Till Death Do Us Part

A Play in Five Acts

by

Dolores Esteban


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY

Ophelia, Countess Mortimer, spouse of the deceased Count Henry Mortimer

Joanna, Ophelia’s maid

Earl Edward Lawrence, intimate friend of the deceased

Robert Anderson, private tutor, teaching the sons of Count Mortimer’s widowed sister-in-law, who live in the same house; same age as Earl Edward Lawrence

Police inspector Baker, in charge of the case

A maid, Christine, a servant

 

TIME AND PLACE

In the beginning of May 1820; country residence near Paris, France.

 

SYNOPSIS

On Thursday afternoon, 6th of May 1820, Count Henry Mortimer leaves the mansion to go for a boat trip. The small lake belongs to his estate. A few hours later, his body is found, floating on the water of the lake. Heavy rain is falling. Police is called and police soon rules out suicide or murder. A tragic accident then? The ongoing events give rise to doubt. There are four persons. And soon we get to know that there are four reasons for a murder. Ophelia, a young woman from Greece, has only recently married Count Mortimer. They got acquainted only a few weeks ago in Greece. Mortimer married her in Athens, Greece. They came to France as husband and wife. Ophelia, a marriage impostor and legacy hunter? Joanna, her maid, Ophelia's accomplice? Or is Joanna hiding a disastrous secret? Earl Edward Lawrence, just a special friend? What is it about the intimate relationship he had with Count Henry Mortimer? Robert Anderson, the private tutor; he’s a middle-class man in an aristocratic house, confronted with the members of the ruling class. Does he hold a grudge? What is Robert Anderson concealing? Suspicions, accusations, remorse, thoughts of regret and unexplainable actions make the situation complex. Revelations and confessions sharpen it. Eventually the case is solved by police inspector Baker.

 

 

Prologue

(Sunday. Three days after the accident. Ophelia alone in her bedroom, reading the lines of a letter)

Ophelia:

Dear Countess, you must consider it an affront that I ask to attend upon you only a few days after your husband died. I share your sorrow. Do believe me, dear Ophelia, I am deeply grieved. I was very close to Count Mortimer. I have known him for years. I write to you, dear Madam, with all due respect. A matter of urgency requires I talk to you privately soon.

(Ophelia crumples the letter and moves to the window.)

Ophelia:

What a beautiful day in May. Why does its beauty not touch me? Why is my heart so cold? Earl Lawrence. Impertinent and importunate. What a piece of impudence! What a lack of respect! Only two hours ago I received his letter. Now he is waiting for me downstairs in the parlour.

Ophelia (compressing her lips):

I better get over with it.

End of Prologue

 

Act I

(Ophelia and Earl Lawrence in the parlour. Earl Lawrence is sitting in a chair when Ophelia enters. Ophelia reaches out her gloved hand to him. Lawrence rises swiftly and hurries towards Ophelia. He greets her with a kiss on her hand.)

Earl Lawrence:

Dear Countess...

Ophelia (interrupting him):

What brings you here, Earl Lawrence? You certainly can imagine that I am in no mood for having tea with you.

Earl Lawrence (tensed, clearing his throat):

Why don’t we take a seat, dear Countess? I have known your husband for many years and I am deeply grieved.

Ophelia (pointing to a chair):

Just as you wish.

Earl Lawrence (eyeing Ophelia, turning to the audience, uttering his thoughts):

She groomed herself and put her make-up on. A cream-coloured silk dress. Earrings and a necklace with jewels. Does she want to go out? At least, I see, she does not wear mourning.

Earl Lawrence (to Ophelia):

Countess, I heard that police is still investigating. I do believe that it is merely a matter of form. Your husband died by drowning. Nobody believes he committed suicide. Henry, forgive me, your husband was sociable and he was in love with life.

Ophelia (straightening, folding her hands, her eyes and voice cold):

You are very unkind, Earl Lawrence.

(Lawrence, suppressing his anger, is about to respond. The door opens. Robert Anderson enters the room.)

Robert Anderson (in a low voice, embarrassed):

Forgive me. I just wanted to get my book on Greek literature. I…I did not want to intrude.

Ophelia (rising):

You are not intruding, Monsieur Anderson. Earl Lawrence was about to leave. Please be good enough to see him out. I want to withdraw to my room.

(Ophelia leaves the room. Anderson and Lawrence look at each other.)

Robert Anderson (reluctantly):

You desire to leave?

Earl Lawrence (in a dry voice):

What I do desire and what I am asked to do is not the same.

(Lawrence rises and moves towards Anderson.)

Earl Lawrence:

I wanted to offer my sympathies to the Countess. I wanted to offer my sincere condolences to her. But she needs no comfort and she needs no friendly company.

(Anderson lowers his eyes for a moment; takes a book from a table)

Earl Lawrence (curiously):

Plato?

Robert Anderson (in a low voice):

You do not miss a thing. Yes, I love to read Ancient Greek literature. By the way, I teach Ancient Greek.

Earl Lawrence:

I know, Monsieur Anderson. I saw you often. At table, for instance. I often dined with Count Mortimer. You might remember. I often dined in his house before he got married to the Greece woman.

(Anderson casts Lawrence a brief look.)

Earl Lawrence:

What a sad fate the Countess has to face. Only two weeks ago she came to France with her husband. When did they marry in Athens? Three or four weeks ago?

Robert Anderson:

They have known each other for quite some time.

Earl Lawrence (in a mocking voice):

Oh, you mean their marriage was just the result of long and intimate company? I remember they met when Henry, Count Mortimer, went to Greece. That was in March?

Robert Anderson (eyeing Lawrence):

Don’t you know? You were a close friend. Did he not inform you on his wedding plans?

Earl Lawrence (crossing the room, voice loud):

You are impertinent, Anderson. You think that you know a lot. But I tell you, you do not even know the basic facts.

Robert Anderson (turning the book in hands):

These are?

Earl Lawrence (haughty):

Nothing you need to know.

Robert Anderson (smiling):

Why do you mention it?

Earl Lawrence (with a frown):

Countess Ophelia does not seem to be grieved. She is dressed in bright colours. And I did not see pain in her eyes.

(Lawrence gives a laugh.)

Earl Lawrence (in a mocking voice):

Anderson, I dare say, Henry and the Countess, they did not know each other well. Perhaps they were disoriented by passion. The poor woman. She is young and she is a widow. And she made a fortune. She is Henry’s sole heir. She goes back to her country, wealthy and rich.

Robert Anderson (tensed):

You desired to leave, Earl Lawrence? I will see you out.

Earl Lawrence (laughing):

Don’t trouble yourself, Anderson. I find my way out.

(Lawrence und Anderson look at each other. Lawrence abruptly turns and leaves the room. Anderson stares at the closed door. He leans against it, closing his eyes. Lawrence and Ophelia briefly meet in the hallway. They just look at each other, Lawrence frowning and Ophelia compressing her lips. Ophelia turns away and Lawrence leaves the house, wiping his eyes with a trembling hand.)

End of Act I

 

Act II

Scene 1

(Sunday. Ophelia and Robert Anderson in the dining room. Lunch. Ophelia enters. Anderson is sitting at the table)

Ophelia (surprised):

Here, Monsieur Anderson? Don’t you spend the day with friends?

Robert Anderson (embarrassed):

I do not feel like it, Madame. I hope you do not mind me having lunch in the house?

Ophelia (smiling):

I do not, Monsieur Anderson. My sister-in-law and her sons went to Paris to see her mother. They want to bear her company. Henry’s mother is not doing well.

Robert Anderson (staring at the table):

I do understand this.

Ophelia:

His death was unexpected. The little children do not understand. Henry’s sister is grieved, but she maintains composure. She is a widow also. But you know, Monsieur Anderson, we are not familiar. That’s why she prefers her mother’s company.

Robert Anderson (looking to Ophelia):

A grievous loss, Madame.

