The Skeleton – A mystery
Edward Gordon Craig
The Skeleton – A mystery
An exercise for Dramatic Schools
– a realistic thing –
Marina di Pisa, 19161.
Dedicated to that Spirit
with its finger to its lip
– the Guardian of Secrets –
“silent for ever2”
“So I have looked on the scroll – there was nothing to read”
“So I have lifted the veil – there was nothing to see3”
Fanny Jeekle (has rather a deep and deliberate voice).
Minnie Jeekle (has a little voice like a far-away sound).
Miss Pacton, the Governess.
Mary, the Parlourmaid.
Philippson, the Second maid.
Scene. Dining-room in the house of a well-to-do English merchant; three tall windows at back; through two of them we see the last houses on the opposite side of the street. Through one we see the Park railings. Table in centre of stage. Fire-place. A tall round mahogany cupboard beside the fireplace.
Jack Jeekle is discovered reading a letter; Mary arranging the table for lunch. It is one minute to lunch-time. Mary goes out.
JACK. “Dear Jeekle, don’t miss me this time. Three o’clock by the iron gates, and remember The Triangle.” Why, it’s half-past one now.
He goes to the cupboard, searches on his bunch of keys for the right key, and does not find one to fit. Puts keys in pocket as Mary re-enters.
What time is lunch, Mary?
MARY. Mistress changed it to one-thirty today, sir; she said she had a special reason.
JACK. Well, say I’ll be down in two moments. There goes the gong! (He rushes out as the gong sounds outside. We hear him bolt up the first flight of steps; then meeting his sister Fanny you hear him say that he’ll be down in a moment.)
The noise of the family coming downstairs comes nearer. Fanny, the elder daughter, appears and significantly slips something into a drawer. She turns and meets the rest of the family, who come in all together; Mr. Jeekle, the second Miss Jeekle, Mrs. Jeekle, and just as the door is being closed in rushes the son Jack: he has been heard coming down the stairs three at a time.
Mr. JEEKLE. Come now, to table. (Gaily.) I believe Jane has something exceptionally good for us today.
They all bustle into their chairs.
Mrs. JEEKLE. (Bending over her plate.) “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us duly grateful.”
They all have bent over their plates, and now all make vowel or consonant noises which stand for “Amen.” Outside, a street-organ bursts out with an American rag-time4. Mary serves round the soup, which Mr. Jeekle ladles out.
Mr. JEEKLE. Ah! (Drinking his soup.) Ah! (To his wife.) You remember Dowell coming here last month? You remember the cheque I gave him?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Yes, dear… for £ 73. 10. 0.
Mr. JEEKLE. (Goes on hardly waiting for her to finish.) Well, someone in his office sends me an impertinent letter, saying that unless I send the money at once…
Mrs. JEEKLE. No!
Mr. JEEKLE. He’ll take immediate proceedings, etc., etc. It’s put me in such a rage!
JACK. Well, but Father…
Mr. JEEKLE. Oh, I know, it’s nothing, but it’s just a thing like that which upsets me for days.
Mary takes away the soup-plates.
They think they can make me pay twice over, or something of the kind.
Mrs. JEEKLE. John, why don’t you go away to Cornwall for a week, and get some air and some sun?
Mr. JEEKLE. My dear, my dear, I can’t afford air & sun. How can we afford it?
Mary puts down a small turbot on the table, and stands ready with the sauce.
A turbot! (With joy.) It looks a beautiful little turbot. (Cutting it.) And Jane seems to have cooked it to perfection.
The plates are handed round by MARY.
Mr. JEEKLE. We never had fish like this in Italy, did we, Minnie?
MINNIE. No, Father. I couldn’t stand the food in Italy. I’m glad we’re back.
An exceptionally loud ring at the bell. Everyone astonished.
Mr. JEEKLE. Who is it?
Mary goes to the door and meets the second maid, who hands her a letter. She hands it to Mrs. JEEKLE.
What is it about?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Only a note from Lucy, who wants me to go with her at three to see the Exhibition of New Art at the Grafton. I don’t think I can. I hate all the New Art. What shall I say, John?
