The Body in the Bath by Joan O'Dwyer


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ACT ONE, SCENE ONE

Wimsey's study

He enters with an armload of books, trips, drops them.

WIMSEY: Damn!

He freezes as the Duchess enters and addresses the audience

DUCHESS: Oh, dear, the language! That, I'm afraid, is my son, Lord
Peter Wimsey. When he returned from the war, he was hospitalized for a
time with shell shock, episodes of which still haunt him from time to
time. When he felt better, he began casting about for something to
occupy his time. Something, that is, besides collecting rare books,
at which he is quite good indeed. One day his friend, Inspector
Parker, confided an interesting case to him. The long and short of it
is that my son, Peter, began assisting Parker from time to time. So
dangerous, I always think! Naturally, I told him I heartily
disapprove, although, I will tell you I believe Peter has gotten as
good about crime solving as he is finding rare books. And, looking
back on this day now, I'm afraid that I am just about to, regretfully,
bring him yet another case myself.

She exits

Bunter enters with another armload of books, picks up dropped books,
puts all on table.

WIMSEY: I'm so glad I sent you to the auction, Bunter. I couldn't
have done better myself. The thought of the Dante alone makes my mouth
water. And you've saved me £60. That's glorious. What shall we
spend it on, Bunter? Think of it: all ours, to do with as we like.
It's your saving, Bunter, and properly speaking, your £60. What do
you think we should do with the profit?

BUNTER (pours brandy, hands to Wimsey): Well, my lord, as your
lordship is so good-

WIMSEY: Out with it, my Bunter, you imperturbable old hypocrite. It's
no good talking as if you were announcing dinner. Oh, I know. What
does that blessed darkroom of yours want now?

BUNTER: Not the dark room, but(almost religiously)there's a
fingerprint-preserving kit at the stationers on Saint John's Road,
my lord, the same as they use at Scotland Yard, for £50.

WIMSEY: Fifty pounds seems a ridiculous price to pay.

BUNTER: It comes with a lifetime supply of brushes and powders of all
hues: black, brown, grey and white.

WIMSEY: What?

BUNTER: For the different colours of surfaces to be tested.

WIMSEY: But £50? Oh, dash it all, I suppose it will do me as much
good as it would you.
BUNTER: I should say so, sir!

WIMSEY: And I suppose, Bunter, you'd say £750 was a bit out of the
way for a dusty book in a dead language, wouldn't you?

BUNTER: It wouldn't be my place to say so, my lord.

WIMSEY: No, Bunter. I pay you handsomely to keep your thoughts to
yourself. Tell me, Bunter, in these democratic days, don't you think
that's unfair?

BUNTER: No, my lord.

WIMSEY: You don't? D'you mind telling me frankly why you don't think
it unfair?

BUNTER: Consider this, my lord. Your lordship is paid a nobleman's
income to take your cousin, Lady Worthington, to dinner and to refrain
from exercising your lordship's undoubted powers of repartee.

WIMSEY: That's your idea, is it, Bunter? Noblesse oblige, for a
consideration. I daresay you're right. Then you're better off than I
am, because I'd have to be civil to Lady Worthington if I hadn't a
penny. Bunter, if I sacked you here and now, would you tell me what
you think of me?

BUNTER: No, my lord.

WIMSEY: You'd have a perfect right to, my Bunter. And if I sacked
you on top of enjoying the brilliant coffee you make, I'd deserve
everything you could say of me. You're a demon for coffee, Bunter. I
don't want to know how you do it, because I believe it to be
witchcraft, and I don't want to burn eternally. You can buy your
fingerprint apparatus.

BUNTER: Thank you, my lord.

Doorbell rings.

WIMSEY: Unless it's anybody interestin' I'm not at home.

BUNTER: Very good, my lord. (exits, then enters) Her Grace, the
Duchess of Denver.

Duchess enters.

DUCHESS: Thank you, Bunter. I'll have whatever my son is having.

Wimsey and Duchess kiss lovingly.

WIMSEY: Sit down, Mother. What's new in your world?

DUCHESS: It's such a queer thing, I tell you. You know little Mr.
Thipps? (Bunter brings drink.) Thank you, Bunter.

Bunter exits.

WIMSEY: Thipps? Thipps? Oh, yes, the little architect man who's
doing the church roof for the vicar. What about him?

DUCHESS: The vicar's wife, a dear friend, called me this morning.
Mr. Thipps had rung them up It's a bit upsetting, dear-

WIMSEY: Oh, deuced, you are drawing this out. Being coy, Mother?

DUCHESS: He rang them up to say he couldn't work today. He was so
upset, poor little man. He'd found a dead body in his bath.

WIMSEY: Sorry, Mother?

DUCHESS: A dead body, dear, in his bath.

WIMSEY: What sort of body?

DUCHESS: Dead. With nothing on but a pair of pince nez.

WIMSEY: Queer indeed. Was it anybody Thipps knew?

DUCHESS: I don't know, dear. She said he sounded quite distracted.
He's such a respectable little man. It distressed him so, having
the police in the house, rummaging about.

WIMSEY: Poor little Thipps! Uncommonly awkward for him. Let's see,
he lives in Battersea, doesn't he?

DUCHESS: Just opposite the Park. I thought perhaps you'd like to
run 'round and see him and ask if there's anything youwe can
do. I always thought him a nice little man.

WIMSEY: You think he might need my help?

DUCHESS: Well, I-

WIMSEY: Why, Mother. I thought you didn't entirely agree with my
criminal avocations.

DUCHESS: I don't quite. But Thipps and his mother and the
vicar and his wife are all at sea about this, and you are so
effective when you do butt in.

WIMSEY: As it were.

DUCHESS: And you do love it so, don't you dear?

WIMSEY: Dash it all, I do. And I don't wonder that you would get
heady when you can help someone by trotting out your brilliant son and
most famous issue.

DUCHESS: Peter!

WIMSEY: Poor Mother! Well, thanks awfully for telling me. Grab your
wrap, dear, and I'll meet you at the door. I'll drop you at home
on the way.

Duchess exits.

WIMSEY: Bunter!

BUNTER (off): Yes, my lord.

WIMSEY: Her Grace tells me that a respectable architect has
discovered a dead man in his bath.

Bunter enters.

BUNTER: Indeed, my lord? That's very gratifying.

WIMSEY: Bunter, your choice of words is unerring. Unsettling, but
unerring. Now you go out and buy your infernal fingerprint whatsis
while I'm checking out this corpse at the old gent's home in the
Battersea neighbourhood. We may need it sooner than expected, what?

BUNTER: You'll excuse, my Lord, but the store is on St. John's
Road, just on the way to Battersea. Could we pick up the kit now?

WIMSEY: Well then, off we go, Bunter, my Bunter.

Bunter exits.

WIMSEY: A strange corpse doesn't turn up in a bathtub, dressed in
only pince nez, more than a few times in one's life, I imagine.
(picks up a book from stack) Dear me! It's a dreadful mistake to
ride two hobbies at once.

Wimsey puts book on stack and exits.

Act I, Scene 2

Thipps' bathroom. Upstage Bunter uses his new fingerprint set and
takes pictures of a tub with arm prominently hanging over the edge.
Downstage Wimsey and Thipps talk.

THIPPS: It's most kind of your lordship. It's been very hard all
day what with the policemen in the house and all this commotion, most
distressing to a man of regular habits, my lord. And my mother is
altogether in stitches, sir. Not to mention our girl, Gladys.

WIMSEY: I'm sure it must have been uncommonly distressing, Mr.
Thipps. I hate anything tiresome happening before breakfast. Takes a
man at such a confounded disadvantage, what?

THIPPS: That's just it. When I saw that dreadful thing lying there in
my bath, mother-naked, too, except for the pince nez, I assure you, my
lord, it regularly turned my stomach, if you'll excuse the expression.
I'm not very strong, and I straight off sent Gladys, my girl, for a
stiff brandy or I don't know what might have happened. I felt so
queer, though I don't partake of spirits as a rule. Still, I make it
a rule never to be without brandy in the house, in case of emergency,
you know?

WIMSEY: Very wise of you. Wonderful what a little nip'll do in case
of need, and the less you're used to it the more good it does you.
Hope your Gladys is a sensible young woman, what? Nuisance to have
women faintin' and shriekin' all over the place.

THIPPS: Oh, Gladys is a good girl. She was very sorry indeed about
having left the bathroom window open, she reely was. All I said was,
"It might have been burglars," I said. "Remember that, next
time you leave a window open all night. This time it was only a dead
man, and that's unpleasant enough. If it had been burglars, there
would have been a chance we'd all have been murdered in our beds."
Now, Sergeant Sugg from the Yard is coming back any moment, and-

WIMSEY: Old Sugg was here?

THIPPS: Oh, yes, and he was very sharp with Gladys, poor girl. Quite
frightened her, and made her think he suspected her of something. He
was rude to me, as well. I may say I didn't like his manner at all.
"If you're wanting to accuse Gladys or me, sergeant," I said to
him, "You'd best get on with it."

WIMSEY: That's Sugg all over, rude as can be.

BUNTER (camera to eye, bangs into something): Sorry for the noise,
your lordship, Mr. Thipps.

WIMSEY: Alright, alright. Get on with it, man.

THIPPS (whispers): So hard to get good help nowadays.

WIMSEY (speaks normally so Bunter can hear): Bunter? Like my own
brother, he is. He was my staff sergeant during the war, none more
loyal. Surprised he's put up with me all these years.
THIPPS: As you say.

WIMSEY: As you were saying

THIPPS: Yes? Oh, only that this whole affair has put me off
royally.