(Robert Anderson eyes Ophelia. He turns to the audience, uttering his thoughts)

Robert Anderson:

She takes it calmly. She is composed. Cheerful almost. Is Lawrence right? Is Ophelia a cold-hearted woman? She came to France with Mortimer. They seemed to be in love. A banquet was hosted. The guests were bewildered. They whispered behind Mortimer’s back. Why did Mortimer, a nobleman, marry this plain girl from Greece? Passion and lust, they say; and the girls in the kitchen say that Countess Mortimer is with child.

(Ophelia smiles at Anderson. Anderson embarrassedly returns the smile. He speaks to the audience again.)

Robert Anderson:

I’m not so sure. Once I did believe in the power of love. I did believe that two lovers fall for each other at first sight. I read poems on love. And I wrote my own verses. But with the years I turned to look upon things in an unemotional way. Maybe Ophelia and Mortimer know the power of love. Perhaps his death has no meaning to her, because she feels she is united with him forever. Is this the reason why she does not wear mourning?

Ophelia (folding her napkin):

You are silent, Monsieur Anderson. What is troubling your mind?

Robert Anderson (in a low voice):

Count Mortimer’s tragic death. I can’t get it off my mind.

Ophelia:

You do not understand why I do not wear mourning. I do know what is whispered behind my back. You think wrong, Monsieur Anderson. It is not that simple.

Robert Anderson (rueful):

Forgive me, Madame.

(They finish lunch. Ophelia withdraws to her room. Anderson moves to the study room.)

End of Scene 1

 

Scene 2

(In Ophelia’s room. Ophelia is sitting at a dressing table. Her eyes meet Joanna’s eyes in the mirror. They look at each other for a few seconds.)

Joanna (combing Ophelia’s hair):

Isn’t it careless to show so openly your delight?

Ophelia (smiling):

You are right, Joanna. I will act more reluctantly. But am I not allowed to feel glad, now that I am free again? Fate is on my side.

Joanna (in a slightly mocking voice):

It is not yet over, Madame.

Ophelia:

Nobody will feel sad when I go back to my country.

Joanna:

No, Madame. But I doubt they want to see you take his money with you.

Ophelia (tilting her head and looking at her fingernails):

I read Henry’s last will, Joanna. He leaves his fortune to me. I am the sole heir. He had no time to change his last will. We only have to wait until police closes the case.

(Joanna stops combing Ophelia’s hair.)

Ophelia:

Why do you not carry on, Joanna?

Joanna:

A thought occurred to me. Can we be sure it was an accident? What if he committed suicide?

Ophelia (waves her hand):

Never. He died by drowning because he fell off the boat. He was not a good swimmer. He wanted to come to my room that night. In the morning he gave me a negligee. You know, he had a predilection for it. He finally found what he had been looking for so many years. Why should he commit suicide?

Joanna:

He fell off the boat. What if somebody lent a hand?

(Ophelia turns to Joanna abruptly, her voice husky; Joanna makes a step back)

Ophelia:

Why do you ask?

Joanna (factitious smile):

Just in case, Madame...Never mind!

(Ophelia and Joanna look at each other in silence, eyes cold, mood agitated)

End of Scene 2

 

Scene 3

(Robert Anderson in the study room, working. Mood agitated. Finally he takes his book, Plato, and starts reading. It’s getting dark. Anderson lights an oil lamp. There’s a knock on the window. Anderson is lost in thoughts and does not notice it. A knock again. Finally Anderson jumps and looks to the window. He rises and slowly moves to the window. There’s a voice outside. Anderson reluctantly opens the window a bit.)

Earl Lawrence (in a forceful voice):

At last! Thank goodness!

Robert Anderson:

You again. What do you want?

Earl Lawrence:

For goodness’ sake! Why do you take so long? Please open the window.

(Anderson glances around. Finally he opens the window. Lawrence climbs in. Anderson is about to speak up.)

Earl Lawrence:

Be quiet! Where is the Countess?

Robert Anderson (in a pressed voice):

She is in her room, I suppose. What do you want, Earl Lawrence? Why did you come this indecorous way?

Earl Lawrence:

I came here to speak again to the Countess. Unannounced. I saw the light in the window and I saw you inside, Anderson. That’s why I have changed my plan.

(Anderson makes a few steps back.)

Robert Anderson (haughty a bit):

I cannot imagine what it is you might want, Earl Lawrence.

Earl Lawrence (gives a laugh):

You can help me, Anderson. And you will.

(Earl Lawrence lazily sits down on Anderson’s desk, his eyes resting on Anderson. Anderson is getting nervous.)

Earl Lawrence:

Are you scared, Anderson? I almost think so. What are you afraid of?

Robert Anderson (enraged):

Stop it, Earl Lawrence. I am not frightened. You are. I sense you are. You cannot hide it.

(Lawrence rises and moves to Anderson. He stops right in front of him.)

Earl Lawrence:

My dear Anderson. Robert. You don’t mind? I mean, you do not object me calling you Robert? You always want to make me and others believe that we are strangers. But we are not, aren’t we, Robert?

Robert Anderson (clenching his fists):

What is it you want, Earl Lawrence?

Earl Lawrence (fixing his gaze on Anderson):

Let me explain it to you, Robert. Count Mortimer died by drowning. A tragic accident. No one doubts. But police must confirm it. In other words: Suicide must be ruled out.

(Lawrence is slowly walking up and down in the room.)

Earl Lawrence:

Of course, police will confirm it. But we must not be careless. See, Robert, police might want to ask further questions or maybe consult Count Mortimer’s documents. The police inspector wants to draw up a report. An accurate report. A good chance for promotion, don’t you think so, Robert?

(Lawrence and Anderson look at each other.)

Earl Lawrence:

So, Robert, forgive me, Monsieur Anderson. I do not object to a thorough investigation. They may consult any documents they want to consult. However, they need not consult documents that are not conducive to the investigation.

Robert Anderson:

What kind of documents?

Earl Lawrence:

See, Monsieur Anderson. Count Mortimer and I have known each other for a very long time. We were quite close. Good friends. I often was invited to his house. He was invited to mine. We often exchanged letters.

Robert Anderson (in a dismissive voice):

You want these letters, Earl Lawrence?

Earl Lawrence (in a sharp voice):

You understand, my dear Anderson. These letters are not meant to be read by the police or Countess Ophelia. Help me, Anderson. Look for the letters and give them to me.

Robert Anderson (smiling):

Why should I want to help you, Earl Lawrence?

(Lawrence lifts his hand and takes hold of Anderson under his chin. Anderson’s body stiffens. Earl Lawrence gives a grin.)

Earl Lawrence:

Because your name is mentioned in these letters. Not in all of them, of course. Goodness! I did not think of you all the time. But you might remember, Monsieur Anderson, that two years ago you went to Italy with me and Count Mortimer. We had a good time, hadn’t we? Count Mortimer and I referred to our stay in Italy in some of our letters.

(Lawrence makes a step back and goes back to the desk. He lazily sits down. Anderson casts Lawrence a disdainful look.)

Robert Anderson:

You think of nothing but yourself. How can I judge you speak the truth? This is an attempt to blackmail me.

Earl Lawrence (gives a brief laughter):

Why not, Anderson? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

(Anderson gazes at Lawrence. Finally Anderson moves to the window. He turns abruptly.)

Robert Anderson:

I will do what I can. Count Mortimer’s sister and her sons went to Paris. The Countess and her maid will be going to town tomorrow afternoon. I guess they do. They always go shopping on Monday afternoon. They usually return late. I will be looking for the letters. Come to the house at five o’clock. I will let you in.

Earl Lawrence (smiling):

Please get me right, Anderson. You said you read Ancient Greek literature. Things that were not frowned upon in Ancient Greece are illicit now.

Robert Anderson (in a low voice):

You misunderstand it, Earl Lawrence. Things weren’t any better then.

(Lawrence is crossing his arms in front of his chest.)