Mr. JEEKLE. Well, my dear, please yourself. Does it cost much?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Nothing, John. She sends me two tickets… one, I suppose, for FANNY.
FANNY. Oh, Mother, I can’t stand that sort of show. Must I go? (We seem to see that Fanny is in agony.)
Mrs. JEEKLE. John, what shall I answer? (She goes to the writing-table.)
Mr. JEEKLE. Well, I should certainly go.
Mrs. JEEKLE. No, I can’t.
Mary brings on the leg of lamb, new potatoes and peas, with mint sauce5.
Mr. JEEKLE. Hurry up, my dear, and get your answer sent, or the lamb will get cold.
Mrs. Jeekle looks twice at Mr. Jeekle, sees he is occupied, writes a card and puts it in an envelope. Rings bell. The second maid comes in, takes letter and goes out. We hear front door opened and closed. Mrs. Jeekle comes back to table.
Done to a turn. Jane is a wonder. Tell me, dear, what is the secret of a good cook? What is Jane’s secret, eh?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Having none, John. Just cooking and being happy all the day at her work. Jane said such a quaint thing to me about a month ago. “You know, ma’am,” she said very gravely, “You and Master are just the kind of couple I like.” “Why, Jane?” I asked, without a sign of anything on my face. “Why, because you do so enjoy your food.”
Mary brings in custards and a dish of stewed red currants and raspberries, with cream.
Mr. JEEKLE. Now, this is what you like, MINNIE. I believe you hate eating till it comes to the sweets.
MINNIE. I like stewed fruit, Papa.
Mr. JEEKLE. Then you shall be served first. (To his wife.) My dear, I saw in this morning’s paper that fruit is… er… Jack, where is the paper?
JACK. I took it up to my room, Father.
Mr. JEEKLE. Mary, go and get it.
JACK. Mary! No, Father, I’d rather go myself. Besides…
Mr. JEEKLE. Besides what, Jack?
JACK. Well, Mary can’t go…
Mr. JEEKLE. How’s that, Jack? Mary is able to run upstairs, I suppose.
JACK. But she can’t get into my room.
Mr. JEEKLE. Why?
JACK. Because I locked it.
Mrs. JEEKLE. Locked it, Jack?
JACK. Here, I’ll go up and get the paper. (He rushes out.)
Mr. JEEKLE. Wha… wha… what does he want to lock his door for? He’s not inside.
Mrs. JEEKLE. I don’t know, dear. (Laughing.) I suppose he may lock his own door! I expect he’s got some photographic things about, and you know he hates to have anyone touch them.
There is a longish silence. Organ changes tune. Jack is heard coming down. He comes in grinning, and gives his father the newspaper.
Mr. JEEKLE. Well, my dear, here it is… “Strange superfluity of figs. This year…” (He quotes from journal, mumbling by the window. Coming back to his wife.)… from one penny each, and they used to be five shillings a basket, and never more than six in a basket.
Mary brings in coffee. They come back to table, on which the coffee is set with cloth removed.
The paper is full of interesting things today.
Three taps are heard on the door.
Come in! (Goes on reading.) “ Seven of the eleven mills which”… (To his wife.) Didn’t somebody knock?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Yes, dear. Minnie, go and open the door and see who it was.
Minnie does so.
MINNIE. No one, Mother dear.
Mr. JEEKLE. Oh, fancy! Er… “Seven of the twelve mills which, owing to the drought of last month, had ceased turning, have since yesterday’s heavy downfall recommenced work.” (Skimming the headlines.) “Maud Massé married to Captain Flowerby.” And I dare say a very nice girl too.
Mrs. JEEKLE. I don’t know… ask Jack. Is she, Jack?
JACK. Yes, well known, and… why, you’ve seen her, Father; and so have you, Mother. Don’t you remember when we went to the old theatre at Canterbury during the Cricket Week?
He strolls to the window.
Mr. & Mrs. JEEKLE. (Together.) Oh, that girl!
Mr. JEEKLE. (Continuing.) A very nice young woman, and very nice manner, too, in a room. Why, how old do you suppose she is, now? She can’t…
Mrs. JEEKLE. (Before he is finished.) Twenty-nine?
