Portrait of a Murder by Liz Turner

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

ACT I Scene 1

(Time – circa 1953-54. A gracious high ceilinged drawing room. Far
upstage, a curtained area on the wall waiting for the unveiling of
the large impressive portrait that Harry has just painted of Ethne.
Shelves, ideally inset, to each side of the painting, holding a
Chinese vase left and a ceramic figure, and right something similar.
Henry stands looking out on to the terrace downstage at the fourth
wall. Enter Lady Ethne L, dressed for a formal evening, into the
drawing room area C)

Ethne: Henry – aren’t you dressing for dinner?

Henry: (turning his head very slightly and briefly in her direction,
then gazing out as before) Of course I am. Stupid question! We said
drinks at six, didn’t we? And then the” grand unveiling”, before
dinner.

Ethne: I suppose I’m a little nervous. Would you like a cocktail?
Henry: No, thank you. Damned modern rubbish. And it’s far too
early.

(Ethne moves towards armchair L, continues to attempt pleasant chat in
spite of her husband’s mood))

Ethne: Not everyone does, though. Dress for dinner, I mean, not
nowadays. Not the modern crowd.

Henry: You mean like your friend Harry? I don’t suppose he
possesses anything as bourgeois as an evening suit.

(Ethne gives him a nervous glance, sits L)

Ethne: I don’t think he gives a fig for formality.

Henry: He’d better make himself respectable or he can stay
outside.

Ethne: Are you feeling better today? You seem to be more like
yourself.

Henry: Don’t fuss, Ethne. It was just a touch of flu.

Ethne: And you know he’s not my friend. He’s a very
well-respected painter-

Henry: The man’s a tradesman. He should know his place.

Ethne: He’s an artist, Henry, not a painter and decorator. And
after all, it was you who asked him to paint my portrait.

Henry: I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t.

Ethne: But /Henry –

(Henry turns to face her)

Henry: /I mean it, Ethne. Now he’s finished, you need have nothing
more to do with him.

Ethne: I can’t just ignore him. He’s going to be here tonight.
And I was hoping he would paint my darling Mr Perkins.

Henry: If you want someone to paint your bloody cat, get Aunt Dulcie
to do it! She’s nothing else to do!

(He leaves the room abruptly, almost colliding with Aunt Dulcie as she
enters. She is an elderly maiden aunt of Henry’s – or a vague
cousin once or twice removed; she is aware of her precarious position
in the household – no money, or means of support, being a
“surplus” woman, one of the many thousands of unmarried women
after the first world war, and tolerated by Henry only because he
would look bad if he asked her to leave. But she has a certain
dignity, and she is not stupid.)

Aunt Dulcie: Oh dear, Henry seems a little put out.

Ethne: (trying to be cheerful) Oh, it’s nothing. I think this flu
has taken a lot out of him; made him rather –well, you know what
he’s like –

Aunt Dulcie: I do indeed! - oh, dear, I didn’t mean to imply...

Ethne: Forget I said anything. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

Aunt Dulcie: Not at all. I am well aware that my position here – as
a dependant -

Ethne: (embarrassed) You know you’re very welcome - you will
always have a home here.

Aunt Dulcie: So kind! Dear Ethne! So considerate always!

(She dithers a bit then goes to sit on a very small hard chair by an
occasional table, and rubs her hands for a few seconds)

Ethne: How are your chilblains today?

Dulcie: (earnestly) My dear mother’s old remedy of the goose grease
and the silk mittens worn at night is greatly improving the
situation!

Ethne: Goose grease? really? Good heavens!

Dulcie: It really hardly smells at all after a while. So – the
painting is ready, I believe? I hope you are happy with it?

Ethne: Yes. I think it’s going to be rather good. Henry not so
much, of course.

Aunt Dulcie: Oh dear. I hope Mr Lakeman did not attempt anything
too– er - modern!

Ethne: I think Henry would have been happier if I had posed dressed
from head to toe in black, veiled, and been seated behind a screen.

(The bell rings. Lady Ethne looks surprised)

Ethne: Who can that be? I hope Henry hasn’t invited someone else
to my birthday party without telling me.

(Enter Mabel, the maid)

Yes, Mabel?

Mabel: Excuse me, Mum, but there’s a gentleman – says he’s an
old friend of the Masters. From London, I think.

Ethne: From London? How odd. I suppose you’d better bring him in.
And let Sir Henry know.

Mabel: Yes, Mum.

(She scuttles out, crashing into the door as she does)

Ethne; (calls) Mabel, mind the --!.... Honestly, that girl!

Aunt Dulcie: One can’t pick and choose these days. Young girls all
want to be at the pictures every night, and wear these modern clothes,
and lipstick!