Earl Lawrence:

Your words raise my curiosity, Anderson. I also read Ancient Greek literature. Tell me, what do I misunderstand?

(Anderson is crossing the room. He stops. He looks to Lawrence.)

Robert Anderson:

You know very well, Lawrence. Any relationship between men performed a specific function: Good breeding, teaching and education.

Earl Lawrence (gives a grin and rises):

A perfect excuse. It would not work nowadays.

(Lawrence moves to the window and climbs out.)

Earl Lawrence (from the windowsill):

I will be there, Robert. At five o’clock.

End of Scene 3

End of Act II

 

Act III

Scene 1

(Monday. In the dining room. Lunch. Ophelia is sitting at the table. She is wearing a black dress. Robert Anderson enters the room. He is absentminded, his mind focused on the letters.)

Ophelia (smiling):

I have missed you, Monsieur Anderson.

(Anderson smiles absentmindedly, gazing at Ophelia’s black dress.)

Ophelia (smiling cheerfully):

You cannot hide your thoughts, my dear Monsieur Anderson. You are gazing at my black dress. Well, Monsieur Anderson, my husband died, and I wear mourning.

(Anderson eyes Ophelia, suspicion in his eyes. He turns to the audience, uttering his thoughts. A maid serves dessert while he speaks.)

Robert Anderson:

I don’t care for this woman. Think of me! I will commit a crime, a horrible breach of confidence. Thoroughly I will search Count Mortimer’s room and commit a theft. A theft to avoid an utter scandal. Never must these letters get out. My reputation would be damaged forever. I am Earl Lawrence’ accomplice. All this just because of my unfortunate journey to Italy together with the two noblemen. Why did I accept their invitation? I am a very weak man.

Ophelia (her voice cold):

You are lost in thoughts and you are so silent, Monsieur Anderson. Do not forget to eat your dessert.

(Anderson startles. Ophelia rises. She has already finished lunch. Anderson absentmindedly looks to the cake on his plate, wondering who served it and when. Ophelia gives a brief nod and leaves the room. Anderson slumps down.)

End of Scene 1

 

Scene 2

(Monday afternoon, three o’ clock. Ophelia and Joanna have left the house. Anderson is standing in front of the door of Count Mortimer’s room. He slowly opens the door and moves in. The room is tidied up. Anderson takes a deep breath. He starts to search the room: desk, drawers, chests and cabinets. Nothing. He looks to a clock on the desk. Past four o’clock. Anderson becomes anxious. He spots a box under the bed and slowly opens it. Empty. Anderson sits down on the bed in a state of agitation. He wipes his eyes and brushes back his hair.)

Robert Anderson (to the audience):

Where are these letters? Where did he put them? I have to search all the rooms of the house. Earl Lawrence, he has to wait. Why do I help him? Because he is a fine gentleman? Oh, don’t make me laugh. I remember our stay in Italy well. One evening we were celebrating and drinking. They started to act a play. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

(Anderson jumps.)

Robert Anderson (to the audience):

Romeo and Juliet. That’s it. Now I know where to look for the letters.

(Anderson hurries out of the room, down the stairs and into the library. He moves along the cabinets and shelves. With a trembling hand he takes a volume.)

Robert Anderson (to the audience):

I remember well. Lawrence knelt down in front of Count Mortimer. In a sweet voice he said ‘Romeo and Juliet. Our love shall be like theirs.’ Count Mortimer leaned in and placed a kiss on his lips. And Lawrence wrapped his arms around him.

(Anderson opens the book. Six letters drop to the floor. Anderson sits down at a table and reads the letters. There’s a knock on the door. Anderson jumps. He takes one of the letters and swiftly puts it into the pocket of his jacket. The door opens and a maid enters.)

The maid:

Monsieur Anderson, Earl Lawrence asks to see you.

Robert Anderson:

Christine, please see him in.

(Anderson rises and leans against a cabinet with the letters in his hand. Earl Lawrence steps in.)

Earl Lawrence:

Anderson, I am pleased to see you. I was afraid that you have gone out.

Robert Anderson (with a mocking smile):

I do not break an appointment.

Earl Lawrence:

Nor do I, dear Anderson. Here I am.

Robert Anderson (still smiling):

I make it short, Earl Lawrence. I have found your letters.

(Anderson shows the letters to Lawrence. Lawrence moves up to Anderson and takes the letters and opens them.)

Earl Lawrence:

Five letters only, Anderson?

Robert Anderson:

I had no time to search all the rooms. But I’m pretty sure these are all the letters Count Mortimer has kept.

Earl Lawrence (doubting):

I can hardly believe, Anderson.

Robert Anderson (with a mocking smile):

So many years of intimacy. And only five letters he kept. Your words were worth nothing to him.

Earl Lawrence (disdainful):

Be that as it may. Now nothing remains to defile his memory. Ashes to ashes. May he rest in peace. And may we live a quiet life.

(Anderson and Lawrence look at each other.)

Robert Anderson (haughty):

Bad taste, Earl Lawrence.

Earl Lawrence (smiling):

You always think you are so well up in things. You know nothing, Anderson. You have no clue. You have studied far too long. Life is a teacher. Do not forget. Have a nice day, Monsieur Anderson.

(Lawrence leaves the room. Anderson takes out the letter from his pocket. He opens it, smiling.)

End of Scene 2

 

Scene 3

(Monday evening, 6 o’clock. Dinner. In the dining room. Ophelia and Joanna are back. Anderson enters and spots Ophelia in a new and very elegant dress. Joanna leaves the room with parcels and bags in her hands. Anderson looks between them, his look indignant.)

Ophelia (smiling):

I do love your facial expressions, Monsieur Anderson. My husband died. Does this mean I have to wear sackcloth and ashes?

Robert Anderson:

Forgive me, Madame. It does not concern me.

(Anderson takes a knife, pondering. He turns to the audience, uttering his thoughts)

Robert Anderson (in a slightly angry voice):

Earl Lawrence is right. She is not grieved. She is happy he died; and she does not hide her delight. This woman made a fortune. I am not that lucky. Forever I am damned to teach spoilt brats.

(Anderson pauses.)

Robert Anderson (to the audience, in a slightly triumphing voice):

Thank goodness! I have this one letter. I have to think how I make the best of it.

(Ophelia eyes Anderson attentively. She turns to the audience, uttering her thoughts.)

Ophelia:

I feel he is up to mischief. He does not like me. But his mind is not focused on me. He is agitated. Soon will come to light what he is concealing from me. I have to keep calm. I must not make a mistake. In just a few days I will leave France and I will go back to my country.

End of Scene 3

End of Act III

 

Entr’acte

Scene 1

Joanna (with parcels and bags in her hands):

We are prepared. I do pray police will close the case. I did not object to come to France with Ophelia. She pleaded and begged. I am her friend. Never would I let her down. He is dead. Fortune smiled on us. We soon will part.

End of Scene 1

 

Scene 2

(In Earl Lawrence’s house. It’s way past midnight. It’s silent. Earl Lawrence has just burned the letters.)

Earl Lawrence (thoughtful, looking to the chimney fire):

I’m sure Anderson kept a letter or two. I will go and see him again. I must bribe him to silence.

(Lawrence sits down in a chair. He leans back and looks to the chimney fire for a while.)

Earl Lawrence (in a sad voice):

Our love shall never end. But if so, the end shall be a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. That’s what I wrote to him in my last letter.

(Earl Lawrence wipes his forehead)

Earl Lawrence (grieved): Henry, why did you not listen? Why did you marry this woman? Did you not know that I loved you to distraction? You did, Henry. You did. I told you: I love you till death do us part. Foregone and forever.

End of Scene 2

 

Scene 3

(Ophelia is sitting at her dressing table. She smiles at her face in the mirror.)

Ophelia (looking at the golden ring on her finger):

Isn’t this ring beautiful? What did we say? I remember…Till death do us part...

(Ophelia gives a laugh.)

Ophelia:

It did. I don’t need this ring any longer.

