Hugo in London
by Marina J. Neary
|Cast of Characters|
Enter Dr. Grant, dressed in an old tweed suit, one hand in a pocket, another hand holding an opium flask.
DR. GRANT: I sense bloodshed. (To Wynfield): How many times have I asked you not to tease her when she has a knife in her hand?
Diana wrings her hands and lets out a scream of fury and despair.
WYNFIELD: Scream again! I’m afraid they didn’t hear you next door. Go on, scream!
DIANA: You won’t hear another scream from me.
She unties her apron, tosses it into a corner and turns around, ready to leave.
WYNFIELD (begging): Come back, wolf-cub! I’m not done torturing you.
Wynfield pursues her, catches her by the sleeve of her blouse, which nearly rips.
DIANA: Release me!
WYNFIELD: There’s no pleasing you, is there, wolf-cub? First you complain that I don’t play with you, and when I start a game, you flee! And if you were to wake up on a pile of gold coins, you’d complain that your back is bruised.
DIANA (after a few seconds of silence): Burn in hell!
Wynfield releases Diana reluctantly. She shoves him in the chest. They continue arguing in subdued voices. Hugo suddenly awakens and raises himself on his elbow, still delirious. He stretches his hands out towards Diana.
HUGO: My child...
Dr. Grant notices his patient’s awakening and sits down on the mattress.
HUGO (running his hand over his eyes, slowly coming to his senses): Where am I?
DR. GRANT: In the most splendid tavern in Southwark, lucky scoundrel you.
HUGO (pointing at Diana): And this girl? Who is she?
DR. GRANT: On a good day she’s my servant. On a bad day she’s my daughter.
HUGO (bitterly): She’s beautiful.
DR. GRANT: You want her? I’ll trade her for your coat. My suit is falling apart, as you can see. I’ve had the girl for fifteen years. Her natural father was a robber. She came with the boy. They must’ve been from the same street gang. They needed shelter, and I needed cheap labor. It’s a pact of mutual exploitation. Hell, take them both! What a bargain: two children for the price of one coat.
HUGO (squeezing his head): The girl... She resembles my dead daughter... For an instant there I thought... Ah, I’m still dizzy.
DR. GRANT: You must’ve hit your head on the floor.
In the meantime, the children have calmed down and reconciled. Wynfield takes Diana by the shoulders and whispers to her. She laughs and elbows him in the side.
DR. GRANT (to Hugo): It warms my heart to watch these brutes at play. I enjoy this freak show every night. The boy is such a riot. At the age of eleven, he’d wrap a red tablecloth around his neck and recite dialogues about social injustice. Everyone rolled on the floor! Wyn’s fondest dream is to blow up the Parliament building, to finish what Fawkes had started. Since he can’t get to the Westminster Palace, he torched the bailiff’s house. Look at that smirk! It’s an invitation for the world to punch him in the teeth.
HUGO: Your son has many talents, I see.
DR. GRANT: He can walk in the snow barefooted for ten miles. Always alone against the elements, be that in a blizzard or in a tavern brawl. The only one he lets near himself is that ghastly girl. Somehow these two found each other. Dirt sticks to dirt.
HUGO (mutters): Abyssus abyssum vocat.
DR. GRANT (leans over to Hugo and squinting suspiciously): What did you say?
HUGO (innocently): Nothing — just ranting in my native tongue.
DR. GRANT (pushes fists in his sides indignantly): Do I strike you as an idiot? I can tell French from Latin. I went to Cambridge. And where were you schooled?
HUGO (abdicates): Collège Louis-le Grand. I wish I could say I graduated from La Sorbonne, but alas, it isn’t so. I’m not really a sailor. I’m just a humble writer.
DR. GRANT (triumphantly): So the truth comes out! I didn’t think you learned Latin on a trade ship. I saw the ink stain on your thumb. So what are you doing here?
HUGO: Harvesting ideas for my next novel.
DR. GRANT: God help us! Do the French really need more novels? Now that they got rid of Victor Hugo, someone needs to fill his spot. You’ve read Hugo, haven’t you?
HUGO: Do I read my own works? More often than I should.
Dr. Grant, still looking Hugo in the eye steadfastly, beckons the children.
DR. GRANT: Come here, you brutes!
The children cease their game and come to the table obediently.
DR. GRANT: Wynfield, remember how you dreamed of meeting the author of ‘Han of Iceland’? Well, you’re in luck!
WYNFIELD (reaches out): May I touch you? I promise not to bruise your ribs this time. I keep Han of Iceland under my pillow.
HUGO (with slight embarrassment): Han of Iceland? The critics bashed it. Too much gore, they said...
WYNFIELD: To hell with the critics! I love that axe-swinging savage who killed everyone in his path.
DIANA: How about that living gargoyle in Paris?
HUGO: You mean, Quasimodo?
WYNFIELD: Mr. Hugo, your horror tales are my Gospel.
HUGO: Dr. Grant told me about your exploits. Bravo! In your world you are the king. I’m but a fat old Frenchman, as you were so kind to notice earlier.
DR. GRANT (reproachfully): Wyn, you must drop the habit of name-calling. It isn’t Mr. Hugo’s fault that he eats well. And stop calling Miss Stuart a whore.
WYNFIELD (defensively): Well, she called me an abominable mountebank. Would you believe it? Just because I drink, smoke, gamble, get into fistfights and set fires to homes, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad influence, does it? Be honest. Am I such a monster?
HUGO (cautiously, after a second of consideration): Young man, it takes more than a few scars and bad habits to make a monster. I see a heroic streak in you.
DIANA: Yes, Wyn, tell Mr. Hugo how you dragged me through the snow by the hair.
WYNFIELD: What else was I to do? You were unconscious!
DIANA: You poured half a bottle of whiskey down my throat.
WYNFIELD: Next time I’ll let you freeze to death.
DIANA: A bit too late, isn’t it? We’re both alive!
WYNFIELD: For better or worse. (To Hugo): Then this do-gooder by the name of Miss Stuart descends from her clouds just to tell me what a revolting beast I am. She wouldn’t deign to speak to me in person, so she sent me a letter, on scented paper, in loopy handwriting, with a golden seal. And a Bible, as a complementary insult! She even offered me fifty pounds to disappear! I’ve never seen the woman, but I hate her already.
DIANA (begrudgingly): You hate her so much that you carry her letter on your heart. I’m glad she wrote to you. Now you know what I endure. What you feel for that woman, I feel for you tenfold. There are many things I’d like to say to you.
WYNFIELD: Then say them. What’s hindering you?
DIANA: Not before strangers.
WYNFIELD: Mr. Hugo is hardly a stranger. Besides, it’s a bit late to talk about modesty after the tender scene he witnessed a few minutes ago.
DIANA: Every time I hear a knock on the door, I pray it’s the constable, who’ll drag you away and toss you in jail.
WYNFIELD: You hate me so much, wolf-cub? (To Hugo, apologetically): Don’t listen to her. This is how all our conversations end. It’s her illness talking.
DIANA: There’s not much left of me but my illness. Perhaps, a few magic tricks. Customers still fear me, as they should. They call me a witch.
HUGO (with exultation): You’re not a witch. You’re a goddess!
DR. GRANT: Did you hear that, Diana? Mr. Hugo called you a goddess. The French are masters of lush compliments. Don’t let it go to your head. Back to your chores! The broom is in the corner. Use it for sweeping, not flying.
Diana obeys him reluctantly. After a few swipes she drops the broom and runs off.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Marina J. Neary