Mr. JEEKLE. What! She can’t be more that twenty at the outside calculation. Don’t you remember, dear, we met her mother about fifteen years ago, and the girl was a child of about five or six years of age then…
Mrs. JEEKLE. Oh, John! Why, she was at least ten.
Mr. JEEKLE. Well, suppose she was. Let’s say she was ten then, and that was fifteen years ago. She’s twenty- five now, but not twenty-nine, dear.
Minnie goes up to her Father’s chair.
Mrs. JEEKLE. Well, the stage makes her look older. It’s very hard work, they say.
Mr. JEEKLE. Much too well paid. (Sighs.)
MINNIE. I should like to go on the stage… but I won’t.
Mr. JEEKLE. I dare say you would! (Laughing with her.)
JACK. (At window.) Dad, come here!
Mr. JEEKLE. (Turns surprised at the tone.) What is it? (He gets up and goes to the window.)
JACK. (In a low voice.) There’s something queer going on over there at No. 70.
Mr. JEEKLE. How do you mean, Jack? Queer? Let’s have a look. (He puts on his glasses.) I thought the house had been closed for months.
JACK. So it has, Dad. But (Drawing back.) I’ve seen a blind drawn up at least ten times, and a face come and peer up the street and down the street; and I saw a cab drive up, and a clergyman got out, and the door opened and shut on him before the cab had left the door. And now the blind is being drawn up regularly every two minutes, and the face comes forward flat against the glass, and looks up the street and down again. (Stepping back and drawing his father back.) There! There!… Now isn’t it queer?
Mr. JEEKLE. (Re-adjusting his spectacles.) Funny face! (Looking again.) It’s nothing. (He turns away.)
MINNIE. (Going to the window.) What was it, Father?
Mr. JEEKLE. Just a face at the window… nothing else.
Jack looks at his watch, puts it back, and goes over to the clock. Mrs. Jeekle comes over to him, and leaning on his shoulder looks at clock.
Mrs. JEEKLE. (Quietly to him.) Jack, did you send the letter I begged you to send? What? Yes?
Jack! (Pulls him by the sleeve.)
JACK. Yes, Mother?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Did you?
JACK. Did I what, Mother?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Did you send the letter over to No. 7I?
JACK. Yes, all right, Mother.
She turns away.
But look here, who winds up this clock?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Why, you know your father winds it up, Jack.
JACK. Then why is it ten minutes late? And why has it stopped?
Mrs. JEEKLE. Is it? Well, I suppose it stopped just ten minutes ago.
JACK. (Looks again at his watch.) Who knows what the time is?
MINNIE. (Coming in as the clock outside is heard striking once.) The hall clock has just struck two.
Mr. JEEKLE. (Closing up his paper.) Two! Why, it’s dark enough for eight.
MINNIE. There’s a fog coming on.
JACK. (Goes to window and looks up and down the street and at the sky.) It’s awfully black down over the Park.
A knock at the door. Enter the Governess looking scared.
Governess. Would you mind coming, Mrs. Jeekle? Jimmy has something the matter with him.
Mrs. Jeekle and the Governess go out.
Mr. JEEKLE. (Anxious, going after them.) Is it anything serious? Shall I come?
Mrs. Jeekle brings him back, shaking her head.
Mrs. JEEKLE. No, John. You stay here. I’ll send Phillipson down if I want you.
She goes out. Mr. Jeekle turns to MINNIE.
Minnie. (Smiling to reassure him.) It’s nothing, Father.
Jack, who has been looking out of the window, suddenly bolts out at the door.
Only Miss Pacton is a little exaggerated about everything, and if Jimmy looks at a cat she thinks it is going to scratch him. How awfully dark it is! Can you read in such a light? (She switches lights up suddenly; then four more.) Isn’t that better? Or is it too much? (She switches off four.) Or is it best all out? (She switches all off again.)
Mr. JEEKLE. Oh!
Minnie laughs in the dark, and turns up a seventh red lamp near her father’s chair.