(She pulls the ring from her finger and flings it on the table.)

End of Scene 3

 

Scene 4

(Anderson in the study room. He takes a book and opens it.)

Robert Anderson:

I do love this poem. Alexander the Great praises his deceased lover and friend:

Beloved
Dear friend
At your grave
I stood and wept
 
Immortal gods only
Know eternal heights
The awful truth
I did not believe
 
Hephaestion
Beloved and friend
I dwell in the night
In the realm of shades
 
Come true
A solemn pledge
A vow of love
A lover’s oath
 
I will never leave you
I love you till death do us part

(Anderson closes his eyes, pressing the book against his chest.)

End of Scene 4

End of Entr’acte

 

Act IV

Scene 1

( Tuesday. Lunch. Dining room. Robert Anderson enters. Ophelia is sitting at the table. She greets Anderson with a nod.)

Ophelia:

Monsieur Anderson. You look pale. Are you feeling unwell? Or did you study too long?

Robert Anderson (with a faint smile):

I forgot about time yesterday. I had been reading until way past midnight.

Ophelia (amused):

Ancient Greek?

Robert Anderson (nodding):

I love the language. Ancient Greek is a dead language. But the ancient Greek world and their people are still alive in their stories and tales.

Ophelia (laughing):

Well, I am from Greece. We do appreciate the past. And we do appreciate the present. It is a pity you do not speak Modern Greek. We could talk in my language.

Robert Anderson (smiling faintly):

Your husband spoke ancient Greek as well as modern Greek. He was very gifted in languages.

(Ophelia gives a laugh. Anderson looks at her confused.)

Ophelia:

Forgive me, Monsieur Anderson. I was just thinking. My husband in fact had a liking for Greek. However, he preferred the modern way of it.

(Anderson swallows and flushes.)

Ophelia (amused):

What, Monsieur Anderson? Did my words leave you speechless?

(Anderson takes his napkin and gazes to the wall of the room. Ophelia looks at him amused.)

Ophelia (in a peaceable voice):

Modern languages are more useful in daily life, aren’t they?

(Anderson gives Ophelia a suspicious look. She does not react to it. Relieved he takes his knife.)

Ophelia (in a casual voice):

Police inspector Baker will come to see me this afternoon. I guess the case is closed. Please come to the library at three o’clock, Monsieur Anderson.

(Anderson gives a nod. Ophelia carries on talking cheerfully. Anderson listens with only half an ear. He turns his attention back to Ophelia when she mentions Ancient Greek again.)

Ophelia:

He often told me to read ‘Troy’. He liked the work. An Ancient Greek work. I said I do not speak Ancient Greek. So I am not able to read the book. My husband told me to read it in French. I speak French fluently. He said he had a French edition. He said Homer in French was second quality. But he advised me to read it nonetheless.

(Ophelia gives a laugh.)

Ophelia:

I have not yet read it. Should I? What do you think, Monsieur Anderson?

Robert Anderson (gives a bored nod):

Certainly, Madame. It is sophisticated and…

(Anderson abruptly stops and flushes. He takes his napkin and gives Ophelia a brief and nervous look.)

Ophelia (a little confused):

I’m very interested, Monsieur Anderson.

Robert Anderson (in a pressed voice):

I will give the volume to you after lunch, Madame. The book is in the study room. Only four or fives days ago I copied a paragraph for class.

(They finish lunch and go to the study room. Anderson looks around for a while.)

Robert Anderson (in a casual voice):

I cannot find it. I took it to my room, perhaps. May I give you the book after dinner, Madame?

(Ophelia gives a nod and retires to her room. Anderson leans against a cabinet, closing his eyes and breathing heavily.)

End of Scene 1

 

Scene 2

(Tuesday afternoon. Three o’ clock. Inspector Baker arrives. A maid sees him to the library. He studies the books in the shelves when Ophelia and Robert Anderson enter. Ophelia reaches out her hand to Baker. Bakes shakes it. Ophelia gives Anderson an amused glance. Anderson does not react.)

Ophelia:

Inspector Baker, it is nice meeting you. I do hope you have good news. May I introduce to you Monsieur Robert Anderson, my nephews’ tutor.

(Anderson and Baker greet each other with a nod.)

Inspector Baker:

Madame Mortimer, investigations are almost finished. I have a few questions I need answers to. Answers I need to close the case.

(Ophelia and Anderson look at Baker silently. Baker clears his throat.)

Inspector Baker:

Madame, do you wish Monsieur Anderson is present when I ask you the questions?

Ophelia (smiling):

I do. Monsieur Anderson has been living in the house for years. Certainly he is able to answer questions that might refer to the time before I came to France.

Ophelia (pointing to a table and chairs):

Please take a seat, Inspector.

(Baker, Anderson and Ophelia sit down. Baker coughs slightly. He opens a brief case and takes out a book. The book is bound in black leather and looks used. He puts it on the table. Ophelia leans forward a little. Anderson stares at the book. He looks tensed.)

Inspector Baker:

Madame Mortimer, Monsieur Anderson. Several persons told us that Count Mortimer often went for a boat trip in the afternoons. He usually went on his own. He went on his own that Thursday afternoon. He left the house at two o’clock. His body was found in the evening. His body was floating on the water.

(Ophelia and Anderson exchange a brief look.)

Inspector Baker:

Forgive me, Madame. My words sound hard. But I have to compile facts. The autopsy is not finished. An expert from Paris will do a second examination of the body this afternoon. But the first examination showed that Count Mortimer did not die by drowning. Count Mortimer died of a heart attack.

(Ophelia gazes at Baker. Anderson stares at the wall. Baker coughs slightly.)

Inspector Baker:

We suspect something dropped into the water. Count Mortimer leaned out of the boat to seize it, when a heart attack struck him down. He fell off the boat and into the lake. He was dead already when his body touched the water.

Ophelia (exasperated):

Assumptions, Inspector.

Inspector Baker:

There is evidence for it, Madame.

(Ophelia straightens. Anderson leans back, tensed.)

Ophelia:

This book?

Inspector Baker:

No, Madame. I come back to it soon. But first, indeed, let’s have a look at this book your husband took along. Did it belong to your husband?

(There’s a knock on the door. A maid enters and announces Earl Lawrence.)

Ophelia (in an angry voice):

Earl Lawrence? What does he want? He did not announce his visit.

The Maid (shyly):

He’ll take no refusal, Madame.

Inspector Baker:

Madame, I might come back later…

Ophelia (interrupting Baker):

Do stay, Inspector, please. I want this case closed. Earl Lawrence was a near friend. I do not mind him being present.

(Baker nods. Anderson keeps gazing at the book. Earl Lawrence enters and looks from one to the other in surprise. He walks up to Ophelia and places a kiss on her gloved hand.)

Earl Lawrence:

Madame, I did not mean intruding. The maid did not mention you have a visitor.

Ophelia (smiling):

Christine was probably feeling embarrassed. May I introduce you to Inspector Baker. He is investigating my husband’s accident. He has a few questions I need to answer. Please take a seat, Earl Lawrence.

(Lawrence sits down. Baker coughs slightly.)

Inspector Baker:

Madame, is this your husband’s book?

(Ophelia leans forward to read the title of the book.)

Ophelia (in a slightly trembling voice)

‘Troy’?

Inspector Baker:

A French edition.

(Lawrence leans forward and takes the book.)

Earl Lawrence:

It is Count Mortimer’s book. He was very fond of it. He often read to me from it. Where did you find it?

Inspector Baker:

We found it in the boat he took to go for a trip on the day he died.

Earl Lawrence:

He took the book along for reading, obviously.

(Lawrence looks at Ophelia who frowns at Anderson. Lawrence puts the book on the table and looks between Anderson and Ophelia, his look confused.)

Inspector Baker (slightly impatient):

Madame Mortimer, you confirm it is your husband’s book?

Ophelia (nodding):

It is his book, Inspector.

Inspector Baker:

It will be returned to you as soon as the case is closed. May I continue?