(she sighs)

In my day, before the war – the great War, not this last one – a
young woman’s choices were very limited. Either one got married, or
one became a governess, or went into service. And for those of us who
were unable to marry after the end of the war – so many young men
lost – My own fiancé, of course, as you know! - it was very
difficult indeed.

Ethne: I know, Aunt Dulcie. So sad! I’m sure you still miss him very
much.

Dulcie: Yes. Yes, I expect I always will. But I know that Reggie died
doing his duty for his country, and I will always be so proud of him.

Ethne: I’m sure you must be.

(Enter Mabel)

Mabel: Mr Frank Lucas, my lady.

(She turns and beckons encouragingly, and rather inappropriately, for
him to enter the room, which he does. He is a personable man in his
early forties)

Ethne: Thank you, Mabel! ....

(Mabel doesn’t leave)

That’ll be all.

Mabel: Yes, mum.

(She smiles and bobs a curtsey, but waits to hear the conversation.
Ethne waits for her to leave the room, then finally gestures firmly
with her head towards the door. Mabel eventually takes the hint, bobs
again and scurries out.)

Ethne: Good evening – Mr Lucas, is it?

Frank: Good evening, yes, indeed. Lady Ethne, I believe?

(He speaks with an impeccable upper class English accent, and is
extremely charming. He approaches her with outstretched hand, which
she takes)

I’m so pleased to meet you. Such an honour!

Ethne: I’m so sorry – Mr...Lucas?...I’m afraid you have the
advantage –

Frank: I say, I do apologise for bursting in like this, unannounced.

Ethne: I’m afraid I can’t quite – did we have an appointment,
did you say?

Frank: No, no, I can’t pretend we did–My name’s Frank Lucas. My
card.

Ethne: Thank you. I’m Ethne Fitton – as you seem to know. This is
my husband’s aunt, Miss Dulcie Fitton..

Frank: Delighted to meet you both. Look, I should try to explain.
I’m an old friend of your husband’s. Comrade, I should say,
rather.

Ethne: Of Henry’s?

Frank: Yes. We were in the army together.

Ethne: I see...How interesting.. Henry hardly ever talks about the
war. I think it upsets him. But he was decorated for bravery you
know- oh – perhaps you were with him then?

Frank: It’s perhaps difficult for you ladies to realise how much of
a bond there could be between men who faced the enemy together.
There’s nothing to compare to that level of comradeship.

Aunt Dulcie: (quite star-struck) Oh, no! Oh, how admirable! And how
inspiring!

Ethne: (also impressed) Please, Mr Lucas, do sit down. I’m sure my
husband will be back in a moment. Was it something urgent?

(Frank sits C in an armchair)

Frank: I hope he won’t mind my taking the opportunity. I came down
from London on the train. I walked from the station – I’ve been
out of the country for some time, you see, and will probably be
leaving again soon. So I did want to see him before I go. Such a long
time...

Ethne: Yes, of course. And the years that have passed since the war
seem to have taken us to a completely different world.

Aunt Dulcie: Yes! The dreadful events that took place – one could
hardly believe the terrible things that one human being could inflict
on another.

Frank: You’re not kidding.

Ethne: I beg your pardon?

Frank: Do forgive me, Lady Ethne, is that correct? I’ve been living
in Canada, and occasionally fall into their turn of phrase.

Ethne: Canada? How interesting.

Aunt Dulcie: And now, here we are, with great events happening –
the recent coronation of our dear Princess Elizabeth – and the
successful conquest of Mount Everest. After the storms of war come the
serene, cloudless skies of peace.… yes….

(she gives a characteristic nervous giggle)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must dress for dinner.

Ethne: Of course, Aunt Dulcie....

(exit Aunt Dulcie)

She’s quite right, about things being better now. Although some
things will never be the same as before the war. And so many people
were killed. So many of one’s friends. So young.

Frank: Yes. So many....

Ethne: I’m so sorry – I’m sure you, as a soldier, must have
lost many comrades.....We seem to want to forget about it now, but I
do think they should be remembered –

Frank: No, you’re right. We shouldn’t forget them – or what was
it all for? They deserve to be remembered, and honoured.

Ethne: Oh, of course. And what they fought for – a better world. A
fairer world.

Frank: I suppose the upkeep of this – establishment – must be a
full-time job for a great many people.

Ethne: Well, it would be, if we could only find them! Aunt Dulcie and
I were just saying how difficult it is nowadays to find staff.

Frank: To be honest, I’m rather looking for a position myself. I was
hoping perhaps Sir Henry might have some sort of opening for me. I’d
like to stay in this country – but otherwise I might have to try my
luck in the USA.

Ethne: Well I’m sure Henry will help if he can. He has got quite a
lot of business interests....

(Enter Sir Henry, dressed for dinner)

Oh, Henry, there you are! Here’s Mr Lucas come to see you!
Henry: Lucas?

(He stops dead.)

