By O.W. Ilde
From conversations between Lady Brackwater’s nephew, Algernon, and his friend, Jack, in Act 1 we’ve already heard about Algy’s imaginary friend, Albert, who he uses as an excuse whenever he’s required to attend his aunt’s interminably boring dinner parties.
Lady Brackwater’s drawing room, Belgrave Square, London 1895
Lady Brackwater: But Algernon, If you cannot attend my dinner this evening you will put my table completely out. Who can I possibly find now to go down with Lady Frumpington whose fifth husband, as you know, is otherwise engaged?
Algernon: (Mumbling): Not only engaged, Aunt Augusta, but practically married.
Lady B: Kindly speak up Algernon, you know very well my hearing has not been the same since my chaperone on the grand tour took a wrong turn that led us both into the battle of Waterloo.
Algy (loudly): I was merely saying, Aunt Augusta…
Lady B: Do not shout, Algernon. Shouting is the prerogative of the costermonger.
Algy: Sorry, Aunt Augusta.
Lady B: Now about your friend in the country, Algernon, the one you feel obliged to visit whenever I need you to make up my dinner party numbers, he may be the answer to a most pressing problem.
Algy: Yes, Aunt Augusta?
Lady B: Well as you know, Algernon, our dear daughter, Gwendolyn, is still unmarried, and Lord Brackwater and I feel that time is fast running out. She is, after all, fifty five next Tuesday.
Algy: Dear cousin Gwendolyn, she keeps in good health, I trust?
Lady B: Perhaps not fully at her best, Algernon. But a combination of bad breath, varicose veins and a squint is no impediment these days to a woman’s marriage prospects. You only have to look at Lady Birkenhead who, since her husband’s unfortunate demise beneath the wheels of her carriage, looks positively radiant. But what is not generally known is that her lavish mourning apparel conceals one, if not two, wooden legs. Under the terms of her husband’s will, however, she now owns much of London and a vast estate in Bedfordshire - a situation not entirely disregarded, it is said, by her numerous suitors.
ALGY: I do not think my friend, Aunt Augusta, would be the ideal husband for dearest Gwendolyn.
Lady B: I and Lord Brackwater will decide that, Algernon. (Produces notebook and pencil from handbag). What is your friend’s name?
Algy: Albert, Aunt Augusta. Albert Smalltackle.
Lady B: Not a good start, Algernon, for although his first name has a princely resonance, his surname hardly accords with what, I am reliably informed, attracted our dear queen to Prince Albert in the first place. Are the Smalltackles active in society, Algernon? They have a country estate, I assume, and a town house, but where exactly?
Algy: Albert lives near Liverpool, Aunt Augusta.
Lady B: Ah Liverpool. One of our newer colonies, I believe. But how sensible of Mr Smalltackle to live outside the city. Within its boundaries the Church Missionary Society has its work cut out dealing with the barbaric behaviour of its citizens which is reminiscent, I am told, of the worst excesses of ancient Rome. What about Mr Smalltackle’s parents, Algernon - who are they?
Algy: He has no parents, Aunt Augusta.
Lady B: No parents, Algernon?
Algy: As a baby, Aunt Augusta, Albert was discovered.
Lady B: Discovered? Where exactly, Algernon, was your friend… discovered?
Algy: In a cabin trunk, Aunt Augusta.
Lady B: A CABIN TRUNK??
Algy: Yes, Aunt Augusta, a cabin trunk, in the hold of a cargo ship en route for Buenos Aires.
Lady B: To be found in a cabin trunk is one thing, Algernon. But to be found in a cabin trunk on its way to the most dubious of destinations in anything other than the first class accommodation provided by the White Star line, is more than a little suspect. Lord Brackwater will concur with my view that your friend Mr Smalltackle is indeed no match for our dearest Gwendolyn. She will be told later this afternoon that the marriage I and Lord Brackwater were about to arrange for her is off.
Algy: Of course, Aunt Augusta.
Lady B: I am surprised, Algernon, there was nothing left in the cabin trunk with the foundling child? A note perhaps?
Algy: Only a will, Aunt Augusta. A will written by, a mysterious, well born lady, who subsequently left him the estate near Liverpool and rather more than a small fortune in bonds and gilts.
Lady B: How much more, Algernon?
(Algy whispers into Lady B’s ear)
Lady B: (Clearly impressed) Really… (Notebook and pencil are swiftly returned to handbag). In that case, Algernon, Lord Brackwater and I will completely overlook the cabin trunk, the cargo ship and Buenos Aires. I will instruct the archbishop today to make arrangements for the nuptials
Algy: But you can’t, Aunt Augusta, Albert Smalltackle is already wed.
Lady B: Being already wed these days, Algernon, is no …..
Algy: Sorry, Aunt Augusta, I meant dead, not wed.
Lady B: But five minutes ago, Algernon, Mr Smalltackle was alive and well. As much alive, that is, as anyone interred in the colonies can be. (Enter Brightman, the footman) What is it, Brightman?
Brightman: There’s a gentleman downstairs m’lady who wishes to see you urgently.
Lady B: But I’m very busy, Brightman, did he not leave a name?
Brightman: Mr Smalltackle, m’lady, Mr Albert Smalltackle.
Lady B: (Giving Algy a withering look) Really. Show the gentleman up, Brightman.
(Lady B turns to face the door, lorgnette at the ready. Behind her, Algy is seen disappearing behind a Chinese screen.)
Unaware that Algy was with his aunt, the gentleman visitor turns out to be Algy’s friend, Jack. He was hoping, by pretending to be Albert Smalltackle, to ingratiate himself with Lord and lady Brackwater in order to further his latest, shady business venture.