MISTRESS ALDRIDGE IS IN THE GARDEN
Jennifer This Christmas Day doth creep up like a thief.
So quiet and yet so quickly doth he come
That it is time to give and take our presents
Before we have acquired them in the shops!
A single week to go, and I am far from ready...
Eddie All hail to you, and greetings, Mrs Aldridge!
Jennifer Why, Master Grundy! I never heard your step!
You came from nowhere, as a ghost doth come,
All silently, and full of silky guile!
Eddie It is a craft that I have learnt full well
While creeping through the autumn woods at night,
Out searching for a plump young pheasant bird
To fill the pot of my poor hungry family.
It is the poacher's art to move so silently...
Jennifer And are they Aldridge pheasants in your pot?
These birds which you do hunt at dead of night
- Were they once living on my husband's farm,
Awaiting death from some executive gun
And not by stealthy murder from a poacher?
Eddie No, Mistress Aldridge, never would I stoop
To poaching on your land by dead of night!
Let's speak no more of this. I come to say
A Happy Christmas to all you and yours!
Jennifer That's mighty kind of you, my worthy Grundy.
Eddie And to offer you a bag of horse manure!
Jennifer A Christmas gift? How very kind of you!
Eddie No, no, 'tis not a gift! It is my trade
To sell this rich and lovely stuff to you!
See where it steams and shimmers in the moonlight,
Still warm from where it came from out the horse
And promising life where'er ye dig it in!
This is a magic potion for a garden!
Jennifer I scarce can bear to utter a refusal,
And yet I must, for we are well equipped
With horse manure.
Eddie And holly too?
Jennifer That, too.
Eddie Then must my family starve this Christmas time
Unless I sell this load of steaming dung!
Linda Ah, Mistress Aldridge! This is well-met indeed!
Thou art the very person whom I wish to see.
Eddie Good day as well from me, O Mistress Snell...
Linda Yes, Master Grundy, a right good day to you.
Now let me not detain you on your way.
Eddie I was not purposing to move just yet,
For I have vital business to transact...
Jennifer Speak on, Linda! I am all ears for thee!
Linda And yet the matter whereof I wish to speak
Is very delicate and personal...
Eddie And so is mine! For I do wish to sell
A wagonload of lovely horse manure!
See where it steams and shimmers in the moonlight,
Still warm from where it came from out the horse...!
Jennifer Forsooth, that's quite enough! I've heard all this!
Eddie But not so Mistress Snell ! I must attempt
To press on her my garden services...!
Linda Then save your breath. I do not need manure.
Eddie Nor holly, then?
Linda Nor holly, by my troth!
Eddie Then farewell, Christmas! Farewell, festive time!
There'll be no turkey, nor no pantomime!
If I can sell no horse manure today
There'll be no feasting down the Grundys' way!!
JENNIFER AND LINDA TALKING TOGETHER
JENNIFER So you think you know who the murderer is, Mrs Snell? How awfully clever of you!
LINDA Well, it wasn't so very clever, Mrs Aldridge. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open. And nobody thinks that someone like me would ever get on the trail of a murderer. Here comes Linda Snell, they say, with her interfering ways and loud voice and bossy ways! So it's quite easy for me to disarm suspicion and listen to what people say.
JENNIFER And what did you find out?
LINDA Well, we knew that the murderer was a man. And I found out - don't ask how - that he had a certain tattoo on his body.
JENNIFER But you can't go round the village asking everyone to get undressed!
LINDA No, you can't. Unless, of course, you're organising a back-to-nature calendar with men from the village taking their clothes off...
JENNIFER So that's why...!
LINDA Yes. I soon found out which of them had a secret
What I still didn't know was how he had disposed
of the body. There must have been some way in which he could have taken away a whole body, disguised on some sort of vehicle. Then I thought to myself: who in Ambridge goes about with a vehicle containing material which could easily disguise a body?
And there was only one answer: it was the same man who had the tattoo and it had to be...
EDDIE Hello, ladies, it's me. I've got my van outside full of horse manure. Anyone interested?
JENNIFER You don't mean...?
