THE MONKEY’S PAW - A Victorian Ghost Story by Paul Thain from W.W. Jacobs

SCENE ONE

Winter, 1899

Slowly fade up a cold wind

A wall clock ticks

Candles and oil-lamps slowly reveal the modest living-room of the White family

ARTHUR and his son HAROLD sit at a table playing chess

IRENE sits in an armchair by a crackling fire darning socks

Upstage there is a Window and a Door leading directly onto the street

After a pause …

HAROLD: Check.

HAROLD sits back, smug with satisfaction

ARTHUR: Ha …well, I’ll be …

ARTHUR makes several attempts to move

But then thinks better of it

IRENE puts her work aside, goes to the Window, draws back a curtain

The cold wind whistles

IRENE: My oh my, it's a filthy night.

ARTHUR finally makes his move

HAROLD immediately counters

HAROLD: Check.

IRENE: Not fit for man nor beast.

ARTHUR makes another move

HAROLD: Check

IRENE: I wouldn’t be surprised if -

ARTHUR: Irene, I’m trying to concentrate.

ARTHUR makes another move

HAROLD: Check.

ARTHUR: Not so fast.

HAROLD: Checkmate.

ARTHUR: Why, you cheeky devil, I didn't see that coming.

HAROLD chuckles

HAROLD: You weren’t meant to.

ARTHUR: Still no sign?

IRENE: Hardly see a thing.

HAROLD: Maybe he’s changed his mind?

ARTHUR: That man’s walked all four corners of the Empire, bit of rain'll not stop him.

HAROLD: You think?

ARTHUR: I don’t think, son, I know. He'll be here, have no fear of that.

IRENE: Such a handsome man he was.

ARTHUR: You what?

IRENE: Morris … all the lasses fancied him.

ARTHUR: Twenty year ago, mebbe. Again?

HAROLD: I can't. I'm on nights, remember?

ARTHUR: You’re not getting off that easy. Come on, ten minutes and I promise I'll hammer you.

HAROLD: Factory's twenty minutes, Dad. Thirty in this weather. I can't afford to be late again

As IRENE returns to her armchair

IRENE: No, you can't. Times are hard enough. We need every penny.

A heavy knock at the Door

ARTHUR: There you go. Told you. Go on then, mother.

IRENE sighs, gets up again, goes to the Door, unlocks it

The wind rises …

We see SERGEANT MAJOR MORRIS framed in the doorway, a heavy military overcoat concealing his uniform

IRENE: Well don’t just stand there, man - get yourself in, you’ll catch your death.

MORRIS: Thank you, Irene.

IRENE: We’d almost given you up.

MORRIS: No chance.

As IRENE closes the Door

MORRIS: My, look at you … bonny as ever, you don’t look a day older.

IRENE: Away with you, you daft ha’porth.

They laugh

MORRIS turns to his old friend, smiles and nods

MORRIS: Arthur …

ARTHUR grins

Suddenly snaps to attention, salutes

MORRIS returns the salute

MORRIS: At ease, corporal.

They share a moment

Then chuckle and embrace

ARTHUR: Good to see you, man.

MORRIS: And you. Been far too long.

ARTHUR: It has that.

MORRIS: And this must be Harold. By, you’ve grown.

IRENE: Aye, he’s a man now.

They shake hands

HAROLD: An honour, sir.

MORRIS: Morris. Call me Morris, lad.

HAROLD: I’m looking forward to hearing all about your adventures.

MORRIS: All in good in time.

IRENE: Let me take your coat

MORRIS: Thank you, kindly.

She takes his coat, hangs it on a peg near the Door

IRENE: Get yourself by the fire.

MORRIS obeys

MORRIS: Oh, just the job. What a night, eh? Enough to blow the hair off your head.

ARTHUR: Now then ... you’ll take a glass?

MORRIS: I don’t mind if I do.

HAROLD: So you’re just back from India, then?

MORRIS: I am that. Twenty years. Twenty years serving King and Country.

ARTHUR brings a couple of whiskies

ARTHUR: There you go, Morris.

MORRIS: Bless you.

ARTHUR: Cheers.

