son. Then the firm would only be Collins & Collins: wouldn’t sound so well as Collins, Collins & Collins.

Mrs. C. Praps it’s me.

Crisp. There’s nothing to say it’s a man rather than a woman. (They crowd round Mrs. C. being, pleasant to her. She goes off into a fit of giggles.) But my real idea is that it is someone in disguise.

(They look about. Then the Col. walks solemnly across to the tramp.)

Col. Well, Mr. Collins, as we are to be fellow guests for a week

Tramp. Say no more, brother Joseph. I accept your apology. But Sister Joe’ll tell you I’m not disguised.

Nurse. What about the old gentleman?

Col. That must be a disguise.

Mrs. C. Well, ’e don’t look real. do ’e poor old dear.

(Col., Nurse and Mrs. C. cross quickly to Grand. Mrs. C. and Nurse sit down.)

Grand. ’As the music stopped? (He sits down quickly.) You’re out, sir. (To Col.)

Und. ’We’ll ’ave such trouble with Grandfather after this.

Negro. Waal, I can’t figure it out which is the millionaire.

Nurse. (Pointing at Civ. who throughout this scene has been looking keenly about, writing occasional notes.) Do you think it’s (she gets up, so does Mrs. C.)

Col. I shouldn’t wonder. (They begin to move towards him. ) (Grandfather gets up.)

Son. For ’eaven’s sake, don’t excite Grandfather.

Negro. I guess I’ll just have to sing to the lot of you after dinner. (As he is going to sit on a chair, Grandfather forestalls him. Negro sits heavily on top of him. Son and Und. rush and pull Negro up.)

Grand. ’Ave I won?

All. Yes, Mr. Collins, you’ve won.

Grand. Not bad for 85, eh Joe?