LINDA Yes. I'm afraid I do.
JENNIFER Is that you, Mr Grundy?
EDDIE It is, Lady Aldridge. I was admiring the sunset.
JENNIFER I always think it is a great mistake to admire the sun. I refuse to flatter anything which refuses to flatter me. In any case, I always avert my eyes when the sun is setting. I feel as if I were infringing upon someone's bedtime.
EDDIE And yet we see so little of the sun in these days before Christmas. Surely we should gaze upon it while we can?
JENNIFER I am all in favour of having as little light as possible at Christmas time. I think it would be a very good idea to celebrate Christmas in the dark. It would be even better not to celebrate it at all.
EDDIE Oh, I am all in favour of Christmas. It is one of the last few genuinely
pagan festivals we have left.
JENNIFER Pagan, Mr Grundy? Surely not. The Church of England seems very much in favour of it.
EDDIE Ah, yes, but Canterbury supports anything that will bring people inside a church. That is why they are so much in favour of floods, pestilence and flower arranging. I knew a man once who sought sanctuary in a church after committing a murder. The vicar was so pleased to see a sincere visitor that he gave him a job as a bell ringer.
JENNIFER Will you be staying at home for Christmas, Mr Grundy? So many people these days go abroad for the Christmas period, no doubt to escape their family. I prefer to spend Christmas surrounded by my family, so that I can avoid them for the rest of the year with a clear conscience.
EDDIE Alas, I cannot afford to travel these days, Lady Aldridge. It is only by selling the family treasures that I can live at all. At this very moment I am on my way to market with a family heirloom to sell.
JENNIFER What heirloom?
EDDIE A horse.
JENNIFER It does not look like a horse to me.
EDDIE And you are right. It is not a horse. I cannot bear to part with the horse. Instead, I am parting with the by-product of the horse.
JENNIFER If I understand you aright, you...
ENTER LINDA SNELL
LINDA Lady Aldridge! How good to see you!
JENNIFER Mrs Snell. Good evening. I thought you were engaged in some theatrical venture this evening.
LINDA Yes, I am bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to the peasants.
JENNIFER Excellent! So much better than bringing culture to the countryside. I was in a Gilbert and Sullivan production once, you know.
LINDA Indeed? And what part did you play?
JENNIFER I played the part of the lady who leaves the theatre in the interval, saying, "I think we've seen quite enough of THAT, thank you very much..."
LINDA Oh, I much prefer Gilbert and Sullivan to opera. It is like Wagner without the improbabilities....
EDDIE Good evening, Mrs Snell.
LINDA Ah, Edward Grundy, is it not?
EDDIE Lady Aldridge was telling me just now she no longer believes in Christmas. I was quite shocked. To lose faith in Father Christmas is one thing - to give up believing in Christmas is quite another.
JENNIFER I am all in favour of Christmas as a method of redistributing goods. It only worries me that nobody ends up with the goods they wanted.
LINDA It is quite true. At Christmas time we all buy for other people the presents we would like to keep for ourselves.
EDDIE In which connection, Mrs Snell, may I recommend something I have for sale here? It is a gift aimed directly at the horse-lover.
JENNIFER If it is what I think it is, even a horse-lover might have second thoughts...
LINDA But he will claim it makes one's garden grow.
JENNIFER If that is so, then science should be stopped before it makes any more disgusting discoveries.
EDDIE But ladies, Christmas, ‘tis upon us. May I not interest you...?
JENNIFER No, you may not! Good day, Mrs Snell.
LINDA Good day, Lady Aldridge.
EXEUNT THE TWO WOMEN
EDDIE But, ladies...!
A LOUD EDDIE GRUNDY SIGH
ENTER EDDIE GRUNDY.
EDDIE Oh, Mrs Aldridge, Happy New Year.
TEN SECOND PAUSE
It so happened I've got some top quality horse manure left over from the Christmas period and I was wondering if you might be wanting any...
TEN SECOND PAUSE
EDDIE Well, perhaps I'll come back when you've thought it over.
EXIT EDDIE GRUNDY