Ophelia:

Yes, please.

Inspector Baker:

I will show to you now the item that dropped into the water.

Earl Lawrence:

Something dropped into the water?

Inspector Baker (impatient):

I said so, yes.

(Baker places a piece of paper on the table. The paper is crumpled. Wet has blurred the writing.)

Inspector Baker:

A letter. It was floating on the water.

(Anderson looks to the window and loosens his silken scarf. Lawrence gazes at the piece of paper. Ophelia reaches out her hand.)

Ophelia:

May I read this letter?

Inspector Baker:

Wet blurred the writing, Madame. You may read it, certainly, since the words are addressed to you, doubtlessly.

(Ophelia takes the letter and starts to read.)

Ophelia:

It is hard to read. ‘Dear’. I cannot read the following lines. ‘True love can never end. Is there a death more tragic than Romeo and Juliet’s death?’

(Ophelia looks confused. She puts the letter back on the table.)

Ophelia:

I do not understand entirely. But you are certainly right, Inspector. A very private letter. I want to keep it in memory of my deceased husband.

(Anderson gives Lawrence a triumphing look. Lawrence clenches his fingers. He leans back and looks to the wall, suppressing his emotions. Baker slightly coughs.)

Inspector Baker:

Madame Mortimer, I will return the items to you as soon as possible. I expect the final autopsy report this evening. I will write my report tomorrow. Your husband’s body is in the cooling chamber of the police station. Please arrange the transfer to the mortuary.

(Ophelia looks at Baker with widened eyes. Baker regrets his hard words. He takes the letter and the book from the table. He opens the book.)

Inspector Baker (in a softer voice):

Madame, forgive my hard words. I have to compile facts. But I do understand your grief. Look at this page of the book. Your husband wrote some lines that might sooth your grieving heart. May I read them to you?

(Ophelia nods. Lawrence and Anderson gaze at Baker in almost disbelief. Baker reads aloud.)

Inspector Baker:

Come true
A solemn pledge
A vow of love
A lover’s oath
 
I will never leave you, my love
Death cannot do us part

(Ophelia takes her handkerchief and covers her eyes. Anderson’s eyelids flicker. His hands are trembling. Lawrence looks to Anderson. He notices Anderson’s agitated mood. In sudden understanding he lowers his eyes.)

Inspector Baker (rising):

My deepest condolences, Madame.

(Ophelia rings a bell. A maid sees Baker out. Embarrassed silence. Finally Ophelia turns to Robert Anderson.)

Ophelia:

’Troy’. Did you not say the book was in your room, Monsieur Anderson?

Robert Anderson (with an awkward smile):

I thought so, Madame. Count Mortimer must have taken if from the study room.

Ophelia:

You said you copied a paragraph only four or five days ago.

Robert Anderson (in a slightly trembling voice):

I was mistaken. I must have copied the paragraph at an earlier date.

Ophelia (angry, rising from her chair):

So you say. Please excuse myself. I want to withdraw to my room. Please see Earl Lawrence out, Monsieur Anderson.

(Ophelia leaves the room.)

End of Scene 2

 

Scene 3

(In the library. Earl Lawrence rises and slowly crosses the room. He leans against a shelf.)

Earl Lawrence:

That was close, Anderson, wasn’t it? She wants to take advantage of his death. But she is not a fool. She caught you in a lie.

Robert Anderson (in an angry voice):

Stop it, Lawrence. Do you really think she did not find out about your intimate relationship with Mortimer?

Earl Lawrence:

I don’t care, Anderson. And she doesn’t care. When Henry’s last will is opened, she will be leaving France. Over the hills and far away. That’s her plan.

(Anderson rises and sits down on the edge of the table.)

Robert Anderson:

What do you mean? Do you mean she killed him? Did she go with him for the boat trip? Did she cause his heart attack, throw his body into the lake, swim back and go back into the house, her clothes drenched? This would have barely gone unnoticed.

Earl Lawrence (with a grin):

We have the same thoughts, at least, Anderson. Perhaps she acted in a more clever way.

(Anderson moves to the window. He looks to Lawrence, studying his face.)

Robert Anderson:

You only want to divert suspicion from yourself.

(Lawrence narrows his eyes. For a few moments they frown at each other.)

Earl Lawrence:

You are not serious, are you, Anderson?

Robert Anderson:

‘True love can never end. Is there a death more tragic than Romeo and Juliet’s death?’

(Anderson gives a mocking laugh.)

Robert Anderson:

A perfect staging came to your mind. You…

(Lawrence makes a few steps towards Anderson and seizes his silken scarf.)

Earl Lawrence:

What a bold statement, Anderson. Just shut your mouth!

(Lawrence turns away and starts crossing the room. Anderson is watching him.)

Earl Lawrence (in a shaken mood):

Yes, my world shattered when I knew he had married. He, who was never interested in women, married a woman he had only known for a few weeks. I could have understood if he had married a noble woman to keep up appearances. But why this plain girl, this woman from Greece? I did some research, Anderson. Ophelia Theophanis. One brother, three sisters. Her father is a merchant. He is not wealthy. His modest fortune will go to the son. A dowry to each of the daughters. Not enough for Ophelia Theophanis. What a cast of fortune she met Henry. I don’t know how she did it. But he got caught in her clutches.

(Lawrence abruptly turns to Anderson.)

Robert Anderson:

You only blame the countess, Lawrence. The marriage was Mortimer’s decision also. Why don’t you acknowledge to yourself that Mortimer never cared for you the way you cared for him.

(Lawrence’ body is trembling. He suppresses a sob. He presses his flushed face against a window pane. Anderson is watching him. Finally Anderson turns to the audience, uttering his thoughts.)

Robert Anderson:

I can appreciate his feelings for Mortimer. So many years he courted him. He gave him whatever Mortimer wanted. But Mortimer was not an affectionate man. And he never returned true affection. I doubt he knew the meaning of the word. He was a charmer and people fell for him.

(Anderson glances to Lawrence, then turns back to the audience.)

Robert Anderson:

I remember the evenings with Mortimer by the chimney fire. We talked. We read ‘Troy’. I liked his company. I felt happy when he smiled at me. The following morning the previous evening was gone. And gone was Mortimer’s smile. Mortimer’s look in the morning made me believe the previous evening had been nothing but a dream.

(Anderson closes his eyes for a moment. Lawrence turns round and looks to Anderson. Anderson doesn’t notice.)

Robert Anderson:

I remember that evening in Italy when we were celebrating together. Soon after he had declared his love to Mortimer, Lawrence went to bed, drunken. Mortimer and I stayed in the parlour of our holiday home. We started talking. Finally we stepped out onto the terrace. Mortimer wrapped his arm around me. I just let it happen. The following morning I awoke in his chamber. I awoke in his bed. He had already left the room. In a dreamy mood I went downstairs. My happy dream turned into an awful nightmare.

(Anderson takes a deep breath before he continues.)

Robert Anderson:

Lawrence was sitting at the table, crying. Mortimer was standing in front of him, laughing and boasting of his love adventure with the passionate tutor. From the staircase I listened. Every detail he revealed until Lawrence broke down. The same day Lawrence left. Three days later Mortimer and I parted. Mortimer was cheerful. But my heart was cold.

(Anderson is gazing into the room absentmindedly.)

Robert Anderson:

I cannot explain why I did not quit. I stayed in Mortimer’s house as his nephews’ tutor. I cherished the evenings by the chimney fire when he made me feel that my happy dream would not turn into a nightmare again.

(Anderson turns to the window and looks outside. Earl Lawrence walks up to him and softly places his hand on his shoulder.)

Earl Lawrence:

You tried with Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. I tried with Romeo and Juliet. Neither did attract his attention. You are absolutely right, Anderson. He never cared for me the way I cared for him. It is my fault only that I cannot get over it.

(Anderson keeps looking out of the window silently.)

Earl Lawrence:

Let’s go to your room, Robert. Or are you afraid it might end the way it did in Italy?