BUNTER: Ahem, I'm finished now, my lord.

WIMSEY: Oh? Well, come on, then.

Bunter joins them downstage, camera around neck, kit and brush in
hand, face smudged with dark powder.

WIMSEY: What a sight for sore eyes you are, you reprobate. Did you
see yourself, my good man?

BUNTER (with as much dignity as he can muster): I have been extremely
busy, your lordship.

WIMSEY: Yes, we heard you. We have ears, Bunter; we have eyes,
don't we? Busy, busy with your new kit-

BUNTER: and camera. There were prints, but I'll have to develop
them. I just now went out on the roof to see if there were more, and
I found a very clear print by the window sill on the outside. All the
staircases open on to the roof and the leads are quite flat. You can
walk along as easy as along the avenue.

WIMSEY: Brilliant work, Bunter. (claps him on the back)

BUNTER: I'll just catch a cab home, so's to develop these as soon
as possible.

WIMSEY: Off with you then.

BUNTER: Oh, and thank you for the lovely fingerprint kit, Your
Lordship.

WIMSEY: No, thank you, Bunter.

Bunter exits.

WIMSEY: You'll excuse me, Mr. Thipps. I'll go see the body for
myself now.

THIPPS: Not at all, my lord.

WIMSEY (starts upstage): You're coming, too, are you, Mr. Thipps?

THIPPS (shakily): I already have done, you know.

WIMSEY: Yesss, well. (continues upstage) My word. That is
remarkable, what? Was the window open just like this, old man?

THIPPS: That's the point Sugg was making. He's got his eye on
Gladysand me. Like we left it open on purpose, for a confederate,
or whatnot. Why, he's wanting to take us in! I know he is.

WIMSEY: Rubbish.

THIPPS: Gladys admitted to leaving the window open by accident, but
that's as far as it gets, in my opinion. Honest as the day is
long.

WIMSEY: Quite. You're the top flat and very close to the next roof
right here, aren't you, old man?

THIPPS: I've always told the vicar, bless him, I could have a dove
cote here. Or homing pigeons, more like.

WIMSEY: It would be easy for someone to jump over from the next
house, it's so near.

THIPPS: That's this neighborhood. Very respectable, mind, but the
houses are too close for comfort. Still, the price is right, and
that's what counts.

WIMSEY: Is that St. Luke's Hospital I see there?

THIPPS: It is—the very next building over, but one.

WIMSEY: A respectable neighborhood, I would say. Why, that's the
best research facility in London.

THIPPS: Sergeant Sugg went by this morning, in fact.

WIMSEY: Whyever so, I wonder?

THIPPS: He had a thought that the corpse might have been stolen-

WIMSEY: Ah, yes. Medical student prank.

THIPPS: Sir Julian Freke practices there. Sergeant Sugg actually
talked to the great doctor and was assured that none of their
dissecting room bodies was missing. In fact, Dr. Freck's coming
over shortly to determine cause of death. No better man to do it, I
say.

WIMSEY: Right. (still looking at body) Great Scott! Oh, do come
look at this, Thipps!

Thipps looks away, shakes his head violently.

WIMSEY (comes downstage to Thipps): Queasy are you? Here, don't you
trouble. Go have a lie down. I'll take a few notes, let myself
out. Wait, wait! Where do you sleep, your mother and Gladys?

THIPPS: I sleep to the west-

WIMSEY: Just as far away from the bath window as can be, are you?

THIPPS: Yes, but I did that so that the bath would be convenient to
mother.
WIMSEY: Quite so. And Gladys?

THIPPS: She has a small room close to the front door and just off the
kitchen, convenient to her working places. So she couldn't hear a
thing and, in fact, said she didn't.

WIMSEY: And none of you heard anyone come in last night?

THIPPS: I took a sleeping draught. Motherwell, she's deaf as a
rail, no disrespect intended.

WIMSEY: So it's likely the body could have come in through the bath
window.

THIPPS (shivers): Oh, it's all I can do not to think about it, sir.

WIMSEY: Tutch, go on now, Mr. Thipps. Gwan, gwan, and I won't be a
minute longer.

THIPPS: Yes, your lordship. (exits)

WIMSEY: (writes in notebook) Tall man, just under six feet, 50ish,
hair black and curly. Cut and parted by a master hand. Lovely,
expensive gold pince nez with very thick lenses. Body exuding a faint
violet perfume over a pungent, medicine-y smell. New manicure.
Features strong with prominent dark eyes and a long nose curving down
to a heavy chin. Clean-shaven. Ragged teeth stained with tobacco.
That's jarring, what? Fingers freshly clipped but deep down filthy.
Toenails altogether filthy and jagged. A right puzzle is what this
body is!

(exits)

[In background, a scowling Sugg escorts poor Gladys from one side of
the stage to the other - presumably to gaol!]


[end of extract]




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