The Circus Rider by Bob Thompson


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Act 1, Scene 1, Morning

The foyer of the hotel Beau Rivage. Madame Mayer wringing her hands
Irma Sztáray enters carrying a newspaper

IRMA: Madame Mayer this is dreadful. Our visit is featured in Le
Journal - yet it is a private visit to see Baroness Rothschild
there is no official business at all!

Reading the paper

"Most beautiful woman in Europe coming from Hamburg staying
in Montreux" etc etc.

Once again the Empress is being harassed by so-called journalists.
Once again she has become the subject of inaccurate stories in the
newspapers.

MAYER: Awful. Awful. There have been reporters outside for hours

IRMA: I have never seen the like of the crowd outside the hotel.
Have they no shame these people? They terrify and torment and endanger
honest citizens going about their daily lives. So the Empress comes to Geneva.
So what! Whose business is it but her own?

MAYER: Monsieur Mayer expelled them from the foyer but they still hang
around outside

IRMA: Like dogs waiting to be thrown a bone. They will do anything to
fill up the space in their broadsheets.

MAYER: They say it is in the public interest - that people like to
read about the famous

IRMA: People are obsessed with celebrity. The famous are somehow
supposed to have higher moral integrity and whenever they see
something to the contrary we are exposed to the tittle-tattle of the
streets. Why can't they simply mind their own business? Who talked to these
sewer rats?

MAYER: Countess this is a discrete hotel. We value the privacy of our
guests however famous they may be. Maybe one of the maids didn't
understand the importance.

IRMA: Or understood the importance of a few Francs

MAYER: Monsieur Mayer will get to the bottom of this affair and he
will have no qualms about letting anyone go if they have betrayed the
confidential nature of your stay.

IRMA: I am glad to hear it. It is perhaps fortunate that we are only
staying another night

MAYER: Do you think we should give them some kind of statement?

IRMA: That is up to Dr Kromar but if it was up to me I would set the
dogs on them.

MAYER: Did Madame rest well?

IRMA: I think so. She was very pleased with the large bunch of orchids
Baroness Rothschild gave her. It seemed to calm her and even another
attempt to contact her son went relatively smoothly.

MAYER: It is a good job the maids don't know about the business with
the spirits.. I don't suppose you were able to talk with the Archduke?

IRMA: No, no. Apparently we have sensed a departed wolfhound and some
parakeets, but no sign of Archduke Rudolf.

MAYER: I am glad Monsieur Mayer doesn't know about it he
doesn't approve of guests having pets in their rooms.

IRMA: Madame! The search for departed spirits is not a matter of
levity.

MAYER: I am sorry Countess but in Switzerland we see only humour in
such fruitless tasks.

IRMA: I am sure that if the Archduke does turn up he will be required
to register

They chuckle together

It is really so sad. It is nearly ten years since he died you know.

MAYER: That long? And she is still in mourning?

IRMA: Not officially of course but it is very hard when you lose your
only son. Especially in circumstances like those.

MAYER: Hunting can be such a dangerous pastime.

IRMA: Sadly it had little to do with hunting.

MAYER: I understood it was a hunting accident

IRMA: No. No. It is common knowledge in Vienna. He shot the Vetsera
girl and then himself.

MAYER: Suicide? Then it is no wonder you can't find him. Suicide is
a mortal sin. Who can tell where his soul may be? How was he buried if
he killed himself?

IRMA: The Emperor persuaded the Pope to give a special dispensation.
Mental imbalance apparently. In any event, the Empress believes he was
murdered by the Prussians.

MAYER: I have heard it said that his views were too liberal for
Berlin or Vienna come to that.

IRMA: but not for Geneva?

MAYER: Certainly not. This is Switzerland nothing is too liberal
for Switzerland.

Pause

Could such a thing be true? Surely his father would have prevented it.

IRMA: Who knows what is possible and what is not? I keep out of
politics altogether that is the safest way. But it can be difficult being
with the Empress all the time.

MAYER: Only hearing the official view?

IRMA: No, far from it. The Empress has strong views of her own. Very
liberal views. In fact far more liberal than I feel comfortable with.
To hear her talk sometimes it is difficult to reconcile what she says
with her position in the world.

MAYER: and you fear your reputation is being tainted by those views?
Can you not resign your position?

IRMA: Oh I don't fear for myself but I do fear for her. She has
distanced herself so far from her husband both physically and by her
actions that I doubt that she still has any vestige of official
protection left.I think we spent just three weeks in Vienna this year and most of that
time we stayed at Schonbrunn rather than the Hofburg. We have been to
Hungary twice, Corfu, Hamburg, Lisbon, Munich. It would be all too easy for someone
in any of those places to decide to take action against her, especially if they are
encouraged to do so.

MAYER: Who would do such a thing? She is an old lady. What difference
could it make?

IRMA: Who knows who is out there? For some she represents everything
that is wrong with society irrespective of her age.

MAYER: Isn't she scared for her own safety? It isn't as though the
world is short of lunatics. Every month one reads of atrocities
carried out in the name of the people. Which people I would like to
know.

IRMA: Not really. She is very fatalistic. She believes that what will
be will be. She is very kind to me and away from all the etiquette and
protocol of the court she treats me like a sister rather than a lady
in waiting and insists that I treat her that way too. Anyway, travelling is fun.
I am seeing the world courtesy of Baedecker. Sissi - I mean the Empress -
is talking of going to America next year. Imagine.

MAYER: America? We see enough Americans here let alone going to find
more.

IRMA: I dream of what we could see. The world is changing Madame
Mayer. Everything is so much faster these days. My mother only
travelled out of Hungary twice and barely out of Szatar. I have been
all around Europe already and if we go to New York that would be half
way around the world.

MAYER: Does she know what has happened? About the newspapers?

IRMA: If she doesn't know yet she soon will. Fortunately, we set off
very early this morning on one of her walks. I left her at the
patisserie buying some rolls. She will be back soon. There must be a
dozen reporters out there all baying for attention. There is even
someone with one of those machines that capture a picture of you.

MAYER: and your soul too I shouldn't wonder.

IRMA: A Kodak! That's what it is called. It is American.

MAYER: The old Monsieur Mayer had some of those plates taken so that
people could see what a fine hotel this is. He sent them to Vienna, to
Paris, London and, yes, even to America. My husband didn't agree
with it those that know of the Grand Hotel Beau Rivage will tell
their friends and they will come he said. Sending out pictures will
just attract the riff-raff he said and he was right.

[end of extract]



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