Robert Anderson (in a silent voice):

I am just a tutor, Earl Lawrence. What is your motive?

Earl Lawrence:

You are a tutor. I am a nobleman. But, after all, we are both hurt men.

(Anderson slowly turns round.)

Earl Lawrence:

My name is Edward.

Robert Anderson (with a nod):

Follow me.

End of Scene 3

End of Act IV

 

Act V

Scene 1

(Tuesday afternoon. In Ophelia’s room. Ophelia and Joanna. Ophelia has just informed Joanna on Inspector Baker’s visit.)

Ophelia:

This is what the inspector said.

Joanna:

So he died a natural death.

(Joanna takes Ophelia’s hand.)

Joanna:

It is over and we have nothing to fear. Soon we can leave. Ophelia, it is over, well and truly.

(Ophelia takes a deep breath.)

Ophelia:

It seems he died a natural death. It is not true, Joanna. I am at fault for his death.

Joanna:

You blame yourself for it, Ophelia? Why? Yes, we wanted his death. That’s why we came here. That’s why you married him.

Ophelia:

Yes, I wanted his death. I wanted to kill him in just a few months. But sooner than planned I committed the crime.

Joanna:

You are not to be blamed for his heart attack. What are you talking? You are not talking sense.

(Ophelia moves to the window and looks outside. She turns, looking to Joanna.)

Ophelia:

That Thursday morning he came into my room and gave me a negligee. In detail he told me his perverted plans for the night. I thought of Angelos and I decided Mortimer’s death.

(Ophelia takes a hand mirror and looks into it. She laughs at the sight of her face in the mirror. She throws the mirror to the floor.)

Ophelia:

Angelos, my only brother, died because of Mortimer. Angelos was kind-hearted, naïve, he was an innocent. Mortimer trapped him. He forced him to do one of his perverted plays. His mind shattered and his soul destroyed, Angelos took his own life. Mortimer murdered him. Last Thursday morning I decided to take revenge.

(Joanna makes a step towards Ophelia. Ophelia lifts her hand.)

Ophelia:

After lunch I asked him if he wanted to drink a glass of Greek wine. I had taken along a bottle.

(Ophelia wipes her eyes.)

Ophelia:

He agreed. I went to my room. I filled a glass. And I put lily of the valleys into it. All the liquid from the vial. You must know, Joanna. I asked you to take his glass to the library. He emptied it.

Joanna:

Ophelia...

(Ophelia lifts her hand.)

Ophelia:

He emptied his glass. Then he left the house to go for his boat trip. I sat down by the window and I counted the minutes. I knew he would die. I was very calm and composed. You see, Joanna, I murdered him.

(Joanna hurries to Ophelia and wraps her arms around her.)

Joanna:

No, Ophelia. No, you did not.

Ophelia:

I did, Joanna. I vowed vengeance. And I took revenge.

Joanna (in a low voice):

No, Ophelia. He did not drink the poisoned wine. I spilled it when I hurried down the stairs. I went back to your room and I filled a clean glass. That’s why I took so long.

(Ophelia’s body starts trembling. A husky moan escapes her mouth.)

Ophelia:

Joanna, I have to write a letter to my father. I must let him know that we are coming back home. Please, get me a nib and ink and paper from the study room.

(Joanna hesitates for a moment. Then she hurries out of the room.)

End of Scene 1

 

Scene 2

(Tuesday afternoon. In Robert Anderson’s room. Robert Anderson and Earl Lawrence. They are lying on Anderson’s bed, partly dressed. Trousers and shirts, shirts unlaced, no jackets and boots.)

Earl Lawrence (smiling at Anderson):

Now we are accomplices. For a brief moment I thought you are my enemy, when you frowned at me in the library.

(Lawrence touches Anderson’s shoulder.)

Earl Lawrence:

You kept a letter, didn’t you? Why? Did you think of incriminating me?

(Lawrence turns on his side, facing Anderson.)

Earl Lawrence (smiling at Anderson):

You’re guilty of the same crime, Robert.

(Anderson turns on his back, breathing heavily.)

Earl Lawrence (worried):

What’s wrong, Robert?

Robert Anderson (hardly able to speak):

So you know the truth.

Earl Lawrence:

Yes, I know that he took you to his room in Italy. He told me of it at breakfast. He mentioned it in his letters. I guess he loved to hurt me.

Robert Anderson:

So you know the truth. You asked to come to my room and then take advantage of the situation.

Earl Lawrence (in a louder voice):

You’re not talking sense, Robert.

Robert Anderson:

How did you find out that I murdered him in cold blood?

Earl Lawrence:

What?

(Lawrence sits up and gazes at Anderson.)

Earl Lawrence:

You? You killed him?

(Anderson turns on his side. He looks up to Lawrence.)

Robert Anderson:

I followed him when we went to the lake. The previous evening we had been sitting by the chimney fire. We were talking. I showed him a poem I had written. He asked me to write it down into the volume the inspector showed to us.

(Lawrence leans back, looking at Anderson.)

Earl Lawrence (in a softer voice):

Continue, Robert.

(Anderson swallows.)

Robert Anderson:

It was a beautiful evening. All night long I was thinking of him. I heard he wanted to go for a boat trip. I followed him. I wanted to be with him.

Earl Lawrence (in a low voice):

Carry on.

Robert Anderson:

He was just setting the boat adrift, when I came to the lake. He stopped and frowned at me. ‘What do you want, Anderson?’ he asked. He was angry. I should have gone. But I was blinded. I showed him the poem in the book. He refused to take the book. He moved up to me and seized my shoulders. ‘What are you after?’ he cried. ‘You are good for one night. Have you not noticed that I have never again taken you to my room? There are others who satisfy my needs better than you ever are able to. Don't you see? It's just a game, right?’ He made a step back and looked me up and down with a sneer. I threw the book at him. He stumbled and fell, and then he lay still. I mean he briefly touched his chest with his hand when he was falling to the ground.

(Anderson’s voice breaks. He starts sobbing. Lawrence closes his eyes, waiting. Finally Anderson continues in a low voice.)

Robert Anderson:

I ran away. I could not think straight. One hour passed. Maybe more. Then I hurried back to the lake. What if he was still alive? What if he needed my help?

(Anderson takes a deep breath.)

Robert Anderson:

I was too late. Henry was dead. I panicked. It was an accident, yes. But perhaps he was still alive when I ran away. Perhaps he only died because I had not rendered assistance. Edward, I picked up his body and placed it into the boat. I paddled. In the middle of the lake I stopped. I threw his body into the water. I forgot the book. I had thrown it into the boat. I swam back. It started raining. A heavy rain. I was lucky. Nobody would ask me why my clothes were drenched. But I did not run into anybody.

(Anderson closes his eyes. Lawrence is watching him. Lawrence is tormented by conflicting emotions. He wipes his eyes and brushes back his hair.)

Robert Anderson (in a low voice):

How did you find out, Edward?

(Lawrence softly places his hand on Anderson’s shoulder. Anderson winces. For a moment Lawrence looks into the room with a frown, and then he turns to Anderson, smiling faintly.)

Earl Lawrence:

You did not kill him, Robert. I went to the lake that afternoon to talk with him. I had written a letter that I wanted to give to him privately. I did not take a carriage. I came by foot. I took the path through the garden, the path along the lake. I saw him standing there. He was looking out onto the water. I approached him. He looked angry, but he did not mention you. I saw the book, Robert. You had already gone, when I arrived. I saw the book in the grass. Henry was alive.

(Anderson moans, his body trembling slightly. Lawrence strokes his shoulder. Then Lawrence rises and puts on his boots. He stops, looking to Anderson.)

Earl Lawrence (in a serious voice):

Robert, I must go now. But before I leave, I want you to know the truth. Decide what you will do with it. My fate is at your hands. Robert, I killed him. I gave him the letter. He threw it into the water. I begged him to listen to me. He told me that we were through. He told me that he had never loved me. I grew enraged. I attacked him. We struggled. We fell to the ground. He spat at me. I took my handkerchief and pressed it on his nose and mouth. He gasped. But I did not stop. Suddenly he flailed about. And then he lay still.