Frank: (rising) Ah, Sir Henry! Please do forgive the intrusion-

Henry: Lucas? Is it really - Frank Lucas?

Frank: I do apologise. I should have written – or telegraphed
ahead. So thoughtless of me!

Ethne Henry, you look a little warm – you know the doctor said you
need to be careful. Do you feel quite well?

Henry: Perfectly. Wouldn’t say no to a brandy, though.

(Ethne rings the bell. Henry seems to feel a little awkward, and moves
to a chair R and sits before he speaks again.)

Lucas – what about you?

Ethne: Henry’s recently had a bad bout of flu, Mr Lucas.

Frank: I’m sorry to hear that.

Henry: Don’t be so dramatic, Ethne. It was nothing.

(Mabel appears)

Ethne: Mabel –some brandy for Sir Henry, please, there’s some in
the library; and for you, Mr Lucas?

Frank: Not for me, thanks.

Ethne: Just the brandy for Sir Henry then, Mabel.

(Mabel is watching the scene, and the visitor, with interest)

Mabel!

(Mabel jumps and scurries out, avoiding the door. We hear a crash
from outside – Mabel has tripped – Ethne hears and reacts, but
says nothing. Henry leans back in his chair, closing his eyes for a
moment)

Henry? Are you sure you feel alright? You do look –

Henry: (very sharply) I’m perfectly all right. I came up the stairs
too fast, that’s all. And don’t talk about me as if I weren’t
here. I’m not a child!

Ethne: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean -

Henry: I’m perfectly well. Stop fussing, woman.

Frank: I’m sorry to find you out of sorts, Sir Henry.

Ethne: It’s nothing really serious. The doctor was a little
concerned – there have been some bad cases - Please, do sit down,
Mr Lucas.

Henry : I can speak for myself, Ethne.

(Frank sits. Enter Mabel, carefully, with a tray and a brandy
decanter and two glasses.)

Mabel: Excuse me Mum, Sir, I thought the other gentleman might like
some too –

Henry: Yes, yes. Just put it there.

(She puts it on the table next to him.)

Mabel Shall I pour, sir?

Henry: No! ....No, thank you, we can manage.

Mabel: I just thought, with you not being so well, sir -

Ethne: Mabel, that will be all, thank you.

Mabel: I’m quite used to pouring brandy, mum. My brother –

Henry: (sharply) Mabel! Go away!

(Mabel shoots back towards the door, colliding with a table or chair
on the way, and exits. Henry helps himself to a snifter. Then another
one.)

Ethne: How are you feeling now, Henry?

Henry: Will you stop nagging?

(Frank has noticed his rudeness but tries not to react. Henry controls
his temper with an effort.)

I beg your pardon. I must still be a bit under the weather.

Frank: Really, I can’t apologise enough. So thoughtless of me to
burst in on you like this.

Ethne: Not at all, Mr Lucas, you weren’t to know. I’m sure you
and my husband will have lots to catch up on, so…..Now - I wonder
if you’d excuse me, Mr Lucas? but I must just see cook about the
dinner – of course, you’ll be staying, won’t you?

Frank: Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly presume –

Ethne: I’m afraid it’ll be too late to get a train back to Town
tonight. But don’t worry, we have plenty of room. But I just need to
make sure everything’s made ready for you.

Frank: But I couldn’t put you to so much trouble…

Ethne: Really, it’s no trouble. We have heaps of room, and luckily
we keep our own chickens, so there’s plenty to eat!

Frank: That’s really kind – If you’re quite sure?

Henry: (he has recovered his composure) No problem at all. You’re
here –have a drink – I’m sure you have a lot to tell me.

Frank: Oh, absolutely. A lot of catching up.

(Ethne stands – the men both rise politely)

Ethne: Dinner will be in an hour and a half. Please help yourself to
brandy, Mr Lucas.

(She exits. There is a short pause, while Henry sips his brandy)
Henry: (jovially) Well, well! Frank Lucas!

(beat)

This is quite a surprise! I’m sorry if I seem a little taken aback
– but – well, in fact, we all thought you were dead. The last time
I saw you was in a deserted building in Berlin, just before it was
destroyed by a bomb.. I was lucky to escape with my life! How the hell
did you get out?

Frank: To be honest, I have no idea. The end of the war was all a bit
foggy for me- I woke up on a Canadian troop ship, nursing a broken
arm and a broken head. Apparently they pulled me out of a bombed-out
building . The last thing I actually remember was myself and Eric
following you down into a cellar in Germany.

Henry: That’s all you remember?

Frank: Yes. It was in the middle of Berlin. Most of the buildings
were just shells. You were our C.O., of course. You, me and Eric. Eric
– I heard that he’d been killed.

Henry. Yes. Bad business. I’m sorry; he was your friend. You really
don’t remember?