MORRIS: Isn’t Harold having one?

HAROLD: I’d love to, but I’m working nights.

MORRIS: Nights?

HAROLD: Brighouse Mill. I operate the flywheel. Got to keep a clear head.

MORRIS: Oh, right. Cheers, then, Arthur.

ARTHUR: Cheers.

IRENE: Sit yourself down, Morris, you must be jiggered.

MORRIS: Thank you kindly.

HAROLD: So what’s it like?

MORRIS: Like?

HAROLD: India.

MORRIS: … what’s it like? Dear me, what can I say? It’s another world, Harold, a place like no other. Ancient, old as time, full of magic and mystery. It charms and delights every sense. It’s like living in a dream. It takes hold of you, draws you in.

IRENE: (laughing) You’ve certainly not lost the gift of the gab.

MORRIS: Baking hot, it is … blazing with colour, teeming with life, a land of strange beasts, saints and soothsayers, snake charmers and wonder-workers.

HAROLD: Wonder-workers?

MORRIS: I’ve seen marvels you couldn’t imagine in a million years.

HAROLD: Oh aye? Like what?

ARTHUR: This’ll be good. A drop more Morris?

MORRIS: If you twist me arm.

ARTHUR re-fills his glass

MORRIS savours it, then takes a swig

MORRIS: Very nice, very nice. Now, where was I?

HAROLD: Wonder-workers.

MORRIS: Miracle-workers more like. One day I was in the market in Calcutta and there was this fakir …

IRENE: … fakir?

MORRIS: … a fakir, a magician, a holy man. Sitting on a mat he was, half-naked, cross-legged beside this big basket. He’s sitting there lost in a trance but when I was just about to wander off, he suddenly holds his arm high and shakes this rattle. A crowd quickly gathers, surrounding him, all pushing and shoving, the better to see. Then he picks up this coil of rope and hoys it high in the air. But the thing is, the thing is it doesn’t fall down … it stays there … high in the sky, hanging from nothing …

HAROLD: That’s not possible.

MORRIS: Mebbe not. But it happened.

IRENE: Never in the world.

MORRIS: That’s not the half of it, Irene … the fakir claps his hands again and a young lad climbs out of the basket. At the command of his master he begins to climb the rope. Up he goes, up and up, higher and higher. And when he reaches the top with nowhere to go, he vanishes.

HAROLD: … vanishes?

MORRIS: Aye, vanishes. Vanishes into thin air.

ARTHUR: You’re having us on.

MORRIS: I’m not, Arthur. I saw it with me own eyes.

HAROLD: I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible.

MORRIS: Isn’t it?

HAROLD: Of course not.

MORRIS: And who are you to say what’s possible or not?

HAROLD: Not me – science.

MORRIS: Science! Think you know it all, do you?

ARTHUR: Easy, Morris, I’m sure Harold didn’t -

MORRIS: I tell you I saw it with my own eyes.

HAROLD: That’s hardly evidence.

MORRIS: Evidence? You want evidence, do you?

He reaches into his jacket pocket

MORRIS: I’ll show you evidence …

He pulls out a monkey’s paw, holds it up

MORRIS: So what do you make of that?

IRENE: What on earth is it?

MORRIS: A paw. A monkey’s paw.

He offers it to IRENE

MORRIS: Here.

IRENE recoils

ARTHUR: Give us a look.

MORRIS passes it to ARTHUR

ARTHUR: It’s all dried up … like a mummy …

A sudden gust of wind

HAROLD: Let me see …

ARTHUR gives the paw to HAROLD

HAROLD: And this is your evidence?

MORRIS: It is. It’s what the fakir gave me. A gift, he said. A gift to the British, for all we’d done.

HAROLD: I still don’t understand.

MORRIS: He said it had a spell on it.

HAROLD: A spell?

MORRIS: Aye, a spell, a spell to show we’re all ruled by fate … to prove we can’t escape our destiny, what they call maktub. He told me three people could each have three wishes. These wishes would be granted, he said, but those three people would have cause to wish they hadn’t been.

ARTHUR: What? You mean like a curse?

MORRIS: He told me I’d be the second owner and that the first had had his three wishes. I didn’t learn what his first two were, but his third wish was for death.

ARTHUR: … death?

MORRIS: Death.

Pause

HAROLD laughs

HAROLD: What a load of codswallop!

ARTHUR: Harold!

HAROLD: Well, really …

ARTHUR: Hold your tongue, lad!

HAROLD: Too much time in the sun, I think

ARTHUR: Harold! Show some respect! So have you tried it?

MORRIS: I have.

IRENE: And were they granted?

MORRIS: They were.

ARTHUR: And?

MORRIS: I’d rather not say.

ARTHUR: Why not?

IRENE: Arthur!

ARTHUR: I’m only asking.

MORRIS: Because I’m ashamed, that’s why. If you must know, I nearly lost my mind. That’s why they sent me back. Compassionate leave.

ARTHUR: I see. But you had all three wishes?

MORRIS: I’m home, aren’t I?

ARTHUR: That’s right, you’re home and you’ve lived to tell the tale. It seems to me, the trick is to only wish for things that can’t bring bad luck. And don’t be too greedy.

HAROLD: Oh, I don’t know, dad … what’s wrong with a bit of ambition? How about being king? King Arthur! Don’t you fancy that?

ARTHUR: I’m trying to be serious!

HAROLD: And what about you, mother? Don’t you fancy being Queen? Queen Irene! Irene, Queen of England!

IRENE: Don’t be so daft!

ARTHUR: You see, that’s exactly what I mean … suppose it worked, suppose I were to be King, but then I get me head cut off! You see … you’ve got to think clever.

He laughs, then stops abruptly

ARTHUR: No, but seriously … what about letting me have a go?

MORRIS: I’m sorry, Arthur, I really -

ARTHUR: Come on, man, I thought we were pals … you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no use to you now is it?

IRENE: Arthur, I really don’t think we should meddle.

ARTHUR: A bit of fun, just a bit of fun, that’s all. And if it’s not, well … who knows? Tell you the truth, Morris, times have been hard, we could do with a bit of luck.

MORRIS sighs, about to comply when IRENE interjects

IRENE: Morris, let me see it.

MORRIS: I thought you –

IRENE: Please, I want to see it.

MORRIS gives her the paw

IRENE smooths it, mutters

IRENE … poor thing …

Then throws it into the Fire

ARTHUR: What the devil!

ARTHUR bolts to the Fire, rescues it

ARTHUR: Have you gone daft, woman?

IRENE: I don’t want it in the house!

ARTHUR: I’ve burnt me bloody fingers! Look, it’s all singed!

IRENE: I’m not having it in the house!

ARTHUR: Away with you, you’re just being superstitious.

IRENE: Me superstitious?

ARTHUR: You know what I mean.

IRENE: No, I don’t, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know what’s got into you, I don’t.

MORRIS: I think I’d better go.

IRENE: No, no, please … not on my account.

MORRIS: I think it’s for the best.

ARTHUR: See what you’ve done?

HAROLD: If you hang on, I’ll walk along with you.

MORRIS: Sorry, lad, I think I’d rather be on me own.

IRENE: I’ll get your coat …

ARTHUR: Well?

MORRIS: Well what?

ARTHUR: Can I keep it?

MORRIS sighs, nods

MORRIS: I’m begging you … be careful what you wish for.

ARTHUR: Oh, I will, I will I promise.

IRENE helps MORRIS put on his coat

He touches her face

MORRIS: I’m sorry, Irene, I shouldn’t have come.

IRENE opens the Door

The Wind howls

MORRIS: Goodnight all.

ARTHUR: Take care, Morris.

MORRIS: And you.

He leaves

IRENE closes the door, sits at the Table

ARTHUR: Right then … three wishes, eh?

He raises his arm, holds up the Monkey’s Paw

ARTHUR: I wish … I wish for five hundred pounds!

He makes a sudden cry, drops the paw

HAROLD: What’s the matter?

ARTHUR: It moved!

HAROLD: Moved?

ARTHUR: It did! It moved! It twisted in me hand like a snake.

The cold wind rises …

BLACKOUT

… then fades to silence

[End of Extract]

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