(Lawrence and Anderson are gazing at each other.)

Earl Lawrence:

When I realized what I had done, I jumped to my feet and I ran away as well. I was wondering why his body was found in the water. I suspected the countess. But now I know. You only completed what I had started, Robert. In a sense we are accomplices now.

Robert Anderson (in a pressed but serious voice):

I will keep silent. Nobody will ever learn the truth. I will be leaving. I cannot stay here any longer. Edward, I will be leaving tomorrow, early in the morning.

Earl Lawrence:

I am to blame for his death. I have to live with it. I do regret, Robert, what happened in Italy. I should have warned you against him. Everything was just a game to him.

(Anderson closes his eyes. Lawrence moves to the door and opens it. He steps out into the hallway and runs into Joanna.)

End of Scene 2

 

Scene 3

(Tuesday afternoon. In the hallway. Earl Lawrence and Joanna. Lawrence frowns at Joanna and wants to move on.)

Joanna (in a mocking voice):

Not so fast, dear Earl Lawrence. I dare not ask what you did in the tutor’s room. I guess it would make me blush.

Earl Lawrence (enraged):

It does not concern you at all.

Joanna:

It does not. What price would you pay if I kept silent and never let anybody know the truth?

Earl Lawrence (in a cold voice):

What do you think you know, girl?

(Joanna lifts her hand and shows a letter to Lawrence.)

Joanna:

By accident I found this letter you wrote and addressed to Count Mortimer. A sad and poetic letter. A scary letter also.

(Lawrence reaches out his hand to seize the letter. Joanna makes a step back.)

Earl Lawrence:

Where did you find it? Give it to me.

Joanna:

I found it in the study room. It dropped to the floor when I put aside Monsieur Anderson’s jacket.

(Lawrence seizes Joanna’s wrist. They gaze at each other for a few seconds.)

Earl Lawrence:

What is it you want? The countess has all that she desired. What is it you want, girl?

Joanna:

I only want you to keep silent. Let Ophelia take Count Mortimer’s money. Never say a word against it. I arrange that you will get the letter when Ophelia and I have arrived in Greece.

Earl Lawrence (in a dangerous voice):

I warn you. If I do not receive this letter in time, I will ruin your and Ophelia’s lives.

(Joanna smiles, breathing heavily.)

Joanna:

I go along with it. I am as silent as a grave.

(Joanna gives a hysterical laugh. Lawrence gives her a disdainful look. He lets Joanna’s wrist go and hurries down the stairs. Joanna’s body starts trembling. She sits down on the floor and starts to cry.)

Joanna (in a whisper):

Forgive me my trespasses, Lord.

End of Scene 3

 

Scene 4

(Tuesday afternoon. Ophelia finds Joanna sitting on the floor and leads her into her room. In Ophelia’s room. Ophelia and Joanna.)

Ophelia:

What happened, Joanna? You are beside yourself.

Joanna:

No one can stop us now.

(Joanna shows Lawrence’ letter to Ophelia. Ophelia reads the letter, shuddering.)

Joanna:

I was afraid he might keep us from leaving. Now he will not. He promised. His letter is a pledge.

Ophelia (in disbelief):

So he murdered Henry? I would have never imagined it.

Joanna:

He believes he killed him.

Ophelia:

He believes? What do you mean? Did he kill him or did he not?

Joanna:

Leave his beliefs to him, Ophelia. I deem it best.

(Ophelia seizes Joanna’s arm.)

Joanna:

Stop talking in riddles, Joanna.

(Joanna refuses. Ophelia tightens her grip on Joanna’s arm. Joanna finally talks.)

Joanna:

I went to the lake that Thursday afternoon. From a distance I saw Mortimer and Earl Lawrence. They struggled. Mortimer fell to the ground. Earl Lawrence jumped to his feet and ran away without looking back.

Ophelia (worried and confused):

Why did you go to the lake, Joanna?

Joanna (in a pressed voice):

Mortimer told me to come to the lake.

Ophelia (in a low voice, in fearful anticipation):

Tell me, Joanna.

(Joanna takes Ophelia’s hand.)

Joanna:

Oh, Ophelia, I never wanted to tell you the truth. Mortimer is dead. It is only just. Now and then he came to my room. At night, when you were asleep or indisposed.

(Ophelia makes a step back. She feels disgust.)

Ophelia (in disgust, in a trembling voice):

What a monster of a man. I vowed vengeance. I was willing to live in shame. How could he dare to touch you, Joanna?

(They look at each other silently. Joanna starts crying. Ophelia walks up to her and strokes her hair.)

Ophelia:

Father told us to keep silent. The disgrace…I should have never revealed my plan to you, Joanna. After Angelos’ death I told father I wanted to go and see friends in Italy. They would help me to cope with Angelos’ death. He agreed. He still thinks that I am with them. I found Mortimer in Athens. A few people knew he had planned to go there. I approached him. I did everything to make him pick me up. I acted against all decency and honour. My heart had turned into stone…Why did I ask you to…

Joanna (interrupting Ophelia):

You did the right thing, Ophelia. I would come with you again.

Ophelia:

I still wonder why he fell for me. I knew of his liking. He frankly told me of it. I wonder if Lawrence knows what I do know. I guess Mortimer never showed his true face to him. I agreed when Mortimer asked me to marry him. It simplified my plan. I would take his life and I would take his money…Why, Joanna, did he not leave you alone?

Joanna (in a low voice):

One toy was not enough for him.

(They remain silent for a while)

Ophelia (in a pressed voice):

What happened at the lake?

Joanna:

He told me to come to the lake for some game in the boat house. He sneered at me. I went to my room and like in a trance I prepared two vials. I filled them with liquor. In his vial I poured belladonna, deadly nightshade. I took a picnic hamper and I filled it with food and the vials. I went to the lake. I saw Lawrence run away. Mortimer was lying on the ground. I bent down. He faintly moved and then sat up. He rubbed his forehead. ‘This idiot Lawrence’, he said. ‘He caused me a headache. And he almost stifled me.’ He rubbed his throat and gasped. I offered him the liquor. He refused. He turned to me, wiping the sweat from his forehead. ‘I am not feeling well. Go back to the house and get me some brandy. I prefer that to cassis’, he said. I placed the picnic hamper into the boat and I hurried back. And then I lost courage. I did not return to the lake. I was hiding in the garden until it started to rain. I went back to the house and I ran into Arthur. He was beside himself, telling me and others that he had gone to the lake to help the count with the boat. He told us Mortimer’s body was floating on the water.

(Joanna wipes her eyes.)

Joanna:

He must have taken the boat, when I did not return. In the boat he drank the poison. The dose was big enough to not only arouse him, but cause a deadly heart attack.

Ophelia (worried):

Where is the vial, Joanna? Where is the picnic hamper? Inspector Baker did not show them to us.

(Ophelia seizes Joanna’s shoulder.)

Ophelia (worried):

They have the vial, Joanna. Baker told us that an expert from Paris does a second autopsy today. They may find out the truth.

(Joanna starts crying.)

Ophelia:

Joanna, tomorrow we leave, very early in the morning. We travel light. I gather the money and jewellery I have. We must prepare our luggage. We’ll go to Paris. From there we move on. Hurry. We have to be quick.

End of Scene 4

 

Scene 5

(Wednesday morning, 7 o’clock. Dining room. Ophelia and Joanna have prepared their luggage. So has Robert Anderson. Anderson enters the dining room to have a quick breakfast before leaving the house. He is surprised to find Ophelia and Joanna sitting at the table. They just nod at each other. They eat silently and avoid each other’s eyes. There’s a knock on the door. A maid steps into the room.)

The Maid:

Madame, Inspector Baker asks to see you.