Frank: By the time I had a clear enough head, I was in Canada. Looked
a far better prospect than England at the back end of the war – all
that rationing, bomb sites everywhere. So I decided to stay. There
wasn’t much I could find out about those last days in Berlin except
that Eric had been killed in action.

Henry: Yes. There was a lot of confusion, of course. We’d been
detailed to check all the buildings for enemy soldiers. They ambushed
us from behind– some German soldiers trying to fight it out to the
end even then. They got Eric, and they shot you – I returned fire,
but they fled – then by the time I got back to the house, the whole
building had gone. There was nothing I could do, of course. I honestly
didn’t think you’d survived.

Frank: It seems like another world, doesn’t it? I know I must have
changed. I’ve had some bad luck, in my life.

Henry: I’m sorry to hear that.

Frank: War is a terrible thing, isn’t it. But it can also bring out
the best in people. Fellow soldiers - you know they’d never let you
down. Don’t you agree?

Henry: Look – it sounds as if you’re down on your luck. Do you
want money? I can spare a bit -

Frank: No, no! I don’t want charity! I really did want to look you
up – see how you were getting on. In the last few years things –
haven’t been easy. I lost my job – well, I had some bad times -

(Small pause)

I’m just asking you for some help. As a fellow soldier.

Henry: So – if I can’t help with money, what do you want?

Frank: This is – a little awkward. But the fact is - I need work.
Henry: What makes you think I could give you a job?

Frank: By all accounts, you’ve done very well for yourself since
the war. Nothing wrong with that, of course! Knighted for…services
to industry, wasn’t it? But I was hoping that perhaps you might be
willing to help out an old comrade. If there was a job available?
For old times sake.

Henry: So – what sort of thing were you thinking? I assume you’re
not after a labouring job?

Frank: (Cheerfully) Do you know, I really don’t mind! I am a fairly
adaptable chap, I can turn my hand to most things. I learn fast. And I
would be dashed grateful, of course. You wouldn’t have to think
about me ever again

(Ethne returns.)

Ethne: So sorry to keep you waiting, Mr Lucas. But if you’d like to
go and rest for half an hour before dinner, Mabel can show you your
room.

Frank: If you’re sure I’m not putting you out?

Ethne; In fact, you’d be doing us a favour – I’m having a
dinner party for my birthday.

Frank: Oh, but in that case I wouldn’t dream of intruding! Really
– I’ll find something in the village.

Ethne: I rather doubt you would, you know – or nothing very
comfortable, at any rate. But I was worried that we were going to be a
man short – you’ve solved the problem!

Henry: Ethne –

Ethne : It’s also very exciting – I’ve been having my portrait
painted, and we’re having the grand unveiling. I must admit I’m a
bit nervous!

Frank: Well, I can only say that if it comes within a mile of the
reality, it’s bound to be a work of art!

Ethne: What a lovely compliment!

(they have a very slight “moment”, which Henry notices.)

Frank: If you’re really sure, I would be absolutely honoured to
stay.

(Enter Mabel)

Ethne: Ah, here’s Mabel. Would you show Mr Lucas to the guest room
please? Make sure he’s comfortable? Anything you need, Mr Lucas,
do tell Mabel.

Frank: Thank you. I will just go up and rest – it’s been a tiring
day.

(He smiles and bows to them both, and follows Mabel out.)

Ethne: Well, what a surprise! Did you serve together for long?

Henry: No. Not long at all. Really, I hardly knew him. No need for you
to put yourself out to be charming to him.

Ethne: Henry, I wasn’t - He seems very pleasant. What does he want?

Henry: Fellow wants a job. Bit of a cheek, really. I don’t know why
every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks I can hand out jobs at the drop of a
hat. I wish you hadn’t invited him for dinner, by the way.

Ethne: Oh! I’m sorry, Henry – I just assumed –

Henry: You always do. Next time, ask me first.

Ethne: I don’t think it’ll be a problem. It’s not a huge party.
There’ll only be us, and George and his fiancée, and Aunt Dulcie,
Lady Sheldon, the Bairstows, and Harry – Mr Lakeman. We couldn’t
not ask him, since he painted the portrait. And I just thought, as
there was going to be an extra lady -

Henry: There isn’t. Lady Sheldon telephoned this afternoon to
cancel.

Ethne: Oh, Henry! You might have told me! I’ve just said we’re a
man short!

Henry: Well, since you’ve already invited him, we’d better ask
another lady.

Ethne: Yes, but who -?

Henry: I thought perhaps your friend, Joyce Cowley. I’ll telephone
her now.

(Ethne says nothing. He chooses to take her silence as pleasure.)
I thought you’d be pleased. It’s your birthday, after all.

(Exit Henry)

Ethne: (Not delighted at all) Joyce!

(Blackout)

[End of Extract]

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