Mr. JEEKLE. Minnie, dear, don’t play about with it. You’re not yet in the theatre.
Fanny comes in and goes out of the opposite door. Telephone bell heard ringing, then a conversation taking place. Some, but not all the words, are clearly heard, especially the underlined ones.
FANNY. (At telephone.) 0568 Gerrard. (Pause.) This is Miss Jeekle speaking. (Pause.) Yes. (Pause.) You should have sent word this morning. (Longer pause.) At what hour? (Short pause.) Can I rely on you? (Longer pause.) Yes. (Long pause.) Yes. (Long pause.) No, I think not. No. (Pause.) Yes. (Pause.) Yes… it is of no use after three o’clock. Hold the line, please. (She comes in.) What is the time, Minnie?
Minnie. I don’t know. (Looking at clock.) It must be later than ten to two.
Mr. JEEKLE. What? (Lowers his paper.)
Fanny taps impatiently with her foot, looking at him out of her lowered brows and with chin lowered.
Ten to two? How ten to two? (Looks at his watch.) It’s half past two.
Fanny. (In a voice which only Rachel could call up.) HALF PAST TWO! (She disappears to the ’phone and is heard mumbling there.) How can you manage it now?… Don’t speak so loud. Dyed?… And the body?… What?… Only the skeleton!!! (She comes in, goes to drawer, takes out parcel which she had slipped in and goes out by another door, but pauses as she passes the tall mahogany cupboard.)
Mr. JEEKLE. Fabre on the Mantis. What’s the Mantis, Minnie?
MINNIE. River or something, I suppose, Father.
Mr. JEEKLE. (Laughing.) No, it’s an insect. (He reads to himself a while.) Very interesting… very interesting. A very serious and sane old gentleman, this M. Fabre. (Reads to himself.) Admirable! Very good reviews these men in “The Times” give us on the serious books; and what a talent they have for picking out the most illuminating passages in a book and quoting them! Minnie, come here; I must read you this about the Blue-bottle, or rather Fabre’s experiments with paper bags to keep things from the bluebottles and the moths, and so forth.
She sits at his feet. He reads from paper as follows…
“People use wire-gauze dish-covers. The trellised dome protects the contents even less than does the meat-safe. The Flesh-fly takes no heed of it. She can drop her worms through the meshes on the covered joint. Then what are we to do? Nothing could be simpler. We need only wrap the birds which we wish to preserve – Thrushes, Partridges, Snipe and so on – in separate paper envelopes; and the same with our beef and mutton. This defensive armour alone, while leaving ample room for the air to circulate, makes any invasion by the worms impossible, even without a cover or a meat-safe; not that paper possesses any special preservative virtues, but solely because it forms an impenetrable barrier. The Bluebottle carefully refrains from laying her eggs upon it and the Flesh-fly from bringing forth her offspring, both of them knowing that their new-born young are incapable of piercing the obstacle.”
The electric light goes out. We see a green fog outside now.
Mr. JEEKLE. Hullo! Well! Short circuit or something. (Goes over to door.) I’ll see if the hall light will work. (Goes out. From hall he is heard trying the switches.) No. Light’s cut off.
MINNIE. (Ringing bell.) I’ll send for candles.
Enter Mr. Jeekle. Pauses at window.
Mr. JEEKLE. Funny. The house opposite has all its lights full on, and… Listen, Minnie!
They listen. Music of an orchestra playing “The Blue Danube” is heard from the house opposite. Enter MARY.
MARY. Yes, Miss?
MINNIE. Mary, light up some candles, please. There are no matches here.
MARY. I’ll go and get some, Miss. (She goes out.)
Father and daughter stand by the window listening to the music. Mr. Jeekle turns away and stops near the end of the table. He sits down as it is dark.
Mr. JEEKLE. I wonder how Jimmie is. What was the matter with him, Minnie?
MINNIE. (Coming slowly from the window to the other end of table.) Nothing, Father. (Pause.) Isn’t London strange when a fog comes on? No place quite like it.
Pause. Mary comes in with matches. Kicks paper with some noise.