(Joanna slightly winces. She is breathing fast. Ophelia’s hand is trembling. Anderson is gazing absentmindedly into the room.)

Ophelia (in a pressed voice):

What does he want at this time of the day? See him into the library, Christine.

(Ophelia slowly rises.)

Ophelia:

Joanna, please come with me.

(Joanna slowly follows Ophelia. In the door Ophelia turns to Joanna.)

Ophelia (whispering):

If he wants to unveil the truth, I will pretend I feel faint. I will ask you to take me to my room. I will ask Anderson to talk to Baker. Thus we gain time. We take our bags and leave through the back door. We take the small carriage and go to Earl Lawrence. He should be in at this time of the day. You have his letter. The man will lend us a hand.

(Ophelia turns to Anderson.)

Ophelia:

Monsieur Anderson, please do come also. Inspector Baker might have questions I am not able to answer.

(Anderson reluctantly follows Ophelia and Joanna. They meet Inspector Baker in the library. Ophelia points to the table and the chairs. They sit down.)

Ophelia:

You are early, Inspector. We have just finished breakfast.

Inspector Baker:

Forgive me, Madame. I have to go to Paris today, unexpectedly. I thought you might be interested in the final results. That’s why I dared to come to your house before I leave for Paris.

(Joanna swallows. Ophelia looks at Baker, her face motionless. Anderson lowers his eyes.)

Inspector Baker:

Yesterday I told you…

(There’s a knock on the door. A maid steps into the room.)

Ophelia (in an angry voice):

Yes, Christine?

The Maid:

Madame, Earl Lawrence has just arrived and asks to see Monsieur Anderson. He asked three times if Monsieur Anderson was still around.

Ophelia (impatient):

He is around. Did he think he goes out at this time of the day?

(Ophelia ponders.)

Ophelia (smiling):

See him in, Christine. It is good to have him around.

(Joanna gives Ophelia a fearful look. Earl Lawrence enters the room. He casts a look to Anderson, and then bows to Ophelia.)

Ophelia:

Please sit down, Earl Lawrence. Inspector Baker is in a hurry.

(Baker coughs slightly. He takes his brief case and takes out the book and the letter.)

Inspector Baker:

I want to return these items to you, Madame. There’s something else I want to return.

(Baker places the book and the letter on the table. He takes a parcel he has taken along and opens it. Ophelia and Joanna watch him fearfully. Lawrence and Anderson exchange a brief look.)

Inspector Baker:

I want to return this picnic hamper. It was in the boat.

(Ophelia straightens. Joanna hides her trembling hands under the table. Anderson and Lawrence give Baker a questioning look.)

Inspector Baker:

Count Mortimer took along this picnic hamper with honey cake and two small bottles of liquor, cassis obviously.

Ophelia (in too loud a voice):

Two bottles?

(Ophelia leans forward.)

Ophelia:

Two vials you say?

(Lawrence and Anderson look at the picnic hamper, entirely perplexed.)

Earl Lawrence (looking to Anderson, his voice confused):

How is it…? Was it in the boat?

Robert Anderson (in a flat voice):

This picnic hamper was in the boat.

(Inspector Baker looks between them.)

Inspector Baker:

The picnic hamper was in the boat, yes. Food and drink Count Mortimer took along, yet did not touch.

Ophelia (entirely perplexed):

He did not eat and drink?

Inspector Baker:

Look, Madame.

(Baker places two pieces of cakes, wrapped in napkins, and two unopened and completely filled bottles on the table. Ophelia and Joanna gaze at the vials. Lawrence casts Anderson a blank look. Anderson’s eyes suddenly widen. He turns to Lawrence with a smile.)

Robert Anderson:

You are mistaken.

(Lawrence brushes back his hair, his thoughts running wild.)

Inspector Baker (impatient):

I am not mistaken. Count Mortimer did neither eat nor drink. Else I would not be able to show you the meanwhile dry pieces of cake and the bottles of liquor.

Ophelia:

Forgive me, Inspector Baker. It is kind of abstruse. My husband is dead and I see in front of me food and drink he intended to consume.

(Ophelia gives a nervous laugh.)

Inspector Baker:

It is hard to cope, I do understand. Please sign you received the items.

(Baker hands a piece of paper to Ophelia. Joanna rises and gets ink and a nib from a table. Ophelia signs, smiling cheerfully. She returns the piece of paper to Baker. Baker takes out of his brief case another piece of paper.)

Inspector Baker:

To finally close the case I have to let you know the final result of the autopsy.

(Ophelia, Joanna, Lawrence und Anderson lean forward. Baker slightly coughs.)

Inspector Baker:

Your husband’s body was examined twice. The first examination showed that Count Mortimer died on Thursday, 6th of May 1820, between two and four o’clock in the afternoon. His death was caused by a heart attack. Monsieur le docteur Antoine Garson, an expert from Paris, who is present in our police station this week to examine the corpse of a murdered man, examined Count Mortimer’s body a second time to find out what caused the heart attack.

(Baker looks to Ophelia. Ophelia faintly smiles and nods. Joanna looks to the book on the table. Anderson and Lawrence watch Baker.)

Inspector Baker (reads the report to Ophelia and the others):

Count Mortimer died of a toxic reaction. This reaction develops over a period of a few hours with no adverse consequences and settles over a day or two. However, some individuals will have a more immediate and severe reaction. Severe reactions include generalized swelling and itching, fainting, sweating, a pounding headache, stomach cramps and vomiting, a tight chest and choking sensation with swelling of the throat and in extreme cases anaphylactic shock with death ensuing.

(Baker looks from one to the other.)

Inspector Baker:

Monsieur le docteur Antoine Garson found that Count Mortimer’s body shows all symptoms of the toxic reaction. Count Mortimer was stung by a wasp on his hand. The sting produced a severe and immediate toxic reaction. The swellings, however, are mild. The cold water of the lake probably stopped more severe swellings.

(Baker coughs slightly.)

Inspector Baker:

A tragic accident, Madame. Your husband took along honey cake. It probably attracted the wasp.

(Baker puts the autopsy report back into his brief case. Ophelia, Joanna, Anderson and Earl Lawrence look into the room, motionless, like in a state of shock. Baker rises.)

Inspector Baker:

A tragic accident, Madame. My sympathies and my deepest condolences.

Ophelia (deeply moved):

I thank you for your kind words, Inspector Baker. Christine will see you out.

(Ophelia takes a handkerchief and wipes her eyes. She rings a bell. The maid sees Baker out.)

End of Scene 5

End of Act V

 

Epilogue

(In the library. Ophelia, Joanna, Robert Anderson and Earl Lawrence look at each other silently.)

Robert Anderson:

A tragic accident.

Ophelia:

I always had a queasy feeling about it.

Earl Lawrence:

The case is closed. Shall we drink to it?

(Earl Lawrence takes the vials from the table.)

Joanna (screams with horror):

No!

(Joanna jumps to her feet and seizes the vials. Lawrence gives Joanna a confused look, and then he starts smiling.)

Earl Lawrence (with a smile):

Did you not say you saw me at the lake? So you were there also? Did you take along the picnic hamper?

Joanna:

Just some food and drink for Count Mortimer.

Earl Lawrence (smiling):

I see. I do understand entirely. So we do agree? We are as silent as a grave. Ashes to ashes. May he rest in peace.

Ophelia (cheerfully):

Very unkind, Earl Lawrence.

Robert Anderson (musing):

Immortal gods only
Know eternal heights
The awful truth
I did not believe
 
A broken vow
A broken heart
A life’s journey
Till death do us part

Ophelia:

You are too dark and gloomy, Monsieur Anderson.

(Ophelia turns to Earl Lawrence with a smile.)

Ophelia:

I must not forget, Earl Lawrence. You have a convenient carriage, haven’t you? Why don’t we go for a trip? It is a beautiful day in May.

End of Epilogue

 

CURTAIN

 

© 2008 Dolores Esteban

Contact

First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction