Box and Cox adapted by Paul Thain from John M Morton

SCENE I

A Room with closed curtains

Centre is a Bed and upstage a Window

There are three Doors, a Fireplace with ornaments on the mantelpiece, a Table and Chairs, a Chest of Drawers, and a Clock

COX is looking at himself in a hand-mirror

COX: I’ll never have my hair cut again! Looks as if I’ve been cropped for the militia! Only cut the ends, I said. The idiot must have thought I meant the other ends! Never mind, it’s still early, I shan’t be meet anyone I care about.

He notices the Clock

COX: Eight o’clock, I do declare, not a moment to lose.

There’s a knock from upstage-left Door

COX: Open locks, whoever knocks!

MRS BOUNCER enters

MRS BOUNCER: Good morning, Mr Cox. I hope you slept comfortably?

COX: I can’t say I did, Mrs B. I should be obliged if you could accommodate me with a better bolster. The one I’ve got seems to have but a handful of feathers at each end, and nothing whatsoever in the middle.

MRS BOUNCER: Anything to accommodate you, Mr Cox.

COX: Then perhaps you’ll be good enough to hold this glass, while I complete my toilet.

MRS BOUNCER: (Holding glass before COX, who ties his cravat) Why, I do declare, you’ve had your hair cut.

COX: Cut? Dear lady, I’ve had it mown! (putting on his coat) Now where’s my hat? Ah,ha! (puts on his hat which covers his eyes) Dash it! That’s the effect of having one’s hair cut. This hat fitted me perfectly before. Luckily I have three more.

He goes Off and returns with three hats of different shapes

He puts them on, one after the other - they’re all too big

COX: Damn and blast! Isn’t this just too beastly? Oh, never mind - this one appears to wobble rather less than the others, it’ll just have to do. Well then, I must be off. Oh, by the way, Mrs Bouncer, it has been evident to me for some time that my coals are diminishing remarkably fast.

MRS BOUNCER: Diminishing? How can that be, Mr Cox?

COX: And not only the coals, but I have of late observed an inexorable increase of evaporation among my candles, my wood, my sugar, and my lucifer matches.

MRS BOUNCER: Evaporation, Mr Cox? Well I’ll be - what exactly are you suggesting?

COX: As yet I am uncertain, but I wish you to understand that I don’t suspect the cat.

MRS BOUNCER: I see. And is there anything else you wish to grumble about?

COX: Grumble …? Grumble is not in my nature, Mrs Bouncer. Do you happen to have such a thing as a dictionary?

MRS BOUNCER: I do not.

COX: Then let me oblige.

He gets his dictionary

COX: If you seek out the letter G you will find “Grumble, verb neuter - to complain without a cause”. Well, Mrs B? Without cause. Do you now see that is not all the case?

MRS BOUNCER: Your point is well made, sir, I’m sure.

COX: And while we’re are on the subject, do you know why I frequently find my apartment full of smoke?

MRS BOUNCER: Smoke? Well, I never. I do suppose it must be the chimney.

COX: The chimney does not smoke tobacco, Mrs B. I speak of tobacco smoke. Might you be guilty of cheroots?

MRS BOUNCER: Indeed not, Mr Cox.

COX: Or perhaps partial to a pipe?

MRS BOUNCER: Indeed not, sir.

COX: Then how is it that - ?

MRS BOUNCER: I’m sure I don’t know, except … yes, yes … that must be it

COX: What must be it?

MRS BOUNCER: The gentleman in the attic.

COX: What of him?

MRS BOUNCER: He’s hardly ever without a pipe. He sits with his feet upon the mantelpiece for hours on end, puffing away into the fireplace.

COX: So am I to believe this gentleman’s smoke, instead of emulating the example of all other smokes in the world and going up the chimney, somehow thinks it proper to take the contrary direction?

MRS BOUNCER: I don’t rightly know, sir.

COX: And is the gentleman you speak of the same individual I invariably meet coming up the stairs when I’m going down, and going down when I’m coming up?

MRS BOUNCER: Must be, sir. There is no other.

COX: From his appearance, I set him down as a gentleman connected with the printing industry.

MRS BOUNCER: Indeed so, sir. A journeyman printer and a very respectable young gentleman.

COX: Well, then let us leave it there. I bid you good morning, Mrs Bouncer!

MRS BOUNCER: You’ll be back at your usual time, sir?

COX: Nine o’clock. On the dot. And no need to light my fire in future, Mrs B – I shall do it myself. Oh, and don’t forget the bolster! (going then stops) And a halfpenny worth of milk, Mrs Bouncer. And kindly be good enough to let it stand. I wish the cream to accumulate.

He exits upstage Left

As MRS BOUNCER tidies the Room

MRS BOUNCER: That was close! I was all of a tremble for fear Mr Box would come in before Mr Cox went out. Were they to meet, my subterfuge would be discovered. Mr Box is hard at work at a newspaper office all night and Mr Cox is busy making hats all day, each a stranger to the other. That way I’m getting double the rent for my room, and neither are any the wiser. Times are hard and ‘tis a necessary ruse. But I haven’t time to lose. I must put Mr Cox’s things out of Mr Box’s way.

(She takes hats, Cox’s dressing gown and slippers, opens upstage door, puts them in, and locks it)

MRS BOUNCER: Where’s the key for Mr Cox?

She finds it, puts it on the ledge of the upstage Left door

MRS BOUNCER: I really must beg Mr Box not to smoke so much. Now then, make the bed … and let me not forget that what’s the head of the bed for Mr Cox becomes the foot for Mr Box. Strange how people’s tastes do so differ.

She goes behind the curtains, where she makes the bed

BOX enters Upstage, dressed as a Printer, turns back and shouts

BOX: Indeed., sir? Well, it was as much your fault as mine!! I say, sir - it was as much your fault as … Damn cheek!

MRS BOUNCER emerging from behind the curtains of bed

MRS BOUNCER: Mr Box! I do declare you’re quite pale in the face!

BOX: And what colour would you have me be, having laboured all night?

MRS BOUNCER: Whatever is the matter?

BOX: That idiot on the stairs, that’s what. He who I invariably encounter going down when I’m coming up, and coming up when I’m going down.

MRS BOUNCER: Oh, him.

BOX: Yes, him

MRS BOUNCER: That’ll, er … that’ll be gentleman in the attic, sir.

BOX: A most peculiar man. I encounter him in all manner of hats - white hats, black hats, hats with wide brims, hats with narrow brims, hats with naps and hats without. In short, I have concluded that he must a particular hatting interest.

MRS BOUNCER: Indeed, he has, sir – he’s a Hatter.

BOX; Ah, ha! Nailed it! Spot on!

MRS BOUNCER: Indeed so, sir. And since we dwell on the subject, he has but this very day begged me to request of you that you do not smoke quite so much.

BOX: Did he now? Then you may tell the presumptuous Hatter that my pipe is precious and non-negotiable and that I advise he’d find more contentment in some other parish.

MRS BOUNCER: Oh, Mr Box! You surely wouldn’t deprive me of a lodger?

BOX: It would come to precisely the same thing. Mrs B because if I detect the slightest conspiracy to extinguish my pipe, I will immediately give notice to quit.

MRS BOUNCER: Very well, Mr Box. I note your intransigence.

BOX: Now if you don’t mind Mrs Bouncer, I’m about to divesting myself of my garments and go to bed.

MRS BOUNCER: (going) Oh, Mr Box!

BOX: Off you go.

MRS BOUNCER exits upstage, slamming door after her

BOX: The trouble I have getting rid of that woman! She knows I’m up all night, no consideration. Now, let me see … Shall I take my nap before breakfast? Or shall I take breakfast before my nap? Sleep or eat? Methinks eat. Now where’s that bacon?

He searches his pockets

BOX: Here we are …

He produces bacon, wrapped in paper, and places it on table

BOX: … and a penny roll.

Places roll on the Table

BOX: Next, light the fire. Where are my Lucifers?

Takes a box from the mantelpiece, opens it

BOX: That’s odd … I had a whole box full, three days ago, and now there is but one! I’m perfectly aware Mrs B occasionally purloins my coals and candles but I did think … I did think my Lucifers would be sacred!

He takes candlestick off the mantelpiece, in which there is a stump end of candle

BOX: And what of this? I’m only at home in the day time and I bought this candle on the first of May calculating it would last me at least three months … and here’s one week not half over, and the candle is three parts gone.

He lights the fire, then takes down a gridiron, which is hanging over the fireplace

Then sniffs it

BOX: Kippers! Mrs Bouncer has been using my gridiron! The last thing I cooked upon it was a pork chop, yet now it is powerfully impregnated with the stench of herring!

He places gridiron on fire, and then, with fork, adds bacon

BOX: (yawning) How sleepy I am! I’d indulge myself with a nap, if only there was someone to turn the bacon. (yawns) Perhaps it will turn itself, I really must lie down …

He lies on the bed, closing the curtains round him

After a pause, COX enters in a hurry

COX: Well, well, well, wonders never cease! Conscious of being eleven minutes and half late, I was sneaking into the shop, in a state of considerable anxiety when I encountered my employer. “Cox”, he says, “I’ll not be needing you today – take a holiday.” A holiday? Now there’s a thing! Soon the delights of Gravesend intermingle with visions of Greenwich. I see a promenade in the sun. Perhaps even romance. But first … first breakfast. To that end, I purchased a mutton chop (retrieves a chop from his pocket, puts it on the Table) Dash it, forgot the bread. Hello! What’s this? A roll! How marvellous! I do declare - manna from heaven! (laughs) What luck! (suddenly serious) Yet strange … No matter. Now then, let’s light the fire. Matches, matches …

He notices the Matches on table

COX: I swear I left them on the mantlepiece.