Mr. JEEKLE. Just like night. Light up, MARY… quick… quick!
After a short delay three candles in a sconce are lighted. Mr. Jeekle and Minnie discovered sitting bolt upright looking at each other from opposite ends of the table.
Mr. JEEKLE. Ah, that’s better.
Mary goes out. Mr. Jeekle gets his paper again and settles himself in his chair by the fireplace.
MINNIE. Oh, this is a miserable light! Let us have a fine flare while we are about it. (Takes a taper and begins lighting a number of candles in sconces, etc. Ten lights on the table. She laughs as she increases the number.) How cross Mother will be when she comes down! (Going on lighting.) I wonder why she hasn’t come down. (Goes to door and calls.) Jack! Jack! (She waits, gets no answer, looks in at her father, goes out and closes door quietly after her.)
Mr. JEEKLE. (Alone.) Most extraordinary! Interesting and practical! Listen to this… (He reads.) “Paper is equally successful in our strife against the Moths, those plagues of our fur and clothes. To keep away those wholesale ravagers, people generally use camphor, napthalene, tobacco, bunches of lavendar and other strong-scented remedies. Without wishing to malign these preservatives, we are bound to admit that the means employed are none too effective. The smell does very little to prevent the havoc of the moths. I would therefore advise our housewifes, instead of all this chemist’s stuff, to use newspapers of a suitable shape and size. Take whatever you wish to protect – your furs, your flannel or your clothes – and pack each article carefully in a newspaper, joining the edges with a double fold, well pinned. If this joining is properly done, the Moth will never get inside. Since my advice has been taken and this method employed in my household, the old damage has never been repeated.” Now, isn’t that extraor… (Turns, sees empty room. Remains motionless, tasting the emptiness of the room. Outside we hear strange cries on the street. They come nearer.)
Newspaper-sellers in their husky tones shout…
“Terrible disaster in the North of England!”
It is the sound we get; the gruesome sound of the English paper-seller’s voice in the fog; the words are of little importance.
Mr. Jeekle turns to read. Shifts a very little restlessly… but a very little. Sounds now begin to signify a change… a change, to calm.
The fog is clearing outside. It turns to grey, then to pale grey, then it gets lighter and lighter. During its clearing Minnie comes in, then Jack comes in. Then Mrs. Jeekle comes in. Then Fanny appears.
These four entrances are made in the utmost calm and unconsciousness… there is now to be no “suggestion” whatever, no expression even, only calm and well-timed movements, faces quite indifferently regular. The last is more calm than the last but one, and this more calm than the preceding one. Each goes to his own place, to be planned by the stage-manager. With the last entrance something almost like the calm of perfectly still sea at hot mid-day must be suggested… the power to stir is there, but the calm prevails almost to an exaggerated indifference to move. Each has something to do when he comes in. All settle down; the street outside has become quite light now, and the room is light, with the candles still burning. When Mrs. Jeekle comes in she passes her husband’s chair, saying…
Mrs. JEEKLE. N-n-no-nothing the matter with him. Miss Pacton’s such a funny little thing. (She passes on to some placid work or occupation.)
Everyone’s movements grow slower and slower, till almost utter stillness exists in the room.
Then noise outside of feet running, a rapid and loud rap on the door, which opens at same time as the rap.
Mary rushes into the room.
Mrs. JEEKLE. Why…? What is it, Mary?
MARY. Please, sir, Cook’s gorn and shot ’erself!
There is a flash of stage lightening –
© Edward Gordon Craig Estate and EASTAP.
1. Maybe someday I can find it possible to turn to this again & rewrite it. September 1916. It needs cooking.
2. YES – but this is no way to even fail at writing a play. 1935.
3. Approximate quotation from Rosamund Marriott Watson’s poem, “The Smile of All-Wisdom”:
“Lo, we have lifted the veil—there was nothing to see!
Lo, we have looked on the scroll—there was nothing to learn!”
Graham R. Thomson [pseudonym of R. M. Watson], The Bird-Bride: A Volume of Ballads and Sonnets (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1889), p. 94.)
4. But it is not harsh or loud.
5. Too brief a first course.