He picks them up, opens box

COX: Why, it’s empty! I had one left, I’d take an oath I did. And what’s this! The fire already lit! My gridiron already employed! Bacon! Bacon almost burnt? Am I haunted? ‘pon my life, this is stranger than strange. No … no, this is no spirit. This is Mrs Bouncer. No wonder her peculiar demeanour this morning - she takes my last Lucifer, my coals, my gridiron, to cook her breakfast! I shall have to have words. But first, off with her bacon and on with my chop!

He forks the bacon onto a plate on the table, then places his chop on the gridiron

COX: Right then, now for my breakfast things …

COX takes a hanging key, opens stage-left door, slamming it as he leaves

BOX suddenly shows his head from behind the curtains

BOX: Is that you, Mrs Bouncer? Come in, I’m perfectly decent. I wonder how long I’ve been asleep? (suddenly) Goodness gracious — my bacon!

He leaps off bed and dashes to the fireplace

BOX: What’s this? A chop! A chop! What’s a chop doing - ? Ah.ha! Mrs Bouncer’s I’ll wager. The nerve of it, cooking her breakfast while I sleep. With my coals! And my gridiron! And my - Where’s my bacon?

He sees it on the table

BOX: Well ’pon my life – To cap it all, she steals my bacon to boot! I can barely curb my indignation. I shall not falter in my vengeance? Not for a moment, but not yet.

He digs the fork into the chop, opens window, throws chop out, and shuts window

BOX: So much for Bouncer’s breakfast! Now for my own!

He puts the bacon on the gridiron again

BOX: I may as well lay my breakfast things.

He goes to mantelpiece, takes a key out of one of the ornaments, opens door USR and exits

COX quickly pokes in his head upstage Left

He enters with a small tray with tea things which he places on drawers, then suddenly recollects

COX: Goodness! My chop!

He goes quickly to the fireplace

COX: Hello, hello … what’s this? Bacon? Bacon back again! What’s going on?

He fork the bacon, opens window, flings it out, shuts window again, returns to drawers for tea things

Then encounters Box coming from his cupboard with his tea things

Each uncertain, they walk downstage together

COX: And who are you, sir?

BOX: If it comes to that - who are you?

COX: What business do you have here, sir?

BOX: What business do you have?

COX: (aside) It’s the Printer!

COX puts tea things on the Chest

BOX: (aside) It’s the Hatter!

BOX puts tea things on Table

COX: I suggest you return to your attic, sir —

BOX: My attic, sir? I rather fancy it is your attic!

COX: Printer, be warned, I shall do you a frightful injury, if you do not instantly leave my apartment.

BOX: Your apartment? I think you mean mine, you contemptible little hatter, you!

COX: Your apartment? Ha! Your apartment! I like that! See here, sir …

He takes a paper out of his pocket

COX: Mrs Bouncer’s receipt for the last week’s rent.

BOX also produces a paper, waves it close to Cox's face

BOX: Ditto, sir!

BOTH: Mrs Bouncer!

Each runs to stage-left door, shouts

BOTH: Mrs Bouncer!

Mrs Bouncer runs in

MRS BOUNCER: Whatever is the matter?

COX and Box each grab an arm, and lead MRS BOUNCER downstage

BOX: I demand you remove this Hatter!

COX: And I demand you immediately turn out that Printer!

MRS BOUNCER: Well, this is a peculiar pickle.

COX: (pulling her round to him) Explain!

COX: (pulling her round to him) Explain!

MRS BOUNCER: If I might first -

BOX: Whose room is this?

COX: Yes, woman - whose room is this?

BOX: Does it not belong to me?

MRS BOUNCER: No!

COX: There! You hear, sir – it does not! it belongs to me! Now be off!

MRS BOUNCER: (sobbing) No, no, it doesn’t.

BOX: Ah,ha!

COX: Doesn’t? How so?

MRS BOUNCER: It belongs to both of you!

COX and BOX: Both of us?

MRS BOUNCER: Please don’t be angry. You see, what with this gentleman - (pointing to BOX) - only being at home in the day, and that gentleman – (pointing to COX) - at night, I thought I might venture –

BOX: A ruse!

COX: A subterfuge!

MRS BOUNCER: It was only until my little back room was ready —

BOX & COX: Oh …? (eagerly) And when will your little back room be ready?

MRS BOUNCER: Why, tomorrow -

COX: Tomorrow? I’ll take it!

BOX: And so will I!

MRS BOUNCER: Excuse me, but if you both take it, you may just as well stay where you are.

COX and BOX: True.

COX: But I did speak first -

BOX: Spare me, sir. Take it - the little back room is yours. Now, go …

COX: Go? Who are you to - ?

MRS BOUNCER: Don’t quarrel, gentlemen. You see, there used to be a partition here -

COX and BOX: Then put it back up!

MRS BOUNCER: Let me first see if I can get the other room ready this very day.

She Exits upstage Left

COX paces the room

COX: What a conundrum!

[end of extract]


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